THE END OF THE KINGDOM of EAST ANGLIA

The kingdom of East Anglia came to an end in the year 917 when it was conquered by Edward the Elder, the son of Alfred the Great. This was the culmination of a process of conquest that had been going on for over thirty years, since the time of Alfred. The Kingdom of East Anglia had been ruled by the Danes since it was given to Guthrum by Alfred in the year 878. In 880 the Danish Kingdom had included all of Essex to the borders of London, but almost continual war between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings had left the Danes holding just Norfolk by AD 817. The defeat of the Danes south of the river Humber was another step in the chain of events which led to the kings of Wessex becoming the kings of all England, though this had to wait another thirty years before Danish York came under Anglo-Saxon control once more. Alfred was probably the first king to use the title Rex Anglorum, or King of the English people, although in his lifetime he was only in control of Wessex and parts of Mercia.

COSTESSEY CHURCH

Bloods Dale in Drayton in the foreground is the traditional site of a battle with the attacking Danes. St Edmund’s church, Costessey is in the middle distance. Was this where Edmund died?

A hundred years before the defeat of the Danes in Norfolk, at the beginning of the 9th century, it had been Mercia that dominated the kingdom of East Anglia. In the next half century the Angles regained a large measure of independence as the influence of Mercia over the rest of England waned. By this time the seven kingdoms of England had been reduced to four; all the land between the river Humber and Scotland was known as Northumbria; Mercia, which included Lincolnshire and the midlands; Wessex in the south west, and East Anglia which comprised Norfolk and Suffolk and part of Cambridgeshire.

This independence enjoyed by East Anglia was brought to an abrupt end by the political upheavals which followed the arrival of the Great Viking Army in 865. The Vikings first arrived in Kent as raiders, and in Norfolk they landed and acquired horses. Travelling Northwards to the Kingdom of Northumbria they carried out their first full scale onslaught on an English kingdom, establishing themselves as rulers in the city of York. Next they turned to Mercia but their campaign along the river Trent proved inconclusive.

Next they turned their attention to East Anglia, where they killed the king, Edmund. The dead king was almost immediately recognised as a saint. This death of their king was not the end of the kingdom of East Anglia. There were Danish kings of Norfolk, Suffolk and indeed further afield until 917. The death of Edmund did not signal even the end of the Anglo-Saxon kings of East Anglia. We have no written record of the next two kings of East Anglia, but there are a number of coins which tell us that king Aethelred and king Oswald followed king Edmund in the nine years between his death in 869 and the arrival of the Danish king Guthrum to settle the land in 878.

The number of coins of Aethelred and Oswald found is very small, and they seem to be concentrated in south Norfolk. From the evidence of the coins we can however make a number of tentative conclusions. The moneyers’ names include one who was working for Edmund, so there was degree of continuity between the two kings. Moreover the style of the coinage of King Aethelred is very similar to the design that appeared on the coins King Edmund minted. It appears that Oswald followed Aethelred, and his coins show more differences.

We know rather more about the Danes who ruled East Anglia for nearly forty years. Their leader, Guthrum, was defeated in Wessex by King Alfred who desperately wanted an end to the ten years of conflict with the Danes. He therefore decided to give Danes East Anglia, providing their leadership were baptised as Christians. This was achieved, at least among their leaders, and Guthrum became known as king Athelstan. Alfred was however giving away a land over which he had no rights of ownership. A similar thing happened to Mercia, a part being ceded to the Danes. Following the death of the Mercian king Coelwulf in about 883 the part of that kingdom not occupied by the Danes became absorbed into Wessex, with Alfred’s son in law becoming king.

In spite of a peace treaty between Wessex and the Danes (of which a copy still exists) the Anglo-Saxons and Danes repeatedly waged war. There were reversals of fortune, but gradually the part of the country under Danish control shrank.  First Alfred took Essex, then his son took Suffolk, Norfolk and Lincolnshire. Finally by the middle of the 10th century the English controlled Yorkshire too. This actions is often referred to as the reconquest of Northumbria, but this term is slightly misleading. It only makes sense if one sees things in a purely ethnic way, Anglo-Saxons against Danes. In any other sense it was conquest pure and simple, for the kings of Wessex had never had control over these northerly counties.

The year 917 saw the end of the kingdom of East Anglia but even the end of the independent kingdom of Yorkshire was not the end of the Viking threat. The English may have briefly held sway over the land, but by 1017 the whole country was conquered by the Danish king Cnut. He was only prevented from establishing a permanent Danish that  included England by the death of his son without an heir. After the death of Edward the Confessor and the invasion by William of Normandy the triumph of the Normans in 1066 might appear to be a French victory,  but in fact Norman is the shorter version of Norseman. Back in the days when Guthrum and his successors were establishing Norse rule over East Anglia his fellow Dane Rollo was setting up the Duchy of Normandy. There is even an old legend that Rollo began his career in East Anglia in the area known as Flegg. The village Rollesby (Rollo’s settlement) may even refer to himWithin two hundred years they had finished off the Anglo-Saxon kings for good. In a very real sense it was the Vikings who won in 1066, and this lines of monarchs have never been defeated since! Queen Elizabeth II can trace her ancestry back to Rollo.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA

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