Early Medieval

The end of Roman Britain has been portrayed as cataclysmic, with sudden large scale incursions of foreign (German) raiders descending on a helpless population. This is the era of Vortigern, the proud tyrant who foolishly invited Saxon armies to defend Britain, recently abandoned by her Roman masters, who then took advantage of British weakness to settle; and of King Arthur, who unified Britain to resist these invaders. However, these stories are not entirely accurate.

The Saxons and others did come from Germany, but some were already here as they had served in the Roman army. As Roman authority declined then the Saxons did step into the void, and we see differences in both settlements and material culture. West Stow in Suffolk is a good example of the changed nature of houses, as the native Romano-British increasingly disappear from the archaeological record. We don’t know what happened to them; some moved west, some fled into remote areas like the Cambridgeshire Fens, others fell to invasion, plague and famine, and the rest appear to have adopted the culture and language of the newcomers. Hence today we speak English not Latin.

There is no activity with Caldecote that can be allocated to this period. The Roman farmsteads were abandoned in the 5th century, and although there is some evidence of 5th century Saxon activity around Cambourne, there is no evidence of settlement in this area, although elsewhere in the county and region we have extensive information about their settlements and cemeteries. Saxons favoured river wide locations and well-drained soils, and had plenty of land to move onto. 

Anglo-Saxon England prior to the 9th century comprised of a series of kingdoms, and the relationships (martial and marital) between these are key to their understanding. Cambridgeshire formed the boundary initially between the kingdoms of Mercia and East Anglia. A smaller kingdom known as the Gyrwas existed to the north in the fens, although by the time we hear of it is already subject to the kings of East Anglia.

East Anglia was a dominant kingdom in the 6th and 7th century. The influence of its kings can be seen in the burial at Sutton Hoo, where imports and riches from across Europe and beyond are found and Aethelthryth daughter the King Of East Anglia, founded Ely Abbey, which was to become one the most powerful places in mediaeval England. However, this dominance was increasingly challenged by Mercia which finally absorbed East Anglia as a client kingdom in the 8th century.

The 9th century saw the re-establishment of settlement in Cambridge, and increasingly stability and sophistication of material culture across the region. This was potentially upset by the Vikings, who first raided in the 790s and by the 840s were a regular threat.

The word ‘Viking’ is actually derived from the Old English word denoting a pirate. Initially they were searching for loot and wealth to take home, increasingly the raids became larger and in 850AD, the Viking army overwintered rather than return home. In 869 the East Anglian King Edmund was defeated and killed, and according to the chronicles of the time, many places including Ely, Peterborough and probably Cambridge are sacked.

However, the army then settled down, presumably intermarried with the local population and to all intents and purposes became resident. The Treaty of Wedmore in 878 divided England into two along the Roman Road of Watling Street, running from London to Chester. The north and east, including Cambridgeshire, was passed to the Vikings and is known as the Danelaw, the south and west remained Saxon under the Kings of Wessex. In 921 Edward the Elder of Wessex invaded Bedford and Huntingdon, defeating the army and accepted the subjugation of the people, and Cambridgeshire was brought back into English control.

England was finally unified under one king by Edgar the Peaceable in the 960s, and he was crowned as such in 973. Edgar also encouraged the reintroduction of Benedictine monasteries, and supported the re-establishment of places such as Ely and Peterborough, plus new establishments like Ramsey. Smaller monastic establishments such as St Neots and Swavesey were also created. 

The most important consequence of the reunification of England under one king and the promotion of monasteries was the associated formation of the medieval English landscape. Much of what is considered to be mediaeval, such as nucleated settlements, with manors, churches, farmlands. Woodlands, mills etc actually originates from the mid-10th century across several areas of the country, including Cambridgeshire. Caldecote is no exception, and by the Battle of Hastings in 1066 mediaeval England was born.

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