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Not long after the Anglo-Saxons finally took over England, the end of the 9th Century saw the Danes arrive on the scene. The Danes raided along the eastern coast of England, and by 875 Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia all succumbed. Only Wessex remained under Saxon hands, and it was under King Alfred, who ruled between 871 to 899, who was finally able to turn the tide. After a series of ups and downs, he managed to secure an agreement where the Danes would confine themselves to the areas they had gotten up to that point. This area was called the Danelaw. Being a learned man, Alfred led a revival of learning and literature, and built the first English fleet. Alfred was known as Alfred the Great for his achievements.
After Alfred's reign, Anglo-Saxon rule reached a period of ascendancy in Britain. By 955 his grandson Aethelstan, ruled over a united England and even took the title "King of the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes" after seizing the five great Boroughs and the City of York from the Danes. All of this however, fell apart with the rule of Ethelred the Unready. A new wave of Viking attacks fell upon Britain. The Danes would force the English to pay an ever increasing tribute called the Danegeld from the years 991 to 1018. It would only end when Cnut, the son of the Danish King, finally managed to kill Ethelred's son Edmund, and married his widow to take the English throne. Cnut would eventually become the King of not only England, but of Denmark and Norway as well. His rule over England was fairly peaceful and in fact he did not stay in England for much of it. However, after his death in 1035 dynastic squabbles finally resulted in the surviving son of Ethelred, Edward the Confessor, who had been in exile in Normandy returning to England to claim the throne.
The Battle of Hastings
When he died in 1066, Edward did not leave a clear heir to succeed him. Two claimants came forward, a prominent Earl called Harold Godwinson and William, Duke of Normandy, Edward's illegitimate son. Harold being a native of the Britain and a prominent figure in the political scene of England naturally was crowned King, so he prepared to meet William of Normandy in battle to quash the rival claim. However, at the same time the King of Norway, Harald Hardrada, also decided it was a good time to invade England. As the Norman fleet was delayed by storms, Harold had to release his levied troops and take his personal army North to meet the Norwegian threat. Harold managed to defeat the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge. But as fate would have it, the storm preventing the Norman fleet from crossing the channel lifted while Harold was fighting in the North. This allowed William time to land on English soil unopposed. So Harold had to hurry his tired troops south to meet the Norman army. The Normans would lure the Saxons into a series of fatal charges, and eventually the Saxons fled the field when Harold himself was killed. It is then at the Battle of Hastings, that England passed into Norman hands. William was soon dubbed William the Conqueror.
Norman and Plantagenet Rule
Norman rule was rather oppressive, importing feudalism into England wholesale. The Saxon power structure was completely removed from any position of importance, and the citizenry were reduced to serfdom. Norman influence unlike the previous invaders did not supplant a new populace into England, but merely a new aristocracy, which was French in character and in language. French would remain the language of the nobility and administration in England for the next 400 years. The Normans were also keen on castle building, and it was under Norman rule that many of the castles in England were built.
Norman rule also brought England closer into the political sphere and machinations of continental Europe. The Norman Kings frequently had to deal with securing their titles and land claims back in Normandy, while their penchant for Crusading in the Holy Land drained further the already overtaxed population of England. Yet however harsh Norman rule was in England, by the time of King Henry I (1100-1135) it was recognised by the populace as being at least just and enforced uniformly throughout the land. Henry II (1154-1189) would also introduced the system of trial by jury. He was succeeded by Richard, dubbed Richard the Lionheart on account of his bravery in battle. However his rule was a poor one for England as he needed vast amounts of money to fund his wars in foreign lands and generally leaving the rule of England to his brother John who continued to rule after Richard's death in France.
John's rule England saw the English lost much of their continental holdings to Philip of France. The disgruntled nobility then forced him to sign the Magna Carta, or Great Charter, which put the Crown under the rule of common law. Contrary to popular belief Magna Carta was not per se an outline for universal freedom and democracy, but more as a way for the nobility to take more power for themselves at the expense of the Crown — thus earning king John the scornful epithet of "Lackland", for he had lost not only lands on the Continent, but his prestige and power as well. Nevertheless it did represent a significant step in that some of the wordings were indeed later used in the modern English constitution for those loftier ideals.
Conflict with France and the War of the Roses
In 1337 the English renewed their ambitions on the continent, thus the conflict known as "The Hundred Years War" between France and England took place. It was begun under the rule of Edward III, and despite successes at Crecy and Poitiers, and further ones under his descendants, especially under Henry V (1413 to 1422) at the Battle of Agincourt (the battle where the English longbowmen became immortalized in history for the devastating effects they had on the French forces), the English eventually lost almost all of their continental possessions that they gained during this long conflict, and eventually resulted in a civil war in England itself.
The remainder of the 15th century saw bouts of internal conflicts as various factions vied for power. The best known was the so-called "War of the Roses", between the House of York and the House of Lancaster. However, it was the House of Tudor that finally emerged to rule England. A new middle class was also emerging out of the turmoil, direct taxation and the creation of a permanent national standing army also allowed the crown to finally break the power of the landed nobility. With this, the feudal period in England was finally coming to an end, and a new link in England's history was about to be forged in lands distant from its dull and misty shores.
- One Dead Angel; Great Britain — a Guide; Rise of Nations Heaven