A Look into the Past of Great Britain. The Saxons and Vikings

Britain after the Romans. Saxon kings. Border Battles. The Coming of the Vikings. The Danes Move into England. The Kingdom of Wessex. Guthrum and the Danelaw. Jorvik, a Viking City. The Golden Age and Struggle for Power. The invasion of the Normans.

Рубрика История и исторические личности
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Язык английский
Дата добавления 18.11.2014
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A Look into the Past of Great Britain. The Saxons and Vikings


saxon britain viking

The theme of my research is “A Look into the Past of Great Britain. The Saxons and Vikings.” I have chosen it, because I am fond both of History and English. That's why I decided to combine these two subjects into one project.

Before getting down to work I have set the following tasks:

· To trace the development of Great Britain.

· To explain how different historical events influenced the country of Great Britain.

· To investigate who the first inhabitants and conquerors of Great Britain were.

· To prove the importance of a subject of history in modern life.

I have solved these tasks by reading some additional literature, working with archives and dictionaries, studying different historical references.

My work contains the following items:

· Britain after the Romans.

· The Saxons Settlements.

· Saxons at Home.

· Kings and Kingdoms.

· The Sutton Hoo Ships.

· Saxons and Saints.

· Border Battles.

· The Coming of the Vikings.

· Bold Seafarers.

· Gods of the North.

· The Kingdom of Wessex.

· Guthrum and the Danelaw.

· The Saxon`s Golden Age.

· Vikings Take the Crown.

· A Struggle for Power.

· The Normans Invasion.

Analyzing this subject I have come down to the conclusion that history and modern life is closely connected. History helps us to understand ourselves, our past and sometimes history can predict our future.

I hope my research will be of a definite theoretical and practical value, because it is really important to know who our ancestors were and who we are.

From the 5th to the 11th centuries, Britain was repeatedly invaded by peoples from Europe. It was a long period of change. The Roman army, needed to fight hostile tribes on the Continent, had left Britain by AD 410. Soon after, peoples from northwest Europe crossed the sea to settle there. Among them were Angles, Saxons and Jutes. The newcomers drove the Britons of the south and east northward and westward to Strathclyde, Cornwall and Wales. Angles and Saxons settled in south, east and central Britain and became the 'English'. Further north lived the Picts, and the Scots, who came from Ireland. Britain was split into many small kingdoms that fought each other for power. In time, rulers of the large English kingdoms became the strongest. In the 800s, more invaders came to Britain. Vikings from Norway and Denmark came at first to burn and loot, but then settled to a peaceful way of life. In 1066, the last Saxon king of England was killed by new invaders, the Normans from France.

All the invaders of Britain brought their own languages, laws, customs and religions. We know something of their lives from coins, jewellery, household objects and remains of buildings of the time that archaeologists find in the ground. No Saxon or Viking invader left any writings, but some of their history was later written down by Christian monks. The most useful to us of such books are Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People of 731, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from the 800s to 1154.

Similarly, 'Saxons' or 'Anglo-Saxons' is used for Angles, Saxons, Jutes and other settlers of the period. Some of these peoples' customs, laws and language are still part of English life. Names they called places in their new land are still in use today's.

1.Britain After the Romans

"Hengist and Horsa, invited by Vortigern, king of the Britons, landed... at first in aid of the Britons, but afterwards they fought against them". Stories like this explained how the Saxons came to live in Britain. A monk called Bede wrote them down around 731. He said the Saxons arrived in 449

The first of the 'English' came from north Germany and Denmark. They were a mix of peoples including Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Frisians and Franks. These seafarers and warriors came to trade and raid in Britain before 400. The island's Roman rulers built forts along the coasts to keep the pirates away. Some Saxons joined the Roman army to fight off other Saxon raiders.

Around 408, the Romans and their army left Britain. Many Britons noticed little change at first. Others were soon to lose their lands or their lives Picts and Scots attacked from the north. And across the North Sea came invading Saxon ships. British leaders like Vortigern, hired other Saxons such as Hengist and Horsa to help fight off the invaders. The Britons paid these men in money and land. Some demanded more, or took what they wanted.

