The Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy

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Part 1: First Arrivals

The Roman Empire had invaded England three times in the 1st Century B.C. and the 1st Century A.D. Julius Caesar led two of those invasions but took his troops home both times. Claudius sent a much larger force and began what eventually became a transition from Britain into Roman Britain.

Roman troops left Britain for good in the early 5th Century. Before they left, though, their numbers included soldiers from various part of the Empire and from non-Empire lands as well. Of relevance to the story of the advancement of settlements in Britain was the fact that some Roman soldiers hailing from Germany were in Britain as early as the 4th Century.

In fact, Rome had built a series of forts along the southeastern edge of the Island, to protect against seaborne invasions from Germany. These became known as the Saxon Shore forts.

When Rome left for good, in 410, Roman soldiers would have left through Kent. Some Roman soldiers stayed behind, and some of these were from Germanic areas of Europe. Filling the power vacuum in post-Roman Britain was a high-king named Vortigern, who, in desperation for support against an invasion from Scotland, called on Germanic peoples to serve as mercenaries. An entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for A.D. 449 says that two Saxon brothers named Hengist and Horsa arrived in what is now Kent, on the Isle of Thanet, with a warrior force. Subsequent Chronicle entries list conflict with Britons and Germanic peoples. A few Briton victories notwithstanding (including one spectacularly successful victory at what is called Badon Hill and which is said to have been led by King Arthur, Saxons and Angles and Jutes eventually established settlements all over England.

The Jutes settled in Kent. Other Germanic areas were called East Anglia, Essex, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex, and Wessex. This was known as the Heptarchy. The Germanic peoples continued to press onward in their occupation of British lands; they also began to fight among themselves.

Part 2: Kent and Mercia

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David White