Cnut and the Rise of Earl Godwin

One of Cnut’s first tasks following his coronation at Christmas 1016AD, was to strengthen his grip on the new realm. He divided England into four parts with himself in Wessex, Thorkil the Tall in East Anglia, Eadric Streona in Mercia and Eric Hlathir in Northumbria.

Eric Hlathir or Hakonarson had been Regent in Norway, ruling on behalf of Cnut’s father Forkbeard until 1015AD, when the Norwegians threw off Danish rule at the Battle of Nesjar and Olaf Haraldsson regained the throne.

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The Danish Invasion

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”.

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Arthur and the Celtic Decline

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.

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The Birth of the Saxon Kingdoms

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.

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The Fight For Territory

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.

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Arnhem

“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.

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