My understanding of Anglo-Saxons, before this book, was shallow. Cartoons and contemporary movies and tv series were all I had to base it on. My South African history didn’t really cover them. Despite this, I followed Tony Sullivan’s deep dive into the early Anglo-Saxon Kings and found it a scintillating read! I especially appreciated the way in which the author recognised where our definitive knowledge ends and speculation begins…and there is a lot of speculation.

This period of history is full of questions but I found the interesting, person-centred, approach different from some history books which go from battle to battle. It speaks to the way of life, how global factors affected the transitions, and how these Kings contributed to the Britain we have today.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, I read it through in quick time wanting to know what happened next! If you love learning more about history, I highly recommend it. It’s a five out of five on enJOYment scale.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from Pen & Sword through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in these reviews are completely my own.

From the back cover:

The book takes a new look at the archaeological and literary evidence and focuses on the fragmenting Diocese, provincial and civitas structures of post-Roman Britain. It places events in the context of increased Germanic immigration alongside evidence for significant continuation of population and land use. Using evidence from fifth century Gaul it demonstrates dynamic changes to cultural identities both within and across various groups.

Covering the migration period it describes the foundation stories of Hengest and Horsa in Kent, Cerdic and Cynric, first kings of the West Saxons and Ælle founder of the kingdom of the South Saxons. Ælle is the first king Bede describes as holding imperium and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle calls Bretwalda. Covering the figures of Ceawlin, Æthelberht and Rædwald it ends with the death of Penda, the last great pagan king.

As life under Roman authority faded into history we see the emergence of a ‘warband’ culture and the emergence of petty kingdoms. The mead hall replaced crumbling villas and towns as the centre of social life. These halls rang with the poems of bards and the stories of great warriors and battles. Arthur and Urien of Rheged. The famous Mons Badonicus and the doomed charge of the Gododdin at Catraeth. A chapter on weapons, armour, warfare and accounts of contemporary battles will help paint a picture of dark age warfare. From the arrival of Saxon mercenaries in the fifth century to the death of Penda, the last pagan king, at Winwaed in 655.

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