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Autor: anton • June 4, 2011 • 6,655 Words (27 Pages) • 311 Views
Early Period to the Norman Conquest
Although evidence of human habitation in Great Britain dates to 700,000 years ago, ice sheets forced the inhabitants from the island several times, and modern settlement dates only from about 12,000 years ago. Little is known about the earliest modern prehistoric inhabitants of Britain, but the remains of their dolmens and barrows and the great stone circles at Stonehenge and Avebury are evidence of the developed culture of the prehistoric Britons. They had developed a Bronze Age culture by the time the first Celtic invaders (early 5th cent. B.C.) brought their energetic Iron Age culture to Britain. It is believed that Julius Caesar's successful military campaign in Britain in 54 B.C. was aimed at preventing incursions into Gaul from the island.
In A.D. 43 the emperor Claudius began the Roman conquest of Britain, establishing bases at present-day London and Colchester. By A.D. 85, Rome controlled Britain south of the Clyde River. There were a number of revolts in the early years of the conquest, the most famous being that of Boadicea. In the 2d cent. A.D., Hadrian's Wall was constructed as a northern defense line. Under the Roman occupation towns developed, and roads were built to ensure the success of the military occupation. These roads were the most lasting Roman achievement in Britain (see Watling Street), long serving as the basic arteries of overland transportation in England. Colchester, Lincoln, and Gloucester were founded by the Romans as colonia, settlements of ex-legionaries.
Trade contributed to town prosperity; wine, olive oil, plate, and furnishings were imported, and lead, tin, iron, wheat, and wool were exported. This trade declined with the economic dislocation of the late Roman Empire and the withdrawal of Roman troops to meet barbarian threats elsewhere. The garrisons had been consumers of the products of local artisans as well as of imports; as they were disbanded, the towns decayed. Barbarian incursions became frequent. In 410 an appeal to Rome for military aid was refused, and Roman officials subsequently were withdrawn.
As Rome withdrew its legions from Britain, Germanic peoples--the Anglo-Saxons and the Jutes--began raids that turned into great waves of invasion and settlement in the later 5th cent. The Celts fell back into Wales and Cornwall and across the English Channel to Brittany, and the loosely knit tribes of the newcomers gradually coalesced into a heptarchy of kingdoms (see Kent, Sussex, Essex, Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria).
Late in the 8th cent., and with increasing severity until the middle of the 9th cent., raiding Vikings (known in English history as Danes) harassed coastal England and finally, in 865, launched a full-scale invasion. They were first effectively checked by King Alfred of Wessex and were with great difficulty confined to the Danelaw, where their leaders divided land among the soldiers for settlement. Alfred's successors conquered the Danelaw to form a united England, but new Danish invasions late in the 10th cent. overcame ineffective resistance (see Ð-thelred, 965?-1016). The Dane Canute ruled all England by 1016. At the expiration of the Scandinavian line in 1042, the Wessex dynasty (see Edward the Confessor) regained the throne. The conquest of England in 1066 by William, duke of Normandy (William I of England), ended the Anglo-Saxon period.
The freeman (ceorl) of the early Germanic invaders had been responsible to the king and superior to the serf. Subsequent centuries of war and subsistence farming, however, had forced the majority of freemen into serfdom, or dependence on the aristocracy of lords and thanes, who came to enjoy a large measure of autonomous control over manors granted them by the king (see manorial system). The central government evolved from tribal chieftainships to become a monarchy in which executive and judicial powers were usually vested in the king. The aristocracy made up his witan, or council of advisers (see witenagemot). The king set up shires as units of local government ruled by earldormen. In some instances these earldormen became powerful hereditary earls, ruling several shires. Subdivisions of shires were called hundreds. There were shire and hundred courts, the former headed by sheriffs, the latter by reeves. Agriculture was the principal industry, but the Danes were aggressive traders, and towns increased in importance starting in the 9th cent.
The Anglo-Saxons had been Christianized by missionaries from Rome and from Ireland, and the influence of Christianity became strongly manifest in all phases of culture (see Anglo-Saxon literature). Differences between Irish and continental religious customs were decided in favor of the Roman forms at the Synod of Whitby (663). Monastic communities, outstanding in the later 7th and in the 8th cent. and strongly revived in the 10th, developed great proficiency in manuscript illumination. Church scholars, such as Bede, Alcuin, and Aelfric--as well as King Alfred himself--preserved and advanced learning.
A new era in English history began with the Norman Conquest. William I introduced Norman-style political and military feudalism. He used the feudal system to collect taxes, employed the bureaucracy of the church to strengthen the central government, and made the administration of royal justice more efficient.
After the death of William's second son, Henry I, the country was subjected to a period of civil war that ended one year before the accession of Henry II in 1154. Henry II's reign was marked by the sharp conflict between king and church that led to the murder of Thomas Ðo Becket. Henry carried out great judicial reforms that increased the power and scope of the royal courts. During his reign, in 1171, began the English conquest of Ireland. As part of his inheritance he brought to the throne Anjou, Normandy, and Aquitaine. The defense and enlargement of these French territories engaged the energies of successive English kings. In their need for money the kings stimulated the growth of English towns by selling them charters of liberties.
Conflict between kings and nobles, which had begun under Richard I, came to a head under John, who made unprecedented financial demands and whose foreign and church policies were unsuccessful. A temporary victory of the nobles bore fruit in the most noted of all English constitutional documents, the Magna Carta (1215). The recurring baronial wars of the 13th cent. (see Barons' War; Montfort, Simon de, earl of Leicester) were roughly contemporaneous with the first steps in the development of Parliament.
Edward I began the conquest of Wales and Scotland. He also carried out an elaborate reform and expansion of the central courts and of other aspects of the