Anglo-Saxon England (410-855)

After some four hundred years, Britain was no longer part of the Roman Empire, as Romans returned to their homeland of Italy by 410AD.  Italy needed the might of their battle hardened Roman warriors to ward off hostile tribe’s attacking their homeland.

As the Romans departed, Britain became vulnerable to these Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Frisians and Franks, who first arrived across the seas from Germany and Denmark to trade.  As the Romans left these traders saw an opportunity; a new life.

The Angles made their homes in East Anglia, Midlands and Northumbria.

The Saxons made their homes in the South of England, and formed Kingdoms:

Sussex        = South Saxons

Wessex      = West Saxons

Essex          = East Saxons

Middlesex = Middle Saxons

Jutes came from Jutland in Denmark and set up home in Kent, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

With the Roman gone, the Picts, Scots and Barbarians from the north crossed Hadrian’s Wall attacking the British Romans without mercy.

Vortigern a British leader hired Saxons to fend off invaders, and paid them in money and land.

Later invaders of this land, did not come to fight, they sought out land to farm.  They manoeuvred their narrow boats up river, deep and deeper inland.  History tells us these invaders drove Britons from their lands, and some were forced into a life of slavery by their new masters.

First these Britons were pushed west, and around 500AD they stood their ground, turned and fought, to protect their lands.  This stemmed the flow of the Anglo-Saxon migration.

Ambrosius Aurelianus, fought with his men at Mons Badonicus believed to have been the Bradbury Rings in Dorset, and won their battle.

Britain’s main leader is believed to have been a warrior named Arthur, later called King Arthur.

The next major battle between Briton’s and Anglo-Saxons took place at the “Battle of Dyrham” in AD577 led by Cealin, King of Wessex who went on to take Cirencester, Gloucester and Bath.

Wessex expansion ceased as Anglo-Saxon’s fought each other.  Cealin retreated; Ceol his nephew took his place and was killed the very next year.

Cirencester became an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom under Mercia rule rather than Wessex.

Saxon Settlements:

Saxon leaders found this new land fertile and shared this healthy land among their followers.

Some leaders became Kings of their province, and noble warriors were known as Thanes (Thane, a nobleman who held land for the King in return for services).  These Thanes received land from their King, and freemen farmers known as Churls, (Churls is a farm labourer), who would rent the land from his Thane.

Some farmers seized readily prepared farm lands from the Britons, whilst others started afresh, clearing the land, growing crops, creating pastures for cattle, sheep, pigs and horses.

Early settlements consisted of a few family farms, with houses constructed of wood with sloping thatched roofs.  The settlement would be protected by a fence, encircling the houses from wild animals or warring enemies.

As time progressed, settlements grew larger and became villages.  Each village had a Saxon Chief, often it was he who had led them to this land, and granted them the land they now farmed.

For what their Saxon Chief had given them, these churls these farmers worked and fought for their leader.

A Saxon home contained little in the way of furniture; table and benches made from the land.

Saxon cooking pots, were made by hand would hang from a chain, over the fire.  Buckets would be used to carry water from the river or lake.

Women would also be responsible for grinding the grain, preparing the bread and beer from barley crops.  Preparing food and watching over children and animals.

Women would use sheep’s wool and turn it into cloth, using plant dye’s to colour it for clothing.  Men often wore short tunics, trousers and leather shoes with straps.

The King’s and their Kingdom’s:

According to the writings of Bede, the first group of Saxon Kings, were chiefs who had led the invasion on Britain.

Hengist and Horsa in Kent, Aelle in Sussex, along with Cerdic and Cynric in Wessex.

By the year 560Ad, Kent had become the most important of all English Kingdoms and was ruled by Ethelbert until 616AD with Canterbury being its capital and lands extending north to the Humber River.  Upon Ethelbert’s death in 616AD, Raedwald of East Anglia rose to become the most powerful leader south of the Humber River.

Later, Northumbria became a powerful kingdom under King Edwin, and according to archaeological findings at Yeavering in Northumberland, a Saxon Palace or Hall had been discovered in the area, and believed to belong to Edwin.

Each King of his Kingdom, moved around his Kingdom feasting in these great halls with his followers, ensuring local support from them in battle.  In return he promised them land and riches.

According to Saxon law, a person’s life was worth a set amount of money.  If he was killed, his murderer had to pay that amount of money to his family.

