Category Archives: Anglo-Saxons

Anglo-Saxon King: Alfred the Great

King Alfred the Great
King Alfred the Great

Alfred was born in Wantage, Berkshire in AD849, into an England which was unstable and a violent society, a country consisting of kingdoms, a land threatened by invaders.  He was the youngest son of King Ethelwulf of Wessex, and his wife Osburh, daughter of Oslac, the royal cupbearer of South Hampshire.

In 853 the young Prince Alfred rode a thousand miles, taking his first steps into public affairs and diplomacy at the papal court in Rome.  He would present himself to Pope Leo IV on behalf of his father; King Ethelwulf of Wessex.  He was anointed royally by the Pope.

In 871, King Ethelred, the West Saxon King and elder brother of Alfred dies in battle.  On the 23rd April, Alfred becomes King of Wessex, a land beset with Viking invaders.

Alfred builds an English fleet of ships, to take on these Viking invaders on land and sea.  The English learnt quickly, for in 875 they claim their first sea victory, capturing one of the Viking ships.

In 878, Alfred is pushed west into the Somerset marshes by Danish forces.  From Athelney Fort and surrounding areas he creates a force to come out fighting, beating the Danes.

In 878 the “Treaty of Wedmore” is born, dividing England in two, with Alfred overlord of both halves.  Anglo-Saxons in the south and west, with Danes in the north and east.

As the Danes invade Kent in 885, Alfred drives Danish forces out of London in 886, and recognised by its people, as King of all England.

During the 890’s Alfred compiled the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, which were written in the language of the Anglo-Saxons.  It described England’s political, social and economic events through time, and was continually updated until the 12th century.

Alfred the Great, King of England, died in 899 and was succeeded by Edmund the Elder.

Advertisements

Anglo-Saxon Legend: Beowulf

beowulf

We know not who wrote the epic 3,182 line Anglo-Saxon poem; Beowulf, written in Old English.

The Beowulf story is set within a warrior society, a blood-curdling tale of gore and brutality, about a hero governed by duty, honour and bravery.  It tells the story of Beowulf, a young warrior and his victories.

Grendel, the semi-human monster, repeatedly attacks the Great Hall of Herat, by dragging away his prey, one victim after another.

Beowulf is summoned to the court of the Danish King; Hrothgar.  Whose castle has been under siege these past twelve years.  His knights are being constantly slaughtered night after night, by the monster; Grendel.

Beowulf and Grendel come face to face in battle.  Beowulf, rips Grendel’s arm from its socket, and Grendel hobbles back to his lair where he bleeds to death.

Grendel’s mother seeks revenge the following night, from the likes of Beowulf.  A great under water fight takes place between Beowulf and the monstrous matriarch, with Beowulf emerging as the victor.

Beowulf returns home to Sweden a hero of his people.  He rules for many years, and his people believe he is a wise ruler.  According to legend, a dragon guarded the city’s treasure, and all was quiet for some 300 years, then things changed the dragon is disturbed and he goes on the rampage; burning Beowulf’s hall to cinders.

Beowulf summons up all his courage, and makes a pledge to his people, that he and his follower’s will kill the dragon.  Beowulf’s follower’s gazed upon their leader and the dragon, and fear seeped through their bodies, as they fled in fear.

Wiglaf a young kinsman stands by Beowulf, prepared to fight side by side in battle.  As Beowulf prepares to vanquish the dragon, his sword shatters and the creature inflicts a deadly poison venom upon him.  Wiglaf and Beowulf kill the beast as the venom seeps through Beowulf’s body, as life is slowly taken from him.

Wiglaf proved himself in battle, and loyal to his King, earning the trust of Beowulf, who passes his throne to him… a worthy successor and King.

The poem concludes with a gloomy prediction which talks about catastrophes which will strike down Beowulf’s people, now their hero had died.

Beowulf’s people lament, that he had been a gracious and fair minded King, with kindness of heart.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Wessex

Anglo-Saxon Wessex

Wessex; the kingdom of the West Saxons, started from humble beginnings, becoming the most powerful kingdom in the land.

Cerdic, founder of Wessex the first Anglo-Saxon King, had ventured from Saxony in AD495 landing on England’s Hampshire coastline, with his son Cynric and five warrior ships.

