The Roman administration of Britannia
officially came to an end in AD 410, although in practise the
Romano-British had governed themselves for some time.
The reorganisations of Magnus Maximus, in the 380s, which
had secured Britannia's western and northern borders, had begun to break down.
Northern Britain was fragmenting as it was divided piecemeal between
surviving sons. Its final division seems to have come in circa
470 with Ebrauc losing its western arm, the Pennines.
Likewise, Powys was divided in two following
the civil war between Vortigern and Ambrosius Aurelianus. Middle Britain,
in the more highly civilised heartland of sub-Roman Britain, was
apparently also in the process of a slower break-up.
Along the Saxon Shore, former laeti
settlements and waves of new arrivals were asserting their independence.
Hengist and Horsa led the swift conquest of eastern Ceint, while Saxon
groups pushed deep into the Thames Valley, and Angles invaded Caer Went
and Linnuis. Only Bernaccia and Deywr seemed to have peaceful Angles on
Twenty five years after the start of the
Anglo-Saxon Conquest, the North remained untouched and still
relatively powerful. Angles hired as mercenaries (laeti)
continued to help defend the eastern coastline.
The Lindisware (Linnuis) Angles appear to
have managed a peaceful transition of power. They took on many aspects
of sub-Roman administration and lived isolated from the action in the south.
Although the country was in a state of flux,
this was the time of Ambrosius Aurelianus, and Arthur too. Together,
or in sequence, they organised the much-needed defence of the south:
groups of Angles were rapidly colonising Caer Went and penetrating
Caer Lerion; the Cantware Jutes conquered Kent by 488; Ælle's Saxons
made swift progress on the south coast; and more Saxons had made
deep inroads along the Thames Valley, carving out settlements there
and threatening the entire West Country. Cynwidion quickly lost its
western border to the Ciltern Saetan, while the territory of Lundein
was swiftly occupied by the Middel Seaxe on either side of the Thames.
Defence came in the form of the battle, or siege, of Mons Badonicus
in circa 496.
More than any other battle or siege, Mons
Badonicus had a massive effect on the conquest. Probably led by Ælle,
who was the recognised overlord of the invaders, the Saxons of the south
had suffered a crushing defeat which seems to have critically weakened
the Suth Seaxe, Middel Seaxe, Thames Valley Saxons, and perhaps even
A period of peace which lasted for over
a generation followed the British victory. However, Cerdic and his
supporters made a grab for power over the West Seaxe in 495-519. In
addition, the Angles in the east continued to pour into the Midlands, quickly
engulfing Caer Lerion and apparently forcing a passage through
Cynwidion's western territory to link up with the Ciltern Saetan,
probably shortly before Mons Badonicus. Caer Mincip, a small British
enclave, survived on the edge of the (probably weakened) Middel Seaxe kingdom.
By the end of this period the peace was fading,
and the first move seems to have been made by the Bernician Angles
(British Bernaccia) in 547, situated North of the Humber. Nearby
Rheged and The Pennines further sub-divided, while in the south Caer
Colun came under attack.
By AD 550, the long peace which had lasted since
Mons Badonicus was all but over. Large inroads into British territory were
being made by the West Seaxe. With the Wiltsaete pushing against their
south-western border, and the West Seaxe forcing their way up
from the south, the British stronghold of Caer Gwinntguic collapsed in
552, opening the whole of Salisbury Plain to the Saxons.
They made the most of it by sweeping round Caer
Celemion, which continued to hold out, and began a takeover of the
Saxons in the Thames Valley and Chilterns (from circa 571
British Cynwidion continued to hold out, although
its territory was much reduced by the Middil Engle making large inroads
from the Midlands.
In the Midlands, the Iclingas were just beginning
to absorb Angle neighbours to their immediate east and south. The large
territory of Powys was divided in two from circa 570, with the
eastern half becoming Pengwern.
