Alternative History
Ethelred the Pious

- False Dmitri -


The 11th Century saw the unification of England, the first Christian king in Norway, and the first Norse settlements in North America. A new empire rose in the West to claim the mantle of Caesar and Charlemagne. The Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba collapsed, giving some breathing space to the small Christian states of northern Spain; but Andalusian culture continued to flourish despite its political disunity. At the end of the century, cooperation in a war forged tentative new links between Eastern and Western Christendom.

Scandinavia and Britain

Sweyn's kingdom

The century began with Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark continuing his conquests in England. He united England for the first time, which he passed on to his son Cnut. Cnut soon took over Denmark and established an empire that included Norway and much of Sweden.

The empire did not live much longer than he did. His son Sweyn II lived most of his life in Denmark. Cnut wanted his son to succeed him in all of his kingdoms, but the English nobles would not let that happen easily. They split into three factions: the first supported Sweyn; the second backed Olaf of Kent, a descendant of many of the great Anglo-Norse families; and a third, mainly the remaining English pagans, made a push for Bragi of Bernik. Though things looked uncertain at first, Olaf gained the upper hand and assumed the throne in 1038.

Olaf kept England's capital at Jórvik, but he was a southerner and brought a southern sensibility to the kingship. His was England's first fully Christian court. But Olaf still depended on pagans among his supporters. England remained a kingdom with two religions, though Christianity now clearly had the backing of the state.

Central and Western Europe

The first half of the 11th century was the age of the Tolosan dynasty's rule of the Western Roman Empire. This empire was never much more than a belated recreation of the southern half of the old Frankish realm. Beset by rebellions and family strife, it fell apart soon after an invasion by the independent Pyrenees Moors (the emirate of Al-Darra) in the 1030s.


Duke Godfrey of Burgundy fought a successful war against the Moors in the 1040s and for this was made Emperor after Arnulf of Albi, the last Tolosan dynast, was killed in 1047. Godfrey and his son Godfrey II turned away from the unreliable feudal bonds that had been the basis for the revived Western empire up to that point. Instead they worked with the bishops and merchants, both located in the cities, to create a more cohesive political order. A series of naval campaigns by Godfrey II fixed the empire's orientation on the Mediterranean rather than central Europe. By 1100 the empire was in many ways similar to the older empire in the East.

North of the Alps, the three late Frankish kingdoms evolved separate political structures and fought petty wars against each other. These three states - Neustria, Lotharingia, and Germany - formed the basis of the northern European political structure for the rest of the medieval period. To outsiders, the people of all three kingdoms kept the old barbarian appellation of Franks - and, indeed, for the entire century Lotharingia was still ruled by kings who claimed descent from the Carolingian family. The three spoke different Romance and Germanic languages, but they shared a common political and religious culture stemming from their Frankish heritage. Feudalism advanced in all three realms, even as it was arrested in the Empire.

Spain, Andalusia, and the Maghreb

In 1000, the Umayyad Caliphate was at the height of its power, but it began to collapse upon the death of Vizier al-Mansur in 1002. A succession crisis in 1031 quickly caused the caliphate to disintegrate into numerous tiny emirates, often called the taifas. The Umayyad breakup saved the remaining Christian kingdoms from certain annihilation.

Several of the taifas remained powerful and vibrant, in particular Toledo and Al-Darra. Al-Darra, bastion of Muslim culture in the northeast, began expanding its territory beginning in the 1050s, capturing Jaca in the Pyrennes and Tolosa in southern Gaul.

In the 1050s, the Maghreb (North Africa) saw the rise of the powerful and fanatical Almoravid empire. The Almoravids conquered Morocco in c. 1054 and founded the city of Marrakech in 1062 to serve as a capital. Andalusia, across the Mediterranean, was unstable in the late part of the century, but it was anchored by powerful states such as Nawar, Toledo, and Al-Darra, and Sunni control of the peninsula was never in doubt. Instead, the Almoravids turned their jihadist energies eastward, against the expanding influence of the Shi'ite Fatimid Caliphs based in Cairo.

