anglo saxon king

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.

Hey Koizumi, I was wondering if you could explain why is Edward ‘Longshanks’ called “King Edward I” if he was actually the fourth King of England named “Edward”.

There are several reasons for this Hinata-kun. The short answer is that all previous “King Edwards of England” had reigned during the Anglo-Saxon period and by the time Longshanks had risen to the throne they were a distant memory. So there was a clear distinction between him and earlier Edwards. However this is only the beginning of a more clear anser. 

We need to remember that just because historians today are in general agreement and consistent when it comes to labels, that doesnt meant his was the case for then contemporary writers. Actually there are a few sources towards the end of King Edwards life that give him a regnal number but they mistakingly call him Edward the Third because they had overlooked the brief and unfortunate reign of the teenage king Edward the Martyr. For most of Edward I’s reign he was simply referred to as “King Edward” and if people felt the need to specify him it was usually as “King Edward, son of King Henry”.

The regnal numbering of “Edward the First” started to become popular in 14th century accounts. This is because by that point there had been two more King Edwards, namely the son of Longshanks and his grandson. Specifying which “Edward” one was talking about by identifying his father was no longer practical because you now have two kings who were “Edward, son of Edward”. Writers thus decided to specify them by “1st, 2nd and 3rd” and on occasion might add “Since the [Norman] Conquest” to specify they were not referring to the Anglo-Saxon kings 

You can sorta compare it to how he wouldve been unfamiliar with the modern names for his dynasty, Plantagenet. The word “Plantagenet” was only coined in reference to a dynasty in the 14th century and it was only during histories written during the Tudor period that you start to see it used more generally.

The other thing thats interesting about the name “King Edward” however is that its actually the only name that you see with both Anglo-Saxon kings as well as post-Conquest kings. Back in the 1200s the name “Edward” was seen as a rough Anglo-Saxon name and would be seen as somewhat alien the way names like “Æthelred” seem alien to modern English-speakers. But King Henry III was known to be a rather religious person and in particular was devoted to the saintly cult of his predecessor Edward the Confessor. He adopted Edward the Confessor as his patron saint and built shrines and churches in his name so naming his firstborn son after him was seen as yet another way for Henry to honor his favorite saint.  

Queen Margaret of Scotland (c. 1045 – 16 November 1093) also known as Margaret of Wessex and Saint Margaret of Scotland.

Granddaughter of King Edmund Ironside and grandniece of King Edward the Confessor, Margaret was well educated, mostly in Hungary, where her family was raised in exile during the rule of the Danish kings in England. As one of the last members of the Anglo-Saxon royal family, she was in danger after the Norman Conquest and took refuge at the court of Malcolm the Third, king of Scotland, made famous by Shakespeare in his play Macbeth. Intelligent, beautiful, and devout, Margaret married Malcolm in 1069 or 1070. Their union was exceptionally happy and fruitful for the Scottish nation, producing eight children. Two of her children, Alexander and David, became kings of Scotland. Through Margaret and her daughter Matilda English monarchs from the reign of Henry the Second to the present day can trace their ancestry to the pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon kings of England.

According to her biographer Turgot, prior of Durham and bishop of Saint Andrews, Margaret sought with considerable zeal to reform what she considered to be careless practices in the Church in Scotland, then at a low ebb in its ecclesial life. She insisted that the observance of Lent was to begin on Ash Wednesday, rather than on the following Monday. She further insisted that the Mass be celebrated according to the accepted Roman rite of the Church, and not in barbarous form and language. The Lord’s Day was to be a day when, she said, “we apply ourselves only to prayers”. She played a prominent role in the foundation of monasteries, churches, orphanages, and hostels for pilgrims. She and Malcolm together worked to rebuild the abbey of Iona, made famous centuries before by Columba and Aidan, and they had Dumfermline built to be a burial place for the Scottish royal family, like a Scottish Westminster Abbey.

Margaret’s private life was devoted to prayer and reading, lavish almsgiving (including the ransoming of Anglo-Saxon captives), and ecclesiastical needlework. She saw to the spiritual welfare of her large household, providing servants with opportunity for regular worship and prayer. Her influence over the king was considerable as he, strong-willed and initially rough in character, came through love for her to value what she valued. Turgot wrote that Malcolm saw “that Christ truly dwelt in her heart…what she rejected, he rejected…what she loved, he for love of her loved too.” Although he could not read, he liked to see the books she used at prayer and would have them embellished with gold and silver bindings. One such book thought to be hers, a pocket Gospel with fine portraits of the Evangelists, survives in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. A psalter at Edinburgh University Library may well have been hers, too.

