Anglo-Saxon England: A Time of Transformation

Anglo-Saxon Timeline

Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England: 5th–11th Century

Anglo-Saxon England, also known as Early Medieval England, spanned from the 5th to the 11th centuries. This era commenced soon after Roman Britain’s decline and extended until the Norman Conquest in 1066.

Formation and Unification of the Kingdom of England

Initially comprising various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the land saw unification under King Æthelstan in 927, thus forming the Kingdom of England. King Æthelstan’s reign lasted from 927 to 939. The kingdom later became part of the North Sea Empire under Cnut, which was a personal union between England, Denmark, and Norway during the 11th century.

Anglo-Saxon Migration and Establishment

The Anglo-Saxons migrated from northwestern Europe to Britain following the Roman Empire’s withdrawal in the early 5th century. This marked the beginning of sub-Roman Britain and the establishment of several Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the 5th and 6th centuries. These included the kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Wessex.

Christianization and External Threats

The 7th century witnessed the Christianization of these kingdoms. However, this period was also marred by the threat of Viking invasions and the settlement of the Danes. The 9th and 10th centuries saw the gradual unification of England under the Wessex hegemony, culminating in the Norman Conquest by William the Conqueror in 1066.

Norman Influence and Anglo-Saxon Endurance

Post-conquest, the Normans overthrew the Anglo-Saxon ruling class, replacing them with Norman leaders. Despite this, Anglo-Saxon identity persisted beyond the Norman Conquest. It evolved into what was known as Englishry under Norman rule. The fusion of Anglo-Saxon culture with the Romano-British Celts, Danes, and Normans eventually led to the formation of the modern English people.

Timeline

406
Constantine III withdraws remaining Roman army from Britain
A historical scene depicting Constantine III orchestrating the withdrawal of the remaining Roman army from Britain

As the Roman presence in Britain neared its end, Constantine III responded to the Germanic invasion of Gaul and the Crossing of the Rhine in December 406 by withdrawing the remaining forces from Britain.

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442-500
Anglo-Saxon Mercenary Uprising
Anglo-Saxon uprising and the Romano-British struggle for security

Romano-British leaders, grappling with increasing seaborne raids, especially from the Picts along England's east coast, turned to Anglo-Saxon mercenaries (foederati) for defense, granting them land in return. Around 442, these Anglo-Saxons rebelled, reportedly due to unpaid dues. In response, the Romano-British sought aid from Magister militum Aetius of the Western Roman Empire, as depicted in the "Groans of the Britons" plea, despite previous instructions from Emperor Honorius around 410 for the British civitas to self-defend. This appeal led to several years of conflict between the British and the Anglo-Saxons.

c. 455
Kingdom of Kent Established
Kingdom of Kent during the Anglo-Saxon era

The Kingdom of Kent, known in Old English as Cantwara rīce and in Latin as Regnum Cantuariorum, was an early medieval realm located in present-day South East England. It emerged either in the fifth or sixth century AD and remained distinct until the late 9th century when it was integrated into the Kingdom of Wessex, and subsequently into the Kingdom of England in the early 10th century.

Æthelberht, the earliest documented monarch of Kent, held considerable sway as bretwalda over other Anglo-Saxon kings during the late sixth century. His reign marked the onset of the Anglo-Saxons' Christianization, beginning with the arrival of Augustine of Canterbury and his Gregorian mission in 597.

c. 477
Kingdom of Sussex Established
Kingdom of Sussex during the Anglo-Saxon era

The Kingdom of Sussex, known in Old English as Sūþseaxna rīce, meaning "the realm of the South Saxons," was among the seven historic kingdoms in the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. Located along Great Britain's southern coast, Sussex began as a Saxon settlement in the sixth century before evolving into an independent kingdom. Notably, Sussex is one of the more obscure Anglo-Saxon realms, lacking a comprehensive list of its monarchs, characterized by various local rulers, and showing less centralization compared to its counterparts. It was governed by the South Saxon kings until Wessex annexed the territory around 827, following the Battle of Ellendun.

According to legend, the kingdom was established in 477, when Ælle and his sons, arriving by ship, claimed victory over the region now known as Sussex. Ælle then became the Bretwalda, a title signifying his supremacy over the southern Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

c. 500
Battle of Badon
Arthur leading the cavalry charge at Mount Badon in an 1898 illustration for Idylls of the King

The Battle of Badon, also recognized as Mons Badonicus, was a reputed conflict between Britons and Anglo-Saxons in Post-Roman Britain, occurring in the late 5th or early 6th century. This battle is renowned for being a significant triumph for the Britons, halting the Anglo-Saxon advance westward for some time.