The Almoravids invaded the Hammadid emirate of Algeria in 1081; by the end of the century, the Hammadid state would be destroyed, with the Almoravids firmly in control of most of its territory and Fatimid-sponsored Bedouin Arabs occupying the eastern end. Both sides were relentless and close to evenly matched. The most significant consequence of their long struggle was the destruction of cities and towns across the central Maghreb.

In the far northwest, Christian Spain at the start of the century consisted of the two kingdoms of Santiago and Castile. The two united in 1020, and in 1036, Castile fell, leaving Santiago as the sole Christian kingdom in Spain. The little country flourished in the mid and late 11th century and by the end of it had taken some pieces of territory from the surrounding Moorish states.

The Eastern Mediterranean

In the later part of the century, the most significant development in the East was the rise of the Seljuk Turkish empire. From their base in Persia, the Seljuks conquered all Asian lands to the west. Their victory at Manzikert in 1071 dealt a crushing blow to East Roman power in Asia Minor, though that area soon came under an independent Seljuk state, known as the Sultanate of Rûm.

The Anatolian War of the late 1090s destroyed the Sultanate of Rûm and reconquered much of Asia Minor, though the Danishmend Turks, who had made an alliance with the Romans, remained in control of eastern Anatolia. The Eastern Emperor Alexios accomplished this reconquest through an alliance with not just the Danishmends, but with the Western Emperor, William II. The victory strengthened economic and cultural links between the Eastern and Western empires.

The Distant Isles

Greenlandic Norse sailed south during this period and discovered a new island, which they named Widland - Wood Land - after its chief usefulness to them. Word of the new land spread to the Icelandic and English sailors in the North Atlantic. A number of settlement and raiding parties from Iceland and England set out for Widland after the 1030s, led largely by landless younger sons of noblemen. To be sure, they formed a trickle rather than a flood, but they turned the winter camps of the original wood choppers into permanent homesteads and villages.

The Skrælings, or Beothuk people, fought back against the Viking raids, but they were weakened by diseases that the newcomers brought. The Beothuk also peacefully traded with the Widlanders. Horses, sheep, and cattle were widespread among the Beothuk and on nearby islands by 1100.

Widland's large northern peninsula was the area of densest Scandinavian settlement, while the largest Beothuk villages were in the Notre Dame Bay region. A few Norse settlements were also established on the south coast and on Nutisku (Anticosti) Island. A Norse presence was felt on the coastal mainland to the northwest, called Markland, but in 1100 there were still no permanent settlements, only seasonal timber camps.

Meanwhile, in the older Norse colony of Iceland, the complex world of constantly feuding chieftains grew even more so as fishermen began arriving from Nawar. Nawar was a Basque emirate ruled by a Norse elite, and the maritime traditions of both cultures combined to produce a great expansion of its fishing and trading activities. The Nawari also brought a new religion, Islam, to Iceland. The influx of newcomers disrupted Icelandic society enough that many of the old conflicts were put aside. The island finally achieved the old dream of forming a peaceful, lasting Althing in 1040.


By the end of the 11th century, Scandinavia was a mix of Christians and pagans. Denmark by far was the most Christian of the emerging Nordic nations, with an Archbishop sitting in Lund and many churches and monasteries dotting the landscape. In Sweden and Norway, tension continued between followers of the old gods and the new One. In England, especially in the north, rulers and peasants alike held fast to paganism. Many monastic groups had relocated to Wales, Ireland, or France, but others remained. Some Scandinavians, particularly in the South among the lesser nobility and landholding peasants, did convert to Christianity. The English kings continued to court the Archbishops of Canterbury and Jorvik as allies, or sought to control them. In all, England remained a mixed country, the pagan minority still an important component of society.

The papacy itself increasingly came under the influence of the Western Roman Emperors after the accession of the Burgundian dynasty around mid-century. This weakened the Pope's claim to universality and prompted calls for more independence among the churches of northern Europe.

The loss of both southern France and Anatolia to Muslim empires shook Christian rulers. Talk began of an international effort to retake land for Christ. The Anatolian War began against the Seljuk rulers of Jerusalem in 1095. This effort helped set the stage for more dialogue between church leaders of the East and the West.


