The Dark Ages - Complete
There are many web sites describing the English Kings and Queens. Where this one differs is the addition of a background history of Europe of which England is very much a part. Also we have included the men and women, many of whom had a bigger impact on history than any member of the Royal Family. These pages are a much more detailed account of the History of England than the quick timeline guide which is designed to give only a rapid overview for those new to the history of England.
England or the Land of the Angles did not exist until about 500 AD when, after the Romans left the western Germanic tribe the Angles invaded. So to commence the History of England we must have a snapshot of Europe leading up to this time.
The Romans called the land we now call England plus the adjacent territories Wales and Scotland, Britannium.
2000 years ago.
The Romans had set foot on Britain, had not yet settled but were ruling all of Europe south of the Rhine and Danube Rivers from Gaul (France) through North Africa as far east as Palestine (Judea) and tentatively Baghdad.
Religion. From Pagans to Christians.
Jesus lived and taught in Judea under Roman rule from about 5 BC to 30 AD and his message of peace and kindness was revolutionary at the time when slavery was the norm and cruelty and murder commonplace. A key part of his message was that a poor man (for example a slave) had more chance of going to heaven than his rich boss. At the time Romans and Jews (Israelites) alike had slaves to do the hard work. The Romans, including the Romans ruling in faraway Britain did not change en mass from their pagan religion to Christianity, coupled with its moral code, until some 300 years after Jesus death.
The Roman Empire and its enemies.
Roman territory we have seen included present day England in the west to present day Baghdad in the east and from North Africa in the south to the banks of the rivers Rhine and Danube in the north. East of these boundaries were the mighty Persians (Iran) and north and North East were a large number of semi nomadic tribes stretching from the Atlantic coast in the west right through to the Mongolian steppes in the east. The further east you go the more skilled the tribes were in using horses in battle including the art of shooting arrows from bows when ones horse is in full gallop. From about 200 AD onwards there was a steady migration westwards, as the warlike peoples of Mongolia put pressure on their next door neighbours eventually causing those, thousands of miles west, on the Atlantic sea board to take to their boats in search of new land. These tribes are listed here, in order from the Atlantic west to the far east, as they were in 500 AD.
The tribes below, originally from present day Germany, advanced into the now undefended Roman Empire in the West and were by 500 AD ruling:
Tribe By 500 AD
Franks Were ruling Germany and old Gaul to be called France
Saxons Ruled south east England and north to the Humber (York)
Vandals Ruled north Africa controlling the wheat fields of Cathage.
Visigoths Ruled Spain except for the Basque area.
Ostrogoths Ruled Italy, but the small Papal area remained intact.
Tribes from modern day south Russia.
Huns Had moved into the Balkans taking land from the Byzantiums.
Byzantium was the name given to the Eastern Roman Empire which was still intact and ruled from Constantinople (Istanbul)
Tribes from central and eastern Asia
Turks) Were still east of the Aral Sea.
Older historians seem to describe the fall of the Roman Empire circa 400-475 AD as the collapse of all things Roman coupled with the loss of their skills and civilising rule. In fact the East Roman (or Byzantium) lands were still intact from the Balkans through to Baghdad and south to Egypt and the Nile. The Holy Land was still in Christian/Roman “safe” hands. The Jews had left their home land in Judea after AD 70 when the Romans made life intolerable for them and specifically destroyed their Temple the “Temple of Jerusalem”.
The Jewish Diaspora.
Jews are important to English History so it is useful to learn why they left Jerusalem in such large numbers: See separate section on Jews.
Jews whose religion supported both academic learning and learning how to make a living tended to be very useful to any community but were quite often seem to be too cleaver by far by the local less well educated leaders.
The Roman Empire in 500 AD
All the viable remaining large cities in the old Roman Empire were now only to be found in the Byzantium East. Viz. Constantinople (now Istanbul), Antioch in the north Levant and Alexandria in Egypt. Antioch was the Mediterranean end of the Silk Road from China and a large port for spices via the Persian Gulf and India. Alexandria was an alternative port for Spices from India and Indonesia and wheat, Linens and Papyrus (writing paper) from Egypt. Both these ports fed Constantinople which monopolised trade to the rest of Europe which included England.
Note The Byzantiums never called themselves as such, always Romans even though they eventually spoke only Greek rather than Latin. They referred to (Western) Romans or “Italian” Romans as Latins.
The theological centre of the Christian Church was Constantinople and not Rome and “Roman” laws and customs were rigidly adhered to and their engineering, art and military expertise remained locked in the east until the Renaissance some 1000 years after the fall of Rome.
The old Roman cities of Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria were all larger than a half million people. Rome once of similar size was by 500 AD down to only a few hundred people even including the Popes supporters. Any remnants of the Roman elite were living in the small towns of Milan and Ravenna. There were no other towns of any significance in Western Europe. Constantinople remained the largest city in Europe until over taken by London in the 18th century.
The population of the whole of Europe fell drastically during this period (200-500) by perhaps 30 to 50%. Looking back there was no apparent obvious cause other than continuous wars and perhaps climate change. (Wetter and colder). There was significant loss of land due to sea level rise. (Which would imply it was getting warmer)
The Beginning of the Dark Ages (410 AD)
The Story of England has an easily defined beginning and that is when the German tribe the Angles invaded (official date 449) and we still have East Anglia to remind us of it and of course the French name for England, Angleterra.
The Angle leaders arrived at much the same time as their Germanic neighbours the Saxons(hence the “Anglo Saxon race”) that is when the Romans left to defend Rome. The initial Germanic settlement was in Kent but in 75 years, (by 525) the country previously ruled as a whole by the Roman military, was sub-divided into seven kingdoms as follows.
In the South East; Kent, Sussex, Essex. The first colonies.
In the South; Wessex
In the Midlands; East Anglia, Mercia.
In the North; Northumbria (all territories north of the Humber river, (North-humbria)
Note Scotland and Wales are not included and never were part of England, that is they were never occupied, civilised or ethnically cleansed by either the Romans or the Anglo-Saxons (or the Vikings.)
