King Alfred’s Ambitious Vision For a Secure Kingdom (878-899)

Wessex Under Attack

Alfred possessed all the qualities that only a legendary king would have. His character was one of honesty, courage, brilliance, and piety, and he was just as good at peace as he was valiant in battle. The only thing about his legendary reign is that, for starters, it isn’t exactly ‘legendary.’ Alfred was real, and in many ways, he truly honors his epithet of ‘The Great.’

A modern sketch of Alfred the Great.

A modern sketch of Alfred the Great.

Vikings from modern-day Denmark (referred to as the Danes) ravished the northern kingdoms of England. Northumbria first succumbed to their wrath, then East Anglia, and shortly afterwards, Mercia fell to their control. They were called ‘The Great Heathen Army’ and they were unstoppable, ruining everything in their path like a plague of locusts.

When Alfred succeeded the throne of the southern kingdom of Wessex, the Danes stopped their vast expansion. They probably did so to gather and save their strength for a massive attack on Wessex, which they surely would have known they would need to defeat a recognized war hero like Alfred. Eventually, they did attack. Alfred suffered a major blow after a surprise attack in January 878.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle dictates:

…most of the people they [the Danes] killed, except the King Alfred, and he with a little band made his way by wood and swamp, and after Easter he made a fort at Athelney in the marshes of Somerset, and from that fort kept fighting against the foe.

From there, Alfred is known to have forged a massive resistance movement.

Alfred is often depicted, ever since his death, as a victorious hero valiantly moving forward. This is likely symbolic of his victory at Edington after being viciously defeated beforehand. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images).

Alfred is often depicted, ever since his death, as a victorious hero valiantly moving forward. This is likely symbolic of his victory at Edington after being viciously defeated beforehand. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images).

Alfred would rise from the marshes of Somerset to defeat the Danes with a major victory at the Battle of Edington in May 878. According to Alfred’s biographer, Bishop Asser:

‘Alfred attacked the whole pagan army fighting ferociously in dense order, and by divine will eventually won the victory, made great slaughter among them, and pursued them to their fortress (Chippenham) … After fourteen days the pagans (Danes) were brought to the extreme depths of despair by hunger, cold and fear, and they sought peace.’

This contemporary source is extremely important because it ends up providing some credibility of Alfred’s greatest ‘legendary’ traits, which were his brilliance as a warrior, and his ability to stem peace from chaos. Alfred knew that he was unable to drive the Danes from the rest of the land. Instead, he made peace with them in the Treaty of Wedmore. Guthrum, King of the Danes was converted to Christianity. Alfred, a devout Christian, even stood as his godfather.

Alfred then negotiated a partition treaty and a frontier was designed, allowing northern and eastern England to remain under the jurisdiction of the Danes, where most had settled as farmers.

This became known as ‘Danelaw.’

A map of the territories clearly outlined by the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum.

A map of the territories clearly outlined by the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum.

King Alfred and His Ambitious Vision For a Secure Kingdom

  1. Burghal System
  2. Taxation
  3. A Navy

Although all seemed to be falling into place, Wessex was still very much under threat from the Danes. Alfred used the time of peace following Edington as an opportunity to completely reconstruct his kingdom’s military defense system. He believed that defense and prosperity were interdependent, and so he took on this ambitious project with this philosophy as one of it’s foundations.

The inspiration for his ideas may have come to him on a visit to Rome. According to Richard Abels in Alfred the Great: War, Kingship and Culture in Anglo-Saxon England (1998), Alfred studied how the Carolingian kings dealt with Viking invasions. By learning from their experiences, he was able to design a system of taxation and defense for Wessex. Another influence could have been a system of fortifications that had been built in pre-Viking Mercia.

  • The Burghal System

Alfred designed a network of burhs (later called boroughs) which became known as the Burghal system. These were fortifications that were distributed strategically throughout Wessex. Each one was nineteen miles away from the other, enabling the reorganized military to confront any attack within the kingdom in a single day. The Burghal system was revolutionary because of it’s strategy and how it was supported through taxes.

A Map of the Burhs of the Burghai System. Image based on information 'The Defence of Wessex' by Hill and Rumble. Image by Hel-hama.

A Map of the Burhs of the Burghal System. Image based on information ‘The Defence of Wessex’ by Hill and Rumble. Image by Hel-hama.

An example of what one of Alfred's newly designed burhs would have looked like.

An example of what one of Alfred’s newly designed burhs would have looked like.

  • Administration and Taxation

The people of Anglo-Saxon England had to pay a heavy tax for reform based on their landholding for the “common burdens” of the military, the Burghal system, and bridge repair. According to Ryan Lavelle in Alfred’s Wars Sources and Interpretations of Anglo-Saxon Warfare in the Viking Age (2010), the original term for this threefold tax was called trinoda neccessitas. The Old English term for a fine due (if you didn’t pay this tax) was called fyrdwitee.

  • English Navy

In 897, Alfred designed and ordered the construction of a small fleet. This was not the very first English fleet since we have records of a royal fleet long before the reign of Alfred. This was also not the birth of the Royal Navy, which truly flourished during the sixteenth century. This small fleet was, however, to become the first English navy to combat Viking longships.

The entire thought process behind this was that Viking ships should be intercepted before they could reach the coast. This way, Alfred’s navy could spare their kingdom from being ravaged like the other kingdoms had recently been by the invaders, most of whom had come by sea.

And so, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle regarded 897 as a very important development in the naval forces of the kingdom. The chronicler wrote:

…King Alfred gave orders for building long ships against the esks, which were full-nigh twice as long as the others. Some had sixty oars, some more; and they were both swifter and steadier, and also higher than the others. They were not shaped either after the Frisian or the Danish model, but so as he himself thought that they might be most serviceable.

These were perhaps some of the earliest battleships in England. The chronicler is extremely fond of them, clearly pointing out that they were ‘swifter and steadier’ than Danish or Frisian ships. Not to mention, they are also described as rising higher above the seas than the others. With a hero like Alfred on the throne, where better a direction to make an enemy face than up?

gs114-1

And yes, these ships did rise higher, because Alfred’s designs were based off of Greek and Roman warships with high sides good for fighting, instead of for navigating. However, according to Richard Abels (pp. 305–307), these early English battleships were brilliant in conception, but in practice they turned out to be too large to maneuver well in the waters they were used in, such as rivers, where any naval battles would have likely occurred.

Overall Conclusion

The actions for taken by Alfred were indeed ambitious, but this is extremely dependent on the important factor of trust. Political instability was extremely huge at this time. Several kingdoms surrounding Wessex had completely fallen to invaders in just a short period of overall Anglo-Saxon history. Alfred was one man, just like any other sovereign of those realms. So, in order for this to work, Alfred would have seriously needed to have been trusted by his people. Not that they had a choice in paying taxes (because they would be fined if they didn’t), but it looks like they did because they trusted the proposed system. And even though the nobility is reported to have been iffy about spending their money on what the king considered a ‘common good for the people’ that the court should help provide, no mass protests were demonstrated, and nobody migrated to the Danelaw over the border of Wessex. Alfred’s people had sworn him allegiance, and by doing so, they gave the king who rose from the marshes after a defeat their whole trust to protect them.

