Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms and Kings: Facts and Information

Following the end of Roman rule in Britain (5th century), a patchwork of numerous kingdoms was established in England by the Anglo-Saxons. These kingdoms were independent and many of them had their own king.

Some of the main kingdoms were Northumbria, Mercia, Kent, East Anglia, Essex, Wessex and Sussex. Other minor kingdoms included, the Kingdom of Lindsey (located between the Wash and the Humber estuary),  and the Kingdom of the Iclingas (located in the valley of the River Trent).

Over time, the kingdoms joined together until King Athelstan was recognised as monarch by the Kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex, uniting the independent kingdoms of England.

Famous Anglo-Saxon Kings

  • According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Cerdic was the first King of Wessex, and ruled from 519 to 534. All future Kings of Wessex claimed that they were related to Cerdic. Some historians believe that Cerdic was a legendary figure and didn’t actually exist.
  • The Venerable Bede, the chronicler, reported that Aethelberht, King of Kent (who lived during the late 6th century), was the first English monarch to become a Christian. He also brought in a law code which included more than 90 written laws.
  • King Raedwald of East Anglia ruled from around the year 600 to somewhere in the 620s. He was the first of the East angles to become a Christian, but he also kept a pagan temple. Many historians believe that his body was buried in the ship burial at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk.
  • Alfred the Great was a King of Wessex. He called himself King of the Anglo-Saxons, and defended his lands from attacks carried out by the Vikings. He was born in 849 and died in 899.
  • Born in Wessex in the early 890s, King Athelstan is though of by many historians as the first King of England. In 927 he conquered York, the last remaining Viking kingdom in England.
  • Harold Godwinson (Harold II) was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England. He ruled from 5th January 1066 to 14th October 1066. His reign was ended by his death in the Battle of Hastings at the hands of the Normans, led by William the Conqueror.
  • Other Anglo-Saxon kings include: Edward the Confessor, Edward the Elder (the son of Alfred the Great), Sweyn Forkbeard (King of Denmark, Norway and England), Aethelwulf (King of Wessex), ans Penda (King of Mercia).

Visit our resources page to discover more facts about the Anglo-Saxons.

Athelstan: Facts About the Anglo-Saxon King

Here are some interesting facts about Athelstan.

  • Athelstan was an Anglo-Saxon king, who is often thought to be the first King of England. He was the Anglo-Saxon king from 924 to 927 AD, and King of England from 927 to 939.

  • He became king when his father, King Edward died. The king was so fond of Athelstan that he gave him a sword and made him a knight at an early age.
  • During the first two years of his reign, he fought the Danes and won York. He also defeated opposition in Cornwall and made the five Welsh kings each pay him 25,000 sheep every year.
  • In 934, Athelstan invaded Scotland by land and sea. He may have invaded because the death of the Norse king, Guthrith, that same year meant he could more easily invade.
  • He collected religious relics and works of art which he often gave to churches. He founded many monasteries in Britain, including the Abbey of St. John in Yorkshire.
  • Athelstan helped to promote learning, and one of his students invented a board game called Gospel Dice.
  • The epic poem Beowulf may have been written at his request.
  • He helped create an organization for masons, which may have led to the Freemasons. He also helped translate the Bible into English, banned Sunday trading and promoted trade in rural areas.
  • Athelstan was one of the first kings to write laws and enforce them. The first two laws were about paying money to the church, and making sure the poor were given money.
  • He owned land in Foxley in what is now Wiltshire, and gave the nearby town of Malmesbury 600 acres of land. To this day, the land is still owned by the Freemen of the town.
  • Athelstan was buried in Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire. His bones were taken sometime during the 16th century, and the tomb there today is an empty one.

Alfred the Great: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Alfred the Great.

  • Alfred the Great was the King of Wessex from 871 to 899 and is credited with defending his kingdom against the Vikings. He is the only English monarch to be officially described as ‘great’.
  • Alfred was born in 849, near Oxford. His father was King Aethelwulf of Wessex. Alfred was Aethelwulf’s youngest son, and three of Alfred’s brothers (Aethelbald, Ethelbert and Ethelred) ruled Wessex before him.

  • At the age of 4 he made a pilgrimage to Rome where the Pope decreed that he would one day be king, although he was not crowned until 871.
  • In 886, he moved to London and spent time restoring the Roman walls of the city. Today, a wall plaque in the City of London commemorates this achievement.
  • In 896, he ordered the construction of ships that would be twice as long as the Viking longboats. Alfred may have been influenced by the design of Roman and Greek ships.
  • According to legend, Alfred burnt some cakes of a peasant woman, forgetting to take them out of the oven, when hiding from Vikings. Black growths on ash trees are still known as ‘King Alfred’s cakes’.

Alfred the Great

  • As well as being a great warrior, Alfred is credited with improving the English legal system, encouraging people to learn, and building a defensive system across southern England.
  • Nobody knows for sure how Alfred the Great died in 899, although he had several illnesses during his life. His remains have never been found, despite various attempts.
  • The Alfred Jewel, discovered in the 17th century, is a 6.4 cm long gold ornament. It may have been used as a pointer when reading and teaching.
  • With just a few exceptions, every English king and queen who followed Alfred the Great, including Queen Elizabeth II, is a direct descendant of him.
  • Several schools and colleges are named after Alfred the Great, as well as ships in the Royal Navy and US Navy. He has also been named as one of the 100 most important Britons.

What next? Learn more about the Anglo-Saxons by visiting our Anglo-Saxon resources page.