More and more invaders arrived, but now they came to find land to farm. They sailed their long narrow boats up rivers to reach deep inland. They forced the Britons from the land they wanted, or made them slaves.

At first they drove the Britons further and further west. Then around 500, the Britons seem to have won several victories. One of their leaders was Ambrosius Aurelianus, and one of their victories was at a place called Mons Badonicus, or Mount Badon. This may have been at Badbury Rings in Dorset. The main leader of the Britons at this time may have been the warrior later called King Arthur. For a while at least, the Saxons were halted.

2. The Saxons Settle

The Saxon leaders found good land to farm in the river valleys, and shared it out among their followers. The new farmers cut down trees, ploughed the soil and built themselves sturdy wooden houses. Settlements grew up.

Some farmers settled on lands seized from the Britons. Others cleared forests y to grow crops and make pasture for cattle and sheep. Goats, pigs and horses grazed on heathlands. Pigs also rooted in woods for acorns and beech nuts.

The Saxons sowed crops of wheat, rye, oats and barley. They also grew peas, beans and lentils. Farmers divided large open fields into long strips, which they shared. They also shared a big wheeled plough and the oxen to pull it. It was hard work turning round the heavy plough at the end of the field. Long strips of land meant making fewer turns.

The first settlements were groups of three or four family farms. Houses, farm buildings and workshops were all made of wood and had sloping thatched roofs. Around the settlement was a fence to protect it from wolves or enemies.

In time the settlements became villages. Most had a meeting place for the villagers. It might be an open space, or the large hall of a local leader. The first Saxon chiefs were the men who had led the settlers to Britain and given them land. In return the farmers worked and fought for their lord. The bonds between family members and between a man and his lord were especially important in Anglo-Saxon life.

3. Saxons at Home

Bede describes Saxons feasting together at home: ''They sat long at supper and drank hard, with a great fire in the middle of the room. It happened that the sparks flew up and caught the top of the house, which being made of wattles (twigs) and thatch, was presently in flame".

Most Saxon homes rotted away long ago. But traces of the wooden posts that held them up can still be seen in the soil. Using these signs, archaeologists have worked out what the buildings looked like and have rebuilt a whole settlement at West Stow in Suffolk. We know what Saxons wore and used in their homes from remains found in their graves.

The poorest homes were much like those built by Britons before Roman times. Families often shared them with their animals, with just a low wall or thin wooden screen between. There were no chimneys or windows. A fire burned in the middle of the floor. Houses were lit by candles or pottery lamps burning animal fat. Some had earth floors. Others had dug-out floors, covered by wooden boards.

Women spun sheep's wool and wove it into cloth. They used plant dyes to colour it, and made long tunic dresses for themselves. Men wore short tunics and thick wool trousers. They tied on their leather shoes with straps that criss-crossed up the leg.

Women ground grain, baked bread and brewed beer from barley. They cooked over the fire. Saxons enjoyed meat, especially pork, and fish. But their daily food was bread, cheese, milk and eggs. Children helped at home and on the farm. They gathered firewood, watched over the grazing animals, scared birds from newly sown fields, fed hens and collected eggs.

4. Kings and Kingdoms

By 600, Saxon settlements had become small kingdoms. The most important were: East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex, Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex. At times one king grew powerful enough to be bretwalda, or 'overlord', of the whole country.

The first Saxon 'kings' were the chiefs who led the invaders. Bede says they were Hengist and Horsa in Kent, Aelle in Sussex, and Cerdic and Cynric in Wessex. By 560, Kent had become the first important English kingdom. It was ruled until 616 by Ethelbert, whose capital (main settlement) was at Canterbury. His people traded with the Franks of Europe, and his laws are the oldest we know of among the Saxons. Later, Northumbria became the most powerful kingdom. Its king was Edwin. A Saxon palace, or hall, found at Yeavering in Northumberland was probably his. Each king moved through his kingdom from one hall to another. While he stayed there with his followers, they feasted with him and swore to be loyal to him in battle. In return he gave them gifts of land and riches.

