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What was life like in Anglo-Saxon England?
- The Anglo-Saxon period spans the time after the Romans left England in 410 and before the Norman Conquest of 1066.
- England was not a united country. It was divided up into separate kingdoms.
- The best-known Saxon king was Alfred the Great, who ruled Wessex from 871-886 and all of England from 886-899.
- Archaeological evidence and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle give us a good idea about what life in England was like in this period.
Video about the Anglo-Saxons
Narrator: Excuse me. Yes, you! Would you like to learn about the Anglo-Saxons? Great! Well let’s start at the beginning. The Anglo-Saxon age in Britain was about 410 to 1066, and they originally came from Germany and Scandinavia. Some historians say they were driven from their homes by rising floodwaters. They were not one united people, but lots of warring tribes that settled in different parts of Britain. The biggest tribes were the Angles, Saxons and the Jutes.
But they weren’t always at war. They were mostly farmers who lived in wooden huts. Children here would generally not go to school. Girls would help around the home and boys learned the skills of their fathers. I would take a step back if I were you.
The Anglo-Saxons loved making things from wood. And they made intricate jewellery and metalwork. We still see their influence today, with words like cow, cheese, werewolf and ghost. Plus several place names and even areas that still exist. They even laid the foundation for the creation of England.
There we go, the history of the Anglo-Saxons in a matter of minutes, from invaders to settlers, to makers. How enjoyable was that? Plus you have made a new friend. Oh… hold on, I think his mother wants a word with you.
Fantastic! Another successful day, look what happens when history happens to you!
Who were the Anglo-Saxons?
The Anglo-Saxon period lasted from the year 410, when historians think the Romans left England, to 1066 when the Normans invaded .
Sources suggest that people known as the Angles and the Saxons were people who migrated to Britain around the 4th and 5th centuries. They travelled from areas of Europe that would now identify as northern Germany, France and Scandinavia. Anglo-Saxons was the name given to this group of people who formed together in England.
It is often said that the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain after the Romans had left but we are not actually sure exactly what happened. It is likely that many people peacefully migrated to Britain before the Romans left.
Anglo-Saxon England was not one united country. It was made up of several separate kingdoms. By 800, there were seven main kingdoms:
- East Anglia
Each kingdom had their own leaders, and they were frequently at war with each other.
Why did the Angles and Saxons travel to England?
There were a number of reasons for the Angles and Saxons to move to England:
- Some were invited to help fight against attacks from Vikings and tribes in Scotland. Many were given land in return.
- There was good farmland in England, which could provide food and resources for people to live off.
- The Roman Empire had collapsed, so some Angles and Saxons believed they could win power and control over areas of Britain that previously wouldn’t have been possible.
- Archaeological evidence suggests people in already living in England were keen to trade with Angles and Saxons.
Famous kings and queens
Alfred the great.
Alfred the Great is perhaps the most famous Anglo-Saxon king. He ruled from 871 – 899.
At the start of his reign, he ruled over Wessex, in the west of England. He defeated several Viking raids, and eventually signed an agreement, making peace with Vikings in the north. This resulted in England being divided in two: one area controlled by Alfred, and another area under Viking rule, called Danelaw. Alfred expanded his kingdom, taking land from the Mercia area and winning control of London.
Under his leadership, many books were translated from Latin into English. This encouraged improvements in education. He also ordered many new ships to be built to protect his kingdom from invasion, as well as the building of new monasteries.
Aethelflaed was Alfred the Great’s eldest daughter. She was married to the ruler of Mercia, possibly to seal an alliance between Alfred’s lands and the English controlled part of Mercia. When her husband died in 911, she ruled Mercia herself until 918.
Aethelflaed worked hard to protect Mercia from the Vikings by building forts and in 917 she sent an army to capture Viking-held Derby. In 918, Leicester also surrendered to her without a fight. The Viking leaders of York offered their loyalty, but she died before the offer could be accepted.
Athelstan was the grandson of Alfred the Great and nephew of Aethelflaed. He ruled from 924 – 939. During his rule, Athelstan defeated the Vikings and reclaimed York. In 937, he won a famous war against a combined Scottish, Irish and Viking force at the Battle of Brunanburh. In doing so, he united the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex. He is widely considered to be the first king of a united England.