Margaret lived just long enough to learn of the tragic deaths of her husband and one of their sons on a military expedition against the English king William Rufus, who had confiscated her father’s estates in England. Worn by her austerities and the rigors of childbearing, Margaret died on the sixteenth of November, 1093, at the age of forty-seven. She was buried beside Malcolm at Dunfermline, and her body was translated in 1250. At the Reformation, her body and Malcolm’s were translated to the Escorial in Madrid. Her work among the people and her reforms of the Church made her Scotland’s most beloved saint, and the Roman Catholic Church named her a patron of Scotland in 1673.

Pictured: St.Margaret of Scotland, stained glass, Holy Cross, Swainby, North Yorkshire

Cynethryth, Offa’s Mysterious Queen

Almost nothing is known of Cynethryth’s parentage or early life. She may have been descended from the seventh century King Penda of Mercia.The Vitae Duorum Offarum  claims that she was of Frankish origin. The Vitae Duorum Offarum also theorizes that Cynethryth was a Frankish woman condemned under the reign of Charlemagne to be set adrift in a boat on the open sea until she died of exposure. The boat, however, stranded her somewhere on the Welsh coast where she was found and taken to King Offa of the Mercians, who made her his bride. This rather fantastical origin story has no basis in fact, so it is likely that Cynethryth was simply a descendant of an Anglo Saxon King.

The date of Offa and Cynethryth’s marriage is unknown. Offa was a pious Christian king with big plans for the future of his reign. He saw himself as the English counterpart of Charlemagne and was ready to expand the borders of his kingdom. In order to secure his dynasty he needed to produce a son, but it was vital that any heir of Offa’s body be legitimate. Therefore, in keeping with the Christian values he wanted to instill in his kingdom, Offa married Cynethryth properly and publicly and kept a monogamous relationship. But it appears as though Cynethryth was not fully Queen until she bore a son. The birth of her first child, the future King Ecgfrith of Mercia around, gave Cynethryth new influence over her husband and the royal court. After about 770, Cynethryth appears on numerous charters as a witness and is sometimes listed as “Queen of the Mericans.” The cleric and scholar Alcuin of York praised Cynethryth for her piety and named her “controller of the royal household.” In a letter, Alcuin insinuates that Cynethryth does not often read correspondence because she is so preoccupied with affairs of state. This probably indicates that Cynethryth had a position of  considerable power in her husband’s reign. Cynethryth was immortalized during her husband’s reign by her image and name being used coinage. To this day she is the only known Anglo-Saxon queen to appear on a coin. 

Cynethryth bore at least one son and four known daughters to Offa. In 787, her son Ecgfrith was crowned and anointed as Offa’s official heir and co-ruler, in a tradition adopted from the Byzantine empire that was previously unseen in England. This may have occurred as a result of Cynethryth’s urging. Two of Cynethryth’s daughters, Eadburh and Ælfflæd  became queens of Wessex and Northumbria respectively. Cynethryth was an ambitious mother and at one point planned to marry off her son and one of her daughters to two of Charlemagne’s children.

It has been said that Cynethryth was responsible for the murder of Æthelberht  II of East Anglia, either by driving her husband to it or having her servants dispatch him. One version of the story claims that Offa was reluctant to kill Æthelberht despite his wife’s incitements, so Cynethryth committed the murder by her own hand. There is no evidence or possible motive for the murder, but the story likely began as an attempt to avoid laying blame on Offa. 

When Offa died in 796, he was immediately succeeded by his and Cynethryth’s son Ecgfrith. But Ecgfrith died of illness after reigning only 141 days with no children or brothers to succeed him. Cynethryth exchanged her royal life for a religious one and retired to the monastery at Cookham where she acted as abbess for the rest of her days. She was well enough in 798 to have some involvement in a land dispute with the Archbishop of Canterbury. After this she is no longer recorded. 
MS Roll 1066, Genealogical chronicle of the kings of England to Edward IV
University of Pennsylvania English Department PhD Candidate Marie Turner and Manuscripts Cataloger Amey Hutchins talk about University of Pennsylvania MS Rol...

