anglo saxon history


The York Anglo-Saxon Helmet, The Riverside Arts Centre Museum, Nottingham, 6.1.18.

Created around 750 to 775 CE, this Anglo-Saxon helmet is inscribed with Latin across the top and features the name of the helmet’s owner ‘Oshere’ above the nose guard. It is likely that the translation reads ‘Warrior of the Royal House of Os’, linking it to a royal family in northern England.


Is byþ oferceald, ungemetum slidor, glisnaþ glæshluttur, gimmum gelicust, flor forste geworuht, fæger ansyne
Ice is very cold, and immeasurably slippery, it glitters, clear as glass, very like jewels. a floor, wrought by frost, fair to behold.

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ijsselmeer area, the netherlands


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 7th-century Sutton Hoo ship burial was discovered in July 1939, on the eve of the Second World War.

One of the most important discoveries from Anglo-Saxon England, the undisturbed burial produced many significant objects. Examples of exquisite craftsmanship like these stunning gold cloisonné accessories show how advanced Anglo-Saxon metalwork was by this time.

The nobility of your forbears magnified you, O Edith,
And you, a king’s bride, magnify your forbears.
Much beauty and much wisdom were yours
And also probity together with sobriety.
You teach the stars, measuring, arithmetic, the art of the lyre,
The ways of learning and grammar.
An understanding of rhetoric allowed you to pour out speeches,
And moral rectitude informs your tongue
– Godfrey of Cambrai, prior of Winchester Cathedral (1082-1107)

Edith of Wessex was born c. 1025, the eldest daughter of Godwin, Earl of Wessex, and his wife Gytha. Her family was a formidable one: Godwin was one of the most powerful men in England, while Gytha was the sister-in-law of Cnut.

She was raised at Wilton Abbey, which she later had rebuilt as a sign of gratitude. There she learned Latin, French, Danish, and some Irish as well as grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic, weaving, embroidery, and astronomy. There is little else we know about her early life apart from her education, but she seems to have been especially close to her brother Tostig.

Edith’s father, Godwin, had a troubled relationship with King Edward the Confessor because Edward believed that Godwin was responsible for the death of his brother. Even so, Godwin was the most powerful man in England and Edward needed his support, and so married Edith at Godwin’s behest on 23 January 1045.

The relationship does not seem to have been a particularly romantic one. They were 20 or so years apart in age and he disliked her family, but all the same she had some influence and it was said that she always advised Edward wisely, and did a lot to improve his kingly image.

In 1051, Godwin and Edward’s relationship significantly deteriorated. Rather than risk arrest, Godwin fled the country with his sons. Edith was sent to a nunnery and all her lands confiscated, perhaps because he didn’t like her, thought they had little hope of conceiving together and wished to remarry, or simply wanted to get revenge on her father. The next year Godwin returned to England and civil war looked likely, but Edward lacked support and was forced to restore Godwin’s lands to him and reinstate Edith as Queen.

Though the two were still unable to have children (probably not because Edward had taken a vow of chastity, as is often said), Edith’s influence as Queen grew, as is shown by the increase in the amount of charters she witnessed, and she joined the circle of Edward’s most trusted advisers. 

In 1055, Edith’s brother, Tostig, became Earl of Northumbria but his rule was hugely unpopular and 10 years later the local Northumbrian population rebelled, killing Tostig’s officials and outlawing him, asking instead to be ruled by a member of the leading Mercian family. There is some evidence that many of the Northumbrian people viewed Edith as complicit in Tostig’s tyranny, and indeed it’s likely that she herself had one of Tostig’s political enemies assassinated. Finally, one of Edith’s other brothers, Harold was sent to deal with the matter. He agreed to the rebels demands, depriving Tostig of his earldom, and Tostig, who fled to Flanders, never forgave Harold, nor did Edith. 

On 5 January 1066, Edward the Confessor died, leaving Edith’s brother as King Harold II. The main chronicle on Edward’s reign, commissioned by Edith herself, actually attempts to discredit Harold’s claim, showing the extent of the rift between the siblings. Some historians, such as James Campbell, even believe that Edith was in personal danger from Harold, who wanted to placate the still restless Northumbrians by treating Edith harshly.

Harold successfully fought off Norwegian invaders that year at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, in which Tostig died fighting on the side of the Norwegians. Edith’s reaction is not recorded, but it is easy to imagine that she must have been heartbroken. Harold’s next major battle, the Battle of Hastings, was fought against William, Duke of Normandy. Harold and 2 of Edith’s other brothers died that day, and William was proclaimed King.

William sent men to Winchester to demand tribute from Queen Edith and she willingly complied. As a result, William allowed her to keep all her estates and income. Following this, Edith lived a comfortable life and when she died on 18 December 1075, she was recorded as the richest woman in England. She was laid to rest next to her husband in Winchester Cathedral and given a funeral befitting a queen. 

