The Early Years of King Egbert (775-802)

The Life of King Egbert

The Early Years of  King Egbert (775-802)

Egbert was born sometime between AD 770 and 775, different sources giving different dates, the most probable date being 775. He was the son of Ealhmund (born about 758 in Wessex) and his wife the queen of Kent, whose name or dates are not known. Because of his parent’s position in Kent, and his father’s family in Wessex, Egbert’s birth could have been in either place, but Kent is the more likely.

It is highly probable that Egbert of Wessex was named after his ancestor on the mother’s side, the Kentish side. He united the claims of the Kentish and West Saxon houses and this was illustrated with his name. The Wessex kingship had left Egbert’s family when Ine was succeeded by his kinsman Aethelheard. Egbert had one sister named Alburga.  Whether she was an older or a younger sibling is unknown. Alburga married Earl Wulstan of Wiltshire, later to join a convent, become abbess, and after her death was named a saint. (More about Alburga in Important People to King Egbert.)

This was a noble family, residing in a timbered manor house with servants, household retainers and peasants to work the land. Though the family lived well, the times were not easy, and his father knew the many pressures of leadership in Kent. Egbert’s family, particularly his father Ealhmund, had been instrumental in helping Kent regain some if its independence from Mercia. Kent had been controlled by Mercia since 764, and was divided among several kings, vassals to Mercia. But in 775, a Kentish rebellion restored Kent as an independent kingdom in all but name. The likelihood that Offa lost real control of Kent from 776 to 786 is suggested by several charters; one in  784 in which Ealhmund was able to make a grant of land to Reculver, a monastery in Kent, and another to Christ Church in Canterbury, without getting Offa’s consent. Offa would not have allowed Ealhmund to make this grant if he could have stop him.

In 786, Ealhmund died, and Offa immediately took possession of lands which had been granted to the monastery of Christ Church at Canterbury. Offa apparently regarded the Kentish king as his minister and felt entitled to annul the grants Ealhmund had made. A note by Archbishop Aethelheard refers to “the rapacity of a certain king,” and a charter of Archbishop Wulfred says that Offa acted, “as if Ealhmund had no right to bestow lands in hereditary right”–the implication being that Ealhmund did have that right. Offa and Ealhmund were obviously not on the friendliest of terms.

Offa was a king who had acquired a reputation as a brutal and merciless overlord. He sharply limited the liberty and independence of the subkingdoms he controlled. There were men who thought Offa’s methods self-defeating; who thought that the power of Mercia waned because it was built upon blood, and who desired a political power more human and more generous, with greater respect for the liberty and personality of its subjects. Kent had to be an indispensable part in the thoughts of any statesmen whose goal was supremacy in England. It was the direct door to the continental trade, and was the location from which England had first been conquered. No conquest of England could last without Kent.  Even when the first Vikings were raiding Lindisfarne, and while men were wondering what these new developments might mean, Ealhmund in Kent died, leaving his son Egbert to succeed him.

The year 786 was an important one in Egbert’s life. Ealhmund’s death must have been hard on Egbert considering he was only eleven years old. The king of Wessex, Cynewulf, was killed because of an internal feud, leaving the throne vacant, that same year. This left the kingdom of Wessex in a politically unstable condition and, with his background, Egbert had a claim for it also. It was only natural for Egbert to try to succeed his father in Kent. All the efforts of the Mercians to suppress the independence of Kent only pushed the claims of the Kentish crown more effectively into the hands of Ealhmund’s son Egbert.  It is very possible that Egbert himself may have reigned for a short time as his father’s successor. But Offa soon took over full control of the government of Kent. There would not be another known underking of Kent until Offa’s death in 796.

