Before 1066--

England was not a nation, though the "English" were an identifiable tribal people ruled in seven kingdoms: East, West, and South Saxony (roughly today's counties of Essex, Wessex, and Sussex), Northumbria (North of the Humber River), East Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk), Mercia (central England to Wales), and Kent. The most important ruler of the period, King Alfred of the West Saxons (849-99), was a famous translator who also probably began the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the first historical writing in English. Beowulf probably was written in the century before Alfred's reign, and The Battle of Maldon was written in the century after Alfred's reign, when weaker English kings and warmer weather allowed the Vikings to raid more freely along the coast. In 1066, the Norman duke William, taking advantage of this same situation to advance a fairly strong claim to have inherited the English throne, defeated Harold II at Hastings and proclaimed himself William I. William's conquest brought England the beginnings of a unified central government.


Before 1066, the Christian Church was the single most powerful force for the preservation of literature (and for its creation), and artists were more likely to be affected by the attitude toward literature held by bishops, like Aethelwold (?908-84) and Alcuin (English name, Ealhwine, 735-804). Alcuin was famous for specifically supporting production of religious works and for opposing the creation and copying of secular ones, asking scriptorium monks about a famous hero mentioned in Beowulf, "Quid Hinieldus cum Christo?" or "What has Ingeld to do with Christ?"