The Anglo-Saxons:
Return


Anglo-Saxon is a term used by English historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest; the Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of English history between about 550 and 1066 AD; the term is also used for the language now called Old English, spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants in much of what is now England and some of southeastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century.

With the Roman Empire in turmoil, legions stationed in Britain were withdrawn and the last of the Romans had left for home by 410; this left the British undefended against incursions by the Irish, Scots and Picts; although the British made pleas to Rome for help, none was forthcoming; in desperation, King Vortigern called a council which agreed to seek help from the Germanic tribes, offering land in exchange for military aid. NB. See Anglo-Saxon-Jute map.

When the Anglo-Saxons and Jutes, the three most powerful nations of Germany, arrived in Britain in 449, with three ships of war, they were assigned a place to settle in the eastern part of the island by King Vortigern; the commanders are said to have been the two brothers Hengist and Horsa; Horsa was later slain in battle by the Britons and a monument bearing his name is still in existence in the eastern parts of Kent; they were the sons of Victgilsus, whose father was Vitta, son of Vecta, son of Woden; from whose stock the royal race of many provinces trace their descent.

The army did as the King requested and defeated the enemy in battle; however, when the news of their success, the fertility of the country and the cowardice of the Britons, reached the Anglo-Saxons' homes, a more considerable fleet was quickly sent over, bringing a greater number of men and these being added to the former army made up such a large force that they became a source of terror to the natives who had invited them.

They then joined with the Picts, who they had earlier defeated, and turned against their former allies; looking to start a fight, they demanded a greater quantity of provisions than the british were willing to provide, stating that if they were not given the supplies, they would break their agreement and ravage the whole island; nor were they backward in putting their threats into execution and they proceeded to ravage most of the island attacking and destroying any people and buildings that they came accross with fire and sword; even priests were slain before their altars with no respect shown for office.


Many villagers were butchered in heaps; those that did survive either led a miserable life of terror and hunger among the mountains, woods and crags or came forth and submitted themselves to the enemy, to undergo for the sake of food perpetual servitude.

By 450 AD, the Angles had begun their invasion of the north, colonising land in the Yorkshire Wolds, just to the north of the Humber in a land they called Deira; this name was probably an adapatation of an exisiting Celtic tribal region or kingdom; gradually they invaded territory further north and began settling the lowland river valleys of the east coast including possibly the Tyne, Wear and Tees; excavations at Norton on Teesside just outside the borders of Yorkshire, have revealed evidence of Anglo-Saxon settlement in this early period; it is also possible that one group of Angles from Lincolnshire, a region then known as Lindis feorna colonised and named the island we know today as Lindisfarne.

It is this early age of Anglo-Saxon invasion that is often associated with King Arthur, a legendary British leader who led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century; he is reputed to have died in 537, perhaps on the Roman Wall, but little can be said of Arthur, since so little is known; other legends connect him with Richmond where he is said to still lie in wait for a call to rescue England in its time of troubles; the 'Age of Arthur' is a period of British history about which we have very little evidence, despite so much having been written.

In 547 the ancient British coastal stronghold of Din Guyaroi (Bamburgh) on the Northumberland coast was seized by an Anglo-Saxon chief called Ida the Flamebearer; his seizure of this important British stronghold was a significant event in the Angles' political and military seizure of the North; it is likely that Ida already had a foothold in the Tyne, Wear and Tees region, but the populous native British lands in the vicinity of Din Guyardi were an important addition to Ida's expanding Kingdom of Bernicia; the name of this emerging kingdom, was like Yorkshire's Deira an adaptation of an existing Celtic name and would come to be synonymous with the North Eastern region in the centuries to come.

Ida had conquered huge areas of land in the North East by 550 including some territory south of the Tees in what is now Yorkshire; he was now undisputedly the most powerful leader in the northern Angle Land (England) and Din Guyaroi or Bamburgh was the capital of his kingdom; in 560 he was succeeded by his son Theodoric, whose domain was confined to Bernicia, north of the Tees, but some of the remaining Celtic kingdoms that existed in the north, saw him as a weaker leader than his father and refused to accept his rule.

They Anglo-Saxons subjugated the whole of east Yorkshire and the British kingdom of Ebruac in about 560; the name that the Anglo-Saxons gave to the area was Dewyr, or Deira; early rulers of Deira extended the territory north to the River Wear and in about 600, Ęthelfrith was able to unite Deira with the northern kingdom of Bernicia, forming the kingdom of Northumbria, whose capital was at Eoforwic, modern day York;

In 603 Ęthelfrith turned his attention to the Celts of the far north, going into battle with Aidan MacGabrain, King of the Dalriada Scots; the Dalriada Scots lived in western Caledonia but originated from Hibernia (Ireland); during the battle, the Scots were assisted by a large force of Ulstermen, but were defeated in battle at Degastan, an unknown location, possibly in Liddesdale.