Why did the Romans leave England?
Because they were being attacked by Germanic tribes from north of their empire who crossed the natural boundaries, the rivers Rhine and Danube and from the east by the Persians. (Now called Iranians). Some reports claim these crossings were aided by climate change when cooling allowed these rivers to freeze over in the winter.
Why did the all powerful Romans have so much difficulty with these nomadic barbarians.
- The Romans had become rich and lazy and many did not want to fight. Many Roman Legions were manned by foreign mercenaries.
- The Roman Empire had recently split into two, East and West with one headquartered in Rome and the other in Istanbul (then called Constantinople). Indeed Emperor Constantine moved the Roman headquarters from Rome to Constantinople c. 300AD and at the same time ordered the adoption of Christianity throughout the empire.
- The northern Germanic tribes were hungry and needed to seek warmer and drier land to grow crops as the world climate was cooling at the commencement of a mini Ice Age (which lasted some 1300 years until about 1850).
- The Germanic tribes were better horsemen and hence very capable of hit and run tactics. In the Roman armies it was generally only the top brass who were mounted.
- The Romans also had to contend with the Persians (Iran) on their eastern flank who had also learnt the art of cavalry warfare.
Rome defended its self for about 100 years before the city of Rome finally was lost to the Germanic invaders in AD 476. The Dark Ages, in the West had begun.
In the richer Eastern Roman Empire the invaders were either beaten back or bribed to go away and the Roman Empire remained intact for a further 1100 years. There was no Dark Ages and Roman culture enhanced by Greek learning lived on.
- A centre of learning with a university where boys study included Maths and Philosophy.
- The theological centre of the Christian Church together with close-by Alexandria and Antioch. The Pope in Rome remained, was very jealous and did not like being ignored.
- A centre for the arts.
- The trading powerhouse of the area creating the wealth to maintain an army and pay bribes to attacking barbarians.
(Medieval Europe was reawakened by the immigrants arriving in Italy from encircled Constantinople circa 1400. During the early part of the Dark Ages (c.400AD) it was the Irish in the West who had never been ruled by Romans or attacked by Anglo-Saxons who maintained a scholarship of religion and the culture that went with it, thanks to St Patrick and his followers.)
Further Notes in chronological order.
- St Patrick, the Irish saint. St Patrick a Romanised Britain, was kidnapped by Irish slave raiders, had a vision of God, travelled to and was religiously educated in Gaul (France) and Carthage/Hippo in Tunis and returned to Ireland, converted the pagan Irish to Christianity (or a cut down version which allowed multiple wives and the worshiping of idols. His followers (inc Columba) set up monasteries in Scotland (Iona) which led to the intellectual and theological education of the English historians Gildas and Bede from whom we have learnt much about early Anglo-Saxon times.
- King Arthur or some other Romanised Britain with a similar name (Ambrosium Aurelianus perhaps) achieved his place in mythical history by beating the advancing Saxons at the battle of Badon Hill in 516. Legend has it that he had headquarters in Somerset (South Cadbury) and Cornwall (Tintagel). Badon Hill could be near the town of Bath.
England Unique amongst the old Roman territories in Western Europe
- England and France were “invaded” or occupied by Germanic tribes almost simultaneously c. 450 AD but with different outcomes. In England, if the contempory historian, Gildas is to be believed the Saxons were barbaric, some arriving with multiple wives and the men immediately fornicating with the local maidens. The established Roman order was totally destroyed and the Romanised British male was either killed or he fled to Wales or Scotland. The women were absorbed into the Anglo-Saxon families. Recent DNA tests show 9 out of 10 present day white inhabitants of England to be mainly Saxon not Celtish or old Britain. Welsh, Irish and Scottish people are mainly Celts without Saxon blood. In France which in 400 AD was known as Gaul, the Germanic people who arrived were the southern neighbours of the Saxons, the Franks hence France. However thanks to a Gaulish female beauty, Clotilda who seduced and married the Frankish war lord Clovis (c.493) and converted him to Christianity, Gaul/France retained the law and order and the Christian religion of Rome. The ethnic Gaulist Romans remained and integrated with the Franks. Indeed England is unique amongst the colonies of the Western Roman Empire in that the invaders destroyed all things Roman and started afresh with new laws and even new towns and buildings. While in the domains of France, Spain and Italy things remained much the same save for different rulers.
Note When the Viking Normans invaded England some 600 years later (1066) only 4000 Normans settled in England and they generally did not integrate with the indigenous Anglo Saxons. When the Anglo Saxons attacked some 200,000 eventually arrived by boat and the British then only numbered some 2 millions.
- The first Saxons were invited into England! Saxon invaders were known and feared in Roman Britain as early as 285 AD and the Romans had built a line of forts all along the east and south coast to keep them out. However when the Romans left the remaining Romanised Britains were without generals and weapons and were attacked from the north by the Picts. A Romanised Britain called Vortigern probably acting as a King invited two Saxon war lords, Hengist and Horsa to get rid of the Picts for a fee. It is said that the fee was never paid as the Britains without the Romans had no mint and the Saxons stayed. This started a flood of unwelcome, barbaric, warmongering, oversexed, multiple wifed immigrants into the country.
The Anglo-Saxon divisions of England were ethnically divided as follows:
- Jutes colonized and ruled in Kent and the Isle of White
- East Saxons ruled Essex.
- South Saxons Sussex
- West Saxons Wessex. Land around the town of Winchester
- Angles ruled in East Anglia
- Angles also ruled in Middle Anglia or Mercia
- Angles also ruled in Northumberland
600 AD, about.
Some 150 years after the Anglo Saxon invasion of England.
Europe, north Africa and the Middle East:
The centre of Western Civilisation had moved eastwards from Rome to Constantinople, as can be seen by those cities with a population over 50,000 persons.
In the old West
Rome and Carthage,(in Tunis). (Nothing in France Spain or England)
In the European east.
