Egbert of Wessex
Overview
 
Egbert was King of Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 from 802 until his death in 839. His father was Ealhmund of Kent
Ealhmund of Kent
Ealhmund was King of Kent in 784.The only contemporary evidence of him is an abstract of a charter dated in that year, in which Ealhmund granted land to the Abbot of Reculver...

. In the 780s Egbert was forced into exile by Offa of Mercia
Offa of Mercia
Offa was the King of Mercia from 757 until his death in July 796. The son of Thingfrith and a descendant of Eowa, Offa came to the throne after a period of civil war following the assassination of Æthelbald after defeating the other claimant Beornred. In the early years of Offa's reign it is likely...

 and Beorhtric of Wessex
Beorhtric of Wessex
Beorhtric was the King of Wessex from 786 to 802.In 786, Cynewulf, king of Wessex, was killed by the exiled noble Cyneheard, brother of the former King Sigeberht. Beorhtric's successful bid for the throne was supported by Offa, king of the Mercians against Egbert...

, but on Beorhtric's death in 802 Egbert returned and took the throne.

Little is known of the first 20 years of Egbert's reign, but it is thought that he was able to maintain Wessex's independence against the kingdom of Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

, which at that time dominated the other southern English kingdoms. In 825 Egbert defeated Beornwulf of Mercia
Beornwulf of Mercia
Beornwulf was King of Mercia from 823 to 825. His short reign saw the collapse of the Mercia's supremacy over the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy....

 and ended Mercia's supremacy
Mercian Supremacy
The Mercian Supremacy is a term commonly used to describe that period of English history between AD 600 and 900, in which the Kingdom of Mercia dominated the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy...

 at the Battle of Ellandun, and proceeded to take control of the Mercian dependencies in southeastern England.
Encyclopedia
Egbert was King of Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 from 802 until his death in 839. His father was Ealhmund of Kent
Ealhmund of Kent
Ealhmund was King of Kent in 784.The only contemporary evidence of him is an abstract of a charter dated in that year, in which Ealhmund granted land to the Abbot of Reculver...

. In the 780s Egbert was forced into exile by Offa of Mercia
Offa of Mercia
Offa was the King of Mercia from 757 until his death in July 796. The son of Thingfrith and a descendant of Eowa, Offa came to the throne after a period of civil war following the assassination of Æthelbald after defeating the other claimant Beornred. In the early years of Offa's reign it is likely...

 and Beorhtric of Wessex
Beorhtric of Wessex
Beorhtric was the King of Wessex from 786 to 802.In 786, Cynewulf, king of Wessex, was killed by the exiled noble Cyneheard, brother of the former King Sigeberht. Beorhtric's successful bid for the throne was supported by Offa, king of the Mercians against Egbert...

, but on Beorhtric's death in 802 Egbert returned and took the throne.

Little is known of the first 20 years of Egbert's reign, but it is thought that he was able to maintain Wessex's independence against the kingdom of Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

, which at that time dominated the other southern English kingdoms. In 825 Egbert defeated Beornwulf of Mercia
Beornwulf of Mercia
Beornwulf was King of Mercia from 823 to 825. His short reign saw the collapse of the Mercia's supremacy over the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy....

 and ended Mercia's supremacy
Mercian Supremacy
The Mercian Supremacy is a term commonly used to describe that period of English history between AD 600 and 900, in which the Kingdom of Mercia dominated the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy...

 at the Battle of Ellandun, and proceeded to take control of the Mercian dependencies in southeastern England. In 829 Egbert defeated Wiglaf of Mercia
Wiglaf of Mercia
Wiglaf was King of Mercia from 827 to 829 and again from 830 until his death. His ancestry is uncertain: the 820s were a period of dynastic conflict within Mercia and the genealogy of several of the kings of this time is unknown...

 and drove him out of his kingdom, temporarily ruling Mercia directly. Later that year Egbert received the submission of the Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

n king at Dore
Dore
Dore is a village in South Yorkshire, England. The village lies on a hill above the River Sheaf, and until 1934 was part of Derbyshire, but it is now a suburb of Sheffield. It is served by Dore and Totley railway station on the Hope Valley Line...