Raewald provided military assistance to Deiran Edwin, in taking over the dynasties of Deira and Bernica in the Kingdom of Northumbria.  Upon Raewald’s death Edwin expanded the kingdom of Northumbria.

Anglo-Saxon Mercians under Penda were forced into battle against Edwin of Northumbria as his kingdom grew in size.

An alliance between Penda and Cadwallon of Gwynedd, the Welsh King was formed, and between them they killed Edwin of Northumbria at the “Battle of Hatfield Chase” in 633AD.

Oswald son of one of Northumbria’s Kings, defeated and killed Cadwallon at Heavenfield near Hexham.  Then in 642Ad Penda killed Oswald in battle.  Oswald’s brother, Oswiu killed Penda around 642AD.

Mercia spent the latter years of the 7th and 8th century fighting the Welsh Kingdom of Powys.  Offa constructed a 150 mile long, 25 feet high and 7 feet deep dyke across the boundary between England and Wales constructed of wooden poles and earth, designed to stop warring raids.

Beornwulf beat the Mercians in the “Battle of Ellendun” in 825AD by Egbert of Wessex.

Anglo-Saxon Kings

With the Roman’s departure early in the 5th century, Britain came under attack from Angles, Saxons and Jutes of northern Germany.  Over the next 200 years or more, these invaders pushed the native Britons from England.  The next development in Britain’s future, saw the country split into seven independent warring kingdoms.  Out of which, emerged Egbert as King of all England in 829.

EGBERT 827–839
Egbert; Britains first monarch to establish rule across all of Anglo-Saxon England. After returning from exile at the court of Charlemagne in 802, he regained his kingdom of Wessex. Following his conquest of Mercia in 827, he controlled all of England south of the Humber. After further victories in Northumberland and North Wales, he is recognised by the title Bretwalda, “ruler of the British”. In 838 defeated a combined force of Danes and Cornish at Hingston Down in Cornwall. He is buried at Winchester in Hampshire.

King of Wessex, son of Egbert and father of Alfred the Great. In 851 defeated a Danish army at the “Battle of Oakley,” His son Althelstan fought and beat the Danes at sea off the coast of Kent, in what is believed to be the first naval battle. Athelwulf travelled to Rome with his son Alfred to see the Pope in 855.

Aethelbald son of  Aethelwulf was born around 834. Crowned at Kingston-upon-Thames in southwest London, after forcing his father to abdicate upon his return from pilgrimage to Rome. Following his fathers death in 858, he married his widowed stepmother Judith, but under pressure from the church the marriage was annulled after only a year. He is buried at Sherbourne Abbey in Dorset.

Became King following the death of his brother Aethelbald. Shortly after his succession a Danish army landed and sacked Winchester before being defeated by the Saxons. In 865 the Viking Great Heathen Army landed in East Anglia and swept across England. He is buried at Sherborne Abbey.

Aethelred successor to his brother Aethelbert. His reign was one long struggle as the Danes occupied York in 866, establishing the Viking kingdom of Yorvik. When the Danish Army moved south Wessex itself was threatened, and so together with his brother Alfred, they fought several battles with the Vikings at Reading, Ashdown and Basing. Aethelred was injured at the “Battle at Meretun” and died of his wounds shortly after at Witchampton in Dorset, where he was buried.

Alfred was born at Wantage in Berkshire around 849, son of Aethelwulf .Alfred was well educated and is said to have visited Rome on two occasions. With major victories at Edington, Rochester and London, Alfred established Saxon Christian rule over Wessex, and then most of England. To secure his hard won boundaries Alfred founded a permanent army and an embryonic Royal Navy. To secure his place in history, he began the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.

EDWARD (The Elder) 899-924
Edward succeeded his father; Alfred the Great. Edward retook southeast England and the Midlands from the Danes, united the kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia. In 923, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles record that Constantine II of Scotland recognised Edward as “father and lord”. The following year, Edward is killed in a battle against the Welsh near Chester. His body is returned to Winchester for burial.

Successor to his father; Edward the Elder, extends the boundaries of his kingdom at the “Battle of Brunanburh” in 937, defeating a combined army of Scots, Celts, Danes and Vikings, claiming the title of King of all Britain. The battle saw for the first time individual Anglo-Saxon kingdoms being brought together to create a single and unified England. Athelstan is buried in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.

