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The control of Kent in the ninth century

The control of Kent in the ninth century

By Simon Keynes

Early Medieval Europe, Volume 2, 1993

King Alfred, MS_Royal_14_B_VI

Introduction: To one who lived through the political turmoil in England during the second half of the ninth century, the most significant aspect of a changing world must have been the intensification of Viking raids, culminating
with the ‘conquests’ of the ancient kingdoms of East Anglia (869-70), Mercia (873-4) and Northumbria (874-5); only Wessex remained, and by the mid-880s a contemporary observer might have looked to King Alfred the Great as the best hope for the salvation of the English people.

If he were a person given to such reflection, the observer might have regarded the raids themselves as a form of divine punishment of the English, for their neglect of religion and learning; and if he were a West Saxon, he would have attributed the outcome of events to the prowess of his own rulers, displayed first in the achievements of King Ecgberht, thereafter in King Ethelwulf’s victory at the battle of Aclea in 851, and latterly in Alfred’s resolute defiance of the invaders.


Perhaps it should be left at that; but modern historians are inclined to seek their own explanation of momentous change, and in so doing resort to considerations of a different and more complex kind. No-one would deny that the Vikings played a significant if unwitting part in the process, but attention turns to internal factors, and not least among them to the circumstances behind the dramatic shift in the balance of power marked by the disintegration of Mercian supremacy in the 820s and by the extension thereafter of West Saxon authority into the south-east.

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