Anglo-Saxon is a relatively modern term. It describes settlers from the German regions of Angeln and Saxony, who settled in Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire in around AD 410.
In the early 5th century, the centre of the Roman empire began to crumble. Britain was considered no more than a low value far-flung outpost. As such, the Roman armies stationed here were recalled to Rome.
The withdrawal of the Romans left the Anglo-Saxon settlers as newly found masters in their own lands. They quickly set about replacing many of the Roman signatures. They replaced the Roman stone buildings with wooden ones, and spoke their own language – which gave rise to the English we speak today.
As the Romans recoiled, the Frisians and the Jutes from Denmark also began settling in areas of the British Isles.
The work of Saint Augustine in 597, and later Saint Chad in the early 670s helped to convert the country to Christianity.
The Anglo-Saxon period lasted for 600 years, from 410 to 1066. During the period, Britain’s political landscape changed dramatically.
The early settlers kept to their small tribal groups, and created kingdoms and sub-kingdoms. By the 9th century, the country was divided into four kingdoms – East Anglia, Wessex, Northumbria and Mercia. With four such power-hungry tribes, this was a period of deadly conflict. The kingdoms fought long and bloody battles to gain more power and more lands.
Indeed, this could shed light on why the Staffordshire Hoard was deposited in Staffordshire.
‘Superbly armed warriors fight and die on blood splattered battlefields. Their swords and battle finery are collected and stripped of their gold fittings. Gathered together with crosses and other fine objects they are buried on a hill top.’ But why?
- Who looted this treasure?
- Was it collected by the victors after one battle or several?
- How did all these pieces come to be buried together, and why?
Whatever led to the hoard being buried in Staffordshire, what we do know is that Wessex was the only kingdom to survive the Viking invasions. The Viking ruler of York, Eric Bloodaxe, was killed by the Wessex army in 954 and England was united under King Edred.
Most of what we know about the Anglo-Saxon period is taken from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Chronicle is a detailed account of the time. It describes the rise and fall of the kings and bishops of the time, as well as the many battles that took place. It starts with the story of Hengist and Horsa in AD 449.
After the death of Edward the Confessor, who had no heir, the Anglo-Saxon rule came to an end. It is rumoured that Edward gave the kingdom to William of Normandy, but also favoured Harold Godwinson as his successor.
Harold was crowned king after Edward’s death, but lost his crown shortly afterwards, when William invaded from France to claim the throne for himself. When Harold lost at the Battle of Hastings in October 1066, a new period began. Legend has it that Harold was shot through the eye with an arrow.
Although there was further English resistance, this battle is seen as the point at which Norman William gained control of England, becoming its first Norman ruler as King William I.