The Formation of the Kingdom of England

The Prehistoric Chaos

The Kingdom of England actually, there isn’t a clear order, especially for the first years. Most of the established kingdoms weren’t planned and systematic but emerged as a result of the general conditions. Wherever someone seized control, they made it their home. The reason for this was the warrior nature of the tribes that began arriving on the island from the year 450 onwards. After gaining superiority against the Britons with the invading Anglo-Saxon tribe and their leaders, they realized there was plenty of vacant land on the island to settle. To secure these lands, they needed to compete with each other. However, continuing this competition was impossible unless they found allies and soldiers to support them. Payments made to gain their loyalty were made from the spoils of war. This situation, which was financially burdensome, could not be a long-term solution. After all, the spoils could easily be spent. Over time, they solved this problem through another problem they encountered. As the boundaries of the established regions expanded, it became increasingly difficult for tribal leaders to control the seized lands alone. Sharing these vacant lands among their own men could make governance easier. Thus, instead of just giving spoils to their supporters, they began to give them lands where they could engage in agriculture and animal husbandry.


The Arrival of Christianity

Different families became landowners based on their proximity to tribal leaders and the support they provided in battle. This land distribution system that emerged required regular administration. As a result, tribal leaders began rewarding their supporters with land titles, and these supporters began to become lords and barons.

After the invasion of the Anglo-Saxons, the period of chaos seemed to come to an end. At this point, the island began to attract the interest of Europe. Pope Gregory was among those interested in this new order. In 595, he sent a monk named Saint Augustine to Britain. Augustine’s mission was to invite the people of the island to Christianity. In addition to providing the necessary financial support for this task, the Pope also sent the best monks of the Roman Catholic Church to the island. However, Augustine initially failed to fulfill this mission. The aggressive attitude towards Christianity displayed by the people and rulers of the island led to his frustration and eventually his return to Rome. However, the Pope was not ready to give up on the island so easily and convinced him to return.

Augustine’s efforts began to bear fruit in the second attempt, and the King of Kent, Ethelbert, accepted Christianity. The process of religious change that began with the conversion of Ethelbert resulted in all other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms becoming Christian within the next 100 years. This Christianization process had a positive impact on the island. As mentioned earlier, Anglo-Saxon kings and their subjects were generally pagan. They believed in a belief system that emphasized the importance of honor and considered forgiving their rivals as weakness. Additionally, since kings believed in different gods, this often led to more frequent conflicts. However, after becoming Christian, uniting around a common belief became much more acceptable to them. The next step was the emergence of the idea of establishing a common kingdom, a single England, a single king.

The Rise of Mercia

Indeed, this idea seemed to be gaining momentum quickly. Starting from the first half of the 7th century, Mercia Kingdom stood out on the island. Mercian Kings had gained power over a significant portion of the region south of the Humber River. Some of these kings are referred to as Rex Britannia, meaning the King of Britain. Under the control of these kings, many local Anglo-Saxon administrations, especially those south of the River Bern, were united. Although the power of the Mercian Kings was not absolute, they had influence over local administrations and kingdoms in the region. Each local administration had a king, and these kings were under the authority and protection of the Mercian King. However, this unity process that started with Mercia did not last long.

The Viking Age

England entered a new phase with the invasion of raiders from the Scandinavian region, a period historians call the Viking Age. It was recorded that the raiders were first seen in the Sett area in 789. A monastery was plundered in 793, and over the next 70 years, the situation became even worse for all of England. This was because Vikings were coming to the island not just to plunder but to settle. The kingdoms couldn’t establish an effective unity among themselves and were scattered throughout the island. They were constantly exposed to Viking raids. What was at risk was not only their lands and assets but also their beliefs, which had become synonymous with their cultures. What once belonged to the Britons was now inhabited by Angles and Saxons.

However, despite all this, there was a kingdom in the inland areas of the island that managed to maintain its internal unity and survive. This kingdom was ruled by Alfred, and it was the Kingdom of Wessex. In these difficult times, his efforts in governance were not without support. His brother, Edward, was by his side with his brilliant ideas, genius, and courage.

The Vision of King Alfred

Yes, our topic today is about how the Kingdom of England was established. When talking about this topic, the person we should focus on the most is King Alfred. Before talking about what kind of king Alfred was, we should mention why he could be considered the founder of the Kingdom of England and why many people see him that way. First of all, let’s state this: Alfred himself did not Crown himself as the King of England; he was the King of Wessex, and he saw himself as the King of the Anglo-Saxons. The person considered the first King of England was Alfred’s grandson, Athelstan. However, Alfred was the architect of the process that led to Athelstan becoming king. Throughout the entire Anglo-Saxon era, he was perhaps the most serious proponent of the idea of a single kingdom. He was the one who made plans for this idea to come true and showed those around him how these plans could be implemented, taking concrete steps in this regard. Now it’s time to open the pages of his story.

