Ethelred was the second son of King Edgar. He was ten years old when his brother Edward the Martyr was murdered in 978AD. The Chronicle says of Edward that “Men murdered him but God magnified him”. In keeping with its prophecies of doom that are usually written in times of turmoil, it goes on to say that “In the same year a bloody cloud was seen in the likeness of fire, most often manifested at midnight”. With the approaching millennium, the church was also forecasting “gathering darkness and natural disaster”.
In 402AD, Constantine’s son, also Constantine, was king having invaded Britain reportedly at the request of Guithelimus, the Archbishop of London, to defend against the growing intrusions of the Anglo Saxons, but was murdered by an unknown Pict in 420AD. His son Constans who had wished to avoid all the perils of kingship had become a monk at Winchester, but was sought out and made High King by the northern leader Vortigern and ruled for seventeen years until, having fallen out with Vortigern, was himself killed and Vortigern assumed the role, thus earning himself the title of “usurper” from Gildas. It was Vortigern who first brought Anglo Saxon mercenaries, led by Hengist and Horsa, into the country to aid him in repelling attacks from Pictish and Scottish raiders in return for promises of land.
The period following the Roman withdrawal was one of gradual turmoil and civic breakdown, although St Patrick, writing some ten years after the Roman departure noted that, in the towns at least, some order continued and civil taxes were still being collected and services maintained. The drift was however, towards a return to tribalism with many people leaving the larger towns and returning to the more easily defended hill forts. The power vacuum thus created was to be filled by the Anglo Saxons.
These people were first recorded in 98AD, by the Roman historian Tacitus who describes them as worshippers of the Goddess Nerthus the Earth Mother.
This was no single unstoppable wave of invaders, more of a gradual process. The Romans would doubtless have used these peoples as auxiliaries in their British garrisons and many would have settled in Briton at the end of their service. It would be natural for some of their kin to join them over a period and add to the established settlements.
By the middle of the seventh century Britain was a patchwork of native and invading communities led by powerful chieftains or kings, struggling to gain ascendancy over each other. During this period a small number of kingdoms became dominant, such as Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex, Sussex East Anglia and Kent.
The stronger ones would ever seek to impose their rule and expand territory by force or alliance or by dynastic marriages. By now much of the country was in the hands of the newcomers with the native Britons consigned to the margins.
“Where is the Prince who can afford so to cover his country with troops for its defence as that 10,000 men descending from the clouds, might not, in many places, do an infinite deal of mischief before a force could be brought together to repel them?”. Benjamin Franklin, 1784.
Following the success of the D Day landings in June 1944, the Allies expected to make a steady advance eastward, but found themselves bogged down for many weeks in the bitter Battle for Normandy.
Richard was born at Oxford on 8th September 1157, the third son of Henry II, and, as such, never expected to succeed to the English throne. History has glamorised his reign, endowing it with an air of romance and chivalry as epitomised by his statue outside the Houses of Parliament.
Another description could be that of absentee warlord, forever seeking to expand his rule through the force of arms and spending only six months of his ten year rule in England. His undoubted military prowess earned him the title of Lionheart in Europe, while in the East, mothers would threaten their children with his Arabic name Melec Ric - “King Ric”.
He was recorded as a handsome figure, 6’5” tall with the fair hair and blue eyes of the Plantagenets. He was a bright scholar and a talented linguist; he could make jokes in Latin and recite poetry in French and Provencal. A man of some intelligence and insight, he realised that there was more to successful warfare than just being skilled in arms. He combined these qualities with a gift for strategy and tactics that enabled him to consolidate his rule in both his duchy of Aquitaine and kingdom of England.