One king or many?
Each group of Anglo-Saxon settlers had a leader or war-chief. A strong leader became 'cyning' - Anglo-Saxon for 'king'. Each king ruled a kingdom and led a small army. There were many quarrels and wars between kings, to see who was the strongest.
By around AD600 there were five important Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. They were Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex, Kent and East Anglia. From time to time, the strongest king would claim to be 'bretwalda' - which meant ruler of all Britain.
A king's burial
In 1939, an amazing discovery was made at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. When they dug into a large earth mound, archaeologists found traces of an Anglo-Saxon ship and many precious objects. This was the grave of a king, probably King Redwald of East Anglia. He died around AD625.
The treasure buried with the king included coins (with dates on), the remains of clothes and armour, a shield, drinking cups, shoes, a lyre, a gold belt buckle, a sword and a helmet. It's clear this was the burial place of a great leader.
Who was Offa?
Offa was King of Mercia from AD757 to 796. Mercia was the strongest kingdom in Anglo-Saxon England, and Offa was the most powerful English king. His fame spread to Europe. Offa was treated almost as an equal by Charlemagne, the greatest ruler in Europe at the time.
Offa issued England's first penny coins, in silver - known as 'Offa's pennies'. He built an earth wall and ditch for defence along the border with Wales. This bank is called Offa's Dyke. About 80 miles/129 km of it can still be seen.
Crime and punishment
The Anglo-Saxons didn't have prisons. People found guilty of crimes were either executed or punished with fines. If they ran away, they became 'outlaws' (outside the law), and anyone could hunt them down - unless they hid in a church. The fine for breaking into someone's home was 5 shillings (25p), paid to the home-owner. For minor crimes like stealing, a nose or a hand might be cut off.
If a person killed someone, they paid money to the dead person's relatives. This was 'wergild'. The idea was to stop long quarrels or 'blood feuds' between families.
Free or Slave?
Most people in Anglo-Saxon society were either freemen or slaves. A freeman owned land and slaves. A slave owned nothing. A slave might be a prisoner captured in war, or someone born into slavery. The richest and most powerful freemen were the thanes who helped the king rule the land.
While kings and thanes lived in large halls (big wooden houses), free peasants or ceorls (churls) lived in small huts. Poor slaves were glad of a cowshed or barn to sleep in at night. Many slaves were badly treated. They could not leave their owner unless they were sold or set free.