iPlayer Radio What's New?
Playing: Concerto no. 5 in A major K.219 for violin and orchestra by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Image for Vortigern

Listen now 15 mins

Listen in pop-out player


The Essay, Anglo-Saxon Portraits Episode 1 of 30

15 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 15 October 2012

Portraits of thirty ground-breaking Anglo-Saxon men and women.

The Anglo-Saxons are somewhat out of fashion, yet the half millennium between the creation of the English nation in around 550 and the Norman Conquest in 1066 was a formative one.

This major new series for BBC Radio 3 rediscovers the Anglo-Saxons through vivid portraits of thirty individuals.

Contributors include Nobel prize-winner Seamus Heaney on the Beowulf bard; departing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on the first Archbishop of Canterbury, St Augustine; writer David Almond on the oldest surviving English poet, Caedmon; Michael Wood on King Alfred; Martin Carver on Raedwald; Richard Gameson on Eadfrith the Scribe; Helena Hamerow on the peasant-farmer; Geoffrey Robertson QC on the law-makers.

1.Vortigern: Barry Cunliffe on the king whom history has often held responsible for inviting in the first Anglo-Saxons.

Vortigern is one of the few Britons known to us by name from the transitional period between the end of Roman rule in around 400 AD and the consolidation of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the early 6th Century.

He has traditionally had a bad press, having apparently invited in the legendary Anglo-Saxon brothers, Hengist and Horsa, hoping they would protect the country from barbarian attack. Of course his plan of containment failed. The rest is history.

But Barry Cunliffe, Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford, believes Vortigern has been unfairly demonised. Against a backdrop of fading Roman rule, papal attempts to enforce a single version of Christianity, and coastal raids by migrants from across the North Sea, he paints a vivid portrait of a dynamic and individualistic king battling against the odds as one era of British history drew to a close and another began.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.


Featured in...

  • Anglo-Saxon Portraits

    A series which rediscovers the Anglo-Saxons through vivid portraits of individuals.


  1. Image for BBC World War One

    BBC World War One

    BBC Radio brings you stories of the war that changed who we are, with documentaries exploring the…

  2. Image for Music and Culture of WW1

    Music and Culture of WW1

    Highlights of BBC Radio 3’s special programmes to mark the WW1 centenary. Classical music, art,…

  3. Image for Radio 3 Essay

    Radio 3 Essay

    Authored essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond,…

  4. Image for Spirit of Schubert

    Spirit of Schubert

    BBC Radio 3 tells you everything you need to know about Franz Schubert. These free downloads will…

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Added. Check out your playlist Dismiss