Tag: Norman

The Norman Conquest of England

The Norman conquest of England (in Britain, often called the Norman Conquest or the Conquest) was the 11th-century invasion and occupation of England by an army of Norman, Breton, and French soldiers led by Duke William II of Normandy, later styled William the Conqueror.

William’s claim to the English throne derived from his familial relationship with the childless Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor, who may have encouraged William’s hopes for the throne. Edward died in January 1066 and was succeeded by his brother-in-law Harold Godwinson. The Norwegian king Harald Hardrada invaded northern England in September 1066 and was victorious at the Battle of Fulford, but Harold defeated and killed him at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September. Within days, William landed in southern England. Harold marched south to confront him, leaving a significant portion of his army in the north. Harold’s army confronted William’s invaders on 14 October at the Battle of Hastings; William’s force defeated Harold, who was killed in the engagement.

Although William’s main rivals were gone, he still faced rebellions over the following years and was not secure on his throne until after 1072. The lands of the resisting English elite were confiscated; some of the elite fled into exile. To control his new kingdom, William granted lands to his followers and built castles commanding military strongpoints throughout the land. Other effects of the conquest included the court and government, the introduction of the Norman language as the language of the elites, and changes in the composition of the upper classes, as William enfeoffed lands to be held directly from the king. More gradual changes affected the agricultural classes and village life: the main change appears to have been the formal elimination of slavery, which may or may not have been linked to the invasion. There was little alteration in the structure of government, as the new Norman administrators took over many of the forms of Anglo-Saxon government.

n 911 the Carolingian French ruler Charles the Simple allowed a group of Vikings under their leader Rollo to settle in Normandy as part of the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte. In exchange for the land, the Norsemen under Rollo were expected to provide protection along the coast against further Viking invaders. Their settlement proved successful, and the Vikings in the region became known as the “Northmen” from which “Normandy” and “Normans” are derived. The Normans quickly adopted the indigenous culture as they became assimilated by the French, renouncing paganism and converting to Christianity. They adopted the langue d’oïl of their new home and added features from their own Norse language, transforming it into the Norman language. They intermarried with the local population and used the territory granted to them as a base to extend the frontiers of the duchy westward, annexing territory including the Bessin, the Cotentin Peninsula and Avranches.

In 1002 English king Æthelred the Unready married Emma of Normandy, the sister of Richard II, Duke of Normandy. Their son Edward the Confessor, who spent many years in exile in Normandy, succeeded to the English throne in 1042. This led to the establishment of a powerful Norman interest in English politics, as Edward drew heavily on his former hosts for support, bringing in Norman courtiers, soldiers, and clerics and appointing them to positions of power, particularly in the Church. Childless and embroiled in conflict with the formidable Godwin, Earl of Wessex and his sons, Edward may also have encouraged Duke William of Normandy’s ambitions for the English throne.

When King Edward died at the beginning of 1066, the lack of a clear heir led to a disputed succession in which several contenders laid claim to the throne of England. Edward’s immediate successor was the Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson, the richest and most powerful of the English aristocrats. Harold was elected king by the Witenagemot of England and crowned by the Archbishop of York, Ealdred, although Norman propaganda claimed the ceremony was performed by Stigand, the uncanonically elected Archbishop of Canterbury.

Harold was immediately challenged by two powerful neighbouring rulers. Duke William claimed that he had been promised the throne by King Edward and that Harold had sworn agreement to this; King Harald III of Norway, commonly known as Harald Hardrada, also contested the succession. His claim to the throne was based on an agreement between his predecessor, Magnus the Good, and the earlier English king, Harthacnut, whereby if either died without heir, the other would inherit both England and Norway. William and Harald at once set about assembling troops and ships to invade England.

13th-century depiction of Rollo (top) and his descendants William I Longsword and Richard I of Normandy.

Tostig’s raids and the Norwegian invasion

In early 1066, Harold’s exiled brother, Tostig Godwinson, raided southeastern England with a fleet he had recruited in Flanders, later joined by other ships from Orkney. Threatened by Harold’s fleet, Tostig moved north and raided in East Anglia and Lincolnshire, but he was driven back to his ships by the brothers Edwin, Earl of Mercia, and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria.

Deserted by most of his followers, Tostig withdrew to Scotland, where he spent the summer recruiting fresh forces. King Harold spent the summer on the south coast with a large army and fleet waiting for William to invade, but the bulk of his forces were militia who needed to harvest their crops, so on 8 September Harold dismissed them.

King Harald Hardrada invaded northern England in early September, leading a fleet of more than 300 ships carrying perhaps 15,000 men. Harald’s army was further augmented by the forces of Tostig, who threw his support behind the Norwegian king’s bid for the throne.

Viking army

Advancing on York, the Norwegians defeated a northern English army under Edwin and Morcar on 20 September at the Battle of Fulford. The two earls had rushed to engage the Norwegian forces before King Harold could arrive from the south. Although Harold Godwinson had married Edwin and Morcar’s sister Ealdgyth, the two earls may have distrusted Harold and feared that the king would replace Morcar with Tostig.

The end result was that their forces were devastated and unable to participate in the rest of the campaigns of 1066, although the two earls survived the battle.

Hardrada moved on to York, which surrendered to him. After taking hostages from the leading men of the city, on 24 September the Norwegians moved east to the tiny village of Stamford Bridge. King Harold probably learned of the Norwegian invasion in mid-September and rushed north, gathering forces as he went.

The royal forces probably took nine days to cover the distance from London to York, averaging almost 25 miles (40 kilometres) per day. At dawn on 25 September Harold’s forces reached York, where he learned the location of the Norwegians. The English then marched on the invaders and took them by surprise, defeating them in the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Harald of Norway and Tostig were killed, and the Norwegians suffered such horrific losses that only 24 of the original 300 ships were required to carry away the survivors. The English victory was costly, however, as Harold’s army was left in a battered and weakened state, and far from the English Channel.

Stamford Bridge, East Riding in Yorkshire.

William assembled a large invasion fleet and an army gathered from Normandy and all over France, including large contingents from Brittany and Flanders. He mustered his forces at Saint-Valery-sur-Somme and was ready to cross the Channel by about 12 August. The exact numbers and composition of William’s force are unknown. A contemporary document claims that William had 726 ships, but this may be an inflated figure. Figures given by contemporary writers are highly exaggerated, varying from 14,000 to 150,000 men. Modern historians have offered a range of estimates for the size of William’s forces: 7000–8000 men, 1000–2000 of them cavalry; 10,000–12,000 men; 10,000 men, 3000 of them cavalry; or 7500 men.

The army would have consisted of a mix of cavalry, infantry, and archers or crossbowmen, with about equal numbers of cavalry and archers and the foot soldiers equal in number to the other two types combined. Although later lists of companions of William the Conqueror are extant, most are padded with extra names; only about 35 individuals can be reliably claimed to have been with William at Hastings.

William of Poitiers states that William obtained Pope Alexander II‘s consent for the invasion, signified by a papal banner, along with diplomatic support from other European rulers. Although Alexander did give papal approval to the conquest after it succeeded, no other source claims papal support before the invasion. William’s army assembled during the summer while an invasion fleet in Normandy was constructed. Although the army and fleet were ready by early August, adverse winds kept the ships in Normandy until late September. There were probably other reasons for William’s delay, including intelligence reports from England revealing that Harold’s forces were deployed along the coast. William would have preferred to delay the invasion until he could make an unopposed landing.

Landing in England scene from the Bayeux Tapestry, depicting ships coming in and horses landing.

The Normans crossed to England a few days after Harold’s victory over the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge on 25 September, following the dispersal of Harold’s naval force. They landed at Pevensey in Sussex on 28 September and erected a wooden castle at Hastings, from which they raided the surrounding area. This ensured supplies for the army, and as Harold and his family held many of the lands in the area, it weakened William’s opponent and made him more likely to attack to put an end to the raiding.

