The Anglo-Saxon Conquest of Britain (449-1066). Part 5

The Anglo-Saxon period in the history of Great Britain

It was a beautiful and desperate spring  of the year 449 when long narrow boats of newcomers came swiftly to the shores of Kent or nearby and landed there. The resistance was useless as the tall strong men with flowing hair and bronzed faces, glittering swords and shields leaped ashore one after another. They came from the meadows by the marshes, from the dark woods and the flat and sandy shores of the North Sea, which were overcrowded and couldn’t give enough food for the people, living there. So, the newcomers became masters of the land which we know now as England but at those time it hadn’t had any name yet.

The Anglo-Saxon Period in the History of Britain

 Anglo-Saxon — Англосаксы (Общее название германских племен — англов, саксов, ютов и фризов, положивших начало английскому народу).

The Anglo-Saxon Conquest of Britain

 1. Jutes, Angles and Saxon in Great Britain

From the paragraph you will know what Germanic tribes came to Great Britain and where they settled. Read about the earlier period (The Roman Conquest of Great Britain (449-1066) 
  • desirable — желанный
  • Angles [‘æŋglz] — Англы
  • Saxons  [‘sæks(ə)n] — Cаксы
  • Jutes [ʤuːts] — Юты
  • warlike — воинственный

The Germanic tribes invaded Britain in the 5th century. When the Romans left, the country was absolutely leadless and defenseless. This was the best time for the Germanic tribes to come as for them the British Isles had been a desirable land for a long time.

The most powerful Germanic tribes to settle down were Angles, Saxons and Jutes.

Jutes were the first to settle in Britain. It is believed that they came from the territory of later France. This tribe settled in southern part of Britain: in Kent and the Isle of Wight.

Angles and Saxon came from the territory of Germany and Denmark. Saxon made their homes in Sussex (South Saxons), Essex (East Saxons), Midlesex (Middle Saxons), Wessex (West Saxons). Angles settled in East Anglia: Norfolk (North folk), Suffolk (South folk) and Lincolnshire.

The British Celts fought the Germanic tribes, but Anglo-Saxon army was well organized, they were very strong and warlike and it was hard to resist them. As a result, the Britons had to leave their homes and go to the Western part of country to settle down there. This territory was called “Weallas» which meant «the land of the foreigners». This part of Britain is called Wales now. Other Celts went to the Northern part of the country to the land that is known as Scotland. Therefore, the oldest tribe of Celts inhabited Wales and Scotland.

That was a long fighting for the land, but gradually new settlers began to feel at home. The country was divided into seven kingdoms: East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria, where Angles settled; Essex, Sussex, Wessex with Saxon settlements and Jutes forming kingdom of Kent. Each group of settlers had a leader: a strong and successful leader became the king of the kingdom. The king ruled his kingdom and had an army.

Angles were the strongest of all three tribes. Later two tribes: Angles and Saxons united and were called Anglo-Saxons. They called their country — England or «the Land of Angles».

1. The Saxons were looking for the new places

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2. We can trace the Anglo-Saxon settlement by

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3. The Jutes settled in

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2. Celtic Resistance

From the paragraph you will know how the Celts resist the invaders and how they failed.
  • Ambrosius Aurelianus — Амвросий Аврелиан (вождь бриттов, разгромивший саксов)
  • Wansdyke — земляной вал (см. фото)
  • King Arthur [kɪŋ ‘ɑːθə] — Король Артур
  • Egbert — Король Эгберт

In the early 6th century Ambrosius Aurelianus headed the resistance against the Anglo-Saxon invaders. It is believed that under the Ambrosius leadership Wansdyke was constructed, that is a series of defensive earthwork in the West Country dating from the Dark Ages. Ambrosius with his army fought against the Saxons and won the battle at Mons Badonicus (Mount Badon). This established a period of peace for the Britons.

A photo of Wansdyke. The Anglo-Saxon period in the history of Great Britain

A photo of Wansdyke

Another brave Celtic tribal leader was King Arthur. We all know the legend of King Arthur, his knights of the Round Table, Camelot kingdom and the queen Guinevere. What was true and what was a legend we will not know now. But there is historical evidence that there was a great leader, whose name was Arthur, who resisted and struggled against Germanic invaders in the 6th century. A lot was written about King Arthur, a man who fought for the Celtic people’s independence and became a national hero.

