Monday, June 8, 2015
A Pair of Bookends in English History
From the mid-fifth century and for the two centuries that followed, the Anglo-Saxon “invasion” of England took place. The characterization as an “invasion” is rather questionable; typically “invaders” do not bring their families and children on the “invasion” with the intention of becoming permanent residents. Regardless, the “invasion” or the “migration” certainly took place, and the evidence thereof is retained in various place names throughout England. For example, Sussex was the land of the South Saxons just as Wessex was the land of the West Saxons. Over time, the culture of much of England became a melding of that of the original inhabitants, the Romans who occupied Britain for centuries and the Germanic roots of the Anglo-Saxons (and let’s not forget that as well the Jutes).
On this day, June 8, 793, another influence entered Britain. Clearly this was an invasion. On this day the Vikings raided the abbey at Lindisfarne in Northumbria, signaling the beginning of the Scandinavian/Viking invasions (and ultimate domination) of England. Over the next hundred years England would be invaded, from various directions and at various points, from the territories we today refer to as Norway and Denmark
Ultimately, most of England would become in various ways ruled by various Scandinavian kingdoms, culminating with Canute the Great (a/k/a Cnut, Knut) who would rule at an empire around the North Sea comprised of England, Denmark, Norway and portions of what is today Sweden. Again, the process that led to Canute’s kingship of England can be traced to that first Viking raid on Lindisfarne.
The second bookend happened this day in 1042 in which Harthacnut, grandson of Canute the Great and the King of England, would die after a bout of drinking (there is an alternative theory that he was poisoned). With him ended the reign of the kings who are more closely associated with the Scandinavian kingdoms than the traditional Anglo-Saxon population. Harthacnut would be succeeded by Edward the Confessor, who while distantly related to Canute was clearly Anglo-Saxon.