The Anglo Saxon Period. Explore The making of a Kingdom through war and law.
The Anglo Saxon Period 410 - 1066
Find out more about the Anglo Saxon Period in Britain by using a combination of the timeline and synopsis below as well as our posts. Find new intriguing connections using our themed history pages. Explore the world of science, the arts, church, government or law. Discover more about Britain after the Romans left and discover the history of the establishment of the laws of the Kingdom of England.
|410||The Roman Occupiers leave Britain and the British must take over the responsibility of defending themselves from Jutes, Angles, Saxons, Picts and Scots. The English Migration period starts.|
|449||40 years after the Romans have left, Vortigen a local ruler in Kent, invites Jutes from Jutland Denmark, as mercenaries to fight against the invading Picts and Scots.|
|455||Having beaten the Picts and Scots the Jutes take over from the local rulers and form the Kingdom of Kent. They choose the Jute war lords, Hengist and Horsa as their rulers. They become the Men of Kent.|
|477||A Saxon warlord, Ælle, land at Chichester and forms the Kingdom of Sussex, the south Saxons. He kills most of the local Britons and forms Sussex. (South Saxons.)|
|495||Cerdic a Saxon lord lands at Southampton and moves inland. They capture the old Roman town of Winchester and and the Kingdom of Wessex is born.All subsequent Anglo Saxon Kings and Queens are purported to relate to Cedric.|
|500||Finglesham Cemetery site.The site was used from ca. 500 to ca. 700, and was almost certainly founded by the aristocracy. Finglesham is derived from the old english, Pengels-ham, which translates to Prince's Home or Prince's Manor. The large barrow of the cemetery has been numbered 204, and from the sheer size of the mound it is obvious that he was quite wealthy.|
|527||Saxons land east of London and the Kingdom of Essex is born. They probably arrive via the Thames just east of London and they settle in the land from the Thames to St Albans. Essex, the land of the East Saxons.|
|547||The Angles arrive in the north avoiding the southern Angles and settle north of the river Humber (North- Humbria)|
|558||The rule of Æthelberht was King of Kent from about 558 or 560 until his death. Bede lists Aethelberht as the third king to hold authority over other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. What this authority amounted to is uncertain but he was able to safely send missionaries to the Upper Thames.|
|560||Æthelberht marries a Merovingian princess, Bertha daughter of Charibert King of Paris. She was a Christian and came to England with her Bishop and a church in Canterbury prepared for their use. This is an important moment in the founding of a Christian church in England.|
|560||Monastery on Iona founded.|
|571||Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire conquered by West Saxons|
|577||Gloucester, Cirencester and Bath conquered by Cuthwine and Ceawlin of the West Saxons|
|575||Two further tribes of Angles land on the east coast of England, in what is now called East Anglia. They settle in two groups forming Norfolk and Suffolk. (North Folk and South Folk)|
|585||The Angles move across to colonize the East Midlands.This area now called the East Midlands|
|589||England separates into seven kingdoms, it becomes a HeptarchyEach kingdom is ruled by separate Germanic Kings. The Britons that remain, exist in the western margins of England, in Wales, Scotland or Cornwall. The seven kingdoms struggle between themselves for dominance.|
|590||In East Anglia and Lincolnshire, where cremation had been common, cremation urns have been found in large numbers|
|590||is being produced in Kent and exported. Blue jars of this type , are thought to haBlue glassve been made at Faversham in Kent in the late sixth and early seventh centuries. Some were exported from the Kentish workshops to clients in other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, as this example shows; others have been found as far afield as Norway.|
|592||Ceawlin of Wessex died.|
|597||Pope Gregory sends a mission to England led by Augustine. He and 40 others arrive, this is a very big mission.|
|598||Pope Gregory reports that 10,000 English have been baptised. Amongst them the King Æthelberht. Sees are established at Canterbury and Rochester.|
|600||King Æthelberht of Kent writes his law code|
