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East Anglia, kingdom of

East Anglia, kingdom of. Anglo-Saxon migrants, possibly with some Frisian elements, settled early in East Anglia in the late 5th and early 6th cents. Its difficult western boundary in the Fens ensured a degree of independence and the East Angles preserved in what became the two shires of Norfolk and Suffolk their own social and agrarian customs deep into the Middle Ages. Their ruling dynasty, the Wuffingas, appears to have had some affinity with Sweden. The greatest of their early rulers, Rædwald, who died c.625, was probably the king commemorated in the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo. He had been baptized a Christian, though he still followed pagan practices, and it was not until the generation after his death that the East Angles were converted. Bishoprics were set up at Dunwich (until the Danish invasions, 870) and at North Elmham. In the 8th cent. the East Angles fell increasingly under Mercian control, and their young king Æthelred was murdered on a visit to Offa's court, a particularly brutal and treacherous act which prompted Offa to penitence, payment to Rome, and the foundation of St Albans abbey. East Anglia played an important part in events that led to the emergence of Wessex against Mercia as the dominant power in England in 825 and 829, but bore the main brunt of the Danish invasions later in the century. Its last king, St Edmund, was martyred in November 870, and for a period East Anglia was governed by Scandinavian kings, notably by Guthrum (870–80). On its recovery by Edward the Elder and Athelstan, East Anglia was absorbed into the shire system of what was to become a united England, and governed by ealdormen.

Henry Loyn

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