Harold, after defeating his brother Tostig and Harald Hardrada in the north, left much of his force there, including Morcar and Edwin, and marched the rest of his army south to deal with the threatened Norman invasion. It is unclear when Harold learned of William’s landing, but it was probably while he was travelling south. Harold stopped in London for about a week before reaching Hastings, so it is likely that he took a second week to march south, averaging about 27 miles (43 kilometres) per day, for the nearly 200 miles (320 kilometres) to London.

Although Harold attempted to surprise the Normans, William’s scouts reported the English arrival to the duke. The exact events preceding the battle remain obscure, with contradictory accounts in the sources, but all agree that William led his army from his castle and advanced towards the enemy. Harold had taken up a defensive position at the top of Senlac Hill (present-day Battle, East Sussex), about 6 miles (10 kilometres) from William’s castle at Hastings.

Contemporary sources do not give reliable data on the size and composition of Harold’s army, although two Norman sources give figures of 1.2 million or 400,000 men. Recent historians have suggested figures of between 5000 and 13,000 for Harold’s army at Hastings, but most agree on a range of between 7000 and 8000 English troops.

These men would have comprised a mix of the fyrd (militia mainly composed of foot soldiers) and the housecarls, or nobleman’s personal troops, who usually also fought on foot. The main difference between the two types was in their armour; the housecarls used better protecting armour than that of the fyrd.

The English army does not appear to have had many archers, although some were present. The identities of few of the Englishmen at Hastings are known; the most important were Harold’s brothers Gyrth and Leofwine. About 18 other named individuals can reasonably be assumed to have fought with Harold at Hastings, including two other relatives.

The Battle of Hastings as depicted from a scene in the Bayeux Tapestry.

The battle began at about 9 am on 14 October 1066 and lasted all day, but while a broad outline is known, the exact events are obscured by contradictory accounts in the sources. Although the numbers on each side were probably about equal, William had both cavalry and infantry, including many archers, while Harold had only foot soldiers and few archers.

The English soldiers formed up as a shield wall along the ridge, and were at first so effective that William’s army was thrown back with heavy casualties. Some of William’s Breton troops panicked and fled, and some of the English troops appear to have pursued the fleeing Bretons. Norman cavalry then attacked and killed the pursuing troops. While the Bretons were fleeing, rumours swept the Norman forces that the duke had been killed, but William rallied his troops. Twice more the Normans made feigned withdrawals, tempting the English into pursuit, and allowing the Norman cavalry to attack them repeatedly.

The available sources are more confused about events in the afternoon, but it appears that the decisive event was the death of Harold, about which differing stories are told. William of Jumieges claimed that Harold was killed by the duke. The Bayeux Tapestry has been claimed to show Harold’s death by an arrow to the eye, but this may be a later reworking of the tapestry to conform to 12th-century stories that Harold had died from an arrow wound to the head. Other sources stated that no one knew how Harold died because the press of battle was so tight around the king that the soldiers could not see who struck the fatal blow. William of Poitiers gives no details at all about Harold’s death.

Likely depiction of Harold’s death from the Bayeux Tapestry.

The day after the battle, Harold’s body was identified, either by his armour or marks on his body. The bodies of the English dead, who included some of Harold’s brothers and his housecarls, were left on the battlefield, although some were removed by relatives later.

Gytha, Harold’s mother, offered the victorious duke the weight of her son’s body in gold for its custody, but her offer was refused. William ordered that Harold’s body be thrown into the sea, but whether that took place is unclear.

Another story relates that Harold was buried at the top of a cliff. Waltham Abbey, which had been founded by Harold, later claimed that his body had been buried there secretly. Later legends claimed that Harold did not die at Hastings, but escaped and became a hermit at Chester.

After his victory at Hastings, William expected to receive the submission of the surviving English leaders, but instead Edgar the Ætheling was proclaimed king by the Witenagemot, with the support of Earls Edwin and Morcar, Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Ealdred, the Archbishop of York.

William therefore advanced, marching around the coast of Kent to London. He defeated an English force that attacked him at Southwark, but being unable to storm London Bridge he sought to reach the capital by a more circuitous route.

William moved up the Thames valley to cross the river at Wallingford, Berkshire; while there he received the submission of Stigand. He then travelled north-east along the Chilterns, before advancing towards London from the north-west, fighting further engagements against forces from the city. Having failed to muster an effective military response, Edgar’s leading supporters lost their nerve, and the English leaders surrendered to William at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.

William was acclaimed King of England and crowned by Ealdred on 25 December 1066, in Westminster Abbey. The new king attempted to conciliate the remaining English nobility by confirming Morcar, Edwin and Waltheof, the Earl of Northumbria, in their lands as well as giving some land to Edgar the Ætheling. William remained in England until March 1067, when he returned to Normandy with English prisoners, including Stigand, Morcar, Edwin, Edgar the Ætheling, and Waltheof.

Westminster Abbey

First rebellions

Despite the submission of the English nobles, resistance continued for several years. William left control of England in the hands of his half-brother Odo and one of his closest supporters, William fitzOsbern. In 1067 rebels in Kent launched an unsuccessful attack on Dover Castle in combination with Eustace II of Boulogne.

The Shropshire landowner Eadric the Wild, in alliance with the Welsh rulers of Gwynedd and Powys, raised a revolt in western Mercia, fighting Norman forces based in Hereford. These events forced William to return to England at the end of 1067. In 1068 William besieged rebels in Exeter, including Harold’s mother Gytha, and after suffering heavy losses managed to negotiate the town’s surrender.

In May, William’s wife Matilda was crowned queen at Westminster, an important symbol of William’s growing international stature. Later in the year Edwin and Morcar raised a revolt in Mercia with Welsh assistance, while Gospatric, the newly appointed Earl of Northumbria, led a rising in Northumbria, which had not yet been occupied by the Normans. These rebellions rapidly collapsed as William moved against them, building castles and installing garrisons as he had already done in the south.

Edwin and Morcar again submitted, while Gospatric fled to Scotland, as did Edgar the Ætheling and his family, who may have been involved in these revolts. Meanwhile, Harold’s sons, who had taken refuge in Ireland, raided Somerset, Devon and Cornwall from the sea.

Revolts of 1069

The remains of Baile Hill, the second motte-and-bailey castle built by William in York.

Early in 1069 the newly installed Norman Earl of Northumbria, Robert de Comines, and several hundred soldiers accompanying him were massacred at Durham; the Northumbrian rebellion was joined by Edgar, Gospatric, Siward Barn and other rebels who had taken refuge in Scotland. The castellan of York, Robert fitzRichard, was defeated and killed, and the rebels besieged the Norman castle at York.

William hurried north with an army, defeated the rebels outside York and pursued them into the city, massacring the inhabitants and bringing the revolt to an end. He built a second castle at York, strengthened Norman forces in Northumbria and then returned south. A subsequent local uprising was crushed by the garrison of York.

Harold’s sons launched a second raid from Ireland and were defeated in Devon by Norman forces under Count Brian, a son of Eudes, Count of Penthièvre. In August or September 1069 a large fleet sent by Sweyn II of Denmark arrived off the coast of England, sparking a new wave of rebellions across the country.

After abortive raids in the south, the Danes joined forces with a new Northumbrian uprising, which was also joined by Edgar, Gospatric and the other exiles from Scotland as well as Waltheof. The combined Danish and English forces defeated the Norman garrison at York, seized the castles and took control of Northumbria, although a raid into Lincolnshire led by Edgar was defeated by the Norman garrison of Lincoln.