5. The Sutton Hoo Ship

Saxon poets called kings 'treasure-givers'. When a king died, he was buried with some of his riches and a mound of earth was piled on top to mark his grave. In 1939, archaeologists opened a Saxon mound at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk and found a treasure ship.

The ship's timbers had rotted away in the earth but its shape was clear. It was an open boat nearly 30 metres long. In the centre was a hoard of gold, silver and decorated jewellery that could only have belonged to a lord or king.

Everyday items like cups, combs, knives and buckets lay with the war-gear of a splendid warrior. There were mystery objects that may have been the symbols of kingship, but no traces of a body.

The Sutton Hoo ship-burial was one of the richest finds made by archaeologists in Britain. It proved the wealth of an East Anglian ruler - but which one?

Gold coins in the mound seem to show that the owner Was Redwald, who died around 627. Bede says that Redwald was bretwalda between Ethelbert of Kent and Edwin of Northumbria.

The coins were from Gaul (France), but some objects had come from Byzantium (now Istanbul) and Egypt. Some finds tell us more about the East Anglian kings.

The great helmet and shield were decorated in a Swedish style. Since ship-burials have also been found in Sweden, it seems that the East Anglian royal family - the Wuffingas - may have come from Sweden in the 6th century. By the 7th century they held power for a while over all the English

6. Saxons and Saints

In Roman times, most Britons were Christians. When they fled from the Saxons, they set up small churches in Wales and the west. Monks from these and other 'Celtic' churches later took Christianity to the Saxons, who were pagans. Missionaries sent by the Pope in Rome came to convert the Saxons of southern England.

Patrick, a British monk, introduced Christianity to Ireland before 460. Facts about his life are few. One story tells how he was seized by pirates and taken to Ireland as a slave. He escaped and later went back there to teach and set up monasteries.

Irish monks often lived in lonely places, in small buildings of stone.

Around 563 a monk named Columba left Ireland for the isle of Iona near Scotland and started a monastery there. Monks from Iona then converted most of Scotland. Another monk, Aidan, went to found the monastery of Lindisfarne off Northumbria in 635. These holy men and the people who followed them are known as Celtic Christians.

The missionaries from Rome had arrived in Kent in 597. King Ethelred met their leader Augustine in the open air, where he hoped the priest's 'magic' would do less harm. The mission was a success and St Augustine became first Archbishop of Canterbury. Over the next 90 years, all the Saxon kingdoms gradually accepted the new religion.

Leaders of Roman and Celtic Christians met at Whitby in 663 to settle disagreements over religious matters. This brought the English Church closer to the Church on the Continent

7.Border Battles

Northumbria and Mercia struggled for power as their leaders feuded and fought to gain kingdoms. The most ruthless won. "You know how much blood his father shed to secure the kingdom on his son", said the scholar Alcuin about Offa, king of Mercia.

The Northumbrian kings - Edwin, Oswald and Oswy - were overlords of the English from about 616 to 657. But to stay strong they needed more lands and wealth to give to their followers. On their southern border lay Mercia. To the west in Wales were the British kingdoms of Gwynedd, Dyfed, Powys and Gwent. King Penda of Mercia and Cadwallon of Gwynedd joined forces in 632 to fight the Northumbrians - and they won.

Northumbrian and Mercian kings slew each other by turns, until Mercia won a vital battle near the River Trent in 679. Mercian kings had already overcome the neighbouring Midland tribes and now became overlords of most of the English south of the River Humber.

When Offa began his reign over Mercia in 757, he was already the most powerful Saxon king ever. About 780, he overcame the south-east kingdoms of Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Wessex. By so doing, he controlled the growing trade in England and with the Continent.

Later, Offa was acknowledged as the first 'King of the English'. He was respected abroad, too. He was the only ruler in western Europe to be treated as an equal by Charlemagne, king of the Franks. Offa's silver 'pennies' formed the pattern for English money long after.

Offa's power is shown by the great border barrier he built between Mercia and Wales - Offa's Dyke. But Mercia weakened after his death in 796, and little remains from his reign. Most of Offa's written laws and charters were lost in the turmoil that the English faced after 787, when the Vikings arrived.