|600||Elaborate metal working being produced in Kent. Kent in the 6th century is very wealthy. The diversity of grave goods is not matched elsewhere in England. Many of them are Frankish, so maybe Frankish nobles are settling here?|
|607||Ethelfrith becomes king in Northumbria, defeats the Welsh at Chester.|
|604||The Essex king is baptised and a see established at London.|
|616||Æthelberht died and with him very nearly Augustine's missionary because he has been his strongest supporter. Pagans drive out the missionaries. One of his lasting legacies was his law code, the first written in English.|
|617||Kents new king is baptised and that saves the day for the spread of Christianity in England.|
|617||Edwin becomes king in Northumbria,persuaded to become a Christian by his wife Ethelburga who was the daughter of the Christian King of Kent. Edwin was defeated by the Mercian overlord Penda at a battle near Doncaster.|
|625||The Sutton Hoo burial|
|625||During this period most of the English kings are converted to Christianity.|
|627||Edwin of Northumbria influenced by his Christian wife Æthelburh, Edwin brought a man called Paulinus to Northumbria. Paulinus, the last of the missionaries sent to Britain by Pope Gregory I, built a wooden church in the old Roman legionary headquarters in York, and baptised Edwin there. Edwin was the first Christian king in northern England.|
|634||Oswald of Northumbria is at times the dominant king with connections to Ireland. He sends for a missionary from the monastery of Iona. Aidan and his followers establish Lindisfarne.|
|635||Wessex king converts to Christianity|
|643||Mercians become the most powerful kingdom under the rule of Penda.|
|655||Death of the last Pagan king Penda, his successors are all Christian.|
|655||Monasteries being founded by wealthy nobles, such as Whitby.|
|660||Tension between the missionaries regarding the method of calculating the date of Easter. Contemporary theology made this the most significant date and therefore it was a subject contested with great passion.|
|664||The Synod of Whitby, where Oswy decided to use the Roman method for calculating the date of Easter.|
|664||Terrible outbreak of bubonic plague.|
|669||Theodore arrives from Rome to become Archbishop of Canterbury and sets about transforming the English church.|
|678||Wilfrid became bishop of Northumbria. His diocese was one of the largest in Christendom, extending from the Humber to Edinburgh and beyond. His refusal to agree to a division of his diocese was probably the reason for his expulsion by Ecgfrith, king of Northumbria, and the archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore.|
|688||Ine becomes King of Wessex|
|722||Boniface educated in Exeter and Nursling (Hampshire) became a missionary in 716 AD. He began work in Frisia, assisting and n 722 AD, Pope Gregory II made him bishop to Hesse and Bavaria (in modern Germany). His felling of the pagan shrine 'Thor's Oak' in northern Hesse is often regarded as the start of German Christianisation.|
|731||Bede completes his Ecclesiastical history, it tells us most of what is known about this period of history.|
|757||Offa 757-96 becomes King of Mercia, and overlord of all England below Northumbria. Noted for having a good trading and religious relationship with Charlemagne, introducing a new currency, the Penny with the same silver content as a French coin thus being interchangeable for trade. Noted also for building a formidable, 26 foot high, 120 mile long earth dyke to defend England from the “Britons” in Wales. Some say the first King of all England.|
|786||After ruling the West Saxons for 31 years, Cynewulf king of Wessex, was attacked by Cyneheard, the brother of a man Cynewulf had exiled.|
|787||In the first recorded coronation in England, Offa's son Ecgfrith was consecrated in 787 in Offa's lifetime in an attempt to secure the succession. However, Ecgfrith died childless, months after Offa|
|789||The Viking attack on Portland in Dorset is the first of its kind recorded in the British Isles, including Ireland.|
|793||Vikings sack the monastery at Lindisfarne in Northumbria.|
|795||Vikings attack the monastery of Iona|
|825||The Mercians' defeat at the hands of Egbert of Wessex at the battle of Ellendun in 825 meant that supremacy passed to Wessex.|
|839||Ethelwulf was the son of Egbert. At Ethelwulf's request, his four sons each became king in turn rather than risk weakness in the kingdom by allowing young children to inherit the mantle of leadership.|
|849||Alfred is born at Wantage in Berkshire.|
