anglo saxon england

Æthelflæd,  England’s Founding Mother

Born around 870, in the midst of the Viking invasion of Anglo-Saxon Britain, Æthelflæd was the eldest child of King Alfred “The Great” of Wessex and his wife Ealhswith. The young Æthelflæd would have spent most of her childhood witnessing her father’s long campaigns against the Danes. Alfred eventually succeeded in forcing the Vikings out of Wessex and Mercia, and back into the kingdom of East Anglia, which would be known as The Danelaw. 

As the eldest daughter of a powerful Anglo-Saxon king, Æthelflæd would have expected to be married to another equally powerful ruler. But as the daughter of Alfred the Great, she was also destined for greatness. Æthelflæd was wed to Aethelred, King of Mercia, in around 886. She bore only one known child, a daughter called Ælfwynn. Æthelflæd and Aethelred are known to have acted jointly when they fortified the city of Worcester and issued charters. Æthelflæd and her husband became the guardians of her nephew, her brother Edward’s son, the future king Æthelstan. Young Æthelstan likely came to live in his aunt and uncle’s court in order to learn the ways of kingship and combat from their example. Aunt Æthelflæd proved an ideal teacher.

After King Alfred’s death and her brother’s succession to the throne of Wessex as King Edward the Elder, Æthelflæd’s husband fell ill and later died. Once Aethelred’s health began to decline, Æthelflæd took his place as ruler of Mercia. She became known as Myrcna hlædige, or “Lady of the Mercians.”  Though she lost some of her territory in return for her brother Edward acknowledging her as the rightful ruler of Mercia, Æthelflæd was a force to be reckoned with. She joined with her brother in an effort to expel the Vikings and take back the Danelaw. Æthelflæd and her army were responsible for the capture of the city of Derby, the first of the five boroughs of the Danelaw to fall to her forces. She later took Leicester as well. By the end of 917 the East Anglian Danes had submitted to Edward and Æthelflæd. In 918 many of the leading men around York promised to pledge their loyalty to Æthelflæd, but she died on June 12 before she could accept them. 

Queen Æthelflæd has been all but lost to modern popular history, though a statue of her was erected in Tamworth, the location of her death. She is overlooked between two kings, her father Alfred and brother Edward. Though her daughter Ælfwynn ruled Mercia after her death, she was deposed and the kingdom was taken by Edward the Elder. Æthelflæd’s legacy rests with her nephew, King Æthelstan. Æthelstan, the boy who received an education in ruling from Æthelflæd, would be the first king to rule a united England and call himself King of the English. A feat which could not have been accomplished without the unification set in motion by Æthelflæd.       

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Arguably the greatest Anglo-Saxon scholar, perhaps in all the early middle ages.

Entrusted into the care of Bishop Benedict Biscop at the age of 7.  In about 692 when 19 years old, he was ordained a deacon by his diocesan bishop, John, who was bishop of Hexham.  In his 30th year, about 702 he was ordained a priest, again by Bishop John.  He continued to write and teach for the rest of his life, completing more than 40 books on subjects ranging from scripture, history and science.

He dies on the 26th may 735 and was buried at Jarrow, in the 11th century his remains were transferred to Durham Cathedral.

Above are two folios from a manuscript (Cotton MS Tiberius C.II)  containing his great work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum)  This manuscript was likely made within a few decades of his death in 735.  Final image is his tomb in Durham Cathedral

The Milton Brooch, Anglo-Saxon, 7th Century AD

The Milton Jewel is one of the finest examples of Anglo-Saxon brooches of the period, with a sophisticated design carried out in a combination of materials.The use of cloisons inlaid with garnet, filigree knot work decoration on gold sheet and shell bosses are typical of this type. The brooch was found in 1832 in a cemetery at Milton, west of Dorchester-on-Thames. There is another similar brooch in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, which was found nearby.

On this day in 871 the Battle of Marton takes place.

Æthelred of Wessex was forced (along with his brother Alfred) into retreat following their pyrrhic victory against an army of Danish invaders at the Battle of Ashdown . The King had retreated to Basing in Hampshire, where he was again forced to battle, but this time defeated by the Great Heathen Army under the command of Ivar the Boneless.

It was the last of eight battles known to be fought by Æthelred against the Danes that year, and the defeated King is reported to have died on 15 April 871. Whether he died in battle, or as a result of wounds suffered in battle, is unclear. The site of the battle is unknown. Suggestions include Marden in Wiltshire or Martin in Dorset. The more westerly locations tend to be favoured because King Ethelred was buried in Wimborne Minster in Dorset shortly afterwards.