An 887 penny forged during the reign of Alfred. It reads "Ælfred Rex." Rex is Latin for 'King' and is still used when referencing a king (or 'Regina' for queen) on English currency. A British monarch still signs their name with "R" after their name for either Rex or Regina. © National Portrait Gallery, London

An 887 penny forged during the reign of Alfred. It reads “Ælfred Rex.” Rex is Latin for ‘King’ and is still used when referencing a king (or ‘Regina’ for queen) on English currency. A British monarch still signs their name with “R” after their name for either Rex or Regina. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Alfred’s success is greatly measured by the way he valiantly carried himself with dignity, completely unwilling to accept defeat, yet absolutely willing to compromise. Perhaps at the end of the day, he simply asked his subjects to do just that. For many, given the fact that the taxes were paid and the burhs and the ships were completed, a compromise was the greatest way to give hearty ‘thanks’ to the hero of their home. And sure enough, when Viking raids returned in 892, Alfred and the Kingdom of Wessex were extremely prepared.

Debating the Barbarity of Norman Society (1066)

It can be argued that the Normans were barbaric by examining various accounts of their actions. According to scholars, they invaded foreign lands simply because they needed more land. With that information alone, one could easily assume that they lead a very primitive and barbaric culture. However, when looking further into the issue, the reasons why they needed more land can lead to a less barbaric view of their ways. The Normans were a society in search of wealth. They ventured into foreign lands and were great at taking control over weaker people and there is no doubt that their advanced military spread over a great portion of Europe. Still, despite the fact that they were willing to conquer to achieve better standards of life, they did not do it at the actual expense of life.

Several contrasting sources would claim it to be a very organized culture and all agree that it was very militaristic and mobilized for war. According to William of Jumièges in his “Gesta Normannorum Ducum,” the English King Edward died in 1065 without heir, and the kingdom was left to Duke William of Normandy (who later would become William the Conquerer).[1] However, Harold, “the greatest of all earls in his realm in wealth, honour [sic] and power,” who had sworn fealty to William as the rightful successor, seized England as his own immediately. According to the document, which is very undoubtedly pro-Norman, Harold not only ignored the duke’s requests to abandon his plans, but he turned the English against him.

Harold Godwinson depicted on the Bayeaux Tapestry.

Harold Godwinson depicted on the Bayeaux Tapestry.

William, Duke of Normandy. Later 'William the Conquerer.'

William, Duke of Normandy. Later ‘William the Conquerer.’

This document later highlights the strength of the Normans. When the duke observed how quickly Harold grew support from the English, “he had a fleet of up to 3000 ships hastily put together and anchored at Saint-Valéry in Ponthieu, full of vigorous horses and very strong [and armed] men” (115). Sailing from the north of France, once the Normans arrived in the southern part of England, they charged forward towards Hastings. Harold’s army met them there, and thus the ‘Battle of Hastings’ occurred, in which Harold was slain and William took his place as the rightful king of England, becoming known to history as William the Conquerer. William is described as “…a very fortunate war-leader, supported by an excellent council…” (117) and the English accepted him as the rightful king, even if they were unhappy to lose Harold (who had just victoriously returned to London from a successful battle against the Norwegians).

William commanding his troops at Hastings.

William (left, saluting his soldiers) commanding his forces at Hastings.

This document highly glorifies William and the Normans, but even without the exquisite descriptions with fancy words describing how valiant and occasionally how the results were God’s will, it is still unfair to suggest that they were a barbaric people. By this evidence, it can be assured that they were definitely people that held true to rules and regulations. William and Edward had agreed that William would succeed him as king. Based on this text alone, it can be argued that William was mostly furious that Harold disregarded an organized plan and a promise that did not even greatly concern him, and it seems like he was reacting to a large bit of disrespect and treason.

Historians discover the possible site of the Battle of Hastings.

William of Poitiers in his “Deeds of Duke William” explains the very same story. According to van Houts, William was formerly a chaplain of William the Conquerer (118). He based his writings between 1071-1077 on the eyewitness accounts of others since he was not present during the invasion of England in 1066 (118). Here, Harold is depicted as a “…mad Englishman…[who] could not endure to wait the decision of a public election… [and] on the tragic day when that best of all men was buried, while all the people were in mourning, he violated his oath and seized the royal throne…with the connivance of a few wicked men” (118). Duke William is then depicted as a valiant soldier, determined to take what was rightfully his by inheritance.

The wickedness of Harold’s actions, as written by William of Poitiers, agrees with William of Jumièges in that the Normans were insulted by the fact that they were cheated of what was rightfully theirs. Despite any language that William of Poitiers may use to glorify William the Conquerer, the bottom line is that the Norman militaristic response cannot be justified as an act of ‘Barbaric’ nature over their English conquest. It was never intended to be a conquest. It was the result of an Englishman who provoked it to become one, and this act of cheat and betrayal would not be tolerated today any less than it was then.

England, 1066.

England, 1066.

England, 1087.

England, 1087.

Other accounts of the Normans during their period of European conquests suggest that they were not barbaric at all. In fact, they often integrated into the cultures that they dominated. For example, the Tower of London is a fine example of Norman architecture built during the time of William himself, which is still in use today. Countless Norman structures exemplifying their great sense of art in architecture still stand today throughout England and Europe, leaving a lasting impression of their assimilation to the places they conquered. These castles that we still marvel at symbolize that they were there to stay, not there to rule from afar.

800px-Tower_of_London_viewed_from_the_River_Thames

Construction for the Tower of London began in 1066 as part of the conquest. It is one of the finest surviving examples of Norman architecture that we have today. Photo Credit: Bob Collowan/Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0.

The “Deeds of Count Roger and his brother Duke Robert” by Geoffrey Malaterra (c. 1090) suggests that the invasion of Southern Italy was not a quest for power or the spread of a massive empire, but to make sure that people had enough land (238). It is written that in the province of Normandy in the village of Hauteville, the sons of Tancred (the hereditary ruler) felt that their neighborhood was too small to be divided amongst them and their heirs. To prevent any kind of arguments, they left their homeland to seek fortune through arms elsewhere, and this is why they discovered the Italian province of Apulia (239). This document states that Normans were peace-seekers and used their militaristic skills to eliminate feuds between the princes of Cadua and Salerno once they arrived. According to William of Apulia years later after winning control of the southern part of Italy, in his “Poem on the Deeds of Robert Guiscard,” Norman people returned to their native land where they actually “encourage[d] their relatives to come with them to Italy” (236).