Early 500
Formation of East Anglia
East Anglia during the Anglo-Saxon era

The formation of the Kingdom of East Anglia occurred in the first or second quarter of the 6th century, with Wehha recognized as the inaugural monarch, succeeded by Wuffa.

c. 519
Formation of the Kingdom of Wessex
Southern Britain in the ninth century

The Kingdom of the West Saxons, often referred to as Wessex (Old English: Ƿestseaxna rīċe), was a prominent Anglo-Saxon kingdom located in the southern part of Great Britain. It existed from approximately 519 until the unification of England by Æthelstan in 927.

c. 527
Formation of the Kingdom of Essex
Kingdom of Essex during the Anglo-Saxon era

The Kingdom of Essex, known in Old English as Ēastseaxna rīce and in Latin as Regnum Orientalium Saxonum, was one of the seven principal kingdoms in the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. Established in the 6th century, it encompassed the areas now known as Essex, Middlesex, a large part of Hertfordshire, and briefly, western Kent. Sigered of Essex, the final monarch of the kingdom, surrendered it to Ecgberht, the King of Wessex, in 825.

c. 577
Battle of Dyrham
The Battle of Dyrham in 577, led by Ceawlin, the King of Wessex

In 577, Ceawlin, the King of Wessex, spearheaded a significant campaign against the Britons, culminating in the capture of Cirencester, Gloucester, and Bath, known as the Battle of Dyrham. However, Wessex's expansion ceased when internal conflicts among the Anglo-Saxons led to Ceawlin's withdrawal from his initial domain. Ceol, possibly Ceawlin's nephew, then succeeded him. Ceawlin met his demise in the following year, although the details of his death remain unspecified.

c. 584
Creoda: The Earliest Documented King of Mercia
Kingdom of Mercia during the 6th century Anglo-Saxon era

The beginnings of Mercia in the early Anglo-Saxon period are less clear than those of Northumbria, Kent, or Wessex. Mercia developed its political structure later and embraced Christianity after these other kingdoms. Archaeological evidence indicates Angles were settling north of the River Thames by the 6th century. The term "Mercia," derived from Mercian Old English, means "boundary folk" (related to the Welsh Marches). It is traditionally believed that Mercia emerged on the border between Welsh natives and Anglo-Saxon settlers. However, Peter Hunter Blair proposed that Mercia might have originated along the divide between Northumbria and the Trent River Valley inhabitants.

The initial boundaries of Mercia are not well defined, but it's widely agreed that its early domain, known as "the first of the Mercians" in the Tribal Hidage, encompassed significant parts of south Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Staffordshire, and northern Warwickshire.

Creoda, reportedly the great-grandson of Icel, is the earliest individual recorded as a Mercian king. Ascending to power around 584, he established Tamworth's fortress, which later became the central seat of the Mercian kings.

c. 597
Pope Gregory I sends Augustine to covert the Anglo-Saxons
Pope Gregory I

In 597, Pope Gregory I dispatched Augustine to convert the Anglo-Saxons. Bede notes that the British clergy declined to assist Augustine in his mission. However, contemporary beliefs suggest that the Britons significantly contributed to the Anglo-Saxons' conversion. Upon his arrival in South East England in 597, Augustine received land from King Æthelberht of Kent to construct a church, leading to the establishment of the Canterbury See the same year. Æthelberht himself was baptized in 601, after which he actively pursued the mission to convert the English. The north and east of England had largely been evangelized by the Irish Church by this time. Yet, Sussex and the Isle of Wight remained predominantly pagan until Saint Wilfrid, the exiled Archbishop of York, converted Sussex around 681 and the Isle of Wight in 683.

c. 633
October 12
Battle of Hatfield Chase
Saint King Edwin of Northumbria, St Mary, Sledmere, East Riding of Yorkshire, England.