|851||Egbert, king of Wessex, had made his second son Athelstan king of Kent. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Athelstan fought a sea battle against the Vikings off Sandwich, capturing nine ships and putting the rest to flight. In the same year his brother, Æthelwulf of Mercia, was killed by a Viking raiding party.|
|855||Ethelbald was the eldest son of Ethelwulf. He took over his father's authority in 855 and married Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald, king of the Franks, who was also his stepmother.|
|860||Ethelbert now ruled|
|866||Ethelred third son of Ethelwulf now ruled.|
|866||York is captured by a Viking army.|
|869||Edmund King of the East Angles, is killed by Vikings who had moved from Mercia into East Anglia. He was beheaded and his head thrown away to prevent proper burial. Much later, his head was finally reunited with the body, and both were buried in the royal residence, which later became known as Bury St Edmunds.|
|871||King Ethelred, the West Saxon king, and his brother Alfred, defeat the Viking army at the Battle of Ashdown (in Berkshire). Ethelred is killed and Alfred becomes king.|
|871||Alfred was the fifth son of Ethelwulf, king of the West Saxons. At their father's behest and by mutual agreement, Alfred's elder brothers succeeded to the kingship in turn, rather than endanger the kingdom by passing it to under-age children at a time when the country was threatened by worsening Viking raids from Denmark.|
|874||Vikings take over the kingdom of Mercia.|
|878||The Vikings take Wessex. Alfred, took refuge in the marshes of Athelney (Somerset). After Easter, he called up his troops and defeated the Viking king Guthrum, who he persuaded to be baptised. He later brought Guthrum to terms and created a settlement that divided England.|
|899||King Alfred the Great died. Wessex is the only kingdom in England independent of the Vikings.|
|899||Edward the Elder rules, son of Alfred and a bold and decisive man who sets out to defeat the Danes in the other kingdoms of England.|
|910||Edward defeats the Danes at Tettenhall and is acknowledged by the Viking kingdom of York.|
|918||Aethelflaed, daughter of King Alfred died.She married the ruler of Mercia and seems to have governed that kingdom after her husband's death.She is a powerful ruler building fortresses and pushing into the territory of the Vikings.|
|937||Athelstan of Wessex, with an army of West Saxons and Mercians, inflicted a crushing defeat on the invading Viking and Scottish troops at the battle of|
|954||Edward Bloodaxe, last Viking leader in Britain is forced out of York.|
|973||Edgar second son of Edward, becomes king. His coronation, which took place at Bath, was the first to be described in detail and all future coronations of English Kings, up to the present day, have been based on this ceremony. King Edgar maintained the peace established by earlier kings of the House of Wessex.|
|975||Edward the Martyr becomes king|
|978||Edward was murdered at Corfe Castle in Dorset probably by the followers of his half-brother Æthelred, who became the new king.|
|997||Ethelred's Wantage Code. It is chiefly concerned with the penalties for breach of peace, and includes regulations on the conduct of ordeals, arbitration and the clearance of condemned thieves.|
|978||Ethelred is a weak king who defended the country against vicious Viking raids, not by fighting but by diplomacy, with the duke of Normandy in 991 (he later married the duke's daughter Emma) and by paying the Danes Danegeld to ward of further attacks but it did not work. By 1012, 48,000 pounds of silver was being paid in Danegeld to Danes camped in London.|
|1003||Sweyn Forkbeard, the son of a Danish king began conquering English territory in much of southern and midland England.|
|1013||The English nobility became so disillusioned with their existing king, Ethelred 'The Unready', that they acknowledged Sweyn as king in 1013.|
|1014||Sweyn died and Ethelred returned to rule.|
|1016||There were now two families contending for the throne of England, Ethelred's son, Edmund Ironside and Sweyn's son Cnut. Edmund made a truce with Cnut in which they agreed to divide the kingdom between them. Edmund died shortly afterwards and Cnut became king of the whole country.|
|1020||Cnut's Winchester Code. It is the fullest single record of Anglo-Saxon law. The code is chiefly a codification of pre-existing law and it borrows heavily from the laws of Æthelred and Edgar.|
