Wessex
Overview
 
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 kingdom of the West Saxons
Saxons
The Saxons were a confederation of Germanic tribes originating on the North German plain. The Saxons earliest known area of settlement is Northern Albingia, an area approximately that of modern Holstein...

, in South West England
South West England
South West England is one of the regions of England defined by the Government of the United Kingdom for statistical and other purposes. It is the largest such region in area, covering and comprising Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. ...

, 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
Canute the Great
Cnut the Great , also known as Canute, was a king of Denmark, England, Norway and parts of Sweden. Though after the death of his heirs within a decade of his own and the Norman conquest of England in 1066, his legacy was largely lost to history, historian Norman F...

's conquest of 1016, from 1020 to 1066. After the Norman Conquest
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

 there was a dissolution of the English earldoms, and Wessex was split among the followers of William the Conqueror.
According to 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...

(ASC), Wessex was founded by 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...

 and Cynric
Cynric of Wessex
Cynric was King of Wessex from 534 to 560. Everything known about him comes from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. There he is stated to have been the son of Cerdic, and also to have been the son of Cerdic's son, Creoda...

, chieftains of a clan known as "Gewisse".
Encyclopedia
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 kingdom of the West Saxons
Saxons
The Saxons were a confederation of Germanic tribes originating on the North German plain. The Saxons earliest known area of settlement is Northern Albingia, an area approximately that of modern Holstein...

, in South West England
South West England
South West England is one of the regions of England defined by the Government of the United Kingdom for statistical and other purposes. It is the largest such region in area, covering and comprising Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. ...

, 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
Canute the Great
Cnut the Great , also known as Canute, was a king of Denmark, England, Norway and parts of Sweden. Though after the death of his heirs within a decade of his own and the Norman conquest of England in 1066, his legacy was largely lost to history, historian Norman F...

's conquest of 1016, from 1020 to 1066. After the Norman Conquest
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

 there was a dissolution of the English earldoms, and Wessex was split among the followers of William the Conqueror.

Origin

According to 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...

(ASC), Wessex was founded by 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...

 and Cynric
Cynric of Wessex
Cynric was King of Wessex from 534 to 560. Everything known about him comes from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. There he is stated to have been the son of Cerdic, and also to have been the son of Cerdic's son, Creoda...

, chieftains of a clan known as "Gewisse". They are said to have landed on the Hampshire
Hampshire
Hampshire is a county on the southern coast of England in the United Kingdom. The county town of Hampshire is Winchester, a historic cathedral city that was once the capital of England. Hampshire is notable for housing the original birthplaces of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force...

 coast and conquered the surrounding area, including the Isle of Wight
Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight is a county and the largest island of England, located in the English Channel, on average about 2–4 miles off the south coast of the county of Hampshire, separated from the mainland by a strait called the Solent...

. However, the specific events given by the ASC are in some doubt; archæological evidence points instead to a considerable early Anglo-Saxon presence in the upper Thames valley and Cotswolds
Cotswolds
The Cotswolds are a range of hills in west-central England, sometimes called the Heart of England, an area across and long. The area has been designated as the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty...

 area, entered from The Wash
The Wash
The Wash is the square-mouthed bay and estuary on the northwest margin of East Anglia on the east coast of England, where Norfolk meets Lincolnshire. It is among the largest estuaries in the United Kingdom...

 along Icknield Way
Icknield Way
The Icknield Way is an ancient trackway in southern England. It follows the chalk escarpment that includes the Berkshire Downs and Chiltern Hills.-Background:...

, and the centre of gravity of Wessex in the late sixth and early seventh century seems to have lain farther to the north than in later periods, following successful expansion to the south and west. Bede
Bede
Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

 states that the Isle of Wight was settled not by Saxons but Jutes
Jutes
The Jutes, Iuti, or Iutæ were a Germanic people who, according to Bede, were one of the three most powerful Germanic peoples of their time, the other two being the Saxons and the Angles...

, who also settled on the Hampshire coast, known as the Meonsæte, and that these areas were only acquired by Wessex in the later seventh century. It is therefore possible that the ASC account is a product of the circumstances of the eighth and ninth centuries being projected back into the past to create an origin story of the ruling kinship appropriate to the contemporary form of the kingdom. It may also be noted that the names of some of the early West Saxon leaders appear to be Brythonic
Britons (historical)
The Britons were the Celtic people culturally dominating Great Britain from the Iron Age through the Early Middle Ages. They spoke the Insular Celtic language known as British or Brythonic...

 in origin, including the dynastic founder Cerdic (being a form of Ceredic or Caradoc
Caradoc
Caradoc Vreichvras Arm) was a semi-legendary ancestor to the kings of Gwent. He lived during the 5th or 6th century. He is remembered in Arthurian legend as a Knight of the Round Table as Carados Briefbras ....