Danish Fleet

At the same time resistance flared up again in western Mercia, where the forces of Eadric the Wild, together with his Welsh allies and further rebel forces from Cheshire and Shropshire, attacked the castle at Shrewsbury. In the south-west, rebels from Devon and Cornwall attacked the Norman garrison at Exeter, but were repulsed by the defenders and scattered by a Norman relief force under Count Brian.

Other rebels from Dorset, Somerset and neighbouring areas besieged Montacute Castle but were defeated by a Norman army gathered from London, Winchester and Salisbury under Geoffrey of Coutances. Meanwhile, William attacked the Danes, who had moored for the winter south of the Humber in Lincolnshire, and drove them back to the north bank.

Leaving Robert of Mortain in charge of Lincolnshire, he turned west and defeated the Mercian rebels in battle at Stafford. When the Danes attempted to return to Lincolnshire, the Norman forces there again drove them back across the Humber.

William advanced into Northumbria, defeating an attempt to block his crossing of the swollen River Aire at Pontefract. The Danes fled at his approach, and he occupied York. He bought off the Danes, who agreed to leave England in the spring, and during the winter of 1069–70 his forces systematically devastated Northumbria in the Harrying of the North, subduing all resistance. As a symbol of his renewed authority over the north, William ceremonially wore his crown at York on Christmas Day 1069.

In early 1070, having secured the submission of Waltheof and Gospatric, and driven Edgar and his remaining supporters back to Scotland, William returned to Mercia, where he based himself at Chester and crushed all remaining resistance in the area before returning to the south.

Papal legates arrived and at Easter re-crowned William, which would have symbolically reasserted his right to the kingdom. William also oversaw a purge of prelates from the Church, most notably Stigand, who was deposed from Canterbury. The papal legates also imposed penances on William and those of his supporters who had taken part in Hastings and the subsequent campaigns.

As well as Canterbury, the see of York had become vacant following the death of Ealdred in September 1069. Both sees were filled by men loyal to William: Lanfranc, abbot of William’s foundation at Caen, received Canterbury while Thomas of Bayeux, one of William’s chaplains, was installed at York. Some other bishoprics and abbeys also received new bishops and abbots and William confiscated some of the wealth of the English monasteries, which had served as repositories for the assets of the native nobles.

Danish troubles

Coin of Sweyn II of Denmark.

In 1070 Sweyn II of Denmark arrived to take personal command of his fleet and renounced the earlier agreement to withdraw, sending troops into the Fens to join forces with English rebels led by Hereward the Wake, at that time based on the Isle of Ely. Sweyn soon accepted a further payment of Danegeld from William, and returned home.

After the departure of the Danes the Fenland rebels remained at large, protected by the marshes, and early in 1071 there was a final outbreak of rebel activity in the area. Edwin and Morcar again turned against William, and although Edwin was quickly betrayed and killed, Morcar reached Ely, where he and Hereward were joined by exiled rebels who had sailed from Scotland.

William arrived with an army and a fleet to finish off this last pocket of resistance. After some costly failures the Normans managed to construct a pontoon to reach the Isle of Ely, defeated the rebels at the bridgehead and stormed the island, marking the effective end of English resistance. Morcar was imprisoned for the rest of his life; Hereward was pardoned and had his lands returned to him.

Last resistance

William faced difficulties in his continental possessions in 1071, but in 1072 he returned to England and marched north to confront King Malcolm III of Scotland. This campaign, which included a land army supported by a fleet, resulted in the Treaty of Abernethy in which Malcolm expelled Edgar the Ætheling from Scotland and agreed to some degree of subordination to William. The exact status of this subordination was unclear – the treaty merely stated that Malcolm became William’s man. Whether this meant only for Cumbria and Lothian or for the whole Scottish kingdom was left ambiguous.

In 1075, during William’s absence, Ralph de Gael, the Earl of Norfolk, and Roger de Breteuil the Earl of Hereford, conspired to overthrow him in the Revolt of the Earls. The exact reason for the rebellion is unclear, but it was launched at the wedding of Ralph to a relative of Roger’s, held at Exning. Another earl, Waltheof, despite being one of William’s favourites, was also involved, and some Breton lords were ready to offer support.

Ralph also requested Danish aid. William remained in Normandy while his men in England subdued the revolt. Roger was unable to leave his stronghold in Herefordshire because of efforts by Wulfstan, the Bishop of Worcester, and Æthelwig, the Abbot of Evesham. Ralph was bottled up in Norwich Castle by the combined efforts of Odo of Bayeux, Geoffrey of Coutances, Richard fitzGilbert, and William de Warenne. Norwich was besieged and surrendered, and Ralph went into exile. Meanwhile, the Danish king’s brother, Cnut, had finally arrived in England with a fleet of 200 ships, but he was too late as Norwich had already surrendered. The Danes then raided along the coast before returning home.

aerial photograph of Norwich Castle , Norfolk, England UK. Norwich Castle was built under the orders of William the Conqueror shortly after the Norman Conquest in order to secure his rule.The Castle was captured by Hugh Bigod during the rebellion of 1173-74 but handed back to the Crown at the end of the revolt.The Castle was used as a Gaol from 1220 to 1887 and was converted to a museum in 1897, a role which it fulfils to the present day.

William did not return to England until later in 1075, to deal with the Danish threat and the aftermath of the rebellion, celebrating Christmas at Winchester. Roger and Waltheof were kept in prison, where Waltheof was executed in May 1076. By that time William had returned to the continent, where Ralph was continuing the rebellion from Brittany.

Once England had been conquered, the Normans faced many challenges in maintaining control. They were few in number compared to the native English population; including those from other parts of France, historians estimate the number of Norman landholders at around 8000. William’s followers expected and received lands and titles in return for their service in the invasion, but William claimed ultimate possession of the land in England over which his armies had given him de facto control, and asserted the right to dispose of it as he saw fit.

Henceforth, all land was “held” directly from the king in feudal tenure in return for military service. A Norman lord typically had properties located in a piecemeal fashion throughout England and Normandy, and not in a single geographic block.

To find the lands to compensate his Norman followers, William initially confiscated the estates of all the English lords who had fought and died with Harold and redistributed part of their lands. These confiscations led to revolts, which resulted in more confiscations, a cycle that continued for five years after the Battle of Hastings.

To put down and prevent further rebellions the Normans constructed castles and fortifications in unprecedented numbers, initially mostly on the motte-and-bailey pattern. Historian Robert Liddiard remarks that “to glance at the urban landscape of Norwich, Durham or Lincoln is to be forcibly reminded of the impact of the Norman invasion”.

The Tower of London, originally begun by William the Conqueror to control London.

William and his barons also exercised tighter control over inheritance of property by widows and daughters, often forcing marriages to Normans.

A measure of William’s success in taking control is that, from 1072 until the Capetian conquest of Normandy in 1204, William and his successors were largely absentee rulers. For example, after 1072, William spent more than 75 per cent of his time in France rather than England. While he needed to be personally present in Normandy to defend the realm from foreign invasion and put down internal revolts, he set up royal administrative structures that enabled him to rule England from a distance.

Elite replacement

A direct consequence of the invasion was the almost total elimination of the old English aristocracy and the loss of English control over the Catholic Church in England. William systematically dispossessed English landowners and conferred their property on his continental followers. The Domesday Book meticulously documents the impact of this colossal programme of expropriation, revealing that by 1086 only about 5 per cent of land in England south of the Tees was left in English hands. Even this tiny residue was further diminished in the decades that followed, the elimination of native landholding being most complete in southern parts of the country.

