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Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Angles of Central England

 

 

 

MapEast Engle (East Angles / East Anglia)
Incorporating the North Folk & Suth Folk

Settling first in the north, where the earliest evidence of their arrival has been found, the Angles in the region probably gained ascendancy between AD 475-495. If there was still any British authority in the region then it was administered from a possible territory of Caer Went (the heartland of the former Iceni tribe). The kingdom of the East Angles was founded circa 571 as a result of the uniting of the North and Suth Folk (still remembered today in the Norfolk and Suffolk regions of East Anglia). In the early stages of settlement, the Angles were not totally dominant in the area; there was also a sizable Saxon presence, although evidence supports the fact that many Saxons were settled in this area as foederati before the collapse of Roman rule. The Saxons and the newly-arriving Angles appear to have intermingled and merged even before the British walled town of Venta Icenorum (Caistor-by-Norwich) had been abandoned.

The Angles were skilled in the use of shallow vessels and they used the East Anglian rivers as routes into Britain. The easily navigable Nene, Ouse and Cam valleys were the first to be colonised and by AD 500 colonisation had reached as far east as Cambridgeshire. The Cam tributaries saw early settlements being founded at Linton, Haslingfield and from Newmarket to Balsham. The Angles took over British sites giving them English names. Only a half-dozen Celtic place names remained in the region, such as Girton, Comberton and Chatteris.

Neglect of the Roman engineering works and land subsidence after AD 450 reduced drained fenland to marsh, isolating Ely and other islands, and quite possibly the whole of modern Norfolk from the rest of the country. Within these areas lived an independent people with dark-hair, called the Gywre (or Gyrwas), who were possibly Celtic in origin. During the sixth century, this marsh region between Ely and Cambridgeshire was disputed territory with the Middil Engle, but the East Engle gradually gained the upper hand in the region. Heavily wooded country lying along the northern border of the East Seaxe kingdom became a political frontier between the two kingdoms, as well as with the Middil Engle.

Edward Dawson points out that the Angles, Saxons and Franks all used the 'ch' pronunciation of the letter 'c', as did the Romans. The Britons used a 'k' sound, but that would have been lost in East Anglia due to Roman dominance there. As Germanic tribes arrived and replaced the Roman administration, they used the local names as pronounced by the local Britons - the former Iceni - to a great extent. This can be seen in the names of towns or forts containing 'c'. The Latin 'castra' became 'chester' everywhere, but in areas where the wilder British tribes survived (to the west) there continued to exist the 'k' sound and the spelling became 'caster' instead in many places. The Iceni would have used a 'ch' rather than a 'k' sound simply because the inhabitants would have been far more Romanised than the western Britons. Indeed, it is even possible that during the Roman period most people in the south-east of what is now England spoke mostly Latin instead of Brythonic, due to far a far greater level of colonisation by Roman citizens. This would have impinged on local pronunciations, making some letter sounds more accessible for the invading Angles.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Oxford History of England: The English Settlements, J N L Meyers, from Ulwencreutz's The Royal Families in Europe V, Lars Ulwencreutz, from the Textus de Ecclesia Roffensi per Ernulphum Episcopum (The Story of the Church of Rochester up to Bishop Ernulf), known as the Textus Roffensis or Annals of Rochester, and from the Historia Brittonum, Nennius.)

c.475 - 495

FeatureAngles arrive and begin to take over control of the eastern region of Britain, with the earliest settlements appearing in the northern parts of that region (and later becoming known as the North Folk, modern Norfolk). They intermingle with the Saxon descendants of Roman foederati, and are quite possibly helped by the Alemannic descendants of Fraomar and his band of troops, who had been stationed in Norfolk in 372.

c.495 - 560s

MapThe Anglian settlers secure their hold on the region, forming into two main groups in the north and south (North and South Folk). Romano-British administration in the postulated Caer Went certainly collapses in the region by this stage and the Roman town of Venta Icenorum is abandoned.