One of our favorites, Manuscripts Cataloger Amey Hutchins with Marie Turner, once a student and now a graduate from the English Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Ms. Roll 1066 is a fantastic example of a genealogical chronicle, tracing the line of the English kings from Adam through King Arthur (yes!), the Anglo-Saxon kings, all the way to Edward IV (d. 1483). If you’ve wondered how people scrolled through a roll, forward to about 2:50 in the video - you’ll see that it really takes two people.

Did you know that regnal numbers only became a standardized way to specify English monarchs starting with William the Conqueror? Anglo-Saxon and Danish kings of England are instead specified with a title describing their personality or appearance such as King Æthelred the Unready or King Sweyn Forkbeard. “King Edward I” was actually the fourth King of England named “Edward”, he was just the first with that name since the Norman Conquest”.

Komaeda, I thought you specialized in American presidential trivia, not British royal trivia?

You’re right. Sorry about that. A worm like me should know its place. 

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…

Emma of Normandy - Twice a Queen

There is a tantalizingly small amount known of Emma’s early life. She was the daughter of Richard I “The Fearless” Duke of Normandy and his second wife Gunorra and was born between 985 and 990 A.D. Emma was married to the Anglo-Saxon King Aethelred “The Unready” of England in 1002 when she was probably in her early teens. This marriage was a decisive and desperate political move made by Aethelred. The reign of King Aethelred was plagued by war with the invading Vikings and, though he was forceful, Aethelred was branded “Æþelræd Unræd” or “Aethelred of Bad counsel.” The name quickly evolved to “Aethelred the Unready.” He married Emma because she was Norman, and therefore of Viking descent, as her great-grandfather was the Viking Rollo, founder of Normandy. 

Emma was around twenty years younger than her husband Aethelred, who already had ten children by his first wife, including several sons. Nevertheless, Emma produced three children: Edward (later Edward the Confessor), Alfred Aetheling, and Goda of England. The early years of Emma’s life in England can not have been peaceful for her. She was a Danish outsider who could not speak the old English language of her subjects, as far as some people were concerned. She was often caught between the English and Danish factions and was held somehow responsible for attacks carried out by Swein Forkbeard, the ruler of Viking occupied England. Out of this, Emma likely developed a sharp political mind. Soon the volatile political climate turned towards war. In 1109, Aethelred and Emma were preparing for a major battle with the Vikings and all able men in the country were called upon. But in 1011 Swein Forkbeard was victorious and moving dangerously far into southern England. 

Acting as a dutiful queen, Emma followed her husband’s lead and continued to hold court, but she convinced him to move the court to Kent. It was not long before Emma realized the end was near for Aethelred’s reign, even if he did not. She escaped to Normandy, humiliated by her husband, and had her children follow. Meanwhile, Swein and his sons Harold and Cnut established the first Viking dynasty in England. A year later Swein was dead and by 1016 Aethelred was as well, leaving Emma a widow. Emma knew her son Edward was unlikely to succeed his father, as her stepson Edmund Ironside was the obvious heir. She saw Edmund as a chance to save the fortunes of her children and herself and sought to stay in his favor in order to keep her own estates. But Edmund was soon dead. Swein was succeeded by his son Cnut, who would one day be known as “Cnut the Great.” When Cnut made it clear that he would have Emma as his queen it seemed her only safe option was to marry him. But Emma also had her own motives for doing so. She wanted to protect her own wealth, estates, and the Anglo-Saxon people she ruled over. Most importantly, marrying Cnut would save her three children by (ostensibly) neutralizing their claims to the throne. Emma married Cnut and became Queen of England for a second time under a completely new dynasty. She bore Cnut two children, a son called Harthacnut and a daughter called Gunhilda.  

As Cnut’s Queen, Emma took an active role in Church politics and was a patroness of many religious works. It is suggested in the Encomium Emmae Reginae  (written in praise of the Viking kings of England as well as of Emma) that Emma and Cnut did marry for political reasons, but that their union developed into one of real affection. Cnut died in 1035 and was succeeded by his and Emma’s son Harthacnut. In 1036, Emma’s sons Edward and Alfred returned from Normandy and soon afterwards Alfred was captured, blinded, and died as a result. Edward fled after this incident, perhaps to protect his own claim to the throne.