As with so many women in history, Edith is often overlooked, but we have much to thank her for. Because she commissioned the Vita Edwardi Regis, she is responsible for much of the information we have on this period, and art historian Carola Hicks even suggests that she commissioned the Bayeaux Tapestry. Regardless of whether this theory is true, Edith is a person worth remembering. She was strong, determined, and loving, though some of her more corrupt actions are utterly deplorable. Nonetheless, her influence and contribution to Edward the Confessor’s reign is not one that should be forgotten.

Thank you!

Great news! We have raised the funds to keep King Alfred’s Coins in the heart of the region in which it was discovered.

The Watlington hoard is the first large Viking hoard discovered in Oxfordshire & contains over 200 Anglo-Saxon coins.

We would like to thank everyone who donated to the campaign. Lead support was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, towards both the acquisition and to fund a range of educational and outreach activities. Thanks to a further major grant from Art Fund as well as contributions from the public and the Friends and Patrons of the Ashmolean, the Museum reached its fundraising target within days of the deadline.

“The Watlington Hoard is one of the most exciting and important acquisitions we have ever made, particularly significant because it was found in Oxfordshire. To be able to keep the hoard in the county and put it on display with the Ashmolean’s Anglo-Saxon collections, which include the world-famous Alfred Jewel, was an opportunity we could not miss.”
    – Dr Xa Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean

An Exceptional Discovery

In October 2015, metal detectorist James Mather discovered an important Viking hoard near Watlington in South Oxfordshire. It dates from the end of the 870s, a key moment in the struggle between Anglo-Saxons and Vikings for control of southern England.

The Watlington Hoard sheds new light on the conflict between Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, and on the relationship between the two great Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex.

The hoard contains over 200 Anglo-Saxon coins, including many examples of previously rare coins of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex (871–899) and his less well-known contemporary, King Ceolwulf II of Mercia (874–879). This is the first large Viking hoard discovered in Oxfordshire, which once lay on the border of Wessex and Mercia. The Watlington Hoard therefore has enormous relevance to our county. At the same time this is a find of truly national importance, providing a major new source of information about this tumultuous time in the history of our nation.

Princess Aethelflaed, of Mercia

Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, was born over 1100 years ago in dark-age England, an was the eldest daughter of Alfred, the first king of England. She eventually ruled Mercia in the English Midlands from 911 until her death. She was born around 870 in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex. The name Æthelflæd is old English an means ‘noble beauty’ ~ an its pronounced ‘ef-el-fled’

After the Battle of Edington in 878 the foundation of England was born, as the Wessex-controlled western half of Mercia came under the rule of Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, who accepted Alfred’s overlordship. In the mid-880s, Alfred sealed the strategic alliance between the surviving English kingdoms by marrying Æthelflæd to Æthelred. Æthelred and Æthelflæd fortified Worcester against vikings raids several battle.

After her husbands health declined early in the next decade, Æthelflæd was mainly responsible for the government of the Mercian kingdom. After Æthelred died in 911, Æthelflæd then ruled Mercia as Lady of the Mercians. The accession of a female ruler in Mercia is described by historians as “one of the most unique events in early early-medieval history”.

Alfred had built a network of fortified boroughs and in the 910s King Edward and Æthelflæd embarked on a programme of extending them. In 917 she sent an army to capture Derby, the first of the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw to fall to the English, a victory described by historians as “her greatest triumph”.

In 918 Leicester surrendered without a fight. Shortly afterwards the Viking leaders of York offered her their loyalty, but she died on 12 June 918 before she could take advantage of the offer, and a few months later Edward completed the conquest of Mercia. Æthelflæd was succeeded by her daughter Ælfwynn.

Historians agree that Æthelflæd was a great ruler who played an important part in the conquest of the Danelaw. She was praised by Anglo-Norman chroniclers such as William of Malmesbury, who described her as “a powerful accession, the delight of the kings subjects, the dread of his enemies, a woman of enlarged soul”. Like Queen Elizabeth I, she became a wonder to historians in later ages.

English actress Millie Brady plays her the historical tv-drama The Last Kingdom. However the characters her first appearance in this series was as an 8 yr old.

anonymous asked:

what would you recommend for someone trying to learn old english by themselves?

Ooh okay lots of things.

First, there’s an Old English Facebook group. Originally set up by a fellow at Oxford to correspond with his students, but now has thousands of members — just about anyone who knows the language or wants to learn. Join it, ask questions, go nuts. Nerds are at your beck & call. 

