It began with Cassivellaunus. The first recorded King to have commanded the submission of most, if not all, of the British tribes and who fought valiantly against Caesar and his legions. And although the hegemony under Cassivellaunus didn’t last, it presented a tantalizing new possibility. Unity.
A century later, the Romans returned… and this time they stayed…. and for nearly 4 centuries, England, Wales, and parts of Scotland all experienced rule under a single government. The concept of Britannia, as a single unified province, which was alien in those early days, was now part of the collective consciousness. So much so that, even after Rome withdrew, we are told of how the Britons organized for a time under a single ruler… Vortigern.
And according to legend, it was his rule that brought two Anglo Saxon brothers, Hengest and Horsa, to our shores to fight for the Britons. And they did as they were asked. For a time. But as is the way with mercenaries, once you stop paying… Conflicts can arise.
We’re told that the brothers turned on their employers, and ravaged much of southern Britain. And it was at this point that the Britons discovered that they were not as weak as they had believed they were. They fought back. Wars raged, and at Badon Hill, the Britons at last found their victory. The Anglo Saxons were defeated.
But the way had been opened, and climate change combined with tremendous amounts of unrest on the continent, lead to a continual stream of migrants coming to britain.
And life for the migrants was hard, in those early days. Their health was poor and their settlements were meager, with many living in barely more than a pit in the ground. But they persisted. And they farmed. And in time, they began to organize. They acquired surpluses, and that lead to the development of hierarchies and classes. Some of the local Britons integrated with the Anglo Saxons, others spurned them, but regardless it couldn’t be denied that their settlements were quickly growing in both prosperity and size.
And it wasn’t long before conflicts between the Anglo Saxons and the Britons once again sparked up, and this time, the Anglo Saxons fared much better. They expanded their holdings, brought villages under their control, and captured slaves. They were forming Kingdoms.
The Anglo Saxon era was dawning.
And with it, came a new culture. One that didn’t fully reflect the communities of the Anglo Saxon homelands, nor did it reflect British culture… but rather, it was wholly unique, with some aspects taken from one side, some from the other, and some appear to have been developed entirely on their own. And so we began to see the growth of something that you could only describe as an early form of Englishness.
After generations of struggle, the people of the East were forming their own unique identity. And with it came the possibility of unity… and that brought the return of the Bretwaldas… the Britain Rulers. Men who had the ambition, and quite possibly the ability, to rule not just one Kingdom… but many… maybe even all of England.
That seed that had been planted in the days of Cassivellaunus and Suetonius was now bearing fruit. Raedwald, Edwin, AEthelfrith, Oswald, Penda, Oswiu… all of these men were on the cusp of attaining what Britain had not seen since the days of Vortigern. A unified territory.
And as luck would have it, strength and ambition was gathering amongst Anglo saxon nobility at roughly the same time as the arrival a new religion. One that gave them yet another a reason to make war upon their neighbors. Christianity.
And so wars sparked up, and Christ was pitted directly against Nordic gods like thunor and Woden, but ultimately the real fight was simply dynasties versus dynasties.
In the end, religious writers will tell us that the old gods were defeated, and christianity was triumphant. That the battle for the soul of England was over. And that is true to an extent…after all, we are seeing the age of the warriors of god drawing to a close.
But truthfully, Christianity didn’t win the battle… the real winners of these wars were two kingdoms that had dreams of imperium… Mercia and Northumbria.
And the fight was far from over. War in the east had become commonplace, and it was being fueled by ambitious men who seemed to have recognized the very real possibility that a single person could once again rule all of Eastern Britain. And they were willing to drench the land in blood to achieve that goal.
King Oswiu might be dead, but the line of Ida has not been extinguished. Ecgfrith now sits the Throne of Northumbria…. and in Mercia, Wulfhere, son of Penda, has been amassing a tremendous amount of power and has been forcing most of the south to submit to him. How long before he turns his gaze on the last Kingdom in the East who could challenge him?
The wars of religion might be over, but the wars of domination are just beginning, as we enter BHP season four: Anglo Saxon Ascendancy.