Emma was one of the main influences during the reign of Harthacnut. She also helped to engineer the joint reign between her sons Edward and Harthacnut and maintain peace between the Anglo Saxon and Viking factions.She may even have acted as a co-ruler. When Harthacnut died in 1042, Edward was left as the sole ruler of England. Emma died in 1052 and was buried in Winchester next to her second, and perhaps best loved, husband Cnut the Great and her son Harthacnut. Her influence is still felt in history through the prominence of her eldest son, Edward the Confessor, who may never have been king had Queen Emma not fought for herself and her children. She is the most visible of the early medieval queens and one of the first Queens of England to have a marked role in government.   

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


King Alfred the Great - Died today, 26th October in 899

An inscription on King Alfred the Great’s statue in Wantage (his birthplace in 849AD) reads:

Alfred Found Learning Dead,

and he restored it

Education Neglected,

and he revived it.

The Laws Powerless,

and he gave them force.

The Church Debased,

and he raised it.

The Land Ravaged by a Fearful Enemy,

from which he delivered it.

And the stunning “Alfred Jewel” with the inscription in Old English AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN - translated as “Alfred Ordered me to be Made”

Bottom: Folio from The Pastoral Care, translated into old English by Alfred, this is the oldest book in existence written in complete English..

Bertha - The First Christian Queen

When the Merovingian King Charibert I of Paris died in 567 A.D. he left behind a wife, Queen Ingoburga, and four young children. Among the small brood of royal children was Charibert’s youngest daughter Bertha. The exact date of the Frankish princess’ birth is unknown, but it is usually thought to be around 565, which would have made her a very young child at the time of her father’s death. Though her brutish father was the first Merovingian king to be excommunicated, Bertha was brought up in a Christian environment.

Around the year 580, Bertha was betrothed to King Æthelberht of Kent. One stipulation of the marriage was that Bertha be allowed to practice her own religion. This was an important condition, as Anglo-Saxon England was still a largely Pagan land in the sixth century, and Bertha was a devout Catholic. Æthelberht agreed to this and married Bertha, thus creating an alliance with the Franks. Bertha was the single force of unification between her home kingdom in Francia and her husband’s kingdom of Kent. An increase in trade and wealth soon followed. Along with political and economic gain, Bertha also brought her personal chaplain Liudhard to England. Bertha began the restoration of a church in Canterbury that had been in use during the Roman occupation of Britain and had fallen into disuse after the rise of the Anglo-Saxon kings. She dedicated her newly refurbished church to Saint Martin and used it as a private chapel. It is likely that Bertha exercised great influence over her husband in matters of faith and eventually convinced Æthelberht to convert to Christianity. It is not possible to pinpoint the date of Æthelberht’s conversion, however. In 596 Pope Gregory “The Great” sent a prior by the name of Augustine (later known as Saint Augustine of Canterbury) to Kent, accompanied by forty monks. Bertha received them warmly, despite her husband’s initial distrust of churchmen and perhaps of the Catholic Church in general. It would be generations before Christianity took a firm hold in England, but were it not for Bertha’s support of the early monastic settlements and Augustine’s mission at Canterbury, the faith may not have flourished as it did and English history would have taken a dramatically different course. Augustine would become the first Archbishop of Canterbury and established the bishoprics of London and Rochester.

Bertha and Æthelberht had two children, a son called Eadbald and a daughter called Æthelburg, who was also known by the nickname of “Tata.” Bertha’s son Eadbald would eventually rule jointly with his father and came to the throne after Æthelberht’s death as a pagan ruler, unlike his sister. Æthelburg was a Christian and oversaw the conversion of her husband, King Edwin of Northumbria, to Christianity, in a similar fashion to her mother. Bertha herself died sometime after 601. Her ultimate legacy would be that of the queen who triggered the conversion of England from Anglo-Saxon paganism to Roman Catholicism. She was venerated as a saint and is today commemorated by The Bertha Trail in Kent. Her private chapel of Saint Martin’s Church still stands today and is the oldest Christian church of the English speaking world.

An eighth-century coin of Offa, Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia, based on a gold dinar of the ‘Abbāsid caliph Al-Mansur struck in AD 773/4. Note, the obverse legend OFFA REX is upside down relative to the Arabic (British Museum).

In a slightly unexpected confluence of cultures, 8th century English coinage produced this hybridized coin mixing local and Arabic designs. Offa’s coinage is notable for at times following Roman models, with portraits known of himself and his wife, while also producing these fine gold pieces, imitating dinars. 

