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heptarchy. The description of 7th-cent. England as a ‘heptarchy’ probably derives, ultimately, from the historian Henry of Huntingdon, writing in the earlier 12th cent. It came into printed prominence in the works of historians of the late 16th and early 17th cents., beginning, probably, in Lambarde's work on Kent (1576). The idea was that there were seven kingdoms, Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Wessex. Reality was more complicated. But the formulation was a useful one and had a long life as a term of art.

James Campbell

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heptarchy the seven kingdoms of the Angles and the Saxons believed to have been established in Britain in the 7th–8th century.

The term appears to have been introduced by 16th century historians, in accordance with their notion that there were seven Angle and Saxon kingdoms so related that one of their rulers had always the supreme position of King of the Angles.