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The Anglo-Saxon period, Gregory I, Alfred the Great and the Normans

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Anglo-Saxons history

The Anglo-Saxon period seems like a long and boring era, but it’s not entirely, luckily!

Counting epic poems such as Beowulf and elegies as Deor’s Lament, this is the incipit of English Literature, where it all starts.

After romanised Celts were left alone by the Roman withdrawal, several Germanic tribes invaded Britain.

Jutes, Angles and Saxons A.K.A. Anglo-saxons invaded Britain and settled southern of Hadrian’s wall.

We’re not going to talk about the early stages of the Anglo-saxon society much, since we’ll spend more time on the Beowulf poem and the Norman invasions.

Gregory I and the conversion #

Pope Gregory I wanted to convert Germanic populations, like the Celts in England, to Christianity. Augustine, prior of St. Andrew’s Abbey in Rome, was chosen by Gregory to head the conversion mission in England.

Some of the Anglo-Saxons kept worshiping pagan gods, while some of them instead converted to christianity.

Anglo saxon kingdoms #

So, time passed, and there was a melting pot of kingdoms. In a period, called Heptarchy, there were seven big kingdoms.

Those kingdoms were weak, because constantly battling each other were assured to fall under the Vikings, who already raided Northern Britain in 793, stealing everything and destroying monasteries, since they were scared of christianity.

Alfred the Great #

There was the need of political unity, so Alfred the Great, from the Wessex, the most powerful of the seven kingdoms, started allying with the other kingdoms, and in 829 finally reunited the Heptarchy in Wessex.

Alfred organized the war against Vikings, recruiting warriors and building a great fleet. It worked: in the crucial battle of Eddington, Vikings lost against Anglo-Saxons.

Alfred the Great was very important also for culture: he encouraged building schools and he promoted the writing of Anglo Saxons Chronicles: kind of a book where the most important historical events were written. Thanks to the Anglo Saxons Chronicles we know many things about the Anglo Saxon society and kings.

After him, however, other kings lost against Vikings, and agreed on a compromise, the Danegald: a tax to keep Vikings northern of Hadrian’s wall.

The Norman Conquest #

Harold, the last Wessex king, was killed in the battle of Eddington, since then the Norman Conquest of England began.

We’d like to know also why William, the Duke of Normandy, invaded England and fought against Harold, right?

The Bayeux Tapestry is -no shit, Sherlock!- a tapestry 70 meters wide and 50 centimeters high - wool onto linen, telling the whole story: why, when and how William conquered England. This is a quick list of the events told in the Tapestry about the causes of the invasion.

  • Harold is crowned king oath he’s bound to William
  • Harold sends a messenger to France
  • William is furious at Harold’s betrayal
  • William orders to build a fleet to attack Harold
  • The Norman invasion begins across the channel

Hastings is a little city in the East Sussex. The Battle of Hastings, crucial for the Norman invasion, lasted the whole day, instead of just a couple of hours as a typical medieval battle, and ended the 14th of October 1066.

Both parties had about the same attack-power and the battle was balanced; in fact, the outcome of the battle became clear after Harold got an arrow in the eye, and died.