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Useful Notes / The House of Wessex

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The Golden Wyvern of House Wessex
"In the grim time of Norman overlordship the figure of the great Alfred was a beacon-light, the bright symbol of Saxon achievement, the hero of the race."
— Winston Churchill: A history of the English speaking peoples, 1956.

Eighth century England consisted of seven Anglo-Saxon sub-kingdoms which existed in a state of internecine warfare. Occasionally a king of one of the larger three kingdoms, Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria, would emerge from the dynastic turmoil to be accepted as Bretwalda (Bretanwealda in Old English) or 'overlord' by the others. One such was Egbert, of the House of Wessex, the first monarch to establish a stable and extensive rule over all of Anglo-Saxon England. His ancestor, Cerdic of Wessex (519-534), the founder of the Wessex line, claimed a mythical descent from the great Anglo-Saxon pagan god Wōden himself. The dynasty he founded was to rule England for over two hundred years and produced such varying characters as Alfred (871-899), the only English monarch ever to be bestowed with the epithet “the Great” who amongst varied achievements, established a peace with the invading Vikings and founded the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

The Anglo-Saxon line, as noted below, was interrupted for two decades by Danish Viking conquerors, but was re-established by Edward the Confessor. The Confessor is said to have willed his throne to his brother-in-law, King Harold II Godwinson, who was killed at the Battle at Hastings, after which the native Saxon House of Wessex was displaced by Edward the Confessor’s first cousin once-removed, William, Duke of Normandy, (a Danish Viking, but a Frenchified one) later William I of England and thereafter known as the Conqueror.

A word on pronunciation; the Anglo-Saxons had a predilection for some pretty intimidating-looking, tongue-warping names, though a good starting point is to know that the prefix “Æth” is pronounced “eth” to rhyme with “Beth”. You’ll see a lot of Æthel-something-or-other, which means "noble", and is a common prefix in high-status Anglo-Saxon names; Æthelred — “Eth-uhl-red” — for example means "noble counsel", Æthelflæd — “Eth-uhl-fled” — means “noble beauty” and Ælfflæd — “Elf-fled” — means “beautiful elf”.

See also Anglo-Saxons. Without further ado....

Cerdic of Wessex
Lived: c. 467 — 534
Reigned: 519 — 534
Parents: Elesa of Wessex (father)
Consort: Unknown

The semi-mythical Founder of the Kingdom, Cerdic was King of the West Saxons and the founder of the House of Wessex. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle provides a pedigree tracing Cerdic's ancestry back to the ancient pagan god Wōden.

His influence was so profound that later genealogies of the English monarchy would claim that all the sovereigns of Britain, save for Cnut, Harthacnut and Harold I (all three were Danish), Harold Godwinson (not of royal blood), and William the Conqueror (a Norman), were descended from himnote . Precisely why he was so influential is debated, in that the ancient sources conflict in their accounts of his life, who he was, and what he accomplished — so much so, in fact, that his origin, ethnicity, and even his very existence have been extensively disputed.

After him, over the next two hundred years, there followed a long line of succession (Cynric, Ceawlin, Ceol, Ceolwulf, Cynegils, Cwichelm, Cenwalh, Penda, Cenwalh (restored), Seaxburh, Cenfus, Æscwine, Centwine, Cædwalla, Ine, Æthelheard, Cuthred, Sigeberht, Cynewulf and Beorhtric) leading up to Egbert, who is the next notable ruler...

Egbert of Wessex
Lived: c. 771 — 839
Reigned: 802 — 839
Parents: Ealhmund of Kent (father)
Consort: Redburga of Wessex

Egbert (Ecgbherht) was the first monarch to establish a stable and extensive rule over all of Anglo-Saxon England. After returning from exile at the court of Charlemagne in 802, he regained his kingdom of Wessex. Following his conquest of Mercia in 827, he controlled all of England south of the Humber. After further victories in Northumberland and North Wales, he is recognised by the title Bretwalda (Anglo-Saxon, “ruler of the British”). While he was unable to maintain his position of total dominance, Egbert laid the foundation for a very successful dynasty that lasted for 200 years after his death. A year before he died aged almost 70, he defeated a combined force of Danes and Cornish at Hingston Down in Cornwall. He is buried at Winchester in Hampshire. Even though he was very old for the time period (In fact, he was the longest lived member of his dynasty), Egbert's death must've been sudden, because he was in contact with his ally, the Holy Roman Emperor, to arrange safe passage for a pilgrimage to Rome, but he died before he could go. Historically he was probably the second most successful of the Wessex kings, eclipsed only by his grandson Alfred.

