~ the battle for England between Stephen of Blois and Matilda The Empress ~


30 June 2010

Setting the Scene: Background

The contents of this section of the blog:

• General Overview
• The Heptarchy - The Seven Kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England
• Edward and the Godwins
• Invasion and Conquest
• The Normans

• The Normans

Normandy is located in northern France along the English Channel between Picardy in the east and Brittany in the west. Its name is derived from the settlement and conquest of the territory by Vikings during the ninth century. The Vikings (men of the North) had so harried the French coast that the French King granted lands to their leader Rollo. The fiefdom of Normandy was created in exchange for his homage and fealty. In time these Northmen absorbed French culture and language, intermarried, and by the time of the Conquest were indeed Norman French.

The Dukes of Normandy commissioned and inspired epic literature to record and legitimise their rule. Wace, Orderic Vitalis, and Étienne of Rouen were among those who wrote in the service of the Dukes.

Duke William of Normandy was the illegitimate son of Duke Robert of Normandy and a tanner's daughter named Herleva (Arlette) hence the name derogatory name 'Bastard'. When William became king of England following the Battle of Hastings in 1066 Normandy and England were linked by Norman rulers for a century and a half until it to reverted to French rule during the reign of King John.

The Normans introduced into England their system of land tenure based upon military service. The word feudalism is derived from fee, an estate in land. However they kept the whole system of Saxon of local governance and the counties, sheriffs, and courts survived. In short, Norman and Saxon institutions were blended. The Normans were also great builders, in the round arched Romanesque style. Great castles, keeps, cathedrals, abbeys and monasteries flourished. Even the most modest churches were enriched with ornate carvings, stained glass and chevron and beakhead ornamentation.

Rouen: a city on the Seine River, about 70 miles northwest of Paris. The site of Rouen was originally settled by Celts and later by the Romans as Rotumagus. Its name was changed to Rouen during the Middle Ages. The city was held by the English from 1066 to 1204 and from 1419 to 1449. It is known as the Museum City because of its historical and architectural treasures.

Caen: located on the Orne River about 9 miles inland from the English Channel, Caen is a major port and trade centre for the surrounding agricultural region. Caen served as the capital of Normandy under William the Conqueror. It was captured by the English in 1346 and was ruled by them from 1417 to 1450. Historical landmarks include the eleventh century Abbaye-Aux-Hommes founded by William the Conqueror, the Abbaye-Aux-Dames founded in 1066 by William's wife Matilda, and the Church of Saint-Pierre.

Bayeux: home to the famous Bayeux Tapestry, an eleventh century embroidery, which details the Norman Conquest of Britain, probably commissioned by Bishop Odo, Duke William's half brother, for his cathedral.

• The Gesta Normannorum Ducum:
One of the most important sources for the history of Normandy and England in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It contains the earliest prose account of the Norman Conquest and was written by a succession of authors including William of Jumieges, who wrote for William the Conqueror, and later historians such as Orderic Vitalis d. c.1142 and Robert of Torigni d.1186:

The Gesta Normannorum Ducum

• Norman Conquests in other Lands

Coin of Roger I, Norman conqueror of Sicily

Besides the conquest of England the Normans expanded into other areas, perhaps most significantly Sicily. The sons of Tancred of Hauteville - William Iron Arm, Drogo of Hauteville, Humphrey of Hauteville, Robert Guiscard and Roger the Great conquered the Emirate of Sicily and additional territories in Southern Italy and carved out a place for themselves and their descendants in the Crusader States of Asia Minor and the Holy Land. Norman families, such as that of Tancred's, played important roles in the Crusades.

The 14th century Norman explorer Jean de Béthencourt established a kingdom on the Canary Islands. He received the title King of the Canary Islands but recognized Henry III of Castile as his overlord.

This post concludes section 2. Setting the Scene: Background

Setting the Scene: Background

• Invasion and Conquest

Harold may have been Edward the Confessor's brother in law but Duke William of Normandy was Edward's cousin and therefore with some claim to the throne. William also believed that a pact had been made, albeit a forced one from Harold's point of view, in 1064 in which William would become king of England and Harold would retain all of Wessex linked to the crown by marriage with his daughter. This story as well as the subsequent Battle of Hastings is told, from the Norman perspective of course, in the Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry is an eleventh century embroidery most likely commissioned by Bishop Odo, Duke William's half brother, for his cathedral.

William prepared to seize what he thought was rightfully his and Harold awaited his arrival with confidence. However, another invasion was being planned by Canute's successors in Norway. Harold's half brother Tostig had joined in a pact with King Harold Hardrada and, after gathering a large fleet and army, they sailed toward the northeast coast of England. This left Harold facing two invasions, one from the north and one from the south. When news reached Harold that Hardrada, Tostig, and their army were encamped in York he marched north to confront them and arrived within five days. On 25th September Harold's army met Tostig and Hardrada's forces in battle at Stamford Bridge and inflicted a resounding defeat on their army. Hardrada was killed in the first skirmish and Tostig took command. Harold offered
Tostig peace but he refused it and at the battle's end he too lay dead. With this victorious battle barely over Harold received the news that William had landed at Pevensey Bay on 28th September. William had secured the sanction of Pope Alexander II for a Norman invasion. The Norman conquest of England had begun.

Harold marched his army south and prepared to meet William's forces. At dawn on 14th October 1066 William set out to attack Harold's army and the Battle of Hastings began. By nightfall the last line of Saxon troops were broken by a feigned retreat of the mounted Normans, and Harold and his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine had been killed. A scene from the Tapestry depicts a Saxon, thought to be King Harold, pierced by an arrow through the eye.