Constantinople, (in Turkey) Salonica, (now in Greece) Ephesus, (in Turkey) Antioch,(Turkish Syrian border) and Alexandria, (Egypt)
England and their Kings and Queens
Remember this is not only a history of the English Royal Family but also of the people and those neighbouring countries which effected the History of England.
Who was the first King of all England?
Alfred the Great of Saxon descent from Wessex who ruled between 871-899, many historians consider the first king but this was 450 years after the Romans left. Prior to this the country became divided into 7 self ruled kingdoms, Kent, Sussex, Wessex, Essex, East Anglia, West Anglia or Mercia and Northumbria.
The first “Anglo Saxon King” who came to power almost 50 years after the Romans left was in fact a Jute duo (from Jutland). The war lords Hengist and Horsa, and they only ruled in Kent. The first King of Saxon Wessex (around Winchester) was Cerdic who ruled some 40 years later, 90 years after the Romans left. The ancestry of all the Kings and Queens of England can be traced to Cerdic including the present queen, Elizabeth 2nd.
Others early regional Kings who were powerful and ruled or influenced nearly all England were:
- Ethelburt a Jute 580, ruled from Kent
- Ethelfrith an Angle 670 who ruled from Northumbria
- Penda an Angle 735 who ruled from Mercia
- Offa an Angle 757 who ruled from Mercia
- Egbert a Saxon 802 who ruled all except Northumbria from Wessex
- Alfred a Saxon 871 who ruled all England from Wessex.
Who was the first female ruler?
Queen Mary Tudor 1553
And the best female ruler, probably her sister
Queen Elizabeth Tudor 1558, why? She founded the Church of England (The Anglican Church) and presided over the famous victory against the Spanish invading fleet who were sent by the Pope to kill her because of her religion. (The Spanish Armada 1588). “The golden days of good Queen Bess”.
Who was England’s most famous man?
Winston Spencer Churchill 1874-1965, why? In a similar way to Elizabeth 1st he inspired the English nation to keep the invading Germans out of England during the Second World War so they attacked Russia instead. Churchill was a Prime Minister not a King. In England an elected Prime ministers became more powerful than the King commencing around 1720. (Walpole was made the first Prime Minister because the King could not speak English)
When did Christianity comes to Britain
Dates to remember
300 The Roman Empire splits into two, one headquartered in Constantinople (Istanbul) and one in Rome or more accurately Milan. The Roman Empire adopts Christianity as its sole official religion and the persecution of Jews commences.
Note St Alban predates this (c. 250), showing Christians were in Britain prior to it becoming the official religion.
400 Englishman St Patrick kidnapped by Irish slave hunters from the west of England. He becomes the founder of Christianity in Ireland.
400 The Germanic Franks invade Roman ruled Gaul, (present day France)
The formation of England
After 400 years in Britain the Romans leave
410 Honorius, Roman Emperor in Britain says he must return to Rome to defend his home land from attacks by Germanic tribes and the British must take over the responsibility of defending themselves from Jutes, Angles, Saxons, Picts and Scots.
433 Attila the Hun whose ancestors were from Mongolia or Eastern Russia arrives with the first horse mounted archers seen in Europe and soon dominates all the territories north of the old Roman Empire from Moscow west to the North Sea forcing the Jutes, Angles and Saxons to look westwards over the sea towards Britain. Frankish territories south of the huge river Rhine remain intact.
A Kingdom in Kent is formed
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. Having beaten the Picts and Scots they turn on Vortigen and settle in Kent and choose the Jutes leaders, Hengist and Horsa as their rulers (455).
Some put Hengist and Horsa as the first post Roman Germanic Kings of England.
450 Britians from the south west of England flee to France and colonize the area now known as Brittany.
452 Attila dies and his empire is divided amongst too many sons to be a further threat. Some Huns remain in present-day Hungary but the majority return to the east by-passing Byzantium and Persia to threaten India.
The Kingdom of Sussex
477 Ella, a southern Saxon lands in Pevensey Bay and after a bloody war lasting some months, he kills most of the local Britains and forms Sussex. (South Saxons)
493 Clovis King of the Franks (in France) marries a Christian. Under Clovis the Franks become Christian and rule the western half of present-day France and Germany to become the most powerful force in Western Europe.
The Kingdom of Wessex
495 More Saxons arrive and land in the Southampton area, capture the old Roman town of Winchester and the land of the West Saxons in born, ruled by Cedric. All subsequent Kings and Queens of all England are related to Cedric.
516 Battle of Badon Hill. A West Saxon expansion westwards is halted for some years by perhaps a King Arthur one of the last Romanised Britians in England.
The Kingdom of Essex
527 The 3rd and last Saxon tribe arrives this time landing probably 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. Including the site being prepared for the 2012 Olymics
The Kingdom of Northumberland
547 Now it’s the turn of the Angles who avoid the Saxons and settle north of the river Humber (North- Humbria)
The Kingdom of East Anglia
575 Two further tribes of Angles land in what is now called East Anglia. They settle in two groups forming Norfolk and Suffolk. (North Folk and South Folk)
The Kingdom of Mercia
586 This area now called the East Midlands, was also overrun by Angles as they colonised the last remaining part of Romanised Britain.
585 England is thus divided into 7 separate Kingdoms all ruled by separate Germanic Kings. Some 200,000 Angles, Saxons and Jutes (from Jutland) are now living in England and the majority of British males have now been killed or have fled to Wales, Scotland or Cornwall. The new Germanic tribes spend much of their time fighting between themselves.
Meanwhile in the remaining Eastern Roman Empire- Byzantium:
527 Justinian became Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) and commences the battle to retake Rome and the Western Roman Empire.
537 Church of St Sophia completed in Constantinople. This incredible building still stands and is similar in size to the present St Paul’s Cathedral in London and demonstrates along with still present aquifers, the engineering know-how of the Romans still very much present in their Eastern Empire.
Commencement of a religious disaster for the Christians which has lasted to the present day. The birth of Islam.