Geoffrey Malaterra stresses that the fertility of the land attracted the Normans. Elisabeth van Houts supports this, stating “…[The] fertility of Campania, the area on the Mediterranean coast around Naples, with its vineyards, fruit, trees, springs, and plains, was an important aspect of the Normans’ wish to settle permanently” (225). It is also mentioned that intermarriage was used as a way of assimilating into the culture, and this was done through the working class as well as the aristocracy. In this instance, the pursuit of wealth and prosperity of the Normans was apparently the main goal of Norman conquests. Van Houts, citing Norman historian Graham Loud, also writes that “…[land] is not mentioned in any of the early sources and is therefore unlikely to have been the Normans’ main motivation” (225). After all, Italy would be much better for agriculture than the colder parts of Northern Europe. Therefore, it is unfair to suggest that the Normans were a vicious, power-hungry people if they conquered a land and then actually settled in it permanently. This adaptation was done over a period of decades and is unlike the barbaric characteristics of Norman society that have been exaggerated over the course of many centuries, and any initial violence caused by the conquest was rapidly superseded by intermarriage and assimilation.

And on top of the need for land, which in fact was not the main motivation for these migrations, one of the original reasons the Normans came to Italy was for religious purposes (224). Religious motivations sent them from their homelands as pilgrims (224). This claim is supported by “Poems on the deeds of Robert Guiscard” by William of Apulia, “Deeds of Count Roger and his brother Duke Robert” by Geoffrey Malterra, and “History of the Normans” by Amatus of Montecassino (235, 238, 241). According to van Houts, pilgrims were originally the force behind the first moves. It was a nonviolent invasion of sorts, or at least more diplomatic than we imagine in modern minds (225). They were cultured and sophisticated. Also according to van Houts’ description of Norman pilgrimages, as a leading expert on the subject, she describes that they integrated with societies south of their homeland and were willing to and did accept Christianity. It could be seen as a way of infiltrating society to maintain their presence (225). Once it became part of their norm after intermarrying with the elite, the Normans began to make their profound presence known with their massive, awe-inspiring cathedrals, which were not limited to just Italy. Many of them are still even used today.

And so, overall, the Normans can be summarized as a society that were sophisticated, educated, highly militarized and willing and open to compromise, and one with a great respect for elders and ancestry (239). If a single invasion truly were ruthless, it would have been for a fair and protective reason. This was a society that was smart and educated and made moves that would ultimately help its people, leaving no one behind. The invasions to Italy best help to summarize this and, when examined carefully, show a society that has been victimized by centuries of the Middle Ages being considered an era of darkness, brutality, torture, and sheer uncivilized chaos.


[1] According to Elisabeth van Houts, Orderic Vitalis updated the document text in 1115 in order to add information that would have been common knowledge during the time of William of Jumièges. Pro-Norman sentiments were distinctly toned down.

British Imperialist Interests and the White Paper of 1939

British imperialism was still a prominent factor in early twentieth century politics, and it is undoubtedly important in the history of Jewish Zionist aspirations. Talks of a permanent home for the Jews were on the table for decades prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948. However, tensions between Jews and Arabs were deadly as early as 1921. Following a series of riots that demonstrated the depth of Arab hostility towards Zionism, Britain became involved with the creation of the Jewish National Home (1923-1929).[1] Although this effort saw no mass violence, extreme amounts of hostility were encountered as tensions between the Allies and German forces advanced; it became clear that Britain had to resolve the issues surrounding Zionism in Palestine.[2] This had to be done in a way that was sensitive to the Jews, while simultaneously satisfying to the Arabs whose help they desperately needed in their fight against Germany. This conflict resulted in the British Government’s formation of the White Paper in 1939, a policy that regulated Jewish immigration to Palestine, gave the Arabs control of immigration after a certain time, and set the boundaries for a proposed Jewish state.

The impact of Britain’s involvement with Zionism in the Arab world was highly exemplified in the Jewish National Home. The formation of the National Home in Palestine was a result of the Balfour Declaration (1917). According to Jacob Metzer, this granted Britain the power “to promote the formation of a Jewish national home and the establishment of the British mandate in Palestine after the war provided… [for the] renewal of Jewish nation building.”[3] At first, the Balfour Declaration called for a national existence (in the form of the National Home) without an actual state. It did much more than set the boundaries for the Jews, but created a sort-of alliance between them and the British. It allowed the Jews to trust them and they believed that Parliament would ultimately respect their interests and help them in the years to come, ensuring their happiness and safety. This territory was not allowed to threaten broader imperial interests.[4] Therefore, the conflict that would eventually be followed closely after the publication of the White Paper of 1939 arose after the British Cabinet in 1923 concluded that “it could not promote a Jewish national home, yet ensure a peaceful outcome that would protect the Arab population” while sustaining total peace in Palestine.[5] Given that the British had bound to protect Arab interests years earlier, as well as vowing to protect Zionists, they were pressed to make sure that they made a move that would ultimately benefit their imperial interests. The result of this initial dilemma resulted in the Cabinet pressing to promote a Jewish national home.[6] Consequently, since the Arabs and Jews were so politically and socially divided, this move resulted in the British departure from Palestine in 1948, twenty-five years later.[7]

The fact that Britain was acting heavily on their alliance with the Arabs as their driving force towards resolving tensions in Palestine was no secret. The imperial desires of the British Government were clear even two years earlier than the revival of the idea of a prospective Jewish national home. Herbert Samuel, the 1st High Commissioner of Palestine wrote in a letter to Chaim Weizmann in August, 1921:

It is quite true that a great many, I might say almost all, of British officials in Palestine are not sympathetic to a Zionist policy which would be detrimental to the Arabs, and are not prepared to carry out with any goodwill a policy which is likely to result in a regime of coercion.[8]

This was in response to questions raised following a series of riots in Jaffa in May, 1921, which revealed the depth of Arab hostility towards Zionism. This put a heavy stress on Parliament, realizing they actually had to take action with both sides of the conflict, while simultaneously remain a friend of both. According to Jewish Historian Bernard Wasserstein, objections of the Zionist Commission to the suspension of Jewish immigration were supported as well as a firmer policy in response to the violence was also favored by Wyndham Deedes, the British High Commissioner of the British Mandate of Palestine.[9] However, Wasserstein writes that after the riots of 1923, it was made clear by Deedes that Zionism could succeed only if the Arabs were conciliated and that the responsibility for bringing about this seclusion was invested equally in both the British and the Zionists themselves.[10] Therefore, the idea for a Jewish state was, as believed by many, inevitable. In many ways, it really was.

To try to aide to peace as tensions rose in Europe, a White Paper was introduced in 1930, but it failed to satisfy both parties as it imposed crippling restrictions on Jewish land purchase and development.[11] This made it incredibly difficult for Jews to immigrate to the land, as they would not be able to purchase land or develop communities. It also allowed for Palestine to be limited to an additional 20,000 settlers.[12] Still, over the course of the next decade, Arab violence towards Jews in Palestine did not stop, but greatly escalated.

