Portal:Anglo-Saxon England

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Anglo-Saxon England

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Anglo-Saxon England lasted from the end of the Roman occupation of Britain and the establishment of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the 5th century until the Norman conquest of England in 1066. The Anglo-Saxons were Germanic tribes who settled in the southern half of the Britain from continental Europe, and their descendants; as well as indigenous people who adopted the Anglo-Saxon culture and language, in the 5th and 6th centuries. Their language, which is now called Old English, and the culture of the era, has long attracted popular and scholarly attention.

Until the 9th century, Anglo-Saxon England was dominated by the kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent and Wessex. The Anglo-Saxons were initially pagans, but they converted to Christianity during the 7th century.

Facing the threat of Viking attacks that began in the 9th century, the kings of Wessex became dominant amongst the Anglo-Saxon rulers. During the 10th century, the individual kingdoms unified under the rule of Wessex to become the kingdom of England, which stood opposed to the Viking kingdoms established in the north and east of England. The Kingdom of England fell in the Viking invasion from Denmark in 1013 and was ruled by the House of Denmark until 1042, when the Anglo-Saxon House of Wessex was restored. The last Anglo-Saxon king, Harold Godwinson, was killed in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings.

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The Liber Eliensis (sometimes Historia Eliensis or Book of Ely) is a 12th-century English chronicle and history, written in Latin. Composed in three books, it was written at Ely Abbey on the island of Ely in the fenlands of eastern Cambridgeshire. Ely Abbey became the cathedral of a newly formed bishopric in 1109. Traditionally the author of the anonymous work has been given as Richard or Thomas, two monks at Ely, one of whom, Richard, has been identified with an official of the monastery, but some historians hold that neither Richard nor Thomas was the author.

The Liber covers the period from the founding of the abbey in 673 until the middle of the 12th century, building on a number of earlier historical works. It incorporates documents and stories of saints' lives and is a typical example of a kind of local history produced during the latter part of the 12th century, similar to a number of books written at other English monasteries. The longest of the contemporary local histories, it describes the devastation caused by the disorders during the reign of King Stephen as well an account of the career of Nigel, the Bishop of Ely from 1133 to 1169, and his disputes with King Stephen. Other themes are the miracles worked by the monastery's patron saint, Æthelthryth, and the gifts of land to Ely.

The two surviving complete manuscripts of the work are complemented by a number of partial manuscripts. A printed version of the Latin text appeared in 1963 and an English translation was published in 2005, although extracts had appeared in print earlier. The Liber Eliensis is an important source of historical information for the region and period it covers, and particularly for the abbey and bishopric of Ely. (more...)

Did you know?

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

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Hoard of Anglo-Saxon rings
Credit: Odejea

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

Selected biography

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Cnut the Great (Old Norse: Knútr inn ríki; c. 985 or 995 – 12 November 1035), also known as Canute, was a king of Denmark, England, Norway and parts of Sweden. After the death of his heirs within a decade of his own and the Norman conquest of England in 1066, his legacy was largely lost to history.

Cnut was of Danish and Slavic descent. His father was Sweyn Forkbeard, King of Denmark and his mother was the daughter of the first duke of the Polans, Mieszko I. Cnut won the throne of England in 1016 in the wake of centuries of Viking activity in northwestern Europe. His accession to the Danish throne in 1018 brought the crowns of England and Denmark together. Cnut held this power-base together by uniting Danes and Englishmen under cultural bonds of wealth and custom, rather than sheer brutality. After a decade of conflict with opponents in Scandinavia, Cnut claimed the crown of Norway in Trondheim in 1028. He had coins struck which called him king there, but there is no narrative record of his occupation.

Cnut's possession of England's dioceses and the continental Diocese of Denmark was a source of great leverage within the Church, gaining notable concessions from Pope Benedict VIII, and his successor John XIX, such as one on the price of the pallium of his bishops. Cnut also gained concessions on the tolls his people had to pay on the way to Rome from other magnates of medieval Christendom, at the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor. (more...)

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