8. The Coming of the Vikings

"In this year (787)... first came three ships of Northmen, out of Denmark... These were the first ships of Danishmen which sought the land of the English nation' So the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described the coming of the Vikings to Britain. Some came to find land to settle. Others came to steal, burn and slay.

Who were these Northmen or Vikings? They came from Scandinavia, the lands we call Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

They were farmers, fishermen, seafarers, traders - and fierce fighters. Their lands in forests and mountains were too hard to farm for an easy living. They were expert boat-builders, sailing the coastal fiords of their homeland in sturdy wooden ships. Some Vikings went far west across the ocean, guided by the Sun and stars and by the flight of birds. Viking adventurers hoped to grow rich - by trade or by plunder.

Why did the Vikings roam? There was not enough land at home for every young man to have a share. Younger sons would not inherit the family farm, but by travelling and raiding they could become rich in gold and slaves.

There was much to steal in Britain: the treasures of kings and monasteries, and plenty of silver coins. Its rulers were neither strong nor united. Northumbria was the kingdom most famous for monastic wealth, and in the 700s it was becoming weaker. The other kingdoms, and kings fought among themselves.

In 787 three Viking ships from Denmark landed in Dorset. The local reeve (a royal official) greeted the newcomers. Thinking they were traders, he told them they must speak to the king. Instead, they killed the reeve, then sailed away.

For 793, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that terrified Northumbrians saw omens: whirlwinds, lightning and 'dragons' in the skies. The 'storm' broke when Northmen raided the monastery at Lindisfarne in Northumbria. They burned its buildings, stole its treasures and slaughtered the defenceless monks.

9. Bold Seafarers

The Viking raid on Lindisfarne was followed by many. For the next hundred years there were wars in England between English and Northmen. But in the north and west of the British Isles, the Northmen settled more peacefully. They founded small farming communities like those in Scandinavia.

The Vikings were not just pirates. They were also traders and settlers who journeyed far across the sea and overland. A Viking band might trade furs for slaves on one voyage, and loot a church's gold on another. Next time they might seek good pasture for sheep.

The first Vikings to land in Britain were Danes. Most of those who followed were Norwegians. Vikings from Norway sailed to Scotland and settled the Orkney and Shetland islands in the 800s.

The first Viking raid on Ireland was in 795. Ireland became a centre of Viking trade, particularly in slaves, and piracy. Irish Viking settlements included Waterford, Wexford and Dublin, which became an important trading town.

Vikings drove the Picts and Scots from some northern islands, the Isle of Man and parts of mainland Scotland. They settled to a life of farming and fishing. They planted cereals and vegetables, and kept cows, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens. Viking families brought their farm animals overseas in sturdy boats called knorrs. Some of the men married local women.

A whole family (grandparents, parents, children, even aunts and uncles) often shared a one-room house. They cooked their food in an iron cauldron hung above a fire. They drank beer (made from barley) and mead, from cups made of horn. They wore woollen clothes, coloured with dyes made from plants. They made shoes, boots and belts from leather. Blacksmiths made iron tools and weapons. Carvers made combs and fish hooks from bone.

10.Gods of the North

In their homelands, Saxons and Vikings both worshipped the Norse gods. These were the gods of warriors, whose heroic deeds were told at feasts in the king's hall. In England, Saxons and Vikings later became Christians, but did not forget their old religious beliefs and stories.

Saxons and Vikings shared many gods, using slightly different names for each one. Saxon Woden was the Viking Odin, chief among the gods. The Saxon gods Tiw, Woden, Thunor (Thor) and Frigg give us the names of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. A Saxon spring goddess - Eostre - gave her name to the Christian festival of Easter.

Saxons used spells and charms against evil spirits and sickness. They wrote them down in 'magic' runes, or letters. They believed in spirits of rocks, trees and springs. They feared witches, demons and goblins - and dark, gloomy places where horrible monsters might lurk. An English Christian called Guthlac described the creatures he said he saw in his room on a lonely marsh. These "wicked sprites" had "filthy beards, shaggy ears... horses' teeth... scabby thighs, knotty knees, crooked legs...splay feet."

