English History/Anglo-Saxon England

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Recreated Anglo Saxon village in Sussex, England

The Anglo-Saxons invaded England during the 5th and 6th centuries AD. They settled down in England and controlled most parts of England till the 10th century AD. The first two centuries of Anglo-Saxon rule are known as the "Dark Ages" because written records of the period are sparse and incomplete, and must be supplemented by archaeological evidence such as the study of cemeteries and grave goods.

Origins of Saxon Rule and the Migration of the Anglo-Saxons

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Roman Britain had been an orderly, prosperous province for centuries, with well-built towns and villas. Rome had brought in foreign troops to provide security against raiders from non-Roman northern Britain (the Picts). Many of these troops were Germanic in origin, and likely drew the contrast between their own homelands and the relatively rich island. When Roman control first faltered during the 4th century, Saxons and other Germans already familiar with Britain began sporadically attacking the east coasts.

Roman rule in Britain came to an end in 407 when Constantine III was declared Emperor and crossed the Channel in to Britain. During this period, there were widespread migrations from France and Germany. Anglo-Saxons constituted one of them and were made of three Germanic tribes: the Angles, the Jutes and the Saxons. The year 449 is reported in chronicles as the point that the Germanic newcomers began to arrive in strength. Modern Jutland, Schleswig-Holstein, and the Frisian coast have been cited as the main origins of the newcomers.

The leaders of the Britons found themselves in a losing struggle against the newcomers, who began to seize lands and drive them out by force of arms. A north-south running frontier developed between the two groups, with the Britons losing control of Kent, East Anglia and Northumbria and pushed back toward Wales and southwest England. British chroniclers such as Gildas and Nennius portrayed the Saxons as cruel and savage foes; non-English observers of the same period reported intense hatred of Saxons by the Britons. The legend of King Arthur, a British war leader valiantly defending his lands against Saxon enemies, probably has its roots in these events.

The newcomers, however, were not unaffected by the customs and culture of their new homeland. British names began to appear in Anglo-Saxon families, suggesting that not all Britons left the conquered areas and that intermarriage must have taken place. Few British place names survived and few loan words entered English from the British tongue, indicating that the Anglo-Saxon political victory was decisive. Genetic surveys during the 1990s, however, indicated that the Anglo-Saxon contribution to the overall British population was about 20%, and that the bulk of the population, especially in the female line, remained unchanged from what it had been since Neolithic times (see Brian Sykes, Blood of the Isles (2006) ).

Some Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, such as that of East Anglia, kept close ties with their Germanic and Scandinavian kin across the North Sea. The grave goods found at Sutton Hoo in East Anglia show strong ties with pre-Viking Jutland and Sweden and the influence of the Teutonic Heathen religion.

The early Anglo-Saxon chiefdoms grew into seven kingdoms in the 6th century AD giving rise to the Heptarchy. The 7th century saw the Anglo-Saxon kings adopt Christianity. The Latin Catholic version had first been brought to Kent by missionaries in 596. Christianity had existed for centuries in Roman Britain and had developed into a unique Celtic form. The Anglo-Saxons, however, were unaffected by the religion of their British foes.

Some Saxon rulers, such as Penda of Mercia, were unwilling to give up the Heathen trust in Tiw, Thunor (Thor), Ing, and Woden (who they claimed as ancestor), and died without taking the new religion. Along with purported spiritual benefits, adopting the new faith was an opportunity for Anglo-Saxon leaders to forge alliances with powerful kings on the Continent such as the Franks. After some small wars among the Saxon rulers, Latin Christianity eventually prevailed.

Ascendancy of Wessex and the emergence of a unified English State

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King Alfred the Great, king of the West Saxons and the "HEGEMONY" of Wessex over the other English kingdoms
note: Athelstan the first actual ruler (from 927CE), but England has no actual foundation date.