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UK History and the Germanic Invasions

The arrival of the Germanic tribes to Great Britain and their settling after AD 430 meant a sweeping change in UK history. In fact is one of the most important events of UK history. The Germanic tribes were three: the Angles, who settled in the east and the north Midlands, the Jutes, who settled in Kent and along the east coast, and the Saxons, who settled in an area of land between the Angles and the Jutes.

What the Germanic tribes did to the people that inhabited the British territory at the time is one of the bloodiest massacres of UK history. Unlike the Romans –see The Romans and England History for more information– these tribes eliminated the Celtics tribe living in Britain as they settled. The Celts had been under Roman power for centuries, but the Roman had to leave the land to defend Rome, and the Celts were left alone, with no army or political power to defend themselves.

UK history shows us that the Celts fought the settlers from Germany as well as they could. But the Celts were slowly pushed westwards and finally driven into the mountains in the far west. This area of land that the Celts occupied was called “Weallas” or “Wales” by the Saxons, and it meant “the land of the foreigner”. Other groups of Celts were driven into Cornwall, and others into what we know today as Scotland. The sad part of UK history is that today little is left of Celtic language and culture.

The Anglo-Saxons established several kingdoms. The most powerful were the kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex. But in the 8th century, the King Offa of Mercia claimed kingship of the English. King Offa was powerful enough to do this. However, he did not control all of England. After Offa died, the power of Mercia did not survive.

The contributions of the Saxons to the British territory are highly important for UK history. The Saxons created powerful institutions, such as the Witan, the king’s Council. The Witan was a formal body that issued laws and charters and kings turned to it for advice or support. The Witan had the right to choose kings and to agree the use of the kings’ laws. The creation of the Witan was so important for UK history that it still remains as a governmental institution, which is known today as the Privy Council.

The Saxons also divided the land into shire. “Shire” is the Anglo-Saxon word for “county”. Each shire was appointed a king's local administrator named shire reeve, in time this name was changed to “sheriff”. The new system of the counties is very much alike the old one —the one the Saxons created.

Anglo-Saxon technology also changed UK history as regards agriculture. They introduced the heavy plough which ploughed in long straight lines across the field. It required six or eight oxen. The use of this new technology led to changes in land organization and ownership. The land was divided into two or three large fields. These were also divided into long strips. Different families owned a number of strips in each of these fields. This meant that villagers had to work more closely together, as they had never done in the past.

There was a “manor” in each district. The manor was the place where local villagers went to pay taxes, to enroll in the army, and where justice was administrated. The aldermen were the lords of each manor. This was the beginning of a class system that included kings, lords, soldiers and workers.

Although the Saxons who came to England were pagans, during the Anglo-Saxon period in Britain, Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine to re-established Christianity in England. Only in the Celtic areas Christianity remained. Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 601. He made great success among several ruling families. Little progress was made among ordinary people because Augustine wanted to establish Christian authority. It was the Celtic Church that brought Christianity to the ordinary people. The Church became very important, and was highly supported by the Saxon kings, as it increased the power of kings. The Church also established places of learning and education, called “minsters” or monasteries, where men were trained to read and write. These men would later be the ones in charge of the royal and Church authority. King Alfred of Wessex (871-899) made great use of the Church to establish a system of law and to educate the people.

But these were not the only things that the Saxons changed in Britain. The Saxons left behind an important legacy for UK history. This was the language. The language spoken by the Saxons that lived in England is that language that developed into modern English.

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