(A NGLO -S AXON H EPTARCHY )
By the term heptarchy is understood that complexus of seven kingdoms, into which, roughly speaking, Anglo-Saxon Britain was divided for nearly three centuries, until at last the supremacy, about the year 829, fell definitely and finally into the hands of Wessex.
The use of the term is as old as the sixteenth century, and it is employed in Camden's "Britannia", but its propriety has been much questioned. One objection made against it is that, upon the analogy of other similar compounds, heptarchy ought strictly to mean a ruling body composed of seven persons. Another set of critics urge that during the period referred to there were often more than seven independent kingdoms in England, and still more frequently fewer. However, the retention of this loose term has been sanctioned by Stubbs and other modern historians on the ground of its obvious convenience; and, as Stubbs remarks, during the greater part of the early Saxon period "there were actually seven kingdoms of Germanic origin in the island".
The kingdoms in question were Wessex, Sussex, Kent, Essex, East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria; though in this last Deira and Bernicia were constantly regarded as separate kingdoms. Between these nominally independent states war, and as a consequence some measure of subjugation, was continually occurring. Moreover, it has to be admitted that in the early chronicles and charters persons who must have ruled over much smaller tracts of territory than are presupposed in this heptarchic division are also styled cyning (king) or rex . Edwin, King of Deira, a part of Northumbria, who was converted by St. Paulinus (c. 627), slew five "kings" when fighting against the Saxons. Again four kings were reigning at one and the same time in Sussex and three in Essex. There were also kings of the Hwiccas (Worcestershire and Warwickshire), as well as a separate Kingdom of the Middle Angles and of Lindsey.
As regards the reception of Christianity, the heptarchic kingdoms seem in a measure to have formed the earliest units of ecclesiastical organization, Kent of course being the first to accept the Gospel. But even here we find St. Augustine, before his death, consecrating St. Justin to be Bishop of Rochester, a second see within the Kingdom of Kent, at the same time that he consecrated St. Laurence to be his own successor at Canterbury, and St. Mellitus to be Bishop of London, which was included in the Kingdom of Essex.
San Pedro Holy Card
St Cecilia Holy Card
The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.
Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.
No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.
Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912
Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online