) and Cædwalla (from Cadwallon
Cadwallon
Cadwallon is a Welsh name, derived from an earlier Old Welsh version of the same name spelled Caswallawn. The name honours Cassivelaunus who was the pre-Roman king of the British Catuvellauni tribe who successfully resisted the Romans in 55 BC....

, a Welsh name derived from Caswalawn a Brythonic version of Cassivellaunus
Cassivellaunus
Cassivellaunus was an historical British chieftain who led the defence against Julius Caesar's second expedition to Britain in 54 BC. The first British person whose name is recorded, Cassivellaunus led an alliance of tribes against Roman forces, but eventually surrendered after his location was...

). These are interspersed with Old English names such as Ceolwulf
Ceolwulf of Wessex
Ceolwulf was King of Wessex from 597 to 611. He became king upon the death of his brother Ceol, because at that time Ceol's son Cynegils was too young to rule.Ceolwulf reigned for fourteen years and nothing is known of Wessex during his time as king....

, Coenberht and Aescwine
Aescwine of Wessex
Æscwine was a King of Wessex from about 674 to 676, but probably not the only king in Wessex at the time.Bede writes that after the death of King Cenwalh: "his under-rulers took upon them the kingdom of the people, and dividing it among themselves, held it ten years". West Saxon tradition has...

. This variation might suggest the early rulers came from a hybrid Anglo-British dynasty or that the rule of early Wessex shifted between more than one royal clan, but this is conjecture.

The two main sources for the names and dates of the kings of Wessex are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and an associated document known as the West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List. The Chronicle gives small genealogies in multiple places, under the annals for different years. These sources, however, conflict in various ways, and cannot be fully reconciled. A recent analysis by David Dumville
David Dumville
Professor David Norman Dumville is a British medievalist and Celtic scholar. He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Ludwig-Maximilian Universität, Munich, and received his PhD. at the University of Edinburgh in 1976. In 1974, he married Sally Lois Hannay, with whom he had one son...

 that has produced a set of plausible dates for the West Saxon kings has been used by other scholars but cannot be regarded as definitive. Dumville's dates are used in the historical outline below, with reference to the original sources to highlight some of the conflicts. The later genealogies may have been contrived with the intent of connecting all lineages to Cerdic, and this has introduced additional inconsistencies which cannot all be resolved.

Though the Chronicle gives 495 as the date for Cerdic's arrival in Britain

"495. There came two eaorlmen to Britain, Cerdic and Cynric his son, with five ships, to a place called Cerdicesora, on the same day they fought the Welsh."

F. M. Stenton gives evidence of doubled entries in the Chronicle, which suggests an early sixth-century date for the landing of the ancestor of the Wessex ruling kinship.

Most historians appear agreed that the location of Cerdicesora or "Cerdic's Shore" is somewhere on Southampton Water
Southampton Water
Southampton Water is a tidal estuary north of the Solent and the Isle of Wight in England. The city of Southampton lies at its most northerly point. Along its salt marsh-fringed western shores lie the New Forest villages of Hythe and "the waterside", Dibden Bay, and the Esso oil refinery at Fawley...

, perhaps Calshot
Calshot
Calshot is a coastal village in Hampshire, England at the west corner of Southampton_Water where it joins the Solent. A settlement at the site is believed to have existed since the fifth century AD...

. After making a beachhead
Beachhead
Beachhead is a military term used to describe the line created when a unit reaches a beach, and begins to defend that area of beach, while other reinforcements help out, until a unit large enough to begin advancing has arrived. It is sometimes used interchangeably with Bridgehead and Lodgement...

 and consolidating their position they next appear to have attacked the area around Southampton
Southampton
Southampton is the largest city in the county of Hampshire on the south coast of England, and is situated south-west of London and north-west of Portsmouth. Southampton is a major port and the closest city to the New Forest...

 at the Battle of Natanleod. The location of this Natanleod has been placed at Netley Marsh
Netley Marsh
Netley Marsh is a village and civil parish in Hampshire, UK, close to the town of Totton. It lies within the New Forest District council, and the New Forest National Park. It is the alleged site of the battle between an invading Anglo Saxon army, under Cerdic and a British army under Natanleod in...

.

"508. This year Cerdic and Cynric killed a British king named Natanleod, and five thousand men with him. After that the land was known as Natanleag up to Cerdicesford."


The location of Cerdicesford has been placed at various locations in southern Hampshire including Chandler's Ford
Chandler's Ford
Chandler's Ford is a largely residential area and civil parish in the Borough of Eastleigh in Hampshire, England, with a population of 20,071 in the 2001 UK Census....