William waited for two weeks for a formal surrender of the English throne. However, the Witan proclaimed the youthful fifteen year old Edgar Aetheling king instead. William marched to London but his initial advance was beaten back at London Bridge. He then decided on a new tactic which was to march westward and storm London from the northwest. He crossed the Thames at Wallingford, and in early December forced the surrender of Archbishop Stigand who was one of Edgar's main supporters. William pressed on relentlessly and reached Berkhamsted a few days later. It was here that Edgar Aetheling relinquished the crown and the Saxon noblemen surrendered. William was formally crowned on Christmas Day 1066 in Westminster Abbey by Archbishop Aldred.

• The Battle of Hastings:
An account of the battle by William of Malmesbury: The Battle of Hastings, 1066

• The Battle of Stamford Bridge:
An account of the battle from Norwegian sources - Theodricus Monachus: Battle of Stamford Bridge

• William, Duke of Normandy:
By William of Newburgh - Book 1: William, Duke of Normandy

29 June 2010

Setting the Scene: Background

• Edward and the Godwins

England had experienced a period of peace after the reconquest of the Danelaw in the mid tenth century by King Edgar. However from 980AD small companies of Danish adventurers carried out a series of coast line raids against England. Hampshire, Thanet, and Cheshire were attacked in 980AD, Devon and Cornwall in 981AD, Dorset in 982AD, and in 988AD a battle was fought between the Danish and the thegns of Devon.

The main historical importance of these events in this context is that they brought England into diplomatic contact with Normandy for the first time. The Danes would occasionally seek port in Normandy upon returning from a raid on England. As a result tension between the English and Norman courts grew, and when word of their enmity eventually reached Pope John XV he took steps to broker a peace between England and Normandy, which was ratified in Rouen in 991AD.

In the same year Edgar's 24 year old son, King Ethelred II, who would eventually marry Emma of Normandy in 1002, sat on England's throne and a sizable Danish fleet began a sustained campaign in the southeast of England. In the aftermath of The Battle of Maldon it was decided that the English should grant the tribute to the Danes and a gafol of 10,000 pounds was paid to them for their peace. It was a peace destined not to last and the raids would continue.

In 1016 England submitted to the Danish King Canute. He married Ethelred II's widow, Emma of Normandy, and by her had two sons who succeeded him after his death in 1035, namely Harold Harefoot 1035-1040 and Hardacanute 1040-1042.

Prominent among the nobles at this time was the Wessex earl, Godwin, who had already earned Edward's enmity when he captured his brother Alfred and had him blinded after an unsuccessful attempt by them to depose Harold Harefoot in 1036. The dynamic between Edward and the Godwin family would continue to dominate Edward's reign after his ascension to the English throne.

Edward was duly invited by the Witan to return to England in 1041 and according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was sworn in as king alongside his half brother Hardacanute. After his death in 1042 Edward became king and was crowned in April, 1043. However, having been raised and educated in Normandy during the twenty six years of Danish rule it would appear that Edward returned to England more Norman than English, bringing with him Norman friends and clergy which frustrated the both the English and Danish barons alike. He was supposedly monkish in his ideals and his chief interest was the Church. He married Edith the daughter of Godwin in 1045, moved the royal court from the walled city of London to his new Palace of Westminster, and set about founding Westminster Abbey. Meanwhile, despite a brief period in exile in 1051, the Godwin family maintained their powerful stranglehold over the affairs and crown of England. When Edward died childless in January 1066, the Witan elected Harold as his successor. Edward was canonised as a saint in 1161.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: The years 1052-1069

A Note about Emma of Normandy:
Emma born c.985 was the daughter of Richard the Fearless, Duke of Normandy and holds the distinction of being the wife of both Ethelred II the Unready and Danish King Canute. In addition to being Queen twice, two of her sons, one by each husband, Edward the Confessor and Hardacanute, and two stepsons, also by each husband, Harold Harefoot and Edmund II Ironside, became kings of England. Her great nephew William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy would become king of England in 1066.

In an interesting twist to her story, Emma did not support her son Edward when he became King of England on the death of Hardacanute. Stranger still perhaps, apparently in both her marriages she was known as or called Aelfgifu, firstly in deference to Ethelred's first wife Aelfgifu, and then in her marriage to Canute as Aelfgifu of Normandy. Emma died in 1052.

Encomium Emmae Reginae

The Encomium Emmae was written under her patronage. Interestingly, her marriage to Ethelred is not mentioned in this account but her marriage to Canute is.

Setting the Scene: Background

• The Heptarchy - The Seven Kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England

Wessex: Ancient kingdom of the West Saxons

From the sixth century Wessex was the kingdom of the West Saxons. At the beginning of the ninth century the king of Wessex, Egbert, subdued the Celts of Devon and Cornwall, defeated the Mercians in battle, and became Bretwalda, the high king of Britain. He had come to the throne in 802AD and decisively defeated King Beornwulf of Mercia at Ellendun in 825AD, seizing control of Sussex, Kent and Essex from the Mercians. He conquered Mercia in 829AD, forcing King Wiglaf into exile and he secured acknowledgment of his overlordship from the king of Northumbria. Wiglaf returned and restored Mercian independence in 830AD, but the expansion of Wessex across south eastern England became permanent.

Long settled as mostly farmers in the lands that their ancestors had invaded four centuries before, the Saxons were now called upon to repel another wave of invaders - the Vikings of Norway and Denmark. The raids had begun in the eighth century but by the middle of the ninth had become an invasion.

