The name “Westminster” has its origins in Old English and was historically referred to as “West Minster.” The term minster originally referred to a monastery or a church, and Westminster indicated its location to the west of the City of London. The area was home to the Benedictine monks of Westminster Abbey, which played a central role in the development of the district. The name West Minster dates at least from 875 AD in a charter of King Offa. Since Malory uses the name, it seems more than fair for us to use it.
The monastery that would later become Westminster Abbey was established on the north bank of the River Thames. The area around Westminster had marshes and low-laying ground in early medieval times, and it was subject to periodic flooding.
Canute or a predecessor established a royal palace here, and Edward the Confessor built a new church and monastery. The town grew up around the religious establishments. In Arthur’s England, London would not yet have engulfed Westminster.
Westminster | 0 to 9th century AD
In the first century AD, the Romans established the city of Londinium (London) on the north bank of the River Thames. The land that would become Westminster was likely part of the Roman city or its vicinity, but it was not a significant settlement during this era.
Early Middle Ages
After the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the fifth century, the area that is now Westminster, like much of England, underwent a period of transition. It was inhabited by the Anglo-Saxons, and small settlements and farming communities likely existed.
Westminster’s history becomes more significant in the seventh century. In 604 AD, the Bishop of London, St. Mellitus, founded a church dedicated to St. Peter on the site of what would become Westminster Abbey. This marked the beginning of the area’s association with religious life and monastic activity.
During the eighth and ninth centuries, Viking raids and invasions affected many parts of England, including the area around Westminster. These incursions led to periods of instability and the need for defense against Viking attacks.
Growth of the Monastery
The monastery at Westminster gradually expanded during the early Middle Ages. It became known as a center of learning and piety.
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470