Æthelwulf of Wessex
Lived: c. 795 — 13 January 858
Reigned: 839 — 858
Parents: King Egbert and Redburga of Wessex
Consorts: (1) Osburga of Hampshire; (2) Judith of Flanders

King of Wessex, son of Egbert and father of Alfred the Great. In 851 Æthelwulf defeated a Danish army at the battle of Oakley while his eldest son fought and defeated a Viking fleet off the coast of Kent, in what is believed to be “the first naval battle in recorded English history”. A highly religious man Æthelwulf travelled to Rome with his son Alfred to see the Pope in 855.

Æthelbald of Wessex
Lived: c. 831 — 860
Reigned: 855 — 860
Parents: King Æthelwulf and Osburga of Hampshire
Consort: Judith of Flanders note 

The second son of Æthelwulf, Æthelbald was born around 834. He was crowned at Kingston-upon-Thames in southwest London, after forcing his father to abdicate upon his return from pilgrimage to Rome. Following his father’s death in 858, he married his widowed stepmother Judith, but under pressure from the church the marriage was annulled after only a year. He is buried at Sherbourne Abbey in Dorset.

Æthelberht of Wessex
Lived: c. 834 — 865
Reigned: 860 — 865
Parents: King Æthelwulf and Osburga of Hampshire
Consort: None (no issue)

Became king following the death of his brother Æthelbald. Like his brother and his father Æthelberht was crowned at Kingston-upon-Thames. Shortly after his succession, a Danish army landed and sacked Winchester before being defeated by the Saxons. In 865 the Viking Great Heathen Army landed in East Anglia and swept across England. He is buried at Sherborne Abbey.

Æthelred I of Wessex
Lived: c. 847 — 871
Reigned: 865 — 871
Parents: King Æthelwulf and Osburga of Hampshire
Consort: Wulfrida of Wessex

Æthelred succeeded his brother Æthelberht. His reign was one long struggle with the Danes, who had occupied York in 866, establishing the Viking Kingdom of Yorvik. When the Danish Army moved south, Wessex itself was threatened, and so together with his brother Alfred, they fought several battles with the Vikings at Reading, Ashdown and Basing. Æthelred suffered serious injuries during the next major battle at Meretun in Hampshire; he died of his wounds shortly after at Witchampton in Dorset, where he was buried.

Alfred the Great of Wessex / Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons
Lived: c. 847 — 26 October 899
Reigned: 23 April 871 — c. 886 (Wessex); c. 886 — 26 October 899 (Anglo-Saxons)
Parents: King Æthelwulf and Osburga of Hampshire
Consort: Ealhswith of Mercia
Nickname: The Great

One of the British Isle's most celebrated rulers, there's a lot to say about him, so like many prominent British monarchs, he also has his own page — see Alfred the Great. Speaking of prominent British monarchs, former Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II, was his 32nd great-granddaughter.

Alfred is the only monarch in British history afforded the accolade "The Great". There are three main reasons for Alfred’s fame: (1) his successful defence of his kingdom against the Vikings; (2) his policies which encouraged learning and scholarship (especially in (Old) English) in his realm, leaving a relatively large body of sources which survive from his reign; and (3) the desire in later centuries to find Anglo-Saxon origins for the English constitution, Church, empire, and character. These three aspects coalesce so that his very real achievements have become part of a myth. It is a process that began in his lifetime and reached its height in the millenary celebrations of his death in 1901.

Alfred was the right person in the right place at the right time. Early in his reign he very nearly succumbed, like so many of his contemporaries, to the onslaught of the Vikings, but somehow he managed to hold out. By the time of his second campaign against the Vikings, between 892 and 896, his kingdom of Wessex was better prepared to defend itself. The military changes Alfred made saved his land and his people, and secured his reputation as a war leader. Alfred was able to leave the throne far more secure than he found it, so that his son and grandsons could in due course capitalise on his achievements to become king of all England.

