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Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Kings of England

 

England

England today forms the driving force behind the geographical and political entities which are known as Britain (England and Wales), Great Britain (with Scotland added), and the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland' (including the remnants of a single island of Ireland which was held until 1922). The union is not a single entity in the way of the Spanish union of states (for example, although even that union is under increasing strain). Instead the four 'home nations' have many of their own institutions and, since 1999, devolved governments which largely handle internal affairs. These are increasingly becoming independent governments in waiting, especially since the highly-divisive Brexit referendum of 2016.

The origins of England lie with the West Saxons. They had formed one of the most powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdoms during the period after the end of Roman power in Britain, and during the two subsequent centuries of colonisation and territorial advance. In fact it was their kingdom which had ended up standing almost alone amongst the by-then native English kingdoms in the face of the overwhelming onslaught of Danish attacks in the last quarter of the ninth century. As a result, almost all of the later Bretwaldas - the most powerful of Anglo-Saxon rulers who were acknowledged as such by their peers - were West Saxon kings. This was so much the case that the kings of Wessex effectively merged that title into their own kingship.

MapThat Danish onslaught and the enforced merging into a single state of the remaining free English territories produced a united kingdom of English peoples, although it was far from a kingdom of all of England - not until the Danish-controlled territories could be conquered (see map via the link, right). While that process was largely initiated by Alfred the Great, it was his grandson, Æthelstan, who could claim to be the first king of a single, United England. Despite reservations on the part of some modern historians, from 927 Æthelstan actually was the recognised ruler or overlord not only of all of England, but of the principalities of Wales and all of Scotland and Strathclyde too.

The ascendancy of Wessex remained with subsequent kings, although the Scandinavian kingdom of York proved to be a continual source of distraction until it fell to King Eadred in 954. He now ruled a definitively united kingdom. The early Anglo-Saxon kings still had their powerbase in Wessex, and still spent much of their time there but, now that they had a far greater domain, Wessex became somewhat demoted in the form of an earldom which existed alongside several other great, pre-Norman earldoms of England.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Mick Baker, from Æthelstan: The First King of England, Sarah Foot (2011), from the BBC series, King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons, first broadcast from 6 August 2013, from The Oxford History of England: The English Settlements, J N L Meyers, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from Wessex, Barbara Yorke, from Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Bede, from the Oxford Online Dictionary of National Biography: Cenwalh, Barbara Yorke (2004), from The Earliest English Kings, D P Kirby (1992), from Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England, Barbara Yorke, from the Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales, John Marius Wilson (1870-1872), from The Peterborough Chronicle (the E Manuscript version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia of Earth, and Early Christian to medieval settlement and cemetery (Historic England), and Devolved Parliaments and Assemblies (UK Parliament).)

Norman Kings (England)
AD 1066 - 1154

Canute's accession brought England into his vast Baltic-Scandinavian empire as its southernmost province and with Danish kings on the throne. Canute managed to remove most of his competitors for control of the country, including Eadric, brother of King Edmund II, the earls of Mercia and East Anglia, and the high reeves of Bamburgh in their established position as the powerful earls of York. Canute also married Emma of Normandy, Æthelred's widow, increasing the strength of his claim to the throne.

Not all of the Wessex royal family had been killed during the years of Danish rule in England. Two of the sons of Æthelred II and Emma had survived in the queen's Normandy homeland where they had been sent for their own protection. Both Alfred and Edward now entered England to test their claims to the throne. Edward, landing at Southampton, soon withdrew. Alfred made the mistake of trusting the powerful Earl Godwine of Wessex, and was murdered for his pains. Edward was invited back by Hardicanute in 1041, and was fortunate to be in the right place when the Danish king unexpectedly died at a wedding feast, restoring Anglo-Saxon rule of England.

Such were the links between the English royal family and William, duke of Normandy, that he also held a (somewhat shaky) claim to the throne, as a first cousin, once removed. He also claimed that Edward had promised that he would be his successor, and that Harold Godwinson would support that claim. When it became clear that Harold would not relinquish his own position as Edward's successor, William led a force in October 1066 which narrowly defeated Harold's Saxon army in battle at Senlach (to the Saxons), which the Normans corrupted to 'sang-lac', lake of blood.