Offa’s kingdom was a large one, covering much of the modern territory of the midlands and Wales, and he consolidated his power at roughly the same time as Charlemagne was doing the same in Europe. By minting multiple types of coins, and coins that imitated the prevailing currencies abroad, Offa insured that his kingdom could participate in foreign trade. 


October 14th 1066: Battle of Hastings

On this day in 1066, the Normans, led by William the Conqueror, defeated the English forces at the Battle of Hastings. In January 1066, the childless King Edward the Confessor died, with Harold Godwinson named as his heir. However, across the seas in Normandy, Duke William was planning to invade England and claim the throne for himself. Despite having a relatively weak claim to the crown - his great-grandfather was the late Edward’s grandfather - William was determined to launch an assault on Harold’s forces to fulfil a promise Edward had supposedly made to make William his heir. Before this could be done, William needed the support of his nobles, who desired legal and spiritual justification for the potentially costly venture, and promised powerful barons land in his new kingdom. William was not the only contender for the throne, and Godwinson’s brother Tostig pledged his support to Norwegian king Harald Hardrada, and together they planned to invade Northumbria. William waited, hoping to use the Norwegian invasion as an opportunity to make landfall in the south of England while Harold was distracted in the north. On September 25th, the English forces defeated the Norwegians at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Willam siezed the moment, and landed on the southern coast of England, causing havoc in order to force Harold to face the invading Normans. On October 14th, the English and Norman forces met on the battlefield at Hastings, with Harold’s 5,000 weary Englishmen vastly outnumbered by the 15,000 Normans. The English defense was initially successful in holding off the Normans, but they soon crumbled. King Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, died in the fray, according to the Bayeux Tapestry from an arrow in the eye. William continued to face resistance from English forces, but by December his victory seemed assured, and William the Conquerer was crowned king of England on Christmas Day.

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.       

Today in history - The Battle of Hastings

King Harold II of England is defeated by the Norman forces of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, fought on Senlac Hill, seven miles from Hastings, England. At the end of the bloody, all-day battle, Harold was killed–shot in the eye with an arrow, according to legend–and his forces were destroyed. He was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England.

Just over two weeks before, William, the duke of Normandy, had invaded England, claiming his right to the English throne. In 1051, William is believed to have visited England and met with his cousin Edward the Confessor, the childless English king. According to Norman historians, Edward promised to make William his heir. On his deathbed, however, Edward granted the kingdom to Harold Godwine, head of the leading noble family in England and more powerful than the king himself. In January 1066, King Edward died, and Harold Godwine was proclaimed King Harold II. William immediately disputed his claim.

On September 28, 1066, William landed in England at Pevensey, on Britain’s southeast coast, with approximately 7,000 troops and cavalry. Seizing Pevensey, he then marched to Hastings, where he paused to organize his forces. On October 13, Harold arrived near Hastings with his army, and the next day William led his forces out to give battle.

After his victory at the Battle of Hastings, William marched on London and received the city’s submission. On Christmas Day, 1066, he was crowned the first Norman king of England, in Westminster Abbey, and the Anglo-Saxon phase of English history came to an end. French became the language of the king’s court and gradually blended with the Anglo-Saxon tongue to give birth to modern English. William I proved an effective king of England, and the “Domesday Book,” a great census of the lands and people of England, was among his notable achievements. Upon the death of William I in 1087, his son, William Rufus, became William II, the second Norman king of England.

On this day in history, 25th of April 1284, birth of Edward of Caernarfon, future Edward II in North Wales, Caernarfon Castle. Edward was the the forth son of Edward I and his queen Eleanor of Castile. The King probably deliberately chose the castle as the location for Edward’s birth, as it was an important symbolic location for the native Welsh, associated with Roman imperial history, and it formed the centre of the new royal administration of North Wales. Edward’s name was English in origin, linking him to the Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Confessor,and was chosen by his father instead of the more traditional Norman and Castilian names,selected for Edward’s brothers. Edward had three elder brothers: John and Henry who had died before Edward was born, and Alphonso,who died in August 1284, leaving Edward as the heir to the throne.After his birth, Edward was looked after by a wet-nurse, for a few months until she fell ill, when Alice de Leygrave became his foster mother. He would have barely known his natural mother Eleanor, who was in Gascony with his father during his earliest years.

Pictured: An illuminated detail from BL Royal MS 20 A ii, Chronicle of England [folio 10], showing Edward II receiving his crown, c.1307