Alfred lived at the time of what is now known as the Carolingian Renaissance, a period of heightened interest in learning and the written word in western Europe. Due to this, his reign is among the best recorded of the entire Anglo-Saxon period. Alfred seems to have taken a strong personal interest in the production of texts in the English language, something which marks him out from all of the other Anglo-Saxon warrior kings. He commissioned a series of translations into Old English of key Latin texts. He also had circulated, and may have commissioned, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which recorded, in the native tongue, the main events of his and earlier periods, beginning with the invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar in 54 BC and rapidly moving on to the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, including Alfred’s supposed ancestors Cerdic and Cynric in the fifth century.

Most crucial of all for Alfred’s subsequent reputation was the Latin biography written by one of his court advisers, the Welsh scholar monk Asser, who eventually became one of the bishops of Wessex. The Life of Alfred, written in 893 while the king was still alive, is the only biography that survives for an Anglo-Saxon king and provides types of information about the man and his reign that we do not have for other pre-Norman rulers.

Most British school-children will instantly remember him as "the one who burnt the cakes" — so what was that all about? One of the best known stories in English history, children are taught the story where Alfred is on the run from the Vikings in the Somerset marshes, taking refuge in the home of a peasant woman. She asks him to watch her cakes (small loaves of bread) baking by the fire, but distracted by his problems, he lets the cakes burn and is roundly scolded by the woman. Possibly apocryphal, yet makes for a good story.

Finally, his name is one of the few surviving ancient Anglo-Saxon male names (along with Edward and Edmund) still in popular use. In Alfred's native England, the name (with the very Tolkien-esque meaning of "Wise Elf") has never really gone out of fashion, especially the diminutive "Alfie", which was the 7th most popular boys' name for babies born in 2019.

Princess Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians
Lived: c. 870 — 12 June 918
Reigned: 911 — 918 (Mercia)
Parents: King Alfred the Great and Ealhswith of Mercia
Consort: Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians

Æthelflæd, who has been described as 'our greatest woman-general', was the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great, King of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, and his queen, Ealhswith.

Although not a ruler of England, Æthelflæd was ruler of Mercia, a semi-autonomous Kingdom under her father's rule, and is notable for the time period as a strong, independent and well-educated lady. During her early years, Æthelflæd witnessed her father take back large swathes of England from the Vikings (Danes), starting with the famous battle of Edington in Wiltshire, a key turning point in the Anglo-Saxon campaign against the Vikings. As Æthelflæd reached her teens, her father had begun to push the Vikings out of south eastern England and began to reclaim territory for both his own kingdom of Wessex and his northern ally of Mercia.

Mercia itself had not been a proper, independent kingdom for many years. The eastern part of its territory had long been in direct control of the Danish Vikings, with the remaining western part of the kingdom being effectively a puppet of the Vikings. Soon afterwards the English-controlled western half of Mercia came under the rule of Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, who accepted Alfred's overlordship. Alfred adopted the title 'King of the English', claiming to rule all English people not living in areas under Viking control. In the mid-880s, Alfred sealed the strategic alliance between the surviving English kingdoms by marrying Æthelflæd to Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians. Æthelred played a major role in fighting off renewed Viking attacks in the 890s, together with Æthelflæd's brother, the future King Edward the Elder.

When her husband died, Æthelflæd became the only sole female ruler in Europe. She expanded Mercia’s domains and built new forts to protect them against the Danes. In 917 she captured Derby and soon also forced the Danes of York to surrender. After her death in 918, her only daughter succeeded her as Lady of the Mercians.

Edward the Elder, King of the Anglo-Saxons
Lived: c. 874 — 17 July 924
Reigned: 26 October 899 — 17 July 924
Parents: King Alfred the Great and Ealhswith of Mercia
Consorts: (1) Ecgwynn of Wessex; (2) Ælfflæd of Wiltshire; (3) Eadgifu of Kent
Nickname: The Elder

Succeeded his father Alfred the Great. Edward is often referred to with his byname "The Elder', which was not used in his lifetime but was a byname added after his death to distinguish him from Edward the Martyr. He retook southeast England and the Midlands from the Danes, and following the death of his sister Aethelflaed of Mercia, he united the kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia. In 923, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles record that the Scottish King Constantine II recognises Edward as “father and lord”. The following year, Edward was killed in a battle against the Welsh near Chester. His body was returned to Winchester for burial.