, near Sheffield
Sheffield
Sheffield is a city and metropolitan borough of South Yorkshire, England. Its name derives from the River Sheaf, which runs through the city. Historically a part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and with some of its southern suburbs annexed from Derbyshire, the city has grown from its largely...

. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of annals in Old English chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons. The original manuscript of the Chronicle was created late in the 9th century, probably in Wessex, during the reign of Alfred the Great...

subsequently described Egbert as a bretwalda
Bretwalda
Bretwalda is an Old English word, the first record of which comes from the late 9th century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It is given to some of the rulers of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms from the 5th century onwards who had achieved overlordship of some or all of the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms...

, or "Ruler of Britain."

Egbert was unable to maintain this dominant position, and within a year Wiglaf regained the throne of Mercia. However, Wessex did retain control of Kent, Sussex and Surrey; these territories were given to Egbert's son Æthelwulf to rule as a subking under Egbert. When Egbert died in 839, Æthelwulf succeeded him; the southeastern kingdoms were finally absorbed into the kingdom of Wessex after Æthelwulf's death in 858.

Family

The earliest version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of annals in Old English chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons. The original manuscript of the Chronicle was created late in the 9th century, probably in Wessex, during the reign of Alfred the Great...

,
the Parker Chronicle, begins with a genealogical preface tracing the ancestry of Egbert's son Æthelwulf back through Egbert, Ealhmund (thought to be Ealhmund of Kent
Ealhmund of Kent
Ealhmund was King of Kent in 784.The only contemporary evidence of him is an abstract of a charter dated in that year, in which Ealhmund granted land to the Abbot of Reculver...

), and the otherwise unknown Eoppa and Eafa to Ingild, brother of king Ine of Wessex
Ine of Wessex
Ine was King of Wessex from 688 to 726. He was unable to retain the territorial gains of his predecessor, Cædwalla, who had brought much of southern England under his control and expanded West Saxon territory substantially...

, who abdicated the throne in 726. It continues back to Cerdic
Cerdic of Wessex
Cerdic was probably the first King of Anglo-Saxon Wessex from 519 to 534, cited by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as the founder of the kingdom of Wessex and ancestor of all its subsequent kings...

, founder of the House of Wessex
House of Wessex
The House of Wessex, also known as the House of Cerdic, refers to the family that ruled a kingdom in southwest England known as Wessex. This House was in power from the 6th century under Cerdic of Wessex to the unification of the Kingdoms of England....

. Egbert's descent from Ingild was accepted by Frank Stenton
Frank Stenton
Sir Frank Merry Stenton was a 20th century historian of Anglo-Saxon England, and president of the Royal Historical Society . He was the author of Anglo-Saxon England, a volume of the Oxford History of England, first published in 1943 and widely considered a classic history of the period...

, but not the earlier genealogy back to Cerdic. However, Heather Edwards in her Online Dictionary of National Biography
Dictionary of National Biography
The Dictionary of National Biography is a standard work of reference on notable figures from British history, published from 1885...

 article on Egbert argues that he was of Kentish origin, and that the West Saxon descent may have been manufactured during his reign to give him legitimacy. He is reputed to have had a half-sister Alburga
Alburga
Æthelburh or Alburga of Wilton , was a member of the royal house of Wessex, abbess of Wilton and a saint.Alburga was the daughter of Ealhmund of Kent, Subregulus of Kent, half-sister of Egbert, King of Wessex, and wife of Wulfstan, ealdorman of Wiltshire .On her husband's death in 802, she turned...

, later to be recognized as a saint for her founding of Wilton Abbey
Wilton Abbey
Wilton Abbey was a Benedictine convent in Wiltshire, England, three miles from Salisbury on the site now occupied by Wilton House. A first foundation was made as a college of secular priests by Wulfstan, Ealdorman of Wiltshire, about 773, but after his death was changed into a convent for twelve...

. She was married to Wulfstan, ealdorman of Wiltshire
Wulfstan, ealdorman of Wiltshire
Wulfstan, ealdorman of Wiltshire or Weohstan, , a leader of Wessex who ruled Wiltshire as Ealdorman under Cynewulf and Beorhtric...

