Some facts from the history of the UK
Some facts from the history of the UK
Study the map of Europe.
What countries lie close to the UK?
The story of prehistoric Britain began around 2,000 years ago when the first humans arrived there. Those people were called the Celts.
The earliest humans were hunter-gatherers. They survived by hunting animals and finding food to eat. Then, very gradually people learned new skills. First they learned to herd animals and grow crops. Later they discovered the secrets of making bronze and iron. Prehistoric people couldn't read or write, but they were astonishing builders. Their tombs, forts and monuments have survived for thousands of years.
The prehistoric period is divided into three ‘ages’. They are known as the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.
By the end of the Iron Age many people lived in hill forts. The forts were surrounded by walls and ditches and warriors defended their people from enemy attacks.
Inside the hill forts, families lived in round houses. These were simple one-roomed homes with a pointed thatched roof and walls made from wattle and daub (a mixture of mud and twigs-мазанка).
In the centre of a round house was a fire where meals were cooked in a cauldron [казан]. Around the walls were jars for storing food and beds made from straw covered with animal skins.
Iron Age farmers grew crops and vegetables. They kept geese, goats and pigs and had large herds of cows and flocks of sheep. Some people worked as potters, carpenters and metalworkers. Men and boys trained as warriors. They had to be prepared to fight at any time.
People in Iron Age Britain believed in powerful spirits. They met to worship the spirits in a wood. Priests known as druids led religious ceremonies. They sacrificed animals and sometimes humans too!
How the Romans conquered Britain
Almost 100 years later, in AD43, the Roman general Agricola launched a new invasion. This time the Romans conquered Britain.
How did the Celts fight back?
When the Romans invaded, the Celtic tribes had to decide whether or not to fight back. If they made peace, they agreed to obey Roman laws and pay taxes. In return, they could keep their kingdoms. However, some Celtic leaders chose to fight.
In AD60, one leader who chose to fight was Queen Boudica ˈbuːdɪkə of the Iceni ʌɪˈsiːni tribe. She raised a huge army. She burnt the Roman towns of Colchester and London. The Roman army turned back from their campaign in Wales to face Boudica. Even though the Romans were outnumbered by Boudica's 200,000 warriors, they were better trained and had better armour. Both sides clashed in a fierce battle, but the Romans won.
Some ancient Britons retreated to Cornwall, Wales and Scotland, where they continued to follow their Celtic customs. Many others decided not to move. They stayed on in Britain and learned to live like the Romans.
Did the Romans conquer Scotland?
By the end of the first century AD, Rome had most of southern Britain under its control. However, it was a different story in Scotland - this was a much wilder place. It was still controlled by fierce warrior tribes, who refused to bow to the Roman Empire.
In Roman times, the area of Britain now known as Scotland was called ‘Caledonia’, and the people were known as the ‘Caledonians’.
Back then, Caledonia was made up of groups of people or tribes. Some tribes were happy to get on peacefully with the Romans, but others fought back. The Emperor Hadrian ordered his soldiers to build a wall between Roman Britain and Caledonia. In AD160 the Romans made Hadrian’s Wall to protect themselves from the Celtics attacks which were costing the Romans time and money.
What was it like in Roman Britain?
When the Romans came to Britain they brought their way of life with them.
The Romans built new towns. These were often protected by walls and there was everything a citizen of Roman Britain would need inside - houses, shops, meeting spaces, workshops, temples and bathhouses.
They also built grand country houses called 'villas'. These had many rooms, some with beautifully painted walls, mosaic floors and even central heating.
What technology did the Romans bring?
The Romans were good at building roads and bridges, but not so keen on machines. They had slaves to do the heavy work and nasty job. To make sure soldiers and supplies could move from town to town quickly, the Romans made their roads as straight as possible.
Although they didn’t invent the arch, the Romans were the first people to build arches into big buildings and aqueducts. Romans used aqueducts to supply towns with water from springs, rivers or lakes. Aqueducts were like a bridge with a stone channel to carry water on top.
The Romans liked to keep clean. Towns and forts had underground drains to take away dirty water and sewage. The drain pipes were flushed with water from the baths, so they didn't get too smelly. Fresh water and sewers are important. Without them, people risk catching diseases.
The end of the invasion
In AD410, the Roman Emperor Honorius sent a goodbye letter to the people of Britain. He wrote, “fight bravely and defend your lives...you are on your own now”. The city of Rome was under attack and the empire was falling apart, so the Romans had to leave to take care of matters back home.
After they left, the country fell into chaos. Native tribes and foreign invaders battled each other for power. Many of the Roman towns in Britain crumbled away as people went back to living in the countryside.
But even after they were gone, the Romans left their mark all over the country. They gave new towns, plants, animals, a new religion and ways of reading and counting. Even the word ‘Britain’ came from the Romans.
After the Romans, the next group of people to settle in Britain were the Anglo-Saxons. They were farmers, not townspeople. They abandoned many of the Roman towns and set up new kingdoms.
Who were the Anglo-Saxons?
The last Roman soldiers left Britain in 410. New people came in ships across the North Sea – the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxon age in Britain was from around AD410 to 1066.
They were a mix of tribes from Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. The three biggest were the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes. The land they settled in was 'Angle-land', or England.
