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Up to the 11th century, England, Wales and Scotland were populated by a number of different peoples. There was no single unified Country. Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Picts, Scots, and Danes were constantly warring with each other. The Vikings had begun settling in Scotland and England in the 800's. By 877 the Vikings were well-established. The Viking Danelaw covered the area north and east of a line from the Thames estuary to Liverpool. Thus Leicestershire and Derbyshire was all Danish. To the northwest was the kingdom of York, another Viking stronghold, including much of Northumbria. Below the Danelaw were the ancient Kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxons, Mercia and Wessex. Mercia stretched from the Severn to the Trent. Mercia covered the southern part of the country.
The land was torn and ravaged with on-going wars. The Church continued to suffer from the Viking pagan rites and their atrocities. Many churches did not recover from the killings and the dispersal of their congregations. Several episcopal sees were abandoned.
It was the Anglo Saxon King Alfred (871-899) who began the process of regeneration, instituting a plan of reform continued by his children and grandchildren. Alfred dreamed that St Cuthbert promised that his heirs would one day rule all England. His reforms had two main aims: to promote the practice of the Christian faith; and to restore the ideals of Benedictine monasticism. Most of the great abbeys which remained influential until the Reformation were founded or re-founded in the decades on either side of the year 1000, as a direct consequence of Alfred's work. The same period saw the establishment of monastic chapters, a feature of the English Church and its followers.
After Alfred's death, his son Edward was crowned in 900, as King of the West Saxons. TheDanes who, considered Edward to be weak, raided as far as Somerset, burning and pillaging, destroying much of the countryside. In retaliation, Edward overran the Danish settlements in East Anglia. He won the battle but suffered great losses and was forced to make peace with the Danes, buying it with silver and gold.
Alfred's daughter, Æthelflæd was married to the Lord of the Mercians. The Mercians and Anglo-Saxons were on good terms and intermarriage amongst the nobles, and court seniors was common. Indeed, Æthelflæd's mother (King Alfred's wife) was Mercian too. Æthelflæd was highly intelligent, a supreme negotiator, and rapidly became very powerful across the country. She appeared to have had the same status in her father's court as her brother King Edward. She restored many cities (e.g. Chester and Gloucester in 907) -re-founding them -for military, ecclesiastic and commercial reasons. It is said that without Æthelflæd, a unified England might never have happened.
When her husband (Lord of the Mercians) died in 911, Æthelflæd was accepted as Lord of the court, in her husband's place, and became known as Lady of the Mercians. It is thought that because of her, the word 'Lady' was invented to mean female Lord. She became a partner to King Edward (her younger brother) in ruling the land. They worked together to protect and strengthen Wessex and Mercia.
The key to Æthelflæd's warfare was fortress building. These were her father's (King Alfred) idea. He had built a series of Burhs -meaning fortified towns, at strategic places. The names -burgh and -borough come from this. Tamworth was very important to the Mercians. It was the old residence of King Offa and was restored in 913 by Æthelflæd. the restored Castle and Town was a show of might and power to the Danes, being especially important, at the very edge of Mercia, on the border with the Danelaw. Æthelflæd's chronicle describes her as coming to Tamworth with all the Thegns and Earls of the Mercian Kingdom. In that era, Tamworth was hugely important as an administrative centre for Mercia. Her rebuilding of more than a dozen boroughs (Burhs), her campaigns, her sway in court, her leadership in war and peace, represented much more than taking control. To some it was a rebirth of a Kingdom -not just a restoration of some townships.
In 917, Æthelflæd attacked the Danish base at Derby, in a decisive victory against the Danelaw. The news of her triumphs were spreading throughout the Danelaw, so much so, that in 918 when her armies marched into Leicester, the Danish army submitted without a fight and chose her as their Lord! Then from their capital in York the Northumbrians sent word to show that they too would bow to the Mercian Lady.
In the north, her reputation far surpassed that of her brother, and to the Irish, she was considered the most renowned Queen of the Saxons. Also in 918, having formed an alliance with the Scots, the Viking invaders (who came across from Ireland and occupied the Tyne Valley) were defeated at Corbridge on Hadrian's Wall.
Æthelflæd's chronicle states that she died in June 918 in Tamworth 'eight years into her lawful rule over the Mercian Kingdom'. She is buried at Gloucester. After her death, Edward went to Tamworth to reclaim it for the Anglo-Saxons, only to find that the Mercians had appointed Æthelflæd's daughter as their ruler. This was the first time in English history that a woman succeeded the previous ruler.
Æthelstan was Edward's illegitimate son by a concubine. He was sent to be brought up by his aunt, when Edward remarried and had more children. Æthelstan was virtually adopted by Æthelflæd who had no children of her own. He was invested with a Saxon Sword, Jewelled Scabbard, Belt and Cloak, at the age of five, by his Grandfather King Alfred. These were the symbols of kingship (and this investiture was the forerunner of Knighthoods, which survive to this day). A Saxon by birth, and known as Æthelflæd's foster son, Æthelstan was accepted by the Mercians.
So, beginning with King Alfred, the kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia were merged to form the Kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons. Then through Æthelflæd and Edward, it was expanded to include the Danelaw of East Anglia and the Viking Midlands.
After Edward's death (923), a meeting of all the Kings in England agreed by oath that Æthelstan should be King, and not just of the Anglo-Saxons, but of all England. In 927 Æthelstan conquered the Viking Kingdom of York and drove out the Irish kinsmen who came over to reclaim it on the death of the Viking King. Æthelstan called the kings of the Scots and the Strathclyde Welsh, the kings of Dyffed and Gwent, and the kings of northern Northumbria, to a peace conference in Cumbria in 927. The peace was agreed, as was a pact against idolatry, paving the way for a unified Christian Britain. Here he was acknowledged as the supreme King of Britain, not just parts of England. The kings of Scotland and Wales continued to reign, but under Æthelstan as overall king. England's borders-as we know them today, were defined by Æthelstan. He also established a single currency, because the growth of markets and trading across larger parts of the country, needed a consistent coinage to function.
Æthelstan ruled from 924-939. In 937-8 the Scots and the Vikings in Ireland invaded England, calling for Æthelstan to be overthrown. There war that followed, was described as the most terrible ever fought. 50 years later it was called the Great War. Æthelstan once more re-conquered his foes and brought the country back to a single rule. The 1066 conquest by the Normans (ironically, themselves derived from the Viking settlers in northern France) was made easier becuase England was under one rule. The Norman Conquest itself, did not break up the unified Britain which survives to this day.
This text shows the importance of Leiester, Derby and Tamworth, all just a few miles from our own little Village of Newbold. Some believe that Tamworth was extremely significant for a much longer period in English History. King John (Magna Carta) even tried to burn down Tamworth castle at the height of his disagreements with the Barons.