Zionist settlement in Palestine became the steering factor leading up to the White Paper of 1939. The Balfour Declaration, although only preceding the White Paper by just over twenty years, was drawn in a completely different world than the 1939 White Paper. Additionally, the Balfour Declaration did in fact address a certain type of spirit. It addressed a spirit of hope and optimism for a peaceful future by establishing a home for the Jews in the Middle East to avoid hostility from the Arabs, as well as over-all anti-Semitism that seemed to be growing at the time. Theodor Herzl, a Jewish journalist, firmly asserted that establishing a Jewish state was the only way to avoid aggression and resentment.[13] However, once Adolf Hitler’s plans to dominate Europe became clear, the British spirit in handling the situation in the Middle East drastically changed and became one driven by their strategic and imperialist nature. On top of this, the spirit of the debated region also drastically changed before the White Paper was implemented. After all, the Jews had a sense of what was happening or about to ensue, and they left or escaped German territories or prospective territories if they were able to. The only place to go seemed to be Palestine.

Jews therefore immigrated to Palestine in alarming numbers following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. Clearly, this resulted in Jewish land purchases and resulted in a great resistance by Arabs. By 1936, this had influenced many different Arab political parties to level or eliminate most of their extreme political differences to give way to a quickly rising sense of nationalism. This unified sense of patriotism offered Arab Palestinians the chance to focus on Jewish immigration, and consequently British control over the region. Tensions were secured and irreversible by this point and socially the people were completely divided. Following the murder of two Jews on April 15, 1936, Jews retaliated, and thus the Arab revolt ensued as a result of the tensions. According to Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal, “there were some claims that the act was purely criminal, but it was probably engineered for political purposes.”[14] Nevertheless, the revolt put an extreme strain on British forces in Palestine. This revolt demonstrated sheer acts of terrorism on both sides and lasted until 1939. It solidified British support for Jewish national home, and they had hoped eventually that a White Paper would put an end to the violence as well as the stress on British forces.

However, Britain was faced with a problem. On one hand, they had promised the Jews that they would support their cause, especially through the Balfour Declaration, which inspired a great sense of optimism among them. On the other hand, with Europe in turmoil and facing the possibility of London becoming dominated by Nazi German forces, British interests changed drastically. They also had hoped desperately that the Arabs would join the allied cause, which they ultimately did not. They had hoped for this because they feared that Italy might side with Germany, which they believed might interfere with their interests in the Middle East.

The White Paper eventually was an attempt by the British Government to address both sides of the issue without turning into a common enemy. After all, the Balfour Declaration in 1917 basically trapped the British into supporting Zionism. If they abandoned the Jews, they also abandoned the honor of their empire, which would tarnish their prestige as an imperial power. Therefore, they had to make it work for everyone. The main objective of the White Paper was to permit no further Jewish immigration after five years from 1939. This is how Parliament played devil’s advocate: they gave the Jews the ability to settle, while simultaneously allowing power to shift to Arab control, which Parliament figured would be widely accepted, especially since the Arabs had been protesting British control over the region.

The controversy surrounding this preceded its implementation. As early as January 1938, both Jews and Arabs were expressing their fears and criticisms of the policy and these were often addressed in the media as frequently as possible. The Jews were mainly content with the idea that the British were keeping true to establishing borders for their safety, especially since immigration was a way to save thousands of lives during Hitler’s wrath. However, fears of terrorism rose. According to an article from The Times, the Jews were “drawn to the refusal of the British Government to contemplate the compulsory transfer of Arabs from the Jewish Zone.”[15] This was a fear that was heavily justified. People could not get too worked up over a policy that respected their safety and wishes if they felt it were guaranteed not to work. This itself was partially disastrous because of the fact that even though legally the Jews would be in a Jewish region, they would then have to suffer from terrorism as a result of that. The Jews also hoped that the British would put the White Paper with the proposed borders into action as soon as possible. This was because there were allied nations that offered the Jewish economy assistance as a result of the enthusiasm aroused among Zionists abroad. A speedy establishment of the proposed state would assure them a stable economy while there existed those amused by the idea of a state and who were willing to help see the dream of Israel become a reality. The Arabs on the other hand were completely against it. The Times also reported that the Technical Commission “is not authorized to investigate solutions other than partition, which they [had] already rejected,” meaning that the Arabs were convinced that the British had done absolutely nothing with regard to their interests.[16]

With these fears on the table and with Parliament anxious to take action immediately so to have most attention on the Germans, a conference was called by Britain between Jews and Arabs to discuss the future of Palestine based on their interests. They met around a round table, which became known as The St. James Conference (because it was hosted by The Palace of St. James).[17] The conference was a complete failure. The Arab delegates refused to recognize the Jewish agency and rejected even meeting the Jewish delegates. Once they finally sat together after the British negotiated, the two groups of representatives could not come to any sort of agreement throughout the entire meeting. Subsequently, since some of the delegates even ended up storming out of the conference, the British were left to form the policy themselves.[18] Having to act alone and quickly, the White Paper of 1939 was born, which limited immigration to 15,000 a year for five years, after which it was to stop completely unless the Arabs decided otherwise.[19]

The aftermath of the implementation of the policy exemplifies just how it was rushed and was an ultimate failure. It was passed partially because a lot of pressure was on Parliament because of the immense suffering under the Holocaust; the world was hoping that Britain would provide the save haven for people who still had a glimmer of chance. The pressure to allow immigration was on the shoulders of Parliament and although there were other places they could go, the Zionist movement saw Palestine as the safest place. However, because the British tried to act strategically to please all parties to maintain their status as ‘the good guy’ who they should want to aid at the drop of a hat, the task became impossible to manage. According to Ellen Ravndall, “attempts to stop illegal Jewish immigration caused outcries against British barbarianism.”[20] Not only were they being viewed as barbaric people for not allowing Jews to immigrate to a territory under their control, but also they were physically suffering because of it at the peak of the Second World War. British forces had to fight against Jewish terrorism and they simultaneously had to maintain order to prevent another Arab revolt from happening. All of this collectively took a toll on the British economy and proved, in the long run, that they failed the Jewish-Arab conflict because they considered it a sort-of nuisance that was in the way of a bigger problem.

When Israel became a nation state officially in 1948, one of their first actions as an independent nation was to rescind the rules set by the White Paper. According to Rabbi Irving Miller, the White Paper of 1939 completely rejected the aforementioned spirit of the Balfour Declaration. Miller writes that “it can only be understood in the light of Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasing Hitler, Mussolini, and their Arab ally, the Mufti,” a statement which proves that the British Government was making decisions in the Middle East strategically to help them with in the war against Germany.[21] The White Paper subsequently can be regarded as a prime example of British imperialism. The reason being is that every move they made, from the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and even up to the St. James Conference, was based on maintaining friends who could possibly benefit their own interests in return. The way the policy was organized and forced into the lives of many who depended on Parliament (whether or not by choice) was undoubtedly due to their imperialist nature during the Second World War period.


