The Anglo-Saxons were the main inhabitants of Britain during the Middle Ages. The Saxons were a group of Germanic peoples who moved to the island of Britain during the fifth century, after the Roman Empire had left the island.
The Saxons were comprised of three main groups – the Saxons, the Angles, and the Jules. Over time, the Saxons and the Angles came to coexist, and the “Angles” became known as the “English.” This gave the island of Britain its new name of England.
When the Anglo-Saxons first took control of Britain, the island was split into many kingdoms. However, over time, certain kingdoms came to dominate, and the concept of a “high king” was born. The high king of Britain was the title given to the ruler of the island’s largest kingdom, and he held supreme authority over all other leaders.
This system of shifting power and governance was the basis for the political struggles of the early Middle Ages in Britain, which later gave way to the feudal system created by the Frankish Empire to the south.
Following the year 800 A.D., Anglo-Saxon Britain was subject to a great number of invasions, particularly from the Vikings to the north and Danish peoples to the south. These invasions were repelled easily at first, as the Anglo-Saxons were able to set up strong coastal defenses – however, over the years, these attacks sapped at the country’s resources.
Some Viking invaders managed to settle down in Anglo-Saxon Britain, which is why some British cities (e.g., York) have remnants Viking architecture in them. The Anglo-Saxon regime eventually fell in 1066 as a result of the Norman invasion from France.
The leader at the top of the Anglo-Saxon social hierarchy was the king. Second in power to the King were the country’s Thanes, who held influence over matters such as law, trade, and the succession of kings.
Below the thanes were the common folk – called churls at the time – and then the class of slaves whose labor built the country from nothing. As in many other mediaeval cultures, slaves were treated extremely poorly in Anglo-Saxon Britain, and did not have the right to work their way up the social hierarchy.
The churls of Anglo-Saxon Britain were like the peasants of other medieval countries. The churls worked predominantly as farmers, and grew food to supply both themselves and the ruling classes.
The main crops grown were wheat, barley, potatoes, carrots, and many other hardy vegetables which could survive the cooler climate of Britain. There wasn’t much entertainment available to the common class in Anglo-Saxon Britain. Parties were their main form of distraction – beer was commonly available, and drinking was the most common hobby of an Anglo-Saxon farmer.
Religion was very important in the lives of the Anglo-Saxon people. Though they were at first a pagan group, the Anglo-Saxons became Christians after the Pope sent an emissary to Britain in the year 579.
After this visit, the old pagan temples were torn down and new churches were built in their place. Christianity became the dominant religion of Britain, and eventually became so important to the country’s framework that the role of the king was seen to be a divine task.
The laws of Anglo Saxon Britain were more like those of ancient cultures than any other mediaeval nation. Crimes such as theft were punished by the loss of a hand, and the death penalty was doled out for crimes that were relatively minor in other parts of the continent.
The lawmen of Anglo-Saxon Britain were called the Shire’s Reeves – the country Britain was divided into “shires” at the time of Anglo-Saxon rule, which is where the name for the police force came from. The modern word sheriff comes from this name.
Although the Anglo-Saxons did not control Britain for a particularly long time, they left a great cultural legacy after them – including the language still spoken today, the name of the country, and the system of land boundary that has remained relatively untouched in the years since their departure.
While the Norman invasion of the 11th century gave birth to much of the country’s culture, the Anglo-Saxon rule set the foundation for that culture, and this foundation can be seen in Britain to this day.
– The Angles.
– 579 A.D.
– The thanes.