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The Kingdom of East Anglia or the Kingdom of the East Angles ( ) was one of the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon Englandmarker. The kingdom was founded by Angles from Angelnmarker in northern Germanymarker, and was divided between the "North Folk" and the "South Folk", whose territories form the basis of the later shires of Norfolk and Suffolk. The precise boundaries of the kingdom, however, are vague. East Anglia was one of the most powerful of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms during the early 7th century, but its power subsequently waned, and over the following centuries it was often subject to the overlordship of Merciamarker. In 870 it was conquered by the Danes, who settled there in 879. In 917 the kingdom submitted to Edward the Elder of Wessexmarker and was incorporated into the Kingdom of England. The term East Angliamarker survives as a geographical expression, in which sense it commonly includes Essex as well as Norfolk and Suffolk.

The English kingdom

East Anglia emerged from the settlement and political consolidation of Angles in the approximate area occupied by the former territory of the Iceni. Its royal dynasty were the Wuffings. For a brief period in the early 7th century, East Anglia was among the most powerful kingdoms in England, probably exercising a widespread hegemony across the eastern part of the country. In 616 its king Rædwald was strong enough to defeat and kill the mighty Æthelfrith of Northumbria at the Battle of the River Idle and install his favoured candidate Edwin on the Northumbrianmarker throne. Rædwald was one of the seven kings whom Bede described as exercising imperium over the southern English kingdoms, a notional overlordship denoted much later in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle by the term Bretwalda. He was probably the individual honoured by the sumptuous ship burial at Sutton Hoomarker.

Rædwald was receptive to the overtures of Christian missionaries and was baptised, but did not entirely give up his old gods. He was denounced for this by Bede, who reported that he maintained a pagan altar alongside a Christian one in the same building. Following his death, this syncretistic approach to religion gave way to the more thoroughgoing Christian conversion of his successor Eorpwald, but the new religion was evidently opposed by powerful elements in East Anglian society and Eorpwald's death at the hands of a pagan named Ricberht led to a pagan revival. Three years later Christianity prevailed conclusively with the accession of Eorpwald's brother Sigeberht. Sigeberht later abdicated in favour of his brother Ecgric so as to become a monk. He had overseen the establishment of an East Anglian bishopric based at Dunwichmarker in Suffolk, which was divided not long afterwards to create a second see at North Elmhammarker in Norfolk, this division probably reflecting that between the North and South folks.

The eminence achieved by East Anglia under Rædwald did not last long, as his successors fell victim to the rising power of Penda of Mercia. In 640/1 Penda defeated and killed Ecgric, along with the ex-king Sigeberht, who was later venerated as a saint. Ecgric's successor Anna suffered the same fate in 654. The kingdom was subjected to Mercian overlordship. In 655 King Æthelhere of East Anglia joined his overlord in the campaign against Oswy of Northumbria which ended in the disastrous Mercian defeat at the Battle of the Winwaed, in which both Penda and Aethelhere were killed. During the later seventh and eighth centuries East Anglia continued to be overshadowed by Mercian hegemony, until in 794 Offa of Mercia had King Æthelberht killed and took control of the kingdom for himself. A brief revival of independence under Eadwald after Offa's death in 796 was soon suppressed by the new Mercian king Coenwulf.

The independence of the East Anglians was restored by a successful rebellion against Mercia led by Æthelstan in 825, following the Mercian defeat at the hands of Egbert of Wessex at the Battle of Ellandun. King Beornwulf of Mercia's attempt to restore Mercian control of East Anglia resulted in his defeat and death, and his successor Ludeca met the same end in 827. Æthelstan acknowledged Egbert as his overlord, but while the rest of south-eastern kingdoms which had been absorbed by Mercia during the 8th century now passed directly from Mercian control into that of Wessexmarker, East Anglia was able to maintain its reasserted independence. It was left as the only one of the smaller English kingdoms to survive in a land otherwise now divided between the three great kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria.

The Danish kingdom

In 865 East Anglia was briefly invaded by the Great Army of Danes, which seized horses there before departing for Northumbria. The Danes returned in 870 and King Edmund was defeated and killed. He was regarded as a martyr for the faith and became a popular saint. Having seized control of the kingdom, the Danes installed puppet-kings to govern on their behalf while they resumed their campaigns against Mercia and Wessex. Following reinforcement by a fresh army of Danes in 871 and the settlement of portions of the combined army in Northumbria and Mercia, in 878 the last portion of the army to remain active was defeated by King Alfred the Great of Wessex and withdrew from his kingdom after making a peace treaty. In 879 they returned to East Anglia under the leadership of King Guthrum, took over direct charge of the kingdom from their appointees, shared out land among themselves and settled.

In addition to the traditional territory of East Anglia their kingdom probably included Essex, the only portion of Wessex which had come under Danish control. A peace treaty made between Alfred and Guthrum in 885, following Alfred's conquest of London, recorded the frontier agreed between them as extending far into Mercia. This implies that the Danish kings of East Anglia exercised overlordship over at least some of the Danish settlers in Mercia, who were organised around the burhs of Cambridgemarker, Huntingdonmarker, Bedfordmarker, Northamptonmarker, Leicestermarker, Stamford, Lincoln, Nottinghammarker and Derbymarker.

In the early 10th century the East Anglian Danes came under increasing pressure from Wessex under King Edward the Elder. In 902 Edward's cousin Æthelwold, who had been driven into exile after an unsuccessful bid for the throne, arrived in Essex after a stay in Northumbria. He was apparently accepted as king by some or all of the Danes in England and in 903 he induced the East Anglian Danes to wage war on Edward. This ended in disaster, with the death of Æthelwold and of King Eohric of East Anglia in a battle in the Fens.

From 912 Edward expanded his control across much of Essex and parts of south-eastern Mercia, establishing burhs and receiving the submission of the Danes of Bedford and many of those of Northampton. In 917 the Danish position in the area suddenly collapsed. A rapid succession of defeats brought the loss of the territories of Northampton and Huntingdon along with the remainder of Essex, and a Danish king, probably that of East Anglia, was killed at Tempsfordmarker. Despite reinforcement from overseas, Danish counter-attacks were crushed, and following the defection of many of their English subjects as Edward's army advanced, the Danes of East Anglia capitulated, as did those of Cambridge. Their territory was absorbed into the rapidly expanding English kingdom. Norfolk and Suffolk became shires, as part of the extension of this West Saxon system of local government across England. The restoration of the ecclesiastical structure in the reconquered territories saw the two former East Anglian bishoprics replaced by a single one based at North Elmham.


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