Scottish Monarchs of the Middle Ages

by Teresa Eckford

“While the Roman Empire was overrun by waves not only of Ostrogoths, Vizigoths and even Goths, but also of Vandals…and Huns…Britain was attacked by waves of Picts (and of course, Scots) who had recently learned to climb the wall, and of Angles, Saxons and Jutes who, landing at Thanet, soon overran the country with fire (and, of course, the sword).”

1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England by Walter Sellar Carruthers and Robert Julian Yeatman, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1941 – pp. 4-5 (This book is still in print, so if you see a copy, pick it up and have a good laugh!)

| Chronology | History | Sources |


By the middle of the sixth century these invaders had started dividing the land between them, establishing 7 kingdoms – the period 550-850 became known as that of the Heptarchy.

Here follows a brief chronology of events:

C542 Battle of Camlann, according to Annales Cambraie.
Death (or unspecified other demise) of Arthur (according to Geoffrey of Monmouth.) 597 Visit of St. Augustine and conversions to Christianity 597 Conversion of Ethelbert 616 Death of Ethelbert 626 Edwin of Northumbria converts 635 King of Wessex converted by Bishop Birinius 642 Penda of Mercia kills Oswald of Northumbria 664 Synod of Whitby sees Church of Rome chosen over Celtic Church 669 Theodore of Tarsus appointed Archbishop of Canterbury 672 Birth of Venerable Bede (author of The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation) 685/8 Wessex expands its power to rule over Kent, Surrey and Sussex 735 Death of Bede 793/4 Danes raid Lindisfarne, Jarrow and Iona 786/802 Offa of Mercia and his successor bring much of Kent, Surrey and Sussex under Mercia’s control 797 Death of Offa (builder of the famous dyke) 825 Defeat of Mercians by Egbert of Wessex, who takes back Kent, Surrey and Sussex while adding Essex 849 Birth of King Alfred 867/70 Northumbria and East Anglia fall to the Danes 871 Accession of Alfred in Wessex (after deaths of his older brothers) 874 Mercia lost to the Danes
England is divided along a northwest axis so that the Danes rule north of the line (area became known as the Danelaw) and English rule south of it 878 Alfred wins battle against Danes at Edington in May
Guthrum converts 878/99 Some Danish raids continue
Alfred extends power of Wessex and builds his administration (also takes London from the Danes in 886) 899 Death of Alfred the Great and succession of his son, Edward the Elder 910/20Edward the Elder and his sister Æthflaed, Lady of the Mercians, take back much of the Danelaw 919 Raegnald founds the kingdom of York 940 Monastery at Glastonbury refounded by Dunstan (who becomes Archbishop of Canterbury in 960) 973 Coronation and consecration of Edgar, to whom the British princes submit 978 Murder of Edward (later known as “the Martyr”) and succession of Æthelred “the Unredey” 1002 Æthelred orders all Danes in England killed 1003 Sweyn of Denmark invades 1013 Sweyn returns, Æthelred flees, leaving his rival as king 1014 Sweyn dies, Æthelred returns and is accepted back as king until his death in 1016 1016 Cnut (Sweyn’s son) and Edmund (Æthelred’s son) fight over the kingdom until Cnut defeats Edmund at the battle of Ashingdon, leaving the latter only Wessex.Edmund dies shortly after, so Cnut is sole king 1017 Cnut marries Emma of Normandy, Æthelred’s widow (they have a son, Harthacanute and a daughter, Gunthild)
Cnut divides England into 4 Earldoms: Northumbria, East Anglia, Mercia and Wessex 1035 Death of Cnut, succession of his older son Harold 1040 Death of Harold, Harthacnut brought to England by the Witan 1042 Death of Harthacnut, succession of Edward (later known as “the Confessor”) younger son of Æthelred and Emma of Normandy (after living in exile in Normandy after his father’s death) 1066 Battle of Hastings.
Death of King Harold, killed while fighting William of Normandy.


]]>Support our sponsors As few sources from this period are still extant it is difficult to be completely accurate in describing how people lived, yet archaeologists and historians continue to work to learn as much as they can.

The Anglo-Saxon period saw the development of the village/manorial system, judicial system and beginnings of the towns and merchants that would dominate the later medieval period. (Morgan, pp. 74 – 83)

While the invaders were warlike in many ways, and continued to fight amongst themselves until the Vikings began to raid, they were also interested in agriculture and saw to it that their slaves tilled the land. (Blair, p. 257) Small villages were established and intermarriages between the native Britons and their conquerors were not unusual. It took a long time to conquer all the land – the Celts rebelled against the Mercians and South Saxons, while the Scots harassed the Northumbrians. Eventually the lowland Celts were absorbed by the Anglo-Saxons while the highland Celts withdrew, returning to pre-Roman ways while adapting to the Christian faith in their own manner.

