While human settlements had existed in the area around London since before written history, it was really the Romans that created the city as we know it today. The Romans founded the city, which they named as Londinium, in 43 AD and remained here until the Roman Army completely withdrew from around 409 AD to help defend the Empire from invaders. What few units were left behind ended up being completely overwhelmed by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes that began raiding the country and by the end of the 5th Century, Londinium was practically abandoned.
When the Anglo-Saxons came to London, they actually didn’t take advantage of the pre-built abandoned city but settled a mile west in the 7th Century. The Anglo-Saxons called their settlement Ludenwic and later Ludenberg (meaning “London Fort”) and it was located on the site of what is now Covent Garden. As the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms began to form into what became known as the Heptarchy, London found itself in the Kingdom of Essex. It was around 604 AD that King Sæbert converted to Christianity and Mellitus became the first Bishop of London, however, after Sæbert’s death, his pagan successors had Mellitus expelled from the city. As the Kingdom of Mercia expanded its territory, Essex receded and the city eventually found itself under Mercian control.
Starting around 842, London saw new invaders in the forms of the Danes, who began raids on the city in what was referred to by one historian as “the great slaughter”. They returned in 851 with some-350 ships and burned a large portion of the city. When the Danes returned again in 865, it was as “The Great Heathen Army” that conquered large portions of East Anglia, Northumbria, and Mercia. They reached London in 871 and camped inside the Roman walls. London’s history during this time is largely unrecorded and it likely remained under Danish control leading up to King Alfred the Great’s defeat of the Viking forces in 878.
England then divided itself between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes, with London falling in the area under Danish control, though Alfred’s forces eventually took London back in 886. He repaired the Roman walls and as the Danes left the old Roman settlement, the English moved in for the protection the walls afforded. They brought with them merchants from France and Germany that helped turn London into a bustling community. It was during this time that the name Ludenberg was first used. Alfred established his son-in-law, Æthered of Mercia, as the governor of the city and after his death, King Edward the Elder brought London under his direct control and his descendants, Æthelstan and Æthelred the Unready, turned London into a political center for their kingdom.
The Vikings began raiding again around 994 and were driven from the city on their first attempt but returned in successive raids and forced Æthelred to flee. The lands around London were the scene of constant back-and-forth battles between Æthelred and his successors and the forces of Selwyn Forkbeard and his son, Cnut the Great. Eventually, Cnut prevailed and became the leader of England north of the River Thames, which also included London and later Cnut succeeded in becoming the King of England. By 1042, Cnut’s stepson, Edward the Confessor, succeeded him as king.
It was during Edward’s reign that the first Westminster Abbey was constructed, done in the Norman Romanesque style that Edward preferred. Edward also built the Palace of Westminster, which would become the home of Parliament. This is perhaps the most expansive change the city would have until Edward’s death. Not long after that, the succession of Harold Godwinson and subsequent conquest by King William I ended the post-Roman and Anglo-Saxon era of London’s history and began a new period of history for the city and England as a whole.