  • [1] Bernard Wasserstein. The British In Palestine: The Mandatory Government and the Arab-Jewish Conflict 1917-1929. London: Royal Historical Society, 1978. Pages 89 and 139.
  • [2] Ibid, page 140.
  • [3] Jacob Metzer. “Economic Structure and National Goals–The Jewish National Home in Interwar Palestine.” The Journal of Economic History 38, no. 1 (1978): Page 101. Metzer’s article focuses around the politics of creating a state, specifically zooming on economics and long-term goals, however his writing is very clear that British Imperialism held a lot of power in the decades prior to the establishment of the State of Israel.
  • [4] Laura Robson. “Church, State, and the Holy Land: British Protestant Approaches to Imperial Policy in Palestine, 1917–1948.” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 39, no. 3 (September 2011): 457–477.
  • [5] John Quigley. “Britain’s Secret Re-Assesment of the Balfour Declaration.” Journal of the History of International Law 13, no. 2 (2011): 249–285. Page 250 discusses the British dilemmas faced between 1929-1939 in trying to satisfy both parties.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Wasserstein, page 141. Taken from Samuel to Weizman, 10 Aug. 1921 (CZA Z4/16151). Chaim Weitzman was a Zionist leader, President of the Zionist Organization, and the first President of the State of Israel.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] Irving Miller. Israel: The Eternal Ideal. New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1955. Page 36. Pages 36-38 describe the creation of the White Paper, and previous White Papers before the one of 1939.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] Ibid, page 32.
  • [14] Kimmerling, Baruch, and Joel S. Migdal. The Palestinian People: A History. Hebrew University, 2003.
  • [15] “The White Paper on Palestine- Jewish Fears and Criticisms.” The Times London. London, January 6, 1938.
  • [16] Ibid.
  • [17] Ronald Zweig. Britain and Palestine During The Second World War. London: The Boydell Press, 1986. Page 4.
  • [18] Ibid., Pages 12-13.
  • [19] Miller, page 37.
  • [20] Ellen Jenny Ravndal. “Exit Britain: British Withdrawal From the Palestine Mandate in the Early Cold War, 1947–1948.” Diplomacy & Statecraft 21, no. 3 (September 14, 2010): 416–433. Page 418.
  • [21] Miller, pages 34 and 32.

A List of Posts by Monarch

HOUSE OF WESSEX

The kings of Wessex are credited as the first true kings of England. Elizabeth II, currently reigning, is descended from Alfred the Great. The current royal family is also directly descended from William the Conquerer, who claimed the throne following the death of Edward the Confessor in 1066.

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ALFRED THE GREATReigned 871-899

ALFRED THE GREAT
Reigned 871-899

Edward the Elder.

EDWARD THE ELDER
Reigned 899-924

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ÆTHELSTAN
Reigned 924-939

EDMUND I

EDMUND I
Reigned 939-946

EADRED

EADRED
Reigned 946-955

EADWIG

EADWIG
Reigned 955-959

EDGAR THE PEACEFUL

EDGAR THE PEACEFUL
Reigned 959-975

EDWARD THE MARTYR

EDWARD THE MARTYR
Reigned 975-978

ÆTHELRED THE UNREADY

ÆTHELRED II
Æthelred the Unready
978-1013 (First Reign)
1014-1016 (Second Reign)

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HOUSE OF DENMARK

England was taken over by the Danish kings during the rule of Æthelred.

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SWEYN FORKBEARD 1013-1014

SWEYN FORKBEARD
1013-1014

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HOUSE OF WESSEX (RESTORED, FIRST TIME)

When Forkbeard died, Æthelred returned from exile and reclaimed his kingdom.

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Æthelred the Unready (second reign).

EDMUND IRONSIDE Reigned 24 Apr - 30 Nov 1016

EDMUND IRONSIDE
Reigned 24 Apr – 30 Nov 1016

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HOUSE OF DENMARK (Restored)

Edmund Ironside signed a treaty with Cnut in which all of England except for Wessex would come under the rule of Cnut. When Edmund died, Cnut took the entire kingdom as Britain’s sole king.

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CANUTE Reigned 1016-1035

CNUT
Reigned 1016-1035

HAROLD HAREFOOT Reigned 1035-1040

HAROLD HAREFOOT
Reigned 1035-1040

HARTHACNUT Reigned 1040-1042

HARTHACNUT
Reigned 1040-1042

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HOUSE OF WESSEX (Restored, Second Time)

After Harthacnut, the kings of Wessex were restored, only to be deposed following the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

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EDWARD THE CONFESSOR Reigned 1042-1066

EDWARD THE CONFESSOR
Reigned 1042-1066

HAROLD II Harold Godwinson Reigned 6 Jan – 14 Oct 1066

HAROLD II
Harold Godwinson
Reigned 6 Jan – 14 Oct 1066

EDGAR THE ÆTHELING Reigned 15 Oct - 17 Dec 1066

EDGAR THE ÆTHELING
Reigned 15 Oct – 17 Dec 1066

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HOUSE OF NORMANDY

England was taken over by the Normans after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, a decisive point in English history. Had the Normans not taken over England that year, history would have taken a dramatically different course. In fact, the English language wouldn’t even exist as we know it.

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WILLIAM I 'William the Conquerer' Reigned 1066-1087

WILLIAM I
‘William the Conquerer’
Reigned 1066-1087

WILLIAM II William Rufus Reigned 1087-1100

WILLIAM II
William Rufus
Reigned 1087-1100

HENRY I Henry Beauclerc Reigned 1100-1135

HENRY I
Henry Beauclerc
Reigned 1100-1135

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HOUSE OF BLOIS

Stephen of Blois, later King Stephen of England, was a grandson of William the Conquerer. He succeeded his uncle, Henry I, as King. However, having no sons to succeed him, Henry I listed that his daughter Matilda succeed him. Her crown was seized and her reign is still disputed.

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STEPHEN 1135-1154

STEPHEN
Reigned 1135-1154

MATILDA Reigned (disputed) 7 Apr - 1 Nov 1141

MATILDA
Reigned (disputed) 7 Apr – 1 Nov 1141

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HOUSE OF ANJOU

Stephen made an agreement with Matilda in 1153 by signing the Treaty of Willingford, which recognized Matilda’s son Henry as the heir-apparent to the throne in lieu of his own son. Therefore, Henry II was in fact a grandson of the last king of the House of Normandy.

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HENRY II Reigned 1154-1189

HENRY II
Reigned 1154-1189

RICHARD I Richard the Lionheart Reigned 1189-1199

RICHARD I
‘Richard the Lionheart’
Reigned 1189-1199

JOHN John Lackland 1199-1216

JOHN
John Lackland
Reigned 1199-1216

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HOUSE OF PLANTAGENET

This house is argued to have begun with King Henry II, but most historians agree that it truly began under the reign of Henry III, when kings became more ‘English’ in nature. The Yorks and Lancasters are also cadet branches of this house.

