The following posts aim to summarise the Kingdoms and factions that existed within Britain from the 5th to the 10th century, and of which many would unify into the collective countries of the British Isles. From Saxon to British, Viking to Scots, I have attempted to list all the major Kingdoms. This is not to say that this list is exhaustive, there are dozens of Kingdoms that rose and fell during this period and that may be covered in a later post.
The Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: These Kingdoms were formed in the 5th and 6th centuries by Anglo-Saxon settlers. In this blog, the principal Kingdoms will be referred to as the ‘Heptarchy’, or the Seven Kingdoms.
Kingdom: East Anglia, (Ēast Engla Rīce)
Dates: 6th Century – 869AD
Location: The modern counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.
Capital: Rendelsham, Suffolk.
Principal figures: Ælfwald, King, ruled from 713 – 749 and Saint Edmund the Martyr, reigned from 855 – 869.
East Anglia was the earliest area settled by the Anglo Saxons, as early as 450. In its early stages, it was a Pagan Kingdom, but Christianised in the 7th century. Throughout its history, the Kingdom of East Anglia was marred by wars from both Mercia and the Danish Kingdoms.
Kingdom: Essex, (Ēast Seaxna Rīce)
Dates: 527 – 825AD
Location: The modern counties of Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex and Kent.
Principal figures: Sigered of Essex, King, reigned 798 – 825, Bishop Mellitus.
Essex was a Kingdom that frequently bore the brunt of its rival’s endeavours and designs on power. Its history is poorly documented and its only mention in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle concerns its Bishop, Mellitus. It frequently fell under the yolk of Kentish Kings, and eventually was ceded by Sigered to become a part of Wessex.
Kingdom: The Kingdom of the Kentish (Cantaware Rīce)
Dates: 5th Century - 871
Location: The Modern Counties of Kent and the surrounding areas of South East England.
Principal figures: Æthelred I.
Kent was a kingdom that evolved from the Roman occupations and most used to invasions and attacks. It suffered greatly from the departure of the Romans in the 5th century. Once the Saxons arrived, Kent changed dramatically. It became a principal power up to its decline in the seventh century, where it fell under Mercia and Northumbria. Eventually it would become part of Wessex, unified under Alfred in 825.
Kingdom: Mercia, (Miercna rīce)
Dates: 527 – 918AD
Location: The modern counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Oxfordshire, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire.
Principal figures: King Offa, reigned 757 – 796, and Æthelflæd, Lady of Mercia, reigned 911 – 918,
Mercia was one of the largest and most longstanding Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms. It enjoyed a substantial period of supremacy and hegemony in England, however, following the Viking invasions, it then declined and would eventually become a part of England. Even to this day, however, the area is still known as Mercia, and its influence within English history is not to be discounted.
Kingdom: Northumbria, (Norþanhymbra Rīce)
Dates: 653 – 954AD
Location: The Northern counties of England and southern counties of Scotland.
Capital: Bamburgh, and later, York.
Principal figures: Oswiu and Eric Blood Axe.
Northumbria may have been the largest Saxon Kingdom by sheer landmass, but it existed only loosely as an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom. The Viking invasions of 865 led to much of the land being settled and invaded by the Norse invaders, who used the division of the Kingdom to establish themselves of rulers of this much beleaguered Kingdom. It would eventually become part of the Danelaw until finally being part of England in 954.
Kingdom: Sussex (Sūþseaxna rīce)
Dates: 477 – 860AD
Location: The modern county of Sussex.
Principal figures: Ælle, King, reigned 477 – 514.
Sussex was colonised by the Saxons in the 6th century and eventually formed into the Kingdom of the South Saxons, or Sussex. One of its earliest Kings, Ælle, considered himself the first King of England and it was a substantial power in England until it lost its independence to Wessex in 827AD.
Kingdom: Wessex (Westseaxna rīce)
Dates: 519 -10th Century.
Location: The modern counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire
Principal figures: Alfred the Great, King, 871 – 899, Æthelstan, King, 899 – 925AD.
Wessex was not the largest of the Kingdoms within the Heptarchy, but it was the most prominent for the greatest period. Owing to the fertile land of the area, it was rich and its wealth gave its Kings great power and influence. Alfred and later, Æthelstan, would use this to ensure Wessex became the driving force behind the creation of England.