About the Anglo-Saxons

The answer to the riddle on the front page is: an anchor. Read on to find out more about the Anglo-Saxons…

The Anglo-Saxons comprised a number of germanic tribes including the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes and Frisians. Famous Anglo-Saxon people include  Hengist, King Offa of Mercia, St Edmund of East Anglia, Alfred the Great, Athelstan (first King of All England), Æthelred the Unready (“unraed” – ill advised), Edward the Confessor and Harold II. Other secular and religious Anglo-Saxons known to history include Alcuin of York (teacher of Charlemagne), St Æthelthryth, Æthelflæd – Lady of the Mercians, St Augustine, The Venerable Bede, Boniface (missionary to Germany), Earl Byrhtnoth, Caedmon the Poet, St Cuthbert, Hereward and St Wilfrid.

The Anglo-Saxons spoke “Old English” from which modern day English directly descends and the majority of today’s English towns, villages and landscape features have names of Old English origin. The technology of the Anglo-Saxons enabled them to develop their agriculture and fishing, minerals and trade; their ships enabled movement of their people and goods internally and with Europe. Initially pagan, the Anglo-Saxons converted to Christianity and subsequently sent missionaries abroad; especially to Germany and the Low Countries. The Anglo-Saxons created what became Europe’s oldest and one of its richest kingdoms.

Battle of Maldon Extract

Ne þurfe wē ūs spillan ġif ġē spēdaþ tō þām: wē willað wið þām golde grið fæstnian.

We need not resort to fighting, if you are rich enough and give us gold we will keep the peace.

Anglo-Saxon Riddles – Number Eighteen

Ic eom wunderlicu wiht: ne mæg word sprecan, mældan for monnum, þeah ic muþ hæbbe, wide wombe. Ic wæs on ceole ond mines cnosles ma.

l am a curious creature; can not speak words or talk to men, though a mouth I have, a broad belly. I was in a ship and more of my kinsmen.

What am I? Answer: an amphora.


Anglo-Saxon writings in Latin and Old English survive not only in religious texts but also in extensive law codes, charters and writs. The text “The Reckoning of Time” gave us “Anno Domini” as a method of dating. They were the first people to record chronologically the history of these islands through works such as the “Ecclesiastical History of the English People” and “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”. The Domesday Book although written in 1086 and commissioned by a Norman King gives us a detailed account of who owned what in mid eleventh century England. Colour illustrated Anglo-Saxon manuscripts survive including the “Lindisfarne Gospels”, “The Harley Psalter” (illustrations of the text heading of each psalm), and the Julius Work Calendar (illustrating daily tasks for each month). Their poetry survives in works such as Beowulf, The Battle of Brunanburgh, The Battle of Maldon, and The Exeter Book of Riddles.


The Anglo-Saxons established a comprehensive system of central and local government with a degree of representation and accountability. To assist in government, trade and commerce they established taxation systems and an extensive number of closely regulated mints which produced a consistently good quality of coinage. Both centrally and nationally the Anglo-Saxons organised the army and the navy (King Alfred the Great founded the Royal Navy), and enhanced local defence through fortified townships (the “burhs”) and important earthworks such as Offa’s Dyke. Their written laws and punishments were the foundations for our modern legal system.

What Survives Today

The Anglo-Saxons produced a distinctive artistic style in their arts and crafts which is reflected in many artefacts which survive today. These include jewellery such as brooches, buckles, wrist-clasps, clothing pins and beads; arms and armour such as swords, spear-heads, shield bosses, axes and knives; coins, some with a portrait of the king, gold and silver pennies, silver, copper or brass sceattas; glass used for vessels, for windows and beads; musical instruments; fragments of textiles and clothing; personal items such as bone combs and toilet items; and domestic and personal metalwork, woodwork and leatherwork items. Some of the more famous artefacts include: The Alfred Jewel, The Fuller Brooch, The Franks Casket, and the treasures of Sutton Hoo, the Staffordshire Hoard and the Prittlewell Prince, and the sculptured stone crosses at Bewcastle, Gosforth, Ruthwell and Sandbach.  Examples of Anglo-Saxon church architecture and sculpture survive in a great number of their churches. Some of the great Anglo-Saxon battles are commemorated at Edington, Maldon, Stamford Bridge and Senlac Ridge (Hastings). You only have to look and you will still see the Anglo-Saxons all around you!

The English Companions

The English Companions promotes interest and research into the Anglo-Saxon era (AD 450-1100). We publish a quarterly magazine, Withowinde, our website has ongoing information and discussions of interest. An Old English correspondence course enables members to learn both the written and spoken language. Local groups, organised on a scir basis, arrange their own meetings and attend lectures, exhibitions and events; some events attended include “Living History Groups”.

The English Companions does not follow any particular interpretation of history and maintains a strictly neutral line on modern political and religious matters.

Cost of Membership

Individual Adult Annual Membership: £25 (UK), £36(Europe) or £40 (Rest of world)
Single additional payment of £1.50 annually to include any number of additional named family members, whether adult or children, living at the same address.

To join click on the Membership Application form on the right hand side and complete and return as indicated


The English Companions also produce a number of informative leaflets including some simple phrases in Old and Modern English, Old English texts in Old and Modern English – the Lord’s Prayer and the opening lines of Beowulf, days and months of the year, Old English runes and letters of the Old English alphabet, two extracts of text from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in Old and Modern English, clothing, coins, food and drink and cooking and eating.

The following is a video by Harry Ball reproduced with the kind permission of BBC Staffordshire.