Before we consider The Vikings and their assertiveness upon these Isles, it is necessary to consider way things had been carved up (we will not consider how that had been done to individuals as this is still a Family Friendly post). In those simpler times many folk (with a horde) thought they knew the best way to run things and so there were quite a number of kingdoms. As there are too many to study in details we shall be brief moving an orderly manner South to North and then moving south & west until we bump into Ireland. For convenience sake we shall not trouble with exact dates as no one agrees on them anyhow, so we shall simply assert we are studying from 650AD (about) to 800AD (sort of).
In some cases rather than use today’s nomenclature we shall use geographical approximations:
The South of The Big Bit
The Saxons of the Southern Bit
In the south Saxons and Jutes settled, only the Saxons didn’t like the arrangement and the Jutes were obliged to become Saxons or quit; so leaving behind a few whimsical laws they sailed back to Jutland to brood (the Saxons would later regret this). Still quite warlike and not content with being Just Saxons they divided up into East Saxons; (Essex), South Saxons (Sussex) and West Saxons (Wessex). We must consider the tragedy of the Middle Saxons they were not allowed to have kings of their own, had to wait until the 19th Century to have a county and then without any consideration were made in Londoners. In the meantime, those who did not like being geographically identified took over the Kingdom of Kent which was going vacant due to an absence of Jutes . With all this tumult nobody gave thought to having Northern Saxons and anyway Nessex just didn’t sound right; not that there was much room because of
Some Angles hit upon a cute idea that they should pretend they were just living about the borders of Wales and being no trouble to anyone and keeping the welsh at bay (Some historians have suggested Colwyn, but that’s just pandering to tourism). What they did then was to craftily keep pretending the welsh border was further, north, east and south than it was. By this means they soon controlled most of what was to become England. They also fooled folk into thinking all was fine because the quality of Mercia was not strained.
This may have been where the first Angles decided to settle. Since it was a little isolated from everywhere else they were able to manufacture English and claim to be the first ones to speak it. In view of the nature of the accents used this has been hotly denied by jealous parts of England. Anyway it proved they were not in any way obtuse. Since the Mercians were pushing east, the Northumbrians were not letting anyone come north over the river Humber and the south was full of Saxons, East Anglia sort of stuck.
Initially there were the Angles of Bernicia and Deira but on seeing their outlooks were quite congruent, they formed the kingdom of Northumbria. This covered the land south of the River Forth (and thus not in Scotland) and north of the River Humber (and so not in East Anglia). Saying North-Humbria was much the better choice than South-Forthia as this would have not suited folk with a few teeth missing, which for one reason or another was a common state in those days. Thus settled they occupied themselves with fighting Scots, Picts and a hopelessly lost folk, the Britons of Strathclyde.
Wales & Cornwall
These have already been discussed (see A True History of The Isles Part 10 – The Fall of The Britons), although it must be pointed out some loyal and doughty Britons stayed stubbornly in Saxon and Mercian territory and thus set up the foundations for Celtic tradition of Moaning About The English
At this stage although the Picts had quite taken a shine to being Scots, things were not straightforward. There was the age old confusion with the Irish in the form of the Kingdom of Dal Riata whose rulers insisted on messing things up by not being content with west Scotland but also bits of Northern Ireland. To the north (and quite a bit of the centre) was Fortriu, although celtish and pictish and a good candidate for the nation state couldn’t get the others to see its point of view. In particular there were the obstinate Britons of Strathclyde who did not see why they should change their status, and the Northumbrians who were fed up with stale old jokes about losing races ‘cas they only managed to get to Forth. Also the folk who would be Scots were horrified because Northumbrians had their own bagpipes and wouldn’t give them up (not even to this day), conflict was inevitable.
By this time the Irish had managed to accumulate about 150 kingdoms of various shapes and sizes. Whereas the equality of opportunity cannot be denied it was obvious that some of the bigger kingdoms would insist on some (well most of the smaller kingdoms) seeing things their way. However, things were not allowed to get too out of hand as everyone had to pay attention the High King, who sometimes could well be sacred and thus not one to annoy. The High Kings also had the choice of being Legendary or Historical, it was important to make this choice quickly otherwise a king could end up being considered Anachronistic, Inaccurate or even worse placed on the Synthetic List and be accused of fabricating his lineage. On the whole then, apart from kings trying to seize other kings’ land, cattle or wives and one killing the other (or in some cases being killed by their own wives when they brought home someone else’s wife) all went quite well.
One thing all the kings agreed on was that it was a good thing to convert to Christianity as that meant they only had to remember one God (and His Son), which was not as distracting as trying to memorise all those Germanic gods and which pronunciation to use. As there were some Christians around already, the Pope at the time (possibly Gregory, or not) need not have sent another bunch of priests, bishops etc to The Isles to do the conversion; there again he might have needed a good reason to clear a whole lot of theologians out of Rome confusing things with their interpretations of gospels, letters, acts etc.
As it will be noted, there were far too many kings, rebellious sons, disgruntled brothers (a scion was nothing without his gruntle in those days) and wicked uncles for the Isles to present much of a united front.
So when some Danes who could trace their ancestry back to Jutes started grumbling about how hard done by great-great-great-great-uncle Ethelbald had been by those Saxons, the Nordic folk felt inclined to stick horns or wings on their helmets and sail westwards.
This will be discussed in the next seminar.