Kings and Gods in the Nordic Lands

All over Scandinavia, the early 11th century was a time of transition when the old gods and the new God existed in a state of balance. Sweyn Forkbeard, the Danish king who conquered England in the 990s, embodied the tensions of the times. He was a Christian, but he seems to have approached Jesus as another god in the Nordic pantheon, someone to call upon for a favor. Sweyn returned home to Denmark in 1002 after eight years in England. After a brief war to regain control of the country, he spent the rest of his life enjoying the spoils of his double kingdom. When he died in 1018, his control was strong enough that his son Cnut was accepted as king in both countries without opposition. Cnut understood the faith much better than his father. He worked closely with the bishops in his kingdoms and sent envoys to Rome.

The fate of King Olaf II of Norway also illustrates this time of transition, and it also contributed to the growth of Cnut's power. Olaf consolidated his rule over all Norway early in the century. He was the first king to rule the entire country in fact as well as in name. He was also Norway's first Christian king, having converted as a young man fighting in Santiago in Spain. As part of his program to build royal power, he issued a decree that essentially made Christianity the religion of the entire kingdom. This was unpopular with the nobility of Norway. They drove Olaf out of the country. He fled east and eventually made his way to Kiev. The nobles then invited Cnut to rule as their king. The fact that Cnut was also Christian illustrates just how complicated the situation was.

So by 1018, Cnut's rule was established in Denmark, Norway, England, Ireland, and the Isles. But he tried to keep expanding his territory. He got bogged down when he invaded Sweden in 1020. After raising a large army in England, Cnut left Denmark and Norway in the hands of a relative, Ulf Jarl. Ulf then proceeded to turn against Chut and make a pact with the Swedish king. Deep in Swedish territory, Cnut had to turn around and deal with the instability at home. After Ulf was killed in battle, Cnut took his army again into Sweden, but was unable to win a decisive victory. He built a few fortresses, garrisoned them with loyal English retainers, and went back to England's green and pleasant land to live out his later years. He spent most of the rest of his life in England save a few brief trips to Denmark and a pilgrimage to Spain in 1033. He did what he could to shore up the succession before dying in 1035.

The religious situation in Cnut's empire remained in flux. Cnut had promoted Christianity without particularly attacking paganism. His son Sweyn was unable to hold together the centrifugally moving parts of his father's empire. He secured his rule as "King of the Danes and Goths" in Denmark and Gotland. But Norway and England went their separate ways. Norway returned to paganism with the election of Kálfr Árnason. In England, supporters of Sweyn disputed the succession with Olaf of Kent and Bragi of Bernik, two magnates who respectively represented the interests of the far south and the far north of the kingdom.

The Frankish Kingdoms

Western Europe in 1050

By the start of the eleventh century, the old Frankish empire of Charlemagne had become permanently fractured. The southern tier of states - the Kingdoms of Aquitaine, Provence, and Italy - recognized the authority of the Tolosan emperors. They had their base of power in the empire's southwestern frontier facing Spain; the basis of their authority was their ability to defend that border against Moorish raiders. Institutionally, the Tolosan Empire continued the late Carolingian empire that had disintegrated in the last century: a decentralized concatenation of local kingdoms and duchies in which the Emperor had great dignity but little real power. The most successful emperor of the era was Raymond II, who died in 1015. Raymond defended and fortified a permanent border with the Caliphate, assuring its survival for another generation.

To the north, this era witnessed the development of the kingdoms that would dominate the politics of Catholic Europe throughout the next several centuries. In government, land use, and social structure, all followed a similar pattern of feudal monarchy: a king ruling through cooperation with the Church and the powerful landed aristocracy, who provided the mounted knights that were the backbone of military power.

Neustria, founded in the wake of the Robertian rebellion of 930, was a decentralized feudal country by 1000. Violence among the nobles was tempered by the spread of religious reform. Lotharingia also suffered from feudal disintegration. The minor nobles, mostly descendants of the Carolingians, fought one another for the royal title. The Dukes of Anguèlènie, by now unquestionably the most powerful nobles in the kingdom, played the role of kingmaker and frequently dominated whoever happened to be on the throne. The autonomous coastal communities of Frisia mostly stayed aloof as they developed their growing commercial towns.

