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Anglo-Saxon England

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Edward the Elder - MS Royal 14 B VI.jpg

Anglo-Saxon England was early medieval England, existing from the 5th to the 11th centuries from the end of Roman Britain until the Norman conquest in 1066. It consisted of various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms until 927 when it was united as the Kingdom of England by King Æthelstan (r. 927–939). It became part of the short-lived North Sea Empire of Cnut the Great, a personal union between England, Denmark and Norway in the 11th century.

The Anglo-Saxons were the members of Germanic-speaking groups who migrated to the southern half of the island of Great Britain from nearby northwestern Europe and their cultural descendants. Anglo-Saxon history thus begins during the period of Sub-Roman Britain following the end of Roman control, and traces the establishment of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the 5th and 6th centuries (conventionally identified as seven main kingdoms: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Wessex), their Christianisation during the 7th century, the threat of Viking invasions and Danish settlers, the gradual unification of England under Wessex hegemony during the 9th and 10th centuries, and ending with the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066.

Anglo-Saxon identity survived beyond the Norman conquest, came to be known as Englishry under Norman rule and through social and cultural integration with Celts, Danes and Anglo-Normans became the modern English people.

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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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The Devil's Dyke
Credit: Amitchell125

The Devil's Dyke (also called Reach Dyke or Devil's Ditch, once known as St Edmund's Ditch) is an earthwork near the village of Reach that is generally assumed to be an Anglo-Saxon earthwork. It is one of the largest and best surviving examples of its kind in England.

Selected biography

Wiglaf name.gif

Wiglaf (died 839) was King of Mercia from 827 to 829 and again from 830 until his death. His ancestry is uncertain: the 820s were a period of dynastic conflict within Mercia and the genealogy of several of the kings of this time is unknown. Wigstan, his grandson, was later recorded as a descendant of Penda of Mercia, so it is possible that Wiglaf was descended from Penda, one of the most powerful seventh-century kings of Mercia.

Wiglaf succeeded Ludeca, who was killed campaigning against East Anglia. His first reign coincided with the continued rise of the rival Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex under Egbert. Egbert drove Wiglaf from the throne in 829, and ruled Mercia directly for a year. Wiglaf recovered the kingdom in 830, probably by force although it may be that Wiglaf remained subject to Egbert's overlordship. Mercia never regained the south-eastern kingdoms, but Berkshire and perhaps Essex came back into Mercian control. The causes of the fluctuating fortunes of Mercia and Wessex are a matter of speculation, but it may be that Carolingian support influenced both Egbert's ascendancy and the subsequent Mercian recovery. Although Wiglaf appears to have restored Mercia's independence, the recovery was short-lived, and later in the century Mercia was divided between Wessex and the Vikings.

Wiglaf died in about 839, and was probably succeeded by Beorhtwulf, though one tradition records his son, Wigmund as having reigned briefly. Wiglaf is buried at Repton, near Derby. (more...)

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