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1.3 History

1.3.1 Pre-Roman England

Archeological remains have been uncovered dating back to about 8500 BC, but it is from just before Neolithic times that structures date.

One of the best known is Stone-henge, right, dating from 3100 BC, when construction began. It is to the north of

Salisbury in the South of England, not far from the massive stone circles at Avebury older still and so large that a village was built within the inner circle. Many of the stones at Stonehenge were brought from 380 km away. The largest stones, however, up to 45 tons, came from a quarry 32 km away. Almost nothing is known about the cultures that built these stone circles.

1.3.2 Roman Britain

The Romans, led by Julius Caesar, landed, in 55 and 54 BC, in the part of the island of Great Britain which was later to become South East England. Neverthe­less, they did not come as conquerors at that time. It was only a century later, in 43 AD, under the emperor Claudius, that the Romans occupied England. In order to protect themselves from the Picts, the inhabitants of Scotland at that time, the

Romans under the emperor Hadrian had a wall built from east to west, Hadrian's Wall, to defend their southern British provinces and mark the boundary between England and Scotland, as they were to become later.

The Romans constructed a highly effective internal infrastructure to underpin their military occupation, building long, straight roads the length and breadth of the country, most of which centred on Londinium (the Roman name for London). Many viaducts and aquaducts still remain across England, along with the Roman city walls of Chester, York and others.

The indigenous, mostly Celtic population were suppressed with efficiency, although numerous, and often extremely bloody, uprisings occurred all through their occupation. The most notable uprising was that of the Iceni (and other tribes) led by Boudicca, or "Boadicea," in 61-62 AD.

Tradition tells that all of south east Britain came to her side, ready to die for the Queen who was fierce enough to take on the Roman Empire. It's notewor­thy that tribes which remained loyal to the Romans were not spared Boudicca's anger and were slaughtered. Boudicca won several battles, including taking the largest Roman town of Colchester, before losing at London, which subse­quently took over the role of the capital of Roman Britain from Colchester.

The statue of Boudicca by London's Westminster Bridge right

One strong legend is that Boudicca is buried below what is today platform 10 at London's Kings Cross railway station, which may have influenced JK Rowling to make the Hogwart's stop in the Harry Potter books platform 9 3A at that station.

The Romans held England for almost four centuries, never venturing much into Wales and kept out of Scotland by the Picts, before their presence weakened and by the 5th century they had left.

1.3.3 The Anglo-Saxons, Celts, Vikings and the Dark Ages

The Dark Ages were times when history was oral, and the local Celts and the Anglo-Saxon and Viking invaders all used songs, sagas and oral poetry to record and retell events. Much became lost; of what remains, there is a complex mix of history, legend and myth, King Arthur and his knights being just one example of inadequate historical source evidence.

What is now England was progressively settled by successive, and often com­plementary waves of Germanic tribesmen. Among them were the Angles, Saxons and Jutes together with many other tribes who had been partly displaced on main­land Europe. Increasingly the Celtic population was pushed westwards and north­wards. The settlement of England (alternately, the invasion of England) is known as the Saxon Conquest or the Anglo-Saxon settlement.

In the decisive Battle of Deorham, in 577, the Celtic people of Southern Britain were separated into the South-West nation of Cornwall and Devon and the Welsh by the advancing Saxons.

Beginning with the raid in 793 on the monastery at Lindisfarne, Vikings made many raids on England.

The Saxons founded a settlement beside the River Sheaf, (later to become Shef­field in South Yorkshire) and it was near there that Egbert of Wessex received the submission of Earned of Northumbria in 829 and so became the first Saxon overlord of all England.

Having started with plun­dering raids, the Vikings later began to settle in England and trade, eventually ruling the Danelaw from the late 9th century. There are many trac­es of Vikings in England to­day, for instance many words in the English language; the similarity of Old English and Old Norse led to much bor­rowing. The major Viking set­tlement was in York, capital of the Kingdom of York.

The shaded area left shows the Danelaw, together with the areas of the four major King­doms of England: Northum­bria, Mercia, Wessex and East Anglia. There were also many other minor kingdoms.

The Kingdoms were powerful institutions and were characterised by many personalities recorded by history, but usually only after the record-keeping Nor­mans took over, so much of their history is debatable.

One example is the story of the wife of Earl Leofric, the ruler of Mercia. Lady Godiva is bel­ieved to have ridden naked through the streets of Coventry in 1057 to protest against the high level of taxes being levied by her husband. Some buildings survive in Coventry from Leofric and Godiva's reign, with many fragments of detail, but the earliest surviving record of the ride dates back to Roger of Wendover who died in 1236 and so was a historian rather than a journalist.