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HENRY III Reigned 1216-1272

HENRY III
Reigned 1216-1272

EDWARD I Reigned 1272-1307

EDWARD I
Reigned 1272-1307

EDWARD II Reigned 1307-1327

EDWARD II
Reigned 1307-1327

EDWARD III Reigned 1327-1377

EDWARD III
Reigned 1327-1377

RICHARD II Reigned 1377-1399

RICHARD II
Reigned 1377-1399

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HOUSE OF LANCASTER

This house descended from  Edward III’s third surviving son, John of Gaunt. Henry IV seized power from Richard II. They would eventually take a main role in The War of the Roses.

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HENRY IV Reigned 1399-1413

HENRY IV
Reigned 1399-1413

HENRY V Reigned 1413-1422

HENRY V
Reigned 1413-1422

HENRY VI First Reign: 1422-1461 Second Reign: 1470-1471

HENRY VI
First Reign: 1422-1461
Second Reign: 1470-1471

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HOUSE OF YORK

The House of York was descended from the fourth surviving son of Edward III, Edmund, 1st Duke of York. The War of the Roses saw the throne pass back and forth between the rival houses, Lancaster and York.

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EDWARD IV First Reign: 1461-1470 Second Reign: 1471-1483

EDWARD IV
First Reign: 1461-1470
Second Reign: 1471-1483

HOUSE OF LANCASTER BRIEFLY RESTORED AND HENRY VI IS PLACED BACK ON THE THRONG. HENRY VI IS THEN MURDERED BY THE YORK BROTHERS. EDWARD IV REIGNS UNTIL HIS DEATH IN 1483.

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HOUSE OF YORK (Restored)

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EDWARD V Reigned 9 Apr - 25 Jun 1483

EDWARD V
Reigned 9 Apr – 25 Jun 1483

RICHARD III Reigned 1483-1485

RICHARD III
Reigned 1483-1485

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HOUSE OF TUDOR

The Tudors were descended from John Beaufort, one of the illegitimate children of John of Gaunt (third surviving son of Edward III). The Beauforts remained close allies of Gaunt’s other descendants, the House of Lancaster. John Beaufort’s granddaughter married Edmund Tudor, the son of the widowed queen consort of Henry V (a Lancaster king). Edmund’s son would defeat and kill Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, claiming himself Henry VII of England.

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HENRY VII Reigned 1485-1509

HENRY VII
Reigned 1485-1509

HENRY VIII Reigned 1509-1547

HENRY VIII
Reigned 1509-1547

EDWARD VI Reigned 1547-1553

EDWARD VI
Reigned 1547-1553

LADY JANE GREY Disputed Reign: 10-19 July 1553

LADY JANE GREY
Disputed Reign: 10-19 July 1553

MARY I Reigned 1553-1558

MARY I
Reigned 1553-1558

ELIZABETH I Reigned 1558-1603

ELIZABETH I
Reigned 1558-1603

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HOUSE OF STUART

Elizabeth I died without any descendants in 1603 and left the throne to her distant cousin, King James VI of Scotland, who became King James I of England.

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JAMES I Reigned 1603-1625

JAMES I
Reigned 1603-1625

CHARLES I Reigned 1625-1649

CHARLES I
Reigned 1625-1649

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COMMONWEALTH ENGLAND

There was no monarch between 1649 and the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Instead, the following people held the titles of Lords Protector during the period known as the Protectorate.

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OLIVER CROMWELL Ruled 1653-1658

OLIVER CROMWELL
Ruled 1653-1658

RICHARD CROMWELL Ruled 1658-1659

RICHARD CROMWELL
Ruled 1658-1659

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HOUSE OF STUART (Restored)

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King_Charles_II_by_Sir_Peter_Lely

CHARLES II
Reigned 1660-1685

JAMES II Reigned 1685-1688 (deposed)

JAMES II
Reigned 1685-1688 (deposed)

WILLIAM & MARY Mary II: Reigned 1689-1694 William III: Reigned 1689-1702

WILLIAM & MARY
Mary II: Reigned 1689-1694
William III: Reigned 1689-1702

ANNE Reigned 1702-1714

ANNE
Reigned as Queen of England 1702-1707
As Queen of Great Britain 1707-1714

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HOUSE OF HANOVER

The Hanovers came as a result of the Act of Settlement 1701, which excluded Roman Catholics from the line of succession. When Queen Anne died leaving no heirs (despite losing up to seventeen children in her lifetime),  George I became king. He was the great-grandson of James I through his daughter, Elizabeth of Bohemia. He was the closest heir to the throne who wasn’t a Roman Catholic.

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GEORGE I Reigned 1714-1727

GEORGE I
Reigned 1714-1727

GEORGE II Reigned 1727-1760

GEORGE II
Reigned 1727-1760

GEORGE III Reigned 1760-1820

GEORGE III
Reigned 1760-1820

GEORGE IV Reigned 1820-1830

GEORGE IV
Reigned 1820-1830

WILLIAM IV Reigned 1830-1837

WILLIAM IV
Reigned 1830-1837

queen-victoria-768

VICTORIA
Reigned 1837-1901

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HOUSE OF SAXE-COBURG AND GOTHA

Although Edward VII was the son of Queen Victoria, he inherited his father’s German names, which in turn created a new royal house.

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EDWARD VII Reigned 1901-1910

EDWARD VII
Reigned 1901-1910

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HOUSE OF WINDSOR

The name ‘Windsor’ was adopted in 1917 during World War I due to anti-German sentiments in the United Kingdom. When Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess) married Lt. Phillip Mountbatten in 1947, the royal household was expected to ditch ‘Windsor’ to become The House of Mountbatten. However, it was insisted that the name remain Windsor for Elizabeth and her descendants. Descendants of hers that don’t have princely titles and require surnames use ‘Mountbatten-Windsor.’

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GEORGE V Reigned 1910-1936

GEORGE V
Reigned 1910-1936

EDWARD VIII Reigned 20 Jan - 11 Dec 1936

EDWARD VIII
Reigned 20 Jan – 11 Dec 1936

GEORGE VI Reigned 1936-1952

GEORGE VI
Reigned 1936-1952

ELIZABETH II Reigned 1952-Present

ELIZABETH II
Reigned 1952-Present

Æthelstan, The First King of England (c.893-939)

Æthelstan was the King of Wessex who would become the first to style himself as ‘King of the English.’ He was the son of Edward the Elder and the grandson of Alfred the Great.

Athelstan, c.895-939. Illuminated manuscript from Bede's Life of St Cuthbert, c.930. Originally from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Scanned from the book The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England by David Williamson, ISBN 1855142287.