EDMUND 939-946
Successor to his half-bother; Athelastan becoming king at the tender age of 18, having already fought alongside him at the “Batlle of Brunanburh.” He re-established Anglo-Saxon control over northern England, which had fallen back under Scandanavian rule following the death of Athelstan. Edmund was stabbed by a robber in his royal hall at Pucklechurch near Bath.

EADRED 946-955
Successor to Edmund, son of Edward the Elder by his third marriage to Eadgifu.  He defeated Norsemen, expelling the last Scandanavian King of York, Eric Bloodaxe, in 954.  Eadred died in his early 30s, leaving no heir, at Frome in Somerset. He is buried in Winchester.

EADWIG 955-959
Successor to Eadred, was Eadwig son of Edmund I, who was aged 16 when he was crowned king at Kingston-upon-Thames in southeast London aged 16.   Eadwig died in Gloucester when he was just 20, the circumstances of his death are not recorded.

EDGAR 959-975
Successor to Eadwig, youngest son of Edmund I, Edgar had been in dispute with his brother concerning succession to the throne for some years. Following Eadwig’s mysterious death, Edgar recalled Dunstan from exile, making him Archbishop of Canterbury as well as his personal advisor. Following his carefully planned (by Dunstan) coronation in Bath in 973, Edgar marched his army to Chester, to be met by six kings of Britain. The kings, including the King of Scots, King of Strathclyde and various princes of Wales, are said to have signalled their allegience to Edgar by rowing him in his state barge accross the River Dee.

Eldest son of Edgar, Edward was crowned king when aged just 12. Claims to the throne were contested by supporters of his much younger half-brother Aethelred. The resulting dispute between rival factions within the church and nobility took England close to civil war.  Edward’s reign lasted two and a half years, being murdered at Corfe Castle by Aethelred followers.  The title ‘martyr’ was a consequence of him being seen as a victim of his stepmother’s ambitions for her own son Aethelred.

Aethelred was unable to organise resistance against the Danes, earning him the nickname ‘unready’. He became king aged 10, fled to Normandy in 1013 when Sweyn Forkbeard, King of the Danes invaded England.  Sweyn was pronounced King of England on Christmas Day 1013 and made his capital at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, only to die just five weeks later.  Aethelred returned in 1014 after Sweyn’s death. The remainder of Aethelred’s reign was one of a constant state of war with Sweyn’s son Canute.

Edmund son of Aethelred II, led the resistance forces to Canute’s invasion of England from 1015. Following the death of his father, he was chosen king by the good folk of London. The Witan (the king’s council) however elected Canute. Following his defeat at the Battle of Assandun, Aethelred made a pact with Canute to divide the kingdom between them. Edmund died later that year, probably assassinated.

Canute; king of all England following Edmund II’s death. The son of Sweyn Forkbeard, he ruled well and gained favour with his English subjects. In 1017, Canute married Emma of Normandy, the widow of Aethelred II and divided England into the four earldoms of East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex, inspired by his pilgrimage to Rome in 1027.

HAROLD I 1035-1040
Harold (Harold Harefoot), illegitimate son of Canute, claimed the English crown on the death of his father whilst his half-brother Harthacanute, the rightful heir, was in Denmark fighting to protect his Danish kingdom. Harold died three years into his reign, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.   Harthacanute had his body dug up, beheaded, and thrown into the Thames.

The son of Cnut the Great and Emma of Normandy, sailed to England with his mother, accompanied by a fleet of 62 warships, and was immediately accepted as king. Perhaps to appease his mother, the year before he died Harthacanute invited his half-brother Edward, Emma’s son from her first marriage to Aethelred the Unready, back from exile in Normandy. Harthacanute died at a wedding whilst toasting the health of the bride; he was aged just 24 and was the last Danish king to rule England

Following the death of Harthacanute, Edward restored rule in the House of Wessex to the English throne. Presided over the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey, leaving the running of the country to Earl Godwin and his son Harold.  Edward died eight days after the building work on Westminster Abbey had finished. With no natural successor, England was faced with a power struggle for control of the throne.

Despite having no royal bloodline, Harold Godwin was elected king by the Witan (a council of high ranking nobles and religious leaders), following the death of Edward the Confessor. This did not  meet with the approval of one William, Duke of Normandy, who claimed Edward had promised the throne to him several years earlier.

Harold defeated an invading Norwegian army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, marched south to confronting William of Normandy who had landed his forces in Sussex. The death of Harold at the Battle Of Hastings meant the end of the English Anglo-Saxon kings and the beginning of the Normans.

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