The End of the Kingdom of East Anglia

By Joe Mason, July 25, 2013

The kingdom of East Anglia came to an end in the year 917 when it was conquered by Edward the Elder, the son of Alfred the Great. This was the culmination of a process of conquest that had been going on for over thirty years, since the time of Alfred. This was another step in the chain of events which led to the kings of Wessex becoming the kings of England. Alfred was probably the first king to use the title Rex Anglorum, or King of the English people.

A hundred years before, at the beginning of the 9th century, it had been Mercia, not Wessex, that dominated the kingdom of East Anglia. In the next half century East Anglia regained a large measure of independence as the influence of Mercia over the rest of England waned. By this time the seven kingdoms of England had been reduced to four; all the land between the river Humber and Scotland was known as Northumbria; Mercia, which included Lincolnshire and the midlands; Wessex in the south west, and East Anglia which comprised Norfolk and Suffolk and part of Cambridgeshire.

East Anglia (England 878)

This independence enjoyed by East Anglia was brought to an abrupt end by the political upheavals which followed the arrival of the Viking army in 865. The Vikings first arrived in Kent as a raiding army and in Norfolk they demanded horses. In Northumbria they carried out their first full scale onslaught on an English kingdom, establishing themselves as rulers in the city of York. Next they turned to Mercia but their campaign along the river Trent proved inconclusive.

East Anglia (Coins)1
KIng Edmund Silver Penny AD 885-915

We know rather more about the Danes who ruled East Anglia for nearly forty years. Their leader, Guthrum, was defeated in Wessex by king  Alfred who desperately wanted an end to the ten years of conflict with the Danes. He therefore decided to give Danes East Anglia, providing they were baptised as Christians. This was achieved, at least among their leaders, and Guthrum became known as king Athelstan. Alfred was however giving away a land over which he had no rights of ownership. A similar thing happened to Mercia, a part being ceded to the Danes. Following the death of the Mercian king Coelwulf in about 883 the part of that kingdom not occupied by the Danes became absorbed into Wessex.

In spite of a peace treaty between Wessex and the Danes (of which a copy still exists) the Anglo-Saxons and Danes repeatedly waged war. There were reversals of fortune but gradually the part of the country under Danish control shrank.  First Alfred took Essex, then his son took Norfolk and Suffolk, Lincolnshire and finally by the middle of the 10th century, the English controlled Yorkshire. These actions are often referred to as the reconquest of the Danelaw, but this term is misleading. It only makes sense if one sees things in a purely racial way, Anglo-Saxons against Danes. In any other sense it was conquest pure and simple, for the kings of Wessex had never had control over these northerly counties until the 10th century.

The year 917 saw the end of the kingdom of East Anglia but even the end of the independent kingdom of Yorkshire was not the end of the Viking threat. The kings of Wessex, and later the kings of the English, held sway over the land but by 1017 the whole country was conquered by the Danish king Cnut. The triumph of the Normans in 1066 might appear to be a French victory, but in fact Norman is the shorter version of Norseman. Back in the days when Guthrum and his successors were establishing Norse rule over East Anglia his fellow Dane Rollo was setting up the Duchy of Normandy.

East Angla (Rollesby)
There is even a hint in an old legend that Rollo began his career in East Anglia; maybe even in Flegg at Rollesby!

Within two hundred years they had finished the Anglo-Saxon kings for good. In a very real sense it was the Vikings who won in 1066, and have never been defeated since.

 

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