Æthelstan, King of the Anglo-Saxons / Æthelstan of England
Lived: c. 894 — 27 October 939
Reigned: 924 — 927 (Anglo-Saxons); 927 – 27 October 939 (England)
Parents: King Edward the Elder and Ecgwynn of Wessex
Consort: None (no issue)

Edward's heir Æthelstan was also a distinguished and audacious soldier who pushed the boundaries of the kingdom to their furthest extent yet. In 927-8, he took York from the Danes; he forced the submission of king Constantine of Scotland and of the northern kings; all five Welsh kings agreed to pay a huge annual tribute (reportedly including 25,000 oxen), and he also eliminated opposition in Cornwall. Æthelstan became the first king to rule the whole of England and he is regarded by some modern historians as the first true king of England.

Æthelstan's codes strengthened royal control over his large kingdom; currency was regulated to control silver's weight and to penalise fraudsters. Buying and selling was mostly confined to the burhs, encouraging town life; areas of settlement in the midlands and Danish towns were consolidated into shires. Overseas, he built alliances by marrying four of his half-sisters to various rulers in western Europe.

He also had extensive cultural and religious contacts; as an enthusiastic and discriminating collector of works of art and religious relics, he gave away much of his collection to his followers and to churches and bishops in order to retain their support.

Æthelstan died at the height of his power and was buried at Malmesbury; a church charter of 934 described him as 'King of the English, elevated by the right hand of the Almighty ... to the Throne of the whole Kingdom of Britain'. He died childless, leaving his half brother Edmund to succeed him.

Edmund I of England
Lived: 921 — 26 May 946
Reigned: 27 October 939 — 26 May 946
Parents: King Edward the Elder and Eadgifu of Kent
Consorts: (1) Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury; (2) Æthelflæd of Damerham

Succeeded his half-bother Æthelstan, above, as king at the tender age of 18, having already fought alongside him at the Battle of Brunanburh two years earlier. He re-established Anglo-Saxon control over northern England, which had fallen back under Scandinavian rule following the death of Æthelstan. Aged just 25, and whilst celebrating the feast of Augustine, Edmund was stabbed by a robber in his royal hall at Pucklechurch near Bath. His two sons, Eadwig and Edgar, were perhaps considered too young to become kings, because he was succeeded by his younger brother.

Eadred of England
Lived: 923 — 23 November 955
Reigned: 26 May 946 — 23 November 955
Parents: King Edward the Elder and Eadgifu of Kent
Consort: None (no issue)

The son of Edward the Elder by his third marriage to Eadgifu, Eadred succeeded his brother Edmund following his premature death. He followed in the family tradition of defeating Norsemen, expelling the last Scandinavian King of York, Eric Bloodaxe, in 954. A deeply religious man, Eadred suffered a serious stomach ailment that would eventually prove fatal. Eadred died in his early 30s, unmarried and without an heir, at Frome in Somerset. He is buried in Winchester.

Eadwig of England
Lived: c. 940 — October 959
Reigned: 23 November 955 — 1 October 959
Parents: King Edmund I and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury
Consort: Ælfgifu of Mercia
Nickname: The All Fair

The eldest son of Edmund I, Eadwig was about 16 when he was crowned king at Kingston-upon-Thames in southeast London. Legend has it that his coronation had to be delayed to allow Bishop Dunstan to prise Eadwig from his bed, and from between the arms of his “strumpet” and the strumpet’s mother. Perhaps unimpressed by the interruption, Eadwig had Dunstan exiled to France. Eadwig died in Gloucester when he was just 20, the circumstances of his death are not recorded.