, and on his death in 802 she became a nun, Abbess
Abbess
An abbess is the female superior, or mother superior, of a community of nuns, often an abbey....

 of Wilton Abbey. The only source naming the wife of Egbert is a later medieval manuscript at Trinity College, Oxford
Trinity College, Oxford
The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity in the University of Oxford, of the foundation of Sir Thomas Pope , or Trinity College for short, is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. It stands on Broad Street, next door to Balliol College and Blackwells bookshop,...

, which relates that Egbert married Redburga
Redburga
Redburga or Raedburh appears in a late medieval manuscript held by Oxford University as wife of king Egbert of Wessex. She is described there as "regis Francorum sororia", which means "pertaining to the sister of the French king"...

, regis Francorum sororia, thought to indicate sister, sister-in law or niece of the Frankish
Frankish Empire
Francia or Frankia, later also called the Frankish Empire , Frankish Kingdom , Frankish Realm or occasionally Frankland, was the territory inhabited and ruled by the Franks from the 3rd to the 10th century...

 Emperor. This seems consistent with Egbert's strong ties to the Frankish royal court and his exile there, but lacks contemporary support.

Political context and early life

Offa of Mercia
Offa of Mercia
Offa was the King of Mercia from 757 until his death in July 796. The son of Thingfrith and a descendant of Eowa, Offa came to the throne after a period of civil war following the assassination of Æthelbald after defeating the other claimant Beornred. In the early years of Offa's reign it is likely...

, who reigned from 757 to 796, was the dominant force in Anglo-Saxon England in the second half of the eighth century. The relationship between Offa
Offa
Offa may refer to:Two kings of the Angles, who are often confused:*Offa of Angel , on the continent*Offa of Mercia , in Great BritainA king of Essex:*Offa of Essex A town in Nigeria:* Offa, Nigeria...

 and Cynewulf
Cynewulf of Wessex
Cynewulf was the King of Wessex from 757 until his death in 786.Cynewulf became king after his predecessor, Sigeberht, was deposed. He may have come to power under the influence of Æthelbald of Mercia, since he was recorded as a witness to a charter of Æthelbald shortly thereafter...

, who was king of Wessex from 757 to 786, is not well documented, but it seems likely that Cynewulf maintained some independence from Mercian overlordship. Evidence of the relationship between kings can come from charters, which were documents which granted land to followers or to churchmen, and which were witnessed by the kings who had power to grant the land. In some cases a king will appear on a charter as a subregulus, or "subking", making it clear that he has an overlord. Cynewulf appears as "King of the West Saxons" on a charter of Offa's in 772; and he was defeated by Offa in battle in 779 at Bensington, but there is nothing else to suggest Cynewulf was not his own master, and he is not known to have acknowledged Offa as overlord. Offa did have influence in the southeast of the country: a charter of 764 shows him in the company of Heahberht of Kent
Heaberht of Kent
Heaberht was a King of Kent in the 8th century, ruling jointly with Ecgberht II.Heaberht is known from his coins and from charters of other kings. He witnessed or confirmed two charters of Ecgberht II , one dated 765, as is mentioned in a charter of Offa, King of Mercia , dated 764 ....

, suggesting that Offa's influence helped place Heahberht on the throne. The extent of Offa's control of Kent between 765 and 776 is a matter of debate amongst historians, but from 776 until about 784 it appears that the Kentish kings had substantial independence from Mercia.

Another Egbert, Egbert II of Kent
Egbert II of Kent
Ecgberht II was King of Kent jointly with Heaberht.Ecgberht II is known from his coins and charters, ranging from 765 to 779 , two of which were witnessed or confirmed by Heaberht.Ecgberht II acceded by 765, when he issued his earliest surviving charter...

, ruled in that kingdom throughout the 770s; he is last mentioned in 779, in a charter granting land at Rochester. In 784 a new king of Kent, Ealhmund
Ealhmund of Kent
Ealhmund was King of Kent in 784.The only contemporary evidence of him is an abstract of a charter dated in that year, in which Ealhmund granted land to the Abbot of Reculver...

, appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of annals in Old English chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons. The original manuscript of the Chronicle was created late in the 9th century, probably in Wessex, during the reign of Alfred the Great...

. According to a note in the margin, "this king Ealhmund was Egbert's father [i.e. Egbert of Wessex], Egbert was Æthelwulf's father." This is supported by the genealogical preface from the A text of the Chronicle, which gives Egbert's father's name as Ealhmund without further details. The preface probably dates from the late ninth century; the marginal note is on the F manuscript of the Chronicle, which is a Kentish version dating from about 1100.

Ealhmund does not appear to have long survived in power: there is no record of his activities after 784. There is, however, extensive evidence of Offa's domination of Kent during the late 780s, with his goals apparently going beyond overlordship to outright annexation of the kingdom, and he has been described as "the rival, not the overlord, of the Kentish kings". It is possible that the young Egbert fled to Wessex in 785 or so; it is suggestive that the Chronicle mentions in a later entry that Beorhtric
Beorhtric of Wessex
Beorhtric was the King of Wessex from 786 to 802.In 786, Cynewulf, king of Wessex, was killed by the exiled noble Cyneheard, brother of the former King Sigeberht. Beorhtric's successful bid for the throne was supported by Offa, king of the Mercians against Egbert...

, Cynewulf's successor, helped Offa to exile Egbert.

Cynewulf was murdered in 786. Egbert may have contested the succession, but Offa successfully intervened in the ensuing power struggle on the side of Beorhtric. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Egbert spent three years in Francia before he was king, exiled by Beorhtric and Offa. The text says "iii" for three, but this may have been a scribal error, with the correct reading being "xiii", that is, thirteen years. Beorhtric's reign lasted sixteen years, and not thirteen; and all extant texts of the chronicle agree on "iii", but many modern accounts assume that Egbert did indeed spend thirteen years in Francia. This requires assuming that the error in transcription is common to every manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; many historians make this assumption but others have rejected it as unlikely, given the consistency of the sources. In either case Egbert was probably exiled in 789, when Beorhtric, his rival, married the daughter of Offa of Mercia.

At the time Egbert was in exile, Francia was ruled by Charlemagne, who maintained Frankish influence in Northumbria and is known to have supported Offa's enemies in the south. Another exile in Gaul at this time was Odberht, a priest, who is almost certainly the same person as Eadberht
Eadberht III Præn
Eadberht III Præn was the King of Kent from 796 to 798. His brief reign was the result of a rebellion against the hegemony of Mercia, and it marked the last time that Kent existed as an independent kingdom....

, who later became king of Kent. According to a later chronicler, William of Malmesbury
William of Malmesbury
William of Malmesbury was the foremost English historian of the 12th century. C. Warren Hollister so ranks him among the most talented generation of writers of history since Bede, "a gifted historical scholar and an omnivorous reader, impressively well versed in the literature of classical,...

, Egbert learned the arts of government during his time in Gaul.

Early reign

Beorhtric's dependency on Mercia continued into the reign of Cenwulf, who became king of Mercia a few months after Offa's death. Beorhtric died in 802, and Egbert came to the throne of Wessex, probably with the support of Charlemagne and perhaps also the papacy. The Mercians continued to oppose Egbert: the day of his accession, the Hwicce
Hwicce
The Hwicce were one of the peoples of Anglo-Saxon England. The exact boundaries of their kingdom are uncertain, though it is likely that they coincided with those of the old Diocese of Worcester, founded in 679–80, the early bishops of which bore the title Episcopus Hwicciorum...

 (who had originally formed a separate kingdom, but by that time were part of Mercia) attacked, under the leadership of their ealdorman
Ealdorman
An ealdorman is the term used for a high-ranking royal official and prior magistrate of an Anglo-Saxon shire or group of shires from about the ninth century to the time of King Cnut...

, Æthelmund
Æthelmund
Æthelmund, an Anglo-Saxon noble, was Ealdorman of Hwicce in the late 8th century, perhaps living into the early 9th century. Æthelmund's predecessors had been kings, but he was a subject of the king of Mercia....