|1016||Cnut also became king of Denmark and he ruled both kingdoms powerfully. But his was not a unified rule and he left his two sons by two different queens,Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut to resolve the succession problem.|
|1035||On the death of their father King Cnut, Harold Harefoot becomes king in Mercia and Northumbria, and Harthacanute king of Wessex. During the absence of Hardicanute in Denmark, his other kingdom, Harold Harefoot became effective sole ruler. On his death in 1040, the kingdom of England fell to Hardicanute alone.|
|1040||Hardicanute becomes sole king of England.|
|1042||Edward the Confessor becomes king and sets up political alliances with Europe. Norman influences in the court increase|
|1051||Edward falls out with his father in law the powerful Earl Godwin and exiles the family. Things are patched up.|
|1053||Earl Godwin's son Harold acceded to the earldom of Wessex|
|1066||Harold Earl of Wessex is crowned King of England. This instantly draws a response as William, duke of Normandy, and Harold Hardrada, king of Norway, both lay claim to the English throne.|
|1066||The invasion by William Duke of Normandy. Britain is conquered and the rule of the Anglo Saxon kings comes to an end.|
Discover the connections and context of this fascinating period in British history.
Intriguing history attempts to show the connections between different aspects of the Anglo Saxon period and we will point you in the direction of useful resources. We have a specific interest in how Anglo Saxon roots still herald in many English places names and from them derive into English family names. Missionaries were sent to Britain at the end of the 6th Century to convert the Anglo Saxon heathens. Early Christian churches started to be built. Monks started to learn to read and write and chronicles began to emerge.
They then sent to the Angles, and desired them to send more assistance. They described the worthlessness of the Britons, and the richness of the land.
Bede 449 - 469
As communities and culture developed, so these 'kings' developed law codes by which to rule their people and to use in negotiations with others. By the end of the 7th Century these rules are firmly in place but with separate penalties for the Anglo Saxons and the Britons, show that the two societies were still not yet fully integrated.
The Anglo Saxons and other invaders.
During the 5th and 6th century, the province of Britain was under pressure from attacks from the north, east and west. The Picts in Scotland did not really attempt to drive further south but the Scotti who lived in Ireland pushed into Wales and what is now Scotland. At the same time Germanic tribes were settling in the east. The south of the island was being settled by tribes from the Angeln, an area with Jutland in the north and lower Saxony to the south. From this the south acquired it's new name England. The south was divided, with the Anglo Saxons to the east and the Welsh speaking west which included Cornwall, Devon and Cumbria. There is a very interesting discussion to be had about the emergence of Anglo Saxon language at this point, which was complex and rapidly changing.
The Vikings and the Anglo Saxons
All the time the Romans were in occupation, Britain had been protected from the threat of raids and invasions from the north but now, the men of the north sallied forth and brought terror to these islands.
The Vikings launched their fearsome raids on the Anglo Saxons, attacking monasteries and settlements. As Alcuin of York wrote, describing the 793 AD attack on Lindisfarne;
'Never before has such terror appeared in Britain'
The Viking raids continued for over a hundred years and their advance seemed unstoppable, it took the will of one man to put a stop to them. In the 9th Century King Alfred the Great became a legend with his defeat of the Vikings at the Battle of Edington
Asser's life of Alfred on his role in the Battle of Edington stated;
'He overthrew the pagans with great slaughter, smiting the fugitives and he pursued them as far as the fortress'
Wessex became the dominant kingdom and the Kings of Wessex claimed to be the 'kings of England'
Anglo Saxon 'Kings'
The emergence of Anglo Saxon 'Kings', which you can find on the chronology of British Monarchs, sets the scene for the foundations of the development of England through the House of Wessex. The Anglo Saxon laws put in place the beginning of the Judicial system and the Anglo Saxon conversion to Christianity put the church at the centre of the cultural community.