In AD519, Cerdic was victorious at the “Battle of Cerdic’s Ford” (Cerdicesleag) and claimed the title “King of Wessex” (520-540).

Cynric son of Cerdic, succeeded him upon his death and reigned from 540-560.  Cynric spent the early years of his reign, expanding the kingdom of Wessex into Wiltshire.  He faced much opposition from native Briton’s, but managed minor gains; “Battle of Sarum” and “Beranbury,” known as Barbury Castle.  In 560 Cynric died and was succeeded by his son Ceawlin.

When Ceawlin stepped forward as the next Anglo-Saxon King of Wessex, much of southern England was under Anglo-Saxon control.

The “Battle of Wibbandun” took place in 568, between the forces of the Saxons of Wessex and the Jutes of Kent.  In 571 Ceawlin captured Aylesbury and Linbury, and by 577 he had taken Gloucester and Bath, reaching the Severn Estuary.

Ceawlin ordered the construction of a defensive earthwork, stretching between Wiltshire and Bristol.

Ceawlin King of Wessex achieved much fame among his people, as they crossed England as victorious warriors.  All this would change in 584, when Ceawlin fought the Britons at Fethanleag; “Battle of Stoke Lyne” followed by a period of taking towns and countless spoils of war, from the local area.

Then he retreated to his own lands… questions remain unanswered, why?  Did he lose the battle, and attack local towns in response.

As written in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles:  This year Ceawlin… fought with the Britons on the spot that is called Fretherne… And Ceawlin took many towns, as well as immense booty and wealth.  He then retreated to his people.

In 591 Ceawlin’s nephew; Ceol is believed to have led an uprising against his King, at the “Battle of Woden’s Burg.”  Ceol became King of Wessex after deposing his uncle; Ceawlin.

Ceol reigned from 591-597, his successor his son; Cynegils, was too young to inherit the throne.  Ceolwulf, brother of Ceol claimed the throne.  One could say he was keeping the seat warm for the future king.

Cynegils came to the throne in 611 after Coolwulf’s death and would reign till 643.  His reign commenced with a victory over Welsh forces in 614.

Cynegils granted the northern part of his kingdom to his son Cwichelm, at a time when the Northumbrian’s grew in power.  Cynegils forged an alliance with the King of Mercia.  This alliance was sealed through marriage; Cynegils youngest son Cenwalh married the sister of King Penda of Mercia.

In 626 Cwichelm launched a failed assassination against King Edwin of Northumbria.  Edwin laid siege to the Kingdom of Wessex, clashing against the Mercian and Wessex forces, in reply to the attempted assassination, and was victorious.

Cynegils and Cwichelm had suffered a humiliating defeat by a smaller army, and forced to retreat back, within their own borders.

In 628 the forces of Wessex and Mercia fought at the “Battle of Cirencester.”  With Mercian’s victorious, Wessex became a minor kingdom as control of the Severn Valley, parts of Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire were lost.

In 635, Cynegils of Wessex was baptised by Bishop Birinus in Dorchester.  In 636 Cwichelm was also baptised in Dorchester and died later that year.  In 643 Cynegils died…

In 643, Cenwalh the youngest son of Cynegils became King of Wessex, he who had been forced into a marriage with King Penda of Mercia’s sister, to seal an alliance of the kingdom’s.

One of his first duties was to discard his wife and marry Seaxburh, which annoyed King Penda, where upon a war was declared and Cenwalh was driven from his lands and into exile in 645.

Cenwalh converted to Christianity whilst exiled in East Anglia, and by 648 had reclaimed his throne; King of Wessex.  He went on to commission the construction of Winchester Cathedral, and built it in St.Peter’s name.

In 672 King Cenwalh died and Seaxburh his wife succeeded him as the first Queen of Wessex from 673-674.

In 674 Seaxburh died, and was succeeded by her son; Aescwine.  In 675 Aescwine’s forces defended his kingdom from the Mercian’s at the “Battle of Bedwyn” becoming victorious in battle.

In 676 Aescwine passed away and his uncle Centwine claimed the throne.  In the early part of hisd reign, he was a pagan king, and in the 680’s converted to Christianity.  In 685, King Centwine of the Wessex Kingdom, abdicated his position as king to become a monk.