Danish Viking raids on Wessex occurred frequently from 835AD onwards and in 851AD a huge Danish army arrived in the Thames estuary. However they were decisively crushed by Egbert's son and successor King Aethelwulf in the Battle of Aclea, which postponed Danish conquests in England for a few years although raids on Wessex did continue. In 865AD another huge Danish army arrived in England, and in the following years the Danes over ran eastern England and Northumbria, and began to threaten the southwest.

In 871AD the Danes invaded Wessex, but were checked at Ashdown in the Berkshire Hills by Aethelred and Alfred of Wessex. The arrival of yet another Danish army compelled Alfred to pay the Danes to leave Wessex, but in 876AD they returned before finally withdrawing in 877AD. At the beginning of 878AD the Danes started a winter invasion of Wessex and took Alfred by surprise. They over ran much of the kingdom and Alfred took refuge with a small band of followers in the marshes of Somerset, but some months later he was able to gather an army and defeat the Danes at the Battle of Edington which brought about their final withdrawal from Wessex. Forced to come to terms, they would retire behind the line of Watling Street, into the Danelaw, and also accept Christianity.

This left Alfred as ruler of the south and west. From his capital in Winchester, he created an efficient army and built a fleet, organising his defences so that later Danish raiders were diverted to northern France. King Alfred the Great then turned his attention to reforming the administration of justice, rebuilding churches, founding schools for the sons of his noblemen which included bringing over foreign scholars, and began the compilation of the English Chronicle. With assistance from his scholars, he himself translated several books from Latin into English including Bede's Ecclesiastical History, and to his version of Gregory's Cura Pastoralis he added a preface describing the decay of learning. When Alfred died in 900AD the later part of the tenth century had become something of a golden age due in a large part to his work. The West Saxon dialect of this period became the standard written form of Old English for the rest of the Anglo-Saxon period and beyond.

Aethelflaed, the daughter of Alfred the Great, married Aethelred Ealdorman of Mercia and after his death in 911AD she ruled as ‘Lady of the Mercians’ until her death in 918AD. Meanwhile Alfred's son, Edward the Elder, was in possession of London, Oxford and their surrounding lands, which had been annexed from Mercia to Wessex. Between the years 913AD to 918AD Edward overwhelmed the Danes of Mercia and East Anglia, and brought all of England south of the Humber under his power. After Aethelflaed died Edward took over direct control of Mercia. By c.954 King Edred had conquered Northumbria, bringing the whole of England under one ruler. After the death of King Edred in 955AD, England was divided once more, with Edwig ruling in Wessex while Mercia passed to Edgar. However, when Edwig died in 959AD the whole of England came under Edgar's control. This unity was threatened once more when Ethelred II (The Unready) became king in 975/8AD. The kingdom fell into confusion and in 980AD the Danish renewed their attacks.

When Danish king Cnut came to power in 1016, he established earldoms based on the former kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia, and a few years later created an earldom of Wessex, which encompassed all of England south of the Thames and was governed by Earl Godwin. Godwin and then his son Harold became the most powerful men in English politics after the king. After the death of Edward the Confessor in 1066, Harold was elected king by the Witan which reunited the earldom of Wessex with the crown. Harold would be the last Anglo-Saxon King of England.

English administration (The Witan): the king was dependent upon the loyalty of his thegns, local landowners, and the bishops and ealdormen who composed his Witan.

• More about Wessex:

• Discover The Kingdom of Wessex
• Read about King Alfred the Great
• Explore Westminster Abbey

28 June 2010

Setting the Scene: Background

• The Heptarchy - The Seven Kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England

Mercia: Home of the Border People

The ancient kingdom of Mercia was centred on the Trent river valley and its tributaries in the region now known as the Midlands. The name is a Latin translation of the Old English Mierce or Merce, meaning "border people" or "boundary folk".

Although Mercia's beginnings are obscure archaeological surveys have shown that Angles had settled the lands north of the River Thames by the sixth century. The earliest known king of Mercia was Creoda who is said to have been the great grandson of Icel. He came to power around 584AD and built a fortress at Tamworth which became the seat of the Mercian kings.

It was pagan Mercian king Penda, 626/633-655AD, who freely allowed Christian missionaries from Lindisfarne into Mercia. After a reign of successful battles against all his opponents, Penda was defeated and killed at the Battle of Winwaed by the Northumbrian king Oswiu in 655AD. This battle led to a temporary collapse of Mercian power. After the murder of Penda's son Peada, Oswiu assumed control of the whole of Mercia. Another son of Penda, Wulfhere, 658-675AD, successfully restored the power of Mercia, and he ruled until 675AD, but the end of his reign saw defeat against Northumbria.

The next important king of Mercia was Aethelbald 716-757AD who, because of his prowess as a military leader, acquired the title of Bretwalda. At the beginning of his reign he had to face two strong rival kings, Wihtred of Kent and Ine of Wessex. But when Wihtred died in 725AD and Ine abdicated his throne the next year to become a monk in Rome, Aethelbald was free to establish Mercia's supremacy over the rest of the Anglo-Saxons south of the Humber. After Aethelbald was murdered by one of his bodyguards in 757AD a civil war followed which came to an end with the victory of Offa who went on became the one of the greatest kings of Mercia. He won battles and dominated southern England, and took an active part in administering the affairs of his kingdom. He founded market towns and oversaw the first major issues of gold coins in Britain. He also assumed a role in the administration of the church in England and sponsored the archbishopric of Lichfield. Offa is also credited with the construction of Offa's Dyke which marked the border between Wales and Mercia. Offa died in 796AD.