Athelstan, c.895-939. Illuminated manuscript from Bede’s Life of St Cuthbert, c.930. Originally from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Scanned from the book The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England by David Williamson, ISBN 1855142287.

There’s just no other way to say it. Æthelstan was Disney prince material. Chronicler William of Malmesbury described the king as handsome, slim, and blond. He was also extremely educated and personally brave. It’s written that he “won by the sword’s edge undying glory in battle.” In other words, if we didn’t have proof of his existence, he would be as legendary as King Arthur.

Æthelstan, King of Wessex

Æthelstan was born in Wessex in either 893 or 895. When his father, Edward the Elder died in battle in 924, the Mercians accepted him as king. It is widely believed that he had an older half-brother, Ælfweard who became King of Wessex after the death of Edward the Elder, but he died within only a few weeks of Edward. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle dictates that the two were even buried together at Winchester. Manuscript D of the Chronicle states that Ælfweard outlived his father by only 16 days. It is unknown whether or not he was actually assassinated. Either way, chronicler William of Malmesbury related that Æthelstan succeeded Edward immediately as part of the terms of Alfred the Great’s will (since lost).

Æthelstan centralized government and increased and maintained control over the production of charters. He also might be one of the first kings, if not the first, to basically invent ‘state visits,’ as he invited rulers from foreign areas to attend his councils, particularly the neighboring Welsh kings. Historian Thomas Charles-Edwards writes that the most dominant figure in Wales at this time was Hywel Dda of Deheubarth, who is described as “the firmest ally of the ‘emperors of britain’ among all the kings of his day.” The Welsh kings attended Æthelstan’s councils which created a strong alliance between England and Wales. Also by attending these councils, the Welsh acknowledged Æthelstan’s overlordship (an overlord is a person who has authority over other people in power; in this case, a lord who has power over other lords. The Welsh kings therefore were sub-kings of the English sovereign).

A large-scale map of Britain (up to Edinburgh) in the reign of King Æthelstan (924-39), showing settlements, bishoprics, and known mints, with lots of historical notes in the margins. Map drawn by Reginald Piggott for Simon Keynes.

A large-scale map of Britain (up to Edinburgh) in the reign of King Æthelstan (924-39), showing settlements, bishoprics, and known mints, with lots of historical notes in the margins. Map drawn by Reginald Piggott for Simon Keynes.

Æthelstan, King of the Anglo-Saxons

Unlike the Welsh, the Scots and the Vikings were resistant to accept him as a supreme ruler of the British Isles. In 927 AD, Æthelstan invaded and reconquered the last remaining Viking kingdom, York. This victory is what officially made him the first Anglo-Saxon ruler of England, and from 927 until his death, he was styled as King of the English.

Once he had gained control of York, the king was persistent in trying to persuade them to acknowledge him as the supreme ruler of all Britain. Instead of force the Archbishop of York (the most important lieutenant in the region) to submit to him, Æthelstan purchased a major territory in Lancashire and gave it to him. He showered ministers in York in gifts. Still, despite southern England swearing allegiance to him without question, and despite his peaceful-like tactics, he was still resented in the North, and the northern British kingdoms allied elsewhere, in one instance with the pagan Norse of Dublin.

Anxious for the Scots to accept his rule and accompanied by four Welsh kings, Æthelstan invaded Scotland in 934 and forced King Constantine to submit to him. Several factors made Æthelstan extremely comfortable with this invasion. Firstly, his half-brother Edwin died in 933, removing any insecurities that his people in Wessex might have against his rightful claim to the throne (which by now he’d held for ten years). Furthermore, the Norse king of Dublin, Guthfrith (who briefly ruled Northumbria in Northern Britain) died in 934. Guthfrith’s death created an insecurity among the Danes which gave Æthelstan a flawless opportunity to make his claim over the North. Two sources briefly explain this invasion. The Annals of Clonmacnoise (a 17th century translation of a lost Irish chronicle covering events in ireland from pre-history to 1408 AD) explains that Constantine and Æthelstan were disputing over who rightfully should claim the territory that Guthfrith left behind. The Chronicle briefly explained the expedition without an explanation but a twelfth-century chronicler John of Worcester stated that Constantine had broken a former treaty with Æthelstan.

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A modern sketch of Æthelstan.

Whatever the reason, filled with resentment, the Scots and Vikings retaliated by invading England. They were defeated at the Battle of Brunanburh, a victory that gave Æthelstan a major prestigious status across continental Europe.

The Battle of Brunanburh

The Battle of Brunanburh was fought against a combined army of Scots, Vikings, and Britons. The battle has been deemed “the greatest single battle in Anglo-Saxon history before the Battle of Hastings” by historian Alfred Smyth. Another historian, Michael Livingston claims that Brunanburh marked the moment when Englishness came of age. The site of the battle is unknown but it is well recorded in dozens of sources in Old English, Irish, Welsh, Middle English, Latin, and more. The Battle of Brunanburh is also a poem recorded in the Chronicle.

Never, before this,

were more men in this island slain

by the sword’s edge–as books and aged sages

confirm–since Angles and Saxons sailed here

from the east, sought the Britons over the wide seas,

since those warsmiths hammered the Welsh,

and earls, eager for glory, overran the land.

The poem also describes the deaths of five kings and seven earls among Æthelstan’s enemies, among them Constantine’s son:

Five lay still

on that battlefield – young kings

by swords put to sleep – and seven also

of Anlaf’s earls, countless of the army,

of sailors and Scotsmen. There was put to flight

the Northmen’s chief, driven by need

to the ship’s prow with a little band.

He shoved the ship to sea. The king disappeared

on the dark flood. His own life he saved.

So there also the old one came in flight

to his home in the north; Constantine,

that hoary-haired warrior, had no cause to exult

at the meeting of swords: he was shorn of his kin,

deprived of his friends on the field,

bereft in the fray, and his son behind

on the place of slaughter, with wounds ground to pieces,

too young in battle.

Æthelstan’s defeat of the Norse-Celtic army confirmed England as a fully unified kingdom. He was now officially the first King of the English.

Æthelstan, King of the English

Fortunately, we have many texts and manuscripts surviving from his reign, more than any other king prior to the 1000’s. As a religious leader, Æthelstan was famous for collecting relics and founding churches across England. He was extremely intelligent especially in the areas of foreign relations, and even had some of his sisters married off to other rules of Europe at the time. This offered him a great deal of protection and greatly supported his throne.

Æthelstan can be seen in many stained glass windows in churches across Europe because of his support for learning and his support for the church. He was one of the most religious Anglo-Saxon kings.

Æthelstan can be seen in many stained glass windows in churches across Europe because of his support for learning and his support for the church. He was one of the most religious Anglo-Saxon kings.

King Æthelstan built on his grandfather’s efforts to rebuilt, support, and maintain ecclesiastical scholarship. He was praised in his day for his piety and encouragement for learning. His reputation as a collector of books and relics attracted very intelligent educators to his court and he also aided Breton ministers who fled Brittany (in France) following it’s Viking conquest in 919. He sent to those clerics from Brittany, now exiled in Central France, some of his relics of Breton saints. This resulted in a major foreign interest in England for commemorating Breton saints.

