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The Anglo-Saxons

When the Romans left Britain in 409 A.D., the Romanised Celts were left on their own to defend the country from Germanic tribes that were raiding the island. Roman British towns were destroyed and Britain commenced a period of decay of trade and literacy. These invaders were illiterate and used runes to carve inscriptions on stone and metal but not to transcribe long writings. Thus, few records remain of the time. The main Germanic tribes invading England were the Angles, who settled in the east of Britain and in the north Midlands, the Jutes, who settled in Kent, and the Saxons, who settled in between. The name “England” derives from this period of invasions meaning “the land of the Angles”. The Celts, or Britons, moved to the west in what became known as “Wales” or “the land of the foreigners”, and to the lowlands of Scotland. With them, also Christianity was diminished as a monastic form in Wales and Scotland, and in Ireland.

The Anglo-Saxons established an Heptarchy of seven kingdoms: East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex, Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex. The last three kingdoms were the largest and in the 7th century had become the most powerful. The influence of these people can still be seen in the names of many towns and city. For example, Birmingham as “Ham” in the Anglo-Saxon language meant farm and Southampton as “–ton” meant settlement.
At the end of the 6th century the Pope Gregory I sent Augustine, a monk, to England to bring Christianity back in the country. Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury, in Kent, but he didn’t succeed in reaching the normal gents. The Roman Church became to spread over the country only after Celtic monks left the monasteries to bring Christianity back to the people and managed to convert first Northumbria and then other parts of England. The churches slowly became centers of culture and of communal importance. The Roman Church became also very important to the kings because the coronation of the new king was administered by a bishop assuming a great deal of legitimacy in a period when the succession of kings was not clearly ruled.
When the Vikings arrived from Norway and Denmark, they conquered many lands of East Anglia, Northumbria and Mercia. Some territories were won back by King Alfred the Great in 878, but the Vikings raids didn’t stop and in 950 they started westward. When King Ethelred decided to pay the Vikings to go away, the taxes increased and were known as “Danish money”. At the death of the king the Vikings were controlling large parts of England and their leader was made king in 1016 by the royal council that wanted to avoid turmoils. In 1042 Edward the Confessor, son of Ethelred, was made king and his successor, Harold II, was the last Anglo-Saxon King. He was in fact defeated during the battle of Hastings, after only 10 months of reign, by the Duke of Normandy who claimed the English throne.

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