England is the largest and most populous country within the British Isles. It became a unified state in 927 and takes its name from the Angles, the largest of the Germanic tribes who came there from Denmark and northern Germany during the 5th and 6th centuries. The Order of Hermes considers it to be part of the Stonehenge Tribunal.
Ancient and Roman EnglandEdit
The region of England was inhabited by ancient peoples, sometimes associated with the Picts, who erected many stone rings and monoliths across the country. By the coming of the Romans these people were sometimes referred to as Britons
As early as the 4th century BC the Greeks and Carthaginians were trading for tin from Britain, referring to it as the Cassiterides or "tin Islands." Julius Caesar made two expeditions to Britain, in 55 and 54 BC, as a side trek from his conquest of Gaul. The first expedition gained a foothold on the coast of Kent but storm damage to the Roman fleet made it imprudent to advance further. Despite this, Caesar was acclaimed for the expedition; the Roman Senate proclaimed a public holiday in his honor.
The second expedition arrived with substantially larger forces and coerced many of tribes of the Britons to pay tribute or offer hostages to the Romans, who thus established a client state on the island.
In AD 43 the Romans invaded outright, with the force commanded by Aulus Plautius, and with one legion commanded by the future Emperor Vespasian. The invasion was delayed by a mutiny of the troops, who were eventually persuaded by an imperial freedman to overcome their fear of crossing the ocean and campaigning beyond the limits of the known world. They sailed in three divisions, and landed at Richborough in Kent.
The Romans defeated the Catuvellauni and their allies in two battles: the first in a battle on the river Medway, the second on the Thames. One of the Catuvellaunian leaders, Togodumnus, was killed, but his brother Caratacus survived to continue resistance elsewhere. Plautius halted at the Thames and sent for Claudius, who arrived with reinforcements, including artillery and elephants, for the final march to the Catuvellaunian capital, Camulodunum (Colchester). While Vespasian subdued the southwest, Cogidubnus was set up as a friendly king of several territories, and treaties were made with tribes outside the area under direct Roman control.
In AD 60-61, a queen of the Iceni tribe, Boadicea, rebelled against Roman rule, destroying Camulodunum (Colchester), and the then-governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was forced to abandon Londinium, which was burned to the ground by the rebels, as was Verulamium (St Albans). Suetonius regrouped and defeated Boadicea at the Battle of Watling Street, and today her legend lives on only in dim memory and the works of Dio and Tacitus.
There was further turmoil in 69, the "year of four emperors". As civil war raged in Rome, weak governors were unable to control the legions in Britain, and Venutius of the Brigantes seized his chance. The Romans had previously defended Cartimandua against him, but this time were unable to do so. Cartimandua was evacuated, and Venutius was left in control of the north of the country. After Vespasian secured the empire, his first two appointments as governor, Quintus Petillius Cerialis and Sextus Julius Frontinus, took on the task of subduing the Brigantes and Silures respectively. Frontinus extended Roman rule to all of South Wales, and initiated exploitation of the mineral resources, such as the gold mines at Dolaucothi.
In the following years, the Romans conquered more of the island, increasing the size of Roman Britain. Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola, father-in-law to the historian Tacitus, conquered the Ordovices in 78. Agricola defeated the Caledonians in 84 at the Battle of Mons Graupius, in what is today northern Scotland. This marked the extent of Roman territory in Britain; shortly after his victory, Agricola was recalled from Britain back to Rome, and the Romans retired to a more defensible line along the Forth-Clyde isthmus, freeing soldiers badly needed along other frontiers.
There is no historical source describing the decades that followed Agricola's recall. Even the name of his replacement is unknown. Archaeology has shown that some Roman forts south of the Forth-Clyde isthmus were rebuilt and enlarged, although others appear to have been abandoned. Roman coins and pottery have been found circulating at native settlement sites in what are now the Scottish Lowlands in the years before 100, indicating growing Romanisation. One of the most important sources of this era are the writing tablets from the fort at Vindolanda in Northumberland, mostly dating to AD 90-110. These tablets provide vivid evidence for the operation of a Roman fort at the edge of the Roman Empire, where officers' wives maintained polite society while merchants, hauliers and military personnel kept the fort operational and supplied.
