The Dark Ages, the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Norman Conquest, is one of the few periods in which the history of the Isle of Wight is little known. There are two main contemporary historical sources available for this period - the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, and Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People. These, however, tell mainly of major political events occurring on the Island - invasions, battles and conquests, and not so much of day-to-day life. For these we rely on other sources of information, as well as modern excavations and interpretation of legends that have survived since Saxon times.
The history of the Isle of Wight during Anglo-Saxon times cannot be studied alone, for much of what happened to affect the Isle of Wight also affected the mainland also. In order to understand the events that happened on the Island, often we need to understand the wider political and social events that were occurring on the mainland, and also in Continental Europe. The Island, after all, traded with, and was influenced by, outside events.
Yet despite this, a study of Anglo-Saxon Wight is rewarding in itself, for in many ways the Anglo-Saxon Isle of Wight acted as a barometer for what was to occur on the mainland. This is true in particular of the Danish raids around the turn of the century, and the events leading up to the Norman Invasion. The Isle of Wight was in a perfect strategic position to either attack, or defend, mainland Britain.
Another point of interest is that much of Isle of Wight history over the last thousand years can be seen to have been caused and influenced by events in Anglo-Saxon times, despite their happening a thousand years before. Studying Anglo-Saxon Wight not only tells us more about England of the period, but also the Isle of Wight today.
Introducing the Chronicles
The Anglo Saxon chronicles are a collection of documents written during the Anglo-Saxon period (between 450 AD - 1066 AD) of British history. The chronicle was started in the reign of King Alfred of Wessex near the end of the ninth century, and continued until 1154.
The Anglo Saxon chronicles are unique in being a collective history of Anglo-Saxon Britain1 during the 'Dark Ages'. It was the first continuous national history of a European people in their own language.
It was Anglo-Saxon practice to deposit duplicate copies of important documents in different places - both to ensure their survival, and also to make sure a copy was at hand no matter where the King happened to be in the Kingdom. Due to this, the chronicles developed into a series of related documents with regional variations. Quotes from the Chronicles are taken from a variation of the different manuscripts, as translated by M.J. Swanton.
The chronicles are a unique insight into the Anglo-Saxon world, but narrate events in a style similar to that found in the Old Testament of the Bible. Many have found that this limits their usefulness as a guide to day-to-day life in particular areas of the country. Despite this, they prove an invaluable guide to historians researching this period, even on a local scale.
In these articles that cover Anglo-Saxon Wight, every mention of the Isle of Wight in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles until 1066 will be mentioned, and quoted.