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Romans in Celtic Britain
Christian kingdoms
     Rival kings and bishops
     Norman-French ambitions

The process of union
Ireland uneasy

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Rival kings and bishops: 5th - 11th century

In all parts of the British Isles, in the centuries after the Roman departure from England and Wales, tribal chieftains struggle to control wider areas and thus to enjoy higher prestige than any of their rivals.

Ireland is the first in which any family makes significant progress. In the 5th century the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages (who dies in about 405) are already called kings of Ireland, though their real power does not extend beyond Ulster. Anglo-Saxon kings in regions of England confront Celtic chieftains in Wales, along a line which becomes stablized in the 8th century as Offa's Dyke. In Scotland the Picts and Scots acknowledge a joint king by the 9th century.


Meanwhile a less violent struggle has emerged between Celtic and Roman Christianity, the two forms differing only in minor details - the Celtic variety, deriving from Ireland, and Roman Catholicism, reintroduced to Britain by missionaries from Rome. Once the differences are resolved, British Christian missionaries move energetically into pagan northern Europe.

But by the 9th century pagans from Scandinavia pose a new threat to the British Isles. Vikings plunder the rich monasteries of Scotland and Ireland. Danes invade eastern England. And in the 11th century descendants of the Vikings, by now Christian and more civilized as Normans, achieve the conquest which introduces a new era of English history.


Norman-French ambitions: 11th - 14th century

The abiding theme within the British Isles, after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, is the continuing effort of the kings of England to dominate the neighbouring regions of Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

The kings crowned in Westminster are French in both origin and culture (Henry V, who comes to the throne in 1413, is the first to be fully at ease in spoken and written English). By contrast the chieftains in the other parts of the British Isles are Celtic, for these are regions which the Anglo-Saxons have not penetrated.


The first Celtic region in which the Normans achieve any semblance of dominance is Ireland, where the visit of Henry II in 1171 results in an ostensibly English administration in Dublin. Wales keeps the aggressive neighbours at bay for a little longer, but is then more thoroughly suppressed; Edward I brings the principality firmly under English control in the late 13th century.

Scotland, by contrast, remains entirely beyond the grasp of the English. Edward I's attempts to interfere are followed by successful wars of Scottish independence. By the late 14th century the Stewart dynasty is securely on the throne.


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