A History of Great Britain by Robert Balmain Mowat - CHAPTER IV - The Consolidation of England

August 21 2018

CHAPTER IV - The Consolidation of England

Despite getting closer to solving the question of “What are the English?” post-Anglo-Saxon invasion, England continues to present a turbulent landscape full of rivalry and supremacy changes. The next set of events plague the country over a span of 500 years.

First Supremacy: Northumbria

Northumbria had been most successful under Eadwine, who was acknowledged as “Bretwalda” or overlord of England. Eadwine was Christian and founded the fortress of Edinburgh. Eadwine eventually fell, in 633, to Penda, heathen king of Mercia.

Second Supremacy: Mercia

Mercia can be counted as the greatest kingdom of the 8th century. Penda had not only defeated Eadwine, but also his successor, Oswald.

After Penda’s death in 655, Mercia eventually converted to Christianity under St. Chad. Later, from 757 to 796, ruled Offa, a friend of Charlemagne.

Third Supremacy: Wessex

In 802, Egbert, once forced into exile by Offa of Mercia, was called upon the throne of Wessex. He was successful in breaking the supremacy of Mercia, but only for a short time.

The Danish* Invasion**

*I should mention that Mowat frequently calls all Norse/Viking warriors “Danish”, as was custom in old England. It should be understand that while some of those warriors were indeed Danish, there were also Swedes and Norwegians. I will continue to use “Danish” in the way Mowat does in his work.

The Danes had been feeling constricted by their kings for a while now. The decided to band together and formed The Great Heathen Army and invaded England. In 870, they shot the king of East Anglia (who is subsequently canonized due to being killed by “heathens”) and burn churches and villages alike.

This 14 year long invasion leads to a lack of educated priests in England.

** Mowat spends precious little time on this fascinating topic. I recommend further reading here or listening here


The King of Wessex, who ascended the throne in 871, manages in 878 to defeat the Danes. Mowat states that he christianize the Danes, seemingly because he was such a devout man, however, it should be understood that he first starved the Vikings and made their continued livelihood dependent on the conversion.

Besides this victory, Alfred was a learned man, who famously conceived of and started the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicles’. He died in 901.

His daughter Ethelfleda regained much of Mercia from the Danes, his son Edward regained East Anglia and Edward’s son Athelstan, regained Northumbria.

Edgar The Peaceful

After a variety of short-lived reigns, Edgar ascends the English throne in 959.

He rewrote the law - and history - by treating the Angles, Saxons and Danes the same.