Venta Icenorum
An artist's reconstruction of the Roman town of Venta Icenorum, the main settlement of the British tribe of the Iceni - although it was never very successful and disappeared rather suddenly by the early years of the sixth century

It seems probable that the ancestors of the later East Anglian kings (the Wuffingas) emerge at this time. They would quite naturally begin to build a power base (perhaps by pushing out the Iclingas, who may already be established here). Claiming descent from Caser's Folk in Angeln, the centre of their power seems to be at Rendlesham, near the coast in the south-east of the territory, indicating that the Wuffingas are Suth Folk. The nearby river is even renamed Ufford, a name which derives from the Anglo-Saxon name Uffa or Wuffa (see AD 571, below). Its original British name is lost.

c.510s

Hryž / Hrype

Migrated to Britain from Caser's Folk in Angeln? Suth Folk.

c.500 - 550?

Two Anglian princes named Esa and Eoppa may live amongst the East Angles at this time as supporters of their kings, to whom they could well be related. They would be fulfilling the same role of tolerated prince(s) that had probably been 'enjoyed' by their ancestor, Benoc, and also by the brother of a descendant, King Ęthelfrith of Bernicia. This arrangement is permitted as long as they bring their respective warbands to any fight in support of the king.

Could it be Esa who leads the settlement of his band of followers in Bernaccia as laeti, settled mercenaries? They are certainly present there two generations later, when they rebel against their British overlords, but the details of their arrival have been lost to history.

c.530s

Wilhelm

Son.

c.560s

Wehha

Son. May have consolidated the takeover of British Caer Went.

FeatureWehha is claimed by the fairly unreliable Historia Brittonum as the 'first to rule over the East Angles'. However, despite its unreliability, the work by Nennius does contain some remarkably accurate points (or at least, as remarkably accurate as surviving records can prove). Considering it is Wehha's son who is credited with founding the kingdom of the East Angles by uniting its various groups of Angles and Saxons, the likelihood that some of this work is done by Wehha is very high. His contemporary title in Old English is Vvehha Vvilhelming (Ƿehh Ƿilhelming, Wehha son of Wilhelm), Estangle Cyning (king of the East Engle).

bef 571 - 578

Wuffa

Son. Founds the kingdom and the Wuffingas by 571.

571 - 578

'Wuffa' may be a loose pronunciation of Wulfa, a wolf. In some Anglian lines, especially Mercian, there is a tendency to eschew the high-flown double-part names and go with more common-style single names. Offa is an example. Remembered by later generations as Wuffa, he founds the kingdom of the East Engle by uniting the North Folk and Suth Folk. His descendants are known as the Wuffingas ('wolf-people' or 'wolflings').

The Wuffinga name is also connected to the Geats and Danes, primarily through Wealhtheow of around the 490s. She is the queen of the Danes, wife of Hrothgar. He appears in Norse Sagas and two Old English epic poems, Beowulf and Widsith, while she is a Wulfing, an eastern Geatish ancestor (or mother) of the Wuffingas. Therefore she must have some relationship to one or more of the names in the list of Caser's Folk, although it would be speculation to go any further.

The Wulfingas or Ylfings (the 'wolf-clan' - variations of the spelling used above) are known for their feud with the Germanic Hundings or Hundingas (the 'hound-clan') who are mentioned in Widsith - the hounds versus the wolves is classic tribal totemic behaviour. The founder of the Hundingas, the warrior Hund, is slain by the later Danish King Helgi Hundingsbane (ruling in the 520s). The feud clearly begins in Scandinavia, and probably ends when the Wuffingas migrate to Britain, but they may not have been the Wulfingas before the migration. Wolf coins found in East Anglia in 2013, more than four hundred years before the Wulfingas take control, had been minted by the Iceni in the late first century AD. It seems likely that the Wulfingas take their name from some element that already exists in the territory, much like many other migrants are taking local names and adapting them. In which case, the question is what have the Wulfingas been called before their arrival in East Anglia?

Wolf coins of the Iceni
Two sides of the 'Norfolk wolf coins' hoard of 44 examples, an unusual find in 2013 which was dated to the late first century AD, seemingly after the Roman invasion

Speculation over the royal house aside, it seems to be here, in East Anglia, of all the places in Britain conquered by the Angles and Saxons at this time, that the epic poem, Beowulf, is developed. It harks back less than a century to a pre-migration homeland in Angeln (modern Denmark), and its formulation here hints at a direct relationship between the East Anglian and Danish royal houses, and perhaps, though ancestry, the Geats too.