. The historian Albany Major places the site at Charford
North Charford
North Charford is a hamlet in the New Forest district, in Hampshire, England, near the Wiltshire border. Historically the name refers to a manor which is now in the civil parish of Breamore on the west bank of the River Avon.-History:...

 at the crossing of the River Avon (Hampshire) close to the border with Wiltshire
Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

.

"514. The West-Saxons came to Briton with 3 ships to a place called Cerdicesora and in the same year they fought the Britons and put them to flight."


"519. Cerdic and Cynric received the West-Saxon kingdom, and the same year they fought with the Britons, in a place now called Cerdicesford. The royal line of Wessex ruled from that day."


Despite the repetition there is no reason to presume there were not multiple landings along a coast known to the Saxons as Cerdic's Shore. It is likely that both Winchester
Winchester
Winchester is a historic cathedral city and former capital city of England. It is the county town of Hampshire, in South East England. The city lies at the heart of the wider City of Winchester, a local government district, and is located at the western end of the South Downs, along the course of...

 and Silchester
Silchester
Silchester is a village and civil parish about north of Basingstoke in Hampshire. It is adjacent to the county boundary with Berkshire and about south-west of Reading....

 would have fallen to the West Saxons between the years 508
508
Year 508 was a leap year starting on Tuesday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Venantius and Celer...

 and 514
514
Year 514 was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Cassiodorus without colleague...

, but this transition is only suggested by the absence of these important towns in the later annals of the British scribes. A later thrust up the Hampshire Avon towards Old Sarum
Old Sarum
Old Sarum is the site of the earliest settlement of Salisbury, in England. The site contains evidence of human habitation as early as 3000 BC. Old Sarum is mentioned in some of the earliest records in the country...

 in 519
519
Year 519 was a common year starting on Tuesday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Iustinus and Cillica...

 appears to have been checked by the Britons at Charford. Albany Major in Early Wars of Wessex makes the case that the borders of the traditional county of Hampshire probably match those of the first West Saxon kingdom established by Cerdic and his son. Evidence of this comes from the border between Hampshire and Berkshire which follows generally the line of the Roman road that ran east and west through Silchester but is deflected in the north in a rough semicircle, in such a way as to include the whole district around the town. He argues that the capture of Silchester, of which no record has been passed down to us, was not the work 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...

n Angles
Angles
The Angles is a modern English term for a Germanic people who took their name from the ancestral cultural region of Angeln, a district located in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany...

 but of the West Saxons probably striking north from Winchester and possibly acting in concert with a separate force making its way up the Thames Valley
Thames Valley
The Thames Valley Region is a loose term for the English counties and towns roughly following the course of the River Thames as it flows from Oxfordshire in the west to London in the east. It includes parts of Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, North Hampshire, Surrey and west London...

 towards Reading
Reading, Berkshire
Reading is a large town and unitary authority area in England. It is located in the Thames Valley at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, and on both the Great Western Main Line railway and the M4 motorway, some west of London....

. Silchester was left desolate after its fall and it is most improbable that any regard would have been paid to its side of the border had the fixing of the county boundary been made at a later period.
Study of the borders between Hampshire and Wiltshire also seem to suggest the West Saxons' westward advance was checked by about 519AD. The area north of Charford This would corroborate the date given in the Annales Cambriae
Annales Cambriae
Annales Cambriae, or The Annals of Wales, is the name given to a complex of Cambro-Latin chronicles deriving ultimately from a text compiled from diverse sources at St David's in Dyfed, Wales, not later than the 10th century...

for the crucial British victory at the Battle of Mons Badonicus in 517AD which is believed to have stopped further Anglo-Saxon encroachments in south-west and midland Britain for at least a generation.

The length of Cerdic's reign is unclear but the throne passed to Cynric in about 554
554
Year 554 was a common year starting on Thursday of the Julian calendar. The denomination 554 for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.- Byzantine Empire :* General Narses reconquers all of...

. Cynric is Cerdic's son according to some sources and Cerdic's grandson in others, which name Creoda, son of Cerdic, as Cynric's father. Cynric was in turn succeeded by Ceawlin
Ceawlin of Wessex
Ceawlin was a King of Wessex. He may have been the son of Cynric of Wessex and the grandson of Cerdic of Wessex, whom the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle represents as the leader of the first group of Saxons to come to the land which later became Wessex...

, who was probably his son, in about 581.