Alfred’s Leadership Against the Vikings

In 871, after the death of his brother Aethelred, he was declared king by the council of elders, known as the Witan, and he ascended the throne. When he inherited the kingdom, all of England was in great turmoil and crisis. The Vikings had seized many places in the eastern and northeastern parts of the island. In fact, they had established their own bases and settlements in these regions. They used these settlements to plunder Anglo-Saxon villages. This was the biggest problem for England at that time. All the kingdoms were trying to resist the raiders and survive; hopelessness and desperation had seized the minds of most people. Perhaps many thought it was inevitable that England would be completely taken over by Viking invaders. However, Alfred had a feature that set him apart. In situations where others fell into despair, he remained calm and could make plans. He was also quite talented in turning some situations that others saw as problems into opportunities. Alfred believed that there was one thing that could solve all of England’s problems: gathering all the people of the island under one kingdom. This kingdom would unite all the Anglo-Saxon people under one rule instead of fragmented kingdoms, not only controlling the south of the River Bern but also all the kingdoms on the island without another king in between.

This kingdom would have a structure that all Anglo-Saxon peoples would respect and adapt to, but it would also provide a peaceful environment for the newly settled Scandinavian invaders on the island to live in peace with the local people.

Alfred’s idea of a United Kingdom, which also included the Vikings, was quite extraordinary because the kings before him believed that Vikings had to be fought to the end. In contrast, Alfred argued that such a war would only consume the already weakened Anglo-Saxon people and warriors even more. It had become necessary to allocate a place for the Vikings who had become a reality on the island in the kingdom that was planned to be established. But how could he convince these Scandinavian warriors, who had gained notoriety with their ruthlessness, that his peace-oriented plan would work? As we mentioned earlier, Alfred was quite talented in identifying and evaluating opportunities that others could not see. He was aware that the Vikings had come to the island for wealth and fertile lands. Many Vikings found the idea of ​​taking money quite reasonable after obtaining enough wealth and land. After all, warriors under Alfred’s leadership had defeated them before. They were aware that they could obtain at least some of the riches they would obtain through looting without losing any men. This seemed quite appealing to them. However, problems related to the Danegeld system were not absent. Some Vikings, despite taking the money, continued to plunder and launch attacks on Saxon forces. However, generally, it can be said that this system was successful.

The system prevented Saxon forces from constantly engaging in wars and getting exhausted. Moreover, it showed that it was possible to establish a peaceful environment among people who were enemies to each other based on common interests. Alfred solved a significant portion of the old problems with this system and also showed those around him how the idea of ​​a single and united kingdom could be implemented.

Alfred started his reign with innovative and effective steps. However, some Vikings, who continued to receive Danegeld payments and continued their raids, remained a significant problem. A group of them raided Alfred’s stronghold in 878. Some of Alfred’s warriors lost their lives in this attack, and others scattered to different parts of the island. Alfred fled the attack and sought refuge in the marshes of Somerset. Rumors of his death began to spread throughout the country. At this point, it’s not very difficult to understand how desperate the situation seemed. After 70 years of hardship, just when complete liberation seemed possible, everything was lost again. However, there was something the English did not know: Alfred had survived. Within a short period of one year, he managed to regroup his forces and defeated the Viking forces in the Battle of Edington in 878. Instead of punishing Guthrum, one of the Viking kings, and his supporters, Alfred forgave them. This situation led to the baptism and conversion to Christianity of some Vikings who were already tired of war.

Between 878 and 886, Alfred continued his struggle against the Vikings who refused to make peace. In 886, he captured London, one of the island’s most important cities since Roman times. With the support of his son Edward and the Mercian Prince Athelred, he inflicted defeat after defeat on the Vikings. Vikings who did not want to fight and wanted to live in peace on the lands they had acquired were already satisfied with Alfred’s attitude. They did not fight against their own people, but they also did not think of stopping Alfred’s struggle against them. Alfred’s strategy worked. The Anglo-Saxons, step by step, were recapturing the lands of England. When Alfred died in 899, his son Edward took the throne, and at the same time, he also took over his struggle. His sister, Aethelflaed, was married to the Prince of Mercia, Aethelred. With the death of Aethelred, Aethelflaed seized control of Mercia. By joining forces with Edward, Mercia and Wessex were effectively united. The two siblings continued to fight to recapture the lands held by the Vikings and resist the invaders. With the death of Aethelflaed in 921, Edward became the sole ruler of Wessex and Mercia. When he died in 925, he left behind a country of unprecedented size that no king had ever had in England.

With Athelstan’s coronation as the King of England, the founding stage of the Kingdom of England was completed. Alfred’s dream had come true. However, the adventure of the English was just beginning.

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