Historical Background to
The Middle Ages in England, in their broadest sense, are generally taken to begin in the fifth century A.D. at the time of the Roman withdrawal from Britain and the invasion of the country by Angles, Saxons, and Jutes from what is now Denmark and northern Germany. Over the following centuries, the invaders expanded their area of control at the expense of the native Celtic Britons and eventually consolidated into a single Anglo- Saxon kingdom of England. By the last years of this kingdom in the first half of the eleventh century the Anglo-Saxons had established control over all of present-day England, including western Cornwall, which still spoke Cornish, a descendant of the language of the Britons. They also had considerable authority over Wales, whose inhabitants spoke Welsh, another descendant of the British language. To the north, Scotland was an independent kingdom albeit with close ties to England.
In 1066, King Edward the Confessor died, and there was a dispute over the English crown between an English lord, Harold Godwinson, and William, Duke of Normandy. William invaded England, and Harold was defeated and killed at the Battle of Hastings. William became king, and the native English aristocracy was largely supplanted by French-speaking Normans.
Under the Norman kings, England began to expand its authority. In 1166 Norman lords under Henry II invaded and conquered Ireland, although over the centuries many of the invaders assimilated to the native Irish culture and effective English control came to be limited to parts of the eastern coast. Henry also succeeded in acquiring most of northern and