In 868AD Viking invaders from Denmark occupied Nottingham. The last king of Mercia, Burgred, was ousted from his kingdom by Vikings in 874AD. In 886AD, the eastern part of the kingdom became part of the Danelaw and Mercia was reduced to its western portion only. The Danes appointed a Mercian thegn, Ceolwulf II, as king and the remaining independent part of Mercia was ruled by Earl Aethelred of Mercia 883-911AD.

Aethelred married Aethelflaed, the daughter of Alfred the Great of Wessex, and she gradually assumed power as Aethelred became increasingly ill. His illness may have been caused by wounds inflicted in battle against the Vikings at Tettenhall, where the last large Viking army to ravage England suffered defeat by the combined armies of Mercia and Wessex. In 911AD after Aethelred’s death, Aethelflaed gave Oxford and London together with the lands belonging both, to her brother Edward the Elder of Wessex as a token of loyalty. She then fortified Mercia's existing borders and in 917AD expelled the Danes from Derby, ruling alone as ‘Lady of the Mercians’ until her death in 918AD.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle details the end of Mercian independence following the death of Aethelflaed. Edward of Wessex took over the fortress at Tamworth and accepted the submission of all those who were settled in Mercia, both Danish and English. In 919AD Aelfwynn, Aethelred's daughter, was deprived of any authority in Mercia and was taken to Wessex. However references to Mercia continue in the annals during the reigns of Aethelstan and his successors. In 975AD King Edgar is described as 'friend of the West Saxons and protector of the Mercians'. A separate political existence from Wessex was restored in 1016, when the kingdom was divided between Cnut and Edmund Ironside, with Cnut taking Mercia. In 1017 Cnut awarded the governance of Mercia to Eadric Streona. Later earls such as Leofric, Aelfgar and Edwin, ruled over a territory that roughly corresponded to historical Mercia, and the Mercians as a peoples are last mentioned in the annal of 1049.

Gloucester is in the region of England known as the west counties and lies close to the Welsh border on the eastern bank of the River Severn. It is located approximately 32 miles northeast of Bristol and is sheltered by the Cotswolds to the east. The Forest of Dean and the Malvern Hills lie to the west and north west respectively.

Gloucester was founded in 48AD by the Romans as Glevum ie. the Roman municipality of Colonia Nervia Glevensium or Glevum. Parts of the walls can be traced and many coins have been found, although inscriptions are rare. It is mentioned in the Historia Brittonum that Vortigern's grandfather ruled Gloucester and, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Gloucester passed to the kingdom of Wessex after the Battle of Deorham in 577AD, until around 584AD when it came under the control of Mercia.

In 681AD Aethelred founded the abbey of St Peter and this combined with Gloucester's situation on a navigable river encouraged the growth of the town. Prior to the Norman Conquest of England Gloucester was a borough governed by a port reeve.

The first Earl of Gloucester, Godwin, was succeeded nearly a century later by Robert of Gloucester, an illegitimate son of King Henry I and a Welsh noblewomen. King Henry II granted the town its first charter in 1155. This gave the burgesses the same liberties as the citizens of London and Winchester, while the second charter of Henry II gave them freedom of passage on the River Severn. The first charter was confirmed by Richard I in 1194 and the privileges of the borough were greatly extended by the charter of King John in 1200. In 1483 Gloucester was made a county by King Richard III, and this charter was confirmed in 1489 and 1510. Gloucester also received charters of incorporation from Queen Elizabeth I and King James I.

• More about Mercia:

• Explore History of Mercia
• Discover Historic Gloucester
• Read Mercia: an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom in Europe by Michelle P. Brown and Carol Ann Farr

Setting the Scene: Background

• The Heptarchy - The Seven Kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England

Northumbria: Northern Kingdom of the Angles and home to the Vikings

Northumbria first came into being at the beginning of the seventh century when the two kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira were unified by Aethelfrith, King of Bernicia, who conquered Deira around c.604AD. He in turn was defeated and killed in battle c.616AD by Raedwald of East Anglia. Raedwald granted the rulership to Edwin, the son of a former king of Deira, who accepted Christianity in 627AD. Edwin conquered the Isle of Man and Gwynedd in northern Wales. He was subsequently defeated at the Battle of Hatfield Chase in 633AD by an alliance of the exiled king of Gwynedd, Cadwallon ap Cadfan and Penda, king of Mercia.

Northumbria was divided once more. Eanfrith, a son of Aethelfrith, took power in Bernicia while a cousin of Edwin, Osric, became king in Deira. After the death of Eanfrith, his brother Oswald come to power and expanded his kingdom. In 642AD Oswald was killed by the Mercians at the Battle of Maserfield, then in 655AD Penda launched a massive invasion of Northumbria. He was aided by the sub king of Deira, Aethelwald, but suffered a crushing defeat and death by Oswiu at the Battle of Winwaed. Oswiu gained supremacy over Mercia and became the most powerful king in England. However, after a successful revolt by Penda's son Wulfhere Northumbria lost control of Mercia in c.658AD.

In 685AD Northumbria's king Ecgfrith, son of Oswiu, suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Picts in the Battle of Nechtansmere. Ecgfrith was killed, and Northumbria's power in the north was weakened. The reign of Aldfrith, Ecgfrith's half brother and successor, was peaceful until his death in 704AD.

In 866/7AD Northumbria was conquered by Halfdan Ragnarsson and his brother Ivar the Boneless. Northumbria became the northern kingdom of the Danelaw. Viking rule brought lucrative trade to Northumbria and its capital York. Under the entry for the year 946AD, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that king Edred of Wessex "reduced all the land of Northumbria to his control; and the Scots granted him oaths that they would do all that he wanted." Here the historical accounts of Northumbria become confusing, but it seems that the kingdom was finally absorbed by Edred after the death of the last independent Northumbrian monarch in 954AD. From this time the Earl of Northumbria was the title given to Northumbria's Ealdorman or ruler until it was eventually dissolved into the earldoms of York and Northumberland in the early Anglo-Norman period.