Ceawlin's reign is thought to be more reliably documented than those of the earlier kings, though the Chronicle's dates of 560 to 592 are substantially different from the revised chronology. He overcame pockets of Britons to the northeast in the Chilterns and in Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire is a county in South West England. The county comprises part of the Cotswold Hills, part of the flat fertile valley of the River Severn, and the entire Forest of Dean....

 and Somerset
Somerset
The ceremonial and non-metropolitan county of Somerset in South West England borders Bristol and Gloucestershire to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east, and Devon to the south-west. It is partly bounded to the north and west by the Bristol Channel and the estuary of the...

 the captures of Cirencester
Cirencester
Cirencester is a market town in east Gloucestershire, England, 93 miles west northwest of London. Cirencester lies on the River Churn, a tributary of the River Thames, and is the largest town in the Cotswold District. It is the home of the Royal Agricultural College, the oldest agricultural...

, Gloucester
Gloucester
Gloucester is a city, district and county town of Gloucestershire in the South West region of England. Gloucester lies close to the Welsh border, and on the River Severn, approximately north-east of Bristol, and south-southwest of Birmingham....

 and Bath (577), after a long pause caused by the battle of Mons Badonicus, opened the way to the southwest. Ceawlin is one of the seven kings named in Bede
Bede
Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

's Ecclesiastical History of the English People
Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum
The Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum is a work in Latin by Bede on the history of the Christian Churches in England, and of England generally; its main focus is on the conflict between Roman and Celtic Christianity.It is considered to be one of the most important original references on...

as holding "imperium" over the southern English; the Chronicle later repeats this claim and refers to Ceawlin 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 "Britain-ruler".

Ceawlin was deposed, perhaps by his successor Ceol, and died the following year. Ceol was the son of Ceawlin's brother, Cutha. Six years later, in about 594, Ceol was succeeded by Ceolwulf
Ceolwulf of Wessex
Ceolwulf was King of Wessex from 597 to 611. He became king upon the death of his brother Ceol, because at that time Ceol's son Cynegils was too young to rule.Ceolwulf reigned for fourteen years and nothing is known of Wessex during his time as king....

, his own brother; and Ceolwulf was succeeded in his turn in about 617 by Cynegils
Cynegils of Wessex
Cynegils was King of Wessex from c. 611 to c. 643.Cynegils is traditionally considered to have been King of Wessex, but the familiar kingdoms of the so-called Heptarchy had not yet formed from the patchwork of smaller kingdoms in his lifetime...

. The genealogies are remarkably inconsistent on Cynegils' pedigree: his father is variously given as Ceola, Ceolwulf, Ceol, Cuthwine, Cutha, and Cuthwulf.

Christian Wessex and the rise of Mercia

It is in Cynegils' reign that the first event in West Saxon history that can be dated with reasonable certainty occurs: the baptism
Baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

 of Cynegils
Cynegils of Wessex
Cynegils was King of Wessex from c. 611 to c. 643.Cynegils is traditionally considered to have been King of Wessex, but the familiar kingdoms of the so-called Heptarchy had not yet formed from the patchwork of smaller kingdoms in his lifetime...

 by Birinus
Birinus
Birinus , venerated as a saint, was the first Bishop of Dorchester, and the "Apostle to the West Saxons".-Life and ministry:After Augustine of Canterbury performed initial conversions in England, Birinus, a Frank, came to the kingdoms of Wessex in 634, landing at the port of "Hamwic", now in the...

, which happened at the end of the 630s, perhaps in 640. Birinus was then established as bishop of the West Saxons, with his seat at Dorchester-on-Thames
Dorchester, Oxfordshire
Dorchester-on-Thames is a village and civil parish on the River Thame in Oxfordshire, about northwest of Wallingford and southeast of Oxford. Despite its name, Dorchester is not on the River Thames, but just above the Thame's confluence with it...

. This was the first conversion
Religious conversion
Religious conversion is the adoption of a new religion that differs from the convert's previous religion. Changing from one denomination to another within the same religion is usually described as reaffiliation rather than conversion.People convert to a different religion for various reasons,...

 to Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 by a West Saxon king, but it was not accompanied by the immediate conversion of all the West Saxons: Cynegils' successor (and probably his son), Cenwealh, who came to the throne in about 642, was a pagan at his accession. However, he too was baptised only a few years later and Wessex became firmly established as a Christian kingdom. Cynegils's godfather was King Oswald of Northumbria
Oswald of Northumbria
Oswald was King of Northumbria from 634 until his death, and is now venerated as a Christian saint.Oswald was the son of Æthelfrith of Bernicia and came to rule after spending a period in exile; after defeating the British ruler Cadwallon ap Cadfan, Oswald brought the two Northumbrian kingdoms of...

 and his conversion may have been connected with an alliance against King Penda of Mercia
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...

, who had previously attacked Wessex.

These attacks marked the beginning of sustained pressure from the expanding 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...