Natives were also removed from high governmental and ecclesiastical office. After 1075 all earldoms were held by Normans, and Englishmen were only occasionally appointed as sheriffs. Likewise in the Church, senior English office-holders were either expelled from their positions or kept in place for their lifetimes and replaced by foreigners when they died. By 1096 no bishopric was held by any Englishman, and English abbots became uncommon, especially in the larger monasteries.

English emigration

The Varangian Guard, Byzantine mercenaries, largely recruited from Viking territories in the north of Europe.

Following the conquest, many Anglo-Saxons, including groups of nobles, fled the country for Scotland, Ireland, or Scandinavia. Members of King Harold Godwinson’s family sought refuge in Ireland and used their bases in that country for unsuccessful invasions of England.

The largest single exodus occurred in the 1070s, when a group of Anglo-Saxons in a fleet of 235 ships sailed for the Byzantine Empire. The empire became a popular destination for many English nobles and soldiers, as the Byzantines were in need of mercenaries.

The English became the predominant element in the elite Varangian Guard, until then a largely Scandinavian unit, from which the emperor’s bodyguard was drawn. Some of the English migrants were settled in Byzantine frontier regions on the Black Sea coast, and established towns with names such as New London and New York.

Before the Normans arrived, Anglo-Saxon governmental systems were more sophisticated than their counterparts in Normandy. All of England was divided into administrative units called shires, with subdivisions; the royal court was the centre of government, and a justice system based on local and regional tribunals existed to secure the rights of free men. Shires were run by officials known as shire reeves or sheriffs. Most medieval governments were always on the move, holding court wherever the weather and food or other matters were best at the moment; England had a permanent treasury at Winchester before William’s conquest.

One major reason for the strength of the English monarchy was the wealth of the kingdom, built on the English system of taxation that included a land tax, or the geld. English coinage was also superior to most of the other currency in use in northwestern Europe, and the ability to mint coins was a royal monopoly.

The English kings had also developed the system of issuing writs to their officials, in addition to the normal medieval practice of issuing charters. Writs were either instructions to an official or group of officials, or notifications of royal actions such as appointments to office or a grant of some sort.

This sophisticated medieval form of government was handed over to the Normans and was the foundation of further developments. They kept the framework of government but made changes in the personnel, although at first the new king attempted to keep some natives in office.

By the end of William’s reign most of the officials of government and the royal household were Normans. The language of official documents also changed, from Old English to Latin. The forest laws were introduced, leading to the setting aside of large sections of England as royal forest.

The Domesday survey was an administrative catalogue of the landholdings of the kingdom, and was unique to medieval Europe. It was divided into sections based on the shires, and listed all the landholdings of each tenant-in-chief of the king as well as who had held the land before the conquest.

Page from the Warwickshire Domesday survey.

Language

One of the most obvious effects of the conquest was the introduction of Anglo-Norman, a northern dialect of Old French, as the language of the ruling classes in England, displacing Old English. French words entered the English language, and a further sign of the shift was the usage of names common in France instead of Anglo-Saxon names.

Male names such as William, Robert and Richard soon became common; female names changed more slowly. The Norman invasion had little impact on placenames, which had changed significantly after earlier Scandinavian invasions.

It is not known precisely how much English the Norman invaders learned, nor how much the knowledge of French spread among the lower classes, but the demands of trade and basic communication probably meant that at least some of the Normans and native English were bilingual. Nevertheless, William the Conqueror never developed a working knowledge of English and for centuries afterwards English was not well understood by the nobility.

Immigration and intermarriage

An estimated 8000 Normans and other continentals settled in England as a result of the conquest, although exact figures cannot be established. Some of these new residents intermarried with the native English, but the extent of this practice in the years immediately after Hastings is unclear.

Several marriages are attested between Norman men and English women during the years before 1100, but such marriages were uncommon. Most Normans continued to contract marriages with other Normans or other continental families rather than with the English. Within a century of the invasion, intermarriage between the native English and the Norman immigrants had become common. By the early 1160s, Ailred of Rievaulx was writing that intermarriage was common in all levels of society.

Society

Modern-day reconstruction of an Anglo-Saxon village at West Stow.

The impact of the conquest on the lower levels of English society is difficult to assess. The major change was the elimination of slavery in England, which had disappeared by the middle of the 12th century.[ There were about 28,000 slaves listed in Domesday Book in 1086, fewer than had been enumerated for 1066. In some places, such as Essex, the decline in slaves was 20 per cent for the 20 years.

The main reasons for the decline in slaveholding appear to have been the disapproval of the Church and the cost of supporting slaves, who unlike serfs, had to be maintained entirely by their owners. The practice of slavery was not outlawed, and the Leges Henrici Primi from the reign of King Henry I continue to mention slaveholding as legal.

Many of the free peasants of Anglo-Saxon society appear to have lost status and become indistinguishable from the non-free serfs. Whether this change was due entirely to the conquest is unclear, but the invasion and its after-effects probably accelerated a process already under way.

The spread of towns and increase in nucleated settlements in the countryside, rather than scattered farms, was probably accelerated by the coming of the Normans to England. The lifestyle of the peasantry probably did not greatly change in the decades after 1066.

Although earlier historians argued that women became less free and lost rights with the conquest, current scholarship has mostly rejected this view. Little is known about women other than those in the landholding class, so no conclusions can be drawn about peasant women’s status after 1066.

Noblewomen appear to have continued to influence political life mainly through their kinship relationships. Both before and after 1066 aristocratic women could own land, and some women continued to have the ability to dispose of their property as they wished.

Historiography

Debate over the conquest started almost immediately. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, when discussing the death of William the Conqueror, denounced him and the conquest in verse, but the king’s obituary notice from William of Poitiers, a Frenchman, was full of praise. Historians since then have argued over the facts of the matter and how to interpret them, with little agreement.

The theory or myth of the “Norman yoke” arose in the 17th century, the idea that Anglo-Saxon society had been freer and more equal than the society that emerged after the conquest. This theory owes more to the period it was developed in than to historical facts, but it continues to be used in both political and popular thought to the present day.

In the 20th and 21st centuries historians have focused less on the rightness or wrongness of the conquest itself, instead concentrating on the effects of the invasion. Some, such as Richard Southern, have seen the conquest as a critical turning point in history. Southern stated that “no country in Europe, between the rise of the barbarian kingdoms and the 20th century, has undergone so radical a change in so short a time as England experienced after 1066”.

Other historians, such as H. G. Richardson and G. O. Sayles, believe that the transformation was less radical. In more general terms, Singman has called the conquest “the last echo of the national migrations that characterized the early Middle Ages”. The debate over the impact of the conquest depends on how change after 1066 is measured.

If Anglo-Saxon England was already evolving before the invasion, with the introduction of feudalism, castles or other changes in society, then the conquest, while important, did not represent radical reform. But the change was dramatic if measured by the elimination of the English nobility or the loss of Old English as a literary language. Nationalistic arguments have been made on both sides of the debate, with the Normans cast as either the persecutors of the English or the rescuers of the country from a decadent Anglo-Saxon nobility.

References

 

 

The Varangian Guard [Documentary]

The Varangian Guard (Greek: Τάγμα τῶν Βαράγγων, Tágma tōn Varángōn) was an elite unit of the Byzantine Army, from the 10th to the 14th centuries, whose members served as personal bodyguards to the Byzantine Emperors.

They are known for being primarily composed of Germanic peoples, specifically Norsemen (the Guard was formed approximately 200 years into the Viking Age) and Anglo-Saxons (after the Norman Conquest of England created an Anglo-Saxon diaspora, part of which found employment in Constantinople).

