Medieval Mursday: Make Haste to Hastings

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.

Reign of Terror: The first recorded Viking attack on English soil happened at the monastery at Lindisfarne in 793.

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

Click the picture for a larger image that you can read.

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.

Additional Reading:

The full Danish/English/Norman family tree
List of English Monarchs
Map of Anglo-Saxon England
History of Lindisfarne

5 comments on “Medieval Mursday: Make Haste to Hastings

  1. Wallace says:

    But you’ve left out my favorite invaders, the Frisians. Not much remembered today except for their bad hair…

    • Keri Peardon says:

      From what I read, it doesn’t look like the Frisians ever invaded England–at least not during or after the Anglo/Saxon/Jute/Dane invasions. However, I did find one website that said Frisians claim that the stone circles in Britain were made by their people, so it’s possible that they were part of the “native” Britons (which included Celts, Picts, and Scotee) who intermarried with the later Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Danes. That would explain why the Frisian language is the closest living language to English.

      (I say “native” because Celts were originally from Gaul and were, at some point, immigrants themselves. Of course, England being an island, everyone’s been an immigrant population at some point or other.)

      • Wallace says:

        There is some evidence that the Romans actually brought some Frisians into parts of England as a conquered people for resettlement in the 4th C. Later, during the 5th C. the land of Frisia turned swampy from rising sea levels and the Frisians migrated away from their homeland, most likely going to join their kin in Britain. This migration mostly depopulated all of Frisia, resulting in large resettlements in Britain, likely considered one of the first barbarian invasions of England after the Romans pulled out.

        A century or two after the original Frisians abandoned their soggy homeland, the climate changed, the land dried out, and the land of Frisia was then occupied by an expansion of the Angles and Saxons who became the latter day Frisians. When the Germanic invasions of England started, many of the ships set sail from Frisia because of its close proximity to England, resulting in a second wave of Frisian invaders, this time Anglo-Saxon Frisians.

  2. […] Medieval Mursday: Make Haste to Hastings « Keri M. Peardon […]

  3. gold account says:

    The Norman dynasty had been founded by Robert’s ancestor Rollo or Hrolf the Ganger , a Viking raider chief, who was granted the duchy by Charles the Simple, King of France, in 911, at the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, in exchange for feudal alliegiance and conversion to Christianity at which he took the baptismal name of Robert.

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