Due to this resistance of the brave Celts, the borders of the kingdom were shifting constantly. The territory of Britain underwent many political changes: the early settlers created tribal groups, which later were formed into kingdoms and sub-kingdoms. In the 5th and 6th centuries, the country was divided into seven kingdoms, in the beginning of the 9th century the country there were four kingdoms — Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex. And during the reign of King Egbert these kingdoms were reorganized once again.

The word “-shire” means part of the territory which was cut off. Sometimes it was called after a town of importance, such as Derbyshire or Lincolnshire.

Egbert was the king of Wessex kingdom, but soon he became so powerful that by 827 he had conquered Mercia, Northumbria, Kent, Sussex, Surrey and North Wales territories that together formed England. He was acknowledged to be the overlord of England. He is known as the first monarch who established a stable rule over all of Anglo-Saxon England.

4. What Anglo-Saxon kingdoms can you name?

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5. Who was the first king of England?

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 3. Anglo-Saxon influence

From this paragraph you will know about the Anglo-Saxon influence on the country, their way of life, the names they gave to their settlements and some more.

The Anglo-Saxon period continued more than 600 years from 410 to 1066 and the influence of Anglo-Saxon was great.

First of all, when Anglo-Saxon settlers came to Britain, they started to change the houses. They replaced the Roman stone buildings with the wooden ones, brick and tile buildings were no longer built. Anglo-Saxon settlers’ houses were small wooden huts with a straw roof.
The Anglo-Saxon period in the history of Great Britain

The Anglo-Saxon House

Inside the house there was just one room in which the whole family lived, ate and slept. They preferred an agrarian lifestyle so most of the Roman towns were abandoned. They looked for place with lots of natural resources like food, water and wood to build and heat their homes, that was near forests. They built villages surrounding them with high fence to protect cattle from wild animals, and to keep out enemies. Though not all Roman towns were abandoned. Some chiefs realized that a city with great fortress was an advantage, so they built wooden houses inside the walls of Roman towns like London.

 4. Anglo-Saxon place names

  • chieftain [‘ʧiːft(ə)n] — вождь
  • in charge — во главе

The Anglo-Saxons settled in many different parts of the country – the Jutes in Kent, the Angles in East Anglia, the Saxons in parts of Essex, Wessex, Sussex and Middlesex. Early Anglo-Saxon villages were named after the leader of the tribe that is for everyone to know who was in charge. For example. “Reading” was Redda’s village – where Redda was the local chieftain.

Anglo-Saxons set up their ham or home, for example Billingham or Clapham, and their ton or town, for example, Harlington or Brighton, near the mouth of a river or in a sheltered bay. These names are still written on the maps today.

Even now many towns and villages still carry their Anglo-Saxon names. These places often have ‘ing’ or ‘folk’ somewhere in their name, for example Suffolk or Norfolk (in Old English ‘inga’ and ‘folc’ meant people). Names with wick / wich’ endings meant craft: Woolwich (sheep), Butterwick (dairy), Chiswick (cheese).  And of course the name “England” also comes from the Saxon word “Angle-Land”.

5. Christianity

  • religious beliefs — религиозные убеждения
  • pagans — язычники

When the Anglo-Saxons tribes came they brought their religious beliefs with them. In Roman Britain many people were Christians, but the early Anglo-Saxons were pagans. The future pope, Gregory the Great, when first saw fair-haired Anglo-Saxon captives told “not Angles but angels” and dreamt that he would bring Christianity to these pagans. That happened in AD 597, when Saint Augustine, along with 40 companions, returned from the mission to the Angles’ homeland and most of the country was converted to Christianity.

 6. English language’s development

The Anglo-Saxon period gave rise to the English spoken language as well as the spread of the written English. Writing came with the introduction of Christianity. There appeared professional poets, and in 7th century the greatest monument to Anglo-Saxon poetry – “the Poem of Beowulf” was created. It tells the story of a brave pagan warrior and his battles with monsters and dragons.

 7. Legal system

In AD 928 the English state was created, which not only established a structure for the nation’s law and politics but also was the first step for the later English parliament. At that time there was created the law-code of King Æthelberht of Kent (560–616), Hlothere and Eadric’s Code (c679–85), Wihtræd’s Code (695). There appeared the Textus Roffensis or the “Rochester Codex” that contains the earliest written laws from c600 – and later codes about crime and punishment, law and order.


  1. М.С. Зимина, С.Б. Катенин «Англо-саксонские королевства» при участии Дж. Поллок (Великобритания), 2000, ISBN 5-7931-0133-0
  2. В.С. Кузнецова «England. History, Geography, Culture» (учебник для вузов), 1976
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