578 - 593

Tytila / Tyttla

Son.

593 - 625/7

Rędwald / Raedwald

Son. Bretwalda (616-625/7). Baptised but still semi-pagan.

c.600

FeatureIt seems highly likely that it is during the reign of Rędwald that town life begins to make a reappearance in East Anglia. The trading community of Gipeswic (modern Ipswich) begins importing pottery around this time, probably as an early precursor to the appearance of larger trading towns. It is quite likely that the royal house, who live only fourteen kilometres (nine miles) away from the town, found Gipeswic as their royal town and trading port. A corresponding trading capital can be found in each of the early kingdoms. From this early pattern, other major trading towns spring up, such as Dunwich, which is thriving by the late ninth century.

c.600 - 630

The East Engle begin to push back the Middil Engle, who are centred on modern Leicestershire but who also occupy western Cambridgeshire, gradually taking control of much of their territory. Given that the fens and The Wash are much larger in the sixth and seventh centuries than in modern times, Cambridgeshire essentially forms the only main access route through to the Midlands and South.

616

After seeking asylum at Rędwald's court since being forced to flee Deira by Ęthelfrith of Bernicia, Edwin is able to regain his throne when Rędwald defeats Ęthelfrith at the Battle of the River Idle. The battle confirms Rędwald as Bretwalda (this term is used by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle). Bede later refers to him in Latin as 'Imperium; Rex Anglorum', emperor of the kingdom of the English.

The addition of Eni in the list of kings at this point is a little puzzling since he is not known to have ruled the East Engle as king. However, given that Rędwald now has responsibilities and power that far exceeds the kingdom's borders, a sub-ruler or regional assistant would certainly be required.

616/7 - 617/8

Eni

Son of Tytila. Not known to have reigned. Died 617/8.

625

Raedwald is almost certainly the king who is buried, or commemorated, by Sutton Hoo. This semi-pagan burial mound lies close to Rendlesham, the unverified location of a royal hall of the Wuffingas, Ipswich, a vital trading port, and Walton Castle, originally a Roman Saxon Shore fort, many of which were controlled by the Anglo-Saxons from the early days of the migration period. This form of boat burial, along with items of equipment that are included in it, are very similar to boat burials found in the parish of Vendel in Uppland, Sweden. The name Vendel suggests close links to the Vandali tribe, some of whom had migrated away from southern Scandinavia in the first century BC.

Rendlesham's name can be broken down into two parts, with 'ham' being the traditional English descriptive word for a rural town or settlement. The first part, 'rendle', seems to be an altered form of the name Randal, which is a shortened English version of the Viking name Randolf. Randolf is made up of 'rand' plus 'ulf'. A 'rand' ('rönd') is a shield and 'ulf' is a wolf, making Randolf the 'shieldwolf'. So Rendlesham would seem to be an Anglicised form of a Viking name, which begs the question. what is its name before the Vikings arrive?

c.624 - 627

Eorpwald / Earpwald

Third son of Rędwald. Killed by Ricberht. Christian.

627

Edwin of Deira accepts Christianity, and Edwin's friendship with the royal house of the East Engle soon sees Eorpwald converted too. Unfortunately the king is soon killed by his pagan brother, Ricberht. His other brother and eventual successor, Sigeberht, converts while he is in exile with the Franks during this period. This conflict may be partially about power, but in large part it is also about the growing power of Christianity. Ricberht leads a pagan revival.

627 - 629/30

Ricberht

Second son of Rędwald. Pagan.

c.630

Having already made large inroads by overrunning the North and Suth Engle by the start of the century, the Mercians conquer the remaining Middil Engle territories, taking them from the East Engle. The Mercian King Penda places his son on the Middil Engle throne.

630 - c.636

Sigeberht

First son (stepson?) of Rędwald. Abdicated. Killed in battle.

c.634 or 636

Sigeberht's reign has witnessed the victory of Christianity from Canterbury over paganism in the kingdom. He has rounded off the victory by overseeing the establishment of an East Anglian bishopric based at Dunwich (in Suffolk), which is divided not long afterwards to create a second see at North Elmham (in Norfolk), the division probably reflecting that of the North Folk and Suth Folk.

