The 10th Century and the Emergence of Anglo-Saxon England

The 10th Century and the Emergence of Anglo-Saxon England

Summary

The tenth century saw the decline of large-scale collective rituals and assemblies, marking a turning point for the central Middle Ages. This period was marked by four roughly balanced kingdoms in England following the breakdown of the dominant Mercian south of the Humber. The arrival of Vikings in the mid-830s led to a change in political patterns. After Alfred the Great’s victory over the Vikings, he established a dense network of public fortifications throughout southern England and developed a large-scale military levy. This established a Reichsaristokratie that lasted several generations. Queen-mothers and ealdormen played significant roles in maintaining the continuity of royal power in Anglo-Saxon England. The region achieved a structural coherence based on Alfred’s legacy and a literary royal ideology that drew inspiration from the Bible.

Table of Contents

  • The Significance of the 10th Century
  • The Emergence of Four Roughly Balanced Kingdoms in England
  • The Arrival of Vikings in the mid-830s
  • Alfred the Great’s Victory Over the Vikings
  • Queen-mothers and Ealdormen in Anglo Saxon England
  • The Legacy of Alfred the Great

Q&A

What significance did the tenth century hold in European history?
In European history, the tenth century was a turning point for the central Middle Ages. The era marked a decline in the importance of large-scale collective rituals and assemblies, replaced by the politics of royal and princely courts.

How did England’s political structures evolve in the tenth century?
After the breakdown of the dominant Mercian south of the Humber, England was divided into four roughly balanced kingdoms by 840. This made the structures of royal power more solid and integral to the episcopal network. It also removed the smaller kingdoms, bringing them under Mercian control.

How did the arrival of Vikings in the mid-830s affect England’s political patterns?
The arrival of Vikings led to a change in England’s geopolitical patterns. They raided the English coasts and escalated attacks from the 850s. The Vikings’ ‘Great Army’ appeared in 865, conquering Northumbria, East Anglia, and half of Mercia before being stopped by the West Saxons under Æthelwulf’s sons.

What did Alfred the Great do to counter Viking attacks?
After his victory over the Vikings at Edington in Wiltshire in 878, Alfred the Great developed a large-scale military levy. He also established a dense network of public fortifications throughout southern England, which held off a second large-scale Viking assault in 892-6. His collective oath of loyalty to the king and the emphasis on the oath in the Wynflæd-Leofwine case were modeled after Carolingian legislation.

What role did queen-mothers and ealdormen play in maintaining the continuity of royal power in Anglo-Saxon England?
Queen-mothers and ealdormen played significant roles in Anglo-Saxon England’s political continuity. During the reigns of Edmund, Eadred, and Edgar, the family of Æthelstan ‘Half-king’ dominated in Mercia and East Anglia, while Eadwig’s reign saw the emergence of a rival family led by Ælfhere, ealdorman of Mercia. These two families, along with a few other ealdormen, formed an oligarchy that ruled through a succession of young kings.

What was the legacy of Alfred the Great?
The legacy of Alfred the Great was critical to England’s structural coherence. His collective oath of loyalty was modeled after Carolingian legislation, and his emphasis on the oath in the Wynflæd-Leofwine case became instrumental. Edward the Elder and his successors spread the West Saxon shires across Mercia, obliterating the old Mercian regional divisions and extending the burh network of Wessex to Mercia. The subdivision of the shire, the hundred, seems to have been a Frankish import, not a West Saxon one, and was established in the tenth century. Meanwhile, assembly politics had Anglo-Saxon roots, but the increasingly visible judicial activity of these bodies associated with royal direction, the king’s seal, and attached instructions betrayed Frankish influence.

Conclusion

The tenth century was a critical period for England’s political evolution. The decline of large-scale collective rituals and assemblies marked a turning point for the central Middle Ages. The arrival of Vikings led to a change in England’s geopolitical patterns. In the aftermath of Alfred the Great’s victory over the Vikings, he established a dense network of public fortifications throughout southern England and developed a large-scale military levy, which led to the creation of a Reichsaristokratie. Queen-mothers and ealdormen played significant roles in maintaining the continuity of royal power in Anglo-Saxon England. Alfred’s legacy was critical to England’s structural coherence. It not only borrowed political practices from the Frankish world but also created a literary royal ideology that drew inspiration from the Bible and modeled upon Carolingian legislation.

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