Germany emerged as the most powerful of the three kingdoms - in the first half of the century, the most powerful Christian state on the Continent. The German kings expanded southeastward into the borders of Italy, threatening the control of the Tolosan Emperors. But conflict with the Slavs and especially the Magyars prevented the Germans from making a final push south to recapture the Imperial title. Raids from Denmark and Angelania further threatened Germany's borders. Throughout the period, the kingdom functioned as a confederation of duchies rather than a unitary state.

The duchies of Burgundy and Swabia, lying between Germany and Italy, were variously under the influence of both. When the Empire was weak, Burgundy was independent while Swabia was subject to the German kings. When the Emperor Godfrey I came to power in 1047, he tried to draw Swabia into vassalage to himself. Duke Henry of Swabia accepted, but in reality he ruled independently. After Godfrey's death in 1059, the duke did not renew his vows of fealty and Swabia became an independent duchy.

Rise of the Taifas

The breakup of the Umayyad Caliphate in 1031 follows the events of OTL; here I'm mainly going to describe what's different in this timeline.

The Umayyad caliphate was torn by internal struggles almost from the very start of the eleventh century. In 1031 it collapsed with spectacular suddenness. Local leaders took direct control of their territories, which became known as the taifas (from Arabic طائفة , ta'ifa, "faction" or "division"). Most leaders took the title of emir and based themselves in a major city.

The disintegration of the caliphate did not have the effect of weakening Andalusian civilization. On the contrary, the emirs competed culturally as well as militarily, and the era saw the flowering of arts and learning in many cities: an important effect was thus decentralizing the culture as many centers rose to rival Cordoba. In the northern part of the peninsula, the emirs in fact grew more aggressive toward their Christian neighbors than the caliphs had been, seeing expansion into Christian territory as a way to gain power and prestige relative to their rivals.

The emirate of Nawar had been founded the century earlier by Norse invaders who had allied with the Caliph and converted to Islam. It had extended its rule over a sizable chunk of the Basque country. Now its emir Abd al-Malik vigorously extended his rule over much of the northern mountains. In 1035 he marched against the Christians to the west. The Nawari seized all of Castile and tore down the walls of Burgos, ending the kingdom's existence. The following year, al-Malik continued pushing westward, conquering the Muslim taifa of León and threatening Santiago, the last Christian-ruled city in Spain. Santiago's king Alfonso was captured in battle and executed soon after.

But Santiago's next king Calisto I was able to mount a counterattack, taking advantage of al-Malik's overextended resources. He captured León from the Nawari. This was of great symbolic importance because that city had been the capital of a Christian kingdom before its conquest by the Umayyads a century earlier. Controlling it allowed Calisto to establish a defensible frontier and preserve his kingdom in the northwest corner of Spain.

The other northern emirate, al-Dara, also took the opportunity to take territory from its neighbors. Beginning in 1033, the emirate began to push far into Aquitania, which happened to be the base of power of the Western Roman Emperors of the Tolosan line. By the reign of Emperor Pons (1036-1044), they had overrun all of the marcher lordships along the border. This badly destabilized the imperial dynasty and directly led to its fall.

The contest for the English throne

Sweyn Forkbeard had united England's two rival kingdoms by conquest in 998, and for the next generation he and his son Cnut had ruled the land as the richest part of an empire spanning much of the Nordic world. The triumph of Olaf of Kent marked the first time that England was ruled as a single kingdom by an English king. The conflict by which Olaf I came to power is known as the Cnutsson's War.

The Burgundian Caesars

The Tolosan line of emperors had built their reputation on fighting the Moors, but Analusia's explosion into aggressive taifas was a greater threat than their fragmented imperial system could handle. The death of Emperor Pons in battle brought on political chaos and hastened the end of the dynasty. Pons' son Raymond was quickly deposed by his cousin, Hugh V, King of Italy. But the Aquitanian lords, on whom the burden of the war largely fell, rejected him and promoted another member of the family, Arnulf of Albi. Arnulf soon had Hugh killed. Unsurprisingly none of these rivals were in any position to defend the realm. In 1047 the Moors besieged Tolosa, the traditional dynastic seat. Arnulf was captured, his ransom bankrupted Aquitania, and right away the Moors advanced into Provença.