Æthelstan took many grand and extravagant titles as the first King of England. Coins and charters of his time describe him as Rex totius Britanniae, King of the Whole of Britain. Charters from 931 on record him as ‘King of the English.’ Many historians regard him as a bit pretentious. For example, historian Sarah Foot writes in Æthelstan: the first king of England (pp. 212–213) that he was styled in one manuscript dedication as basileus et curagulus, the titles of Byzantine emperors. His titles reflect something very important: his status. Greatness was not something he solely saw in himself. It was recognized everywhere. Continental rulers saw him as a Carolingian emperor, and historian Veronica Ortenberg further argues that he was clearly treated as the new Charlemagne, writing:

Wessex kings carried an aura of power and success, which made them increasingly powerful in the 920s, while most Continental houses were in military trouble and engaged in internecine warfare. While the civil wars and the Viking attacks on the Continent had spelled the end of unity of the Carolingian empire, which had already disintegrated into separate kingdoms, military success had enabled Æthelstan to triumph at home and to attempt to go beyond the reputation of a great heroic dynasty of warrior kings, in order to develop a Carolingian ideology of kingship. (Ortenberg, The King from Overseas, pp. 211–222).

Something remarkable about Æthelstan is that he also wasn’t selfish. He was very kind and giving to other rulers, of course, if they showed him respect. Having married his sisters off to other kings, he had many young nieces and nephews around the known world. He supported them greatly in times of need. In 936, he sent an English fleet to help his foster-son, Alan II, Duke of Brittany, to regain his lands that had been conquered by the Vikings. He also assisted the son of his half-sister Eadgifu, Louis, to take the throne of West Francia. After having helped another possible foster-son, Hakon (the son of the king of Norway) to reclaim his throne, he was known by the Norwegians as ‘Æthelstan the Good.’

Stained glass window, All Souls College Chapel, Oxford. Originally obtained from Warden and Fellows of All Souls, Oxford.

Stained glass window, All Souls College Chapel, Oxford. Originally obtained from Warden and Fellows of All Souls, Oxford.

A miniature of St. Matthew in the Coronation Gospels presented by King Athelstan to Christ Church Priory. The manuscript is Carolingian in origin. British Library MS Cotton Tiberius A ii.

A miniature of St. Matthew in the Coronation Gospels presented by King Athelstan to Christ Church Priory. The manuscript is Carolingian in origin.
British Library MS Cotton Tiberius A ii.

Æthelstan died at Gloucester on October 27, 939. Although his father Edward and his grandfather, Alfred the Great had been buried at Winchester, he chose not to honor that opposed his rule. He was buried therefore at Malmesbury Abbey, where his cousins that died at Brunanburh were interred.

His bones were lost during the Dissolution of the Monestaries, but he is commemorated by an empty fifteenth-century tomb.

The tomb of King Athelstan in Malmesbury Abbey, Malmesbury, England.

The tomb of King Athelstan in Malmesbury Abbey, Malmesbury, England.

The Wessex Family Tree. Courtesy of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and www.royal.co.uk.

The Wessex Family Tree. Courtesy of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and http://www.royal.co.uk.

 

Edward the Elder (c.874-924)

Alfred the Great died in 899. He was succeeded by his son, Edward the Elder (c.874-77 – July 17, 924), as King of Wessex.

Edward the Elder.

Edward the Elder.

Edward is a very important Anglo-Saxon ruler for his success in extending his father’s victorious achievements. Alfred preferred a defensive look against threats from the Danes, whereas Edward took an aggressive approach.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle suggests that Edward struggled with realms outside of Wessex as early as 907, which was when the document states that Edward regained Chester. The fact that it’s mentioned in such a noteworthy document full of battles and important losses and victories, it’s likely that Chester was won back by Edward in battle.

Edward sent an army to antagonize Northumbria in 909, whom retaliated by attacking Mercia. Once the Northumbrians arrived there, they were met by the combined armies of Mercia and Wessex and it became known as the Battle of Tettenhall. The Northumbrian Danes were destroyed. The result of this victory is that the Danes never came further south than the River Humber.

Edward then had a number of burhs, or fortresses built to keep the Danes at bay.

Following a series of impeccable victories in 917, Edward captured Essex and the East Midlands was able to force the Vikings of East Anglia to submit to the rule of Wessex. Then, in 918, he expanded the kingdom even further by taking control of western Mercia (which was ruled by his niece, Aelfwynn) and then conquered Danish Mercia (the Five Boroughs). His aggression was vicious, his determination was clear, and his success in domination was incomparable by any of his predecessors to date.

The Five Boroughs and the English Midlands in the early 10th century. Adapted from Falkus & Gillingham and Hill.

The Five Boroughs and the English Midlands in the early 10th century. Adapted from Falkus & Gillingham and Hill.

Edward died in battle at Farndon-Upon-Dee on July 17, 924. At the time of his death, his kingdom was the most powerful in the British Isles.

He was buried in the New Minster in Winchester, which he established in 901, which eventually was replaced by Hyde Abbey to the north of the city. Edward’s body was transferred there but is now lost. His last known resting place is marked by a stone slab.

The last known resting place of Edward.

The last known resting place of Edward.

The Elder was first used in Life of St Æthelwold by the Anglo-Saxon monk, writer, composer, and scribe, Wulfstan (c.960-1000’s) to distinguish him from a later monarch, Edward the Martyr.

The Wessex Family Tree. Courtesy of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and www.royal.co.uk.

The Wessex Family Tree. Courtesy of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and http://www.royal.co.uk.

The Danelaw

The Danelaw was the term used to describe Scandinavian England following the Viking conquests by the Danes. The term ‘Danelaw’ itself comes from an early eleventh century description, Dena lage, which has been modernized. Historically, people have defined it many different ways. The way I understand it personally agrees most with historian Gwyn Jones in A History of the Vikings, (1968: 421):

The Danelaw was by name and definition that part of England in which Danish, not English, law and custom prevailed. It comprised the Danish conquests and settlements in Northumbria, East Anglia, the Five Boroughs of Stamford, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, and Lincoln, and the south-east Midlands.

Historian Cyril Hart’s definition compliments the one that Jones gives us. In his work, The Danelaw (1992: 3) he describes the Danelaw as:

…those parts of England in which the customary law observed in the shire … and in the smaller units of local administration exhibited a strong individuality, arising from the Danish influences which prevailed there.

A map of Wessex and Danelaw, 870.

A map of Wessex and Danelaw, 870.

All in all, historians generally agree that once the Danes had conquered the listed regions of England and settled, they assimilated by re-creating their own Danish culture in their newly won land, which was ruled by Guthrum during the time of Alfred the Great.