The empty crown of Wessex was claimed for Egbert by his family because he was denied the Kentish crown. Since there was no certain law of succession  Egbert was challenged in the competition for the crown of Wessex by a distant relative by the name of Beorhtric. At age eleven, Egbert was well-known and well regarded by the people of Wessex as a boy of valor and good character, and a prince of the royal blood who could trace his descent back to the brother of Ine. Nevertheless, in his struggle against Beorhtric for the crown of Wessex, Egbert had two great disadvantages, his extreme youth, and the fact that his rival Beorhtric secured the support and endorsement of Offa. Offa supported  Beorhtric over Egbert because he thought Beorhtric would be a better vassal and because Egbert was the son of Ealhmund who had not pleased Offa in the way he reigned in Kent. He might also have feared that the accession of Egbert to the Wessex throne would pose a threat to Mercia’s control of Kent. So it seems that even Offa respected Egbert’s intelligence, independence, and potential at a young age.

Relations between Beorhtric and Egbert were never to be good because of the competition for Wessex’s  kingship. Even after his coronation as king of Wessex, Beorhtric continued to view Egbert as a threat to his crown. All efforts at reconciliation failed, because of Beorhtric’s feelings of suspicion and personal jealousy. Soon it became known that Beorhtric was plotting to have him killed. Egbert, warned of Beorhtric’s intentions to have him assassinated, found himself forced to flee Wessex in 786. He then took refuge at the court of Offa in Mercia. Egbert now lived as an exile at a foreign court where he probably was used by Offa to influence Beorhtric to stay in line with Offa’s wishes.

Egbert’s Stone, or Ecgbryhtesstan, was described as being to the east of Selwood, near the high ground (Penselwood) and the borders of three shires, Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset. From the roadways today it would be about six miles west of Willoughby Hedge. Legend has it that this was the place where Egbert, before being driven out of Wessex by Beorhtric, was anointed and swore a great oath to return and one day claim his kingship. Egbert had good reason for believing that one day he would return to wear a crown. Several of his ancestors were also at some time exiles, but returned to occupy the throne of Wessex. (More about Egbert's Stone in Important Places to King Egbert.)

Since Offa was largely responsible for Beorhtric succeeding to the crown of Wessex, he could threaten to remove Beorhtric and replace him with Egbert if Beorhtric did not follow Offa’s wishes. Offa did not like Egbert, but that did not stop him from using him as a political threat against Beorhtric. Egbert had now reached the lowest point in his life that he would ever face. Both of his parents were dead, his family had failed to have him retain the kingship of Kent or to gain the crown of Wessex. Egbert must have endured enormous emotional stress and strain at this time in his life. The fact that he dealt with it successfully suggests the fortitude and determination that this young boy must have possessed.

Beorhtric could not rest easily on his throne while Egbert was alive. As long as Egbert lived, he represented a threat and Beorhtric was determined to remove him. Assassins hired by Beorhtric began searching for Egbert throughout Offa’s realm and Egbert’s life was in constant danger. When his would-be assassins were unable to find where Egbert was hidden, Beorhtric sent messengers to Offa demanding that Egbert be surrendered to him. Along with his demands, Beorhtric offered Offa a dynastic alliance by asking to marry his daughter, Eadburh, and promising to pay him a large sum of money when he returned Egbert to Wessex. Offa accepted Beorhtric’s offer of marriage with his daughter in 789, but refused to surrender Egbert. He did, however, agree to stop protecting Egbert while he was in Mercia. Offa joined Beorhtric in driving Egbert out of England. The consequences of this alliance for Egbert were almost immediate.

How Egbert arranged his escape and traveled from England to Charlemagne’s realm is not known. He had many allies in Wessex and Kent who would have aided him. Kent was the most likely area of departure. Charlemagne would have known the benefits of befriending Egbert with his royal claims in England. Nothing political happened in Frankland without Charlemagne’s  knowledge and influence. An English royal exile did not arrive or leave without his knowledge. It was a standard policy of Charlemagne to harbor exiles of royal blood. Soon after Egbert reached Charlemagne’s court at Aachen, he found other English exiles there besides himself. Charlemagne personally welcomed Egbert, and gave him permission to stay as long as he liked. Egbert was entrusted with important duties by Charlemagne. He learned his lessons well, became useful to the Frankish court, and did it honorably.

