The Middle Ages were also known as a Dark Age in England due to the distinct lack of archaeological evidence or written accounts. This means that any of the small clues that remain have had to be pieced together to form a somewhat incomplete picture.
After the Romans retreated back to Europe to defend their threatened empire there (in the year 410), England was left vulnerable to attack by pagan warriors. These ones included seafarers like the Saxons and the Jutes, who were both Germanic tribes. The kingdoms in the north of present-day England, known as Hen Ogledd, were Sub-Roman Bryothonic tribes, and experienced Anglo invasions during the 500’s too. Eventually, they were conquered by the Angles.
Because of the distinct lack of physical evidence or formal reports from this time, the theories around the Anglo-Saxon invasion and occupation of England differ somewhat. The next known piece of factual evidence (following the invasions) is that, by the seventh century, there were seven smaller Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. These were known as the Heptarchy and included Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Wessex. One of the symptoms of the Heptarchy was the relative loss of Christianity.
King Athelstan of England he reigned
between 925 and 939. He is
regarded as the the first
king of all England and was
the grandson of
Alfred the Great.
Northumbria and Mercia started off as being the most influential and dominant of the sub-kingdoms. However, once the Vikings had invaded, Wessex came to be under the rulership of Alfred the Great and rose in its power and authority. Alfred the Great’s grandson was Athelstan, who was responsible for uniting the smaller kingdoms of England into one major force in 927. When Edred conquered Eric Bloodaxe (a formidable Viking), this unification was further entrenched.
King Cnut the Great was the Viking king of Denmark, Norway, England and some areas in Sweden. He reigned from 1018 to 1035 and was a major figure in Medieval Europe. For a short time, he assimilated England into the major empire that had Denmark and Norway under it. However, when Edward the Confessor ruled (between 1042 and 1066), he restored the rule of the House of Wessex.
In 1066, William the Conqueror (a fief of the Kingdom of France) conquered England. He was from the Duchy of Normandy, a nation that had introduced feudalism (a system of ruling and owning land) in England. They had castles all across the country, maintaining a relative amount of power through their barons. English was influenced significantly by the Norman French spoken at this time.
The House of Plantagenet from Anjou had inherited a number of fiefs under the throne of King Henry II. England was one of these, adding yet another element to the Angevin Empire. This reign lasted for some three hundred years and included well-known rulers and historical figures, such as Richard I, Edward I, Edward III and Henry V. During this time, there were significant changes in the laws of the country and the regulations regarding trade. One of these was the Magna Carta, which was designed to protect freemen and limit the extent of the king’s power and influence. During this time, Catholicism blossomed and the Oxford and Cambridge universities were founded. The Principality of Wales was made a Plantagenet fief and the Pope gave Lordship of Ireland to the English monarchy as a gift. This occurred in the 13th century.
The 14th century proved to be fraught with conflict. Both the houses of Plantagenet and Valois claimed that they were the legitimate claimants to the House of Capet as well as France. The Hundred Years' War saw these two powers clashing in violent encounters.
In 1348, Black Death emerged. This was one of the deadliest epidemics ever to emerge, killing approximately 100 million people worldwide. It killed about half of the inhabitants of ancient England.
Then, halfway through the 15th century, the Yorkists and the Lancastrians (which formed the two parts of the royal family) began to clash in a civil war known as the War of the Roses. This lasted from 1453 to 1487. The Yorkists lost the throne to the Tudors, the Welsh nobles that were part of the Lancastrians.