York is a walled city, situated at the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss, which was founded by the Romans in 71AD and called Eboracum. After the Roman departure it was taken over by the Angles and renamed Eoforwic, then in 866/7AD the Vikings captured it and they renamed it Jórvík. After the Norman conquest the name York slowly evolved, and was first used in the thirteenth century. During the Middle Ages York grew into a major wool trading centre and as the ecclesiastical capital of the northern portion of England.

• More about York:

• Explore the History of York
• Discover Durham Cathedral

27 June 2010

Setting the Scene: Background

• The Heptarchy - The Seven Kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England

Sussex: Ancient kingdom of the South Saxons

The ancient kingdom of the South Saxons was established in the fifth century after the departure of the Romans. The area had been populated for many thousands of years before then and archaeological finds show that Mesolithic peoples had been in the area. Archaeological collections include a Neanderthal handaxe found at Hamsey near Lewes, primitive flint tools used in fishing and hunting, as well as evidence of woodland clearing. Neolithic tombs with some pottery and weapons have also been discovered and Bronze Age settlements and burial sites can be found in the area. Then the Celts arrived, and their hillforts and burial sites at places such as Cissbury and Devils Dyke show evidence of their settlement.

The first Roman invasion took place between 54-45BC leaving behind Roman coins, temples, and villas. It is a possibility that Cogidumnus became King (Rex) at the time of the second Roman invasion around 100AD. It was also at this time that many of the larger villas were built including Fishbourne and Southwick. Archaeological finds include coins and decorated pottery, and the remains of Roman roads include parts of those from Chichester to London and from Hastings northwards. Settlements also included ports such as Chichester and Portslade on the River Adur. After the Saxon attacks began forts were built around the southeast coast. In the area that would come to be known as Sussex they were Anderitum (Pevensey Castle) and Portus Adurni (Portchester Castle).

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the Saxons landed in 477AD in the west of the county and began to found the kingdom of the South Saxons under Aelle and his three sons. In 491AD they took the castle at Pevensey. According to Bede, Aelle became the first Bretwalda, or high king, but whatever the case he did become among one of the most prominent and influential of the contemporary Saxon chiefs. After his time however, the kingdom of Sussex gradually declined and fell under the domination of Wessex in 823AD. Archaeological finds include weapons, ornaments and vessels of various kinds, Saxon remains, and numerous cemeteries and scattered burial places along the south slopes of the Downs, including the cemetery on Highdown Hill. The Chanctonbury hoard of coins are among the most notable relics.

Sussex suffered constant raids by the Danes from 895AD and then after the rule of Canute, came under the power of the house of Godwin and then that of the Normans. In fact Norman influence had already been strong in Sussex before the Conquest. For example the estate of Bosham was held by a Norman chaplain to Edward the Confessor and the abbey of Fécamp had an interest in the harbours of Hastings, Rye, Winchelsea and Steyning.

William was very astute and placed the lands in Sussex in the hands of men such as William de Warenne, his son in law, who held Lewes, and Robert, Count of Mortain, his half brother, who held Pevensey. Hastings and Pevensey were on the most direct route to Normandy.

East and West Sussex:
The county of Sussex has been divided into East and West since the twelfth century. East Sussex shares it borders with Kent, Surrey, Brighton and Hove, and of course West Sussex. Its county town is Lewes which has a long history as a market town and gets its name from "Hlaew", which means "hill". Lewes was also the site of a mint in the early years after the Norman Conquest.

Battle is a small town in East Sussex, about 5 miles from Hastings, and the site of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Battle Abbey was founded by William the Conqueror as a penance and to commemorate the battle and was dedicated in 1095. The high altar of the Abbey church is said to be on the spot where Harold died.

Rye is a small hill top town in East Sussex, on the River Rother. It received its first town charter under the Normans and was fortified during the reign of King Stephen. Although not one of the original Cinque Ports, Rye had become one by the thirteenth century.

West Sussex which borders onto East Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey is very diverse and well known for its stately homes and castles such as Arundel Castle. Chichester is its county town and the county's highest point is Black Down at 919ft.

Lewes Castle:
Situated high above the valley of the River Ouse, on the edge of the South Downs, the Saxon town of Lewes boasts one of the best preserved castle barbicans in England. When William the Conqueror returned to Normandy in 1067 he made grants of land, including the town of Lewes, to one of his lords, William de Warenne. Within a few years he had built an unusual motte and bailey stronghold here, surrounded by defensive earthworks and a moat. Lewes Castle became his main residence, although he did build two other castles, one in Surrey and one in Norfolk. In 1075 the King appointed William de Warenne joint Chief Justiciar, and soon after that he became the first Earl of Surrey.

Arundel Castle:
Erected shortly after the Norman Conquest by Roger de Montgomery in 1067, Arundel Castle was to protect the gap that had been carved by the River Arun through the South Downs. A large castle, of traditional motte and bailey design, with the motte 70ft high and the baileys extending north and south when originally constructed. Original Sussex flintwork on the walls of the south front can still be seen. The inner gateway, built during the eleventh century, is one of the earliest parts to survive. During the twelfth century the Keep was constructed of Caen stone.