. In time this would deprive Wessex of its territories north of the Thames and the Avon
River Avon, Bristol
The River Avon is an English river in the south west of the country. To distinguish it from a number of other River Avons in Britain, this river is often also known as the Lower Avon or Bristol Avon...

, encouraging the kingdom's reorientation southwards. Cenwealh married Penda's daughter, and when he repudiated her, Penda again invaded and drove him into exile for some time, perhaps three years. The dates are uncertain but it was probably in the late 640s or early 650s. He spent his exile in East Anglia, and was converted to Christianity there. After his return, Cenwealh faced further attacks from Penda's successor Wulfhere
Wulfhere of Mercia
Wulfhere was King of Mercia from the end of the 650s until 675. He was the first Christian king of all of Mercia, though it is not known when or how he converted from Anglo-Saxon paganism. His accession marked the end of Oswiu of Northumbria's overlordship of southern England, and Wulfhere...

, but was able to expand West Saxon territory in Somerset
Somerset
The ceremonial and non-metropolitan county of Somerset in South West England borders Bristol and Gloucestershire to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east, and Devon to the south-west. It is partly bounded to the north and west by the Bristol Channel and the estuary of the...

 at the expense of the Britons
Brython
The Britons were the Celtic people culturally dominating Great Britain from the Iron Age through the Early Middle Ages. They spoke the Insular Celtic language known as British or Brythonic...

. He established a second bishopric at Winchester
Winchester
Winchester is a historic cathedral city and former capital city of England. It is the county town of Hampshire, in South East England. The city lies at the heart of the wider City of Winchester, a local government district, and is located at the western end of the South Downs, along the course of...

, while the one at Dorchester
Dorchester, Oxfordshire
Dorchester-on-Thames is a village and civil parish on the River Thame in Oxfordshire, about northwest of Wallingford and southeast of Oxford. Despite its name, Dorchester is not on the River Thames, but just above the Thame's confluence with it...

 was soon abandoned as Mercian power pushed southwards. Winchester would eventually develop into the effective capital of Wessex.

After Cenwealh's death in 673, his widow, Seaxburh
Seaxburh of Wessex
Seaxburh was a wife of Cenwalh of Wessex who according to tradition ruled Wessex as queen for a year following Cenwalh's death in 674. She should not be confused with her near-contemporary, Seaxburh of Ely, the saintly daughter of Anna of East Anglia....

, held the throne for a year; she was followed by Aescwine
Aescwine of Wessex
Æscwine was a King of Wessex from about 674 to 676, but probably not the only king in Wessex at the time.Bede writes that after the death of King Cenwalh: "his under-rulers took upon them the kingdom of the people, and dividing it among themselves, held it ten years". West Saxon tradition has...

, who was apparently descended from another brother of Ceawlin. This was one of several occasions on which the kingship of Wessex is said to have passed to a remote branch of the royal family with an unbroken male line of descent from Cerdic; these claims may be genuine, or may reflect the spurious assertion of descent from Cerdic to legitimise a new dynasty. Aescwine's reign only lasted two years, and in 676 the throne passed back to the immediate family of Cenwealh with the accession of his brother Centwine
Centwine of Wessex
Centwine was King of Wessex from circa 676 to 685 or 686, although he was perhaps not the only king of the West Saxons at the time.The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that Centwine became king circa 676, succeeding Æscwine...

. Centwine is known to have fought and won battles against the Britons, but the details have not survived.

Centwine was succeeded by another supposed distant relative, Caedwalla
Caedwalla of Wessex
Cædwalla was the King of Wessex from approximately 685 until he abdicated in 688. His name is derived from the British Cadwallon. He was exiled as a youth, and during this time attacked the South Saxons and killed their king, Æthelwealh, in what is now Sussex. Cædwalla was unable to hold the...

, who claimed descent from Ceawlin. Caedwalla reigned for just two years, but achieved a dramatic expansion of the kingdom's power, conquering the kingdoms of Sussex
Sussex
Sussex , from the Old English Sūþsēaxe , is an historic county in South East England corresponding roughly in area to the ancient Kingdom of Sussex. It is bounded on the north by Surrey, east by Kent, south by the English Channel, and west by Hampshire, and is divided for local government into West...

, Kent
Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

 and the Isle of Wight
Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight is a county and the largest island of England, located in the English Channel, on average about 2–4 miles off the south coast of the county of Hampshire, separated from the mainland by a strait called the Solent...

, although Kent regained its independence almost immediately and Sussex
Sussex
Sussex , from the Old English Sūþsēaxe , is an historic county in South East England corresponding roughly in area to the ancient Kingdom of Sussex. It is bounded on the north by Surrey, east by Kent, south by the English Channel, and west by Hampshire, and is divided for local government into West...

 followed some years later. His reign ended in 688 when he went on pilgrimage to Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, where he was baptised by the Pope
Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

 and died soon afterwards.