The Viking gods lived in a place called Asgard, which was joined to Earth by a rainbow bridge. Around the Earth was an ocean full of monsters, and beyond the ocean lived the Frost Giants. These were the enemies of the gods, who would one day destroy them in battle.

Death in battle meant everlasting glory to a Viking. Chosen warriors went to Odin's heavenly hall of Valhalla, to fight by day and feast by night.

Many Vikings believed that a person's spirit sailed to the next world in a ship, and some Vikings were buried in a ship under an earth mound. Others were placed on a boat that was set alight. Both Saxons and Vikings believed in an after-life. Their families placed in their graves all the things they would need with them, such as weapons and coins.

11. The Danes Move into England

In the mid 800s, large armies of Vikings (called Danes by the English) attacked western Europe, and England in particular. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says: 'There was warfare and sorrow over England." Wessex was the only English kingdom with the will and the leaders to fight off the invaders.

In the 830s Vikings raided the Isle of Sheppy in Kent, the south coast and East Anglia. In 851, a fleet of 350 Viking ships appeared at the mouth or the River Thames. The English had no navy to fight them. The men guarding London`s old Roman walls could do little to stop the invaders, who plundered the town. Canterbury was also attacked. Also in 851,Vikings camped in Thanet for the winter, the first time they had stayed in England after the fighting season.

The biggest Viking army yet seen in England landed in 865. It conquered East Anglia, Northumbria and Mercia. Monasteries were burned and their monks killed or driven away. The English Church was in danger of collapse.

Hoards of coins buried at this time show how panic spread as the Viking army swept through eastern and northern England. This was more than a raid. The invaders had come to stay.

In the south, Ethelred I, king of Wessex, and his brother, Alfred, fought fierce battles against the Vikings. Churchmen fought, too. In 871 Ethelred died and Alfred became king of Wessex.

The Vikings scorned English kings like Burgred of Mercia, who offered gold for peace. They also disliked their enemies' religion. They murdered King Edmund of East Anglia when he refused to give up his Christian faith. The pagan Vikings looked set to triumph.

12. Alfred of Wessex

Wessex was the last kingdom left under Anglo-Saxon rule. In 871 the Vikings attacked it and its king, Ethelred I, died. A Viking victory seemed certain. But the new king, Alfred, would not give in. His courage, determination and skill saved Wessex and made it the foundation for a united kingdom of England.

Alfred knew his Viking enemies from fighting them in Mercia with Ethelred. But in the first battles for Wessex he was beaten and had to make peace. The victorious Vikings went north to fight rebels in Northumbria. Then in 875 a new Viking army arrived. Part of it again marched north. The rest, led by Guthrum, launched a new campaign against Wessex in 878.

The attack caught the men of Wessex by surprise. Most were at home on their farms. Almost all the kingdom surrendered, but not Alfred. He escaped to hide in the Somerset marshes and plan how to win back his kingdom. He gathered a new army, and in spring marched out to defeat the Vikings at Edington.

Alfred's greatness was clear, to his followers and his enemies. He had shown that the Vikings could be beaten. Now, hoping to keep the peace, he let Guthrum's men settle in East Anglia.

To make Wessex strong, Alfred built forts called burhs, which grew into thriving towns. He also gained support from his neighbours in Mercia and in Wales. When the Danes attacked Kent in 885, Alfred was able to overcome them. In 886 he led his victorious army into London and rebuilt the city walls. All the English now saw him as their king. He made good laws, restored monasteries, and had books written, in both Latin and English. For his achievements he is the only English king called 'the great'.

13. The Kingdom of Wessex

Wessex was a wealthy kingdom with generous and just rulers who kept their people's loyalty. It had not experienced fighting over who would be king, unlike Mercia and Northumbria. This unity made it strong enough to defeat the Vikings and grow into the kingdom of England.

Alfred had to make Wessex's defences strong enough to fight off future Viking attacks. The Vikings used fortified camps as bases for their raids. Alfred now built a line of his own forts in Wessex. These were manned by soldiers and gave shelter to local people in time of attack. Some were based on old Roman forts or walled towns. Others were new towns built on open land.