• More about Sussex:

• Discover Lewes Castle
• Explore Arundel Castle
• Visit the website South East England

Setting the Scene: Background

• The Heptarchy - The Seven Kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England

Kent: Home of the Jutes

Kent is reputedly the first Germanic kingdom of the English heptarchy. Following the exodus of the Roman legions what is now Kent grew out of a combination of Jute mercenaries from the continent and native Britons who, at this time, referred to the area as Ceint. The Jutish mercenaries, led by Hengist and Horsa, protected Britain from the Picts and Scots (Irish).

"Take my advice and you will never fear conquest from any man or any people, for my people are strong. I will invite my son and his cousin to fight against the Irish (the Scoti), for they are fine warriors." - Hengist, 5th century.

In the mid fifth century, Hengist married the British king Vortigern's daughter, Rowena, to secure the friendship between the Britons and the Jutes. As a bride gift, Vortigern granted the southeastern kingdom of Ceint to his Hengist and his brother. By the time Vortigern's son, Vortimer, came to power the Jutes were becoming demanding and their relationship with the Britons threatened. Vortimer's army engaged the Jutes in the Battles of Aylesthrep and Creganford, and the British civil war that ensued ultimately led to Kent becoming an entirely Jutish kingdom, and subsequently an Anglo-Saxon one. The Kentish coastline has been known as the Saxon Shore since the third century, and the Isle of Thanet, located on the Saxon Shore, was used by the Jutes as a base of operations.

At the end of the 6th century Pope Gregory send a monk, Augustine, to convert the English to Christianity. He landed in Kent in 597AD and converted King Ethelbert who founded of the See of Canterbury. His daughter (Saint) Ethelburga who died at Lyminge on the 8th September 647AD, was the first queen of Anglo-Saxon race to take the veil. Her relics were stored at the Collegiate Church at Canterbury until the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. Her grave and the ruins of the abbey can be found close to the modern church of St Mary’s and St Ethelburga’s, and a holy well named in her memory can still be seen on the village green.

The capital of Cantwarebyrig, which means 'fortress of the Men of Kent', modern day Canterbury, is located in Eastorege (Eastry), the 'eastern region'.

Kent is densely wooded and the earth is rich in clay, chalk, and coal. Its foremost rivers include the River Medway, which runs westward into the Thames, and the River Stour in the east. Fishing and farming are among Kent's traditional industries. However, while the beer brewing industry has been prominent in Kent and the countryside is dotted with oast houses, the hops/brewing trade has only existed in England since the sixteenth century. Kent is famously known as The Garden of England.

Dover Castle:
Standing proudly above the White Cliffs, Dover Castle as it appears today dates from the rebuilding work during the reign of Henry II 1154-1189 but the site has been of vital importance since the Iron Age. The first castle was probably an Anglo-Saxon fortress and, after the arrival of William the Conqueror, the existing fortifications were improved with the building of an earthwork castle. This Norman motte which supported the castle is today known as 'Castle Hill'. King Stephen 1135-1154, the last of the Norman kings of England, died at Dover Castle and he was interred at Faversham Abbey, also in Kent, alongside his wife, Matilda of Boulogne, and his son Eustace.

• More about Kent:

• Read about Historic Kent
• Check out the website Visit Kent
• View Dover Castle
• Explore a Kent Map

26 June 2010

Setting the Scene: Background

• The Heptarchy - The Seven Kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England

Essex: Ancient kingdom of the East Saxons

The name Essex derives from the East Seaxe or East Saxons. The Kingdom of Essex was traditionally founded by Aescwine in 527AD and occupied territory to the north of the River Thames and incorporated much of what would later become Middlesex and Hertfordshire. Later, its territory was restricted to lands east of the River Lea.

Archaeologists have discovered a Saxon hut built on the ruins of a Roman house dated to c.450AD in Colchester. In the autumn of 2003 an archaeological survey was carried out on a portion of land in Prittlewell, Southend-on-Sea. During the survey archaeologists uncovered a set of Saxon remains. Archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology Service excavated the site and discovered a seventh century chamber grave beneath a mound. The Prittlewell Chamber Tomb is a large burial chamber of approximately 4m square and 1.5m deep, that had timbered walls and a planked roof. The room was full of gold, silver, copper, and iron objects which include a Coptic bowl and flagon, a folding stool, three stave built tubs or buckets with iron bands, wooden drinking vessels, glass vessels, a sword, gold coins, a gold belt buckle, and a lyre. The discovery of golden foil crosses indicates that the inhabitant was probably an early Christian. Theories about occupant include that it is the burial chamber of one of the Kings of Essex possibly either Saebert who died in 616AD or the murdered Sigeberht II the Good who died in 653AD. They are two East Saxon Kings known to have converted to Christianity during this period. At the very least it appears that the occupant was a very wealthy and powerful person.

The links below provide detailed information about the site including an artist's reconstruction of the burial chamber:
Museum of London Archaeology Service
Southend Museum

Sigered of Essex was the last king of Essex from 798 to 825AD. In 812 he was reduced from king to duke by his Mercian overlords, and in 825 he finally ceded the Kingdom of Essex to Egbert of Wessex.

Saffron Walden:
A small market town in the north west of the county which is about 15 miles from Cambridge. Famous for the saffron crocus, it became an area for malt and barley. It is also home to the largest parish church in Essex, St Mary and the Virgin.

Waltham Abbey:
A market town about 15 miles north of London which lies between the River Lea in the west and Epping Forest in the east. It takes its name from Waltham Abbey, which was prominent in the early history of the town. The ancient parish covering Waltham Abbey was known as Waltham Holy Cross. The name Waltham derives from weald or wald "forest" and ham "homestead" or "enclosure". Legend has it that after his death at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, King Harold's body was brought to Waltham for burial near to the High Altar.

