Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman England




Anglo-Saxon England

The Anglo-Saxon time period is a period from 450-1066 in which the Anglo-Saxon peoples inhabited Great Britain. After the roman occupation of Britain came to an end those that were left behind faced increasing threats along their borders from, among others, Picts. In order to protect themselves they enlisted the help of Anglo-Saxon tribes who migrated from continental Europe in exchange for money and land. The Anglo-Saxon tribes, such as the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, settled into various parts of Britain in separate kingdoms (Treharne xxi).Eventually the land was divided up into a heptarchy; seven kingdoms, though some other smaller kingdoms and territories remained. The seven kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England were Mercia, East-Anglia, Wessex, Northumbria, Essex, Sussex, and Kent. During the Anglo-Saxon age the importance of individual kingdoms was influx, some being more prominent than others at certain times.
The island of Britain saw many invasions, from the “invasion” of Christendom, to the perhaps more violent invasions of the Vikings. Christendom was already present on the British isle with the Irish and the Britons before the Anglo-Saxons came. In 597 St. Augustine was made Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope Gregory I and was sent to England to convert the Anglo-Saxons. This he did starting with Kent where king Æthelberht ruled with his Christian wife at his side.  Augustine received little help from the Britons, who were also Christian (Snyder 134). They would not cooperate with him; however, eventually the Anglo-Saxons kingdoms were converted to Christianity (Snyder 134). After this “invasion” of Christendom there was also the invasion of the Vikings more or less starting with the raid of the holy island Lindisfarne in 793. These raids later turned to more permanent attempts of the Vikings to settle in England. These attempts were quite successful and they conquered large parts of England, mainly the kingdoms of East-Anglia, Northumbria, and Mercia. It was Alfred, born in 849 as youngest son of Aethelwulf of Wessex and his wife Osburh, who eventually stopped the onslaught of the Vikings. He became king of Wessex when his brother Æthelred died in 871.
Finally in 878 Alfred’s army defeated that of Guthrum, the Viking king, at the Battle of Edington. This led to establishment of the Danelaw which set out an area which would fall under Danish rule. Guthrum’s conversion to Christianity was also an essential condition that had to be met in the peace process. Though Alfred had defeated the Danish army this did not necessarily lead to peace. Alfred and his children, Edward and Aethelflaed, would continue to fight the Vikings regularly. By the end of the Anglo-Saxon period England had become a unified kingdom. The Anglo-Saxon period came to an end in the 11th century after the death of Edward the Confessor who died childless in 1066. Harold Godwinson succeeded to the throne, however this was not uncontested. First there was Harald Hardrada who came from Norway to claim the throne. He was defeated by Harold’s army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge before Harold himself was beaten by Duke William II of Normandy. After the Battle of Hastings he became William the Conqueror and started a new period in England: the Anglo-Norman period.

Anglo-Norman England

The Anglo-Norman period started with the ascension of William the Conqueror to the throne of England and lasted from 1066 to 1154. During the Anglo-Norman period there was quite some unrest in England. Many changes were brought to the fabric of English society. This pertained to the language but also to the social, political and religious spheres. The English lords were mostly displaced and instead he installed Normans in their place. Because of this nobility in England spoke mostly French. The Normans also introduced their own form of feudalism to England. Those who were previously in power did not meekly accept these changes and rebellions happened frequently.  As Chibnall states a trail of castles was left along the route followed by his [William] army as it     travelled north and west to suppress risings in Yorkshire and along the Welsh borders.The worst threat of al in 1068, when native unrest was accompanied by a Danish invasion provoked savage reprisals. (47-8)

William not only replaced secular leaders but also many of the clergy. Unrest continued throughout the Anglo-Norman period under the reign of William Rufus, the second son of William I, and his younger brother, Henry I. The last Norman king, King Stephen’s reign was marked by a civil war as a result of his ascension to the throne instead of Empress Matilda, the daughter of the previous king, Henry I. Eventually Matilda’s son Henry and King Stephen came to the agreement that Henry would be his heir. In 1154 Stephen died and Henry ascended to the throne as Henry II. This ended Norman rule in England.