His successor was Ine
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 also claimed to be a descendant of Cerdic through Ceawlin, but again through a long-separated line of descent. Ine was the most durable of the West Saxon kings, reigning for 38 years. He issued the oldest surviving English code of laws apart from those of the kingdom of Kent, and established a second West Saxon bishopric at Sherborne
Sherborne
Sherborne is a market town in northwest Dorset, England. It is sited on the River Yeo, on the edge of the Blackmore Vale, east of Yeovil. The A30 road, which connects London to Penzance, runs through the town. The population of the town is 9,350 . 27.1% of the population is aged 65 or...

, covering the territories west of Selwood Forest
Selwood Forest
Selwood Forest is an area of woodland on the borders between Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire in south west England. In Anglo-Saxon times it was far more substantial and covered a much greater area forming a natural barrier between the Anglo-Saxons of Wessex and the Britons of Dumnonia and the Severn...

. Near the end of his life he followed in Caedwalla's footsteps by abdicating and making a pilgrimage to Rome. The throne then passed to a series of other kings who claimed descent from Cerdic but whose supposed genealogies and relationship to one another are unknown.

During the 8th century Wessex was overshadowed by Mercia, whose power was then at its height, and the West Saxon kings may at times have acknowledged Mercian overlordship. They were, however, able to avoid the more substantial control which Mercia exerted over smaller kingdoms. During this period Wessex continued its gradual advance to the west, overwhelming the British kingdom of 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...

 and absorbing Devon
Devon
Devon is a large county in southwestern England. The county is sometimes referred to as Devonshire, although the term is rarely used inside the county itself as the county has never been officially "shired", it often indicates a traditional or historical context.The county shares borders with...

. As a result of the Mercian conquest of the northern portion of its early territories in Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire is a county in South West England. The county comprises part of the Cotswold Hills, part of the flat fertile valley of the River Severn, and the entire Forest of Dean....

 and Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire is a county in the South East region of England, bordering on Warwickshire and Northamptonshire , Buckinghamshire , Berkshire , Wiltshire and Gloucestershire ....

, the Thames and the Avon
River Avon, Bristol
The River Avon is an English river in the south west of the country. To distinguish it from a number of other River Avons in Britain, this river is often also known as the Lower Avon or Bristol Avon...

 now probably formed the northern boundary of Wessex, while its heartland lay in Hampshire
Hampshire
Hampshire is a county on the southern coast of England in the United Kingdom. The county town of Hampshire is Winchester, a historic cathedral city that was once the capital of England. Hampshire is notable for housing the original birthplaces of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force...

, Wiltshire
Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

, Berkshire
Berkshire
Berkshire is a historic county in the South of England. It is also often referred to as the Royal County of Berkshire because of the presence of the royal residence of Windsor Castle in the county; this usage, which dates to the 19th century at least, was recognised by the Queen in 1957, and...

, Dorset
Dorset
Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

 and Somerset
Somerset
The ceremonial and non-metropolitan county of Somerset in South West England borders Bristol and Gloucestershire to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east, and Devon to the south-west. It is partly bounded to the north and west by the Bristol Channel and the estuary of the...

. The system of shires which was later to form the basis of local administration throughout England (and eventually, Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, Wales
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...

 and Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 as well) originated in Wessex, and had been established by the mid-eighth century.

The hegemony of Wessex and the Viking raids

In 802 the fortunes of Wessex were transformed by the accession of Egbert
Egbert of Wessex
Egbert was King of Wessex from 802 until his death in 839. His father was Ealhmund of Kent...

 who came from a cadet branch of the ruling dynasty that claimed descent from Ine's brother Ingild. With his accession the throne became firmly established in the hands of a single lineage. Early in his reign he conducted two campaigns against the "West Welsh", first in 813 and then again at "Gafulford" in 822. During the course of these campaigns he conquered the western Britons still in Devon and reduced those beyond the River 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...

, 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...

, to the status of a vassal
Vassal
A vassal or feudatory is a person who has entered into a mutual obligation to a lord or monarch in the context of the feudal system in medieval Europe. The obligations often included military support and mutual protection, in exchange for certain privileges, usually including the grant of land held...

. In 825 he overturned the political order of England by decisively defeating King 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 and seizing control of Surrey
Surrey
Surrey is a county in the South East of England and is one of the Home Counties. The county borders Greater London, Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire. The historic county town is Guildford. Surrey County Council sits at Kingston upon Thames, although this has been part of...