The Vikings moved swiftly by sea, and over land on horses. To defeat'them, Alfred had to build a fleet and improve his army and his fighting methods.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Alfred "divided his forces into two, so that there were always half of the men at home, half out on duty". It also says that Alfred ordered troop-carrying ships to be built. When the Vikings came back in 893, they were kept out of Wessex.

Local leaders saw that the king's orders were carried out. First among his officers were the 'ealdormen' in charge of a shire. Kingdoms were made up of shires, and shires of 'hundreds' (groups of 100 families). Thanes had local duties but also served for a month at Alfred's court. They then spent 2 months at home. Town officers called reeves collected taxes and kept law and order.

Alfred tried to weaken the custom of family feuds. By Saxon law, a man fleeing a feud could stay for 7 days in a church, but be given no food. A thief who stole from a church might have his hand cut off, or pay a fine according to his wergild. A thief caught in the king's hall paid a fine 24 times greater than a thief breaking into a cottage.

In 878, the treaty of Wedmore was agreed between Alfred and Guthrum. It divided England between them. The Vikings settled in the eastern half, from Northumbria to Essex, where they set up homes and farms. The Viking leader of the Great Army was now a Christian. Would peace last?

Alfred probably did not trust the Vikings to honour the pe treaty. That is why he strengthened the defences of Wesse But for a while at least, the Vikings (Danes) in the lands that became known as the Danelaw kept their word. They settled to peaceful village life. Some took English wives but they their own language and laws. Although it was no longer a war, Guthrum's Great Army kept troops in the fortified b; of Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Lincoln. 1 was also a powerful Viking force in York (then called Jorvik).

The Vikings in England did not give up seafaring. Traders went on voyaging to the markets of the Continent and beyond, and there was a busy trade across the Irish Sea to Dublin. Town-life grew in the Danelaw. Towns such as Peterborough, Ely, Cambridge and Norwich all became wealthy. They were centres of trade and later of Church life. In the countryside, the Viking farmer-warriors did much as they liked. They took local people as slaves, but were not willing to serve a lord. Viking nobles or jarls (earls) had less power than the English thanes.

The peace between English and Danes was brief. Three years after Guthrum's death in 890, Viking sea-raids began again. Danelaw farmers took up their swords to join these new raiders, eager to take land from their old foes, the West Saxons. But Alfred's army and his new navy fought off the attacks.

Fighting went on after Alfred's death in 899. But now the English had the upper hand. Alfred's son Edward led his army into Viking East Anglia in 902. He also defeated the Northumbrian Vikings. With help from his sister, Aethelflaed of Mercia, Edward won control of all the Danelaw.

A last threat came from Raegnald of Dublin, who made himself king of York in 919. But a year later the Viking king submitted to Edward. The Danelaw was now ruled by English kings, although York had Viking kings until 954.

14. Jorvik, a Viking City

In 866 the Northumbrian city of York had fallen to the Viking army. Northumbria had been one of the great English kingdoms. Its capture seemed a disaster. But Viking York, or Jorvik, became the capital of a new kingdom, even richer and more powerful.

York had been a fort-city since Roman times. The Vikings laid out new streets in an area between the rivers Ouse and Foss. They built houses of wattle (woven sticks) with thatched roofs. They repaired parts of the Roman walls.

By the year 1000, as many as 10,000 people lived in Jorvik. Many were craftworkers selling their goods from shops. There were weavers and dyers of woollen cloth. Jewellers made rings and beads from amber, jet (a black stone) and glass, or brooches from gold and silver. Turners shaped wooden bowls and cups. Metalworkers melted gold, silver and copper in furnaces. Coiners stamped coins. Leatherworkers cut out shoes and belts from ox-hides and deerskin.

Foreign traders came to Jorvik from Dublin in Ireland, and from Norway, Sweden and Iceland. Silks and coins from Asia have been found in the town. Archaeologists have even found a shell from the Arabian Gulf.

Many of the most interesting Viking remains in York were in an area called Coppergate, where cupmakers worked. The ground was wet, so wooden and leather objects did not rot but were preserved. In waste pits, archaeologists have found food remains: bones of pigs, sheep, deer, chickens, pigeons and fish, shellfish shells, nutshells, eggshells and cereal seeds.

