The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

Early Britain brief history

Category: Brief History of

by Fiona Beddall


It was 1066, and Edward, King of England, was dead. He had no children. The most important people in the country met to Saxon kings: of England to choose a new king. They chose Harold. Harold wasn’t a blood relative of King Edward, but he was the Queen’s brother. He was a popular man for the job.

But other powerful men wanted to be king too. One of them was the King of Norway, Harold Hardrada, and a few months after King Edward’s death his army invaded the north of England. King Harold of England went north, defeated the invaders and killed King Harold of Norway. But three days later, there was more bad news.

William of Normandy (in the north of France) was on the south coast of England with an army. ‘Before King Edward died, he chose me as the next king, he said. Perhaps this was true.

Edward’s mother was a Norman, and Edward lived in Normandy as a child. He preferred Normans to the people of England. So Harold raced south with his army. William was waiting for him at Hastings. At the end of the battle, Harold was dead and William of Normandy was William the Conqueror, King of England.

The Normans weren’t the first people who invaded Britain. In 55 BC the great Roman Julius Caesar brought an army across the sea from France. For four hundred years, England was part of the Roman Empire. When the Romans first arrived, there were many different groups of people. Each group had its own king. They didn’t think of themselves as ‘British’, but the Romans called the people from all these groups ‘Britons’ and Cornwall, but Angles and Saxons ruled the rest of Britain.

People started to call this area ‘Angle-land’. Later its name became ‘England’.

In many places around the country you can still see the straight roads, strong walls and fine houses that the Romans built. In the new Roman towns, Britons started to live like Romans. They wore Roman clothes and went to the theatre and the baths. Most moved to Britain from other COUNITIES. For example, a lot of townspeople could speak Latin. Many could read and write it too. But in 409 the Roman army left Britain to fight in other parts of the Empire. Soon after this, the Angle and Saxon armies destroyed everything in their path, and the Roman way of life disappeared from Britain.


Her husband was a local king in the east of England. When he died in 60AD, the Romans tried to take all important cities in Britain at that time — and destroyed them completely. At first Roman soldiers attacked Boudica and her daughters. Boudica was angry. But in the end, the Romans defeated her. There is a story that her body lies under London’s most famous railway station, King’s Cross.

The Vikings

Britons moved west to escape the invaders. By the 7th century, groups of Britons were in control of present-day Scotland, Wales – Britain that we now call Wales and Scotland. But they never kept control there. In the rest of Britain, the local people were much easier to control.

Then, at the end of the 8th century, new invaders started attacking the coasts of Britain — Vikings from Scandinavia.

They came to steal gold and silver from monasteries. Then some made their homes in Britain, and from the 860s they controlled a large area of northern and eastern England. Alfred the Great defeated the Vikings and sent them away from Britain. But they returned, and in the early 11th century there was a Viking king of England, King Cnut.

The Normans

The Normans came NEXT. Their conquest was probably the most important in British history because it was the last. Once Harold was defeated. But then he was able to build a new, Norman England. By 1068, he owned all the land. He asked his Norman friends to look after it for him. They also used the money to pay for Norman soldiers. Each Norman lord built a home with strong, high walls and lived there with his private army. The Saxons owned nothing. They belonged to the Norman lords.

For more than two hundred years the language of government and literature was the Normans’ language, French. The Saxons continued to speak their own language, Anglo-Saxon, with some Scandinavian words. The Saxons’ language finally grew into modern English, but as a result of the Norman invasion, half the words in today’s English language come from French.

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