The Anglo Saxons were a group of Germanic peoples who settled in the Great Britain region during the 5th century. As the hold of the Roman Empire over Britain eroded, Anglo-Saxons asserted an increasingly greater control over the British Isles and eventually, controlled the entire territory. Their reign continued from the 5th century until the 11th century when William led a Norman conquest of England.
Anglo Saxons effectively laid the foundations of England, established Christianity as the religion of the country and began the earliest forms of government under Anglo Saxon kings. Their impact on the entire region of Britain was decisive since they absorbed later invaders such as Normans into their own culture and traditions.
Anglo Saxons began migrating from northern Europe to the British regions in early 5th century as the pressure of new invaders from Eastern Europe regions forced Germanic tribes to move on. The local Celtic Britons sought their help in guarding their territories against the neighbouring Picts and Scoti peoples.
Anglo Saxons fought off these threats but by the mid-5th century, they had significant control over the territories of the Britons. They settled in Britain in huge numbers and by the 6th century, the local Britons had become absorbed in the vast, new populations and military might of Anglo-Saxons. Anglo-Saxons mostly settled in the southern and eastern regions of Britain.
Initially, leading Anglo-Saxon families settled down on their own respective territories and lived independently. This led to the development of smaller kingdoms which, over time, merged into larger kingdoms. A decisive moment in the development of the Anglo-Saxon society in Britain came when Christianity became influential in regions of Scotland, Ireland and portions of England in late 6th century.
Soon, the Anglo Saxon King of Kent converted to Christianity. This was soon followed by the acceptance of Christianity by other Anglo Saxon kings, effectively establishing monasteries and bringing the religion into the mainstream of society.
By late 8th century, Anglo Saxon tribes had developed into sizable kingdoms all over England. Of these, that of Wessex was the most powerful and became the focal point of the might of West Saxon regions. The Wessex kings included some notable rulers such as King Alfred The Great.
By the conclusion of the century, the affluence of Wessex kings and their Christian monasteries attracted the attention of Danes and Norwegians who began ravaging the coastal regions of England. The first major attack of the kind came in 793, effectively marking the beginning of the Viking Age and the lasting impact it was to have on the Anglo-Saxon England.
The initial raids of the Vikings were limited to coastal regions and were meant to find enough booty for plunder. Over the course of the 9th century, Vikings started ranging farther inland, so much so that they were able to gain effective control of several Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. By mid-9th century, Viking raiders started quitting the raid-and-return lifestyle and began settling in the area of Mercia.
Alfred offered stiff opposition to the Vikings and it was only in late 9th century that he was able to mitigate the Danish threat by building many fortifications and propelling the growth of Anglo-Saxon culture which gave the local population a better sense of identity. However, Danes conquered England despite the best efforts of Anglo Saxons in early 11th century and subdued most of the Anglo Saxon aristocracy.
The Anglo-Saxons were able to resume the throne of England in 1042 under Edward The Confessor. By this time, the regions of Mercia and Wessex had become powerful entities of the kingdom, having bestowed significant power under recent Danish kings. As a result, despite the return of an Anglo-Saxon king, the aristocracy of England grew more independent and powerful, effectively opposing the king on many matters.
This was the state of affairs when William The Conqueror of Normandy landed in England with a large force in 1066 and defeated the last Anglo-Saxon king, Harold, and slayed him at the Battle of Hastings. This marked the effective end of Anglo-Saxon era of England and ushered in the Norman era. Most of the Anglo Saxon nobility fled England and was replaced by a new Norman nobility.
Old English was a language that developed among the Anglo Saxons and was spoken by them from 5th century to 12th century when a new form of it, Middle English, developed. This language which had Germanic roots gave the Anglo Saxons a vital cultural tool. A rich body of literature existed in Old English, comprising of epic poetry, legal documents, chronicles of monks and royal personnel, sermons and Biblical literature rendered by the monks and other pieces of text.
Riddles were also a popular form of literature among the Anglo Saxons. Extant Old English texts, such as Beowulf, shows that Anglo Saxon poetry was unique for using alliteration rather than rhyme. Following the Norman Conquest, the Old English mixed with the Norman French and the blend soon gave birth to Middle English.
The Anglo Saxon society was divided into nobility and the freeman. A freeman could climb to the ranks of nobility by gaining riches, becoming an owner of more land and in general, by augmenting influence. In many cases, such freemen who travelled on their own expense thrice to the Continent were able to find a seat in the King’s hall. In some cases, possession of 600 acres of land was enough to earn a person the rank of nobility.
Anglo Saxons were a Germanic people who travelled out of northern Europe to Britain in the 5th century. They soon gained control of the British territories and had established different kingdoms in England by the 6th century. They also developed a language called Old English by this time and evolved a unique culture of their own.
Smaller kingdoms merged with larger ones and over time, Anglo Saxons turned into powerful kings of these independent entities. Despite disruptions and threats from Vikings from 9th century onwards, Anglo Saxons were able to hold on to power in one way or the other until the Norman Conquest in 1066 when the Anglo Saxon king and nobility were removed once and for all.