Book recommendations for learning the language:

A Guide to Old English by Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson. This is the book I use; it contains the texts that Oxford uses in its exams, and the first half of it is a very useful grammar. If you already have a very good grasp on English language and grammar, enjoy organisation in neat charts, and are willing to wade through tricky bits, then get this one. The selection of texts is also quite good, and Mitchell & Robinson have really, really helpful footnotes. Honestly, of the three first books on this list (which are all grammars/basic texts,) only get one (unless you want to go wild) and make it this one.

Introduction to Old English by Peter Baker. This is probably best if you’re really a beginner when it comes to just about everything. It includes a primer for the English language so it’s really starting from the ground up. Beware though, because his methods of pronunciation aren’t too widely accepted.

An Introduction to Old, Middle, and Early Modern English by Jeremy Smith. This is simpler, more concise, and useful because it runs into early modern — offers points for comparison. 

Teach Yourself Old English by Mark Atherton. Incidentally, this guy teaches me (I’m not biased though, promise!) but the book is good. Maybe gets a bit too much into the grammar sometimes (you may not particularly care) but the chapters are short and easily digestible, well organised, work in historical and cultural contexts nicely. Try to find, if you can, an edition that includes the CD (when I ordered it from Amazon, it didn’t. Maybe try the publisher. Or email Mark:

A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by J.R. Clark Hall. Essential, though not every word will be in here. (A lot of Old English poetry is invention, new compounds for the purposes of alliteration, etc.) 

The essay “Old English Literary Language“ by Malcolm Godden. Couldn’t find it online so the link is to my copy, which I uploaded to sendspace.

Book recommendations if you want to learn more than just the language (surely it’s for the purpose of reading the literature & understanding Anglo-Saxon history a bit better, right?):

The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millenium by Robert Lacey. Really lovely, very easy to read & extremely interesting, compact & easily digestible. Not to be missed.

Old and Middle English: An Anthology by Elaine Treharne. This is great because it includes all the major texts, it has short introductions at the beginning of each work presented, and it has the original on the left page with a translation on the right page. The only downside here is that there are a few unfortunate misprints in her edition, but you can easily look these up on google & pencil in changes to your edition.

The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation edited by Seamus Heaney, Greg Delanty, and Michael Matto. I just got this one & I’m loving it so far — pretty, very poetic (but still quite accurate!) translations of all the major works Treharne includes in her brick of an anthology, and by contemporary poets too — Eavan Boland! Seamus Heaney! Paul Muldoon! Very exciting.

Klaeber’s Beowulf by Fulk, Bjork, and Niles. Best edition by far, in my ever so humble opinion — notion supported by Andy Orchard, probably the best Old English scholar/lecturer at Oxford at the moment, because he uses this edition in his Beowulf lectures. 

Beowulf: A Student Edition by George Jack is good (well footnoted & researched), but my issue with it is that it doesn’t give you a translation, rendering it fairly useless to someone learning the language, unless you want to balance two books at the same time (the translation and the original text.)

Beowulf: Seamus Heaney’s edition with the original Old English on the left. (Links to a pdf.) Heaney’s edition is exactly what a first reader of Beowulf wants to go through before digging into the original Old English text — it’s readable, poetic, slightly modernised (the metaphors or expressions sound a bit less archaic; he incorporates some Irish language into it I think? I forget.) But after working with a more academic translation (e.g. one closer to the Old English) you start to see that Heaney takes a lot of liberties with the text and this can be good or bad, depending on your purposes. Annoying for someone who has to use a somewhat accurate translation in an essay, but probably rather pleasant for someone learning on their own.

Website recommendations:

Electronic edition of the Baker book (because the print edition is prohibitively expensive on Amazon)

Old English Aerobics

Old English at the University of Calgary (Prof. Murray McGillivray’s course online)

University of Texas – Old English Online

Resources for Old English classes at the University of Massachusetts

Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary

The New Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Old English quizlet (lots of words, if you’re into flashcards)

Benjamin Bagby’s performance of Beowulf video clips — search it on both YouTube and Google for the most results. Hugely helpful to learning how to pronounce words out loud, and also for seeing how it would have been performed in its original context. He’s so eccentric and theatrical it’s almost worth watching just to laugh at him.

Also just in general googling the poems you’re reading on YouTube; readings or performances will always come up.

Other book recommendations: Because poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins, Tennyson, Auden, Pound, Heaney, and Edwin Morgan were all influenced by Old English poetry & the influence shows in their work, you could do worse than supplementing your language study with any of these…

Okay so it’s 2:34 AM & I’m exhausted & I’m sure this is more than you’ll ever need. In the event it’s not, message me again & I’ll see what I can do! EDIT: Just noticed the language of this post is atrocious & often redundant, forgive me! Exhaustion takes its toll. Also if you’ve sent me book recommendation related asks recently, I *will* get to them, just be patient!