Sutton Hoo mask
While Sutton Hoo was all about the dead, nearby Rendlesham provided the lifeblood of the East Anglian kingdom, complete with a royal hall that would have been about the size of a detached modern house

Sigeberht abdicates to become a monk, but seemingly leaves a royal hall at Rendlesham that is later noted by Bede as being the 'king's village' at 'Rendlaesham'. The king in question is Rędwald, but it seems to be a safe assumption that the 'village' remained in use throughout much of this period. Archaeologists examining the area between 2008-2014 are also convinced that a royal domain once stood there.

634? - 636/7

Ecgric

Son of Eni. Joint king with Sigeberht. Killed in battle.

635? - 654

Annah / Anan / Anna

Elder brother. Killed in battle.

640/1

The growing power of the Mercians begins to cast a shadow over the former greatness of the East Engle. Penda of Mercia kills Ecgric, seemingly with him still holding a position of power within the kingdom. Former king Sigeberht is killed in the same battle. Whether Ecgric is really a former king himself is not recorded, but Sigeberht is later venerated as a saint.

c.650

FeatureAnnah's daughter, Ethelreda, is given in marriage to Tonbert, chief of the southern Gywre. She is later re-married to Egfrith of Northumbria before retiring to Ely to found a monastery.

654

Penda of Mercian defeats the East Engle at Blytheburgh in 654, killing Annah in the process, the third East Engle king to die at his hands. Peculiarly, given the fact that all three has been sons or stepsons of the great Rędwald, the next king of the East Engle - yet another son - allies himself to Penda although this could be explained by the claim that the East Engle are actually subject to Mercia at this time and have little choice in the matter.

654

Ęthelhere / Aethelhere

Brother (second son of Eni). Ruled until 15 Nov. Killed in battle.

654/655

In 654 or 655 (the dating can be interpreted both ways), Ęthelhere joins Penda of Mercia in an invasion of Northumbria. Both are killed by Oswiu of Northumbria at the battle of Winwaed.

654 - 664

Ęthelwold / Aethelwold

Brother (third son of Eni).

663/4 - 713

Ealdwulf / Aldwulf

Son of Ęthelhere.

713

MapAfter Ealdwulf's death the East Angles enter a period of comparative obscurity. As the kingdom is subsequently ruled by the son of an East Saxon king, the East Angles may fall under their domination.

713? - 747

Selraed of the East Saxons

Son of Sigeberht of the East Saxons.

713/747 - 749

Ęlfwald / Aelfwold

Descendent of Ecgric.

749

FeatureThe kingdom is ruled by three kings, although only Beorna has coins minted in his name, so the other two are probably sub-kings ruling in his name. Ipswich is expanded as a trading centre and there is an attempt to mint silver coinage, suggesting a degree of recovery within the kingdom.

749 - c.758

Beorna / Beonna

Coins minted in his name.

749 - ?

Hun

Sub-king?

749 - ?

Alberht

Sub-king? Also known as Ęthelberht I.

c.758 - 779

Ęthelred / Aethelred (I)

Son of Beonna.

779 - 793

Ęthelberht / Aethelbert (II)

Descendent of Ęlfwold. Killed by Offa of Mercia.

c.792 - 793

Mercian oppression in East Anglia mirrors that of Kent, with the proud kingdom being treated as a conquered province. Native nobles appear to have lands appropriated (just as William the Conqueror would do later). A revolt breaks out under Ęthelberht, but it is rapidly suppressed. Ęthelberht is captured and beheaded.

East Anglian fens
Many of the East Anglian fens were produced by more than a thousand years of peat build-up and trapped river water, providing excellent refuge for rebels against the Mercians

793?

Eadwald

Revolted against Mercian overlordship?

793 - 796

Offa re-secures his hold over East Anglia, ruling the kingdom as a province of Mercia. His death in 796 is the signal for a rebellion and a brief revival of East Engle independence. This is soon crushed by one of Offa's successors, Coenwulf.

796 - 799

Eadwald

Threw off Mercian overlordship, albeit briefly.

799 - 827

East Anglia is still ruled by Mercia. By this period of occupation and domination, the trading port of Dunwich, on the North Sea coast midway between Ipswich and Lowestoft, begins to thrive. It quickly becomes the third largest port in the country after London and Bristol. The town is built on a large, sandy promontory bordered by a wide river estuary on the northern side and with generous port facilities. A medieval hospital, a maison dieu, is built towards the back of the town (about a kilometre and-a-half (one mile) from the coast but near the estuary), along with a greyfriars friary and a magnificent and very large church which is outside the protective bank and ditch.