Around 105, however, a serious setback appears to have happened at the hands of the tribes of Scotland; several Roman forts were destroyed by fire at Trimontium (Newstead, in southeasternmost Scotland.) Trajan's Dacian Wars led to troop reductions in the area or even total withdrawal followed by slighting of the forts by the natives rather than a military defeat. The Romans were also in the habit of destroying their own forts during an orderly withdrawal, in order to deny resources to an enemy. In either case, the frontier moved south to the line of the Stanegate at the Solway-Tyne isthmus around this time.
A new crisis occurred at the beginning of Hadrian's reign in 117, a rising in the north which was suppressed by Quintus Pompeius Falco. When Hadrian reached Britannia on a tour of the Roman provinces around 120, he directed an extensive defensive wall, known now as Hadrian's Wall, to be built close to the line of the Stanegate frontier. Hadrian appointed Aulus Platorius Nepos as governor to undertake this work.
In the reign of Antoninus Pius (138-161) the Hadrianic border was briefly extended north to the Forth-Clyde isthmus, where the Antonine Wall was built around 142 following the military re-occupation of the Scottish lowlands by a new governor, Quintus Lollius Urbicus. The first Antonine occupation of Scotland ended as a result of a further crisis in 155-157, when the Brigantes revolted. With limited options to dispatch reinforcements, the Romans moved their troops south, and this uprising was suppressed by Governor Cnaeus Julius Verus. Within a year the Antonine Wall was reoccupied, but by 164 it was abandoned. The Romans did not entirely withdraw from Scotland at this time, however; the large fort at Newstead was maintained along with seven smaller outposts until at least 180.
In 175, a large force of Sarmatian cavalry, consisting of 5,500 men, arrived in Britannia, probably to reinforce troops fighting unremembered uprisings. In 180, Hadrian's Wall was breached and barbarians killed the commanding officer there in what Dio Cassius described as the most serious war of the reign of Commodus. Ulpius Marcellus was sent as replacement governor and by 184 he had won a new peace only to be faced with a mutiny from his own troops. Unhappy with Marcellus' strictness, they tried to elect a legate named Priscus as usurper emperor; he refused, but Marcellus was lucky to leave the province alive. The Roman army in Britannia continued its insubordination; they sent a delegation of 1,500 to Rome to demand the execution of Tigidius Perennis, a Praetorian Prefect who they felt had earlier wronged them by posting lowly equites to legate ranks in Britannia. Commodus met the party outside Rome and agreed to have Perennis killed, but this only made them feel more secure in their mutiny.
The future emperor Pertinax was sent to Britannia to restore order and was initially successful in regaining control. A riot broke out amongst the troops however, in which Pertinax was attacked and left for dead, and he asked to be recalled to Rome, briefly succeeding Commodus in 192.
In the 4th century, there were increasing attacks from the Saxons in the east and the Irish in the west. A series of forts was built, starting around 280, to defend the coasts, but these preparations were not enough when a general assault of Saxons, Irish and Attacotti, combined with apparent dissension in the garrison on Hadrian's Wall, left Roman Britain prostrate in 367. This crisis was settled by a string of military and civil reforms. By 410, the Romans had departed Britain, leaving the islands to their own devices.
The Dark Ages and the Rise of the PendragonEdit
Britain then was consumed for generations by a string of invasions and civil wars. Around the middle of the 5th century, the warlord Vortigern rose to power, inviting Saxon mercenaries to Britain to aid him in conquering his neighbors, but they would turn against him and plunder a number of local settlements.
Ambrosius Aurelianus fought against the Saxons in a number of battles until his death, as did his stepson Uther, until they were decisively defeated by Uther's son Arthur at the Battle of Badon in 509. Much legend surrounds King Arthur, but as his father before him he would be acclaimed Pendragon, High King of Britain, as Arthur. His empire would not survive his departure after the battle of Camlann, but the peace he forged, with the power of the Saxons broken, would last a generation afterward.
