Lecture: Anglo-Saxons II – The Vikings – Alfred the Great

In the 660s, there were 2 styles of Christianity. The Roman style, which was based on towns, being centralized, and organized, and the Anglo style, which was based on monasteries, being decentralized, and disorganized. That was cool, except when Easter came around. Everyone agreed that Easter should be the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, but they couldn’t agree on what day the vernal equinox was. The Roman subscribing people thought that it was the 21st of March, the Celtic side thought the 25th of March. They agreed on the 21st of March which tied the English church to Rome… forever… I guess.

Okay, so Wilfred was the Bishop of Ripon, which means that he converted a lot of people. Theodore was also important to the church because he established the church’s structure; he decided that it would be made of stone… I’m kidding. He decided that there would be 14 dioceses in Britain, each with their own church. The Pope took control of the English church when Wilfred and Theodore had a disagreement. The Pope called for the synod of Hartford. This issued a series of cannons which included the rule that Bishops have to respect the borders of their church.

Mercia became the most powerful kingdom in the 700s. Mercia became powerful because it had two kings in a row that lived for a long time and never had their crown threatened. Ethelbald was the first, then Offa (or as he liked to call himself: “Rex Anglorum” which translates to “King of England”. They took over Sussex, then Kent, then Wessex, then East Anglia and beheaded the king. The kings that kept their heads, were demoted to high nobles. They didn’t like that very much, so they changed their name to aldermen which would be the next highest under the king.

Offa didn’t really feel like invading Wales, so he built “Offa’s Dyke” which, according to my professor, is a very pretty walk, but you may have to watch out for bulls.

Offa came the closest to completely uniting England out of any leader until this point. He may have succeeded except the Vikings came along. The alderman of Mercia died which left it open for attack. The Vikings swooped in and took over. They were excellent sailors. Disappointingly, they never drank the blood of their victims, nor did they use human skulls as drinking glasses. They did, however, perform a “Blood Eagle” in which you cut someone down the middle of their body in half. Apparently, it looks like an eagle?

The Vikings came to Britain to take gold because they needed it to trade. Monasteries just happened to house a lot of gold and had little to no defenses. Monasteries also housed art and manuscripts which were destroyed because of their lack of value to the Vikings.

In 865, the “Great Army” made it to England from Scandinavia. Ivarr the Boneless, not sure about that name, and Guthrum headed the army. They were initially very successful; they settled the North and East Anglia. But then members of the army started saying things like “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we were able to use some of this stuff we’re taking?” So the Vikings started to settle in England.

So many of their troops settled, that the army was dwindling in numbers. This made it easy for Alfred the Great, the ruler of Wessex, to take England back from the Vikings. Alfred is known for being the “founder of England” which apparently isn’t really true because he died before England was really united. He converted the Vikings to Christianity. He made London the capital. He founded the British Navy so that they could fight the Vikings before they get to the island.


So yeah, basically, Easter is on the 21st of March, the Vikings were good at fighting for a short period of time, and Alfred the Great was actually pretty great.

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