Edgar of England
Lived: c. 943 — 8 July 975
Reigned: 1 October 959 — 8 July 975
Parents: King Edmund I and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury
Consorts: (1) Æthelflæd; (2) Wulfthryth of Wiltshire; (3) Ælfthryth of Devon
Nickname: The Peaceful

The youngest son of Edmund I, Edgar had been in dispute with his brother concerning succession to the throne for some years. Following Eadwig’s mysterious death, Edgar immediately recalled Dunstan from exile, making him Archbishop of Canterbury as well as his personal adviser. Following his carefully planned (by Dunstan) coronation (which coronation has been, with many accretions, the basis of the coronation of the English and then British monarchs down to this day) in Bath in 973, Edgar marched his army to Chester, to be met by six kings of Britain. The kings, including the King of Scots, King of Strathclyde, and various princes of Wales, are said to have signalled their allegiance to Edgar by rowing him in his state barge across the River Dee.

Edward the Martyr of England
Lived: c. 962 — 18 March 978
Reigned: 8 July 975 — 18 March 978
Parents: King Edgar and Æthelflæd or Wulfthryth of Wiltshire note 
Consort: n/a (murdered aged 15-16)
Nickname: The Martyr

Eldest son of Edgar, Edward was crowned king when aged just 12. Although supported by Archbishop Dunstan, his claim to the throne was contested by supporters of his much younger half-brother Æthelred. The resulting dispute between rival factions within the church and nobility almost led to civil war in England. Edward’s short reign ended when he was murdered at Corfe Castle by followers of Æthelred, after just two and half years as king. The title ‘martyr’ was a consequence of him being seen as a victim of his Wicked Stepmother Ælfthryth's ambitions for her own son Æthelred...

Æthelred II of England (1st reign)
Lived: c. 966 — 23 April 1016
Reigned: 18 March 978 – 1013 (first time)
Parents: King Edgar and Ælfthryth of Devon
Consorts: (1) Ælfgifu of York; (2) Emma of Normandy
Nickname: The Unready

He was an ineffectual ruler who failed to prevent the Danes from overrunning England. The epithet “unready” is derived from unraed, meaning “bad counsel” or “no counsel,” and puns on his name, which means “noble counsel.”

The son of King Edgar, Æthelred ascended the throne upon the assassination of his half brother King Edward the Martyr in March 978. Widespread suspicion that Æthelred may have had a part in the murder created much of the distrust and disloyalty that undermined his authority. Hence, there was no unified defence when the Danish invasions resumed in 980.

Nearly all of the country was ravaged, and Æthelred's efforts to buy peace only made the invaders more rapacious. When they did begin to settle down in towns, Æthelred provoked further invasions by launching a massacre of Danish settlers. By the end of 1013 the Danish king, Sweyn I, had been accepted as king in England, and Æthelred had fled to Normandy...

House of Knýtlinga (41 days)

England came under the control of Sweyn Forkbeard, a Danish king of the House of Knýtlinganote  after an invasion in 1013, during which Æthelred abandoned the throne and went into exile in Normandy.

Sweyn I of Denmark
Lived: c. 960 — 3 February 1014
Reigned: 25 December 1013 — 3 February 1014
Parents: King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark and Tove of the Obotrites
Consorts: (1) Świętosława of Poland; (2) Sigrid the Haughty; (3) Gunhild of Wenden
Nickname: Forkbeard

Sweyn Forkbeard, England’s forgotten king, ruled for just 5 weeks. Sweyn, known as “Forkbeard” due to his long, cleft beard, was the son of Harald Bluetooth, king of Denmark.

Viking warrior though he was, Sweyn was baptised a Christian, his father having converted to Christianity. Despite this, Sweyn was a brutal man who lived in a brutal time; he was a violent warlord and warrior. He started his life of violence with a campaign against his own father: in around 986, Sweyn and his ally Palnatoke attacked and deposed King Harald.

Sweyn then turned his attention to England and in the early 990s led a campaign of fear and destruction, laying waste to large areas of the country. He was declared King of England on Christmas Day in 1013 and ruled until his death on 3rd February 1014, although he was never crowned.

House of Wessex (restored, first time)
Following the death of Sweyn Forkbeard, Æthelred the Unready returned from exile and was again proclaimed king on 3 February 1014. His son succeeded him after being chosen king by the citizens of London and the “Witan” — an assembly whose primary function was to advise the king and whose membership was composed of the most important noblemen in England.