Just east of the Christian Byzantium borders:
570 The Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam is born in Mecca in Arabia. By the time he dies in 632 he has united all the nomadic tribes in Arabia under a new religious army, fuelled by holy war or jihad, to expand west to Spain via North Africa and east to Persia, Afghanistan, India and beyond. Islam is seen by Christians of the time to be a barbaric religion which spreads rapidly with the threat of the sword. Not peacefully as proscribed by Jesus and it diminishes the status of women by permitting numerous wives. Eventually some Muslims rulers (Sultans) have more than 1000 wives. Worse the Christians are mortified when Muslims over run and claim rights to the holy city of Jerusalem sacred to both Jews and Christians when their founder never visited the place. (Other than in a dream) See the Crusades.
In Western Europe, the Franks, neighbours of the Saxons, not only rule Gaul but also much of present day Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Whereas the pagan Angles and Saxons annihilated the Britians, the Franks integrated with the Gauls and adopted their civilising Christianity.
Back in England
580 King Ethelbert of Kent marries Princess Bertha, the Christian granddaughter of Clovis the Frank. Ethelbert, a pagan, is persuaded by his wife to allow Christianity to be preached in England.
597 The Pope in Rome hears of this and sends St Augustine to help with the conversion. Augustine settles in Canterbury in Kent where parts of his church still remain.
600 England now had boundaries similar to today. All the Romanised Britains had been driven west into Wales, over the rivers Seven and Wye or north into Scotland over Hadrian’s Wall. Important towns in England include:
London on the south east borders of Mercia, (capital Tamworth.)
Winchester the capital of Wessex
Canterbury the capital of Kent and the religious centre of England
York the capital of Northumbria
Jarrow, Irish influenced Christian centre on the north east Northumbrian coast.
At the same time as the boundaries of England were settled, in the more civilised Eastern Roman Empire:
The Byzantium Empire, expanded under Emperor Justinian (482-565) was under attack again from the Persians and the new Turkish threat from their north.
600 Following the rule of Justinian the east Romans have re-conquered most of Italy, North Africa, the Levant, the Balkans and Greece. Nomads from the Russian steppes including the awesome archer cavalries of Huns and the Turks threaten their northern boarders and the great Persian Empire as always threatens the Romans just east of present day Baghdad.
602 The Byzantine Empire attacked simultaneously by the Avars (Turks) who now control all of Eastern Europe (as we know it now) and by the Persians from the east who take Jerusalem (614), Egypt and Eastern Anatolia. By 630 under Byzantium Emperor Heraclius and with the help of his superior Navy he regains Jerusalem and all other lands lost in the east and west.
625 The Huns settle north of the Black Sea in present day Ukraine and change their name to Bulgars (hence later Bulgaria).
634 Mohammed leaves Medina with the first Arab militia united under his new Islamic religion and in 20 years, to the astonishment of the Byzantiums and the Persians, the Islamic Arabs had made themselves an Empire to rival old Rome. This is no religion of peace as preached by Jesus but a jihad, fighting all before it with the might of the sword on Camel Cavalry. Jerusalem and Palestine fall in 636, Mesopotamia is taken from the Persians in 637. Syria and Egypt fall in 637. All of Persia and Afghanistan taken by 651. The Arabs conquered the Berbers in 702 and were set to enter Spain from present day Morocco. The Islamic armies had only existed for 70 years.
661 Muslims split between the orthodox and fundamentalist Sunni who claim a direct line with Mohammed and the more powerful Shia who prefer elected leaders and gain political control.
The commencement of dominant Kings
Northumbria Kings rule over the whole of England except Kent. The three great Northumbrian Kings were:
Ethelfrith. 607. Noted for a decisive victory against the Welsh at Chester
Edwin 617. Noted for being 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.
Egfrith 685. The last dominant King of Northumbria and England, defeated by a joint raiding party of Picts and Scots.
Christianity spreads across England
682 The Venerable Bede moves (682) to a monastery in Jarrow in North East Northumbria and becomes the most important historical scholar and recorder of early Anglo Saxon History.
688 Theodore of Tarsus is sent to England by the Pope to fill the vacancy of Archbishop of Canterbury. Theodore was a junior monk on a visit to Rome from his native town of Tarsus (birth place of St Paul). Interestingly at this time Tarsus (in the very south east of present day Turkey) was under the Byzantium theological umbrella which they considered the font of Christian doctrine. Further Tarsus was then no longer in Byzantium territory but had been overrun by the Muslim invaders. It should be noted that at that time Muslims were taught to respect other “religions of the book”. Theodore was over 70 when he arrived in Canterbury but he quickly reorganised and revitalised the Church and unified the Roman school in Canterbury with the Irish school in Jarrow. He died aged 90.
The Franks keep Islam out of continental Europe save for Spain.
Charlemagne rules Europe with Napoleonic success.
700 Franks developed Feudal System
711 Islamic invasion of Europe via Spain by North African Moors.
732 Muslim invaders turned back by Frankish leader Charles Martel. They retreat to Spain where they remain as a civilising, peaceful and cultured society for the next 800 years.
742 Charlemagne 742-814 reigns as King of the Franks from his headquarters in Aix La Chapelle now called Aachen in present day Germany. In 800 the Pope appoints him to a new role of “Holy Roman Emperor” and immediately the Roman Christian Church has found its self with an army to defend both Christianity and Western Europe from the pagans in the North and the Muslims in the south.
751 Paper making commences in Europe. Introduced by Muslims from their visits to China.
Note at this time newspapers are already being distributed in China who have also opened up the “Silk Route” to Byzantium to sell their silk clothes.
The Chinese and the Byzantiums then lead the world in art and culture.
The Kings of Mercia rule England
679 England, the Mercians now become the most powerful Kingdom and by 757 rule all of Wessex. Mercia is populated by Angles. Their first notable King is Penda 735-55.
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 “Britains” in Wales. Some say the first King of all England.