England of the Many KingdomsEdit
Anglo-Saxon expansion resumed in the late sixth century, although the chronology of its progress is unclear. One of the few individual events which emerges with any clarity before the seventh century is the Battle of Deorham in 577, a West Saxon victory which led to the capture of Cirencester, Gloucester and Bath, bringing the Anglo-Saxon advance to the Bristol Channel and dividing the Britons in the West Country from those in Wales. The Northumbrian victory at the Battle of Chester around 616 may have had a similar effect in dividing Wales from the Britons of Cumbria.
Gradual Saxon expansion through the West Country continued through the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries. Meanwhile, by the mid-seventh century the Angles had pushed the Britons back to the approximate borders of modern Wales in the west and expanded northward as far as the River Forth.
The widespread Christianisation of England began in this era, influenced by Celtic Christianity from the northwest and by the Roman Catholic Church from the southeast. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, took office in 597. In 601, he baptised the first Christian Anglo-Saxon king, Aethelbert of Kent. The last pagan Anglo-Saxon king, Penda of Mercia, died in 655. The last pagan Jutish king, Arwald of the Isle of Wight was killed in 686. Virtually every corner of Britain was Christianized by 800.
A number of British states began to emerge, led by the seven Kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, Kent, East Anglia, Essex, Sussex and Wessex. Throughout the 7th and 8th century waxed and waned between these larger kingdoms, until in the 10th century the Kingdom of Wessex grew dominant, forging a Kingdom of England again for the first time in nearly five centuries.
The Viking Invasions and the Reunification of EnglandEdit
The first recorded Viking attack in Britain was in 793 at Lindisfarne monastery. However, by then the Vikings were well-established in Orkney and Shetland, and it is probable that many other raids occurred before this. Iona was raided in 794.
The arrival of the Vikings, in particular the Danish Great Heathen Army, upset the political and social geography of Britain and Ireland. Alfred of Wessex's victory at Edington in 878 stemmed the Danish attack; however, by then Northumbria had dissolved into Bernicia and a Viking kingdom, Mercia had been split down the middle, and East Anglia ceased to exist as an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom. The Danes had similar effects on the various kingdoms of the Irish, Scots, Picts and (to a lesser extent) Welsh. In North Britain the Vikings were one reason behind the formation of the Kingdom of Alba, which eventually evolved into Scotland.
The conquest of Northumbria, north-western Mercia and East Anglia by the Danes led to widespread Danish settlement in these areas. In the early tenth century the Norwegian rulers of Dublin took over the Danish kingdom of York. By the end of Alfred's reign in 899 he was the only remaining English king, having reduced Mercia to a dependency of Wessex, governed by his son-in-law Ealdorman Aethelred. Cornwall (Kernow) was subject to West Saxon dominance, and the Welsh kingdoms recognized Alfred as their overlord.
Alfred of Wessex died in 899 and was succeeded by his son Edward the Elder. Edward, and his brother-in-law Aethelred of (what was left of) Mercia, began expansion, building forts and towns after the manner of Alfred. On Æthelred's death his wife (Edward's sister) Athelflaed ruled as "Lady of the Mercians" and continued expansion. Edward had his son Athelstan brought up in the Mercian court, and on Edward's death Athelstan succeeded to the Mercian kingdom, and, after some uncertainty, Wessex.
Athelstan continued the expansion of his father and aunt and was the first king of what we would now consider England. His expansion aroused ill-feeling among the other kingdoms of Britain, and he defeated a combined Scottish and Danish army at the Battle of Brunanburh. However, the unification of England was not a certainty. Under Æthelstan's successors Edmund and Eadred the English kings repeatedly lost and regained control of Northumbria. Nevertheless, Edgar, who ruled the same expanse as Athelstan, consolidated the kingdom, which remained united thereafter.
There were renewed Danish attacks on England at the end of the 10th century. Ethelred ruled a long reign but ultimately lost his kingdom to Sveinn Forkbeard of Denmark, though he recovered it following the latter's death. However, Æthelred's son Edmund II Ironside died shortly afterwards, allowing Canute, Sveinn's son, to become king of England. Under his rule the kingdom became the centre of government for an empire which also included Denmark and Norway.