Primary History

Anglo-Saxons: What happened to them?

  • English and Vikings

    The English often called the Vikings "Danes" - though there were Swedish and Norwegian Vikings as well as Danish ones. Anglo-Saxon history tells of many Viking raids, from the time in 793 when Vikings attacked the monastery at Lindisfarne in Northumbria and killed many of the monks.

    After King Alfred led the fight against them in the 870s, some Vikings settled down to live peacefully. They had their own part of eastern England called the Danelaw. English and Danelaw Vikings became neighbours, though other Vikings went on raiding from the sea.

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  • Kings after Alfred the Great

    After Alfred, English kings gradually recaptured land from the Vikings. Alfred's son Edward won control of the Danelaw. Alfred's grandson Athelstan pushed English power north as far as Scotland. The most powerful Anglo-Saxon king was Edgar, who died in 975. Welsh and Scottish rulers obeyed him, and his court at Winchester was one of the most splendid in Europe. Anglo-Saxon England reached its peak during Edgar's reign.

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  • Vikings take the crown

    After King Edgar, things went downhill for the English kings. One not very good king was Ethelred the Unready (his name comes from an Old English word unraed, meaning "bad advice"). Ethelred tried to pay off invading Vikings with gold and land. It didn't work and he had to flee to France. After more fighting, a Dane called Cnut (Canute) became king of England in 1016.

    Cnut also ruled Denmark and Norway. He ruled well, but left much of the government in England to noblemen, now called "earls" (from the Danish word "jarl"). After Cnut died in 1035, two of his sons Harold and Harthacnut were each king in turn.

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  • King Edward and the earls

    In 1042 there was a new king of England. He was Edward, son of Ethelred the Unready. His mother, Queen Emma, was from Normandy, in France, and Edward spent most of his life in Normandy before becoming king. He was very religious and was called "Edward the Confessor" because he so often confessed his sins.

    Edward allowed the English earls, like Earl Godwin of Wessex, to become very strong. When Edward died in 1066, the English witan chose Godwin's son Harold as the next king.

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  • The Norman Conquest

    Harold had a rival. Duke William of Normandy said King Edward had promised that he would be the next king of England. William decided to invade England.

    In 1066, England was invaded twice. First, a Norwegian army led by Harald Hardrada landed in the north. Harold killed Hardrada in a battle at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire. Three days later William's Norman army landed in Sussex. Harold hurried south and the two armies fought the Battle of Hastings (14 October 1066). The Normans won, Harold was killed, and William became king. The story of how the Normans conquered England was told in the Bayeux Tapestry. The Anglo-Saxon period of English history was over.

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Fun Facts
  • Anglo-Saxon kings liked to collect "holy relics" such as the bones of old saints.

  • Ethelred the Unready handed over tons of gold, known as Danegeld, to the Vikings.

  • King Cnut is supposed to have commanded the sea to turn back. By getting his feet wet, he was showing people he had less power than God.

  • People in England saw a comet in 1066. Most thought it meant something bad was going to happen.

  • Edward the Confessor built Westminster Abbey in London. The new church was finished in 1065.

  • Anglo-Saxon politics could be vicious. When one of Queen Emma's sons came to England, he was attacked, blinded and then murdered - probably on the orders of Earl Godwin.

  • For a time York was a Viking town, called Jorvik.

  • William's army brought DIY wooden fort kits with them in their ships.

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Jump to: A-D | E-L | M-R | S-Z

A to D

ale
Drink made from barley.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
A history of England begun in the 800s.
archaeologist
A person who finds out about the past by looking at old objects or buildings that are buried under the ground.
barn
A farm building.
Bayeux Tapestry
An embroidery telling the story of the Norman Conquest in 1066.
Bede
An English monk and historian. He lived from about 673 to 735.
Beowulf
A long poem about a hero, probably made up before AD 800, and written down later.
brooch
Ornament used to fasten clothing.
capital
The main town or centre of government of a country.
Celts
People in Britain before the Romans invaded in AD43.
Charlemagne
King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor.
charm
A magical object or words, to protect a person from harm.
Christian
A person who follows the religion taught by Jesus Christ.
conquer
To beat an enemy and control them using force.
court
The place where a king meets his followers and gives commands.
cremate
To burn a dead body to ashes.

E to L

evidence
Objects and facts that give clues as to what happened long ago.
freeman
A person who was not a slave and owned land.
Hadrian's Wall
Wall marking the northern frontier of Roman Britain.
historian
A person who studies the past.
hearth
A fireplace, usually in the middle of a house, and with no chimney.
influence
The effect of a person or things on another.
invaders
People who attack and try to take over land from other people.
Latin
Language of the Romans.
longship
Viking ship with a sail and oars.
loom
Machine for weaving cloth.
lyre
A small harp played at Anglo-Saxon feasts.

M to R

mail shirt
Armour made from chain mail, worn on the upper body.
monastery
The building where monks live.
monk
A male member of a religious group, living, praying and working together and following a set of rules.
nun
A female member of a religious group, living, praying and working together and following a set of rules.
oxen
Strong cattle used to pull carts and ploughs.
pagan
A person who worships many gods.
Picts
People who lived in Scotland at the time of Roman Britain.
Pope
Head of the Roman Catholic Church.
potter
Person who makes pots, jars and bowls from clay.
raider
An enemy who attacks and then goes away.
rank
Status or position in society.
Reconstruct
To rebuild something as it was.
riddle
A puzzle based on playing with words.
Romans
People who ruled an empire 2,000 years ago
runes
The letters of the Anglo-Saxon alphabet.

S to Z

Scots
People in Scotland; they called themselves Gaels - 'Scots' was a name the Romans gave them.
settlement
A place where people make their homes.
slave
A person who is not free but is owned and made to work by another.
smith
A worker who makes things from metal, usually iron.
strip fields
Long narrow ploughed fields.
Sutton Hoo
Site in Suffolk, England, of a king's ship-burial.
thane
An Anglo-Saxon nobleman who owned land.
thatch
A roof covered in straw or reeds.
tribe
A group of people who share a common background and culture.
Vikings
People from Scandinavia who were fighters, sea-travellers, traders and farmers.
walled
Having a defensive wall or wooden barrier around it, such as a walled town.
warrior
A person trained to fight in battle.
weaving
Making cloth.
well
A hole dug to supply drinking water to a settlement or house.
Wergild
Money paid to a murdered Anglo-Saxon's family by the murderer.
will
A document setting out how a person wants their possessions shared out after death.