In Provença, a new army finally stopped the Saracen advance. Godfrey was the duke of Burgundy, a duchy that only intermittently had recognized the authority of the Tolosan emperors. Godfrey was able to rally armies of the Provençal and Italian lords, counterattack, and drive the Moors back over the massif of Auvernha. He made no attempt to advance further, abandoning most of Aquitania to al-Dara, but he stemmed the advance and saved Provença and Italy. The nobles and people clamored to make him their Emperor, and the Pope quickly fulfilled their wish.

Godfrey laid the foundation for a vigorous new Western Empire constituted on a very different basis than its predecessors. The empire of Godfrey was on a relatively small piece of territory and closely tied to the Mediterranean. Initially his power rested on a large domain of land in the western end: his hereditary lands in Burgundy and many large estates in Provença and Auvernha that he had seized in the course of his military campaigns. This alone put him in a much stronger position than any of his nobles, removing a factor that had hampered the Tolosan and late Carolingian emperors. Furthermore, Godfrey knew the dangers and weaknesses of a powerful nobility, so he looked for support beyond that traditional class to the leaders in the small but growing Italian cities: the bishops and merchants. Godfrey was unable to change the old Frankish system overnight, but he set in motion forces that would radically transform the empire in later generations.

It was during the reign of the next emperor Godfrey II that the empire truly assumed its distinctive form. The great families of Italy greeted his accession in 1059 by staging a major rebellion. They named a rival king of Italy and raised an army to keep Godfrey out. After Godfrey put down the revolt, he used the lands he confiscated to enlarge the royal domain and reward the cities and the Church.

Godfrey II made further reforms by orienting the empire toward the Mediterranean. He outfitted a fleet in Massilia and successfully campaigned against Arabs in Corsica and Sardinia. During his reign, Corsica was brought fully under imperial rule, while Sardinia remained contested. The port of Massilia became Godfrey II's preferred place to hold court, and eventually it became the permanent imperial capital. Beginning at Pavia, Godfrey II also set up a line of customs posts along the Po River. These moves encouraged trade and further tied Godfrey's rule to Italian civic life.

By Godfrey's death in 1090, the unwieldy loose-knit realm of the Carolingians and Tolosans was transforming into a very different institution. Godfrey's son William II inherited an empire whose center increasingly lay in the cities of Provença and northern Italy. Only a few autonomous sub-monarchies remained: Burgundy, which remained largely an imperial domain; Rome, which though ruled by the Pope acknowledged the Emperor as the higher temporal authority; and the Duchies of Friuli and Spoleto, which were the only large Lombard states still surviving. Friuli would become a center of resistance to William's power in the next century.

England alone and united

The England of the 1030s that Olaf came to rule was fully coming into its own as a distinct nation. Its old mix of Anglo-Saxon and Norse ways was now perceived as a single culture, though with regional variations. Christianity and paganism maintained their uneasy truce. Olaf was more secure on his throne than any English king for generations, but he still lacked the strength to persecute the pagans, who still comprised a majority in the northern regions all around the capital (though the city of Jorvik itself was by now largely Christian).

England was also a politically well-integrated state. The most powerful autonomous region, Kent, was now in the safe hands of the royal family. Only a few distinct jarldoms remain, most in the interior of the country; the rest of the land was divided into royal shires where the local nobility were important, to be sure, but they did not rule. The accession of the House of Kent ushered in an era of stability in the kingdom.

This was not the case to the west. Wales, Ireland and Kernow contained many small states. Their rulers had both Norse and Celtic blood, and they had been beholden to Viking overlords based in England since the Conquest in the late Ninth Century. Sweyn Forkbeard, having consolidated all the Nordic states of the British Isles, gladly assumed suzerainty over all these petty kings. But with the end of the Danish empire in Britain, many wanted to assert their independence.