Epping Forest:
Epping Forest is an area of ancient woodland which lies on a ridge between the valley's of the rivers Lea and Roding.

A small market town involved in the wool trade and cloth industry situated at a ford of the River Blackwater on the Roman road of Stane Street between Colchester and Braintree. Roman coins dating from 31BC to 395AD have been found in the area and there is evidence of a Roman villa or settlement. Coggeshall became an early Saxon settlement and by the time of Domesday Book boasted "a mill; about 60 men with ploughs and horses, oxen and sheep; woodland with swine and a swineherd, four stocks of bees and one priest". Coggeshall Abbey, situated south of the town, was founded in 1140 by King Stephen and his Queen, Matilda of Boulogne.

Colchester is 56 miles northeast of London and is the largest settlement within the borough of Colchester. The Roman historian Tacitus mentions Colchester (Camulodunum) in The Annals of Imperial Rome, and as the oldest recorded Roman town, therefore lays claim to being the oldest town in Britain with the oldest recorded market. The name Colchester is from Old English. The Saxons called the town Colne ceaster. The tower of Holy Trinity Church is late Saxon work.

Vikings from East Anglia over ran Colchester and most of Essex in the late ninth century and the town remained in Viking hands until 917AD when it was besieged and recaptured by the army of Edward the Elder. (* The Danish invasion of East Anglia had begun in 865AD). In 931AD Aethelstan held a witenagemot at Colchester, followed by Edmund I in 940AD. The year 991AD saw the Battle of Maldon, the heroic yet doomed attempt of Byrhtnoth, ealdorman of Essex, to defend the coast of Essex against the Danes. A mint was established in Colchester during the reign of Aethelred II (978-1013 and 1014-1016).

Colchester, which was granted its first Royal Charter by King Richard I in 1189, has several notable medieval landmarks: Colchester Castle, an eleventh century Norman Keep which is built on top of the old Roman Temple, the surviving gateway of St John's Abbey and the ruins of St Botolph's Priory. In folk legend Helena, the daughter of Cole, married the Roman senator Constantius Chlorus, who had been sent by Rome as an ambassador and was named as Cole's successor. Helena's son became Emperor Constantine I. Helena was canonised as Saint Helena of Constantinople and is credited with finding the true cross and the remains of the Magi. She is now the patron saint of Colchester. This is recognised in the emblem of Colchester: a cross and three crowns.

The County's Coat of Arms consists of three Saxon seax daggers arranged on a red background. The county town is now Chelmsford, which was founded in 1199.

Hedingham Castle:
Hedingham Castle is one of the finest Norman keeps in England, besides White Tower in London. It was built in c.1140 by the de Vere family and the keep is remarkably well preserved. It retains all of its thick walls, although two of the corner turrets have disappeared. The Keep, which is faced with ashlar masonry, stands over 100ft high and rises to five stages. The Great Hall was located on the second floor. A spiral staircase remains in the northwest corner of the tower. Access is via a first storey doorway set in an arch with ornate chevron mouldings. Norman craftsmanship can be seen in the Banqueting Hall which has very distinctive moulding decorating the windows and arches and a minstrels gallery, tunnelled within the thickness of the walls, runs around the room some 12ft above floor level.

• More about Essex:

• View the Treasures of a Saxon King of Essex and his seventh century burial site.
• Visit Colchester Castle Museum and discover 2000 years of British history.
• For a comprehensive overview of Colchester and the town's history visit the website British History Online: A History of the County of Essex: Volume 9 - The Borough of Colchester

Setting the Scene: Background

• The Heptarchy - The Seven Kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England

East Anglia: Ancient home of the East Angles

East Anglia was once the ancient Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of the East Angles, named after the homeland of the Angles, Angeln in northern Germany. It was formed approximately in 520AD by merging the North and the South Folk. They were Angles who had settled in the former lands of the Iceni during the previous century. The kingdom came to include the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, and parts of Lincolnshire. After the marriage of the East Anglian princess Etheldreda (Saint Etheldreda, often called Audrey), the third daughter of the Christian King Anna, the Isle of Ely also became part of the kingdom.

For a brief period East Anglia was the most powerful of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms following a victory over the rival kingdom of Northumbria in the year 616AD, and King Raedwald was Bretwalda, overlord or high king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms 616-624AD. However, over the next forty years East Anglia was defeated by the Mercian’s twice.

In 794AD, Offa of Mercia had its king, Aethelberht, killed and took control of the kingdom himself, and the independence of the East Anglians wasn’t restored until a successful rebellion against Mercia in 825–827AD. Two Mercian kings were killed attempting to crush it.

On 20th November 870AD the Danes killed King Edmund and took the kingdom, which they named East Anglia. The Saxons retook the area in 920AD, only to lose it again in 1015–1017, when it was conquered by Canute the Great and given as a fiefdom to Thorkell the Tall, who was made Jarl of East Anglia in 1017.

Much of the area is characterised by its flatness, partly consisting of fenland, bog and reclaimed marshland, and some gently rolling hills. The land is fertile however, and farming and horticulture have been very successful. The main towns include Norwich, Ipswich, Ely, Peterborough, Huntingdon and Cambridge. Bury St Edmunds is named for East Anglian King Edmund.

Under the Roman Empire, the area around Ipswich formed an important route inland to rural towns and settlements via the Orwell and Gipping. A large Roman fort, part of the coast defences of Britain, stood at Felixstowe and the largest villa in Suffolk stood at Castle Hill, in northwest Ipswich.