It is an important aspect of Egbert’s character that he did not allow himself to be overwhelmed by the early misfortune of his life. He used the situation to his own advantage to prepare himself for the future. Egbert studied hard to learn the art of government from the Franks. He could not have had better teachers, for the Frankish state led all the other kingdoms in Western Europe in matters of military capability and diplomacy. Charlemagne had learned to read and write, though to what extent is not known. He recognized it as a desirable skill and encouraged others to learn. Whether Egbert took advantage of this is not known, but likely.

The date of Egbert’s exile from England and its duration are uncertain. According to early sources Egbert’s exile in the Carolingian Empire lasted only three years, presumably from 789 until 792. Since Egbert’s reign as king of Wessex definitely did not begin until 802, where would he have spent the remaining ten years and for what purpose? Many historians believe that a clerical error occurred in the original manuscript of the Chronicles, and that an “x” was mistakenly deleted from the original “iii”, with almost all later scribes and clerics copying the error. William of Malmesbury, a twelfth-century historian, who used a version of the Chronicle that was not preserved, wrote that Egbert’s exile in Frankland was thirteen years. Some believe he returned to be the vassal king of Kent during that time, but there does not appear to be much to substantiate the claim. In about 795 Egbert married Charlemagne’s sister (or sister-in-law), Redburga, and had his first son in 796. Egbert probably would have remained in exile with Charlemagne until both Offa and Beorhtric were dead (Offa died in 796, Beorhtric in 802), when he could safely and without serious opposition claim the throne of Wessex. Therefore, when Egbert became king of Wessex in 802, it was presumably after continuous residence in the Frankland from 789 until 802.

His subsequent career as king suggests that he had learned the arts of government and war quite well while staying at the court of Charlemagne. Egbert was only fourteen years old when he took refuge with the Frankish king, thirteen years would be ample time for a young man to learn and absorb the successful techniques that enabled Charlemagne to build and maintain the Frankish Empire. Egbert’s success in Wessex can in large part be credited to the training that Egbert received from Charlemagne. Egbert was in his formative years when he arrived and would have known he had a lot to learn in order to rule a kingdom wisely. His example of good leadership skills was his benefactor, Charlemagne.

To understand how much influence Charlemagne had on Egbert, and what kind of influence that would have been, information about Charlemagne and his court must be understood. A man of Charlemagne’s accomplishments and power, as well as his personal characteristics would demand attention by all around him.  He was a forward thinker with the energy and ability to carry out his innovations. The strength of Charlemagne's personality was rooted in his conviction of divine will. He was able to combine a religious piety with enjoyment of life. He had rough manners while striving for intellectual growth, and had forceful determination fighting his enemies while desiring peace in his realm.

Physically, Charlemagne was large, strong and tall, with a round head, large eyes, a somewhat long nose, fair hair, a laughing and merry face, a thick neck, and prominent belly. He was stately and dignified, whether standing or sitting. His gait was firm, and his voice clear. His health was excellent, except during the four years preceding his death. Even then he did things his way rather than take the advice of physicians. He took frequent exercise on horseback and in the chase, as was the national custom. He often practiced swimming, and was very good at it. He would invite not only his sons to his bath, but his nobles and friends, so that a hundred or more persons sometimes bathed with him.

Charlemagne was temperate in eating and drinking. He hated drunkenness in anybody, but he found it hard to abstain from food. He gave entertainments only on great feast-days, and then to large numbers of people. His meals ordinarily consisted of four courses, not counting the roast, which his huntsmen used to bring in on the spit. While eating he listened to reading or music. In summer after the midday meal, he would rest for two or three hours, but was in the habit of rising from bed four or five times during the night. While he was dressing and putting on his shoes, he not only gave audience to his friends but, if his judgment was necessary, he had the parties brought before him even then and gave his decision.

Charlemagne was a reformer who tried to improve his people's lives in many ways. He set up money standards to encourage commerce, urged better farming methods, and spread education and Christianity in every class of people. He believed that government should be for the benefit of the governed. When he came to the throne, the nobles had become lax and oppressive. His investigators rode to all parts of the realm, inspecting government, administering justice, and making all citizens aware of their civil and religious duties. In all problems Charlemagne was the final arbiter, even in church issues, and he largely unified church and state.

