The Anglo-Saxons

Who were the Anglo-Saxons?
The Anglo-Saxons were groups from northern Germany and Denmark - the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes. They began to migrate to England after the Romans left Britain in around 400 AD.
What was the history of the Anglo-Saxons?
There were some key points in the history of the Anglo-Saxons.
  • Around 600 AD they mass-converted to Christianity. Religion and the Church were an important feature of their lives.
  • In around 800 AD the Vikings began to raid and invade areas of eastern England.
  • Originally, Anglo-Saxon England was divided into seven kingdoms, known as the Heptarchy. After 937 AD these were united into one kingdom - England.
  • From 1016-1035 the king of England was a Viking named Cnut. He was particularly popular in the Danelaw.
  • Cnut was succeeded by two of his sons - Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut. When Harthacnut died in 1042 he was succeeded by Edward the Confessor, an Anglo-Saxon from the pre-Viking dynasty.
What was the Heptarchy in Anglo-Saxon England?
After 927 AD, the seven kingdoms of the Heptarchy remained as earldoms - large areas of land that were controlled on behalf of the king by rich and powerful warriors, called earls.
  • Northumbria was in the north east of England.
  • Wessex ran along the southern coastline of England, although the areas now known as Devon and Cornwall remained Celtic.
  • Mercia covered most of the Midlands.
  • East Anglia was on the east coast, below Northumbria.
  • Essex, Sussex and Kent were located in the south east of England.
How was Anglo-Saxon society organised?
In Anglo-Saxon times, people in England lived in a social hierarchy. The most powerful and wealthy people at the top formed the aristocracy.
Who were the ceorls in Anglo-Saxon England?
Ceorls (also known as 'freemen') were free peasants who were not tied to the land, and who could leave to work for another lord if they chose.
Who were the peasants in Anglo-Saxon England?
Peasants made up the majority of Anglo-Saxon society. They rented small farms to support themselves and their families, and also worked for the local lord.
Who were the slaves in Anglo-Saxon England?
Slaves made up about 10% of Anglo-Saxon society. They could be bought and sold, like property.
Who were the thegns in Anglo-Saxon England?
Thegns were the local lords.
  • They held more than 5 hides of land (about 600 acres).
  • They lived in a manor house, sometimes with its own church.
  • They were important people in the community, and rented their land to peasants.
  • They formed the aristocracy in Anglo-Saxon society.
What did the earls do in Anglo-Saxon England?
The earls were:
  • The most important, wealthy, and powerful men in Anglo-Saxon society.
  • They had a relationship with the king that operated on trust, although they might challenge him to get more power.
  • Overlords of the thegns, who fought in their armies.
How mobile was Anglo-Saxon society?
Although the status of Anglo-Saxon individuals depended on the importance of family and ancestors, their society was more flexible than others of the time. People could become more or less important within it.
  • Thegns could be made into earls, and earls could be demoted to thegns.
  • Peasants who gained and paid tax on more than five hides of land became thegns.
  • Traders and merchants with their own ships could become thegns.
  • Slaves could be freed by their masters.
  • Peasants could sell themselves into slavery if they were desperate.
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