Æthelred II of England (2nd reign)
Lived: c. 966 — 23 April 1016
Reigned: 3 February 1013 — 23 April 1016 (second time)
Parents: King Edgar and Ælfthryth of Devon
Consorts: (1) Ælfgifu of York; (2) Emma of Normandy
Nickname: The Unready

After Sweyn died in February 1014, Æthelred’s council of advisers invited him to return to the throne on condition that he agree to satisfy their grievances. At the time of Æthelred's death in 1016, Sweyn’s son Cnut was ravaging England. Æthelred was succeeded by his son Edmund II Ironside; one of his other sons ruled England as Edward the Confessor from 1042 to 1066. Despite the overall failures of the reign, evidence from his charters and coinage suggest that Æthelred's government was more effective than was once believed.

Edmund Ironside of England
Lived: c. 990 — 30 November 1016
Reigned: 23 April — 30 November 1016
Parents: King Æthelred II and Ælfgifu of York
Consort: Ealdgyth of the Seven Burghs
Nickname: Ironside

Although he was held in high regard during the 11th and 12th centuries, Edmund, who was given the nickname 'Ironside' by the Anglo- Saxon Chronicle in recognition of his bravery, has since been eclipsed by those who came immediately before and after him. The son of Æthelred II, Edmund II had led the resistance to Canute’s invasion of England since 1015. Following the death of his father, he was chosen king by the people of London. The Witan (the king’s council) however elected Canute. Following his defeat at the Battle of Assandun, Edmund made a pact with Canute to divide the kingdom between them. This treaty ceded control of all of England, with the exception of Wessex, to Canute. It also stated that when one of the kings died the other would take all of England… Edmund died later that year, probably assassinated.

House of Knýtlinga (restored)
Following the decisive Battle of Assandun on 18 October 1016, King Edmund signed a treaty with Cnut under which all of England except for Wessex would be controlled by Cnut. Upon Edmund's death just over a month later on 30 November, Cnut ruled the whole kingdom as its sole king for nineteen years.

Cnut the Great of England, Denmark and Norway
Lived: c.990 — 12 November 1035
Reigned: 1016 — 1035 (England); 1018 — 1035 (Denmark); 1028 — 1035 (Norway)
Parents: King Sweyn I and unknown mother note 
Consorts: (1) Ælfgifu of Northampton; (2) Emma of Normandy
Nickname: The Great

Cnut (sometimes spelled ‘Canute’) became king of all England following the death of Edmund II. The son of Sweyn Forkbeard, he ruled well and gained favour with his English subjects by sending most of his army back to Denmark. In 1017, Cnut married Emma of Normandy, the widow of Æthelred II and divided England into the four earldoms of East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex.

Cnut became King of Denmark in 1019 and King of Norway in 1028, making him the ruler of a massive empire surrounding the North Sea. Cnut converted to Christianity and was an avid protector of the Church; he promoted leaders of the English Church and was acknowledged by the Pope as the first Viking to becoming a Christian King.

Cnut was an astute statesman. Rather than rejecting the former Anglo-Saxon kings of England, he went out of his way to show support for them. He did this by visiting or making gifts to shrines associated with Anglo-Saxon kings, such as Shaftesbury Abbey, where King Edward the Martyr lay buried, or Wilton Abbey, linked with St Edith, sister of Æthelred. He even paid his respects to his old adversary, Edmund Ironside, at Glastonbury Abbey. This Anglophile policy was a smart political move on Cnut’s part, as it was well regarded by his English subjects. He also adopted a new law code, which was regarded as introducing a strong but fair regime to England. Cnut based these laws on those of the Anglo-Saxon king Edgar, whose reign was regarded as a golden age.

There is a famous story proclaiming Cnut’s vanity, first recorded by Henry of Huntingdon in his twelfth-century Chronicle of the History of England, in which flattering courtiers convinced him he could hold back the tide of the ocean.note  The story is called Cnut and the Waves as is how he is best remembered today. While history has remembered him as an almost humorous figure the medieval historian, Norman Cantor stated that Cnut was “the most effective king in Anglo-Saxon history.” The size of his North Sea Empire (Norway, England, and his native Denmark) should be a stark reminder of his success as a conqueror and ruler.

