According to Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the Angle People) which was written in 731, the British Isles had been invaded in the fifth century by:

… Saxons, Angles, and Jutes. From the Jutes are descended the people of Kent, and of the Isle of Wight, including those in the province of the West-Saxons who are to this day called Jutes, seated opposite to the Isle of Wight. From the Saxons, that is, the country which is now called Old Saxony, came the East-Saxons, the South-Saxons, and the West-Saxons. From the Angles, that is, the country which is called Angulus, and which is said, from that time, to have remained desert to this day, between the provinces of the Jutes and the Saxons, are descended the East-Angles, the Midland-Angles, the Mercians, all the race of the Northumbrians, that is, of those nations that dwell on the north side of the river Humber, and the other nations of the Angles.

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If the Venerable Bede was correct, therefore, the people of East Anglia and Northumbria in the ninth century, were racially, and probably tribally, connected to the people referred to as Danes in the later written Chronicle – always supposing that this title of ‘Danes’ did actually mean that they came from what is now Denmark.

Even if the Danes referred to by the chronicler, were a general mix of Scandinavians, throughout the four hundred years of occupation following the departure of the Roman army, the sea trade routes south from Denmark, would have touched upon the wics (coastal trading places) of what is now eastern England – and it seems likely they were operational even earlier. It is therefore unsurprising that the Chronicle describes how the East Angles made peace with the Danish ‘army’ and provided them with horses.

It is worthy of note that, just before the ascendancy of the West Saxons, disputes, if not wars, were waged between the Saxon tribes of the south, and the Angles of Mercia and even between the East Angles and the Mercians. In the Canterbury manuscript (F) of the Chronicle, for the year 796 it is written: Here Ceolwulf, king of Mercia, ravaged over Kent and captured … their king, and led him bound into Mercia and had his eyes put out and his hands cut off.  (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Swanton 1996, Dent.) These Christian occupants of the British Isles who were, allegedly, so fearful of the pagan Danes, were hardly a bunch of innocent softies.

 

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