The Battle of Hatfield Chase, known as Hæðfeld in Old English and Meigen in Old Welsh, occurred on 12 October 633 near modern-day Doncaster in South Yorkshire, England. The conflict saw Northumbrian forces under King Edwin clash with a coalition from Gwynedd and Mercia led by Cadwallon ap Cadfan and Penda. The battleground was set in a marshland approximately 8 miles northeast of Doncaster on the River Don's southern edge. The allied forces of Gwynedd and Mercia triumphed decisively: Edwin was slain, his forces routed, and Northumbria experienced a brief period of disintegration. However, this triumph was fleeting. Oswald, a son of the deceased Northumbrian King Æthelfrith, soon turned the tides by defeating and slaying Cadwallon at Heavenfield, located near Hexham.

 

c. 634
Lindisfarne Abbey Founded
Modern statue of St. Aidan beside the ruins of the medieval priory on Lindisfarne

Founded in 634 AD, Lindisfarne Abbey on its namesake island witnessed nearly 900 years as a monastic site. Today, despite much of it lying in ruins, it attracts tourists and pilgrims alike. St. Mary the Virgin Church stands as the sole structure from the original establishment, continuously preserved and still erect within the old monastic boundaries. Its chancel wall contains remnants from the pre-Norman/Saxon period. The Venerable Bede initially referred to it as an abbey in the era before the Norman conquest; following reconstruction under the post-Norman rule, it was officially recognized as a smaller-scale priory.

c. 641
August 5
Battle of Maserfield
A twelfth-century painting of St Oswald, killed at Maserfield, in Durham Cathedral

The Battle of Maserfield, derived from the Welsh Maes Elferth (Elferth's field), also known as Cad Maes Cogwy, was a conflict that took place on August 5, 641 or 642, with 642 being the year cited by Ward. The battle saw the Northumbrian king Oswald clash with Penda of Mercia, who was allied with the Welsh Kingdom of Gwynedd. The clash resulted in Oswald's defeat, his death, and the dismemberment of his body. Known as Cogwy in Welsh, the site witnessed participation from Welsh forces from Pengwern, likely as Mercian allies, as suggested by the Canu Heledd. While Bede supports the more widely acknowledged date, the Welsh Annales Cambriae's account of the battle occurring in 644 is typically deemed incorrect. Oswestry is commonly believed to be the battle's location.

c. 654
Northumbria's Formation: The Unification of Deira and Bernicia
Northumbria around 700 AD

Northumbria, known in Old English as Norþanhymbra rīċe and in Latin as Regnum Northanhymbrorum, was an early medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom located in present-day Northern England and south-east Scotland.

Its name originates from Old English, Norþanhymbre, meaning "the people or province north of the Humber," distinguishing it from the regions south of the Humber Estuary. The unification of Northumbria into a single kingdom began in the early seventh century with the dynastic union of the two primary regions, Deira and Bernicia. At its peak, Northumbria's territory spanned from the Humber, Peak District, and the River Mersey in the south to the Firth of Forth in the north.

c. 655
November 15
Battle of the Winwaed
Battle of the Winwaed

The Battle of the Winwaed, also known as Maes Gai in Welsh and Strages Gai Campi in Medieval Latin, took place on 15 November 655. This confrontation pitted Mercia's King Penda against Oswiu of Bernicia, culminating in a significant loss for the Mercians and the death of Penda. As Bede records, this battle signaled the virtual end of paganism among the Anglo-Saxons.

c. 793
June 8
Holy island of Lindisfarne sacked by the Vikings
Viking Raider Doomsday Stone; Kloster Lindisfarne, Holy Island

The Viking raid on Lindisfarne in 793 incited widespread alarm across the Christian world and is frequently regarded as the onset of the Viking Age. While there were earlier Viking incursions, this raid holds notable significance, as highlighted by English Heritage. It targeted Northumbria's spiritual core, violating the sacred site where Christianity first took root in the nation.

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796
July 29
Death of Offa, King of Mercia
King Offa of Mercia

Offa, who passed away on July 29, 796 AD, reigned as the king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia from 757 until his demise. As the progeny of Thingfrith and part of Eowa's lineage, Offa ascended to power after Æthelbald's murder sparked a civil conflict. He emerged victorious over his rival, Beornred. At the start of his rule, Offa likely solidified his dominion over Midland groups, including the Hwicce and Magonsæte. Exploiting Kent's turmoil, he established overlordship there and by 771 had influence over Sussex, although his control was sometimes contested. In the 780s, Offa extended Mercian dominance across much of southern England, allied with Beorhtric of Wessex, whose union with Offa's daughter Eadburh cemented their alliance. He also held sway over East Anglia and executed King Æthelberht II of East Anglia in 794, possibly due to the latter's insurrection.