, Sussex, Kent and Essex
Essex
Essex is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England, and one of the home counties. It is located to the northeast of Greater London. It borders with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent to the South and London to the south west...

 from the Mercians, while with his help East Anglia
East Anglia
East Anglia is a traditional name for a region of eastern England, named after an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom, the Kingdom of the East Angles. The Angles took their name from their homeland Angeln, in northern Germany. East Anglia initially consisted of Norfolk and Suffolk, but upon the marriage of...

 broke away from Mercian control. In 829 he conquered Mercia, driving its King 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...

 into exile, and secured acknowledgment of his overlordship from the king of 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...

. He thereby became the 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 high king of Britain. This position of dominance was short-lived, as Wiglaf returned and restored Mercian independence in 830, but the expansion of Wessex across south-eastern England proved permanent.

Egbert's later years saw the beginning of Danish
Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 Viking
Viking
The term Viking is customarily used to refer to the Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided, traded, explored and settled in wide areas of Europe, Asia and the North Atlantic islands from the late 8th to the mid-11th century.These Norsemen used their famed longships to...

 raids on Wessex, which occurred frequently from 835 onwards. In 851 a huge Danish army, said to have been carried on 350 ships, arrived in the Thames estuary. Having defeated King Beorhtwulf of Mercia
Beorhtwulf of Mercia
Beorhtwulf was King of the Mercians from 839 or 840 to 852. His ancestry is unknown, though he may have been connected to Beornwulf, who ruled Mercia in the 820s...

 in battle, the Danes moved on to invade Wessex, but were decisively crushed by Egbert's son and successor King Aethelwulf in the exceptionally bloody Battle of Aclea. This victory postponed Danish conquests in England for fifteen years, but raids on Wessex continued.

In 855-6 Aethelwulf went on pilgrimage
Pilgrimage
A pilgrimage is a journey or search of great moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person's beliefs and faith...

 to Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 and his eldest surviving son Aethelbald took advantage of his absence to seize his father's throne. On his return, Aethelwulf agreed to divide the kingdom with his son to avoid bloodshed, ruling the new territories in the east while Aethelbald held the old heartland in the west. Aethelwulf was succeeded by each of his four surviving sons ruling one after another: the rebellious Aethelbald, then Ethelbert
Ethelbert of Wessex
Æthelberht was the King of Wessex from 860 to 865. He was the third son of Æthelwulf of Wessex and his first wife, Osburga. In 855 he became under-king of Kent while his father, Æthelwulf, visited Rome. His brother Æthelbald was left in charge of the West Saxons...

, who had previously inherited the eastern territories from his father and who reunited the kingdom on Aethelbald's death, then Aethelred, and finally 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...

. This occurred because the first two brothers died in wars with the Danes without issue, while Aethelred's sons were too young to rule when their father died.

The last English kingdom

In 865 another enormous Danish army arrived in England. Over the following years this army overwhelmed the kingdoms of 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...

 and East Anglia. Wessex was invaded in 871, and although Aethelred and Alfred won some victories and succeeded in preventing the conquest of their kingdom, a number of defeats, heavy losses of men and the arrival of a fresh Danish army in England compelled Alfred to pay the Danes to leave Wessex. The Danes spent the next few years subduing 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 some of them settled in Northumbria, but the rest returned to Wessex in 876. Alfred responded effectively and was able with little fighting to bring about their withdrawal in 877. A portion of the Danish army settled in Mercia, but at the beginning of 878 the remaining Danes mounted a winter invasion of Wessex, taking Alfred by surprise and overrunning much of the kingdom. Alfred was reduced to taking refuge with a small band of followers in the marshes of the Somerset Levels
Somerset Levels
The Somerset Levels, or the Somerset Levels and Moors as they are less commonly but more correctly known, is a sparsely populated coastal plain and wetland area of central Somerset, South West England, between the Quantock and Mendip Hills...

, but after a few months he was able to gather an army and defeated the Danes at the Battle of Edington
Battle of Edington
The Battle of Ethandun or Edington is where the forces of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex under Alfred the Great defeated the Great Heathen Army led by Guthrum between 6 and 12 May AD 878...

, bringing about their final withdrawal from Wessex to settle in East Anglia.

Over the following years Alfred carried out a dramatic reorganisation of the government and defences of Wessex, building warships, organising the army into two shifts which served alternately and establishing a system of fortified burhs across the kingdom. This system is recorded in a 10th century document known as the Burghal Hidage
Burghal Hidage
The Burghal Hidage is an Anglo-Saxon document providing a list of the fortified burhs in Wessex and elsewhere in southern England. It offers an unusually detailed picture of the network of burhs that Alfred the Great designed to defend his kingdom from the predations of Viking invaders.-Burhs and...