800-1000 AD: An overview of the period across Europe
Many Christians thought the world was going to end in 1000 AD and continuous attacks from Viking in the north and from Muslims in the south only went to support their fears.
200 years of relative stability in England under the rule of the Saxon Kings of Wessex was shattered by Vikings from Denmark and Norway who eventually settle and control eastern and northern England.
The Romans in Byzantium remain the cultural capital of Europe still ruling over all of Anatolia, eastern and southern Greece, and the extreme south east of Italy. Under constant pressure from Islamic Arabs, Turks in their north and Bulgarians who control the Balkans in their north west.
Scandinavia or Viking Land
The area begins to look like the Norway, Sweden and Denmark of today. However the Danes rule much of the south coast of Sweden. During this period the Vikings, as Scandinavians were known, became the invaders of Europe and settled in the east and north of England with headquarters in York, the west coast of Ireland centred in Dublin, Iceland, Newfoundland in North America, the north west of France which became known as Normandy, (where the Norman, William the Conqueror was born.) Swedish Vikings travel east over the Baltic Sea and via the Russian river systems arrive on the Black Sea where they harass the Byzantines but eventually unify this land to create Russia.
The huge area between present day Finland, south towards the Black Sea comes under one ruler a Prince Oleg, a Viking from Sweden and becomes known as Russia.
The three grandsons of Charlemagne rule France, Germany and Italy and other than Normandy are strong enough to remain Viking and Muslim free. The Pope regularly chooses one of these Frankish rulers to be the Holy Roman Emperor for Roman Christian Church protection. Some times the reverse is true and the Holy Roman Emperor chooses the Pope!
Arabs and Islam
The huge Islamic territories are fortunately no longer a unified threat against western Christianity as they have broken up into five individual Caliphates or Emirates who fight between themselves. They still occupy 80% of Spain and have found huge deposits of gold south of Timbuktu in west Africa. The Persians are no longer under Arabic Islamic influence but run their own Islamic schools. On the eastern provinces of Christian Byzantium the Arabs permanently attack and also retain occupancy of Jerusalem.
During this period a new horseback army from the east arrived in Europe and settled on the grasslands of Hungary, the Magyars. They immediately added to the chaos in Christendom with continuous plundering raids into France, Germany and Italy. Fortunately a German King called Otto 1st eventually rallied against them virtually exterminating the Magyar army in 955 at a battle near Augsburg in southern Germany. Bolstered by this victory Otto annexed Italy and so impressed the Pope that he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor. Italy, as such had ceased to exist.
Saxon Kings rule all England (800-1000)
820 England’s southern Kingdom, Wessex (Saxon) under King Egbert (802-839) breaks the military supremacy of Mercia (Angles) creating the powerbase to unify England. The only remaining Roman British stronghold (Cornwall) is also brought under Wessex control. Egbert is considered the first king of all England. Egbert married a French princess, none other than Redburga, sister of Charlemagne and with her he sired the future king Ethelwulf.
The arrival of small bands of Danish Vikings on English shores which began in 787 continues for the next 100 years.
839 The son of Egbert, Ethelwulf rules 839-858 all of England but in 855 he is forced to allow the first permanent settlement of Vikings on the Island of Sheppey off the north coast of Kent. Ethelwulf travels to Rome in 856 to see the Pope he is so worried about the Vikings from Denmark. On the return journey he marries princess Judith, daughter of Charles the Bold, king of the Franks.
Ethelwulf previously in 830 he married an English girl Osburga and they had four sons all becoming kings of England; (Osburga died c. 850)
Ethelbald, Ethelburt, Ethelred 1st and Alfred (The Great)
844 In Scotland, Kenneth McAlpine a “Scotty” from Ireland defeats the Picts and unites Scotland.
865 England is completely over run by “The Great Army” of Danish Vikings
Alfred called “The Great” 871-899 (22 when crowned)
King Alfred the Great saves England and sets up a dynasty which keeps England free of invasion permitting steady economic growth for 130 years.
For 100 years from 787 to 878 the Vikings attacked the Shores of England. In 870 a huge force landed in East Anglia with the mission to take over the whole of England. They turned north and sacked Northumbria and then drove south eventually meeting the stronger and better organised Wessex royal family, Ethelred the King and his younger brother Alfred. There were many battles against the Viking Danes led by a determined Guthrum who eventually won and temporally ruled the whole of England. King Ethelred was killed and Alfred went into hiding in some Wessex marshes. Seven weeks later he returned and with some of his faithful warriors won a decisive victory against Guthrum at Edington Wiltshire-879. Guthrum was forced to give back half of his recently conquered England to Alfred (now the King) and recognise Alfred as King of all England. The country was divided North East/South West along the old Roman Road called Watling Street running from Dover through London to the Roman town of Chester. (Modern roads A2 and A5) The Saxons ruled directly in the south and the Vikings in the north.
Alfred the Great
One of the great Kings of England who can be remembered for:
- Saving England from being ruled by Vikings
- Created a navy from scratch to keep the Vikings away
- Created a standing army rotating between those on duty and those back home farming the land
- Law maker. Re-kindled the old Saxon laws and created some new ones
- A strict and just administrator of law
- A religious man who restored the monasteries
- Created schools and invited the best from Europe to teach in them
- Teaching himself to read when he was in his late teens then he translated Bede’s histories from Latin into English and commenced the Anglo Saxon Chronicle in English. The first European history book not written in Latin
- Alfred’s son Edward re-conquered the Viking North and East
Edward 1st 901-925 (29 when crowned)
Edward, son of Alfred the Great, was determined to win back the Danish ruled land (Danelaw) north east of Watling street and with the help of his equally determined sister Ethelfleda (Lady of Mercia) did so between 921 and 924. So terrified were the remaining Danes in Northumbria together with the Scots and the Welsh that they all paid homage to him to avoid further bloodshed.
Edward (the Elder) is remembered for siring more legitimate children 18, than any other English King before or since. He needed three successive wives for this feat.