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825
September
Battle of Ellendun
The Battle of Ellendun (825), from 'Story of the British Nations' by Walter Hutchinson

The Battle of Ellendun, also known as the Battle of Wroughton, was a significant conflict that occurred in September 825 between Ecgberht of Wessex and Beornwulf of Mercia. Esteemed historian Sir Frank Stenton regarded it as "one of the most decisive battles of English history.". This clash marked the end of Mercian supremacy in the southern realms of Anglo-Saxon England and paved the way for the ascendancy of the West Saxons in the region.

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865
The Great Heathen Army start full-scale invasion
A map of the routes taken by the Great Heathen Army from 865 to 878

In 865, a significantly larger force, dubbed the Great Heathen Army by the Anglo-Saxons, arrived. It was further strengthened in 871 by the arrival of the Great Summer Army. Within a decade, the majority of Anglo-Saxon realms succumbed to these invaders: Northumbria in 867, East Anglia in 869, and almost all of Mercia between 874 and 877. The Danish invaders overran kingdoms, centers of learning, archives, and churches. Amidst this turmoil, only the Kingdom of Wessex managed to survive.

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878
May
Battle of Edington & Danelaw Established
Portrait of Alfred the Great by Samuel Woodforde

In March 878, Alfred, the Anglo-Saxon King of Wessex, along with a small band of followers, established a fortress at Athelney, strategically located in the secluded marshes of Somerset. This fortress served as his operational base for conducting raids against the Vikings. By May 878, Alfred had rallied an army comprising individuals from Somerset, Wiltshire, and Hampshire. This force triumphantly clashed with the Viking army at the Battle of Edington, leading to a decisive victory for Alfred. Following their defeat, the Vikings retreated to their stronghold, which Alfred then besieged. The siege resulted in the Danes' surrender, with their leader Guthrum agreeing to leave Wessex and consenting to be baptized. The baptism ceremony was solemnized shortly after at Wedmore. This event marked the initiation of a peace treaty between Alfred and Guthrum, outlining various terms, including the demarcation of territories. The Danelaw was established to delineate the area under Danish control, while the Kingdom of Wessex governed parts of the Midlands and all of southern England, excluding Cornwall, which remained under the control of the Britons. The Danes retained dominion over East Anglia and the North.

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c. 886
Alfred the Great: The King of the Anglo-Saxons
Portrait of Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great, the renowned King of Wessex, significantly expanded his influence and authority beyond his own kingdom by adopting the title of King of the Anglo-Saxons around 886, symbolizing his growing dominance over southern England. His political acumen was further demonstrated through strategic marital alliances, as evidenced in 886/887 when Æthelred, likely the ealdorman of Mercia, married Alfred's daughter Æthelflæd, thereby strengthening the bond between Wessex and Mercia. This move was part of Alfred's broader strategy to unify and defend Anglo-Saxon territories against external threats, particularly the Vikings. Upon his death in 899, Alfred's legacy of leadership and unification was continued by his son Edward the Elder, who succeeded him. Edward's reign was marked by continued military campaigns and consolidation of power, building upon the foundations laid by his father to further the cause of a united Anglo-Saxon England.

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c. 911
Æthelflæd: Ascending to Power as the Lady of the Mercians
Æthelflæd, Lady of Mercia

Upon the death of Æthelred in 911, Æthelflæd rose to prominence, assuming the title "Lady of the Mercians," a position that underscored her significant role in early medieval English politics. In the ensuing years, particularly during the 910s, Æthelflæd, in collaboration with her brother Edward, undertook decisive military campaigns that significantly altered the balance of power in the region. Together, they successfully reclaimed East Anglia and the eastern parts of Mercia from Viking control. This period marked a crucial phase in the consolidation of Anglo-Saxon power, with Æthelflæd not only maintaining the integrity of Mercian territories but also expanding their influence. Her leadership and military acumen were instrumental in resisting Viking incursions, thereby contributing to the strengthening and unification of the Anglo-Saxon

c. 927
Æthelstan annexed Northumbria
Æthelstan presenting a book to St Cuthbert, an illustration in a manuscript of Bede's Life of Saint Cuthber

In 927, Æthelstan, a prominent figure in the early history of England, achieved a significant milestone by annexing Northumbria, thus extending his reign to the northernmost Anglo-Saxon kingdom. This strategic move was more than a mere territorial expansion; it marked a pivotal moment in the formation of a unified English nation. Æthelstan's annexation of Northumbria not only consolidated his power but also bridged the longstanding divide between the Anglo-Saxons in the south and the Northumbrians. This unification under Æthelstan's rule played a critical role in fostering a sense of shared identity and common purpose among the disparate Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. His successful annexation of Northumbria was a testament to his diplomatic skill and military prowess, making him one of the key architects of what would become a unified England. Under his reign, Æthelstan also fostered cultural and economic growth, further solidifying the foundations of a united English kingdom.

