Late Saxon (918 – 1066)

There is no agreed definition of early, middle and late Saxon. For this summary, we will treat late Saxon as starting with the death of Aethelflaed in 918. Her brother, King Edward, came to Chester in 919 and 921. Edward was disliked in Chester because he was firmly a Wessex man, in contrast to his sister’s support for Mercia. He built three Burghs along the Mersey to Manchester, ostensibly to protect them against the Vikings, but perhaps also to exercise control over a potentially rebellious Chester. In 924 Chester sided with the Welsh in a rebellion. Edward managed to retake the City but died shortly afterwards at Farndon. He was succeeded by Aethelstan, the nephew of Aethelflaed. This began a period of growth and prosperity for the City. Aethelstan defeated the Vikings on the Wirral at the battle of Bromborough in 937. He defeated the Norse/Scots and made the waterways safe enough for Chester to develop as an important port and trade route. There was also a significant Norse/Scots community living peaceably in Chester which was actively involved both in the sea trade and the minting of coins. After Aethalstan died in 939 Chester appears to have declined, but regained its position during the reign of Edgar (957-975), when we also know that St. Werburgh’s Cathedral existed. The fluctuations in Chester’s fortune throughout the whole period from 924 to 1066 is reflected in whether it could manufacture its own dies for minting coins. When it could make dies it flourished, and when it was prevented it declined. It is not known why Chester was such an important mint, several reasons have been put forward (1) its proximity to mining along the north Welsh coast (2) the port where tribute arrived from Scotland and north Wales (3) derived from the trading activity of the port (4) derived from the metal working skills and seafaring skills of the Viking population.

Edgar was the last strong Saxon king, regaining control over the remainder of the Danelaw. After his death, the Vikings started raiding the English coast, particularly the south and south-east. Ethelred the Unready led a poor defence, and paid large amounts of tribute to buy off attacks. The situation continued to decline and Canute landed in the south of England with a large Scandinavian army in 1015. The bulk of the Saxon defence was led by Ethelred’s son – Edmund Ironside – over the next 14 months in a vicious campaign. Eadric Streona was Eaolderman of Mercia, but deserted to Canute, and is largely regarded as a traitor who allowed Canute to achieve ultimate victory. Canute ruled from 1016 until his death in 1035. He was ruthless in his elimination of the Saxon nobility, but was a great patron of the church. His rule is generally seen as one of good maritime trade and stability, although he did exact very high taxes to pay off his army. The Viking raids stopped during his reign. On his death Edward, the Confessor came to the throne. Edward initially banished the family of Godwine, Earl of Essex, but after 2 years he realised that he was too weak to rule without them. Under his rule Harold Godwinson rose to become a powerful nobleman. In the 1050’s a rebellion in west Mercia formed an alliance with Gwynedd, and Gwynedd took over the area of Flintshire. In 1063 Earl Harold campaigned across Flintshire and Denbighshire to regain English Control. When Edward the Confessor died the only powerful and trusted Saxon leader was Harold Godwinson. This was because most of his potential rivals had been assassinated by his predecessors over the last 60 years.


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