Athelstan 934-939 (29 when crowned)
Athelstan continued where his father Edward had left off when a mighty army formed against him in the north of England at Brunanburg consisting of Vikings, from Northumberland and Ireland together with the Scots. Like his father he annihilated his enemies in what historians consider the most important English Saxon victory yet as he thus became overlord of all Britain including Scotland and Wales and was recognised as the most powerful King in Europe. Unfortunately he had no wife and hence no children to expand further. He was succeeded by one of his many half brothers, Edmund
Edmund 1st 939-946 (18 when crowned)
Half Brother of Athelstan called Edmund the Elder and the “Magnificent” who was unfortunately assassinated by a notorious outlaw Liofa, during a feast in his castle at Pucklechurch Dorset when only 26. However he had two wives, the first when he was 18, St Elgiva who produced two sons and a daughter, then she died. Secondly Ethelflleda who when widowed became a nun which was quite usual for widows and unmarried sisters of Kings.
Militarily he followed in the strong family tradition by suppressing Viking uprisings in Northumberland and Mercia and a Welsh threat in Cumbria. He secured friendship with the King of Scotland Malcolm by giving him Cumbria.
Eadred (or Edred) 946-955 (22 when crowned)
Succeeded his half brother Edmund, no record of a marriage or children.
Militarily he quelled the last uprising of Vikings in Northumbria and then removed or ethnically cleansed all the Vikings from England who were causing the English Royal family so much trouble. He divided the troublesome Northumbria into three, giving the northern section to the Scottish King and dividing the remaining part into two, self governed, by two English Earls.
Eadwig (or Edwy) 955-959 (15 when crowned)
A disastrous reign of 4 years
Sometimes called Edwy the Fair. Fortunately murdered when he was 19. Promiscuous from the start he famously left his coronation banquet at Kingston on Thames, to have sex with two women simultaneously, his mistress Elgifu and her mother. In those days the Archbishop of Canterbury would not only perform the coronation ceremony but also attempt to look after the morals and sometimes the education of the King. In Edwy case he was advised by the famous (Saint) Dunstan whose job it was to pull Edwy from his love bed and return him to the coronation. Not surprisingly Edwy eventually exiled Dunstan who fled to Normandy. Later the church punished Elgifu by branding her with a red hot iron and sent her to Ireland.
Note; at this time when St Dunstan went to Normandy it was already in Viking hands as Rollo was given the land round the mouth of the Seine in 911 by the French king Charles 3rd The Simple.
In his short reign of 4 years Edwy lost control of Northumbria who with the aid of the Church set up Edwy’s younger brother Edgar as their King (initially of Northumbria).
Edgar 959-975) (16 when crowned)
Edgar “the peaceful” brother of Edwy, was a much better bet who made sure he was well advised by the educated elders of the Church. He brought St Dunstan back from exile and made him Archbishop of Canterbury. He had a sufficient presence and hold over the potential trouble makers of the land to also rule both the Welsh and the Scots. His authority was demonstrated by a remarkable publicity stunt on the river Dee when he was rowed up and down in a ceremonial barge by the various kings of Wales(5) and Scotland(2) plus the king of the Isle of Man.
Edgar strengthened the Church creating 40 religious centres to foster culture and learning.
Edgar had two wives Ethelfleda and then Elfrida and a number of mistresses, notably a nun called Wulfryth who produced him a daughter who became St Edith of Wilton. Edgar’s first wife Ethelfleda produced King Edward who was also Sainted.
St Dunstan should be noted for trying to reform Church morals by insisting on the poverty, chastity and obedience of monks and the celibacy of parish priests.
Edgar and St Dunstan brought together the Danish and Saxon races in England by introducing Danes into the Witan and creating some Danish Bishops and Earls.
Edward 975-979 (12 when crowned)
Edward the Martyr, son of Edgar and his first wife Ethelfleda
Edward was too young to follow in his fathers good footsteps and even though supported by St Dunstan could not control the Earls. After 4 years as King he was brutally murdered at Corfe Castle probably at the instigation of his stepmother Elfrida who lived there, to open the way for her son Ethelred to be crowned King even though he was only 10.
Edward was buried unceremoniously at Wareham but soon after, miracles apparently occurred in the area, so he was reburied with full royal honours in Shaftsbury Abbey. The procession from Wareham to Shaftsbury a distance of only 25 miles took 7 days. Although Edward was unimportant in the history of England pilgrims still travel to his grave now a modern shrine in Brookwood Cemetery near Woking in Surrey.
Ethelred 979-1016 (10 when crowned)
Ethelred the Unready. Step brother of Edward the Martyr. Father King Edgar, mother Elfrida.
Ethelred had two wives first Elfled of Northumbria and then Emma of Normandy. His son by Elfled became Edmund Ironside and his son via Emma, Edward the Confessor.
The word “Unready” actually was the Saxon word “unraed” which means he was uncouncilled or would not listen to his advisors. His long 37 year reign was an unmitigated disaster.
The Danish Vikings recommenced their interest in England with a landing in the south (Essex) in 980. Ethelred’s response was to buy them off with cash by imposing a tax called Danegelt which raised £10,000.
During the reign of Ethelred the Unready.
After 130 years of stable Saxon rule commencing with Alfred the Great and then his sons, grand and great grand children, his line collapsed through the unavailability of mature offspring. The renewed and strengthened Viking invasions were the last straw. Also;
- Many people thought, 1000 years after Jesus, heralded the end of the world
- England had two pathetic kings who had lost the confidence of his powerful earls who were his source of fighting men
- The Danes and Norwegian Vikings attacked simultaneously
- The English King Ethelred married Emma the daughter of the Norman ruler Richard, in the vain hope that the Normans would provide an army to see off this latest wave of Vikings
- Ethelred paid handsomely to persuade the Vikings to leave
- Some Vikings did go and those who didn’t Ethelred sought out and massacred. Unfortunately for him this included Gunhild the sister of the Danish ruler Sweyn who in 1003 returned to avenge the brutal killing of his sister. After 10 years of intermittent but brutal fighting Ethelred fled to Normandy and the Danish Viking leader Sweyn Forkbbeard was appointed king of England by the Witan.