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c. 937
Battle of Brunanburh
Battle of Brunanburh

In 937, the Battle of Brunanburh was a pivotal conflict involving Æthelstan, the King of England, and a coalition comprising Olaf Guthfrithson, the King of Dublin; Constantine II, the King of Scotland; and Owain, the King of Strathclyde.

The triumph of Æthelstan in the Battle of Brunanburh was a crucial factor in maintaining England's unity. Around 975, the historian Æthelweard captured the essence of this victory by stating that it resulted in the unification of Britain's territories, leading to widespread peace and prosperity. Alfred Smyth, another historian, has described this battle as the most significant in Anglo-Saxon history before the Battle of Hastings. Despite its historical importance, the exact location of the Battle of Brunanburh remains a mystery, with scholars proposing various potential sites over the years. This uncertainty adds to the intrigue and significance of the battle in the annals of English history.

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c. 959
King Edgar crowned at Bath
Edgar in the early fourteenth-century Genealogical Roll of the Kings of England

Edgar, son of King Edmund I, ruled England from 959 until 975, following his brother's death. His reign is characterized by sparse historical records, with a greater focus on church leaders than on royal activities. Edgar continued the political policies of his predecessors while significantly supporting the English Benedictine Reform, leading to a cultural and religious revival. His reign saw the standardization of coinage and improvements in law enforcement. Notably, Edgar's rule coincided with a pause in Viking invasions, contributing to a period of relative peace. However, his death led to a succession dispute and subsequent turmoil as his sons, Edward the Martyr and Æthelred the Unready, vied for the throne. Chroniclers later idealized Edgar's reign as a golden age, contrasting it with the troubled times under Æthelred. Modern historians recognize Edgar's era as a peak in Anglo-Saxon culture, though opinions on his political legacy and the posthumous unrest vary.

991
August 11
Battle of Maldon
Alfred Pearseː Battle of Maldon in 991 (Hutchinson's Story of the British Nation, 1922)

On August 11, 991 AD, during Æthelred the Unready's reign, the Battle of Maldon unfolded beside the River Blackwater in Essex, England. This conflict, fought against a Viking invasion, was led by Earl Byrhtnoth and his thegns on the English side. The encounter culminated in a defeat for the Anglo-Saxons. In the aftermath, Archbishop Sigeric of Canterbury and the aldermen of the southwestern provinces counseled King Æthelred to opt for a financial settlement with the Vikings instead of continuing military resistance. This led to the payment of substantial Danegeld, amounting to 10,000 Roman pounds (approximately 3,300 kg) of silver.

1002
November
St. Brice's Day Massacre
St. Brice's Day Massacre

The Normandy Dukes were quite accommodating in allowing Danish raiders to use their ports for attacks on the English coastline. This led to growing tensions between the English and Norman courts. In response to this situation, Æthelred sought to negotiate a treaty with the Normans, culminating in his marriage to Emma, the daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy, in the spring of 1002. This marriage was perceived as an effort to sever the connection between the Danish raiders and Normandy.

Subsequently, on St. Brice's Day in November 1002, Æthelred ordered a massacre of Danes residing in England.

1013
Rise of Cnut
14th-century portrait of Cnut the Great

In 1013, Sven Forkbeard of Denmark invaded England, leading to Æthelred's temporary exile in Normandy. Following Sven's unexpected death in 1014, Æthelred returned and pushed back Sven's son, Cnut. However, Cnut launched another invasion in 1015. Amidst internal strife, Æthelred's son Edmund began his own resistance efforts. As some English leaders sided with Cnut, Æthelred retreated to London, where he died, leaving Edmund as king. Edmund managed to escape a Danish siege in London and initially succeeded against them, but was ultimately defeated at the Battle of Ashingdon. The conflict concluded with Cnut and Edmund dividing the kingdom, with Edmund ruling Wessex and Cnut controlling the rest.

