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heptarchy (hĕpˈtärkē) [key] [Gr., = seven-kingdom], name traditionally applied to the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England in the period prior to the Danish conquests of the 9th cent. The term was probably first used by 16th-century writers who believed that in those early years England was divided into seven kingdoms—Northumbria, East Anglia, Mercia, Essex, Sussex, Wessex, and Kent. Actually the political and geographical divisions were neither so orderly nor permanent. At one time (c.600) there appear to have been as many as 12 independent states, but the number of kingdoms, their boundaries, and their political status shifted constantly throughout this period.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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