This was not the end of the leadership chaos because within the year, Sweyn not yet crowned, fell from his horse and died. This created the opportunity to recall Ethelred who ruled in competition with Canute the son of Sweyn Forkbeard. Ethelred died soon after his return and his son Edmund Ironside reigned as the Witan appointed King for 8 months in 1016. Like his father Edmund did not have the support of the whole country in his fight against the now resident Danes and was murdered (probably) in November 1016. Canute was crowned king of England to the relief of all, almost immediately.
The Danish Kings of England(1016-1042)
Canute 1016-1035 (24 when crowned)
This Danish Viking was rapidly accepted by the native English population and England remained at peace and increased trade and prosperity during his 19years as ruler.
- Canute was King of three countries simultaneously. Denmark, Norway and England but he claimed England as his home
- He was considered a God by many English and he had to demonstrate he wasn’t by showing he couldn’t stop the tide rolling in
- He sent his Danish fleet and armies home but kept a 2000 strong bodyguard of able Danes never far away
- He reinforced the laws created by the English Saxon King Edgar
- He divided England into 4 Earldoms. Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria
- He travelled to Scotland and with a show of force compelled the Scottish King Malcolm to accept him as overlord
- He married twice and indeed had the two wives at the same time. Not unusual for Danes at the time. Elgiva from Northampton and Emma, the Norman Princess and widow of Ethelred the Unready. Via Elgiva he sired Sweyn who became King of Norway and Harold who became King Harold 1st of England. Via the princess Emma from Normandy he sired Harthacanute who also became a King of England.
Canute died on 12 Nov 1035 and his extensive empire was split between three of his sons, Sweyn received Norway, Hardicanute got Denmark and England south of the Thames. England north of the Thames went to Harold (Harefoot)
None of his sons were the man their father had been.
Harold 1st(Harefoot) 1035-1040 (19 when crowned) Son of Canute and Elgiva.
Harold was a spiteful man. He exiled his mother Emma to Normandy and when her sons and his half brothers Alfred and Edward returned to England he blinded Alfred by gouging out his eyes (so cruelly he almost immediately died) and Edward sensibly escaped back to Normandy.
(Blinding by the gouging out of eyes was a common treatment metered out to potential royal competitors at this time and was regularly practiced in Byzantium for hundreds of years)
Fortunately Harold died only 24 years of age and was succeeded by his half brother, the son of Emma, Hardicanute who already ruled England north of the Thames but from Denmark.
Hardicanute 1040-1042. (22 when crowned)
Hardicanute (means “Deadly Canute) was another vicious man. To ensure he would be ruler of all England (and Denmark) he landed in the north of England with a large army, murdered the Earl of Northumbria and burnt the town of Worcester to the ground. On arrival in the south he dug up the body of his brother and threw it into a bog.
Fortunately Hardicanute died of a fit after a reign of only 2 years.
SAXON line restored 1042
Edward the Confessor 1042-1066 (38 when crowned)
Son of Saxon King Ethelred the Unready and Princess Emma of Normandy. His mother Emma had sensibly kept well away from the Canute and sons by bringing him up in her country of birth Normandy. So in spite of being a Saxon King, he was by virtue of his 40 years or so in Normandy, essentially a Norman who spoke French better than English. Inevitably all his friends were Normans and he quickly populated the top jobs with his loyal Norman friends and almost certainly offered the English Crown to his friend and great nephew William Duke of Normandy who became William the Conqueror, King of England.
Edward was not a natural leader of men but preferred to live along side monks. The word Confessor implies that he was seen as more of a monk than a King. He left the running of the country to the powerful Godwin, the Anglo-Danish Earl of Wessex. Godwin had risen to power during the rule of Canute. Edward married Godwin’s daughter but having taken the monks vows of chastity had no children and indeed was said not to have consummated the marriage.
Edward is best remembered for two reasons.
- He built both the Palace of Westminster which has grown into the present Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. He would have employed Norman stone masons for this task as they were the leading stone Church builders in Europe, indeed the only craftsmen who at that time could have built it. (Save for Byzantine architects)
- He was sainted in recognition of the above and his piety.
Harold 2nd (Harold Godwinson) 1066 for 10 months
Harold son of Godwin, had no inherited claim to the English throne but as the Earl of Wessex after his father’s death in 1053, he became the effective ruler of England during the remaining years of the reign of Edward and was rapidly voted King by the Witan on Edwards death. Unfortunately Edward had almost certainly previously offered the English throne to his friend and great nephew William Duke of Normandy. Remember Edward spent the first 40 years of his life living in Normandy in the household of his Norman mother, the Princess Emma.
Further Harold had earlier been stupid enough to become shipwrecked on the Normandy coast and had been “entertained” in William’s castle where in front of half a dozen key witnesses had vowed on oath not to stand in the way of William’s passage to the English throne. (Well illustrated on the Bayeux Tapestry).
On hearing that Harold had taken the English throne for himself he sent his ambassadors to England to state his prior claim but they were rapidly sent back to Normandy. Not surprisingly William set to prepare an army to physically claim his “rightful” inheritance.
Harold’s father Earl Godwin had placed his numerous sons around England as regional earls so Harold could easily muscle up a powerful army for himself. Unfortunately he had previously fallen out with one of his brothers, Tostig the Earl of Northumbria, Northampton and Nottingham and Tostig, fuming, was living in Viking Denmark. Tostig like William wanted his inheritance which in Tostig’s case was Northumbria. While William was gathering his Norman army Tostig with the support of the King of Norway attacked the north of England. Harold marched north with two of his other brothers and eventually they defeated and killed Tostig and Harold Hardrada, King of Norway at Stamford Bridge in Northumberland.
