British History,Monarchs of Great Britain,King Arthur

Interesting Events in Early British History

Dark Age Overview - AD c.400 - 1066

As the Roman empire began to collapse, its political and military presence was finally withdrawn from the island of Britain around 410 AD. The resulting vacuum was filled by tribes of Jutes, Saxons, Frisians and Angles from Denmark, Germany and the coastal areas of what is now Holland, competing for land and power with the indigenous Britons (the term "Saxons" will be used, generically, to denote any or all of these invading tribes from northern Europe).

During this time, Britain was plagued by constant raiding parties of Picts and Scots from the north and from the west. The High King of the Britons at the time, believed to have been named Vortigern, invited Saxon mercenaries to Britain to help defend it from these marauding tribes, in exchange for land and royal favour. This arrangement worked for a time, but the greedy, pagan Saxons wanted even more from the bargain and resorted to treachery to get it. They broke out of the lands that had been given to them by Vortigern and began raiding innocent British towns and cities, burning, raping and pillaging as they went. At a peace conference called by Vortigern for the purpose of restoring order, the Saxons concealed knives in their shoes and massacred 460 of the British representatives. This launched a series of events which led to Vortigern's demise and created the politico-military environment which would spawn one of the world's greatest legendary figures, Arthur.

Years of back-and-forth fighting ensued, sometimes with the Britons having the upper hand, sometimes the Saxons. The British forces were led by their new High King, Ambrosius Aurelianus, a documented historical figure possessing genuinely "Arthurian" qualities. Sometime around the end of the fifth century, a major battle occurred at Mt. Badon, which was won by the Britons.

One of the great controversies of history revolves around the name of the commander of the victorious British forces during that battle. Some say the commander was Ambrosius, capping a heroic career of service to his country with a great military victory over the hated Saxons. Legend, however, as well as the preponderance of scholarly opinion, names Arthur as that commander. In any case, the battle was so decisive that the Saxons were put to flight and a period of peace followed, which lasted for about a half century.

The Saxons rebuilt their lost strength during the first half of the sixth century by importing more and more men from their continental homelands. The Britons had no other figures of the stature of Ambrosius to lead them, and gradually the Saxons worked their way westward, capturing British lands and forcing the remaining Britons into the extreme western parts of the island (Cornwall and Wales). New Saxon kingdoms sprang up in the territories they now controlled.

Seven main kingdoms emerged from the post-Roman chaos and became known as the Heptarchy. The seven were Essex, Sussex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, East Anglia and Wessex.

In the middle of this period of Anglo-Saxon domination of Britain, the kingdom of Wessex established supremacy over the other leading kingdoms, and their line of rulers, beginning with Egbert in 802, became the first to have a genuine claim to the title of Bretwalda, or King of All England.

The Anglo-Saxon kings, under the likes of Alfred the Great, Athelstan and Eadred, extended the control of the House of Wessex over all of what is now England and managed to hold it, with the exception of about 26 years of rule under the Danes, until 1066, the year of the Norman Conquest, and the endpoint of the period known as the Dark Ages

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