Caedwalla descendant of Cerdic and from a noble house, who had been driven from Wessex by Cenwalh in the removal of sub-royal families.  Aged barely twenty-six had gathered support, as he invaded Sussex and built his own kingdom.

Caedwalla became the new King of Wessex following Centwine abdication.  He conquered the Kingdoms of Sussex, Kent and the Isle of Wight.  It is believed, he went on to commit acts of genocide and forced his people to renounce the Christian faith.

In 688 King Caedwalla travelled to Rome, and received holy baptism on the 13th April from Pope Sergius, who gave him the name Peter.  On the 20th April, he died dressed in his baptismal robes and was laid to restin St.Peter’s Church.

Ine, a nobleman claimed the throne of Wessex in 689, taking over a kingdom stretching from the Severn Estuary to Kent’s shorelines.  King Ine is remembered in his reforms; increasing trade, coinage throughout his realm.  The introduction of laws in 694, covering convicted murder’s rights, which would lead to the development of an English society.

In 728, King Ine of Wessex had become weak and feeble, opting to abdicate his post, travel to Rome and retire.  At that time it was one’s belief it would aid one’s ascension to heaven.

Aethelheard, brother-in-law to King Ine, claimed the Wessex throne in 726.  Nobleman Oswald contested his right to the throne, and a bitter struggle lasted for almost a year, until Aethelheard prevailed with assistance from the Mercians.

His fourteen year reign was a struggle as he fought with the Mercians to the north, and lost much land in the process.  They who had supported him in battle for the throne, demanded that the Kingdom of Wessex should fall under their control.

In 740 King Aethelheard passed away and was succeeded by his brother Cuthred who received the West-Saxon Kingdom of Wessex, which he would hold for sixteen years.  He fought fiercly with Aethelbald, King of Mercia.

In the early years of Cuthred’s reign, Wessex was nothing more than a puppet state of Mercia.  When the Mercian’s fought the Welsh, the warriors of Wessex were expected to assist.

In 752 Cuthred was fed up of Mercian dominance and went to war against them, in a bid for Wessex independence.  Victory was theirs and Independence was theirs…  In 753 Cuthred took on the Welsh and passed away in 756.

Sigeberht succeeded his cousin as the new King of Wessex in 756.  His reign was short lived, for he had killed the Earl of Cumbra.  The council of nobles stripped of his title as King, and Cynewulf drove him into the weald, where he lived until a swineherd stabbed him to death at Privett stream, and so the death… the murder of the Earl had been avenged.

Cynewulf became King of Wessex in 757 and had the support of Aethelbald of Mercia in his claim for the throne.  In the first few months of his reign, Cynewulf felt more a sub-king of Wessex under Mercian rule.

Aethelbald of Mercia was assassinated in 757 at Seckington.  With Aethelwald out of the way, Cynewulf saw his opportunity to push for an independent Wessex, and the expansion of Wessex territories into the southern counties of Mercia.

Cynewulf lost the Mercian territories in 779, when he was defeated by King Offa, who had succeeded Aethelbald as King of Mercia at the “Battle of Bensington.”  A defeated Cynewulf army, were forced back, to the lands of Wessex.

In 786, Cynewulf of Wessex was murdered by the nobleman Cybeheard, whom he had exiled years earlier.

In 786 Beorhtric, distant descendant of Cerdic, founder of Wessex, succeeded to the throne with the backing of King Offa of Mercia.  Beorhtric married Lady Eadburh; daughter of King Offa.

Legend has it; Beorhtric was poisoned by his wife Eadburh, and exiled to Germany for her crime in 789.  Charlemagne and his son offered her the choice of husband, she chose the younger. Charlemagne replied you chose badly and as such, will have neither.

Embarassed by the affair chose to live out her remaining years in a German convent.  She was expelled after receiving her vows, for breaking the rules by having sex with a Saxon man.  She spent her remaining days, begging on the streets of Pavia in northern Italy.

Egbert exiled by Beorhtric in the 780’s returned to the Kingdom of Wessex in 802, upon the death of Beorhtric, to claim the throne.

The first twenty years of his reign, was spent keeping Wessex independant from Mercia.  In 825 they met in battle at Ellandun.  Egbert’s victorious forces pushed the Mercian’s to retreat to the north, Egbert’s army pushed south-east to Surrey, Sussex, Essex and Kent.