On the death of his brother, Alfred, succeeded to the throne of Wessex and inherited the burden of its defence. This was in despite of the fact that Æthelred left two under-age sons, Æthelhelm and Æthelwold. This was in accordance with the agreement that Æthelred and Alfred had made earlier that year in an assembly at Swinbeorg. The brothers had agreed that whichever of them outlived the other would inherit the personal property of their father, King Æthelwulf.

Many of the Anglo-Saxon kings subsequently began to capitulate to the Viking demands, and handed over land to the invading Norse settlers. In 876, the Northumbrian monarch Healfdene gave up his lands to them, and in the next four years they gained further land in the kingdoms of Mercia and East Anglia as well. King Alfred continued his conflict with the invading forces, but was driven back into Somerset in the south-west of his kingdom in 878.

Here the fugitive King was forced to take refuge and, among the marches of Athelney, Alfred had his rendezvous with fate, or, more precisely, some cakes…

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West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village, Suffolk, England

via Amethinah on Flickr

“West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village is both an archaeological site and an open-air museum. Evidence for intermittent human habitation at the site stretches from the Mesolithic through the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Romano-British period, but it is best known for the small village that existed on the site between the mid-5th century and the early 7th century CE, during the early Anglo-Saxon period. During this time, around 70 sunken-featured buildings were constructed on the site.”

I truly enjoy learning about sites such as these. I find them to be a pleasant and eye-opening way to show how life was in some corner of our past. I particularly enjoy discovering about such a site because it truly gives a small window - although not a perfect one - on the ways of life from before our time.

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The York Helmet from the 9th Century on display at the Yorkshire Museum

This type of helmet is one of the few surviving examples in Europe. It is thought to be made for a member of Eoforwic’s Anglian royal family. The mans name, Oshere, is inscribed above the intricately-cast nose guard. On the writing reads “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and God; and to all we say amen Oshere”

The helmet was found carefully buried in a wood-lined pit in Coppergate and is thought to be buried by the man himself perhaps after he retired.

England Across 2000 Years

6 maps that reflect political change, starting off with the very 1st map…

In 325 B.C a Greek explorer called Pytheas became the first person to map-out a distant an mysterious island, that he called Brettaniai, while in modern times its called Britain. From the ancient map above, the English part of Britain is shown for comparison to the newer maps below. This ancient map manages to show both the isles of Mann an Wight, plus the peninsula of south-west England. Upon the map is written the Brythonic Celt tribes that were also discovered.

The status in 150 A.D after a century of Roman rule. Hadrians wall is shown built in the north, thus creating what would later be named Scotland & England, by splitting the native Celtic people.

From roughly 500 to 878 A.D, England was fragmented into 7 Kingdoms. Each independent and at peace with their neighbours. Thus a feudal system existed.

After the Viking invasion wars ended in 878, the Danelaw became a segregated middle kingdom - but only until 927, as by then north & south England unified.

After the Northmen takeover, the new monarchy created the Doomsday book in 1086, from which the above population statistics are represented graphically.

By 1889, the medieval counties had been re-organised to reflect post-industrial society. Some of their boundaries were later redrawn the late 20th century. England is currently organised like as above, with elected politicians representing various districts within each country.

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Ring of Æthelwulf, Anglo-Saxon, AD 828-858

Gold nielloed mitre-shaped ring, decorated with peacocks, crosses, rosettes, foliage and a tree. Found in a cart rut in Laverstock, Wiltshire, England.

Æthelwulf was the King of Wessex (r. AD 836-858) and was the father of Alfred the Great. The ring, a particularly ambitious piece, was not the king’s personal ring, but was presumably given as a gift or as a mark of royal office. Its fine Trewhiddle-style ornament would certainly fit a mid ninth-century date.

Weyland brushed aside the furs hanging over the doorway to find his wife stretched out on the bed, her hands resting on her stomach and a smile on her face.

He stopped and clasped his hands behind his back. “Have you been waiting for me?”

She laughed and stood up, gesturing for him to come closer. “Truly, I’ve been waiting all week.  But I did not want to take you away from your family at this time. How is your uncle?”

“Not well. And my cousin Saewulf’s youthful insolence doesn’t help. But his sister is a sweet girl who is always trying to relieve the strain on their mother. Though, never mind them for a moment - my family is here, with you and our children.”

She smiled. “And our family is growing once again.”

Today marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Stamford Bridge, fought on the 25th of September 1066. It is seen by many as the ‘End of the Viking Age’.