Harold I of England
Lived: c. 1016 — 17 March 1040
Reigned: 12 November 1035 — 17 March 1040
Parents: King Cnut the Great and unknown mother
Consort: Ælfgifu (?)
Nickname: Harefoot

Also known as Harold Harefoot, in recognition of his speed and skill as a hunter. Harold was the illegitimate son of Cnut; he claimed the English crown on the death of his father whilst his half-brother Harthacnut, the rightful heir, was in Denmark fighting to protect his Danish kingdom. Harold died three years into his reign, just weeks before Harthacnut was due to invade England with an army of Danes. He was buried in Westminster Abbey before Harthacnut had his body dug up, beheaded, and thrown into the Thames. His bits were later gathered and re-buried at St. Clement Danes in London.

Harthacnut of Denmark and England
Lived: c. 1018 — 8 June 1042
Reigned: 1035 — 8 June 1042 (Denmark); 17 March 1040 — 8 June 1042 (England)
Parents: King Cnut the Great and Emma of Normandy
Consort: None (no issue)
Nickname: Hartha note 

The son of Cnut the Great and Emma of Normandy, Harthacnut sailed to England with his mother, accompanied by a fleet of 62 warships, and was immediately accepted as king. Perhaps to appease his mother, the year before he died Harthacnut invited his half-brother Edward, Emma’s son from her first marriage to Æthelred the Unready, back from exile in Normandy. Harthacnut died at a wedding whilst toasting the health of the bride; he was aged just 24 and was the last Danish king to rule England.

House of Wessex (restored, second time)
After Harthacnut, there was a brief Saxon Restoration between 1042 and 1066.

Edward the Confessor of England
Lived: c. 1003 — 5 January 1066
Reigned: 8 June 1042 — 5 January 1066
Parents: King Æthelred II and Emma of Normandy
Consort: Edith of Wessex
Nickname: The Confessor

Son of Æthelred II and half-brother of Edmund Ironside. Following the death of Harthacnut, Edward restored the rule of the House of Wessex to the English throne. A deeply pious and religious man (hence his byname), he presided over the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey, leaving much of the running of the country to Earl Godwin and his son Harold. Edward died childless, eight days after the building work on Westminster Abbey had finished. With no natural successor, England was faced with a power struggle for control of the throne.

Since his immediate successor both was not of royal blood and was killed and overthrown within less than a year of taking the throne, Edward the Confessor is often considered the "true" last Anglo-Saxon King of England. On the other hand, he was also arguably the first Norman King of England, since not only was his mother Norman but he was largely raised in Normandy (having been exiled during the reign of Cnut and his sons) and during his reign was controversial among the Anglo-Saxon nobility for his pro-Norman sympathies. After his death, this was largely forgotten, with his religious piety (he and Edward the Martyr are the only Kings of England to be officially recognized saints by the Catholic Church) being the basis for his posthumous reputation. Indeed, so popular was Edward's cult that Henry III cannily named his son and heir "Edward" to drum up support among the public. As a result, "Edward" is the only pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon name still in use among the British royals.

Harold Godwinson / Harold II of England
Lived: c. 1022 — 14 October 1066
Reigned: 5 January — 14 October 1066
Parents: Godwin, Earl of Wessex and Gytha Thorkelsdóttir of Denmark
Consorts: (1) Edith the Fair; (2) Edith of Mercia

Despite having no royal bloodline, Harold Godwinson, son of Godwin, Earl of Wessex, was elected king by the Witan (a council of high ranking nobles and religious leaders), following the death of Edward the Confessor. The election result failed to meet with the approval of one William, Duke of Normandy. William — a blood-relative of Edward’s via his mother Emma, who was William’s great-aunt (therefore making the two men first cousins once removed) — who claimed Edward had promised the throne to him several years earlier.note  Harold defeated an invading Norwegian army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, then marched south to confront William of Normandy who had landed his forces in Sussex. The death of Harold at the Battle Of Hastings meant the end of the English Anglo-Saxon kings and the beginning of Norman rule.