He studied foreign languages and was a master of Latin. He was considered an eloquent speaker. He avidly encouraged the liberal arts and held those who taught them in great esteem. He took lessons in grammar from deacon Peter of Pisa. Another deacon, Alcuin, a Saxon, who was the greatest scholar of the day, was his teacher in other branches of learning. The King studied rhetoric, dialectics, and astronomy. He was able to write, and used to keep writing materials in bed under his pillow, to be always handy. Charlemagne had monks sent from Rome to train his singers in order to revive church music. He restored some appreciation of art by having valuable pieces brought from Italy.

The plan that he adopted for his children's education was to have both boys and girls instructed in the liberal arts. He set up schools, opening them to peasant boys as well as nobles. When old enough, following the custom, the boys had to learn horsemanship, and to practice war and the chase, and the girls to learn cloth-making, and sewing, and he expected a high moral standard from them. Charlemagne had an intense Christian ethic. He worked toward Church reform, and made a major effort to raise the level and scope of education.

The key to Charlemagne's amazing conquests was his ability to organize. During his reign he sent out more than fifty military expeditions, riding as commander of at least half of them. He quickly moved his armies over wide areas, but every move was planned in advance. Before a campaign he told his leaders how many men they should bring, what arms they were to carry, and even what to load in the supply wagons. A large area of land that was composed of small formerly independent tribal groups, such as the Frisians, the Jutes, the Thuringians, the Alemani, the Saxons, the Lombards, and others was conquered. These different groups seemed constantly involved in warfare. Charlemagne had beaten down the resistance of the old Saxons, suppressed their independence, and secured it by transporting several thousand families into Neustria, on the coast of the Channel, where he settled them.

During the time Egbert lived in exile Alcuin directed the renowned palace school, teaching all the liberal arts that made up medieval education. Egbert had the opportunity to study both Latin and Greek, as well as the elements of logic. Perhaps the skills of writing and reading were included in his studies. As William of Malmesbury stated, Egbert used the time to “rub off the rust of indolence, to quicken the energy of his mind, and to adopt foreign customs, far differing from his native barbarism.” In later years Egbert exhibited many of the traits known of Charlemagne in the way the shires and courts were organized, the way battles were fought, the education for his children, his lifestyle, to name a few.

The influence of the Frankish court on the dynasty of Egbert’s house is clear enough. An intelligent observer, and Egbert was intelligent, could not have lived thirteen years in the center of knowledge and ambition without learning many skills. Through all that he did during his reign there was a consistent purpose of political consolidation. Charlemagne showed the advantages of a large political state ruled with strictness and diplomacy, over a group of small independent warlords. The advantages were in wealth, in dignity, and in the intelligence, learning, and the social stability they helped to create. There were many ways in which the Frankish influence manifested itself in England. It was with Egbert that it began.

During Egbert’s exile the Franks had extended their rule and turned back the Moorish attempts to conquer Gaul and Italy, successfully defended Europe against the invasions of the Avars, and made a effective frontier against the Slavs. The Frankish Court had become the center of Western Europe, with the political, religious, military and artistic traditions developing and spreading from there. Charlemagne was very nearly the ideal of an old northern king. He was strong, skillful, and able; a sportsman, a soldier, but not a saint; a keen judge of character, a hearty eater, and a student of the liberal arts. His intellectual ability was as notable as his physical strength. He was the pattern on which ambitious kings modeled themselves. This was the man to whom Egbert of Wessex had fled, and where he spent some of the most impressionable years of his life.

It must have been an extraordinary experience to live in a place where regularly all the news of Italy, Spain, Gaul, central Europe, and the North was received, compared to England with its regional conflicts and narrow vision. There was a sense of the largeness and unity in the world, and it was a place which communicated with the emperor at Constantinople, the patriarch at Jerusalem, and the caliph at Bagdad. Charlemagne intervened in British affairs, and was in communication with Offa of Mercia, exerted diplomatic pressure on the rulers in England, and was in touch with Ireland. Charlemagne certainly recognized that for him to control the lands of the Rhine he must have Britain on his side. An alliance with Egbert would therefore benefit Charlemagne and, as farsighted as Charlemagne was said to have been, this would be confirmation that Egbert was sure to have had the best of opportunities during his stay at Aachen.