Activity - Choose the right king or queen
How do we know what anglo-saxon england was like.
In the 700s, a monk called the Venerable Bede who lived in Northumbria wrote a book called the Ecclesiastical History of the English People , which gives us important information about life in the early Anglo-Saxon period. Bede tells us, for example, about terrible famines that hit England, and about plagues that caused a great deal of disease and suffering. This gives us an idea of how difficult life could be in early medieval England.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is another important text that gives historians an idea about what life was like in Anglo-Saxon England. It is a collection of manuscripts written under Alfred’s leadership that places great emphasis on Alfred’s successes as a leader, but often ignores the more negative parts of his reign. The Chronicles were written by monks. Several copies were made and sent to monasteries across the country. The monasteries then updated the manuscripts each year. These documents are collectively called the Chronicles.
Life in Anglo-Saxon villages
Most people in Anglo-Saxon England lived in villages . Their homes were made of wood, wattle and daub , and thatched roofs. They were normally just a single room with space for a fire and a hole in the roof to allow smoke to escape.
Most Anglo-Saxons were farmers and lived off the land. They were able to make equipment such as ploughs and tools to help them in their work. They would grind wheat to make flour so they could make bread. Some Anglo-Saxons were skilled craftsmen who made decorative jewellery such as brooches and necklaces.
England had several Christian bishops during the Roman period, but the spread of Christianity increased during the later Anglo-Saxon era. The spread of Christianity also helped to unite the different kingdoms of England, as more and more people across the country were following the same religion.
Hobbies and interests
Children in Anglo-Saxon England didn’t go to school. Instead, they learned skills from their parents. Boys often learned farming or craftsmanship from their fathers while girls would often learn how to spin cloth and look after the home. Archaeological digs have discovered evidence of activities and games that children would have played. Discoveries have included carved horses, wooden musical instruments, dice games and a range of different board games.
Adults enjoyed sports such as hunting, running, horse racing and playing musical instruments. Evidence of these activities has been found in archaeological digs and written accounts from the time.
Storytelling was a popular pastime of the Anglo-Saxons. People would often sit together and tell each other tales. One of the most famous examples of this time was the story of Beowulf . This is a poem set in Scandinavia, in which Beowulf battles against a monster called Grendel.
Anglo-Saxons also enjoyed riddles. In the 900s, around one hundred were gathered together in the Exeter Book Riddles .
Can you solve this Anglo-Saxon riddle?
When I am alive I do not speak. Anyone who wants to takes me captive and cuts off my head. They bite my bare body. I do no harm to anyone unless they cut me first. Then I soon make them cry.
A riddle from the Exeter Book Riddles, translated into Modern English
Test your knowledge
Claimants to the throne in 1066
The death of Edward the Confessor in 1066 set off a year of turmoil in England. Three different people believed that they were entitled to the English throne.
The Battle of Hastings
The Battle of Hastings took place on 14 October 1066. William of Normandy was crowned King of England on Christmas Day.
What was life like in medieval society?
Most medieval people lived in villages, as there were few large towns in the Middle Ages. The majority of people were peasants.
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In the 400s the Celtic Britons who were living in England asked the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes to protect them from fierce tribes in the north. In return for their services the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes were given land. Gradually they became more powerful and pushed the Britons aside. They became the rulers of the land.
Eventually the name Anglo-Saxon came to be used for all people living in England, as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes mixed with other invaders and the original Britons. The Anglo-Saxons spoke an early form of English that is now called Old English. They lived in houses made of wood, thatch (straw), and twigs woven together and covered with mud or clay. When the mud or clay hardened it made a solid roof or wall. Anglo-Saxons fed themselves by farming. They harvested grains, fruits, and vegetables and raised livestock.
Anglo-Saxon rule ended in 1066. In that year England was conquered by the French forces of William, duke of Normandy, during what is known as the Norman Conquest .
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Who were the Anglo-Saxons?
The Anglo-Saxons came to England after the Romans left in the year 410. Nobody was really ruling all of England at the time – there were a lot of little kingdoms ruled by Anglo-Saxons that eventually came together as one country.
The earliest English kings were Anglo-Saxons , starting with Egbert in the year 802. Anglo-Saxons ruled for about three centuries, and during this time they formed the basis for the English monarchy and laws.
