I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess I’ve lost you at least once during the last month or two. That at some point you’ve said “Who is this? What exactly is going on here?” The reason I’m so sure of it is because I’m the guy who studies and writes this stuff, and even I can get lost at times.
But I don’t think that’s an excuse for skipping over this period of history, I think it just means that it needs special care and attention. That’s why I’ve been reminding you of who people are, and why I’ve been headlining the major characters at the beginning of the episodes. But I think that a brief statement of where we’re at might be helpful too, since simply saying “we’re at about 690” doesn’t help all that much.
So lets start with relative dates… We are over 700 years after Caesar’s invasions of Britannia, a bit over 600 years from the time of Boudicca, and bit under 400 years from the date where Constantine was proclaimed emperor in York. We’re also about 300 years from Rome’s withdrawal from Britannia, almost 200 years from the time of Gildas, the Battle of Badon Hill, and the mythic time of Arthur, and about 100 years after the arrival of St. Augustine and the reintroduction of Christianity into Britain. And that’s really when things get interesting for us, because we have a shocking number of major and minor kingdoms in Britain at this point… and they’re all ready for a scuffle.
As a result, we’re just under 80 years from when Edwin and Raedwald killed King AEthelfrith at the Battle of the River Idle. And after that, Northumbria became really powerful. We’re also about 50 years from when King Oswald was killed by Penda and displayed on Waelstengs. After which, Mercia also become really powerful, and things between Northumbria and Mercia started to get /really/ nasty. We’re also about 45 years from when Oswiu of Northumbria killed Penda of Mercia at the Winwaed and, because Oswiu was Oswiu, he also found himself involved in the deaths of a shocking number of his relatives. And it’s been about 25 years since King Wulfhere of Mercia died (which was around the time of the Staffordshire Hoard).
And more recently, the Kings of Northumbria, Wessex, Kent and Sussex have all died.
Oh, and the Pope is Poping as hard as he can, so we have monasteries, abbeys, nunneries, and all manner of houses of worship popping up all over Britain.
The truth is, while I love the characters in these stories and they’re all fun to talk about… I mean, who wouldn’t love talking about Wulfhere, Oswiu, Edwin, and of course our Don Corleone (Bishop Wilfrid)… the real characters are the Kingdoms. So if you get lost with all the names, just try to remember the Kingdoms and that should keep you on track. And here’s where the Kingdoms are coming from.
Basically, if you need a visual aid for this period, imagine that all these kings are ants in a glass jar… and some kid keeps shaking the hell out of it, trying to get them to fight.
Mercia, Northumbria, and Wessex were all incredibly warlike (they’re the bullies of the group) and they all had a shot at being the supreme power in Britain. However, they have all have flubbed it so far.
Recently the biggest bully, Northumbria, lost a serious fight and it’s trying to turn over a new leaf (becoming a bit more nerdy, setting aside constant warfare in favor of more intellectual pursuits) but all the kingdoms that were bullied don’t seem to be all that eager to bury the hatchet. Especially Pictland, who went through a bit of a growth spurt recently.
And Mercia might not be ready for a fight yet, but they’re hitting the gym. So we’ll see how that goes.
So that’s the drama that’s brewing in the North.
And as for the south, Wessex is still looking to cause trouble, and is rather grumpy about Mercia and is still giving serious side-eye to Sussex and Kent.
Now think of Kent as the rich kid of the group, and generally they seem to be content simply being the fanciest kingdom in England. But lately, they’ve been beaten up by Wessex, Essex, /and/ Sussex. And that has to sting.
As for Sussex, they’re kind of that kid who everyone forgot was in the class and then, half way through the semester, they surprised everyone and sucker punched the rich kid… But a sucker punch isn’t the same as knowing how to fight. And Wessex quickly reminded them of that. And now they probably wish they’d just kept their heads down like Essex has done.
And Essex… Well, they’re almost the Mr. Smee of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms. And they always seem to be ready to offer /just/ enough support to befriend whoever seems like the toughest kingdom in the south. Right now, they’re besties with Wessex, having bonded while beating up Kent.
And as for East Anglia, they peaked too early under Raedwald and since then they haven’t done all that much, and you’d be forgiven if you forgot they existed.
Oh, and of course, everyone in the South wants London, but no one seems to be able to consistently hold onto it.
So that’s a quick rough sketch of who everyone is and what’s going on and roughly why they’re fighting. I hope it helped.