With the Battle of Hastings won, for three months William faced off against the remaining Saxon forces under the leadership of Edgar the Atheling. Then the boy prince's support weakened as the nobles sought to secure their own shaky positions in the new world order. Edgar knelt in submission to William after the latter crossed the Thames, and William was crowned in Westminster Abbey in December 1066. Revolts continued in the north, the most memorable being that of Hereward the Wake. The last of the revolts ended in 1075-1076, when the execution of Waltheof of Northumberland finished the 'Revolt of the Earls'.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Mick Baker and Phil Tate, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from the Oxford Online Dictionary of National Biography, Barbara Yorke (2004), from The Earliest English Kings, D P Kirby (1992), from Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England, Barbara Yorke, from the Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales, John Marius Wilson (1870-1872), from A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons, Geoffrey Hindley (Constable & Robertson Ltd, 2006), from A History of Britain, Simon Schama (BBC Books, 2003), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia of Earth, and Anglo-Saxons: A Brief History (Historical Association), and Anglo-Saxon England (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Westminster Abbey.)

1066 - 1087

William I 'the Conqueror'

Duke of Normandy. Crowned, London, in Dec. Died 9 Sep.

1066 - 1068

FeatureThe last native British earl of Corniu (Cornwall) is deposed by William in 1066 as he tightens his grip on the newly-conquered country. At first, only the south can be considered as being securely held, and even then only after rebellions have been quelled, with castles being built in places like Okehampton (see feature link).

Normans
The Norman conquest of Britain owed much to good fortune, but once achieved it was enforced by military strength and a prolific castle-building programme

The Welsh princes, Blethyn and Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn of Gwynedd, Deheubarth, and Powys, resist the invaders as part of their supporting role for Harold Godwinson. They join Eadric the Wild of Mercia in an attack on Norman forces at Hereford in 1067, and Earl Edwin of Mercia with Earl Morcar of Northumbria in a further attack in 1068.

1070

Earl William FitzOsbern of Hereford invades the Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog and defeats 'three kings of South Wales', although none of these hail from Brycheiniog. However, 'King Bleddyn' of Brycheiniog is also defeated, by Bernard de Neufmarché (Newmark in its English form). It seems from claims which are made by Bernard in 1088 that he conquers the entire kingdom and sees it as his own domain (and he apparently goes on to slay Rhys ap Tewdwr Mawr of Deheubarth in 1093).

1086 - 1087

In the most memorable event of his reign after the conquest itself, William orders the creation of Domesday Book, a catalogue of all holdings in the country, so that he can accurately judge what he has won during his years of putting down constant rebellions and securing complete control of England.

Great Domesday Book
Domesday Book actually consists of two volumes, with the 'Great Domesday Book' being shown here, which provides an invaluable historical record of England's buildings and possessions in 1086-1087

1087 - 1100

William II 'Rufus'

Son. Died in a 'hunting accident'.

1090

Norman forces under Robert Fitzhamon, lord of Gloucester conquer the Welsh kingdoms of Gwent and Morgannwg, giving the Norman conquerors of England control of all of south-east Wales.

1093

Rhys ap Tewdwr Mawr of Deheubarth has been successful in fighting off several attempts to dethrone him, but now he dies in mysterious circumstances while resisting the expansion of Norman power in neighbouring Brycheiniog. Deheubarth has apparently been conquered, and is carved up between rival Norman lords into cantrefi or lordships.

1100 - 1135

Henry I 'Beauclerke'

Died 1 Dec, food poisoning, from 'a surfeit of lampreys'.

1113 - 1114

Gruffydd ap Rhys of Deheubarth returns from Ireland intent on reclaiming the throne of South Wales. Henry II sends orders to have him arrested but he finds refuge with Gruffydd ap Cynan in Gwynedd. Henry destroys the impending Welsh alliance by offering Gruffydd ap Cynan gifts of tribute-free lands.