In Ebrauc, Angles staged a takeover of the
region of Deira (British Deywr). Ebrauc found itself under siege
from two sides, and
lost ground between circa 570-580.
At the same time as the East Engle were being
united under a single king, Angle and Saxon conquests during this period were
rapid and extensive.
The West Seaxe defeated three British kings in 577,
destroying Caer Baddan, Caer Ceri and Caer Gloui. The Hwicce
moved into the territory to form their own kingdom while the West
Seaxe continued to fight against Dumnonia.
That catastrophic British defeat meant that both
Dumnonia and Caer Celemion were now totally isolated, while the nearby
East Seaxe consolidated their own kingdom.
North of the Humber, the two Angle kingdoms were
also making rapid advances. Ebrauc's defence finally ran out of steam in
circa 580, by which time it was overrun by the Deiran Angles. The
Bernician Angles conquered Dunoting in 595, and appear to have destroyed
The Peak at around the same time. Saxon groups moved in from the Midlands
to adopt the name, becoming the Pecset.
Elmet was now surrounded by enemies but
North Rheged was at the height of its strength, even controlling
nearby Galwyddel, until in-fighting brought down its powerful
After that catastrophe, both North and South Rheged fell
quickly. Only a small North Rhegedian enclave may have survived,
against Caer-Guendoleu's border and probably around Carlisle. That pocket kingdom itself was
absorbed by Alt Clut, while control of Galwyddel returned to the
Britons on Ynys Manau.
This was a period of Anglo-Saxon
consolidation. The Bernician and Deiran Angles secured the west
coast, and destroyed Elmet and the Gododdin.
The Iclingas were swiftly taking over all
the Middil Engle settlements in the Midlands. They became known as
the Mercians - March, or border kingdom - between 584-600. By
circa 630 they were masters of the East Midlands.
The East Seaxe were gaining overlordship of
the Middel Seaxe and the region of theirs which lay south of the
The Pecset were settling the Peak District, and the
Hwicce seem to have been merging with the Britons within their new
territory. The West Seaxe finally destroyed Caer Celemion, as well
as expanding a little further westwards.
Not content with their destruction of the
British enclave within their kingdom, the West Seaxe spent the next
fifty years wholeheartedly attacking Dumnonia.
Major victories were claimed in 652 and 658,
at which time Saxon groups pushed westwards, creating new
settlements, taking over some old ones, and anglicising the local
names. The Dornsaete settled in the former British tribal canton of
the Durotriges, while the Somersaete became their northern
neighbours, secure in their territory of woods, marshes and hills
once Glastenning had fallen. The Defnas (Devon) Britons were
conquered in 681-685, and the West Seaxe gradually took direct
control of all these areas, bottling up Dumnonia in what is now
Cornwall. The West Seaxe also took the Suther-ge region, but lost
the Ciltern Saxons to Mercia.
Mercia itself was busy fighting the mighty
Northumbria at this time, which itself managed to lose territory to
the Picts in 685. Teaming up with Pengwern, Mercia laid claim to
Elmet, but eventual defeats saw Pengwern destroyed and Saxon groups
moved in to claim its territory, with Mercia gaining overall
control by 700.
With the fall of the last sub-Roman
territories within what was becoming England, the period of conquest was over.
The remaining unconquered kingdoms in the
west (an area which was becoming known as Wales) were only just
beginning the hesitant process of unification, and could offer
little real threat other than that of raiding across the border.
Mercia had secured the east and west
Midlands. It was now free to push in the borders of Powys, and had
recently taken Cambridge from the East Engle. The Hwicce and Lindisware
were also increasingly coming under their control.
Northumbria had apparently lost some of the
former territory of Elmet to the Mercians, and had formed an
administrative sub-kingdom in Dunbar (true borders unknown), but
they were still the major power in the nine surviving Anglo-Saxon
The West Seaxe now dominated the
south coast and West Country. The Suth Seaxe were under their
domination, and Dumnonia was a shadow of its former self, never
again to pose any threat to its neighbours.