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1017
Cnut confirmed King of England
The North Sea Empire of Cnut the Great, c. 1030

Edmund's death under suspicious circumstances in 1017, likely orchestrated by Cnut or his supporters, led to Cnut's confirmation by the English council (the Witan) as the sole ruler of England. Cnut reorganized England into several earldoms, predominantly assigning them to Danish nobles, though he appointed an Englishman, Godwin, as the Earl of Wessex. Godwin later integrated into the royal family by marrying Cnut's sister-in-law. That summer, Cnut proposed to Æthelred's widow, Emma, and they married under the agreement that their offspring would be prioritized in succession. Cnut had previously been in a union with Ælfgifu of Northampton, with whom he had two sons, Svein, and Harold Harefoot, though the church viewed Ælfgifu more as a concubine than a wife. Cnut and Emma also had a son, Harthacnut.

Following the death of Cnut's brother, Harald II of Denmark, in 1018, Cnut secured his rule over Denmark. Two years later, he conquered Norway and assigned Ælfgifu and their son Svein to govern it.

c. 1018
Godwin given the Earldom of Wessex
Harold Godwinson, from the Bayeux Tapestry

The Godwin family, an influential Anglo-Saxon lineage, rose to prominence in England in the half-century leading up to the Norman Conquest. Harold Godwinson, who briefly reigned as King of England in 1066, was the family's most notable figure.

Godwin, the family's patriarch and founder of its eminent status, was elevated from relative obscurity by King Cnut around 1018–1019 and appointed as the Earl of Wessex. His position remained secure under the rule of Cnut's sons, Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut, and was further solidified when King Edward the Confessor granted earldoms to Godwin's eldest sons, Sweyn and Harold, born to his Danish wife Gytha.

Despite a brief exile in Flanders between 1051 and 1052, the Godwin family maintained their power. Following Godwin's death in 1053, his sons inherited the earldoms of Wessex, East Anglia, and eventually Northumbria. Harold, in particular, became England's most powerful figure, even overshadowing the king. Upon the childless death of Edward the Confessor in 1066, Harold Godwinson ascended to the throne, marking the family's peak in the English nobility.

1035
Death of Cnut
Cnut in the late thirteenth-century Genealogical Chronicle of the English Kings.

Cnut's marriage to Emma led to a significant succession crisis after his death in 1035. The contention for the throne arose between Harald Harefoot, Cnut's son with Ælfgifu, and Harthacnut, his son with Emma. Emma chose to back Harthacnut, her son with Cnut, over her sons with Æthelred. During this period, her son by Æthelred, Edward, unsuccessfully attacked Southampton, while her other son, Alfred, was killed during an expedition to England in 1036. Emma was forced to flee to Bruges when Harald Harefoot ascended to the English throne. However, Harald's death in 1040 allowed Harthacnut to become king. Harthacnut quickly gained notoriety for levying heavy taxes, leading to widespread unpopularity. This discontent paved the way for Edward, who was in exile in Normandy, to be acknowledged as Harthacnut's successor. Upon Harthacnut's sudden death in 1042, possibly due to murder, Edward, later known as Edward the Confessor, ascended to the throne.

1066
January 5
Death of Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor, enthroned, opening scene of the Bayeux Tapestry

Edward the Confessor fell seriously ill on December 26, 1065. His condition deteriorated rapidly, leading him to become bedridden and eventually slip into a coma. During a brief moment of lucidity, he requested Harold Godwinson to ensure the safety of the Queen and the realm. Edward passed away on January 5, 1066, and Harold Godwinson was proclaimed king immediately after. The next day, January 6, 1066, saw the dual events of Edward the Confessor's funeral and Harold's coronation.

1066
January 6
Harold Godwinson crowned King
HAROLD, KING OF THE ENGLAND, DIES HERE. ARCHBISHOP STIGANT

Harold Godwinson may have secured the English crown, but his claim was contested, most notably by William, Duke of Normandy. William, related to Edward the Confessor through his aunt, Emma of Normandy, maintained that Edward had promised him the throne. Harold himself had previously pledged to support William's claim during a period of detention in Normandy by Guy of Ponthieu. After William secured Harold's release, Harold is said to have sworn an oath of allegiance to William, as claimed by Norman sources.

Another claimant was Harald Hardrada of Norway, known as "The Ruthless." His claim stemmed from the lineage of Cnut and his successors. Furthermore, Harald asserted a right to the English throne based on an agreement between Harthacnut of Denmark, a son of Cnut, and Magnus, the King of Norway.