- The two most famous Anglo-Saxon kings are Alfred the Great and Canute the Great.
Top 10 facts
- The Anglo-Saxons are made up of three tribes who came to England from across the North Sea around the middle of the 5th century: the Angles, Saxons and Jutes.
- For a long time, England wasn’t really one country – Anglo-Saxon kings ruled lots of little kingdoms across the land.
- Egbert was the first Anglo-Saxon king to rule England. The last Anglo-Saxon king was Harold II in 1066.
- The Anglo-Saxon period covers about 600 years , and Anglo-Saxon kings ruled England for about 300 years.
- We know how the Anglo Saxons lived because archaeologists have found old settlements and excavated artefacts like belt buckles, swords, bowls and even children’s toys.
- We can also read about what happened during Anglo-Saxon times in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.
- Anglo-Saxons once worshipped lots of different gods that they believed controlled all areas of life, but around the 7th century many converted to Christianity after the arrival of the missionary St. Augustine from Rome.
- Some of our modern English words, such as the days of the week, come from the Anglo-Saxon language (sometimes called Old English).
- Anglo-Saxons lived in small villages near rivers, forests and other important resources that gave them everything they needed to care for farm animals, grow crops and make things to sell.
- 455 The kingdom of Kent was formed
- 477 The kingdom of Sussex was formed
- 495 The kingdom of Wessex was formed
- 527 The kingdom of Essex was formed
- 547 The kingdom of Northumberland was formed
- 575 The kingdom of East Anglia was formed
- 586 The kingdom of Mercia was formed
- 597 St. Augustine came to England and introduced people to Christianity
- 757-796 Offa was King of the kingdom of Mercia and declared himself King of all England
- 1066 The Battle of Hastings took place, resulting in the Normans defeating the Anglo-Saxons
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Did you know?
- We know how the Anglo-Saxons lived because we’ve found items that they once used buried in the ground – archaeologists excavate spots where Anglo-Saxons houses used to stand – and we’ve been able to figure out a lot about what their lives were like.
- A famous Anglo-Saxon archaeological site is Sutton Hoo, where a whole ship was used as a grave! An Anglo-Saxon king was buried inside the ship along with some of his possessions, such as his helmet and sword.
- We know what the Anglo-Saxons did because of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles , a collection of events that people back then wrote every year – kind-of like a yearly summary of important events.
- An instrument that people in Anglo-Saxon times would play is the lyre, which is like a small harp.
- The names of days of the week are similar to the words that the Anglo-Saxons used – for instance, ‘Monandoeg’ is where we get Monday from, and ‘Wodnesdoeg’ is where we get Wednesday from. Some of the names of the days of the week were named after Anglo-Saxon gods. ‘Wodnesdoeg’ is named for the god Woden – it mean’s ‘Woden’s day’.
- Anglo-Saxon uses many of the letters found in Modern English (though j, q, and v are not included and the letters k and z are very rarely used) as well as three extra letters: þ ð æ
- Anglo-Saxons mostly lived in one-room houses made from wood, with thatched roofs. Important people in the village would live in a larger building with their advisors and soldiers – this was called the hall.
- A map of Anglo-Saxon Britain
- Anglo-Saxon coins
- A replica of an Anglo-Saxon hall (At West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village)
- The helmet found in the ship burial site at Sutton Hoo
- The plaited belt buckle with a dragon design found at Sutton Hoo (Photo Credit: Jononmac46 via Wikipedia)
- How Anglo-Saxon warriors would have dressed
- Anglo-Saxon runes
- Shoes worn in Anglo-Saxon times
- A statute of Alfred the Great in Winchester
- Canute the Great
When the Romans left Britain, the country was divided up into a lot of smaller kingdoms and sub-kingdoms that often fought with each other and against any invaders who tried to take over.
By the 800s, there were four main kingdoms in England: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex.
One of the most well-known kings from Merica was Offa. He declared himself the first ‘king of the English’ because he won battles involving kings in the surrounding kingdoms, but their dominance didn’t really last after Offa died. Offa is most remembered for Offa’s Dyke along the border between England and Wales – it was a 150-mile barrier that gave the Mericans some protection if they were about to be invaded.