The people of Jorvik enjoyed games. Children played a kind of football. Everyone liked horse racing, wrestling, and ice skating in winter. In summer they swam and had boat races on the river. The Vikings had three annual feasts: in early summer, at harvest time and after mid-winter. Then people feasted, sang and heard the stories of heroic deeds that all Vikings enjoyed.

15. The Saxons` Golden Age

Alfred and his sons made England one kingdom. The kings of Wessex could also demand the loyalty of kings in Wales and Scotland. In the reigns of Athelstan and Edgar, England was strong, peaceful and well-governed.

Athelstan was Alfred's grandson. He became king in 924. In 937 he won a great battle at Brunanburh (somewhere near Carlisle) against an army of Irish Vikings, Scots and Strathclyde Britons. The north was now firmly under control. Athelstan was the first Saxon king to command loyalty from all Britain.

Like Alfred, Athelstan was interested in good government. He ordered that one coinage should be used throughout the land. The burhs became centres of local government, with ealdormen ruling in the king's name. The king was a collector of art and holy relics, such as bones of saints. He was delighted to own the sword of the Roman emperor Constantine.

After Athelstan died in 939, his successors, Edmund and Eadred, had to fight new Viking raiders. England was not at peace again until Edgar became king of Wessex in 959. Edgar was all-powerful and won support from several Welsh and Scottish kings. He set up courts to keep law and order.

Edgar's chief advisor was Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury. Dunstan and bishops Oswald of York and Ethelwold of Winchester made changes in the Church. Monasteries had been run by monks who had got into bad habits. Now monks had to live by strict rules. In 973, Edgar was crowned in a special religious ceremony at Bath.

Edgar died, aged only 32, in 975. The golden age ended. Now, a Saxon wrote sadly: "Strife threw the kingdom into turmoil...family against family."

16. Vikings Take the Crown

"There was no chief who would assemble forces, but each fled as he might' said the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 975. After Edgar's death, England fell into confusion and misery. Viking fleets returned, looting and destroying towns. In 1016, a Dane became king of England.

Edgar's son, Edward, became king in 975. A comet - a sign of troubled time's, so people believed - was followed by a famine. Then in 978 Edward was murdered, probably by supporters of his young step-brother, Ethelred II, the 'Unready' (from the Old English unraed meaning 'evil advice'). Ethelred became king in 979, but the troubles continued.

Viking raids began in 980, and Ethelred tried to buy off the Danes. First, he raised taxes and handed over huge sums, known as 'Danegeld' or Danes' gold. Then, he gave the Danish soldiers land on condition they fight for him. They demanded more. Ethelred ordered a massacre of Danes living in England and so angered the Danish king, Sweyn Forkbeard.

In 1013, Sweyn's army ravaged England and Ethelred fled to Normandy in France. The English nobles asked Sweyn to be their king. He accepted, but died in 1014 before being crowned.

Ethelred returned, but died in 1016. Sweyn's son, Cnut (or Canute), now led the Danish army in England. Ethelred's son, Edmund Ironside, fought the Danes so fiercely that Cnut agreed to share the kingdom with him. But Edmund died after only months as ruler, and Cnut became king of England.

England was now part of a North Sea empire, with Denmark and Norway, and Cnut's power was recognized by Welsh, Scots and Irish. Cnut brought England peace, but weakened royal power. When he visited his overseas kingdoms, he left the government of England to trusted earls. The most powerful and ambitious of these earls was Godwine of Wessex.

17. A Struggle for Power

Cnut`s reign ended in 1035. For the next 30 years rivals schemed for the crown of England. Edward the Confessor built a great new church at Westminster. But his kingdom was weakened as ambitious men plotted against him at home and abroad.

Cnut's queen was Emma, who had also been married to Ethelred. Emma was from Normandy in France, and this made Cnut friendly with the powerful Duke of Normandy. When Cnut died, he left three sons: Harthacnut (Emma's son), Sweyn and Harold (sons by another wife). Emma had two more sons from her marriage to Ethelred, and they remained in Normandy. Which of these rivals would succeed Cnut? There was also rivalry between the great English earls - Leofric of Mercia, Siward of Northumbria and Godwine of Wessex. No one could become king without their support.