In Anglo-Saxon times Ipswich was the main centre between York and London for North Sea trade to Scandinavia and the Rhine. It served the Kingdom of East Anglia, and began developing in the time of King Raedwald. The famous ship burial and treasure at nearby Sutton Hoo could possibly be his grave.

The seventh century town which was called 'Gippeswick' was centred near the quay. Frisian potters from the Netherlands area settled in Ipswich in approximately 700AD and set up the first large scale potteries in England since Roman times. This industry was unique to Ipswich for 200 years and their wares were traded right across England. Ipswich grew prosperous and in about 720AD a new part of the town was laid out in the Buttermarket area. Parts of the ancient road plan still survive in its modern streets.

Ipswich operated a Mint under royal licence from King Edgar in the 970's, which continued through the Norman era until the time of King John about 1215. It was he who granted the town its first charter in 1200.

Sudbury is a small, ancient market town in Suffolk on the River Stour, approximately 15 miles from Colchester and 60 miles from London. Sudbury’s earliest mention is in 799AD when Aelfhun, Bishop of Dunwich, died in the town. The town is also mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as a market town.

The weaving and silk industries prospered for centuries during the Late Middle Ages and Sudbury prospered too. Many great houses and churches were built and The Woolsack in the House of Lords was originally stuffed with wool from the Sudbury area, a sign of both the importance of the wool industry and of the wealth of the donors.

Bury St Edmunds:
Bury St Edmunds is an ancient market town in Suffolk and one of the royal towns of the Saxons. In approximately 633AD Sigebert, King of the East Angles, founded a monastery here. The abbey became the burial place of King Edmund who was killed by the Danes in 869AD. It has also been stated that in 1214 the barons of England met in the Abbey Church and swore to force King John to accept the Charter of Liberties. This document influenced the creation of the Magna Carta. Parliaments were held in Bury St Edmunds in 1272, 1296 and 1446.

• The Fens:
The Fens
The Fens Waterways

• Archaeological Treasures of East Anglia:

Mildenhall Treasure:
The Mildenhall Treasure is a major hoard of 34 Roman silver objects found in the Mildenhall area of Suffolk.
Touring Britannia - The Mildenhall Treasure
The Mildenhall Treasure
The Great Dish
Mildenhall Treasure

Thetford Treasure:
The Thetford treasure artifacts include an engraved gem, a belt buckle and silver spoons.
The Thetford Treasure
Objects from the Thetford Treasure

Sutton Hoo:
The well known Sutton Hoo site contains a wealth of outstanding artifacts which are of great archaeological and historical significance, including an undisturbed ship burial. The site is located near Woodbridge, approximately 9 miles northeast of Ipswich, in Suffolk.
The Sutton Hoo Society
The National Trust - Sutton Hoo

• More about East Anglia:

• Find out more about East Anglia - Towns and Villages
• Check out the website East of England
• Explore a map of East Anglia at Pictures of England

• Resources - Books: Medieval East Anglia Edited by Christopher Harper-Bill

25 June 2010

Setting the Scene: Background

• General Overview

The withdrawal of the Roman Legions in around c.410AD to defend their frontiers in continental Europe as their Empire declined signalled the end Roman domination of the island and the leaving of Britannia to her fate.

Following the Roman retreat Britain was left vulnerable to invasion by pagan seafaring warriors known as Saxons and Angles, and by 441AD the mass migration from Germany had begun.

The Angles and Saxons were Teutonic tribes who lived between the mouth of the Rhine and Denmark. During the course of the 5th century they advanced from the east to west of England, up rivers and along the Roman roads slaughtering and enslaving the native Britons. In c.500AD Ambrosius Aurelianus, a romanised Celt, checked the invaders at the Battle of Badon, somewhere in either Dorset or Wiltshire.

However the 6th century ultimately saw the consolidation and settlement of the English. Reliable contemporary accounts from this period are scarce, giving rise to its description as a Dark Age.

By the 7th century seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms known as the Heptarchy had emerged in England. They were: East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex, Northumbria, Mercia, and Wessex. The title Bretwalda, the high king of Britain, changed depending upon which leader of the seven kingdoms was the most powerful and influential at a given time.


Dawn, 14th October 1066: After news reached the King that William had landed at Pevensey Bay, Harold and his sadly depleted housecarls raced south to meet William ... In the early morning light, the magnificent destriers grow restless, alert that something was afoot, men quietly slipped into their hauberks and gathered their weapons ... At the first streak of dawn on 14th October William set out to attack Harold's forces ...

Normandy, 25th November 1120: Fifty four years after the Conquest of England the White Ship disaster of 1120 in which another William, this one the heir of Henry I, died would sow the seeds of the troubled period of English history known as The Anarchy ...

The aim of this blog is take the reader through the events of the reign of King Stephen, the last of the Norman Kings who ruled England 1135-54 and the struggles between him and the forces of Matilda, The Empress, the daughter of Henry I and his heir to the throne.

It begins with background information on the formation of the English kingdoms during the Saxon era, then moves onto its unification under the House of Wessex, and eventual invasion by William the Conqueror. A brief account of the life and times of the last Saxon king Harold, William the Conqueror, and William II is given, followed by a look at Henry I in whose reign the seeds of The Anarchy were sown.

Biographies of all the main players beginning with Stephen, Matilda, and Robert of Gloucester among many others will be posted, and posts about daily life in Medieval England and information about Arms, Amour, and Anglo-Norman warfare will also be included to assist the reader to form a complete picture of this era and as a general interest. The blog then gives a detailed account of the reign of King Stephen. Hopefully there will also be some fun posts such as a couple of quizzes for the reader to test out their knowledge and an image gallery of pics to view along the way!