The result was the Welsh Rebellion, in which the kingdoms of Wales and Ireland rose up to repudiate Olaf's rule. Olaf concentrated his attack in the northwest. His army was composed of vassals from the South and of the freemen among the Normans (in TTL, that name having been applied to the descendants of Norwegian settlers in the region of OTL Lancashire). He led English arms across the border and conquered much of north Wales, the lands of Powys and Gwynedd. Olaf next conspired with a faction in Ireland to depose the king of Dublin, a Norse-Gaelic descendant of Harald Greycloak. The new king made himself a close ally of the English, and with their support worked to extend Dublin's territory and rule over all the Norse-founded kingdoms of eastern Ireland.

Meanwhile, the southern Welsh kingdoms, including Kernow, rebuffed the smaller armies that Olaf sent against them. When the king prepared to lead a royal army into their territories, they all capitulated, but their initial victory put them in a decent position. They accepted a loose vassalage similar to what they had enjoyed under the Danish kings. Though their northern neighbors had been destroyed, their rebellion had paid off for now.

During the rest of Olaf's reign and that of his son Voldemar I (reigned 1075-1091), England continued to engage more with its neighbors on the islands than with continental Scandinavia. Voldemar himself married a Scottish princess. England thrived under the Kentish dynasty's leadership. After the Welsh rebellions, the kingdom enjoyed an era of peace.


The Almoravid (al-Murabit) Emirate rose as a puritanical religious movement in the western Sahara in the middle of the century. After winning the allegiance of many of the local tribes, the dynasty began a campaign of conquest and was in command of the northwestern corner of the continent by 1080. The Almoravid ruler Yusuf ibn Tashfin, who conquered Tlemcen and Oran, founded Marrakech to be the new capital.

In the mid-1080s Yusuf, by now advanced in years, sent the first expeditions to Andalusia, and in 1087 he crossed over himself. He intervened on the pretext of helping an ally against a rival taifa, but he and his followers also viewed the rulers of the taifas, and Andalusian culture in general, as worldly and decadent. Bringing order here was a religious mission. But the Almoravids did not desire a long campaign or a massive conquest in al-Andalus. They took the smallest and most unstable taifas in the far south, but they did not advance further north to challenge the larger emirates - Batalyaws (Badajoz), Zaraqusta (Zaragoza), Tulaytulah (Toledo), al-Dara, and Nawar. The emir of Zaraqusta made an alliance with the incoming Almoravids, taking advantage of the situation to seize much of the east coast and the Balearic islands.

After securing the far south of Spain, Yusuf returned to Africa. His last campaign, largely carried out by his son Ali, smashed its way westward against the Hammadid emirate in 1092. The capital Bejaia fell in 1096. At this point, their main foes became the Banu Hilal, a Bedouin tribe aligned with the Shiite Fatima Caliphs in Egypt. The fight against the tribe led Ali to advance still further west. The Zirid emir of Ifriqiya, who was also under constant threat by the Banu Hilal, became an Almoravid vassal. In this way the dynasty extended its power over almost the entire Maghreb.

This focus on Africa meant that the Almoravids put little attention into their Andalusian domains. Already by 1100 some cities in the central peninsula were moving toward independence. Almoravid power was based on the southern coast. But their presence was still significant: Spain now had two competing traditions of Islam alongside its earlier Christian culture, the last of which survived in the northern kingdom of Santiago; in the Pyrenees, where the al-Dara emirate was starting to fragment; and among the Mozarabs who lived throughout the lands ruled by Muslims.

East and West

In the 1090s, the Eastern and Western Roman Empires cooperated in a reconquest of Seljuk-occupied Asia Minor, what is now known as the Anatolian War. The war was the brainchild of Eastern Emperor Alexios I. He asked the help of the newly crowned Western Emperor William II. The resulting effort sparked a new era in the relations between the two empires, and therefore of the two churches and societies, of the eastern and western Mediterranean.

Emperor William did not personally command the resources necessary to conduct the war. He had to rely on feudal connections outside Italy, to the knights and lords of Provença and Burgundy. He also asked the knights of the Frankish kingdoms for their help. Neustria and Lotharingia especially proved receptive to a religious call to arms put out by Pope Stephen IX.

Englebrog.PNG Century Pages for Ethelred the Pious

9th | 10th | 11th | 12th
Front page | Main timeline