. Weohstan, a Wessex ealdorman, met him with men from Wiltshire: according to a 15th century source, Weohstan had married Alburga, Egbert's sister, and so was Egbert's brother-in-law. The Hwicce were defeated, though Weohstan was killed as well as Æthelmund. Nothing more is recorded of Egbert's relations with Mercia for more than twenty years after this battle. It seems likely that Egbert had no influence outside his own borders, but on the other hand there is no evidence that he ever submitted to the overlordship of Cenwulf. Cenwulf did have overlordship of the rest of southern England, but in Cenwulf's charters the title of "overlord of the southern English" never appears, presumably in consequence of the independence of the kingdom of Wessex.

In 815 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Egbert ravaged the whole of the territories of the remaining British kingdom, Dumnonia
Dumnonia
Dumnonia is the Latinised name for the Brythonic kingdom in sub-Roman Britain between the late 4th and late 8th centuries, located in the farther parts of the south-west peninsula of Great Britain...

, known to the author of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as the West Welsh; their territory was about equivalent to what is now Cornwall
Cornwall
Cornwall is a unitary authority and ceremonial county of England, within the United Kingdom. It is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar. Cornwall has a population of , and covers an area of...

. Ten years later, a charter dated 19 August 825 indicates that Egbert was campaigning in Dumnonia again; this may have been related to a battle recorded in the Chronicle at Galford in 823, between the men of Devon and the Britons of Cornwall.

The battle of Ellendun

It was also in 825 that one of the most important battles in Anglo-Saxon history took place, when Egbert defeated Beornwulf of Mercia
Beornwulf of Mercia
Beornwulf was King of Mercia from 823 to 825. His short reign saw the collapse of the Mercia's supremacy over the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy....

 at Ellendun—now Wroughton
Wroughton
Wroughton is a large village in Wiltshire, England. It is part of the Borough of Swindon and is south of Swindon.-History:The earliest evidence of human presence in the area is from the Mesolithic period, although this is fairly limited...

, near Swindon
Swindon
Swindon is a large town within the borough of Swindon and ceremonial county of Wiltshire, in South West England. It is midway between Bristol, west and Reading, east. London is east...

. This battle marked the end of the Mercian domination of southern England. The Chronicle tells how Egbert followed up his victory: "Then he sent his son Æthelwulf from the army, and Ealhstan, his bishop, and Wulfheard, his ealdorman, to Kent with a great troop." Æthelwulf drove Baldred, the king of Kent, north over the Thames, and according to the Chronicle, the men of Kent, Essex, Surrey and Sussex then all submitted to Æthelwulf "because earlier they were wrongly forced away from his relatives." This may refer to Offa's interventions in Kent at the time Egbert's father Ealhmund became king; if so, the chronicler's remark may also indicate Ealhmund had connections elsewhere in southeast England.

The Chronicle's version of events makes it appear that Baldred was driven out shortly after the battle, but this was probably not the case. A document from Kent survives which gives the date, March 826, as being in the third year of the reign of Beornwulf. This makes it likely that Beornwulf still had authority in Kent at this date, as Baldred's overlord; hence Baldred was apparently still in power. In Essex, Egbert expelled King Sigered
Sigered of Essex
Sigered of Essex was the last king of Essex from 798 to 825. The son of Sigeric of Essex, Sigered became king when his father abdicated the throne....

, though the date is unknown. It may have been delayed until 829, since a later chronicler associates the expulsion with a campaign of Egbert's in that year against the Mercians.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle does not say who was the aggressor at Ellendun, but one recent history asserts that Beornwulf was almost certainly the one who attacked. According to this view, Beornwulf may have taken advantage of the Wessex campaign in Dumnonia
Dumnonia
Dumnonia is the Latinised name for the Brythonic kingdom in sub-Roman Britain between the late 4th and late 8th centuries, located in the farther parts of the south-west peninsula of Great Britain...

 in the summer of 825. Beornwulf's motivation to launch an attack would have been the threat of unrest or instability in the southeast: the dynastic connections with Kent made Wessex a threat to Mercian dominance.

