East Anglia

East Anglia

Includes – Norfolk & Suffolk

Although the two counties of Norfolk and Suffolk were originally areas of settlement of two separate groups of Anglian peoples – the North Folk and the South Folk – they soon became united into a single kingdom of the East Angles. This had a natural protection from its aggressive and powerful neighbour, Mercia, by intervening fenland. Although there was occasional inroads from Mercia, more perhaps of the nature of raids than actual invasions, and at one period a vague kind of suzerainty was exercised by Mercia, East Anglia was able to develop as a separate kingdom, politically, culturally and ecclesiastically.

Its greatest King, the Heathen Radwald, 616-24 or 625, was named by Bede as the third Bretwalda of England. He was succeeded by his step-son, Sigebert, who had been exiled by Radwald and brought up and educated as a Christian in the monastery at Luxeuil in Burgundy. Sigebert introduced Christianity among his people and 630 approx invited Felix, a Burgundian, to be the first bishop of the East Angles.

Felix had his seat at Dunwich, near the south-east coast of what is now Suffolk. Later, in 671, Archbishop Theodore split the diocese into two, leaving the Dunwich see to control Suffolk and founding another at North Elmham, some 17 miles north-west of Norwich, for Norfolk. The great Danish invasions began in East Anglia in 865 and from that time till the early tenth century the area became an independent Danish kingdom, with a Danish king, within the Danelaw. It was re-incorporated into Anglo-Saxon England when Edward ‘the Elder’, 899-924, re-unified the country.

It has always been a rich and prosperous part of the country, In the later Middle Ages it was famous for its wool. The magnificent and beautiful churches of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were built from the profits of this industry. In Anglo-Saxon times too it was rich and prosperous and a vast number of churches were during this period. According to the Victoria County History no less than 604 are mentioned in the Domesday Book, 243 in Norfolk and 361 in Suffolk-larger numbers than in any other county; Lincolnshire comes next with 222. Morley, who made a close study of the Suffolk churches, states that 468 ‘townships’ in the county are mentioned in the Domesday Book and that in only 96 of these no churches are referred to. In the other 372 were 450 churches; two had twelve each, one (South Elmham) had eight, two had five each, eight had three and twenty-five had two each; the remaining 334 had one each. These figures do not agree with those of the V. C. H. though both groups are large. This is not surprising as the difficulties of interpretation of the Domesday Book are well known and understood; the Book was primarily an economic survey and is only interested in churches for their economic value. Thus ‘all the churches(at Beeston, Norfolk) are included in the valuation of the manors’; and at Beeston, St. Anne’s there was ‘half a church worth 12 pence’. The later is interesting as it indicates that some churches were held in moieties, i, e, one church might belong to several owners.

The writer has not checked the above figures . Checking seemed unnecessary as their sole significance in the present context is their large size, which shows perhaps better than anything else could the great populousness and prosperity in Anglo-Saxon times of East Anglia and Lincolnshire. Curiously the churches appear to have been built in clusters, reminiscent of the groups of churches in early Irish/Scots monasteries. Thus , South Elmham was not a village but a district containing a number of churches around each of which a village grew up. Even today South Elmham is an area comprising nine parishes; South Elmham, St. Cross, South Elmham, St. James, St. Margaret, St. Peter, St. Michael, St. Nicholas and so on.

It is this cluster development which may account partially for the large number of churches recorded in the Domesday Book, but not entirely so; there must have been a population great enough to need so many and prosperous enough to be able to build them. This cluster development of churches and settlements was doubtless a result of the agrarian and social organisation of the area. The manorial system, usual in other parts of the country, developed late in East Anglia though it appears to have been widely established there by the time of The Domesday Book. The early organisation of the district, continued throughout the Danish occupation, was on a communal, not manorial basis; communities of small settlements interdependent within larger groupings. The area was colonised, from probably the late fifth century, not by large armies but by small groups of independent settlers who were later federated into larger groups forming a district of villages. These later still became federated into the two major groups of North Folk and South Folk who under a strong leader eventually became a unified East Anglia.

Kings of East Anglia

Raedwald, 593-627
Said to be son of Tytil, grandson of Wuffa.

Earpwald, 6278-630 / 631
Son of Raedwald. Was assassinated by a Heathen named Ricberht.

Sigeberht, 630/1-635
Reputed half brother of Earpward abdicated for the Monks habit was slain in battle holding a staff.

Ecgric, not known-635
Little information on him shared power with Sigeberht for a time, slain with him fighting Penda of Mercia.

Anna, 635-654
Son of Raedwald’s brother Eni, killed in battle fighting Penda of Mercia.

Aethelhere, 654-655
Succeeded his brother Anna but was slain the following year fighting Penda.

Aethelwald, 655-663
Brother of Anna and Aethelhere.

Aldwulf, 663-713
Mother was Hereswith, a sister of Hild who became Abbess of Whitby.

Aelfwald, 713-749
Son of Aldwulf, his sister Ecgburh was an Abbess.

Hun, Beonna and Alberht, 749-not known
Shared rule together presumed sub-Kings under Mercian rule.

Aethelberht, 779-794
Executed by Offa of Mercia for possibly leading a revolt against him.

Eadwald, 794-825
A sub-King of Mercia.

Athelstan, 825-837
Turned to Ecgberht of Wessex after the defeat of Beornwulf of Mercia at the Battle of Ellendun in 825.

Aethlweard, 837-852
Very little is known of him.

Beohtric, 852-855
Possible sub-King of Mercia.

Edmund, 855-869
Was shot to death by arrows at Hoxne for refusing to abandon his faith by the Vikings.

Guthrum, 870-890
Viking King of East Anglia, who was defeated by King Alfred of Wessex and then baptised to be named Athelstan.

Oeric, 890-903
Slain in battle with the men of Kent.