- See History of Anglo-Saxon England for a historical discussion.
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The Heptarchy is a collective name applied to the seven petty kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England from the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain in 5th century until their unification into the Kingdom of England in the early 10th century.
The term "Heptarchy" (from the Greek ἑπτά hepta, "seven" and -αρχία -arkhia "reign, rule") alludes to the tradition that there were seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, usually enumerated as: East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex and Wessex. The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms eventually unified into the Kingdom of England.
By convention, the Heptarchy lasted from the end of Roman rule in Britain in the 5th century, until most of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms came under the overlordship of Egbert of Wessex in 829: a period of European history often referred to as the Early Middle Ages or, more controversially, as the Dark Ages.
Though heptarchy suggests the existence of seven kingdoms, the term is just used as a label of convenience and does not imply the existence of a clear-cut or stable group of seven kingdoms. The number of kingdoms and sub-kingdoms fluctuated as kings contended for supremacy. In the late 6th century, the king of Kent was a prominent lord in the south; in the 7th century, the rulers of Northumbria and Wessex were powerful; in the 8th century, Mercia achieved hegemony over the other surviving kingdoms, particularly with "Offa the Great". Yet, as late as the reigns of Eadwig and Edgar (955–75), it was still possible to speak of separate kingdoms within the English population.
There also existed alongside the seven kingdoms a number of other political divisions, such as the kingdoms (or sub-kingdoms) of: Bernicia and Deira within Northumbria; Lindsey in present-day Lincolnshire; the Hwicce in the southwest Midlands; the Magonsæte or Magonset, a sub-kingdom of Mercia in what is now Herefordshire; the Wihtwara, a Jutish kingdom on the Isle of Wight, originally as important as the Cantwara of Kent; the Middle Angles, a group of tribes based around modern Leicestershire, later conquered by the Mercians; the Hæstingas (around the town of Hastings in Sussex); and the Gewisse, a Saxon tribe in what is now southern Hampshire that later developed into the kingdom of Wessex.
The decline of the Heptarchy and the eventual emergence of the kingdom of England was also a drawn-out process, taking place over the course of the 9th to 10th centuries. Over the course of the 9th century, the Danish enclave at York expanded into the Danelaw, with about half of England under Danish rule. The English unification under Alfred the Great was a reaction to the threat by the common enemy. In 886, Alfred retook London, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that "all of the English people (all Angelcyn) not subject to the Danes submitted themselves to King Alfred." The unification of the kingdom of England was complete only in the 10th century, following the expulsion of Eric Bloodaxe as king of Northumbria.
List of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms
The other main kingdoms, which were conquered by others entirely at some point in their history, before the unification of England, are:
Other minor kingdoms and territories include:
- Dumnonia (only subject to Wessex at a later date)
- The Hwicce
- Isle of Wight
- Kingdom of the Iclingas, a precursor state to Mercia
- The Meonwara, a Jutish tribe in Hampshire
- Middle Angles
The Kingdom of Essex, for instance, was assigned a red shield with three notched swords (or "seaxes"). This coat was used by the counties of Essex and Middlesex until 1910, when the Middlesex County Council applied for a formal grant from the College of Arms (The Times, 1910). Middlesex was granted a red shield with three notched swords and a "Saxon Crown". Essex County Council was granted the arms without the crown in 1932.
- History of Anglo-Saxon England
- Cornovii (Cornish)
- Related terms: Bretwalda, High King for hegemons among kings
- Compare: Tetrarchy
- Historia Anglorum: the history of ... - Google Books. Books.google.com.au. 1996. ISBN 9780198222248. Retrieved 2010-04-09.
- Norman F. Cantor, The Civilization of the Middle Ages1993:163f.
- The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Freely licensed version at Gutenberg Project. Note: This electronic edition is a collation of material from nine diverse extant versions of the Chronicle. It contains primarily the translation of Rev. James Ingram, as published in the Everyman edition. Asser's Life of King Alfred, ch. 83, trans. Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge, Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred & Other Contemporary Sources (Penguin Classics) (1984), pp. 97–8.
- Westermann Großer Atlas zur Weltgeschichte
- Campbell, J. et al. The Anglo-Saxons. (Penguin, 1991)
- Sawyer, Peter Hayes. From Roman Britain to Norman England (Routledge, 2002).
- Stenton, F. M. Anglo-Saxon England, (3rd edition. Oxford U. P. 1971),