How England First Became England: An Animated History

Once you pay the Danegeld, you nev­er get rid of the Dane. So dis­cov­ered the rulers of the kings of the Anglo-Sax­on era, dur­ing which Eng­land became sub­ject to the threat of Viking inva­sions. It was­n’t, of course, the Eng­land we know today, but it was­n’t exact­ly not the Eng­land we know today either. The fact of the mat­ter, accord­ing to the ani­mat­ed Knowl­ed­gia video above, is that Eng­land did­n’t take its full form until 927 A.D.. In ten min­utes, it goes on to encap­su­late what hap­pened in the fore­go­ing cen­tu­ry and a half to make Eng­land as we know it a viable geo­graph­i­cal and polit­i­cal enti­ty — a process that was­n’t with­out its com­pli­ca­tions.

“As the Roman Empire began to fade from the British isles,” explains the video’s nar­ra­tor, “the area of mod­ern-day Eng­land start­ed to see a wave of migra­tion from Anglo-Sax­on Ger­man­ic tribes.” Then came attacks from the oth­er direc­tion, mount­ed by the Picts and Scots, whom the Ger­man­ic peo­ples even­tu­al­ly expelled — before tak­ing pow­er from the native Britons them­selves. After a few cen­turies of divi­sion into var­i­ous Anglo-Sax­on king­doms, along came the Vikings. By the year 875, only the king­dom of Wes­sex had­n’t been over­tak­en by the Danes. Its king, Alfred, start­ed the cus­tom of pay­ing them off before engag­ing and final­ly defeat­ing them in the Bat­tle of Eding­ton.

The fol­low­ing gen­er­a­tions of rulers of Wes­sex and the retak­en king­dom of Mer­cia pushed north, tak­ing back ter­ri­to­ry from the Danes a piece at at time. It was Æthel­stan, who ruled from 925 to 939, who final­ly made it all the way up through Northum­bria. “This is gen­er­al­ly the time that most his­to­ri­ans view the King­dom of Eng­land as hav­ing been cre­at­ed,” but Æthel­stan’s domain “was still not quite what we know as Eng­land today.” The king’s 937 inva­sion of Scot­land, cul­mi­nat­ing in his vic­to­ry in the Bat­tle of Brunan­burh, “may have tru­ly solid­i­fied the uni­ty of Eng­land, and stirred up a new sense of nation­al­ism and pride amongst the Eng­lish peo­ple.”

Not that the trou­bles end­ed there. After Æthel­stan’s death, the Vikings returned to do a bit of recon­quer­ing, sub­se­quent­ly un-recon­quered by the Eng­lish under Edmund. Lat­er came Eric Blood­axe of Nor­way, who made inroads into Eng­land as fear­some­ly as his name would sug­gest, only to lose his con­quered ter­ri­to­ries to the locals. The bloody con­flicts involved in all this did­n’t come to a pause until the reign of the apt­ly named Edgar the Peace­ful, which began in late 959. Under Edgar “the true foun­da­tions of the Eng­lish king­doms could final­ly be estab­lished,” and he passed many reforms — but made sure to uphold the Dan­ish law where it had been estab­lished. If recent his­to­ry had offered any les­son, it was that one should nev­er upset the Danes.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Entire His­to­ry of the British Isles Ani­mat­ed: 42,000 BCE to Today

Watch the Rise and Fall of the British Empire in an Ani­mat­ed Time-Lapse Map (519 A.D. to 2014 A.D.)

The Roman Roads of Britain Visu­al­ized as a Sub­way Map

The Evo­lu­tion of Lon­don: 2,000 Years of Change Ani­mat­ed in 7 Min­utes

The Dif­fer­ence Between the Unit­ed King­dom, Great Britain and Eng­land: A (Pre-Brex­it) Video Explains

The His­to­ry of the Eng­lish Lan­guage in Ten Ani­mat­ed Min­utes

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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