Since Monday was a holiday, and I didn’t do a Medieval Monday (and I’ve been busy this week), we’ll have a Medieval Mursday instead.
No One Ever Remembers the Jutes
After the Romans lost control of Britain in the mid-300’s, Germanic tribes—the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes—began to slowly take over the island, conquering, displacing, or assimilating the native Celtic peoples. By the 800’s Britain was divided—more or less—into Gaelic regions in Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland, and independent Anglo-Saxon regions, such as Northumbria, Mercia, Kent, East Anglia, Essex, Sussex and Wessex.
We Are All Britons
There’s a bit of disagreement about when England was actually unified into a single country, but Aethelstan seems to be the first true King of England. He was the King of Wessex (West Saxons) and conquered the Angle territory of Northumbria in 927, finally uniting the two people under one ruler. There was some gain and loss of territory for a few generations, but by the 950’s, England was permanently unified roughly within her modern borders.
The Danish Incident
In 1013, Sweyn Forkbeard, King of the Danes, put King Aethelred the Unready into flight and was crowned King of England. After some back and forth struggles—and three more Danish Kings—a native Saxon, Edward the Confessor, became king again.
What a Mess
Edward the Confessor failed to produce an heir. Worse, he wasn’t clear on who was to be his successor: his Saxon brother-in-law, Harold Godwinson, or his Norman cousin, William the Bastard. Also in play were Harold Hardrada and Sweyn II—both claimants through the Danish line—and Edgar the Aetheling, Edward’s grand-nephew (and strongest—but youngest—claimant to the title).
Harold Godwinson took the crown when Edward died in 1066, and he was immediately assaulted on two fronts. Hardrada landed in northern England and King Harold had to do a forced march to arrive in time. He defeated Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, but before his troops had time to recover, he received word that William the Bastard was in southern England. He ordered another forced march to meet William at Hastings, where he was killed.
The Bastard then became William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England.
Useless Trivia: Aethelred II has gone down in history as “the Unready”—and given that he lost England to the Danes, it seems an apt moniker—but it’s actually a mistranslation of Old English. “Redeless” actually means “bad counsel.”
Edward the Confessor began the building of Westminster Abbey, where he is interred.