If we use the modern names for the countries they came from, the Saxons were German-Dutch, the Angles were southern Danish, and the Jutes were northern Danish.
What jobs did the Anglo-Saxons do?
Life on an Anglo-Saxon farm was hard work. All the family had to help out - men, women and children.
Men cut down trees to clear land for ploughing and to sow crops. Farmers used oxen to pull ploughs up and down long strip fields. Children with dogs herded cattle and sheep.
The Anglo-Saxons were great craftsmen too. Metalworkers made iron tools, knives and swords. The Anglo-Saxons were skilled jewellers, who made beautiful brooches, beads and ornaments from gold, gemstones and glass.
The Anglo-Saxons had armies, but their soldiers didn't fight all the time. After a battle, they went home as soon as they could and looked after their animals and crops.
Who was Alfred the Great?
Each group of Anglo-Saxon settlers had a leader or war-chief. A strong and successful leader became 'cyning', the Anglo-Saxon word for 'king'. Each king ruled a kingdom and led a small army.
There were many famous Anglo-Saxon kings, but the most famous of all was Alfred, one of the only kings in British history to be called 'Great'.
He fought the Vikings and then made peace so that English and Vikings settled down to live together. He encouraged people to learn and he tried to govern well and fairly.
Alfred made good laws and believed education was important. He had books translated from Latin into English, so people could read them. He also told monks to begin writing the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
To help protect his kingdom from Viking attacks, Alfred built forts and walled towns known as ‘burhs’. He also built warships to guard the coast from raiders and organised his army into two parts. While half the men were at home on their farms, the rest were ready to fight Vikings.
Did Anglo-Saxons tell stories?
Very few Anglo-Saxons could read or write. All their stories were told to them by their friends and family.
On dark winter days, people gathered in the great hall around a log fire. They listened to stories and poems, feasted and sang songs.
They ate roast meats with bread and fruit, and they drank ale or a strong drink made from honey called mead. People often drank too much, so feasts were usually noisy and sometimes ended in fights!
Anglo-Saxons loved tales about brave warriors and their adventures. A favourite story told how Beowulf, a heroic prince, battled the fierce man-eating monster Grendel.
The story of Beowulf was first written down around the 8th or 9th century, but long before that the story was told around the fire.
Lesson 3 Who were the Vikings?
The Viking age in European history was from about AD700 to 1100. During this period many Vikings left their homelands in Scandinavia and travelled by longboat to other countries, like Britain and Ireland.
When the people of Britain first saw the Viking longboats they came down to the shore to welcome them. However, the Vikings fought the local people, stealing from churches and burning buildings to the ground.
The people of Britain called the invaders 'Danes', but they came from Norway and Sweden as well as Denmark.
What was life like in Viking Britain?
Their longships brought families who settled in villages. There were farmers, who kept animals and grew crops, and skilful craft workers, who made beautiful metalwork and wooden carvings. Everyone lived together in a large home called a longhouse.
With just one room for all the family to share with their animals, a longhouse would have been a crowded and smelly place to live. There was no bathroom inside, but the Vikings kept clean by washing in a wooden bucket or beside a stream.
The Vikings also brought with them their way of life and beliefs. The Norse people worshipped many gods and loved to tell stories of magic and monsters around the fire.
What happened to the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings?
Around the end of the 8th century, Anglo-Saxon history tells of many Viking raids. These marked the start of a long struggle between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings for control of Britain.
In the 9th century, the English king Alfred the Great stopped the Vikings taking over all of England. He agreed to peace with them and some Vikings settled down to live in their own area of eastern England, called the Danelaw.
The Anglo-Saxons and Vikings became neighbours in Britain, but they didn’t always get along peacefully.
In 954, the Anglo-Saxons drove out the last Viking king of Jorvik. Later, the Vikings agreed to be ruled by England's king.
The most powerful Anglo-Saxon king was Edgar. Welsh and Scottish rulers obeyed him as well as the English, and his court at Winchester was one of the most splendid in Europe. Anglo-Saxon England reached its peak during Edgar's reign.
Who was King Cnut?
In Viking times, a king had to be strong to fight and keep his land. In the early 11th century, England had a weak king. His name was Ethelred the Unready.
Ethelred tried to stop the Vikings from invading by giving them gold and land. This money was called Danegeld. But it didn’t work – the Vikings took the gold and attacked anyway.
In 1002, Ethelred's soldiers killed many Viking families in the Danelaw. This made King Sweyn of Denmark angry. He invaded England and Ethelred had to flee to France.
In 1016 Sweyn's son Cnut became king of England. For the next few years England was part of his Viking empire, along with Denmark and Norway. He ruled well.
What happened when the Normans came?
When Edward died in 1066, the English Witan chose Harold as the next king.
Duke William of Normandy and Harald Hardrada, the King of Norway, were not happy with the decision. They believed they had a claim to the throne.
In 1066, England was invaded twice. First, a Norwegian army led by Harald Hardrada landed in the north. Harold killed Hardrada in a battle at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire.
Three days later William's Norman army landed in Sussex. Harold hurried south and the two armies fought at the Battle of Hastings (14 October 1066). The Normans won, Harold was killed, and William became king.
This brought an end to Anglo-Saxon and Viking rule. A new age of Norman rule in England had started.