Egbert would have taken a personal interest in matters of state. He knew of the traditions that the Saxons of England were descended from the old Saxons on the Continent. The conquest of his kinsmen was recent, and it was famous. He may have recognized the similarity with the situation in England. To Egbert, it had to be obvious that Charlemagne was creating an empire which would stretch across all of Western Europe. When Egbert became king he too set out to make all the neighboring petty kingdoms subject to his overlordship.

Egbert served in Charlemagne’s armies, gaining valuable combat experience as well as learning battle strategy and tactics. It is not known when he served, or what campaigns he participated in, but it was probably the wars against the Avars (791-796), when Egbert would have been between sixteen and twenty-one years old. He became familiar with military tactics and strategy that were unknown in his homeland. It is probable that Egbert learned to ride and use a bow. Anglo-Saxon warfare was mainly composed of infantry actions involving the use of the fyrd. Archery was used in England, but their main weapons were the spear and sword. The Avars were wild, fierce warriors who fought from horseback and used the bow as their main weapon. Charlemagne used the Lombards, who were the finest cavalry in Western Europe, against the Avars. The superiority of well-armed men fighting from horseback over a slow-moving infantry force with inferior arms, would have been obvious to Egbert.

Offa died in 796, when Egbert was twenty-one and had been in exile for seven years. Offa’s son became king for a few months, and died also. The next Mercian king, Cenwulf, did not have the prestige of Offa, but had the energy and ability to maintain Mercian supremacy in Southern England, though there was a problem for him in Kent. Eadbert Pryn, who was the brother of Aethelbert II, king of Kent from 748-762, decided to make a claim to the Kentish throne. It is very likely that Egbert, his kinsman by marriage, sympathized because, as a West Saxon and as a Kentishman, Egbert would be glad to see Mercia weakened.

Eadbert, whose nickname was Pryn, “the Pin,” proclaimed himself king, and maintained his independence for two years, 796-798. He was a dissolute monk and a member of the old Kentish royal house forced into a monastery by Offa. After he had reigned two summers Cenwulf attacked him with an overwhelming force. Cenwulf had apparently been hindered from claiming Kent at an earlier date by a rising of the North Welsh against him. When Cenwulf appeared all of Kent suffered, and Eadbert himself was taken prisoner, after remaining for some time in hiding. Cenwulf put out Eadbert’s eyes and cut off his hands, an atrocity almost unequaled in English history. The mutilation was a chastisement for a cleric and an acknowledgment of the fact that, because he had been a member of the clergy, his life at least was sacred. The end of Eadbert Pryn as king meant that the hereditary claims of Kent had now passed to Egbert. Since Eadbert also became an exile at Aachen they probably made contact with each other while they were both there. What conversations they had or what information may have been exchanged can only be guessed.

Egbert did not choose to return to Wessex at the death of Offa in 796, nor did he wish to go to Kent at that time. He certainly had just as good a claim to the Kentish crown as Eadbert did, but he chose to remain with Charlemagne. Even though there was a strong party of nobles in Wessex who were eager for Egbert to return home, Beorhtric was still reigning as king there in 796, and any attempt to overthrow him would have surely resulted in civil war. It is also possible that Charlemagne advised against it, offering to support Egbert’s claim to the throne of Wessex when it became vacant. Until that time, Egbert remained with the Frankish monarch. No opposition seems to have been offered to his accession by Cenwulf of Mercia later in 802, and it could be that his acceptance of Egbert was because of Charlemagne’s influence.

Egbert did start a family between 795 and 806. He chose Redburga, Charlemagne’s sister (or perhaps sister-in-law), to become his wife around 795. It was a good match politically for Egbert and Charlemagne. The marriage could have been contracted by the families when they were children. Their first child was a boy whom they named Aethelwulf, born about 796. It can be assumed that their marriage and the birth of their first child took place in Aachen with much fanfare. There were at least two other children, Editha and Athelstan, who were both born before 806.