The consequences of Ellendun went beyond the immediate loss of Mercian power in the southeast. According to the Chronicle, the East Anglians asked for Egbert's protection against the Mercians in the same year, 825, though it may actually have been in the following year that the request was made. In 826 Beornwulf invaded East Anglia, presumably to recover his overlordship. He was slain, however, as was his successor, Ludeca, who invaded East Anglia in 827, evidently for the same reason. It may be that the Mercians were hoping for support from Kent: there was some reason to suppose that Wulfred
Wulfred
Wulfred was an Anglo-Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury in medieval England. Nothing is known of his life prior to 803, when he attended a church council, but he was probably a nobleman from Middlesex. He was elected archbishop in 805 and spent his time in office reforming the clergy of his cathedral...

, the Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

, might be discontented with West Saxon rule, as Egbert had terminated Wulfred's currency and had begun to mint his own, at Rochester and Canterbury, and it is known that Egbert seized property belonging to Canterbury. The outcome in East Anglia was a disaster for the Mercians which confirmed West Saxon power in the southeast.

Defeat of Mercia

In 829 Egbert invaded Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

 and drove Wiglaf
Wiglaf of Mercia
Wiglaf was King of Mercia from 827 to 829 and again from 830 until his death. His ancestry is uncertain: the 820s were a period of dynastic conflict within Mercia and the genealogy of several of the kings of this time is unknown...

, the king of Mercia, into exile. This victory gave Egbert control of the London mint, and he issued coins as King of Mercia. It was after this victory that the West Saxon scribe described him as a bretwalda
Bretwalda
Bretwalda is an Old English word, the first record of which comes from the late 9th century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It is given to some of the rulers of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms from the 5th century onwards who had achieved overlordship of some or all of the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms...

, meaning "wide-ruler" or "Britain-ruler", in a famous passage in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The relevant part of the annal reads, in the [C] manuscript of the Chronicle:

7 þy geare geeode Ecgbriht cing Myrcna rice 7 eall þæt be suþan Humbre wæs, 7 he wæs eahtaþa cing se ðe Bretenanwealda wæs.


In modern English:

And the same year King Egbert conquered the kingdom of Mercia, and all that was south of the Humber, and he was the eighth king who was 'Wide Ruler'.


The previous seven bretwaldas are also named by the Chronicler, who gives the same seven names that Bede lists as holding imperium, starting with Ælle of Sussex and ending with Oswiu of Northumbria
Oswiu of Northumbria
Oswiu , also known as Oswy or Oswig , was a King of Bernicia. His father, Æthelfrith of Bernicia, was killed in battle, fighting against Rædwald, King of the East Angles and Edwin of Deira at the River Idle in 616...

. The list is often thought to be incomplete, omitting as it does some dominant Mercian kings such as Penda
Penda of Mercia
Penda was a 7th-century King of Mercia, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom in what is today the English Midlands. A pagan at a time when Christianity was taking hold in many of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Penda took over the Severn Valley in 628 following the Battle of Cirencester before participating in the...

 and Offa. The exact meaning of the title has been much debated; it has been described as "a term of encomiastic poetry" but there is also evidence that it implied a definite role of military leadership.

Later in 829, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Egbert received the submission of the Northumbrians at Dore
Dore
Dore is a village in South Yorkshire, England. The village lies on a hill above the River Sheaf, and until 1934 was part of Derbyshire, but it is now a suburb of Sheffield. It is served by Dore and Totley railway station on the Hope Valley Line...

 (now a suburb of Sheffield
Sheffield
Sheffield is a city and metropolitan borough of South Yorkshire, England. Its name derives from the River Sheaf, which runs through the city. Historically a part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and with some of its southern suburbs annexed from Derbyshire, the city has grown from its largely...

); the Northumbrian king was probably Eanred
Eanred of Northumbria
Eanred was king of Northumbria in the early ninth century.Very little is known for certain about Eanred. The only reference made by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to the Northumbrians in this period is the statement that in 829 Egbert of Wessex...

