What happened to London after the Roman withdrawal is still the subject of much historical debate. While the Dark Ages have become considerably better illuminated in the past two decades with archaeological finds and improved technology, there remain several key unknowns including whether or not the Roman walled city was ever entirely abandoned. Most historians now think that some form of Romano-British continuity survived even as Saxon settlers established themselves throughout the southeast of England.

Lundenwic (or London marketplace) was established due west of Londinium (around Aldwych) as a Saxon trade settlement and by the early 7th century the Saxons were converted from paganism to Christianity. Rome designated Lundenwic as a diocese and the first St Paul's Cathedral was established at the top of Ludgate Hill.

Saxon settlement was predominantly outside the city walls to the west, towards what is now Aldwych and Charing Cross, but the settlement became the victim of its own success when it attracted the Vikings of Denmark, who raided the city in 842 and burned it to the ground 10 years later. Under the leadership of King Alfred the Great of Wessex, the Saxon population fought back, drove the Danes out in 886 and re-established what soon became Lundunburg as the major centre of trade.

Saxon London grew into a prosperous and well-organised town divided into 20 wards, each with its own alderman, and resident colonies of German merchants and French vintners. But the Danes wouldn't let it lie, and Viking raids finally broke the weakening Saxon leadership, which was forced to accept the Danish leader Canute as king of England in 1016.

With the death of Canute's son Harthacanute in 1042, the throne passed to the Saxon Edward the Confessor, who went on to found an abbey and palace at Westminster on what was then an island at the mouth of the River Tyburn (which now flows underground). When Edward moved his court to Westminster, he established divisions that would - geographically, at least -dominate the future of London. The port became the trading and mercantile centre (the area now known as the City), while Westminster became the seat of politics and administration.

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