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How The English Monarchy Began

There’s no doubt with us that the British Monarchy is the most iconic and famous Monarchy in the world. Its history, though, is just as iconic as its present. In this article, we explain how England, and then Britain’s Monarchy came to begin to in bite size chunks.

Roman Origins

Prior to any homeland Monarchy in Britain, England was part of the Roman Empire as a Roman colony. Britain was not unknown to the world at the time. As early as the 4th century BC, the Greeks, Phoenicians and Carthaginians traded for Cornish tin. The Greeks refer to the Cassiterides, or “tin islands”, and describe them as being situated somewhere near the west coast of Europe. The Carthaginian sailor Himilco is said to have visited the island in the 5th century BC and the Greek explorer Pytheas in the 4th. But it was regarded as a place of mystery, with some writers even refusing to believe it existed at all.

Britain was “discovered” when Julius Caesar (then a General, later the Roman Emperor) made two ‘expeditions’ to Britain in 55 and 54 BC. Caesar’s invasions didn’t conquer Britain; he left no soldiers behind. Later, Aulus Plautius, another General, came to invade Britain, in the year 43 AD. This time, he intended to conquer it.

He succeeded and from thereon in, Britain was part of the Roman Empire.

The Heptarchy

After around 410 AD, Roman rule in Britain had ended. True Monarchy in Britain was about to begin with the Anglo-Saxon conquest of England. After they had begun the takeover of Britain, a new form of governance emerged across the land – the Heptarchy.

Map of the Kingdoms making up the Heptarchy in England

Map of the Kingdoms making up the Heptarchy in England

The Heptarchy was a system where England was divided up into 7 major kingdoms (there were more though the 7 were regarded as the main ones). The Kingdoms of Northumbria, Wessex, Mercia, East-Anglia, Essex, Kent and Sussex.

The Heptarchy continued for around 400 years where throughout that time, various Kings of the 7 Kingdoms emerged as de facto leaders of the country. The King of Wessex, Egbert of Wessex, emerged mainly as the dominant King. He controlled Kent, Sussex and Surrey (a minor Kingdom), which was given to his son Æthelwulf, to rule under Egbert as a kind of ‘sub-king’.

First King Of All England

England remained a ‘Heptarchy’ officially until 1066, when William the Conquerer was declared King of England, thus dispelling the English Monarchies, creating one.

Prior to 1066, however, there was a state when all of England’s Kingdoms were overruled by one King. In 927, Æthelstan, King of the West Saxons, was recognised as the first King of the English, whereby all the Kings in the Heptarchy accepted him as their overlord.

Æthelstan’s reign was one of the most important times in English history, politically, as it was when England’s kingdoms were first ruled over in what we now know as Monarchy.

Norman Conquest

The final stage in the foundation of England’s Monarchy as we know it today was the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 when William the Conqueror conquered England and became King of all of England in the way we know today. Prior to William’s conquest, unification of the Heptarchy Kingdoms was almost the case anyway, though William now permanently unified the Kingdoms.

  • Jennifer Clark

    Julius Caesar was not an emperor. Augustus was the first Roman emperor.

  • Tahira Nawaz

    Very informative indeed, there is a minor mistake, I should think, in the map,instead of Sussex, Essex has been written twice.

  • Carmen

    I thought it was King Offa who first united the English kingdom when he conquered Kent and Sussex in 771. He was also the first Christian king of England and consolidated his power by endowing the Roman church with liverys and privileges throughout England to undermine tribal authority, using the same model as the Merovingian kings of France.

  • michael jackson

    i thought it redburga

  • William Watford

    Brilliant! And quite simple. Thank you. Will you make an amendment later adding the unification of Scotland?

  • Gombe

    Still doesn’t explain why Kings themselves emerged on a proper fundamental level, were they just violent bullies who cut and beat people into submission and stole their stuff? Are kings just psychopaths on horseback that subjugate people by force of arms? Why do Kings exist at all?

    • Atleast I’m not the only one unsuccessfully asking this simple question. I’ve been at it for two years.

      Something tells me the answer to the question is much like the answer to the makeup of the earth question: What you thought as a child, but much less mutually beneficial.

  • Marty

    You could ask the same question of priests and religion, the real question is why do people have a need to blindly follow another person or ideology

  • Wynkin de Worde

    Greedy robbing exploiters, get rich, then richer by buying soldiers and demanding money with menaces. Then pass the franchise onto your son. Interbreed with other countries monarchs to keep power and wealth in the family, until they are inbred upper-class fools.

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