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British kings and queens

The story of the British monarchy

A map of Britain in about 802A map of Britain in about 802 After the Romans withdrew from Britannia in around AD 410, the Britons organized themselves into small kingdoms. They needed to protect themselves from invaders such as the Picts from beyond Hadrian's Wall in the north, the Scots from Ireland and Germanic tribes from the European continent. King Arthur may have been a leader of one these kingdoms during this period, although he is more likely to have been a legendary figure. The peoples who later invaded and settled in Britain started to form new kingdoms of their own, for example, the Angles in Mercia and East Anglia. But some ancient British kingdoms, such as Strathclyde, survived. By 650, Britain had become a patchwork of kingdoms. A few, including Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex, became dominant, by means of warfare or through marriages between ruling families. To resist the invading Vikings in the 9th century, however, the British kingdoms were forced to unite.

Kenneth MacAlpin is crowned king in 843Kenneth MacAlpin is crowned king in 843

Scottish monarchs

Before the 9th century AD, Scotland was occupied by five different peoples. The Picts lived in to the north of the rivers Forth and Clyde. The Scots, who had arrived from Ireland in the fifth and sixth centuries, ruled Dalriada in the west. The Angles occupied Lothian, the ancient Britons held Strathclyde, and, in the ninth century, the Vikings started to settle in Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and the far north. The unification of these different peoples began in the mid-ninth century, when Kenneth MacAlpin became king of both Picts and Scots.

A people known as the Jutes, who came from Jutland (now mainland Denmark), founded the kingdom of Kent in the 5th century. The earliest known king of Kent was Aethelberht (589–616). Christianity first came to Britain when the monk Augustine arrived in Kent in 597. Canterbury, which was Aethelberht’s capital, has been the centre of Christianity in England ever since.

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