Queen Emma schemed for her sons in Normandy. One came to England, where he was attacked, blinded and died. His friends in Normandy blamed Earl Godwine for his death. In the end, Cnut's son Harold became king, but died in 1040. Harthacnut took over, but he died in 1042. There were no more Danish kings of England. Edward, son of Ethelred the Unready, came from Normandy to take the throne.

Edward was more Norman than English, and brought with him Norman advisors. This caused jealousy. He married Earl Godwine's daughter, yet this did not bring peace with Wessex. Many people respected Edward as a just king, but he was not a strong ruler. Godwine died in 1053 and his son Harold became earl of Wessex. He, too, disliked Edward.

Edward had no children. Once again, no-one knew who would be the next king. The man with the power was Earl Harold of Wessex. But in Normandy and Norway there were other men with claims to the throne of England, and with armies to back them.

18.The Normans Invade

Edward the Confessor died in January 1066, and the English witan chose Harold of Wessex as king. But William of Normandy and Harald Hardrada of Norway also claimed a right to the crown. Both prepared to invade England and seize it.

William of Normandy was a distant relative of Edward the Confessor. But the two men were very different. William was no saint, while his father, Duke Robert, was nicknamed 'the Devil'. William had learned to be a ruthless soldier. He had fought rivals to master Normandy and he was ready to fight for the English crown he claimed Edward had promised him.

The witan seems to have known nothing about Edward's promise to William. The Archbishop of Canterbury agreed that Edward had named Harold of Wessex as the next king, and Harold prepared to fight for the crown. But he had already lost the support of his brother, Tostig, earl of Northumbria. Tostig had so upset the Northumbrians that there was a risk of civil war and Harold was forced to send him away. Tostig then turned against his brother and fled to join Harald Hardrada's army, which had landed in the north of England as the Normans waited to cross the Channel.

Harold led his men north to fight the Norwegians and Tostig. At the battle of Stamford Bridge near York the English won a great victory. Harald Hardrada and Tostig were among the dead. Now came the grim news that the Normans had landed in Sussex. Harold rushed south, with his weary army, to drive William into the sea. Some thanes held back, but others sent fresh troops to aid their new king. Harold did not wait for them. On 14 October the English met the Norman invaders on Senlac Hill near Hastings. Harold was killed. William had conquered, and in one battle ended the Saxon rule of England. He was crowned king on Christmas Day 1066.


saxon britain viking

Having analyzed the problems of history of Great Britain I can say that the Saxons first arrived on the shores of Britain in around AD 450 and slowly established a number of kingdoms across England. Between the seventh century and the eleventh century, Anglo-Saxon England became a rich and powerful nation. This was a time of great upheaval - from the Viking raids of the ninth and tenth centuries, to the Norman Conquest of 1066 - but also the time when Christianity was re-established, art and learning flourished, the law was reformed and many churches and towns were built.

My work describes the people, events and everyday life of the Saxon and Viking age: Offa, the Sutton Hoo ship burial, life in an Anglo-Saxon house, Alfred the Great, the Viking invasions, Guthrum and the Danelaw.

Everyday we hear a lot of information about history and English, we even pay no attention to it, and this is a great mistake. I can quote George Orwell, who said “He, who controls the past, controls the future; and he, who controls the present, controls the past.” In my opinion George Orwell was right and we should listen to our past to have adequate future.

List of Literature

1. Brenda Williams ”History of Britain”. Great Britain - 1995.

2. В.В. Ощепкова, И.И. Шустилова “Britain in Brief”. Москва. Издательство «Лист» 1999.

3. Ю.Б. Голицинский “Great Britain” КАРО Санкт-Петербург 2006 год.

4. Marcus Wheeler. The Oxford Russian - English Dictionary. Oxford at the Clarendon Press - 1972.

5. I.R. Galperin, E.M. Mednikova. New English - Russian Dictionary. Moscow. Russky Yazyk Publishers - 1987.

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