. According to a later chronicler, Roger of Wendover
Roger of Wendover
Roger of Wendover , probably a native of Wendover in Buckinghamshire, was an English chronicler of the 13th century.At an uncertain date he became a monk at St Albans Abbey; afterwards he was appointed prior of the cell of Belvoir, but he forfeited this dignity in the early years of Henry III,...

, Egbert invaded Northumbria and plundered it before Eanred submitted: "When Egbert had obtained all the southern kingdoms, he led a large army into Northumbria, and laid waste that province with severe pillaging, and made King Eanred pay tribute." Roger of Wendover is known to have incorporated Northumbrian annals into his version; the Chronicle does not mention these events. However, the nature of Eanred's submission has been questioned: one historian has suggested that it is more likely that the meeting at Dore represented a mutual recognition of sovereignty.

In 830 Egbert led a successful expedition against the Welsh
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

, almost certainly with the intent of extending West Saxon influence into the Welsh lands previously within the Mercian orbit. This marked the high point of Egbert's influence.

Reduction in influence after 829

In 830, Mercia regained its independence under Wiglaf—the Chronicle merely says that Wiglaf "obtained the kingdom of Mercia again", but the most likely explanation is that this was the result of a Mercian rebellion against Wessex rule.

Egbert's dominion over southern England came to an end with Wiglaf's recovery of power. Wiglaf's return is followed by evidence of his independence from Wessex. Charters indicate Wiglaf had authority in Middlesex and Berkshire, and in a charter of 836 Wiglaf uses the phrase "my bishops, duces, and magistrates" to describe a group that included eleven bishops from the episcopate of Canterbury, including bishops of sees in West Saxon territory. It is significant that Wiglaf was still able to call together such a group of notables; the West Saxons, even if they were able to do so, held no such councils. Wiglaf may also have brought Essex back into the Mercian orbit during the years after he recovered the throne. In East Anglia, King Æthelstan minted coins, possibly as early as 827, but more likely c. 830 after Egbert's influence was reduced with Wiglaf's return to power in Mercia. This demonstration of independence on East Anglia's part is not surprising, as it was Æthelstan who was probably responsible for the defeat and death of both Beornwulf and Ludeca.

Both Wessex's sudden rise to power in the late 820s, and the subsequent failure to retain this dominant position, have been examined by historians looking for underlying causes. One plausible explanation for the events of these years is that Wessex's fortunes were to some degree dependent on Carolingian support. The Franks supported Eardwulf
Eardwulf of Northumbria
Eardwulf was king of Northumbria from 796 to 806, when he was deposed and went into exile. He may have had a second reign from 808 until perhaps 811 or 830. Northumbria in the last years of the eighth century was the scene of dynastic strife between several noble families, and, in 790, the...

 when he recovered the throne of Northumbria in 808, so it is plausible that they also supported Egbert's accession in 802. At Easter 839, not long before Egbert's death, he was in touch with Louis the Pious
Louis the Pious
Louis the Pious , also called the Fair, and the Debonaire, was the King of Aquitaine from 781. He was also King of the Franks and co-Emperor with his father, Charlemagne, from 813...

, king of the Franks, to arrange safe passage to Rome. Hence a continuing relationship with the Franks seems to be part of southern English politics during the first half of the ninth century.

Carolingian support may have been one of the factors that helped Egbert achieve the military successes of the late 820s. However, the Rhenish and Frankish commercial networks collapsed at some time in the 820s or 830s, and in addition, a rebellion broke out in February 830 against Louis the Pious—the first of a series of internal conflicts that lasted through the 830s and beyond. These distractions may have prevented Louis from supporting Egbert. In this view, the withdrawal of Frankish influence would have left East Anglia, Mercia and Wessex to find a balance of power not dependent on outside aid.

