The Anglo Saxons had established seven of their kingdoms in Britain by the 7th century. These kingdoms were established by arriving emigrants who wrested the control from the local Breton population.
Although each kingdom had a king of its own, in time these kingdoms began to assert control over each other for greater control. In time, kingdoms emerged which spanned over more than one of these individual kingdoms thus giving the ruler greater prestige.
A number of Anglo Saxon kings reigned over more than their kingdom, sometimes they ruled over all of England. Some of the most notable of these kings was Alfred The Great, Offa of Mercia and Edwin of Northumbria.
Edwin of Northumbria
Edwin of Northumbria is one of the uniquely notable monarchs in the Anglo Saxon history. He was among the earliest Anglo Saxon rulers to convert to Christianity. He gave up paganism and embraced Christianity in 627. During the last years of his life, he was the most powerful of Anglo Saxon kings during the period.
The sphere of his power and influence extended over the whole of Northumbria, into Kent thanks to his marriage in the Anglo Saxon dynasty of Kent, and into Wessex which he was able to subdue through warfare. He also defeated many adversaries but finally fell to the rising might of the Mercian rulers in 633.
Offa of Mercia
Offa was the King of Mercian kingdom in Britain from 757 onwards. His kingship coincided with the rapid rise of the influence and might of Mercia in Anglo-Saxon Britain. Before his reign, Mercia had been marred by internecine conflicts between different peoples within the kingdom.
Offa was able to subdue all conflict and cement his control over all parts of Mercia. He then turned to the neighbouring kingdoms and began to extend his influence. He first exploited the unrest in Kent and made himself the overlord of the kingdom.
From 770 to 790, he extended his control over Sussex and Wessex through alliances and warfare. He eventually also became the overlord of East Anglia. This made him one of the most powerful Anglo Saxons throughout Anglo Saxon history. His reign is sometimes regarded as the precursor to a unified England.
Alfred The Great
Alfred The Great was the only Anglo Saxon King who was given the epithet of “The Great”. He was originally the King of Wessex to which he ascended in 871 at a time when Britain was facing the perennial threat of the Vikings.
At a time when all other Anglo Saxon kingdoms effectively came under Viking control, Alfred resisted from his position in Wessex and played a decisive role in ultimately defeating the Vikings at many critical battles in the last three decades of the 9th century.
Although successful in many major battles against the invading Vikings, Alfred played a far more important role by patronising Church, promoting education and literacy among the people of Britain and striving to forge a united Anglo Saxon identity of Britain’s population.
Alfred The Great also improved administration, reorganised the military and put his support behind the construction of a powerful navy fleet. It was largely due to his efforts that the Anglo Saxons were able to ward off the Vikings until at least 11th century and continued to rule England.