It took barely a year, and by 826 Anglo-Saxon England, had seen Wessex become the most powerful kingdom in the land.  In 829, Egbert was victorious against the Mercians, as he claimed all of southern Britain up to the River Humber, and the kingdom of Northumbria submitted to him.

Egbert had claimed Mercia, as the exiled King Wiglaf revolted, driving the Wessex army, back into their own lands.  The Mercians made no attempt to re-claim lost territories of Kent, Sussex, and Surrey.  Wessex was seen as the most powerful kingdom of southern England.

Aethelwulf, son of Egbert and King of Kent, became the next King of Wessex in 839, following his father’s death.  Aethelwulf’s kingdom of Kent, would be ruled by his son; Aethelstan, on his behalf.

Aethelwulf and his wife; Osburh bore six children one of whom was Alfred.  In 853 Alfred was sent to Rome on a pilgrimage.  Aethelwulf’s wife died in 855, and he joined his son in Rome.  On his return journey home, met his second wife, a twelve year old French princess named Judith.

When Aethelwulf landed on British shores in 856, his son Aethelbald had stolen his kingdom from him, in his absence.  His Christian attitudes led him to grant Aethelbald the western part of Wessex, an attempt to avoid civil war breaking out.

In 858 Aethelwulf died and was succeeded by his son Aethelbald. who took his father’s widow, Judith as his wife.

Aethelberht, brother to Aethelbald and son of Aethelwulf became King of Wessex in 860.  He integrated the Kingdom of Kent into Wessex, and battled against Viking incursions seeing off the Danish invaders.  Around 865 these Vikings accepted money from men of Kent, in return for a truce, but it wasn’t long before it was broken, as these Vikings ravaged eastern Kent.

In 865 Aethelberht died with no successor, and so the throne of Wessex was passed to his brother; Aethelred.

Aethelred’s six year reign as King of Wessex was one battle after another with Viking invaders.

In 871, King Ethelred, the West Saxon King and elder brother of Alfred dies in battle.  On the 23rd April, Alfred becomes King of Wessex, a land beset with Viking invaders.

Alfred builds an English fleet of ships, to take on these Viking invaders on land and sea.  The English learnt quickly, for in 875 they claim their first sea victory, capturing one of the Viking ships.

In 878, Alfred is pushed west into the Somerset marshes by Danish forces.  From Athelney Fort and surrounding areas he creates a force to come out fighting, beating the Danes.

In 878 the “Treaty of Wedmore” is born, dividing England in two, with Alfred overlord of both halves.  Anglo-Saxons in the south and west, with Danes in the north and east.

As the Danes invade Kent in 885, Alfred drives Danish forces out of London in 886, and recognised by its people, as King of all England.

Alfred the Great, King of England, died in 899 and was succeeded by Edward, which was disputed by Edward’s cousin; Aethelwold, who sought assistance from the Danes, in claiming the crown.

Edward retaliated attacking the Danish Kingdom of East Anglia, culminating at the “Battle of Holme” where East Anglian Danes and Wessex warriors fought, and Aethelwold died in battle.

Edward the Elder’s reign was made up of constant clashes with the Danes.  By the end of his reign, Edward had almost quashed threats of Viking invasion.

Edward the Elder dies in 924 and is succeeded by his son, Aelfweard who reigns for a mere sixteen days.

Aethelstan becomes the next King of Wessex in 924 and the first King of England.  By the time of his coronation in 925, Anglo-Saxons had retaken much of England leaving an area around York in Danish control.

A truce was drawn up, preventing either side going to war.  When the Danish King; Sihtric died in 927, Aethelstan swiftly captured York and the Danes were forced into submission.

Aethelstan believed he be King of Britain, and called a gathering of the Kings including Scotland and Wales to acknowledge that he be the true King of England.  The welsh and Scots agreed, providing borders were placed between the three countries.

King Aethelstan died on the 27th October 940.  During his reign he had defeated the Vikings, created a united Anglo-Saxon Kingdom under a single banner, becoming the first King of England.

