Anglo-Saxons of Middle Ages

Who were the Saxons?

Around the fifth century, Saxons, a group of people from northern Germany, moved to Britain. The Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes were the three major ethnic groups. These people became known as the Anglo-Saxons after emigrating to Britain. Eventually, the term “Angles” was changed to “English,” and their country took on the name England.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Between 550 and 1066, the Anglo-Saxons dominated the island of Britain. The regions were initially split up into numerous minor kingdoms, but ultimately some kingdoms came to rule.

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Early in the sixth century, Northumbria, a kingdom to the north populated by the Angles, became the first to rule. Then, in the 700s, the Kingdom of Mercia became powerful. The Kingdom of Wessex finally took control of the region in the 800s. The monarch of all of England was seen as being the King of Wessex.

Dane Invasion

The Danes (Danish people) started invading England in the middle of the eighth century. They initially restricted themselves to coastal raids but soon began annexing territory and building colonies. The Danes invaded the Wessex kingdom in 870. The Saxons defeated the Danes at the Battle of Ashdown under the command of a youthful prince by the name of Alfred.

Alfred the Great

In 871, Prince Alfred was crowned king. Alfred kept up his fight with the Danes. Alfred mediated a pact with the Danes in 886. The Danes were given control of the north and east of England, and the Saxons were given control of the south and west. The name “Danelaw” was given to the Danes’ homeland.

Alfred the Great acquired the nickname for King Alfred. To create the Kingdom of England, he made numerous contributions. To keep his people safe from the Danes, he fortified the frontiers. He also restructured the English economy and established laws, education, and a fleet.

Social Order

The kings were at the very pinnacle of the Anglo-Saxon social hierarchy. The Thanes were below them. Thanes were stout men who served the monarch and possessed property. They might have a say in who ruled and what the king did. Free people known as churls lived beneath the Thanes. Slaves were at the very bottom of the social hierarchy. Some slaves were those who were taken prisoner in combat, while others were those who were unable to pay their obligations. Slaves in Anglo-Saxon England had no rights.

Government and Laws

The Saxon king was not the only one in power. He was assisted in ruling by a council of thanes and bishops. The Witan or Witenagermot was the name of this council. The Witan gave the king advice, prevented him from abusing his authority, and occasionally even chose the next monarch.

The Saxons had extremely archaic laws. For instance, if you stole anything, your hand might be amputated. The wergild, a fine, was levied as punishment for murder or harm to another person. Depending on a person’s rank, the wergild changed. For instance, you would owe 1,200 shillings if you killed a thane or other significant person. You might only owe 200 shillings if you killed someone of a lower social status, such as a churl. The value of a wounded person’s body varied depending on what sections were damaged.


With the Norman Conquest in 1066, Anglo-Saxon rule came to an end, yet the Saxons left their mark on England. This covers the local politics, culture, and language. Many of the shires that the Saxons created are still in use today as borders.

Interesting Anglo-Saxon historical information:

The scramasax, a short sword used by the Saxons, gave them their name.

The only English king referred to be “the Great” is Alfred the Great.

Shires, in turn, were subdivided into “hundreds” in the Saxon world.

The Shire Reeve was the title given to a Shire’s peace officer. The “sheriff” was the name given to this afterwards.

A monk by the name of Venerable Bede recorded most of what is known about the early Saxons. He has earned the moniker “Father of English History” on occasion.