Harold then received the news that William of Normandy had landed with an invading army at Pevensey Bay in Kent so Harold together with his loyal brothers Gyrth Earl of East Anglia and Leofwine Earl of Kent, Surrey, Middlesex, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire forced marched his tired army the 300 miles south to meet William at Hastings on the Sussex coast.
Not surprisingly William won, killing Harold, Gyrth and Loefwine in the process. The road was now clear for William, the Norman of Viking descent, to rule in place of Harold also of Viking descent.
The commencement of the Norman line
William 1st 1066-1087 called William the Conqueror.
See next section, The Norman Kings of England.
Europe and the Middle East circa 1066
France rose out of Gaul a county like England which was ruled by the Romans. After the Roman Empire in the west collapsed it was conquered by the Germanic tribe the Franks, hence France, and under the Frankish ruler Charlemagne they ruled most of continental Europe. In 843 Charlemagne’s three sons split their Europe into France, Germany and Italy but by 925 the French king was weak and not only did he cede Normandy to Rollo the Viking but the rest of France was also split into self ruling Dukedoms. The King of France only ruled the area round Paris, even now still called the Isle de France.
The Eastern part of Charlemagne’s empire which consisted of Germany and Italy was at this time also called the Holy Roman Empire and as such extended to include the whole of present day Germany and all of Italy north of Rome, plus the territories of Switzerland, Austria, Czechoslovakia (Bohemia) and all of southern France east of the river Rhone then called Burgundy.
The small area around Rome was “ruled” by the Pope and called the Papal State but all of the remainder of southern Italy together with Sicily was ruled by Normans exactly as England was about to be.
Spain and Portugal
All of the southern half of Spain and Portugal was still ruled by Muslims who lived at peace with any resident Christians or Jews. This part of Spain was the most civilised in Western Europe. The north western quarter of both present day Spain and over the mountains into Portugal was the Kingdom of Leon-Castile. Aragon and Catalan were tiny Christian states just south of the Pyrenees.
Portugal became a separate territory around 868 and had a separate king by 1139
By 1066 the huge Church of St Sophia in Constantinople was 400 years old and was the theological centre of the Christian Church in constant argument with the Pope in Rome over trivial theological issues.
The Emperor ruled over the whole of Anatolia (Asia Minor or present day Turkey) and Greece but had lost Jerusalem and the Holy Land to the Islamic Arabs of the Fatimid Caliphate headquartered in Egypt. The remains of East Roman Empire was not strong enough by its self to contemplate a recovery of Jerusalem and indeed spent most of the time defending its boarders from attack by Swedish Vikings from the north and Islamic Arabs from the East now augmented and ruled by the superior fighting men from present day southern Russia the Seljuk Turks.
Baghdad in Mesopotamia present day Iraq.
Equal in size and importance to Constantinople, particularly as the cultural, economic and theological centre of the Islamic world had moved from Damascus to Baghdad around 750 AD and had flourished under a series of enlightened Caliphs. The academic leaders of the world in medicine and mathematics (algebra) were resident in Baghdad university. In 1066 Baghdad was ruled by a Turkish tribe the Seljuk who were the masters of horseback warfare and poised to take Jerusalem and then Anatolia.
This civilisation continued to flourish for another 200 years until overrun by Genghis Khan’s grandson on 10 February 1258 when all the books in the libraries were burnt or thrown in the Tigris and the majority of the inhabitants were murdered.
Vikings from Sweden were the first to rule the land between the Baltic and the Black Sea around 1000 AD and they made their headquarters in Kiev now in the Ukraine.
Christianity and Islam were the top religions and were avowed enemies with Palestine and particularly Jerusalem the main issue (as now). Neither religious group had the dominant position either militarily, economically or culturally. Both groups were weakened by theological splits, the Muslims between Shia and Sunni and the Christians between the Eastern Orthodox of Constantinople and Roman. Indeed Christians irrevocably split in 1054 which eliminated any possibility of a unified Christian approach to retrieving Jerusalem when the Crusades were called in 1095.
Jews had no territory of their own, were living happily in Muslim Territories but were hated by the majority of Christians. However Jews had to be tolerated in Christendom because the Pope had decreed that no Christian could run a bank (lend money) so the Jews had a monopoly and were resident in most European countries but not England until brought in from France by William the Conqueror.
Jews were also the language translators of the world very much used by the trading Arabs who always travelled with a Jewish translator.
Centres of commerce and population
The two largest cities in the area were Constantinople and Baghdad both had populations over 150,000. Constantinople was the political and theological capital of the Christian East Roman or Byzantium Empire and Baghdad the political and theological capital of the Islamic Arabs. Both made their money from trade particularly with silks and porcelain from China and spices from India and the Indonesian islands. Both towns were the only ones to have universities for the study of theology, public speaking, maths, science and philosophy.
The next largest towns were all in Arab hands, like Cordoba in Spain, Alexandria and Cairo in Egypt, Antioch and Basra. All except Cordoba were trading ports. In England, France and the German tribal areas there was no town with a population as high as 10,000 people.
Silks, porcelains and spices from Constantinople were certainly available in England but only to the super rich. The average man and woman were subsistence farmers who owned their land and would try and keep warm inside woollen clothes and if they were lucky might have an animal skin fur coat and even boots made from leather from deer. The rich would have no shortage of leather products many of them imported. Almost all clothes and the majority of all the houses would be self made. (This is still the case in India and Pakistan today).
The basic difference between life in England and the rest of Western Europe compared with Constantinople and Baghdad at this time was the lack of an English middle class who would have gained their wealth from trade. In England the majority of people were always hungry and more often than not, cold and wet.
A King in England would be expected to have the following qualities;
- Military leader and strategist
- Leader of men by physical strength and oratory
- Law giver
- Religious head
- Producer of sons
- Fiscal wiz kid
- Hobbies Hunting. (Deer and Wild Boar) Weapon bow and arrow
- Clothes Leather (sheep and Deer), wool sheep, silks imported from China via Muslim Arab traders from . Leather and fur also imported, seal, bear, reindeer and walrus
- He would marry for political expediency and have a mistress for love (not always)