THE FOUNDATION OF ENGLAND – a class project

THE FOUNDATION OF ENGLAND

The text is divided into twenty sub-topics, each of just a line or two. Teachers could allocate topics to different groups, who then research their topic and feed back to the class,  in the form of a presentation, for example,  or a wall-poster:

1.       122 AD     HADRIAN’S WALL    
The Roman Emperor Hadrian builds a wall across Britain from coast to coast, marking the limits of the Empire.

2.     270 AD     FORTRESS BRITAIN!
On the eastern coast, forts are built against Saxon sea-raiders from Germany. By 369, they extend along the south coast, too, but still the raiders come.

3.     324 AD     A CHRISTIAN EMPIRE   
The Emperor Constantine makes Christianity the official religion of the Empire. 

4.     410 AD        END OF EMPIRE
From the 380’s, Roman forces in Britain begin pulling out. The last legions leave in 410. Possibly within two or three generations, Roman Britain collapses. Villas are abandoned, cities fall into ruin. The Britons send pleas for help, but none is ever sent. The Roman Empire in the West is finished.

5.     449 AD     THE COMING OF THE ENGLISH
A British leader, Vortigern, invites Germanic mercenaries to defend the land: Hengist and Horsa: the event is later celebrated as ‘The Coming of the English’. After six years, they seize the land for themselves, and Vortigern is swept aside.

6.     500-550 AD     THE KINDGOMS OF ENGLAND
The kingdoms of Anglia, Sussex, Essex, Kent, Wight and Wessex are formed one by one, as the English slowly spread west and north. They are pagans, while many of their British enemies are Christians.     

7.     c500-516 AD      WHO WAS KING ARTHUR?
In the West, the English are beaten back for a while by a British leader called Arturius.  He is later remembered in the legend of king Arthur.

8.     546-550 AD    THE END OF THE WORLD!
The British monk Gildas writes a book ‘On the ruin and conquest of Britain.’ He thinks the end of the world is coming. It’s one of the few sources we have for this period, which is often called ‘The Dark Ages’.

9.     597 AD  CONVERT THE PAGANS!
In 563 AD, an Irish monk called Colomba founds a monastery on the island of Iona, off north-west England. It becomes the centre of Celtic, or British Christianity. A generation later, in 597, Pope Gregory sends Augustine to Britain to convert the pagan English. He arrives in Kent with 40 priests, and founds Christ’s Church at Canterbury.

10.     c620 AD     SUTTON HOO MYSTERY
A king’s funeral at Sutton Hoo near Ipswich. Over 1300 years later, in 1939, it’s excavated by archaeologists, who discover fabulous treasure buried within the remains of a ship under the burial mound.  There are weapons, armour, jewellery, coins, even an ancient harp.

11.     c653 AD   ENGLALOND
By 774, a man called Offa is the first to claim to be ‘king of all England’. He mints coins called ‘pennies’.

12.     731 AD    BEDE’S BOOK
 A monk called Bede writes an ‘Ecclesiastical History of England’. It’s another major source for the history of the period. He copied some of his material from Gildas.

13     c786  AD VIKINGS!      
The first Viking raid on the Dorset coast. It’s followed by more in the 790’s.

14.     c800 AD      NENNIUS  
A Welsh monk called Nennius begins his ‘History of Britain’. He often copies from Gildas, mixes up facts and legends, and possibly makes up a few things as well. Nevertheless, his book is another important source of our knowledge of this period.

15. 840’s – 870’s AD   KING ALFRED AND THE VIKINGS
Vikings raid London, and even spend the winter of 871 there. A ‘Great Army’ roams at will across East Anglia. They clash with Alfred, the young king of Wessex, and he’s driven into the Somerset marshes. There’s a strange legend about him ‘burning the cakes’. However, he gathers his forces, leads a new English army against the Vikings and beats them.

16.     886 AD DANELAW
Alfred drives the Vikings back as far as London, but can do no more. The old Roman road of ‘Watling Street’ becomes the frontier between them. The land beyond is known as the ‘Danelaw’.

17.     892 AD    ALFRED THE GREAT
King Alfred encourages his court to learn to write, and orders a great history of England to be compiled. Some copies of it still exist, and it’s called ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. It’s the last of the major sources for our knowledge of England before 1066. Alfred is the only English king to be called ‘the Great’.

18.     991 AD DANEGELD
A new wave of Viking, or Danish raids. After defeat at the Battle of Maldon, King Athelred is advised to  pay them 10,000 pounds of silver to leave. Bad avice! A couple of years later, the Vikings demand another 22,000 pounds, and in 1002, they want 24,000 pounds. Incredibly, Athelred finds the money, known as ‘Danegeld’. In 1012, they ask for – and get – 48,000 pounds of silver.

19.     1016 AD    KING CNUT
 The Danish king Cnut beats an English army under king Edmund at Ashingdon, in Essex.  They share England between them, but when Edmund dies (mysteriously!) a year later, Cnut inherits the whole kingdom. There’s a legend about king Cnut sitting on his throne on a beach, commanding the waves to go back.

20.     1042 AD     EDWARD THE CONFESSOR  
 Edward, a very spiritual man, rules for 24 years. When he dies in 1066, no-one is sure who should succeed to the throne. Harold of Wessex is elected, but he proves to be the last king of Anglo-Saxon England.