The lifestyle was extremely basic. Even the kings did not build stone castles (this did not happen in England until the coming of the Normans), but lived in Halls surrounded by wooden palisades. This period is often referred to as the Heptarchy because of the seven kingdoms established by the invaders: Wessex, Mercia, Essex, East Anglia, Sussex, Northumbria and Kent. The strongest of these were Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria. Eventually the kingdoms coalesced, as some grew more powerful than others. The kings ruled, aided by their thegns (thanes) who held land from them and administered justice. By the later period, the Witan, a group of counselors, advised the king and would elect successors. (Morgan, p. 86)

Kinship and Lordship were the two most important aspects of Anglo-Saxon society. Everyone owed allegiance to someone. Some peasants might have initially held land directly from their king, but most held it from one of his thegns. Slavery was common at first, but declined gradually with the increased influence of the Christian church. Even so, peasants owed labour and taxes to their lords. Life was not easy, with most living in one room huts and subsisting on broth with chopped meat, oat and barley pottages, porridge, ale, mead and bread. Their lords would provide them with grain and livestock in return for their service. (Roberts, pp. 50-52; Hagen I, p. 68, Hagen II, p. 204)

The lords had their own wooden halls and lived better than those who toiled on their land, but much of their time was spent serving their king at his Court. Communal living was accepted as the norm and only the king and his family had much privacy, if any. Their food and drink were of higher quality. (Morgan, p. 73, Davis, p. 122)

Agriculture saw several advancements in this period, so that trade to Europe was possible, the English sending grain, wool and slaves, while receive luxuries like glass in return. Market towns developed and were granted charters. (Roberts, pp. 52-59; Laing, p. 126)

In the late 6th century, St. Augustine traveled to the British Isles to begin converting the “pagans” to Christianity. It took a long time – some kings converted easily and commanded their subjects to do likewise, while others held onto their own religions. Even when it appeared that most had converted, many segments of the population continued to observe the older rites as well. Christianity had spread to Britain during the Roman occupation, then eradicated by the invading tribes. The Nordic/Germanic religion was one of nature worship and fertility rites. The temples raised by the Anglo-Saxons were purified and consecrated during the conversion process. With the conversion to Christianity, monasteries were established throughout the kingdom – peasants who were not tenants of a great lord likely owed allegiance to the Church. (Whitelock, pp. 166-171)

Justice was important to the Germanic tribes. Each person had a price, literally, called a “wergild”, (Morgan p. 64) with the exception of slaves (Whitelock, p. 108) It was the amount of money owed to the victim’s family if he was killed. Punishment for crimes was severe, the worst being trial by ordeal in which a person was tested in one of three ways: water (by sinking you were innocent), iron (grasping and holding it while walking nine feet) and boiling water (retrieving a stone from it). If the wounds from the latter two healed without putrefying after three days then the person was considered declared innocent. (Roberts, pp. 49-50; Davis, p. 123)

By the time of Alfred the Great, Wessex was the leading kingdom in England. He married Ealhswith, daughter of the Mercian king – they had five children. Gradually the kingdoms amalgamated. King Alfred was interested in education and worked hard to increase the literacy level of his people by translating important works from Latin into Old English. (Cannon & Griffiths, p. 32) It has been speculated that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was compiled in response to the revival of learning and literacy during his reign. (ASC, p. 94)

Though the Germanic tribes may not have been as sophisticated as the Romans who left Britain, within a few centuries they had built a society that was strictly hierarchical and highly regulated. Agriculture and trade flourished as a result of their hard work.

Nor was this period merely one of fighting and farming. The Anglo-Saxons were also craftsmen and artisans. The jewelry that is still in existence is beautiful, the Alfred Jewel at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford being one of the prime examples. Pottery, sculpture and all kinds of metalwork were very common and well-crafted. Some still exists to this day – especially the beautiful Ruthwell and Bewcastle Crosses. It was also during this period that manuscript illumination developed. The Lindisfarne Gospel is probably the most famous example, yet The Book of Durrow and Codex Amiatinus should not be ignored. (Laing, pp. 71-115) Other trades also developed, such as carpentry, textiles, boneworking, weaving, cobbling and ironwork (Laing, p. 127; Davis, p. 122) For those with leisure time, there was music, games, hunting and feasting (Laing, pp. 56-57)

Admittedly, the life of a peasant was not easy. Houses were very simple wood and wattle huts and strips of land were farmed from dawn to dusk. They survived on very basic food including cereal, bread, milk and eggs (Davis, p. 122), yet over the period corn came to be ground at watermills and the ploughs were pulled by oxen. Scroll down this page to see illuminations from the 11th Century Anglo Saxon Calendar.