Religion changed quite a bit in Anglo-Saxon times. Many people were pagans and worshipped different gods who oversaw different things people did – for instance, Wade was the god of the sea, and Tiw was the god of war.
In 597, a monk named St. Augustine came to England to tell people about Christianity. The Pope in Rome sent him there, and he built a church in Canterbury. Many people became Christians during this time.
Everyone in Anglo-Saxons villages had to work very hard to grow their food, make their clothes, and care for their animals. Even children had to help out by doing chores such as collecting firewood and feeding the livestock.
There are nine versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles still around today – this is because copies of the original were given to monks in different monasteries around England to keep up-to-date with information about the area where they lived. Nobody has ever seen the original Anglo-Saxon Chronicles that the copies were made from.
Beowulf is an Anglo-Saxon heroic poem (3182 lines long!) which tells us a lot about life in Anglo-Saxon times (though it is not set in England but in Scandinavia). Beowulf is probably the oldest surviving long poem in Old English. We don't know the name of the Anglo-Saxon poet who wrote it, but it was written in England some time between the 8th and the early 11th century.
The Anglo-Saxons minted their own coins – they made different designs that were pressed onto the face of a coin, so archaeologists who find those coins today know when they were used. The coins changed depending on the region where they were made, who was king, or even what important event had just happened.
Vikings from the east were still invading England during the time of the Anglo-Saxons. Sometimes, instead of fighting the Vikings, people would pay them money to leave them in peace. This payment was called Danegeld.
Alfred the Great was based in the kingdom of Wessex, and his palace was in Winchester. He won battles against invasion by the Danes, and he improved England’s defences and armies. Alfred established a strong legal code, and began the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles as a way of recording annual events. He also thought education was very important and had books translated from Latin into Anglo-Saxon so more people could read them and learn.
Canute the Great was the first Viking king of England. A famous story about Canute is that he proved to his courtiers that he wasn’t all-powerful just because he was King. They would flatter him by telling him that he was “so great, he could command the tides of the sea to go back”. Canute knew this wasn’t true, but he also knew that he’d have to prove it to stop his courtiers saying such things. Canute had his courtiers carry his throne onto the beach, by the surf, and Canute commanded that the tide stop coming in. It didn’t work, and the courtiers finally admitted that Canute was not all-powerful. Canute said, “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings. For there is none worthy of the name but God, whom heaven, earth and sea obey.”
Names to know (Anglo-Saxon kings of England, listed in order)
Egbert (King from 802-839) – Egbert was the first king to rule all of England.
Ethelwulf (King from 839-856)
Ethelbald (King from 856-860)
Ethelbert (King from 860-866)
Ethelred (King from 866-871)
Alfred the Great (King from 871-899) – Alfred the Great is remembered for his victories against Danish invasion, his belief in the importance of education, and his social and judicial reform.
Edward I, the Elder (King from 899-924)
Athelstan (King from 924-939)
Edmund I (King from 939-946)
Edred (King from 946-955)
Edwy (King from 955-959)
Edgar (King from 959-975)
Edward II, the Martyr (King from 975-979)
Ethelred II, the Unready (979-1013, 1014-1016)
Sweyn (King from 1013-1014)
Edmund II, Ironside (King in 1016)
Canute the Great (King from 1016-1035) – Canute was a Viking warrior, and the first Viking king of England. He won a battle against Edmund II that divided their kingdoms, but when Edmund died Canute ruled both kingdoms.
Harold Harefoot (King from 1035-1040)
Hardicanute (King from 1035-1042)
Edward III, The Confessor (King from 1042-1066) – Edward the Confessor had Westminster Abbey built.
Harold II (King in 1066) – Harold II was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England. He died during the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Edgar Atheling (King in 1066) – Edgar Atheling was declared King after King Harold II died during the Battle of Hastings, but never took the throne. The next king was William the Conqueror, a Norman .
Just for fun...
