‘ENGLAND’ WAS COMPRISED OF SEVEN ANGLO-SAXON KINGDOMS
There were seven major Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, each with their own ruling dynasties, called the ‘Heptarchy’ (meaning ‘seven’). We have already looked at Wessex in the south, but ‘next door’ was the small kingdom of Sussex. Along the south coast lay Kent, probably the oldest of them all. Then came Essex, the kingdom of the East Saxons, and to the north of them was East Anglia. In the Midlands there was a kingdom of the Middle-Angles, which eventually morphed into the mighty kingdom of Mercia, which became the most powerful of them all for a time. In the north two Anglian kingdoms, Bernicia and Deira, merged to become the great nation of Northumbria. As well as these nations there were numerous British nations and mini-states in the north and west, all of whom were the traditional enemies of the Anglo-Saxons and engaged in constant warfare with them.
These complex territorial configurations were in a constant state of flux. Because the Anglo-Saxons had a common enemy in the British we may think that they should have ‘stuck together’ and cooperated with each other. Actually, they did exactly the opposite. Their loyalties were strictly tribal and based on strong bonds with their kin and traditional oaths to their kings. Each Anglo-Saxon kingdom saw itself as pre-eminent in some way, and none of them was prepared to give up its independence, at least at first. However, the largest and most populous were bound to prevail in the end, and eventually the four most powerful Anglo-Saxon nations eclipsed their smaller rivals, Wessex, East Anglia, Northumbria and Mercia. Each of these four aimed to become the dominant Anglo-Saxon power in the centuries that followed, but which of them would succeed?