Gruffydd ap Rhys and his brother flee to Ystrad Towy, from where they begin to attack Norman strongholds in Ceredigion and North Pembroke (the heartland of former Dyfed). Several castles are destroyed or severely damaged while England suffers from a plague and is unable to respond. Flemish mercenaries are offered lands in Wales, particularly in Pembroke, in return for stemming the advance, and Gruffydd is only able to restore a reduced Deheubarth, with the rest still being held by Norman lords.

Llanstephen Castle in Wales
The rough stone walls of Llanstephen Castle in the modern county of Carmarthenshire were put up by the Normans in order to solidify their gradual conquest of South Wales, but they didn't always command the castle - in 1146 it fell to Deheubarth

1120

William Adelin

Son. Died on the White Ship in 1120.

1119

FeatureHenry I defeats an invasion of his Norman lands by Louis VI of France at the Battle of Brémule. In the same year one of his knights in England, Robert de Crevecoeurm, erects a motte-and-bailey fort at Leeds in Kent to act as a Norman military post (see feature link).

c.1126

FeatureDividing control of his treasury from the other main duties in his court, Henry creates the position of 'Lord High Treasurer' in the early English Parliament. He also hands Rochester Castle to the new archbishop of Canterbury, William de Corbeil (see feature link).

1135

Upon the death of Henry I his only living legitimate child becomes de jure monarch as stipulated in his will. Matilda, the 'Lady of England' had in 1114 been married to Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, but when he had died in 1125 she had been recalled to England. In 1127 she had married Prince Geoffrey Plantagenet of Anjou and Maine in order to secure an heir.

Unfortunately, she is in Anjou when her father dies, and her quick-moving cousin secures the throne for himself with the support of the barons, who do not relish having an Anjou baron as their king. So begins a long civil war known as 'the Anarchy'.

Empress Matilda of England
Empress Matilda, widow of the former Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, was the daughter and chosen successor of Henry I of Normandy and England, but her throne was quickly usurped by her cousin, Stephen

1135

Matilda

Daughter of Henry I and heir, but usurped by Stephen.

1135 - 1141

Stephen

Nephew of Henry I. Usurper. Captured at the Battle of Lincoln.

1139

With Robert de Mowbray having been removed from his office as earl of Northumberland for rebelling against William Rufus in 1095, the title has been vacant ever since. Now King Stephen is pressured into appointing a new earl by David of Scotland. Henry of Scotland is selected for the position, signifying Scotland's strong role in the region at this time. He is also father to the future king of the Scots, Malcolm IV.

1141

Matilda

Declared queen at Winchester, but uncrowned. Withdrew.

1141 - 1148

Stephen is captured at the Battle of Lincoln in February 1141 and Empress Matilda is declared queen, or the 'Lady of England', at Winchester, with the support of Nigel, the deposed 'First Lord High Treasurer'. However, she alienates the citizens of London with her arrogant manner. She fails to secure her coronation, with the disaffected Londoners joining a renewed push from Stephen's queen so that the empress is placed under siege at Winchester.

Battle of Lincoln
The Battle of Lincoln in 1141 was a defeat for King Stephen when he was captured while fighting on foot - his axe shaft had splintered and he was struck by a stone (thrown, it seems, by the figure on the left), and he was immediately seized by his helmet - taken from Hutchinson's Story of the British Nations (about 1923)

Matilda manages to escape to the west but, while commanding her rearguard, her brother is captured by the enemy. Matilda is obliged to swap Stephen for Robert on 1 November 1141. Stephen re-imposes his authority. In 1148, after the death of her half-brother, Matilda finally returns to Normandy, leaving her son, Henry Plantagenet, to fight on in England.

1141 - 1154

Stephen

Restored. Exhausted by fighting, Adopted Henry Plantagenet.

1153

FeatureThe death of his eldest son, Eustace, knocks the fight out of Stephen, and he agrees to adopt Henry Plantagenet as his heir. The barons are very supportive of this scheme as it ends two decades of civil war. Stephen, suddenly feeling the full weight of his approximately fifty-eight years in age, dies the following year. He is buried in Faversham Abbey of St Saviour (see feature link), which he had founded in 1147, alongside the bodies of his wife and son. The Plantagenet dynasty now controls a still-very Franco-orientated English ruling class.