Wallpaper Image

Anglo-Saxon England

Anglo-Saxons

Fragmentary knowledge of England in the 5th and 6th centuries comes from the British writer Gildas (6th century), the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (q.v.; a history of the English people begun in the 9th century), saints’ lives, poetry, archaeological findings, and place-name studies. In the absence of Roman administrators, British warlords, nominally Christian, ruled small, unstable kingdoms and continued some Roman traditions of governance. In the mid-5th century, they revived the Roman policy of hiring Germanic mercenaries to help defend them against warlike peoples of the north (Picts and Scots). The Saxon mercenaries revolted against their British chiefs and began the process of invasion and settlement that destroyed the native ruling class and established Germanic kingdoms throughout the island by the 7th century. Later legends about a hero named Arthur were placed in this period of violence. The invaders were variously Angles, Saxons, Frisians, Jutes, and Franks in origin, but were similar in culture and eventually identified themselves indifferently as Angles or Saxons. Any man of noble birth and success in war could organize an army of warriors loyal to him personally and attempt to conquer and establish a kingdom. By the 7th century the Germanic kingdoms included Northumbria, Bernicia, Deira, Lindsay, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Wessex, Sussex, and Kent. They were turbulent states, but all Anglo-Saxon societies were characterized by strong kinship groups, feuds, customary law, and a system of money compensations (wergeld) for death, personal injury, and theft. They practiced their traditional polytheistic religions, lacked written language, and depended on mixed economies of agriculture, hunting, and animal husbandry.

The dominant themes of the next two centuries were the success of Christianity and the political unification of England. Christianity came from two directions, Rome and Ireland. In 596 Pope Gregory I sent a group of missionaries under a monk named Augustine to Kent, where King Ethelbert had married Bertha (d. 612?), a Christian Frankish princess. Soon after, Ethelbert was baptized, Augustine became the first archbishop of Canterbury, and the southern kingdoms became Christian. In Northumbria the Christianity from Rome met Celtic Christianity, which had been brought from Ireland to Scotland by St. Columba and then to Northumbria by St. Aidan (d. 651), who founded the monastery of Lindisfarne in 635. Although not heretical, the Celtic church differed from Rome in the way the monks tonsured their heads, in its reckoning of the date of Easter, and, most important, in its organization, which reflected the clans of Ireland rather than the highly centralized Roman Empire. At the Synod of Whitby in 664, Northumbria’s King Oswy (c. 612- 71) chose to go with Rome, giving England a common religion and a vivid example of unification. Theodore of Tarsus (602-90), who became arch-bishop of Canterbury in 668, created dioceses and gave the English church its basic structure.

The meeting in Northumbria of Celtic and Mediterranean scholarship produced a flowering of letters unequaled in western Europe. The Venerable Bede, a Northumbrian monk, was the outstanding European scholar of his age. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People made popular the use of BC and AD to date historical events. It also treated England as a unit, even while it was still divided among several kingdoms. Charlemagne chose Alcuin of York, another Northumbrian, to head his palace school.

The Germanic kingdoms tended to coalesce by means of warfare. As early as the time of Ethelbert of Kent, one king could be recognized as Bretwalda, or ruler of Britain. Generally speaking, the title fell in the 7th century to the kings of Northumbria, in the 8th to those of Mercia, and finally, in the 9th, to Egbert of Wessex, who in 825 defeated the Mercians at Ellendun. In the next century his family came to rule all England.

Egbert’s grandson, Alfred, became king of Wessex in one of England’s darkest hours. The Danes, part of the Viking forces that had begun to raid the English coasts in the late 8th century, had given up their primary goal of plunder and were now set on conquering England. Wessex and Alfred were all that stood in their way. Alfred at first had to buy a respite, but after his victory at Edington in 878 he forced the Danish king Guthrum (fl. 865-90) to accept baptism and a division of England into two parts, Wessex and what historians later called the Danelaw (Essex, East Anglia, and Northumbria). By creating an English navy, by reorganizing the Anglo-Saxon fyrd, or militia, allowing his warriors to alternate between farming and fighting, and by building strategic forts, Alfred captured London and began to roll back the Danish tide.