On that day, the Norwegian king Harald Hadråda was slain by the Saxon army of Harold Godwinson. Yet, the most remarkable warrior of the battlefield remains unnamed. According to the Saxons, a single warrior defended a bridge over the river Derwent, giving the rest of the Norse army time to arm themselves. (It was an exceptional hot day, so the Vikings did not wear their mails or hauberks, which was a heavy disadvantage when they where attacked by surprise.) It is said that that one man held the entire Saxon army back for over half an hour by defending that choke-point. He did not stop until a soldier with a pike swam under the bridge and stabbed him with from below. 

This painting is an interpretation of the battle by Peter Nicolai Arbo, painted in 1870.

Anglo-Saxon Cat Comb

Walrus ivory comb, double-edged, fine teeth on one side, coarse on the other. Carved with pair of cat-like animals and a serpent. Late Anglo-Saxon, 10th/11th century. British Museum Registration number: 1957,1002.1

Decorated wtih cats, that is.  I don’t think anyone actually used this on their cats.  Good luck with that.  

Saint Margaret of Scotland (c. 1045 – 16 November 1093), also known as Margaret of Wessex and Queen Margaret of Scotland, was an English princess of the House of Wessex. Born in exile in Hungary, she was the sister of Edgar Ætheling, the short-ruling and uncrowned Anglo-Saxon King of England. Margaret and her family returned to England in 1057, but fled to the Kingdom of Scotland following the Norman conquest of England of 1066. Around 1070 Margaret married Malcolm III of Scotland, becoming his queen consort. She was a pious woman, and among many charitable works, she established a ferry across the Firth of Forth for pilgrims travelling to Dunfermline Abbey, which gave the towns of South Queensferry and North Queensferry their names. Margaret was the mother of three kings of Scotland and a queen consort of England. According to the Life of Saint Margaret, attributed to Turgot of Durham, she died at Edinburgh Castle in 1093, just days after receiving the news of her husband’s death in battle. In 1250 she was canonised by Pope Innocent IV, and her remains were reinterred in a shrine at Dunfermline Abbey. Her relics were dispersed after the Scottish Reformation and subsequently lost.

The marriage of Malcolm and Margaret took place some time before the end of 1070. Margaret and Malcolm had eight children, six sons and two daughters. Margaret’s biographer Turgot, Bishop of St. Andrews, credits her with having a civilizing influence on her husband Malcolm by reading him stories from the Bible. She instigated religious reform, striving to make the worship and practices of the Church in Scotland conform to those of Rome. This she did with the inspiration and guidance of Lanfranc, the future Archbishop of Canterbury. She also worked to bring the Scottish Church practice in line with that of the continental church of her childhood. Due to these achievements, she was considered an exemplar of the “just ruler”, and influenced her husband and children - especially her youngest son, later David I - to be just and holy rulers.

The chroniclers all agree in depicting Queen Margaret as a strong, pure, noble character, who had very great influence over her husband, and through him over Scottish history, especially in it ecclesiastical aspects. Her religion, which was genuine and intense, was of the newest Roman style; and to her are attributed a number of reforms by which the Church of Scotland was considerably modified from the insular and primitive type which down to her time it had exhibited. Among those expressly mentioned are a change in the manner of observing Lent, which thenceforward began as elsewhere on Ash Wednesday and not as previously on the following Monday.

She attended to charitable works, serving orphans and the poor every day before she ate, and washing the feet of the poor in imitation of Christ. She rose at midnight every night to attend church services. She invited the Benedictine order to establish a monastery at Dunfermline in Fife in 1072, and established ferries at Queensferry and North Berwick to assist pilgrims journeying from south of the Firth of Forth to St. Andrews in Fife. Amongst her other deeds, Margaret also instigated the restoration of the monastery at Iona. She is also known to have been an intercessor for the release of fellow English exiles, forced into serfdom by the conquest.

In her private life, Margaret was as devout as she was in her public duties. She spent much of her time in prayer, devotional reading, and ecclesiastical embroidery. This appears to have had a considerable effect on the more uncouth Malcolm who could not read; he so admired her devotion that he had her books decorated in gold and silver. Malcolm seems to have been largely ignorant of the long-term effects of Margaret’s endeavours, not being especially religious himself. He was content for her to pursue her reforms as she wished, a testament to the strength and affection inherent in their marriage.

Her husband, Malcolm III, and their eldest son, Edward, were killed in a fight against the English at the Battle of Alnwick on 13 November 1093. Her son Edgar was left with the task of telling his mother of their deaths. Margaret was not yet fifty, but a life of constant austerity and fasting had taken their toll. Already ill, Margaret died on 16 November 1093, three days after the deaths of her husband and eldest son. She was buried in Dunfermline Abbey.

Saint Margaret was canonised in 1250 by Pope Innocent IV in recognition of her personal holiness, fidelity to the Church, work for religious reform, and charity.


Margaret of Scotland + bright colours