Egbert called his son “Aethelwulf,” which is not an especially West Saxon name. Aethelwulf called his sons by the names of Aethelstan, Aethelbald, Aethelbert, Aethelred, and Alfred (or Aethelfrith). Of these names, Aethelbert is unmistakably Kentish, and is a reminiscent not only of the great Aethelbert who received Augustine and his companions, but of the other King Aethelbert who died in 760. The whole West Saxon family after Ealhmund felt themselves to be, in part at least, Kentish. Aethelwulf showed signs of having felt himself more a Kentish than a West Saxon king.

Aethelstan, who became the vassal king of Kent, died in 850, and was the second son of Egbert and Redburga. “Aethelstan” is a curious name. “Aethel” implies origin from a privileged caste, and “adel” means high born, gentel, or noble. “Aeithelbald,” “Aethelbert,”  “Aethelred,” and “Aethelfrith” is understandable for the courage, or the glory, or the counsel, or the peace of the high-born. “Stan,” however, refers to stone, which seems to refer to the Crowning Stone at Kingston.

Editha was their daughter, and probably their youngest child. She became Abbess of Polesworth Abbey, died there in 871, and was later named a saint. There is more information about King Egbert’s children in the section Important People to King Egbert.

King Beorhtric of Wessex was accidentally poisoned by his wife Eadburh in 802. Apparently she was a woman of great cruelty and much hatred. She was accused of causing the death of whomever she thought was a threat to her ambitions. Poison was supposed to be a favorite method of Eadburh for removing anyone who had become obnoxious. In the case of Beorhtric’s death, she had mixed a cup of poison for a young nobleman who had her husband’s friendship and had therefore become the object of her jealousy. However, it was Beorhtric himself who drank from the cup and soon died. Eadburh was forced to seek refuge at the court of Charlemagne when Beorhtric’s death was known. Before leaving, however, she looted the treasury of the kingdom, carrying away gold, silver, and precious jewels.

Egbert was recalled home by the nobility of Wessex and elected king by the witan without any internal opposition. Information about Egbert’s return journey has not been saved. There were surely mixed feeling about the future for Egbert and his young family. Life at Aachen must have been relatively comfortable and safe. The journey to England and the stress of events yet to come must have given him some great concerns. He was a determined, independent-minded, intelligent individual with great goals for the future. The problems Egbert would face would not deterred him. He made a promise to return, and was to fulfill it with greatness.

Egbert’s crowning took place in February, 802 when he was about twenty-seven years old. The kingdom of Wessex when Egbert came to the throne was situated in the south and west of England, and consisted of the land which became the shires of Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Wiltshire and Hampshire. Wessex in 802 did not display a great deal of unity or strength, because of the dominance of Mercia. At his crowning, like Beorhtric, Egbert acknowledged the king of Mercia as his overlord. The effects of the death of Beorhtric still bothered the people of Wessex and caused morale to be low. When Egbert returned he found the royal treasury at Winchester to be nearly, if not completely, empty and the population greatly upset by Eadburh’s actions. (More information  in Important Places to King Egbert.)

The history of Europe has consisted largely of the results produced by the interaction of the southern civilization centered round the Mediterranean with the northern civilization centered round the Baltic. European history might easily be written in terms of a struggle for possession of the Rhine frontier. Whether studying written history or the findings of archeologists, events are still best explained according to whether the Rhine is under the control of northern or southern powers. The geographical relation that gives special importance to Britain is that the British Isles are an island extension of the Rhine frontier. The struggle for the Rhine has a way of becoming a struggle for either the possession or the alliance of Britain. The attitude of Britain had been a decisive influence upon the course of events in Continental Europe.