The Rus’ (Norsemen descended from Sweden living in what is now Ukraine and Belarus) provided the earliest members of the Varangian Guard. They were in Byzantine service from as early as 874. The Guard was first formally constituted under Emperor Basil II in 988, following the Christianization of Kievan Rus’ by Vladimir I of Kiev. Vladimir, who had recently usurped power in Kiev with an army of Varangian warriors, sent 6,000 men to Basil as part of a military assistance agreement. Basil’s distrust of the native Byzantine guardsmen, whose loyalties often shifted, with fatal consequences, as well as the proven loyalty of the Varangians, many of whom had previously served in Byzantium, led the Emperor to employ them as his personal guardsmen.

Immigrants from Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland kept a predominantly Norse cast to the organization until the late 11th century. It is known that most of the Varangians were from what is today Sweden due to the majority of Runestones left there.

According to the late Swedish historian Alf Henriksson in his book Svensk Historia (History of Sweden), the Scandinavian Varangian guardsmen were recognized by long hair, a red ruby set in the left ear and ornamented dragons sewn on their chainmail shirts. In these years, Scandinavian men left to enlist in the Byzantine Varangian Guard in such numbers that a medieval Swedish law, Västergötlagen, from Västergötland declared no one could inherit while staying in “Greece”—the then Scandinavian term for the Byzantine Empire—to stop the emigration, especially as two other European courts simultaneously also recruited Scandinavians: Kievan Rus’ c. 980–1060 and London 1018–1066 (the Þingalið).

Composed primarily of Norsemen and Rus for the first 100 years, the Guard began to see increased numbers of Anglo-Saxons after the Norman conquest of England. By the time of the Emperor Alexios Komnenos in the late 11th century, the Varangian Guard was largely recruited from Anglo-Saxons and “others who had suffered at the hands of the Vikings and their cousins the Normans”.

The Anglo-Saxons and other Germanic peoples shared with the Vikings a tradition of faithful (to death if necessary) oath-bound service, and the Norman invasion of England resulted in many fighting men who had lost their lands and former masters and were looking for positions elsewhere.

The Varangian Guard not only provided security for the Byzantine emperors, but also participated in many wars, often playing a decisive role, since they were usually deployed at critical moments of a battle. By the late 13th century, Varangians were mostly ethnically assimilated by the Byzantine Greeks, though the Guard remained in existence until at least mid-14th century. In 1400, there were still some people identifying themselves as “Varangians” in Constantinople.

References

  • Buckler, Georgina. Anna Komnena: A Study. Oxford: University Press, 1929.
  • Blondal, Sigfus. Varangians of Byzantium: An Aspect of Byzantine Military History. Trans. by Benedikt S. Benedikz, Cambridge: 1978. ISBN 0-521-21745-8.
  • D’Amato, Raffaele. The Varangian Guard 988-1453. Osprey Publishing, 2010. ISBN 1849081794.
  • Davidson, H.R. Ellis. The Viking Road to Byzantium. London: 1976. ISBN 0-04-940049-5.
  • Enoksen, Lars Magnar. (1998). Runor : historia, tydning, tolkning. Historiska Media, Falun. ISBN 91-88930-32-7.
  • Jansson, Sven B. (1980). Runstenar. STF, Stockholm. ISBN 91-7156-015-7.
  • Jakobsson, Sverrir (2008). “The Schism that never was: Old Norse views on Byzantium and Russia”. Byzantinoslavica. Slovanský ústav Akademie věd ČR, v. v. i. and Euroslavica. pp. 173–88.

Anglo-Saxon London

Image of what London may have looked like during the Anglo Saxon settlement period 55 BC to 49 AD.

The history of Anglo-Saxon London relates to the history of the city of London during the Anglo-Saxon period, during the 7th to 11th centuries.

Romano-British Londinium had been abandoned in the late 5th century, although the London Wall remained intact. There was an Anglo-Saxon settlement by the early 7th century, called Lundenwic, about one mile away from Londinium, to the north of the present Strand. Lundenwic came under direct Mercian control in about 670. After the death of Offa of Mercia in 796, it was disputed between Mercia and Wessex.

Roman wall, Coopers, London.
Roman Fort North, West Wall, London.

Viking invasions became frequent from the 830s, and a Viking army is believed to have camped in the old Roman walls during the winter of 871. Alfred the Great re-established English control of London in 886, and renewed its fortifications.

The old Roman walls were repaired and the defensive ditch was re-cut, and the old Roman city became the main site of population. The city now became known as Lundenburh, marking the beginning of the history of the City of London. Sweyn Forkbeard attacked London unsuccessfully in 996 and 1013, but his son Cnut the Great finally gained control of London, and all of England, in 1016.

A 15th-century stained glass window from Canterbury Cathedral, depicting King Cnut.

Edward the Confessor, the step-son of Cnut, became king in 1042. He built Westminster Abbey, the first large Romanesque church in England, consecrated in 1065, and the first Palace of Westminster. Edward’s death led to a succession crisis, and ultimately the Norman invasion of England.

Following the virtual abandonment of the Roman city, the area’s strategic location on the River Thames meant that the site was not deserted for long. From the late 5th century, Anglo-Saxons began to inhabit the area.

The first bridge across the river Thames in Londinium 55 BC to the Saxon Advent in 49 AD.

There is almost no reliable evidence about what happened in the London area during the Sub-Roman or so-called “Dark Ages” period from around 450 to 600. Although early Anglo-Saxon settlement avoided the area immediately around Londinium, there was occupation on a small scale of much of the hinterland on both sides of the river.

There is no contemporary literary evidence, but the area must for some time have been an active frontier between the Anglo-Saxons and the Britons.

Lundenwic

Central London was once largely marshland. The first major Anglo Saxon settlement was Lundenwic.

Early Anglo-Saxon settlement in the London area was not on the site of the abandoned Roman city, although the Roman London Wall remained intact. Instead, by the 7th century a village and trading centre named Lundenwic was established approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) to the west of Londinium (named Lundenburh, or “London Fort”, by the Anglo-Saxons), probably using the mouth of the River Fleet as a trading ship and fishing boat harbour.

In the early 8th century, Lundenwic was described by the Venerable Bede as “a trading centre for many nations who visit it by land and sea”. The Old English term wic or “trading town” ultimately derived from the Latin word vicus, so Lundenwic meant “London trading town”.

London and the kingdom of Essex, which for a period of time included Middlesex, Surrey and Kent.

Archaeologists were for many years puzzled as to where early Anglo-Saxon London was located, as they could find little evidence of occupation within the Roman city walls from this period. However, in the 1980s, London was rediscovered, after extensive independent excavations by archaeologists Alan Vince and Martin Biddle were reinterpreted as being of an urban character.

In the Covent Garden area, excavations in 1985 and 2005 have uncovered an extensive Anglo-Saxon settlement that dates back to the 7th century. The excavations show that the settlement covered about 600,000 m2 (6,500,000 sq ft), stretching along the north side of the Strand (i.e. “the beach”) from the present-day National Gallery site in the west to Aldwych in the east.

Ludenwic excavations In the mid 1980s, Alan Vince and Martin Biddle independently came up with the theory that London had been re-established not in the City but a couple of miles to the west, centred on the area called Aldwych. This Middle Saxon settlement was known as Lundenwic. Lundenwic was subjected to increasing Viking attack in the 9th century and the population may have been forced to scatter.

By about 600, Anglo-Saxon England had become divided into a number of small kingdoms within what eventually became known as the Heptarchy. From the mid-6th century, London was incorporated into the Kingdom of Essex, which extended as far west as St Albans and for a period included Middlesex and Surrey.

The main Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms in the 7th century.

In 604, Sæberht of Essex was converted to Christianity and London received Mellitus, its first post-Roman Bishop of London.

At this time Essex owed allegiance to Æthelberht of Kent and it was under Æthelberht that Mellitus founded the first cathedral of the East Saxons, which is traditionally said to be on the site of an old Roman temple of Diana (although the 17th century architect Sir Christopher Wren found no evidence of this).

