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In the fifth century, after the evacuation of Roman troops, the Anglo-Saxons came to Britain. These were a cluster of Germanic tribes, notably the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes, with a culture vaguely resembling that of the Vikings. They settled down and after a while converted to Christianity. They struggled among themselves for supremacy, forming what is called (for the sake of neat organization and poetic phrasing) the "Bretwalda" or seven kingdoms of the Saxons: East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex, Wessex, Mercia, and Northumbria. These kingdoms vied for supremacy until the arrival of the Danes made their quarrels seem petty. The Danes settled in Britain and in a few generations, conquered almost all the Anglo-Saxon lands. However, Wessex had a recovery under Alfred the Great and his descendants which continued until they had reconquered all the Danish-occupied lands (now called the Danelaw). This made the House of Wessex ruler over all the lands of the Angles, hence the term England. The Wessex house lost its grip and was overthrown by Norse invaders under Knut the Great. At this point England became a combined Saxon-Scandinavian nation, which was an easy fit once the wars had been forgotten because they had very similar cultures. After several monarchs, Harold Godwinson claimed the throne but he was overthrown by the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror. This is considered the end of Anglo-Saxon England.
The Anglo-Saxons are noted for their poetry and their art. They are also considered to be in some ways the founders of English Parliamentary government because of their system of Moots (councils) that led from the small village moot to the Witanagemot(Council of Wise Men)-Witan for short-which advised the King. The resemblance of this system to a modern democracy has been exaggerated in the past. While it wasn't a democracy, neither was it an absolute rule, and the King was wise to listen to the Witan. Moreover, the Witan had a considerable say in the succession to the crown, even though the previous king's influence may have been strongest. The Anglo Saxons also instituted a number of other elements of English government, including the office of sheriff. "Sheriff," by the way, comes from "shire reeve," "reeve" being like a magistrate and "shire" like a county.
The term "Angle" by the way, is said to mean "fishhook". Saxon comes from a Machete-like chopping blade much in vogue among them for both war and for peaceful purposes.
Depictions in fiction:
- 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 the 2004 film King Arthur
- 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.