Within 300 years, the invaders/settlers found themselves invaded by the Vikings. For two centuries the Norwegians and Danish raided the Island – sometimes they were beaten back, but other times they were victorious. At last part of the northern section of the Island was granted to them and became known as the Danelaw – Alfred the Great, who won several key battles, was responsible for this peace. In the 900s the kingdoms began paying the Danegeld – gold, to keep the Vikings from invading.

In 1014 Æthelred the Unredey died and was succeeded by Cnut of Denmark, who later married Æthelred’s queen, Emma of Normandy. When his line died out, Edward the Confessor (younger son of Emma and Æthelred), who had grown up in Normandy, returned to England as king. He was a pious man and it is said that he and his wife, Edith (daughter of Godwin, Earl of Wessex) lived as brother and sister rather than as husband and wife. (Ashley, p. 492; Williamson, p. 31) Even if they consummated the marriage, they had no children (Cannon & Griffiths p. 138). Edith’s brother, Harold took the throne on Edward’s death, but his reign lasted fewer than 10 months, ending on October 14, 1066 when he was defeated by William of Normandy at the battle of Hastings.



Ashley, Mike. Mammoth Book of Kings and Queens of Britain. London: Robinson Publishing Ltd., 1998

Blair, Peter Hunter. An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977 (Second Edition)

Cannon, John & Griffiths, Ralph. The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Monarchy. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1998

Davis, Michael Worth. Everyday Life Through the Ages. London: Reader’s Digest Association Ltd., 1992

Feiling, Keith. A History of England: From the Coming of the English to 1918. Toronto: Macmillan, 1966

Hagen, Ann.

Laing, Lloyd Robert. Social and Political History of England from AD400-c1066. 1979

Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford History of Britain. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988

Roberts, Clayton & Roberts, David. A History of England: Prehistory to 1714. New Jersey: Prentice Hall 1985 (Volume 1, Second Edition)

Savage, Anne (Translator and Collator). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. Godalming, Surrey: Coombe Books, 1995

Whitelock, Dorothy. The Beginnings of English Society. Markham: Penguin Books, 1952

Williamson, David. Debrett’s Kings and Queens of Britain. London. Webb & Bower (Publishers) Ltd., 1986


Lecture and Study Notes – History 265, England to the Renaissance (Queens University, 1986-87) taught by Dr. Catherine Brown

Further Reading:

Lapidge, Michael, Keynes, Simon and Scragg, Don (Eds). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford, Malden, Mass, Blackwell, 1999

Cyberspace (courtesy of Google, Northern Light, Alta Vista):

Index: History, Bibliographies/Glossaries, People, Exhibits and Journals, Reenactment, Webrings, Miscellaneous

History: – Lectures by Professor Steven Muhlberger of the University of Nipissing in Canada (courtesy of the Medieval Britain site at – Resources for Anglo-Saxon England at the Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies – Avalon Project (Yale Law School), text of Anglo-Saxon Chronicle with good Introduction – Lecture on Anglo-Saxon England: Settlement – Rural and Town Life by Professor G. R. Jones at Leicester University – Anglo Saxon England Anglo-Saxon England Angelcynn – Anglo-Saxon Warfare – The Ruin and Conquest of Britain 400 A.D. – 600 A.D. – Anglo-Saxon England – Medieval England and Vikings at Suite 101 – Anglo-Saxon England at Britain Express Anglo-Saxon England The Vikings in East Anglia (from the University of Alberta website) What Happened at Hastings (quotes from the Peterborough Chronicle – website at Dartmouth College) – Anglo Saxon Culture – Old English and Anglo-Saxon England

Bibliographies/Glossaries Simon Keynes: Anglo-Saxon History – A Select Bibliography – Reading List for Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic Studies (University of Cambridge) – Anglo Saxon Bibliography – A Glossary of Medieval Terms – Glossary of the Dark Ages (at Angelcynn)

People brief biography of Alfred the Great King Alfred, Who’s Who in Medieval History at Bede – Who’s Who in Medieval History Monarchs section at

Exhibits and Journals Minnesota State University Online Museum exhibit – Maþeliende!

Reenactment Regia Anglorum: Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Norman and British Living History 950-1066 – Combrogi Reenactment group

Webrings – Anglo-Saxon Webring

Miscellaneous – Observing Bede’s Anglo-Saxon Calendar – The Ornithology of Anglo Saxon England


Link to all of Teresa’s Cheat Sheet articles following Life in the Keep & the Chatelaine Return to Medieval Times Search our reviews database by Title or Author by Titleby Author’s Last Nameby Author’s First Name Do a more in-depth review search via Power Search

Use Freefind to locate other material at the site   Copyright 2008 All Rights Reserved