The original building would have been only a modest church at first and it may well have been destroyed after Mellitus was expelled from the city by Sæberht’s pagan successors in 616. The majority of London’s population remained pagan during the larger part of the 7th century, and the bishop’s seat was occupied only intermittently, by Cedd between 653 and 664, and by Wine between 666 and c. 672.

The bishopric of London was re-established for good in 675, when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus, installed Earconwald as bishop.

Theodore of Tarsus.

Lundenwic came under direct Mercian control in about 670, as Essex became gradually reduced in size and status. After the death of Offa of Mercia in 796, it was disputed between Mercia and Wessex.

Viking Attacks

London suffered attacks from Vikings, which became increasingly common from around 830 onwards. It was attacked in 842 in a raid that was described by a chronicler as “the great slaughter”. In 851, another raiding party, reputedly involving 350 ships, came to plunder the city.

A map of the routes taken by the Great Heathen Army from 865 to 878. The Viking army wintered near London in 871-872 AD.

In 865, the Viking Great Heathen Army launched a large scale invasion of the small kingdom of East Anglia. They overran East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria and came close to controlling most of Anglo-Saxon England.

By 871 they had reached London and they are believed to have camped within the old Roman walls during the winter of that year. Although it is unclear what happened during this time, London may have come under Viking control for a period.

In 878, West Saxon forces led by Alfred the Great defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Ethandun and forced their leader Guthrum to sue for peace. The Treaty of Wedmore and the later Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum divided England and created the Danish controlled Danelaw.

King Alfred the Great

Lundenburgh

English rule in London was restored by 886. Alfred quickly set about establishing fortified towns or burhs across southern England to improve his kingdom’s defences: London was no exception. Within ten years, the settlement within the old Roman walls was re-established, now known as Lundenburh.

The old Roman walls were repaired and the defensive ditch was re-cut. These changes effectively marked the beginning of the present City of London, the boundaries of which are still to some extent defined by its ancient city walls.

As the focus of Lundenburh was moved back to within the Roman walls, the original Lundenwic was largely abandoned and in time gained the name of Ealdwic, ‘old settlement’, a name which survives today as Aldwych.

Southwark Bridge City Plaque noting the restoration of the city by Alfred.

10th Century London

Alfred appointed his son-in-law Earl Æthelred of Mercia, the heir to the destroyed kingdom of Mercia, as Governor of London and established two defended Boroughs to defend the bridge, which was probably rebuilt at this time. The southern end of the bridge was established as the Southwark or Suthringa Geworc (‘defensive work of the men of Surrey’). From this point, the city of London began to develop its own unique local government.

After Æthelred’s death, London came under the direct control of English kings. Alfred’s son Edward the Elder won back much land from Danish control. By the early 10th century, London had become an important commercial centre.

Although the political centre of England was Winchester, London was becoming increasingly important. Æthelstan held many royal councils in London and issued laws from there. Æthelred the Unready favoured London as his capital and issued his Laws of London from there in 978.

A coin probably minted in London during the reign of Ethelred the Unready.

The Vikings Return

It was during the reign of Æthelred that Vikings resumed their raids, led by Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark. London was attacked unsuccessfully in 994, but numerous raids followed. In 1013, London underwent a long siege and Æthelred was forced to flee abroad.

Sweyn II King of Denmark 1047-1074.

Æthelred returned with his ally the Norwegian king Olaf and reclaimed London. A Norse saga tells of a battle during the Viking occupation where the English king Æthelred returned to attack Viking-occupied London. According to the saga, the Danes lined London Bridge and showered the attackers with spears.

Undaunted, the attackers pulled the roofs off nearby houses and held them over their heads in the boats. Thus protected, they were able to get close enough to the bridge to attach ropes to the piers and pull the bridge down, defeat the Vikings and ending the occupation of London. There is some speculation that the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is Falling Down” stems from this incident. Following Æthelred’s death on 23 April 1016, his son Edmund Ironside was declared king.

Medieval impression depicting Edmund Ironside (left) and Cnut (right).

Sweyn’s son Cnut the Great continued the attacks in, harrying Warwickshire and pushing northwards across eastern Mercia in early 1016. Edmund remained in London, still unsubdued behind its famous walls, and was elected king after the death of Aethelred, but Cnut returned southward and the Danish army evidently divided, some dealing with Edmund, some besieging London.

There was a battle fought at Penselwood, in Somerset and a subsequent battle at Sherston, in Wiltshire, which was fought over two days but left neither side victorious. Edmund was able to temporarily relieve London, driving the enemy away and defeating them after crossing the Thames at Brentford.

Suffering heavy losses, he withdrew to Wessex to gather fresh troops, and the Danes again brought London under siege, but after another unsuccessful assault they withdrew into Kent under attack by the English, with a battle fought at Otford.

On 18 October 1016, the Danes were engaged by Edmund’s army as they retired towards their ships, leading to the Battle of Assandun. In the ensuing struggle, Eadric Streona, whose return to the English side had perhaps only been a ruse, withdrew his forces from the fray, bringing about a decisive English defeat. Edmund fled westwards, and Cnut pursued him into Gloucestershire, with another battle probably fought near the Forest of Dean.

Illustration of the Battle of Assandun.

On an island near Deerhurst, Cnut and Edmund – who had been wounded – met to negotiate terms of peace. It was agreed that all of England north of the Thames was to be the domain of the Danish prince, while all to the south was kept by the English king, along with London. Accession to the reign of the entire realm was set to pass to Cnut upon Edmund’s death.

Edmund died on 30 November, within weeks of the agreement. Some sources claim Edmund was murdered, although the circumstances of his death are unknown. In accord with the treaty, Cnut was left as king of all of England. His coronation was in London, at Christmas, with recognition by the nobility in January the next year at Oxford.

Cnut was succeeded briefly by his sons, Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut, after which the Saxon line was restored when Cnut’s stepson Edward the Confessor became king in 1042.

Edward the Confessor and the Norman Invasion

 

Edward the Confessor, depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry.

Following Harthacnut’s death on 8 June 1042, Godwin, the most powerful of the English earls, supported Edward, who succeeded to the throne. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes the popularity he enjoyed at his accession — “before he [Harthacnut] was buried, all the people chose Edward as king in London.” Edward was crowned at the cathedral of Winchester, the royal seat of the West Saxons, on 3 April 1043.

Modern historians reject the traditional view that Edward mainly employed Norman favourites, but he did have foreigners in his household. Chief among them was Robert of Jumièges, who came to England in 1041, becoming Bishop of London in 1043. According to the Vita Ædwardi Regis, he became “always the most powerful confidential adviser to the king”.

When Edward appointed Robert of Jumièges as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1051, he chose the leading craftsman Spearhafoc to replace Robert as bishop of London.

Edward’s Norman sympathies are most clearly seen in the major building project of his reign, Westminster Abbey, the first Norman Romanesque church in England.

Edward the Confessors body being brought to Westminster Abbey for burial in 1066.

This was commenced between 1042 and 1052 as a royal burial church, consecrated on 28 December 1065, completed after his death in about 1090, and demolished in 1245 to make way for Henry III’s new building, which still stands. It was very similar to Jumièges Abbey, which was built at the same time. Robert of Jumièges must have been closely involved in both buildings, although it is not clear which is the original and which the copy.

Following Edward’s death, no clear heir was apparent and his cousin, Duke William of Normandy, claimed the throne. The English Witenagemot met in the city and elected Edward’s brother-in-law, Harold Godwinson, as king: Harold was crowned in Westminster Abbey. William, outraged by this, then invaded England.

William, Duke of Normandy, King of England.

