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Old Saturday, April 19, 2014
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Default Political History of Anglo-saxon Period

POLITICAL HISTORY OF ANGLO-SAXON PERIOD


Roman conquest is a major event in the known history of Britain. At the time of Roman occupation, Celts lived in Britain who were also called Celtic Britons. Romans conquered Britain in 43 AD in the reign of King Claudius. The Romans, after some centuries of occupation, left Britain about 410 AD because of their weak economy and other issues at home. During these years, the shores of Britain were kept in terror by the constant attacks of the Anglo-Saxons.
These foreign invaders belonged to three tribes according to Bede (Historian) in his book, “The Ecclesiastical History of English People”. These were Angli, Saxones and Jutae, having Germanic origins. Tacitus (A Roman Historian) also opines the same thing that these tribes were Germanic nations and these gave England its name, its language and its links with Germania. These three tribes inhabited the shores of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and kept invading the Britain during and after the Roman rule. In about 450 A.D they started occupying Britain’s land and by 670 AD major portion of England fell for them. These three tribes established their own dynasties in England. There were seven separate dynasties namely Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Sussex, Essex, Wessex and Kent. They were heathens or pagans. Meanwhile efforts to Christianize them had been started by St. Augustine and missionaries from Ireland in about 597 AD.

The most powerful of these dynasties was Wessex or West Saxon Dynasty and many of great leaders emerged from this dynasty. These seven dynasties kept fighting with each other until a common foreign threat started uniting them. The foreign invaders (Vikings); Danes started invading them and to fend from this threat the Chieftans or rulers of these dynasties started getting under one flag. King Egbert of Wessex made serious efforts to unify England, but after him the Danes occupied most of England about 870 A.D. It was his grand-son, King Alfred the Great who defeated Danes in the battle of Edington (878) and regained most of the areas of England. But after the death of Alfred, his successors couldn’t rule England properly and England again fell to Danes in 1013 and Sweyn, the king of Denmark, became the king of England as well. After the death of Sweyn, his heirs Canute and Hardi-Canute ruled England. In the reign of Hardi-Canute, in 1042, it became increasingly difficult for him to rule both Denmark and England and the nobility called Edward the Confessor, the legal heir of England form France. Edward the Confessor was childless, and he wished that after him his cousin, William should be king of England. But when he died, Harold, the ruler of Wessex ascended the throne of England in 1066. William the Conqueror was then the Duke of Normandy (a province of France). He invaded England to press for his right and defeated Harold, the last of Anglo-Saxon kings in the battle of Hastings in 1066. In this fashion the period of Anglo-Saxon rule ends.


LITERATURE OF ANGLO-SAXON PERIOD

The Anglo-Saxon literature consists of Poetry and Prose.

POETRY:

The Anglo-Saxons carried with themselves the ancient oral literature of their old homeland i.e. Germania. Even after their Christianization, the heathen or pagan spirit from their literature could not be weeded out completely. They were warrior tribes and like all the other nations of the world sang at their feasts about their old heroes and battles; thus the elements of love for dignity and honor, struggle for glory and personal freedom, praise for courage and perseverance are found in their literature. Moreover, agriculture being their profession and living in communion with nature, their (oral) literature bears the elements of love for nature and womanhood.

All our knowledge of AS poetry is based on four groups of manuscripts contained in certain libraries and by some individual scholars in London. According to David Daiches, some thirty thousand lines of the AS poetry are preserved and most of the poems are incomplete and fragmentary. After the Christianization of Anglo-Saxons, poets took up religious themes and it is mostly the religious poetry that survived because of the care taken for them by the monasteries and the clergy. Thus the poetry of the Anglo-Saxon period falls into two categories namely Heathen poetry and Religious poetry.


HEATHEN/PAGAN POETRY


Beowulf:

The most important poem of the Anglo-Saxon period is ‘Beowulf’. It is an epic sort of poem, almost three thousand lines long, dealing with the heroic deeds of the hero Beowulf. The poem has two parts. In the first part the poet tells us that a monster, named Grendel, is disturbing Hrothgar, the kind of Denmark, and eating up his warriors. Beowulf is called from Geats and he kills the monster. When Grendel’s mother comes to avenge her son’s death, Beowulf follows her to her underwater hiding and after a fierce fight, slays her too.
The second part occurs some fifty years after the first incident. Now Beowulf is king of the Geats and has grown old. A fiery dragon, guarding some treasure, has been disturbed and it is killing people. Beowulf decides to fight that dragon. He fights and ultimately kills the dragon but he himself is mortally wounded. The poem ends with an account of his funeral rites and his warriors’ lamentations.
The story of Beowulf is not different from other stories of the same sort, but what makes it stand above all others is that it is the only complete poem of that period, and secondly it contains allusions and references to different dynasties and to the fate of many kings and monarchs.


Complaint of Deor:

This poem contains the sorrowful complains of a minstrel or court singer who has been replaced in his absence with his rival, despite his years long service at the court of his master.

Widsith:

Widsith contains the imaginative visits of a poet who roams through the courts of different Germanic kings. The poem contains references to different kings from the fourth to the sixth century.

Fight at Finnsburh:

This poem also deals with the common theme of fight of a hero with fearful odds.

The surviving manuscripts contain other poems as well e.g. the Sea Farer, the Wife’s Lament, the Husband’s Message, the Ruin and the Wanderer etc.
The tone of most of the poems is elegiac, and poems are fatalistic yet at the same time contain elements of courage and determination.


RELIGIOUS POETRY


The religious poetry of the age uses the same verse and vocabulary as that of the heathen poetry. Our knowledge of Anglo-Saxon poets is limited to only two, Caedmon and Cynewulf. Of Caedmon’s poetical works we know nothing of, and of Cynewulf’s life we have meager details. However many of the surviving religious poems are associated to these two poets.

Caedmon:

He is supposed to have sung the whole story of the fate of man, form the creation of the world, till the day of judgment, taking into account the Genesis story, the fall of man, redemption, the Exodus of Israelites, and other biblical stories including the Crucification, Resurrection, the Ascension etc.

Cynewulf:

Cynewulf’s most important poem is the Crist or Christ, which is an account of the major events of Christ’s ministry upon the earth and his return to judgment.

PROSE OF THE ANGLO-SAXON PERIOD


Prose of the Anglo-Saxon period is attributed to Bede, King Alfred the Great and Aelfric, a priest.

Bede wrote his remarkable “Ecclesiastical history of the English Race” because of which we are known to most of the events of those days. But it was written in Latin.

King Alfred the Great was himself a writer of prose and also he translated a number of books from Latin into English including Bede’s Ecclesiastical history. He translated a number of Latin Chronicles into English, and also established Anglo-Saxon Chronicles by compiling the accounts of events wrote and preserved by monasteries.

Aelfric was a priest. He adopted the style of poetic prose for his religious sermons.


REFERENCES

A Critical History of English Literature by Dr. B. R. Mullik
A Short History of English Literature by Ifor Evans
A History of English Literature by Michael Alexander
A Critical History of English Literature by David Daiches
www.britainexpress.com/History
www.royal.gov.uk
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Nice piece of writing sir
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