- Make Anglo-Saxon Collector Cards and play some games with them
- Take an Anglo-Saxons quiz to see what you know about Anglo-Saxon kings, kingdoms and culture in Britain
- Play a Grid Club Anglo-Saxons game
- Write in Anglo-Saxon runes
- Print out some Anglo-Saxon Highlight Cards
- Turn the pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels , a famous Christian manuscript
- Cook like the Anglo-Saxons with this recipe for Anglo-Saxon Oat Cakes
- Colour in Anglo-Saxon people
- Learn to sing songs about Anglo-Saxon history , including Alfred the Great, Athelstan, the story of Beowulf and the end of Anglo-Saxon rule in 1066 at The Battle of Hastings
Books about Anglo-Saxons for children
Find out more about Anglo-Saxons:
- Who were the Anglo-Saxons? Find out in a KS2 guide from BBC Bitesize and watch video clips and animations about the Anglo-Saxon world
- An introduction to the Anglo-Saxon world from the British Library
- Amazing facts about the Anglo-Saxons from National Geographic Kids
- Britons, Saxons, Scots and Picts : loads of information to explore
- Find out about the Anglo-Saxon kings
- Read kids' historical fiction set in Anglo-Saxon times
- Learn about Anglo-Saxon religion
- Find out about all aspects of Anglo-Saxon life , from manuscripts to weapons, in a kids' encyclopedia
- About the Anglo-Saxon language, Old English
- Early Anglo-Saxon Britain maps and information
- Learn to read Anglo-Saxon runes
- Anglo-Saxon coinage and the Danegeld and minting coins
- Find out about the Odda Stone
- The two most famous Anglo-Saxon kings were Canute (or Cnut the Great) and Alfred the Great
- See a diagram of a Saxon village
- Find out about food and in Anglo-Saxon times and their grand feasts
- Learn about Beowulf and his battles against the monster Grendel (and Grendel's mother)
- Download an information booklet about Anglo-Saxon Teeside
- Examine some of the beautiful objects found at Sutton Hoo and see what the excavation site looked like
- An introduction to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
See for yourself
- See the ship burial site at Sutton Hoo
- Visit the reconstructed Anglo-Saxon settlement of Jarrow Hall to find out what life would have been like in Anglo-Saxon times
- Walk along some of the Offa’s Dyke path
- See the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold that’s ever been found
- Visit Winchester to see Anglo-Saxon artefacts
- Step into a virtual Prittlewell Burial Chamber and explore the Ango-Saxon objects found in 2003
- See Prittlewell princely burial objects in person, including a gold belt buckle, a flagon and drinking horn and coloured glass vessels and bowls, at Southend Central Museum in Essex
- Look at pictures of sites which tell the story of early Saxon England on the Historic England Blog
- Look at the Anglo-Saxon Mappa Mundi online: created between 1025 and 1050, it contains the earliest known depiction of the British Isles
- Step into a reconstructed Saxon workshop at the Ancient Technology Outdoor Education Centre
- Butser Ancient Farm features archaeological reconstructions of buildings from the Anglo-Saxon period
©Copyright Mandy Barrow 2013 primaryhomeworkhelp.com
Follow me on Twitter @mbarrow
I teach computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.
Most Anglo-Saxons were farmers and lived off the land. They were able to make equipment such as ploughs and tools to help them in their work. They would grind wheat to make flour so they...
The term Anglo-Saxon was most likely first used in the late 8th century to distinguish the Saxons of Britain from those of the European continent. Following the Norman Conquest, however, the term simply came to mean “the English.”. The Anglo-Saxons were descended from three different Germanic peoples—the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes ...
The Anglo-Saxons spoke an early form of English that is now called Old English. They lived in houses made of wood, thatch (straw), and twigs woven together and covered with mud or clay. When the mud or clay hardened it made a solid roof or wall. Anglo-Saxons fed themselves by farming.
Anglo-Saxons lived in small villages near rivers, forests and other important resources that gave them everything they needed to care for farm animals, grow crops and make things to sell. Anglo-Saxon Timeline 410 The Romans left Britain, leaving it unguarded by armies and open to invasion by others 455 The kingdom of Kent was formed 477
The Anglo-Saxons were warrior-farmers and came from north-western Europe. They began to invade Britain while the Romans were still in control. The Anglo-Saxons were tall, fair-haired men, armed with swords and spears and round shields. They loved fighting and were very fierce.
Saxons Homework Help for Kids YOU ARE HERE : Homework Index > History > Anglo-Saxons Can you solve the ship grave mystery of Sutton Hoo? The Ango-Saxon's gave England her name. The area we now call England was named Britania by the Romans. Introduction What was England like?