References

 

 

 

 

 

Timeline of conflict in Anglo-Saxon Britain

Hengist and Horsa are legendary brothers said to have led the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in their invasion of Britain in the 5th century. Tradition lists Hengist as the first of the Jutish kings of Kent.

The Timeline of conflict in Anglo-Saxon Britain is concerned with the period of history from just before the departure of the Roman Army, in the 4th century, to just after the Norman Conquest in the 11th century.

The information is mainly derived from annals and the Venerable Bede. The dates, particularly from the fourth to the late sixth centuries, have very few contemporary sources and are largely later constructions by medieval chroniclers. The historian Diana Greenway described one such 12th century chronicler, Henry of Huntingdon, as a ‘weaver’ compiler of history, and the archaeologist Martin Welch described the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as “a product of the West Saxon court… concerned with glorifying the royal ancestry of Alfred the Great.

Henry of Huntingdon

Manipulation of royal genealogies, in this and other sources, to enhance the claims of present rulers was common. Literary formulas associated with original myths are a common feature of earlier entries.” Although the timeline uses the annals for this period of history, information provided by these sources can be problematic, particularly with the earlier dates.

Chronology

Constructing a chronology of the early Anglo-Saxon period, and how the Anglo-Saxons took over land in Britain from Romano-Britons (Celtic-speakers, Latin-speakers, or both), is highly complex. The limitations of source material place restrictions on just how accurate any chronology can be. As an example, the following table shows how much variation there is between historians on just one date, the Battle of Badon:

 

Suggested dates for the Battle of Badon
Sources Date
Annales Cambriae 516
Bede 493
Higham c. 430 – c. 440
Snyder c. 485
M. Wood 490s
Morris 494–497
Dumville c.500
I. Wood c. 485 – c.520

 

Much of the dating of the period comes from Bede (672/673–735), who in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, tried to compute dates for events in early Anglo-Saxon history. Although primarily writing about church history, Bede is seen as Britain’s first true historian, in that he cited his references and listed events according to dates rather than regnal lists.

So we know that he relied heavily on De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae by Gildas, a sixth-century cleric, for his early dates and historians have found Gildas unreliable where dates were concerned. Bede’s work was widely read among the literate in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and his dates were used by the monks who compiled the various Anglo-Saxon Chronicles from the late ninth century onwards.

Excerpt from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle.

The most controversial dates in the period—those from the fourth to the late sixth centuries—have very few contemporary sources, and are mainly derived from later attempts to construct Anglo-Saxon history.

The following is an outline of some events recorded in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Welsh Annals (Annales Cambriae), and Brut y Tywysogion. Many of the dates from the fourth, fifth, and sixth century are points of contention.

4th Century

360 AD and after, and perhaps before: various Germanic peoples (Alemanni, Saxons, etc.) came to Roman Britain: raiders, Roman armies recruited from among German tribes, some settlers (The Saxon Shore (Latin: litus Saxonicum)).

Picts depicted fighting Roman soldiers and Saxon mercenaries beyond Hadrians Wall.

5th Century

  • 410 AD: Emperor Honorius refuses a call for help from Britain, tells the cities to look to their own defence.
  • c.430 to 520: The range of dates for the Battle of Badon. See effects of the battle for the strategic situation resulting afterwards.
  • About 446: The “Groans of the Britons” – A last appeal (possibly to the Consul Aetius) for the Roman army to come back to Britain.
  • 449: Vortigern invites Saxons to come and help them against the Picts, who were raiding the east coast, and allows them to settle on “The eastern side of the island.” (The name Vortigern may mean “Great King” rather than being a lifelong personal name.)
  • 455:  (Battle of Aylesford: Here Hengest and Horsa fought against Vortigern the king, in the place that is called Aylesford, and his brother Horsa was slain; and after that Hengest took the throne with Æsc, his son.)
  • 457:  (Here Hengest & Æsc fought against Britons in the place which is called Crecganford and there slew 4000 men, and the Britons abandoned Kent and with great fear fled to London.)
  • c. 460: Treachery of the Long Knives, Death of all British kings, Begin of violent land grab by Saxons.
  • 466: Battle of Wippedesfleot  Here Hengest and Æsc fought together against the Welsh (meaning ‘foreigner’: the manner in which the invaders referred to the Britons) near Wippedesfleot and there slew 12 Welsh chief men, and one of their thanes was slain, whose name was Wipped. [This battle is said to have resulted in much bloodshed and slaughter on both sides, to the extent that hostilities abated for a while thereafter. It is not known where Wippedesfleot (= “Wipped’s tidal estuary”) was.])
  • 473: (Here Hengest & Æsc fought against Welsh and took countless war-loot, and the Welsh fled from the English like fire.)
  • 477: (Here Ælle came to Britain and [with him] his 3 sons Cymen & Wlencing & Cissa, with 3 ships to the place which is named Cymenesora [probably now The Owers, rocks off Selsey in West Sussex ], and there slew many Welsh & drove some in flight into the wood which is called Andredesleag [= The Weald ].)
  • 485: Battle of Mercredesburne  (Here Ælle fought against Welsh near the margin of Mearcrædesburna [= Mearcræd’s stream].)
  • 491: (Here Ælle and Cissa besieged Andredescester [now Pevensey ] and slew all who dwelt therein; no Briton was left [alive] afterwards.)
  • c. 497: Defeat of the Anglo-Saxons in the Battle of Mons Badonicus by Britons led by King Arthur.
The brothers in Edward Parrott’s Pageant of British History (1909).

6th Century

  • Around 500 AD: Average of suggested dates for the Battle of Badon.
  • Around 500 AD: Angles colonised the North Sea and Humber coastal areas, particularly around Holderness.
  • 501: (Here Port and his 2 sons Bieda and Mægla came to Britain with 2 ships to the place which is called Portsmouth and slew a young British man, a very noble man. [But this may be an old fiction, as a folk-etymology to explain the placename Ports-mouth.] )
  • 508: (Here Cerdic and Cynric slew a British king, whose name was Natanleod, and 5000 men with him. Afterwards that land was named Natanleag as far as Cerdicesford [= North Charford and South Charford ].)
  • c. 520: Saxons took control of Sussex, Kent, East Anglia and part of Yorkshire, West Saxons founded a Kingdom in Hampshire under Cerdic.
  • 535 & 536: The extreme weather events of 535-536 likely caused a great famine and thus population loss.
  • In or before 547: Bernicia established by Angles taking over part of a British area called Bryneich.
  • Around 549: A great plague caused much population loss.
  • About 560: Saxons conquered all of east Yorkshire and the British kingdom of Ebrauc, and there established Deira.
  • 571: (Battle of Bedcanford: Here Cuthwulf fought against Britons at Bedcanford and took 4 settlements: Limbury, Aylesbury, Benson & Eynsham. And in the same year he died.)
  • 573: Battle of Arfderydd at Arthuret in Cumbria: Briton fought Briton and weakened their numbers.
  • 577: Battle of Dyrham: Capture of Glevum, Corinium, Aquae Sulis by Saxons of Wessex led by Cealin. (Here Cuthwine and Ceawlin fought against Britons and they slew 3 kings: Coinmail & Condidan & Farinmail, in the place which is called Dyrham, and took 3 towns: Gloucester & Cirencester & Bath. ): These entries seem to show that the Britons’ defences in the English Midlands collapsed, and the peace that followed the Battle of Mons Badonicus ended, and the Saxons obliterated the British Watling Street salient and united their areas and overran the London – Verulamium area and much of the plain of the Midlands. Loss of Bath would separate the Britons of Wales from the Britons of the southwest. After this, the border between Saxons and the southwest Britons was probably at the Wansdyke along the ridge of the Mendip Hills.
  • 581: Ælla of Deira took land from the Britons, thus establishing or enlarging Deira.
  • Around 584: The Kingdom of the Iclingas became Mercia.
  • 584: (Battle of Fethanleag: Here Ceawlin and Cutha fought against Britons in the place that is named Fethanleag and Cutha was slain, and Ceawlin took many settlements and countless war-loot, and in anger he returned to his own land.)
  • 590: Elmet joined an alliance of British kingdoms against the expanding Angles of Bernicia. See Elmet and History of Yorkshire Sub-Roman.
  • 592, West Saxons are defeated in the Battle of Woden’s Burg (Wōden‘s Burg).
  • 596, Angles defeated an alliance of Britons, Scots and Picts in the Battle of Raith.
  • Afterwards: The British king, Urien of Rheged was murdered. A feud broke out between two of this alliance’s key members.
Angles Saxona Invasion of Britain.