Alfred also gave his attention to good government, issuing a set of dooms, or laws, and to scholarship, which had declined in the years since Bede and Alcuin. He promoted, and assisted in, the translation of Latin works into Old English and encouraged the compilation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. For his many accomplishments, Alfred was called The Great, the only English king so acclaimed. The conquest of the Danelaw was completed by Alfred’s son, Edward the Elder, and by his grandson Athelstan, who won a great victory at Brunanburh in 937. Most of the remainder of the century was peaceful. In this atmosphere, St. Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury from 960 to 988, was able to restore the English church to health and prosperity.

The conquest of the Danelaw meant the creation of a unified government for all England and the evolution of the territorial state, which was replacing the kinship structure of earlier times. The king ruled with the assistance of the witenagemot (q.v.) , a council of wise men, which participated in the issuing of dooms and oversaw the selection of kings. About 40 shires (counties) were created out of former kingdoms or from significant military or administrative units. Each had a shiremoot, or court, consisting of all free males and meeting twice a year, at first presided over by a royal official called an alderman (later an earl) and then by a shire reeve, or sheriff. Smaller administrative, tax, and military units, called hundreds, had courts roughly parallel to the older folk moots, which met every four weeks, handling most of the ordinary judicial business. England had the most advanced government in western Europe, especially at the local level and in the office of sheriff, the key link between the king and local administration. After 991 this government proved capable of collecting the Danegeld, a tax on land, initially used as tribute to the Danes but later as an ordinary source of royal revenue. No other country in western Europe had the ability to assess and collect such a tax.

A new round of Danish invasions came in the reign of Ethelred II (the Redeless), often called The Unready, but better understood as being “without counsel,” or unwise. The Danegeld was his idea, as was the attempt to kill all the Danes from previous invasions, who were by this time becoming assimilated. In 1014 he was driven from the throne by King Sweyn I of Denmark, only to return a few months later when Sweyn died. When Ethelred died in 1016, Sweyn’s son Canute II won out over Edmund II, called Ironside, the son of Ethelred. Under Canute, England was part of an empire that also included Denmark and Norway. Following the short and unpopular reigns of Canute’s sons, Harold I Harefoot and Hardecanute, Edward the Confessor, another son of Ethelred, was recalled from Normandy, where he had lived in exile. Edward’s reign is noted for its dominance by the powerful earls of Wessex-Godwin (990?-1053) and then his son Harold (subsequently Harold II) and for the first influx of Norman-French influence. Edward was most interested in the building of Westminster Abbey, which was completed just in time for his burialin January 1066.

Edward’s death without an heir left the succession in doubt. The witenagemot chose Harold, earl of Wessex, although his only claim to the throne was his availability. Other aspirants were King Harold III (the Hard Ruler) of Norway and Duke William of Normandy. Harold II defeated the former at Stamford Bridge on Sept. 25, 1066, but lost to William at Hastings on Octo ber 14. William, who had more right to the throne than Harold, was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day.

Anglo-Saxon King: Edward the Confessor

Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor

Edward, the son of King Ethelred II and Emma of Normandy, was a direct descendant of King Alfred the Great.  Edward was educated at an English monastery, and when the Danes invaded, his mother Emma fled to Normandy with her children, and it was here Edward developed strong ties with Normans.

With the death of King Ethelred II in 1016, Emma returned to England and married the new Danish King: Cnut the Great.  The son of Emma and Cnut; Hardecnut succeeded his father as King and then proceeded to bring back his half-brother; Edward from Normandy to England in 1041.

Hardecnut, King of England died in 1042 and was succeeded by his half-brother Edward, who was crowned Edward the Confessor at Canterbury Cathedral on Easter Sunday.

Edward, King of England from 1042-1066, kept the kingdom in a state of relative peace.  However the latter years of his reign were plagued by who would be successor.

Edward, famous for his piety, was canonized in 1161.

His most lasting contribution to English history, was the building project that turned the Benedictine Abbey in Westminster into the great religious and political centre of the kingdom; Westminster Abbey.

Edward, may have been King, but he found it difficult to assert his own authority over the earls of his kingdom, especially one Godwin of Essex.  He who had been chief adviser to King Cnut, who had been rewarded with large expanses of land and much wealth.  Godwin’s influence across Edward’s kingdom, increased further when Godwin demanded that Edward marry his daughter; Edith.  Edward, needed Godwin’s military support and was forced into agreeing to this marriage.  Edith was the main pawn in Godwin’s game to rule England.

