The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England

by Marc Morris

Hardcover, 2021



Call number



Hutchinson (2021), 528 pages


"Sixteen hundred years ago Britain left the Roman Empire and swiftly fell into ruin. Grand cities and luxurious villas were deserted and left to crumble, and civil society collapsed into chaos. Into this violent and unstable world came foreign invaders from across the sea, and established themselves as its new masters. The Anglo-Saxons traces the turbulent history of these people across the next six centuries. It explains how their earliest rulers fought relentlessly against each other for glory and supremacy, and then were almost destroyed by the onslaught of the vikings. It explores how they abandoned their old gods for Christianity, established hundreds of churches and created dazzlingly intricate works of art. It charts the revival of towns and trade, and the origins of a familiar landscape of shires, boroughs and bishoprics. It is a tale of famous figures like King Offa, Alfred the Great and Edward the Confessor, but also features a host of lesser known characters - ambitious queens, revolutionary saints, intolerant monks and grasping nobles. Through their remarkable careers we see how a new society, a new culture and a single unified nation came into being."--Amazon.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Stbalbach
Having read Morris' Normal Conquest, probably the best general treatment, I was excited to next take a trip through the Early Middle Ages. It is possible to write a compelling book on ancient people with few available sources. But this is not it. Morris basically sticks to political events and as
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such it's a lot of names, kings disposed, and haphazard contingent history. There is little cultural history, which is essential to bring a period alive and transport the reader. It's difficult because it requires a multi-disciplinary approach and familiarity with the monologues and journals, then making it enjoyable for the general reader; but I didn't get the impression Morris is too deeply familiar with the scholarship. Not to say what he wrote is flawed, he gets the events right presumably.

I gained some new perspectives, on how politi formed starting in the 5th century and became larger in time, centered around the King, starting with a small band of raiders, a small village, who then absorb neighbors etc.. a chaotic process that took hundreds of years before finally a King of England first emerged in the 9th century. The importance of the 6th century famines caused by climatic events in creating a new society. The revival of interest in Rome in the 8th century, as part of a propaganda campaign to show Kingly legitimacy. The population increase in the 10th century after a prolonged period of peace from Viking raids, a key century in the emergence of what would eventually become the modern world.
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LibraryThing member fastred
Covers the period from the end of Roman Britain to the Norman Conquest of 1066AD. Draws on much recent scholarship, archeology and analysis, but also seeks to provide a coherent narrative for the era. The role of the church and religion, and state formation, are given prominence, as well as key
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individuals both ecclesiastical and royal.
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LibraryThing member CarltonC
It’s interesting to read this book so soon after The First Kingdom by Max Adams, as that book explains in greater detail the first couple of chapters of this book.
This book is an extremely readable gallop through over six hundred years of history, focusing upon a number of prominent individuals
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to carry the story. Morris therefore necessarily has to take a broad brush approach, leaving me dissatisfied with my overall understanding of this period. My main criticism is that the breakdown of Roman Britain, creation of a mass of minor chiefdoms, which become smaller kingdoms that slowly coalescing to form four larger Anglo-Saxon kingdoms is described briefly, but perhaps too simplistically compared to the more nuanced treatment possible in the more detailed The First Kingdom. I would also have liked more consideration of the replacement of British Gaelic with Anglo-Saxon language, but accept that this would have slowed this book’s more political narrative of great men.
What Morris does well is the telling of good individual stories which can be linked to provide an overview of the period. However I came to feel that this created a series of snapshots of prominent wealthy men (Morris apologises at the outset that this is due to the paucity of the records of females) at different places and times. The book also felt imbalanced towards describing events during the end of the period, with the second half of the book covering about 200 years out of the more than 600 years covered by the book. But this gives time to pleasingly explain how the political structural weakness created by the Danish invasion of Cnut helped create the circumstances for the Norman invasion.
Morris has created a very readable and largely enjoyable overview of the period, providing copious notes of available references to allow further more detailed reading, but it did read like a “taster” for the history of the period.
I do now want to read Morris’s book on The Norman Conquest, as I would hope that his apparent narrative skills will work better in concentrating on a shorter period.
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LibraryThing member PhilSyphe
This begins with the same subject as several other books I've read on the Anglo-Saxons: the Romans. This is, of course, off-topic, which is a big pet hate of mine. If I want to read about the Romans, I'll read a book about the Romans.

Therefore, I skipped the Roman section. Just think how much more
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detail could've been included on the Anglo-Saxons if not for this filler material. For example, we could've had a chapter on daily life.

The everyday people and their ways of life is as much a part of Anglo-Saxon history as that of the kings. A blend of the two would've been better.

Much of the narrative is dull and dry, which made me skip several paragraphs.

It's well-researched, though, so if you want dry facts about the kings and churchmen, then give this a read.

The Anglo-Saxon period is, to me, a fascinating period, so on the most part I was disappointed in this book, but certain sections did draw me in.
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LibraryThing member CraigGoodwin
The best history book I've ever read.
Stunning coverage of the period, beautifully written
LibraryThing member JHemlock
This is a wonderfully done volume. Mr. Morris has managed to capture the timeline of Anglo-Saxon Britain. The text is very thorough with a ton of legitimate references to veer the reader off into areas of interest. He does not go off the subject and confuse the reader and makes it very clear that
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this book is about post Roman Britain. Some reviews take a star of two off for the constant mention of Rome. Well...that is kind of important. The fact that they documented everything and left a world where nearly nothing was documented is very important to the development of the timeline. The author does make a point to emphasize who did and did not attempt to move this time line forward in a positive and constructive manner. It does seem that he sugar coated the fact that the Church did everything in their power to stymie overall growth, knowledge and development outside its own walls. Morris does a good job mentioning the rulers and chroniclers that sought to make their world bigger for not only themselves but for their subjects.
The fly in the ointment for the Kingdoms of Britain of course were the Vikings. Many myths are debunked and the light is shed on just who the Danes were and what they were attempting to achieve. 60 percent plunder 40 percent migration. These parts of the book leave us with questions about why the Danes were moving and while not giving us all the answers Morris encourages the reader to look over the horizon for the solution.
The last chapters with the Normans come to a bloody roar and a skin peeling stop. Mr. Morris knows where to draw the line in the sand and upon reading the last page you instantly want to jump into the hard and concrete beginnings of the departure of Britain into England.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

9.53 inches


1786330997 / 9781786330994

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