There are grounds for suspecting that the Frankish kings were the men who arranged and financed the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain. The speed and permanence of the conquest of Gaul by the Franks, once Britain was in English hands was noticeable. The Franks pointed out to them the direction in which their interests lay. They proceeded to confirm their hold upon Gaul by adopting the Catholic faith. They had a great deal too much at stake to permit themselves to be indifferent to the views of the English. But the work of Charlemagne was marked by a reaction against it. The ruthless ferocity used by Charlemagne to crush the Saxons was an irritant rather than a warning to the Vikings who regarded the Saxons with favor. This led to a series of great wars which extended over almost the whole European continent. They were of crucial importance, and the Northmen’s aim was a heathen re-conquest of Europe.

The Viking fleets caught the south by surprise. They reached their full force about the time when their use was provoked. Their sea-going ship was evolved first in the English Channel by men who had seen the Mediterranean galley, and who improved it into a vessel more suitable to the northern seas. The men of the north were quick to learn. Cheapness of construction, low working cost, and mechanical efficiency went hand in hand. By the fifth century the construction of a ship which was no longer a galley with auxiliary sails, but a true sailing ship with auxiliary oars was built. This change was crucial; and this was the age of the English conquest of Britain and the moving of great fleets and large bodies of men across the sea.

Although the sea-going ship had been created, the deep-sea sailor had not yet been trained. Three centuries passed before the northern seamen were ready. By then there was improvement in the details of the sailing ship, and growing experience of navigators. Then the Vikings saw the advent of real fighting fleets which could range across the open sea, circumnavigate the British Isles, reach the Mediterranean, Iceland, and Greenland, and carry men with certainty to an indicated place. The “wicking” age is the age of the deep-sea ship. When the first Viking raid fell upon Lindesfarne, men were stunned. To improvise an answer to their threat was hard. Ships could be built; but neither the seamen nor the sea-going experience could be created to order. When his time came, Egbert probably saw little hope of trying to match their naval abilities and chose not to have his own navy, deciding instead to defend against them on land.

The issue which was joined between the two antagonists was therefore whether the military ingenuity of the north could break the political organization of the south, or whether the south could hold itself intact. It would only a question of time before the political ideas of the south so absorbed and transformed the north as to change the relationship between them. This would abolish the profound differences which were the basis of their antagonism, and give them a common ground of mutual interest and sympathy.

All great wars have a natural tendency to become wars of exhaustion. A good deal would depend upon the extent to which the political civilization of southern Europe could, by its superior productivity, outlast the resources of the still semi-tribal north. The contest opened at a time when the south had, for the moment, shot its bolt. When Charles died in 814 the Frankish empire would never again to be so powerful or so united. The north came fresh to the struggle, and its power was rising in a curve which had not yet reached its maximum.

8th Century England map

King Offa
Offa as seen in early manuscript

Egbert's Stone
Egbert's Stone,  perhaps

Frankish Court


for more information about Charlemagne see:
Charlemagne's Biography
and/or The Medieval Source Book: Einhard, The Life of Charlesmagne

Charlemagne on horseback


Montgomery Castle
Montgomery Castle Ruins, on Offa's Dyke Path

West Gate, Winchester
West Gate, Winchester

What the Old Minster at Winchester may have looked like.
for more images and information
go to Early British Kingdoms.
and/or  Winchester Cathedral

The Califate and Charlemagne's Empire
from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection

 for larger image

depiction of a Viking with his ship

For more information about Vikings:
The BBC, Ancient History of the Vikings
Regia Anglorum-Vikings
The Catholic Encyclopedia-Northmen

Historical Time Line
The Making of Kings- Kingship, The Army and Warfare
Events before King Egbert's Time- Beginning in Europe, The 7 Kingdoms and the ChurchLineage, Ancestors and Parentage
The Life of King Egbert- The Early Years (775-802)
The Kingship- Chronicle Excerpts, 802-824, 825-829, 830-839, Reasons for Success

The People and Places Important to King Egbert - The People, The Places
Society in King Egbert's Time- Part 1 (Government, Household, Allegiance, Finances) Part 2 (Great Hall, Cooking & Eating, Food, Feasts, Christmas)
Part 3
(Crafts & Trade, Clothing and Appearance, Hygiene, Medicine) Part 4 (Peasants, Farming, Gardens & Plants, Common Tasks, Home, Village) Part 5 (Art)
Sources and References