7th Century

  • Around 600: Battle of Catraeth (Catterick): also see Y Gododdin: An army from the Celtic kingdom of Gododdin fell in battle against the Angles of Deira and Bernicia at Catterick in Yorkshire.
  • Around 604: Deira and Bernicia united as Northumbria.
  • Afterwards: Elmet built earthworks north and west of Barwick-in-Elmet, where Elmet’s king’s seat was.
  • 614: (Here Cynegils and Cwichelm fought [on the same side] on Beandun, and slew 2,066 Welsh.)
  • 616: Autumn – Northumbria invaded and conquered Elmet.
  • 616: Likeliest date for the Battle of Chester, between a Northumbrian army and a Welsh army: heavy Welsh casualties, and their defeat severed the land connection between Wales and the Celts of northwest Britain.
  • 633, October 12: Battle of Hatfield (AC: 630, Meigen) near Doncaster in Yorkshire: Gwynedd and Mercia attacked and defeated Northumbria; Elmet and Ebrauc temporarily returned to Celtic rule.
  • 633 or 634: Battle of Heavenfield (AC: 631, Cantscaul) about 6 miles NW of Hexham: Northumbria expels the Gwynedd army.
  • 642: (Here Oswald king of Northumbria was slain) This may be the same battle as:-
  • 644: The Battle of Maserfield (alias Battle of Maes Cogwy), in which Oswald king of the Northmen and Eawa king of the Celtic Mercians fell. AC B
  • 652: Cenwalh of Wessex won a battle at Bradford-on-Avon.
  • 655, Nov 15: Battle of the Winwaed in which King Oswiu of Bernicia defeated and killed King Penda of Mercia. King Cadafael ap Cynfeddw of Gwynedd was allied with Penda but stayed out of the battle.
  • 658: (Here Cenwalh fought against Welsh [= Britons] at Penselwood, and drove them in flight as far as [the river] Parrett [in Somerset]; this was fought after he came from East Anglia. He was there 3 years in exile. Penda had driven him out, and taken his kingdom, because he abandoned his [= Penda’s] sister.)
  • 682: This year also, Centwine chased the Britons into the sea.
A twelfth-century painting of St Oswald, killed at Maserfield, in Durham Cathedral.

8th Century

  • 710: (… and in the same year ealdorman Beorhtfrith fought against Picts between [the rivers] Avon and Carron [which flow into the River Forth from the south about 20 miles west of Edinburgh ], and Ine and his relative Nunna fought against Geraint king of Welsh … [This second battle may have been the Battle of Llongborth.] ) …
  • 722: According to the Annales Cambriae, 722 saw “the battle of Hehil among the Cornish, the battle of Garth Maelog, [and] the battle of Pencon among the south Britons, and the Britons were the victors in those three battles.”
  • Before 730: Northumbria annexed the kingdom of Rheged.
  • 760: A battle between the Britons and the Saxons, the Battle of Hereford, in which Dyfnwal son of Tewdwr dies.
  • 778: The devastation of the South Britons by Offa.
  • 779: “Cynewulf and Offa fought at Bensington, and Offa took the town.”
  • 784: The devastation of Britain by Offa in the summer
  • 794: (796 [corrected from 794]: In this year pope Hadrian and king Offa die.) (797: Offa king of the Mercians and Maredudd king of the Demetians die, and the battle of Rhuddlan.)
  • 798: Caradog king of Gwynedd is killed by the Saxons.
King Offa of Mercia Penny.

9th Century

  • 813: (815 [corrected from 813]: … and in this year king Ecgbryht raided in Cornwall from east to west.)
  • 816: … Saxons invaded the mountains of Eryri and the kingdom of Rhufoniog.
  • 818: Cenwulf devastated the Dyfed region.
  • 822: The fortress of Degannwy is destroyed by the Saxons and they took the kingdom of Powys into their own control.
  • 823: (825 [corrected from 823]: Here was a fight of Welsh/Britons [against] men of Devon at Gafulford …)
  • 835:  (838 [corrected from 835]: Here a great ship-army [of Vikings] came to Cornwall and they [= the Cornish] joined them, and were fighting against Ecgbryht king of the West Saxons. Then he heard and with an army fought against them at Hengestdun and there put to flight both the Cornish and the Danes.)
  • 877: Rhodri Mawr, a Welsh opponent of the Vikings, and his son Gwriad were killed by Mercian forces, even though Mercia was almost completely under the control of the Vikings at the time.
  • 878: Alfred the Great defeated the remnants of the Great Heathen Army at The Battle of Edington.
  • 893:A combined force containing men from Mercia, Wessex and Wales besieged the Vikings at Buttington for several weeks, starving them out until finally the Vikings had to emerge and they were defeated there by the English and the Welsh: the surviving Vikings fled back to Essex.
The Great Heathen Army approaches English shores aboard a Viking Long-ship.

10th Century

  • 927: Athelstan evicted the Cornish from Exeter and refortified the city.
  • 936: King Athelstan set the boundary between England and Cornwall at the River Tamar.
  • 946: … And Strathclyde was laid waste by the Saxons.

11th Century

  • 1016: Battle of Assandun, fought in Essex on 18 October between the armies of Edmund Ironside (King of England) and Canute (King of Denmark).
  • 1059: Macht, son of Harold, came to Wales with a great army in his train; and the Prince Gruffudd, and Macht, with combined forces, proceeded against the Saxons, and devastated the country of England a great way towards its centre; and they returned to Wales with great spoil.
  • 1060: Caradoc, son of Rhydderch, son of lestin, hired Harold to come with an army to S.Wales. Then, conjointly with a great host of the men of Glamorgan and Gwent, they went against Grufudd. After Grufudd, son of Llywelyn, was slain, his head was cut off and taken as a present to Harold. (The ASC dates this as 1063)
  • 1063: Here Earl Harold and his brother Earl Tostig went into Wales both with land-army and ship-army, and conquered that land; and that people gave hostages and submitted to them, and afterwards went to and killed their king Gruffudd, and brought Harold his head, and he set another king for it. (Peterborough manuscript).
  • 1066: Battle of Hastings. William, Duke of Normandy, came as an intruder to the island of Britain, and a pitched battle took place between him and Harold; in which, after a severe and bloody fight, Harold was killed.
  • 1068: Some of the Saxons sought protection from the Normans in Powys then.. Afterwards, by the power of the Saxons, Bleddyn, son of Cynvyn, reigned sole king of Gwynedd and Powys; and Meredydd, son of Owain, son of Edwin, by the power of the Saxons became prince of South Wales.
William I King of England.

References

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  • Bede. :Ecclesiastical History of the English People. (1903). Translation based on L.C. Jane
  • Berresford Ellis, Peter (1985). The Celtic Revolution: Study in Anti-imperialism . Wales: Y Lolfa. ISBN 0-86243-096-8.
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  • Lobel, Mary D., ed. (1959). “Parishes: Stoke Lyne”. A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 6. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
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