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Anglo-Saxon England

England green top 2.svg
Edward the Elder - MS Royal 14 B VI.jpg

Anglo-Saxon England was early medieval England, existing from the 5th to the 11th centuries from the end of Roman Britain until the Norman conquest in 1066. It consisted of various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms until 927 when it was united as the Kingdom of England by King Æthelstan (r. 927–939). It became part of the short-lived North Sea Empire of Cnut the Great, a personal union between England, Denmark and Norway in the 11th century.

The Anglo-Saxons were the members of Germanic-speaking groups who migrated to the southern half of the island of Great Britain from nearby northwestern Europe. Anglo-Saxon history thus begins during the period of sub-Roman Britain following the end of Roman control, and traces the establishment of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the 5th and 6th centuries (conventionally identified as seven main kingdoms: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Wessex), their Christianisation during the 7th century, the threat of Viking invasions and Danish settlers, the gradual unification of England under the Wessex hegemony during the 9th and 10th centuries, and ending with the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066.

Anglo-Saxon identity survived beyond the Norman conquest, came to be known as Englishry under Norman rule, and through social and cultural integration with Celts, Danes and Anglo-Normans became the modern English people.

Selected article

Stedmundcrownedbyangelspierpontms736f42.jpg

The East Angles were initially ruled (from the 6th century until 749) by members of the Wuffingas dynasty, named after Wuffa, whose name means 'descendants of the wolf'. The last king was Guthrum II, who ruled in the 10th century.

After 749 East Anglia was ruled by kings whose genealogy is not known, or by sub-kings who were under the control of the kings of Mercia. East Anglia briefly recovered its independence after the death of Offa of Mercia in 796, but Mercian hegemony was soon restored by his successor, Coenwulf. Between 826 and 869, following an East Anglian revolt in which the Mercian king, Beornwulf, was killed, the East Angles again regained their independence. In 869 a Danish army defeated and killed the last native East Anglian king, Edmund the Martyr. The kingdom then fell into the hands of the Danes and eventually formed part of the Danelaw. In 918 the East Anglian Danes accepted the overlordship of Edward the Elder of Wessex. East Anglia then became part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. (more about the kings of East Anglia...)

Did you know?

Did you know...
  • ...that in Anglo-Saxon England, pregnant women were warned against eating food that was too salty or too sweet, or other fatty foods, and were also cautioned not to drink strong alcohol or travel on horseback?
  • ...that the ship-burial at Snape is the only one in England that can be compared to the example at Sutton Hoo?
  • ...that the name Taplow of the burial mound at Taplow, comes from Old English Tæppas hláw ('Tæppa's mound'), so that the name of the man buried in the mound would seem to have been Tæppa?
  • ...that the Ordinance Concerning the Dunsaete, which gave procedures for dealing with disputes between the English and the Welsh of Archenfield, stated that the English should only cross into the Welsh side, and vice versa, in the presence of an appointed man who had to make sure that the foreigner was safely escorted back to the crossing point?

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Hoard of Anglo-Saxon rings
Credit: Odejea

The statue of Alfred the Great at Winchester by Hamo Thornycroft (1899).

Selected biography

Ine was King of Wessex from 688 to 726. He was unable to retain the territorial gains of his predecessor, Cædwalla, who had brought much of southern England under his control and expanded West Saxon territory substantially. By the end of Ine's reign the kingdoms of Kent, Sussex and Essex were no longer under West Saxon domination; however, Ine maintained control of what is now Hampshire, and consolidated and extended Wessex's territory in the western peninsula.

Ine is noted for his code of laws (Ine’s laws or laws of Ine), which he issued in about 694. These laws were the first issued by an Anglo-Saxon king outside Kent. They shed much light on the history of Anglo-Saxon society, and reveal Ine's Christian convictions. Trade increased significantly during Ine's reign, with the town of Hamwic (now Southampton) becoming prominent. It was probably during Ine's reign that the West Saxons began to mint coins, though none have been found that bear his name.

Ine abdicated in 726 to go to Rome, leaving the kingdom to "younger men", in the words of the contemporary chronicler Bede. He was succeeded by Æthelheard. (more...)

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