1066
September 20
Battle of Fulford
The Battle of Fulford by Matthew Paris

The Battle of Fulford, occurring just south of York, England, on September 20, 1066, saw King Harald III of Norway, also known as Harald Hardrada, and his English ally Tostig Godwinson defeat the Northern Earls Edwin and Morcar. Harald's force, comprised of allies from Orkney, a contingent led by Tostig, and Norwegian soldiers, had sailed across the sea and established a base near York at Ricall. On advancing towards York, they encountered the less experienced Saxon army commanded by Edwin and Morcar. Despite initial losses inflicted by the Saxons, Harald's Norse army ultimately overpowered them, though Edwin and Morcar survived. Following their victory, the Norwegians entered York, secured supplies, and demanded hostages.

1066
September 25
Battle of Stamford Bridge
A 19th century CE painting by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1831-1892 CE) depicting the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September 1066 CE

The Battle of Stamford Bridge, which took place on September 25, 1066, in the village of Stamford Bridge, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, was a significant clash between King Harold Godwinson's English army and a Norwegian force led by King Harald Hardrada and Harold's brother Tostig Godwinson. The battle resulted in a bloody defeat for the invaders, with both Hardrada and Tostig, as well as the majority of their Norwegian forces, being killed. While this victory was a triumph for Harold Godwinson against the Norwegians, his army subsequently suffered defeat at the hands of the Normans at the Battle of Hastings less than three weeks later. Traditionally, the Battle of Stamford Bridge is seen as marking the end of the Viking Age, though major Scandinavian campaigns in Britain and Ireland, including those led by King Sweyn Estrithson of Denmark and King Magnus Barefoot of Norway, continued into the subsequent decades.

1066
October 14
Battle of Hastings
Gyrth and his brother's death at the Battle of Hastings, scene 52 of the Bayeux Tapestry.

The Battle of Hastings, a pivotal event on October 14, 1066, marked the beginning of the Norman Conquest of England. It was fought between the Norman-French army of William, Duke of Normandy, and the English army led by King Harold Godwinson near the present-day Battle of East Sussex, resulting in a decisive Norman victory. This battle followed the death of King Edward the Confessor in January 1066, which triggered a succession crisis. Harold, crowned shortly after Edward's death, faced challenges from William, his brother Tostig, and Norwegian King Harald Hardrada. Despite Harold's victory over Hardrada and Tostig at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, he faced William's invasion in the south. The English army, mainly infantry with few archers, was overwhelmed by the Normans' mixed force of infantry, cavalry, and archers. William's tactics and Harold's death led to the English defeat. William was crowned king on Christmas Day 1066, despite ongoing resistance. The battle, with heavy casualties on both sides, was significant enough for William to establish a monastery at the site, marking Harold's death spot.

1066
December 25
William crowned at Westminster Abbey
King William I ('The Conqueror')

After his victory at Hastings, William marched towards London, where the city's leaders capitulated, and he was crowned at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. His consolidation of the kingdom over the next decade was marked by severe suppression of opposition, most notoriously through the Harrying of the North. This brutal campaign involved devastating the northern regions, destroying livestock, crops, and farming tools, and even poisoning the soil. The chronicler Orderic Vitalis recorded that these actions led to over 100,000 deaths from starvation, a significant figure considering the estimated English population of 2.25 million in 1086. By the time of William's death in 1087, Anglo-Saxon control had dwindled to just about 8% of the land. The transformation under Norman rule was also evident in architecture, with most Anglo-Saxon cathedrals and notable abbeys demolished and replaced with Norman-style structures by 1200.

Recommended Books

The Anglo-Saxons A History of the Beginnings of England by Marc Morris
The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England by Marc Morris
Anglo-Saxon Christianity by Paul Cavill
Anglo-Saxon Christianity by Paul Cavill
Cnut the Great by Timothy Bolton
Cnut the Great by Timothy Bolton
The Great Heathen Army The Saga of Wessex by H A Culley
The Great Heathen Army The Saga of Wessex by H A Culley

Source

  • Morris, M. (2022). The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England. Pegasus Books

  • Anonymous. (n.d.). Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. [Commissioned during the reign of Alfred the Great]

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2024, January 3). History of Anglo-Saxon England. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Anglo-Saxon_England

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