Edgar Ætheling / Edgar II of England

Lived: c. 1052 — after 1125
Reigned: 15 October — 10 December 1066
Parents: Edward the Exile and Agatha
Consort: none
Nickname: Ætheling

On paper, there was one final Anglo-Saxon King of England. After Harold's death, the Witan promptly elected the grandson of King Edmund Ironside, Edgar Ætheling, to be the new king. Edgar was the last remaining male member of the House of Wessex and thus considered the only plausible option since they were unwilling to accept William's claim. Edgar was never actually crowned and since William didn't care about the Witan's permission, he never actually ruled England. He briefly tried to retake the throne with the aid of his brother-in-law King Malcolm III of Scotland, this being one of several possible attempts at the throne, many of which failed to get going thanks to obscene bad luck; but after this failed, Malcolm convinced him to give up on becoming king. His life after is quite interesting; a failed venture in Italy in 1086, believed to have popped up with a fleet to help out the First Crusade, and stories that he commanded the Byzantine Emperor's Varangian Guard (at this point mostly English exiles). While both of the latter are doubtful, we do know he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1102 and was received by Emperor Alexios I Komnenos in Constantinople, which is probably where the confusion came from. In later life, he was respected as a diplomat and mediator between William's squabbling sons (although among them, he usually sided with Robert over William or Henry, and was among Robert's generals against Henry at the decisive Battle of Tinchebray where he was captured and briefly a prisoner of Henry), and helped arrange the marriage of his niece Edith (who took the name Matilda) to Henry I. No one is entirely sure when he died, or where he was buried. The last definitive mention of him being by Anglo-Norman Chronicler Orderic Vitalis in 1125, where he noted that the elderly Edgar was living in the countryside in peace and quiet.

Depictions in fiction:

  • The Last Kingdom is a British TV series produced by The BBC based on The Saxon Stories, an on-going series of Historical Fiction novels by Bernard Cornwell, starring Alexander Dreymon as Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a fictional exiled Northumbrian lordnote  and vassal of David Dawson's Alfred the Great. Many of the those listed above feature prominently; Alfred’s wife Aelswith, Edward the Elder, Æthelflæd and Æthelred of Mercia, and many more.
  • Parts of Heimskringla, Snorri Sturluson's history of the kings of Norway, are concerned with the history of late Anglo-Saxon Britain; notably the Danish conquest, the Danish kings of England, and the unsuccessful Norwegian invasion of 1066.
  • Cerdic of Wessex and his Saxon army are the villains in King Arthur (2004)
  • Ivanhoe portrays the perpetuation of cultural friction between pure-blooded Saxon families and the ruling Normans in England, though in real life the two cultures had long since assimilated by this point.
  • The novelist Bernard Cornwell has written several books set around this time period:
    • The Warlord Chronicles trilogy (The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur: A Novel of Arthur) is about King Arthur attempting to set up a kingdom being threatened by invasion from the Anglo-Saxons tribes, including one led by Cerdic.
    • The Saxon Stories is a series of novels about Alfred the Great and his descendants, narrated by his uneasy ally and unwilling servant, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a pagan warlord who is raised as a Viking. They were adapted into the above-mentioned series, The Last Kingdom.
  • The invading Saxons are the antagonists of the middle novels of Rosemary Sutcliff's The Dolphin Ring series – The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Sword at Sunset, and Dawn Wind.
  • The unearthing of an Anglo-Saxon crown is the catalyst of Montague Rhodes James's ghost story A Warning to the Curious.
  • The House of Wessex appears in Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, with the dynasty's most famous member, King Alfred the Great, as the main antagonist since he wants to defend his kingdom from Viking invaders. Aside from Alfred, his wife Lady Aethelswith and his daughter Aethelflead also show up in the story.
  • The historical romance novel Keeper of the Crystal Spring takes place after William the Conqueror becomes king. Set in a small village in the English countryside, it includes Harold Godwinson as a supporting character, eventually revealed to be the true biological father of one of the participants in a Love Triangle.
  • In the Boundless setting of Claim the Sky, Edmund Ironside had the ability to transform his body into iron, as an example of super powers existing throughout history.
  • In the Battle of Hastings scenario of Age of Empires II, Harold Godwinson appears as the antagonist, with a brief depiction of the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

< Prior to the arrival of the Saxons we’re going back to Roman Britain. See also Celtic Kingdoms for detail on the Briton tribes whom the Saxons displaced, and Boudica and King Arthur for details on two of Britain’s most famous, even earlier monarchs.

> After these guys, we're into The House of Normandy