Ęthelfrith's victory forced the Kingdoms of Strathclyde in the west, Rheged in Cumbria and Gododdin in the Lothians to recognise Bernician superiority once again; with his power and prestige assured Ęthelfrith usurped the crown of Deira in Yorkshire; he thus became King of both Deira and Bernicia, uniting all the Anglo-Saxon territory north of the River Humber into one kingdom called Northumbria; Bernicia and Deira were reduced to mere sub kingdoms.

Of course there were many in Deira who disliked Bernician rule, so Ęthelfrith encouraged Deiran support by marrying Acha, a member of the Deiran royal family; it was unlikely to stop Acha's brother, Edwin from claiming the kingdom of Deira but it was too dangerous for Edwin to remain in Northumbria and he sought protection at the court of King Cearl of Mercia; Edwin's presence in Mercia was a constant threat to Ęthelfrith.

In 615, the Bernician capital Din Guyaroi, was renamed Bebbanburgh in honour of Bebba, Ęthelfrith's new wife; it would come to be known as Bamburgh; it was perhaps one of many Celtic place names replaced by Anglo-Saxon ones in this period and reflected the gradual replacement of Celtic with Anglo-Saxon speech; it seemed that the native Celts were no longer the major threat to the expansion of the Anglo-Saxons and Ęthelfrith for one was now preoccupied with defeating his Anglo-Saxon rivals.

In the later part of 615 AD, he ousted King Cearl from the Kingdom of Mercia and took virtual control of the midland kingdom, although he employed a Mercian to look after Northumbrian interests here. Edwin, the first great Yorkshireman was Ęthelfrith's major Northumbria rival who had fled from Mercia and taken refuge with the King of East Anglia.

Edwin was still a threat to Aethelfrith, but at this time a distant one and it seemed there would be no end to Ęthelfrith's expansion; in 615 Ęthelfrith defeated the Welsh in battle at Chester and once again seized Cumbria, bringing it firmly under Northumbria rule; it was a significant event as it isolated the Britons of North Wales from those of Strathclyde and the Lothians.

However, Ęthelfrith's expansion would not remain unchecked forever; in 616 he finally met his end in battle against Raedwald King of East Anglia at Bawtry on the River Idle; this site lies close to the present borders of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire and would be an important entry point into Yorkshire for centuries to come; in Ęthelfrith's time this area lay on the southern reaches of Northumbria, a dangerous marshy region close to the border with Lindsey and easily accessible from the East Anglian kingdom.

Upon Ęthelfrith's death, Edwin, son of Aelle and prince of Deira, Yorkshire, seized the Northumbrian kingdom; a Deiran was now in charge of the Northumbrian kingdom, but there was still rivalry between the Deiran and Bernician factions; the Bernician claimant was Ęthelfrith's son Prince Oswald, who fled from Northumbria for safety; Oswald took refuge on the island monastery of Iona off the western Scottish coast.

Political expansion and victory in battle was a necessary part of being an Anglo-Saxon king if he wished to gain support and respect and this was as true for Edwin as it had beeen for Ęthelfrith; much of Edwin's early military activity seems to have been concentrated on the southern borders of Northumbria where there was still a strong Celtic influence.

Edwin of Northumbria completed the conquest of the area by his conquest of the kingdom of Elmet, including Hallamshire and Loidis, in 617; at this time, all the Northumbrian kings, including Edwin, were solidly Pagan in their outlook, but this was about to change; Edwin had formed an important alliance with the Kingdom of Kent, an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom that had converted to Christianity through the influence of St Augustine.

In 625 a marriage was arranged between Edwin and the Christian Princess of Kent called Ethelberga; Edwin was already considering his own conversion to Christianity and he took the opportunity to attribute his victory in Wessex to the new Christian faith; he converted to the Christian religion, along with his nobles and many of his subjects, in 627 and was baptised at Eoforwic; on the 12th October 633, Edwin was defeated and killed at the Battle of Hatfield Chase, a marshy low country near Doncaster, by Penda of Mercia; Edwin's death was followed by continuing struggles between Mercia and Northumbria for supremacy over Deira.

Edwin's successor, Oswald, was sympathetic to the Celtic church and around 634 he invited Aidan from Iona to found a monastery at Lindesfarne as a base for converting Northumbria to Celtic Christianity; Aidan soon established a monastery on the cliffs above Whitby with Hilda as abbess; further monastic sites were established at Hackness and Lastingham and Celtic Christianity became more influential in Northumbria than the Roman system, which caused a conflict within the church until the issue was resolved at the Synod of Whitby in 663 by Oswiu of Northumbria opting to adopt the Roman system.

From the Jutes are descended the people, of Kent and of the Isle of Wight, including those in the province of the West Saxons who are to this day called Jutes; from the Saxons, came the East, South and West Saxons; from the Angles are descended the East Angles, the Midland Angles, the Mercians, all the race of the Northumbrians, that is, of those nations that dwell on the north side of the river Humber and the other nations of the Angles.



Go back.