Setting the Scene – Part I

This section of the blog sets the scene, the background, so to speak of the formation of England. I’ve thought long and hard about exactly what I want to present here. However, the time for procrastination is at an end so here goes, the first of 4 parts:

•    General Overview and The Heptarchy – The Kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England

The withdrawal of the Roman Legions in around c.410AD to defend their frontiers in continental Europe as their Empire declined signalled the end Roman domination of Britain and the leaving of ‘Britannia’ to her fate.

Following the Roman retreat Britain was left vulnerable to invasion by pagan seafaring warriors known as Saxons and Angles, and by 441AD the mass migration from Germany had begun.

The Angles and Saxons were Teutonic tribes who lived between the mouth of the Rhine and Denmark. During the course of the 5th century they advanced from the east to west of England, up rivers and along the Roman roads slaughtering and enslaving the native Britons. In c.500AD Ambrosius Aurelianus, a romanised Celt, checked the invaders at the Battle of Badon, somewhere in either Dorset or Wiltshire.

However the 6th century ultimately saw the consolidation and settlement of the English. Reliable contemporary accounts from this period are rather scarce, giving rise to its description as a Dark Age.

By the 7th century seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms known as the Heptarchy had emerged in England. They were: East Anglia, home of the East Angles; Essex, kingdom of the East Saxons;  Kent, home of the Jutes;  Sussex, kingdom of the South Saxons; Northumbria, northern kingdom of the Angles and home to the Vikings; Mercia, the Border People; and Wessex, kingdom of the West Saxons.

The title Bretwalda, the high king of Britain, changed depending upon which leader of the seven kingdoms was the most powerful and influential at a given time.

In a nutshell:  The various kingdoms fought amongst themselves for centuries with varying degrees of success until Wessex ultimately emerged victorious and started the unification of England with their capital in Winchester. Various areas of England also faced attacks from Danish Viking invaders at one time or another. Indeed, Danish king Cnut came to power in 1016.

Having said that: Of course if there is an enough interest, I’m more than happy to post a far more detailed history of each kingdom in the Heptarchy. In the meantime, below is a summary, although by no means an exhaustive list, of important places and faces.

Leaders and Rulers

•  King Anna and his daughter Etheldreda (Saint Etheldreda, often called Audrey), King Raedwald,  King Edmund – East Anglia

•   Sigeberht II the Good, Sigered of Essex

•   King Ethelbert and his daughter Saint Ethelburga – Kent

•  Aelle of Sussex

•  Oswiu of Northumbria

•  King Penda, Offa – Mercia

• Alfred the Great and his daughter Aethelflaed, King Edred, King Edgar, Earl Godwin and his son Harold – Wessex

Places/Ancient Market Towns

•  Ipswich, Sudbury, Bury St Edmunds – East Anglia

•  Saffron Walden, Waltham Abbey, Coggeshall, Colchester – Essex

•  Canterbury, Faversham, Dover – Kent

•  Battle – East Sussex, Chichester – West Sussex

•  York – Northumbria

•  Tamworth, Gloucester – Mercia

•  Winchester – Wessex


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