Other History Topics

Overview of Britain 1750-1900: the first industrial nation?

An overview of the causes and consequences of the Industrial Revolution in Britain taken from the BBC’s History File programme. Most suitable for KS3 but provides a good background for GCSE.

what the industrial revolution did for us

Technology in the Industrial Revolution documentary clip

An extract from a BBC documentary “What the Industrial Revolution Did for Us” presented by Dan Cruickshank. This clip explores the ideas and inventions of the Industrial Revolution and shows how they changed the nature of working life.

Victorian child factory workers

Factory life in Britain during the Industrial Revolution

An episode of the BBC’s History File presenting an overview of life in factories during the Industrial Revolution. More appropriate for KS3 students, but could be useful for GCSE as a background.

what the industrial revolution did for us

Medical changes in the Industrial Revolution video clip

An extract from a BBC documentary “What the Industrial Revolution Did for Us” presented by Dan Cruickshank. This clip explores the changes in medicine that occurred during the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution: society in late Victorian cities

A video clip presenting some aspects of life in Victorian cities.

Æthelstan: the first Anglo-Saxon ‘king of all Britain’

July 12th 927 is the closest we have to a foundation date for England, when all the kings of Britain met at Eamont Bridge, near Penrith in Cumbria, to swear an oath of peace under the overlordship of Æthelstan. Having previously been king of the Anglo-Saxons, Æthelstan’s key success in 927 was conquering Viking York which placed the kingdom of Northumbria under his control and secured the submission of the northern kings.

Æthelstan was the son of Edward the Elder, and grandson of Alfred the Great, and his ancestors had already carved large chunks from Viking lands as far north as the River Humber. As such they customarily referred to themselves as ‘king of the Saxons’ or ‘king of the Anglo-Saxons’. However, securing the submission of the other British kings meant that Æthelstan could go further. Coins minted soon after the 927 oath referred to him as rex totius Britanniae or ‘king of all Britain’.

Despite the oath, Æthelstan’s rule over the north of England was still fragile and in 937 he faced the combined forces of Scots, Vikings and Strathclyde Britons under the command of Olaf Guthfrithson, Constantine II, and Owen I respectively. An account of the ensuing Battle of Brunanburh was recorded in a contemporary poem of the same name and was preserved in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A further 52 other sources mention the battle, although realistically we know little about what happened other than Æthelstan and his army were victorious. This victory secured Anglo-Saxon control, and effectively laid out the map of the British Isles as we know them today.

Æthelred the Unready and the St Brice’s Day Massacre

On the 13th November 1002, the St Brice’s Day Massacre took place when king Æthelred the Unready “ordered slain all the Danish men who were in England”. Although it is believed that there was considerable loss of life, actual numbers of Danes who were killed following the order are unknown. However, recent archaeological excavations including two mass graves have begun to shed some light on the mystery.

Æthelred came to the throne when he was just 10 years old, following the assassination of his half-brother Edward the Martyr, who he succeeded. Suspicions over Æthelred’s involvement led to distrust of the new king, and meant that he did not secure the full loyalty of all his subjects. Danes already dominated large areas of northern and eastern England in what became known as the Danelaw, where Danes had practised self-rule since 878. However, they were able to exploit the divisions among Æthelred’s subjects by launching raids against coastal towns in southern England from 990 onwards. By 997 they were attacking Æthelred’s kingdom every year.

Æthelred paid significant amounts of silver and gold to the Danes as Danegeld, ‘Dane-payment’ in an attempt to stop the attacks but, in 1002 received information that the Danes planned to “beshrew him of his life, and afterwards all his council, and then have his kingdom without any resistance.” In response, Æthelred ordered the killing of all Danes in England, although it is unlikely that the killing extended into the Danelaw. For Æthelred, the massacre had little effect but to provoke a brutal retaliation by Sweyn Forkbeard, King of Denmark, who invaded the following year.

Coronation of Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England

On the 6th January 1066, Harold Godwinson was crowned king of England. Harold II was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, but reigned for barely nine months before being killed at the Battle of Hastings on the 14th October by Norman invaders led by William of Normandy.

The day before Harold’s coronation, Edward the Confessor died. He had suffered a series of strokes in late 1065 and lay in a coma for much of the remainder of his life. He died without an heir, and this sparked a succession crisis that culminated in the Norman invasion of England later that year.

The Normans claimed that Edward had promised the throne of England to William. Reported by various Norman chroniclers, the Bayeux Tapestry shows that Harold even swore an oath on sacred relics to support William’s claim to the English throne after becoming shipwrecked in 1064. The reliability of this story is debated by historians, especially since it goes against the English tradition that the new king would be chosen by the Witenaġemot – the “meeting of wise men”.

Whatever the truth of Edward’s promise and Harold’s meeting with William, Edward apparently regained consciousness and entrusted his kingdom to Harold for “protection” shortly before he died. When the Witenaġemot met on the 6th January they elected Harold as king, and his coronation took place the same day. Historians generally believe that this took place in Westminster Abbey, which had been built by Edward and had been consecrated just a few days earlier on the 28th December 1065. Hearing of Harold’s accession to the English throne, William soon began preparing to invade.

Harald Hardrada’s victory at the Battle of Fulford

On the 20th September 1066, Harald Hardrada – the Viking king – defeated his northern English enemies at the Battle of Fulford. The defeat of Harold Godwinson’s northern earls was disastrous for the new English king who was forced to rush north and defeat Hardrada himself, which in turn contributed to Godwinson’s later defeat at Hastings to William of Normandy.

The origins of Hardrada’s invasion lie in the conflicting claims to the throne after the death of Edward the Confessor. As one of the claimants, Hardrada had allied himself with Harold Godwinson’s banished brother Tostig. Having been blown across the North Sea by the very winds that famously left William’s fleet stuck on the Normandy coast, Hardrada met up with Tostig’s forces and they made their way to York.

The battlefield at Fulford was largely flat marshland – hardly ideal conditions for armed combat. However, the English took advantage of the River Ouse and the marshier ground to arrange their troops in such a way as to secure their flanks. Despite this, the fierce fighting that initially saw the Norwegians being driven back gave way to a counter-attack that led to Hardrada’s victory.

The Norwegians made their way to the city of York, which surrendered on condition that the city wasn’t forcibly entered. Hardrada then set up camp at Stamford Bridge, and it was here that he was surprised by Harold Godwinson five days later. Despite Harold’s victory here, however, defeat at Fulford had depleted the English army. This had a major impact on William the Conqueror’s successful invasion that occurred just a few weeks later.

The Norman Conquest

From the BBC’s History File series on Medieval Realms.