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In 829 Northumbria had also acknowledged Egbert's overlordship, but there was scant sense that Wessex would emerge as the centre of an English state. 14 A HISTORY OF THE BRITISH ISLES SOCIETY The nature of the sources ensure that any account of society in the British Isles in the half-millennium after the ending of political links with Rome is necessarily tentative. Archaeological research can only reveal so much, particularly for the life of the bulk of the population, and written sources are very limited.

Cnut's empire fell apart after his death. His son Harthacnut, who succeeded to Denmark and had a claim to England, was challenged for the latter by his half-brother, Harold Harefoot. Powerful «upport from the earls of Mercia and Wessex led Harold to gain control of the entire kingdom in 1037. Harthacnut replaced him when Harold died in 1040, only himself to die without children in 1042. Although the Norwegians continued to be important around the Irish Sea and in northern and western Scotland, the Viking age was over in England.

They have a very varied topography, climate and natural vegetation. We should be careful about projecting the modern environment on to the past: climate and economic factors, even the coastline and water levels, were different. Yet in simple terms the bulk of the west and north of Britain are higher and wetter, their soils poorer and their agriculture pastoral rather than arable: centred on animals not crops. Much of Ireland is like west and north Britain, although there is less high land. Yet there are many exceptions to this description of the British Isles as a result of a complex geological history and of great climatic variations.

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