Edward appointed the Norman, Robert of Jumieges as the new Archbishop of Canterbury in 1051, and straight away this caused a rift with Godwin.

When Godwin failed to support Edward’s brother-in-law in a dispute with the citizens of Dover, Edward banished him, and promised William the Duke of Normandy, that he would be his heir, to the English throne.  In 1052 Godwin returned to England, and with support from the earls of Mercia and Northumbria, forced Edward to name Stigand as Archbishop of Canterbury instead of Robert of Jumieges.  Edward withdrew to concentrate on the building of Westminster Abbey.

Shortly before his death in 1066, he changed his successor to the English throne, from William, the Duke of Normandy, to Godwin’s son Harold.  As news reached William that Edward had died and the English throne had passed to Harold, William of Normandy invaded England, to claim what was rightfully his in the Battle of Hastings.

Edward’s death in 1066 precipitated the Norman Conquest that ended Anglo-Saxon rule and ushered in a new period of English history; The Dark Ages.

Anglo-Saxon Kings

King Alfred the Great
King Alfred the Great

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.

AETHELWULF 839-856
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 856-860
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.

AETHELBERT 860-866
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 I 86-871
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 THE GREAT 871-899
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.

ATHELSTAN 924-939
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.

EDWARD THE MARTYR 975-978
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 II THE UNREADY 978-1016
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 II IRONSIDE 1016-1016
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 (CNUT THE GREAT) THE DANE 1016-1035
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.

HARTHACANUTE 1040-1042
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

EDWARD THE CONFESSOR 1042-1066
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.

HAROLD II 1066
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.

 

Birth of the Normans

Viking Ship Wallpaper
Viking Longship

Viking sea-raiders from Scandinavia created fear, attacking coastal lands of Western Europe… They plundered; they killed and took captives to sell into a life of slavery.  They earned the reputation of showing no mercy!

Hrolf, leader of the Vikings pillaged the lands of North-Eastern France, around the area of the Seine River in 911.  The threat, the fear imposed upon King Charles of the Franks, led to a treaty with the Vikings at St.Clair-sur-Epte in 911.  Effectively this treaty gave large areas of France to the Vikings, thus creating the lands of Normandy around the mouth of the River Seine.

Some two generation’s on and the Viking lifestyle had changed.  They had taken under their wing, the language, religion, laws, customs and politics of the Franks.  They were referred to as the Northmen of Normandy, only later to be known as Normans.

Their desire for conquest, led Normans to pursue military goals abroad.  Normans went to Spain to fight the Moors; to Byzantium to fight the Turks; to Sicily in 1061 to fight the Saracens; and England in 1066.

The Norman Duke, William I, friend of Edward the Confessor, the Saxon English King who reigned from 1042-1066, and who supposedly promised the throne to William upon his death.

William the Conqueror
King William I of England…… William the Conqueror

William I had no choice, when Harold II claimed the English throne, which had been promised to him.  So these two armies met to decide who should be the rightful King of England.  The Norman style of fighting against the Anglo-Saxons… there was no real contest as William the Conqueror became King William I of England in 1066.  It was a brutal time, as thousand’s were slaughtered in battle, and more died through famine and disease.

Norman England added to Norman France created a powerful and rich territory across Europe.

William I ran England using the “Feudal System” where the King owned everything.  So that meant he rented everything to his Barons, and they provided him with as army when required.

The Domesday Book
The Domesday Book

These Baron’s leased out land to farmer’s etc, and so the Domesday Book of 1086 was produced, creating an inventory of the country…

Bayeux Tapestry Part 1
One section of the Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry was instigated by William’s half brother; Odo and produced by Queen Matilda, William’s wife.  It provides one with a visual record of events in 1066.

The New Forest, which to-day is a National Park, was formerly lands located to the North-East of Southampton and commandeered by William I, as his exclusive hunting grounds.

The legacy left by the Norman’s has to be its Churches, Cathedrals and Castles, many of which were built out of stone, which stretched across this land of ours:

Durham Cathedral – Winchester Cathedral

The Nave Arcade of Norwich Cathedral (1094-1145)

The West Front of Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire (1108)

The Nave of Rochester Cathedral built by Gundulf (1080)

Tower of London – Windsor Castle

tower of london
The Tower of London