Despite the loss of dominance, Egbert's military successes fundamentally changed the political landscape of Anglo-Saxon England. Wessex retained control of the south-eastern kingdoms, with the possible exception of Essex, and Mercia did not regain control of East Anglia. Egbert's victories marked the end of the independent existence of the kingdoms of Kent and Sussex. The conquered territories were administered as a subkingdom for a while, including Surrey and possibly Essex. Although Æthelwulf was a subking under Egbert, it is clear that he maintained his own royal household, with which he travelled around his kingdom. Charters issued in Kent described Egbert and Æthelwulf as "kings of the West Saxons and also of the people of Kent." When Æthelwulf died in 858 his will, in which Wessex is left to one son and the southeastern kingdom to another, makes it clear that it was not until after 858 that the kingdoms were fully integrated. Mercia remained a threat, however; Egbert's son Æthelwulf, established as king of Kent, gave estates to Christ Church, Canterbury, probably in order to counter any influence the Mercians might still have there.

In the southwest, Egbert was defeated in 836 at Carhampton by the Danes, but in 838 he won a battle against them and their allies the West Welsh at Hingston Down
Hingston Down
Hingston Down is a hill not far from Gunnislake in Cornwall in the United Kingdom.-History:This is possibly the Hingston Down mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which says that in 835 Egbert king of the West Saxons defeated an army of Vikings and Cornish at Hengestdun = "Stallion Hill"...

 in Cornwall. The Dumnonian royal line continued after this time, but it is at this date that the independence of the last British kingdom may be considered to have ended. The details of Anglo-Saxon expansion into Cornwall are quite poorly recorded, but some evidence comes from place names. The river Ottery, which flows east into the Tamar
River Tamar
The Tamar is a river in South West England, that forms most of the border between Devon and Cornwall . It is one of several British rivers whose ancient name is assumed to be derived from a prehistoric river word apparently meaning "dark flowing" and which it shares with the River Thames.The...

 near Launceston, appears to be a boundary: south of the Ottery the placenames are overwhelmingly Cornish, whereas to the north they are more heavily influenced by the English newcomers.

Succession

At a council at Kingston-upon-Thames in 838, Egbert and Æthelwulf granted land to the sees of Winchester and Canterbury in return for the promise of support for Æthelwulf's claim to the throne. The archbishop of Canterbury, Ceolnoth
Ceolnoth
-Biography:Gervase of Canterbury says that Ceolnoth was Dean of the see of Canterbury previous to being elected to the archiepiscopal see of Canterbury, but this story has no confirmation in contemporary records. Ceolnoth was consecrated archbishop on 27 July 833...

, also accepted Egbert and Æthelwulf as the lords and protectors of the monasteries under Ceolnoth's control. These agreements, along with a later charter in which Æthelwulf confirmed church privileges, suggest that the church had recognized that Wessex was a new political power that must be dealt with. Churchmen consecrated the king at coronation ceremonies, and helped to write the wills which specified the king's heir; their support had real value in establishing West Saxon control and a smooth succession for Egbert's line. Both the record of the Council of Kingston, and another charter of that year, include the identical phrasing: that a condition of the grant is that "we ourselves and our heirs shall always hereafter have firm and unshakable friendships from Archbishop Ceolnoth and his congregation at Christ Church."

Although nothing is known of any other claimants to the throne, it is likely that there were other surviving descendants of Cerdic (the supposed progenitor of all the kings of Wessex) who might have contended for the kingdom. Egbert died in 839, and his will, according to the account of it found in the will of his grandson, Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

, left land only to male members of his family, so that the estates should not be lost to the royal house through marriage. Egbert's wealth, acquired through conquest, was no doubt one reason for his ability to purchase the support of the southeastern church establishment; the thriftiness of his will indicates he understood the importance of personal wealth to a king. The kingship of Wessex had been frequently contested among different branches of the royal line, and it is a noteworthy achievement of Egbert's that he was able to ensure Æthelwulf's untroubled succession. In addition, Æthelwulf's experience of kingship, in the subkingdom formed from Egbert's southeastern conquests, would have been valuable to him when he took the throne.

Egbert was buried in Winchester, as were his son, Æthelwulf, his grandson, Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

, and Alfred's son, Edward the Elder
Edward the Elder
Edward the Elder was an English king. He became king in 899 upon the death of his father, Alfred the Great. His court was at Winchester, previously the capital of Wessex...

. During the ninth century, Winchester began to show signs of urbanization, and it is likely that the sequence of burials indicates that Winchester was held in high regard by the West Saxon royal line.
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