The history of England from the first coming of the Jutes to the accession of Ecgberht to the overlordship of all England falls into three sharply defined periods; that of the many kingdoms, of the seven kingdoms, and of the three. Each of these periods represent a distinct phase of the great work of the consolidation of the English nation. The first period extends to the establishment of the kingdom of Northumbria by Aetherfrith, in 588, by the union of the ancient kingdoms of Deira and Bernicia. The constitutional and legal history of this period is confined to the growth of the kingship, nobility and system of land ownership, and the gradual evolution of the seven kingdoms out of the numerous petty states which sprang up in the fifth and the early part of the sixth centuries. As for the rest it is only a constant story of war with Celts, varied by wars between the conquerors themselves. Of civilization little or none remained in the Island outside of the ever-receding territory still retained by the Britons.

That period of Anglo-Saxon history which immediately follows the establishment of the kingdom of Northumbria in 588, differed in many respects from the preceding era. The most prominent characteristic of the earlier period was the ever-continuing warfare between Briton and Anglo-Saxon; in the latter period the back-bone of British resistance had been broken and the real contest had become that of the various Teutonic kingdoms for supremacy. The contest with the Britons was now of secondary importance. The three Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, which a century after this period rose superior to their rivals, were the three whose western borders were still flanked by Celtic neighbors, and who were thus given an easier and surer scope for expansion than was open to those who by their geographical position could only come in conflict with the kingdoms inhabited by people of their own blood.

Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Kent, Sussex, Essex, and Wessex are the seven kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy, which we find at the close of the sixth century. The rapid progress of Wessex, which only a few years before seemed to threaten the political integrity of all her sister states, had met with a sudden check; and Kent held, for the time, the undoubted primacy among the seven kingdoms. Aethelberht, her king, is sometimes famed as the first great law. giver of Anglo-Saxon England; three centuries later Aelfred the Great, mentions him as one of the three great law givers from whose work he has drawn in the completion of his own laws. Whatever his laws were they have not come down to us, and his contribution to the sources of English law cannot now be identified. It is through the reestablishment of Christianity in England that his name is remembered in history. In 597 Augustine and his monks reached Kent from continental Europe. The result of their mission was the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England and its re-union with the civilized world.

The alliance between Kent and the Christian Church secured the triumph of Christianity but proved politically fatal to Kent. Its supremacy among the English kingdoms passed away forever. Northum-bria, under the rule of her king, Eadwine, acquired a greater degree of power than had been before attained by any Anglo-Saxon kingdom. This primacy of Northumbria, however, was soon disputed by Mercia. As Northumbria was the champion of Christianity and Mercia the last seat of the worship of Thor and Odin, the main importance of the contest was from its religious aspect. The early successes of Mercia were followed by the complete defeat of this country in 655, and the final victory of Christianity. The contest between the Irish Catholic Church in Northumbria and the Roman Catholic Church in the south was closed by the decision of the Council of Whitby in 655. Even to the present day, however, the division of England into the archbishoprics of Canterbury and York remain as a witness to this early schism in the English church, and to the inherent conservatism of the Anglo-Saxon.

The work of the further consolidation of the English kingdoms went on during the seventh century. The kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia stand out prominent in the religious wars of this period. A third great power was added to these two, when Wessex, under Ine, who ascended the throne in 688, gained the supremacy in the south and southwest. The four kingdoms, Kent, Sussex, Essex, and East Anglia, had by this time dropped into that secondary position where they became an easy prey to their stronger neighbors. The contest for the possession of England was from this time on, to be restricted to Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex.

The important changes and advances in the epoch, which we have designated as the period of the seven kingdoms were nearly all in the field of religion. The period which followed the accession of Ine in 688, saw the beginnings of legal and constitutional development. To this period belonged two of the greatest English lawgivers, Ine of Wessex, and Offa of Mercia.

Under Ine, Wessex reached a higher degree of power than at any other time prior to the reign of Ecgberht. Somerset, Kent, Essex, and London, were incorporated into this kingdom. Even the power of Mercia was unable to keep on level terms with that of Wessex. Ine, is remembered, however, as a lawmaker rather than a conqueror. His greatest work was that of consolidation and organization. We first hear of the existence of the "Shire" during this period. Undoubtedly, like all other English institutions, this territorial and judicial division was the result of slow evolution, instead of creation by any single man; nevertheless, to Ine properly belong much of the credit for the completion of the work. After Wessex itself had been divided into shires, the conquered kingdoms each fell into the position of a shire, under the central government.

The aim of Ine appears to have been to check, as far as possible, the lawlessness of his subjects, and to substitute the rule of law for that of force. Among his laws we find one that no person should seek redress for their injuries by their own act until they had sought it in vain from the judges. Ine is only partially successful in this contest against lawlessness and disregard of civil rights, and in 726, worn out with his work, he laid down his crown.

The eighth century, after the resignation of Ine, is pre-eminently the period of Mercian supremacy. Under the rule of Aethelbald and Offa, whose reigns together occupy nearly the whole of this period, the power of Mercia completely overshadowed that of her sister kingdoms. Civil wars in Wessex, and anarchy in Northumbria, which only ceased with the overthrow of the ancient kingdom in the next century, so impaired the strength of these kingdoms as to render them no longer formidable rivals for the middle kingdom. The only serious reverse sustained by the Mercians, during this period, was their overwhelming defeat at the battle of Burford in 754, which enabled the subject kingdoms of Kent, Essex and East Anglia to temporarily regain their independence.

It was four years after this battle that Offa, the greatest of all Mercian kings, mounted the throne. Although making no efforts to secure the conquest of Wessex or Northumbria, he succeeded in bringing under his sway the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. In addition he turned his arms against the remaining Britons and the Mercian frontier was once more advanced far to the west. Unlike, however, former wars between Saxon and Briton, this war was one of conquest rather than extermination. The conquered Britons were allowed to remain in their old homes subject to the rule of Offa. The famous code of laws which bears Offa's name, and which was one of the principal sources from which Aelfred the Great borrowed in framing his own laws, is largely taken up with regulating the relation between the people of the two races.

It was during this reign that England first began to have dealings with foreign countries. Charles the Great, then on the throne of France, was in constant intercourse with Offa, and but for the ability and shrewdness of that monarch, would undoubtedly have acquired an influence over the various English kingdoms, which might have resulted in their incorporation into the new western empire. The fame and strength of the Mercian kingdom during this period seemed established on a firm basis, but in reality it rests only on the ability of a single man, and his death, in 796 marked the termination of the greatness of Mercia.