A series of storms starting in 1287 washes away large sections of the town. A second major storm in 1328 effectively finishes it off, wiping out five parishes and about six hundred houses. By 1921 the last remnants of the last remaining medieval parish church crumbles into the advancing ocean.

821

Athelstan of East Anglia makes his first attempt to regain Anglian independence upon the death of Coenwulf of Mercia. The king's brother, Ceolwulf, ousts him and restores Mercian control, but the Mercians are not quite the force they once were.

Beornwulf coin
This silver penny was produced during the reign of Beornwulf of Mercia, successor to Ceolwulf, although its condition is far from ideal, with partly garbled legends - it is from an East Anglian mint, the moneyer's name being Eadgar, which is shown in the reverse

821

Athelstan

First attempt to free the East Angles.

825

The Mercian decline gives Ecgberht of Wessex an opportunity not to be missed. He defeats the mighty Mercians at the Battle of Ellandon (Wroughton, near Swindon). The Mercians lose the sub-kingdoms of Essex, Kent, Sussex and Suthrige, but are allowed to retain Berkshire, with its boundaries being formally set. Athelstan of East Anglia begins to re-assert the independence of his people and although Beornwulf invades, he is killed in battle. He is succeeded by Ludecan but Mercia's power has been broken.

827

Athelstan kills Ludecan of Mercia in battle after yet another attempt by the once great Midland kings to restore that greatness. With this act, Athelstan secures the independence of the East Angles and establishes himself as king. Although he still acknowledges Ecgberht of Wessex as his overlord, his is the only one of the smaller English kingdoms not to be absorbed directly within Wessex.

827 - 839

Athelstan

Secured the kingdom's renewed independence.

839 - 854?

Ęthelweard / Aethelweard

841

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the first Viking attack on Lindsey following a raid in the south. After that raid, in which an ealdorman is killed along with many of his men, a wave of raids occur along the east coast, in Kent, East Anglia, and Lindsey. Then there appears to be a lull in raids until 865, when the Great Army under Ivarr the Boneless arrives.

854? - 855

Beorhtric

855 - 869

Edmund (St)

Descendent of Ęthelberht. Killed by Danes on 20 Nov.

865

Ivarr the Boneless and his brothers are the founders of the Uķ Ķmair in Ireland - the clan or descendants of Ivarr. They lead the first Viking army to invade mainland Britain in search of conquest rather than pillage. Landing in East Anglia, they ravage the kingdom for a year before heading into Northumbria in 866.

869

Ivarr the Boneless of the Viking kingdom of Dublin has already conquered Northumbria, and he now attacks Edmund's kingdom. The East Anglians are defeated in battle at Hoxne during which Edmund is killed, although later tradition claims he is violently murdered by Ivarr's men after the battle. A native sub-king is installed in order to govern the territory while Ivarr's brother, Halfdan, and his Danish army concentrate on subduing Mercia and Wessex. Ivarr returns to York and then invades Alt Clut in 870.

Vikings

869 - 876

Oswald

Sub-king under Danish rule.

876 - 879

Ęthelred / Aethelred (II)

Sub-king under Danish rule.

879

Once the Danelaw is established by the Peace of Wedmore in 878, Guthrum formalises his rule of East Anglia and the sub-kings are no longer required. The Danish kingdom of East Anglia is founded to exist alongside the similarly-formed Scandinavian kingdom of York.

MapDanish Kingdom of East Anglia

FeatureFounded as the southern half of the Danish conquests in England, this territory of the Danelaw was much extended from the former Anglo-Saxon East Anglian kingdom to cover a sizeable proportion of the eastern midlands (former Mercia), possibly including Lindsey, and all of Essex. The leader of the Danish forces, Guthrum, accepted baptism as part of the Peace of Wedmore in 878, taking the Christian name of Ęthelstan with Alfred of Wessex his godfather. The northern half of the conquered territory quickly became the Scandinavian kingdom of York. The surviving members of the Great Army who had not already done so, returned to the east, divided the land amongst them and settled down as masters of the conquered Angles.

