In 2007 England's population has been swollen by millions of refugees from all over the world, presumably because, as The Sun has revealed, "refugees must be given homes within an hour of a request and must immediately be provided with doctors and dentists and ₤35 a week in benefits". Only 5% are reckoned to be genuine refugees according to sources at the government's National Asylum Support Service.


But who were England's first refugees? Where did they come from? When did they come? Did they ever return home?


To find the answers to these questions we must go back to Brittany in the year 907 AD. In that year Alain the Great died. Alain's death was the signal for unprecedented devastations by the Loire Vikings. There were major raids recorded for 912 AD, 913 AD, 914 AD and 919 AD.


The population had every reason to be terrified of the Vikings. Their atrocities were indescribable. Women were dragged through the streets by their hair and thrown onto fires to die. Infants torn from their mothers' breasts were either cut to pieces with spears or ground to bits under cartwheels. Men might have their hands, ears and noses chopped off, or be finished off by having their head split open with a battleaxe. Captives of war were frequently taken into slavery. The victims would subsequently be sold elsewhere in Europe, often at the great slave markets of Dublin and Rouen.


The Bretons fled especially to neighbouring England. Many members of the leading families such as Mathedoi, Count of Poher, took refuge in England at the Court of King Edward the Elder (900 AD to 924 AD). After 913 AD many Breton ecclesiastics arrived. England was regarded as a natural refuge, as Bretons were among the different nationalities hired by Alfred the Great to protect his kingdom from the Viking invaders. Alfred had shown his appreciation and gratitude by sending gifts to Breton monasteries.


The Bretons weren't the only refugees in England at this time. In 923 AD they were joined by the future Carolingian King of France, the 3-year-old Louis IV, and his mother Eadgifu, daughter of King Edward the Elder. Eadgifu's husband, Charles the Simple, had been taken prisoner by Herbert II, Count of Vermandois in his castle at Chateau Thierry and held captive until his death. Ralph of Burgundy, a kinsman of Herbert II, was illegally elected King, thereby enabling Herbert II to amass a 'large collection of counties', and great revenue from the Archbishopric of Rheims. After Ralph's death in 936 AD leaving no direct heir, Louis now was able to return home from exile at the Court of King Athelstan (924 AD to 940 AD) then at York. Louis was crowned King of France on 19th June 936 AD at Laon by Artald, Archbishop of Rheims.


But liberation for the Bretons was to come just when hope seemed remote. The deliverer was Alain Barbetorte, the son of Count Mathedoi of Poher, and grandson on his mother's side of Alain the Great. He too had been brought up in England at the Court of King Athelstan, his godfather. In 936 AD Alain, with the help of King Athelstan, who provided a fleet of ships, embarked on what might be called the Brittany Landings. Alain came ashore at Dol at the head of an army of Breton exiles, and in a series of successful battles was to make himself master of Brittany. In 937 AD he entered Nantes. By 939 AD, in a decisive victory at Trans near Cancale, the work of liberation was complete. The Bretons returned home.