The depredations of the Danes in this region were such that virtually no pre-Danish invasion charters survive. Only in Wessex and the lordship of Bamburgh in the extreme north did the Anglo-Saxons hold sway. Danish burhs were established in Cambridge, Huntingdon, Bedford, Northampton, Leicester, Stamford, Lincoln, Nottingham and Derby. Wessex quickly recovered its strength and, united with the remaining Mercian lands which it now controlled, made swift inroads into East Anglian territory. Within two generations East Anglia would be English again.

(Additional information by Mick Baker, and from Ulwencreutz's The Royal Families in Europe V, Lars Ulwencreutz.)

879 - 890

Guthrum / Ęthelstan

Fought Alfred the Great as leader of the Danish army.

886

The Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum is formalised between East Anglia and Wessex, which defines the boundaries of both kingdoms and makes provision for peaceful relations between the English and the Danes. This would also include the recognition that London (Lundenwic) is now part of Wessex following an apparent siege by Alfred in 883.

890

Having upheld his part of the Peace of Wedmore in withdrawing his troops from the frontier with Wessex and reassuring his subjects that they would be ruled by a Christian king rather than a heathen barbarian by accepting Christianity, Guthrum dies peacefully and is buried at Headleage (probably Hadleigh in Suffolk).

Two sides of a coin issued by Guthrum
Shown here are two sides of a coin that was issued by Guthrum at the end of the ninth century which imitated Alfred the Great's 'two-line' design

890 - 902

Eric / Eohric

Son. Killed in battle.

902 - 903

Ęthelwald the rebel son of Ęthelred I of Wessex returns, arriving on the Essex coast with Danish support, either from York or from Denmark itself. He ravages west as far as Mercia. Alternatively called 'prince', 'elected king', 'King of the Danes', and even 'King of the Pagans', in 903 (sometimes shown as 902) he is brought to battle against Edward in a major confrontation somewhere in Cambridgeshire. Many fall on either side, including Eohric, king of the Danelaw and Ęthelwald himself. However, Edward has to give the Danes silver to buy peace (and to buy time), while his own battered forces recover.

902 - 918

Guthrum II

Killed in battle against Edward of Wessex.

914 (916)

Edward the Elder of Wessex receives the submission of the Danish Jarl Thurketel of Bedford. (The Peterborough Chronicle, which deals with local events in local territory, is regarded as more accurate than the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Peterborough dates are shown in red.)

915 (917)

Edward advances to the Danish-held fortress of Bedford, taking direct control. Although Jarl Thurketel had offered submission in 914 (917), Edward wants to ensure his control is made effective in practice.

916 (917)

Former Jarl Thurketel of Bedford is allowed by Edward to leave England for the Continent.

917 (918)

The Danes organise a counter-offensive consisting of three separate strikes: a) an army from Northampton, Leicester and the North attacks the new 'burh' at Towcester (from 24 July to 1 August); b) an army from Huntingdon and part of East Anglia under the Danish king, Guthrum II, with Jarl Toglos and his son Jarl Manna, advances to Tempsford, where it constructs a new fortress from which an attempt is launched to recover Bedford; and c) an army from East Anglia attempts to seize the new 'burh' of Wigingamere in Essex.

Viking helmet

The failure to apply a concentrated force means that the Danes are defeated on all three fronts. They lose a large number of men - particularly at Bedford, where a sortie organised by the besieged English garrison inflicts a severe defeat upon them and puts their army to flight. A local account recalls how the townswomen are instrumental in swaying things their way, when they rush out and attack the Viking force. Later that year (the following year), Edward attacks Tempsford and inflicts a heavy defeat upon the Vikings, killing their king, Guthrum II, together with jarls Toglos and Manna.

Edward of Wessex becomes overlord of East Anglia, and by default overlord of its dependent territory of Essex and the eastern half of Mercia. These regions becomes shires of the expanded West Saxon kingdom, while the previous two East Anglian bishoprics are re-established as a single one based at North Elmham. Lindsey, if it had been part of the Danelaw, is possibly taken by York. East Anglia becomes an important region within the newly forming kingdom of England, one that generally refers to the former kingdom during the period of its greatest expansion into Cambridgeshire.