, which details the location and garrisoning requirements of thirty-three forts, whose positioning ensured that no one in Wessex was more than a long day's ride from a place of safety. In the 890s these reforms helped him to repulse the invasion of another huge Danish army – which was aided by the Danes settled in England – with minimal losses.

Alfred also reformed the administration of justice, issued a new law code and championed a revival of scholarship and education. He gathered scholars from around England and elsewhere in Europe to his court, and with their help translated a range of Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 texts into English, doing much of the work in person, and orchestrated the composition 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...

. As a result of these literary efforts and the political dominance of Wessex, the West Saxon dialect of this period became the standard written form of Old English for the rest of the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 period and beyond.

The Danish conquests had destroyed the kingdoms of Northumbria and East Anglia and divided Mercia in half, with the Danes settling in the north-east while the south-west was left to the English king Ceolwulf
Ceolwulf II of Mercia
Ceolwulf II was the last king of the Mercians. He succeeded Burgred of Mercia who was deposed in 874.-Dynastic background:...

, allegedly a Danish puppet. When Ceolwulf's rule came to an end he was succeeded as ruler of "English Mercia" not by another king but by a mere 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...

 named Aethelred
Earl Aethelred of Mercia
Ealdorman Æthelred was ruler of Mercia from about 883, when he submitted to King Alfred of Wessex. He married Alfred's daughter Æthelfleda between 882 and 887, and his title was "Lord of the Mercians". Although he had many attributes of a king, he was subject to the power of his close ally Wessex...

, who acknowledged Alfred's overlordship and married his daughter Ethelfleda
Ethelfleda
Æthelflæd , was the eldest daughter of King Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ealhswith, wife of Æthelred, ealdorman of Mercia, and after his death, ruler of Mercia...

. The process by which this transformation of the status of Mercia took place is unknown, but it left Alfred as the only remaining English king.

The unification of England and the Earldom of Wessex

After the invasions of the 890s Wessex and English 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...

 continued to be attacked by the Danish settlers in England and by small Danish raiding forces from overseas, but these incursions were usually defeated, while there were no further major invasions from the continent. The balance of power tipped steadily in favour of the English. In 911 Ealdorman Aethelred died, leaving his widow, Alfred's daughter Aethelflaed, in charge of Mercia. Alfred's son and successor 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...

, then annexed London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, Oxford
Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

 and the surrounding area, probably including Middlesex
Middlesex
Middlesex is one of the historic counties of England and the second smallest by area. The low-lying county contained the wealthy and politically independent City of London on its southern boundary and was dominated by it from a very early time...

, Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England. The county town is Hertford.The county is one of the Home Counties and lies inland, bordered by Greater London , Buckinghamshire , Bedfordshire , Cambridgeshire and...

, Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan home county in South East England. The county town is Aylesbury, the largest town in the ceremonial county is Milton Keynes and largest town in the non-metropolitan county is High Wycombe....

 and Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire is a county in the South East region of England, bordering on Warwickshire and Northamptonshire , Buckinghamshire , Berkshire , Wiltshire and Gloucestershire ....

, from Mercia to Wessex. Between 913 and 918 a series of English offensives overwhelmed the Danes of Mercia and East Anglia, bringing all of England south of the Humber
Humber
The Humber is a large tidal estuary on the east coast of Northern England. It is formed at Trent Falls, Faxfleet, by the confluence of the tidal River Ouse and the tidal River Trent. From here to the North Sea, it forms part of the boundary between the East Riding of Yorkshire on the north bank...

 under Edward's power. In 918 Aethelflaed died and Edward took over direct control of Mercia, extinguishing what remained of its independence and ensuring that thenceforth there would be only one Kingdom of the English. In 927 Edward's successor Athelstan
Athelstan of England
Athelstan , called the Glorious, was the King of England from 924 or 925 to 939. He was the son of King Edward the Elder, grandson of Alfred the Great and nephew of Æthelflæd of Mercia...

 conquered 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...

, bringing the whole of England under one ruler for the first time. The Kingdom of Wessex had thus been transformed into the Kingdom of England
Kingdom of England
The Kingdom of England was, from 927 to 1707, a sovereign state to the northwest of continental Europe. At its height, the Kingdom of England spanned the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain and several smaller outlying islands; what today comprises the legal jurisdiction of England...

.

Although Wessex had now effectively been subsumed into the larger kingdom which its expansion had created, like the other former kingdoms it continued for a time to have a distinct identity which periodically found renewed political expression. After the death of King Eadred
Edred of England
Eadred was the king of England from 946 until his death in 955, in succession to his elder brother Edmund I.-Background and succession:...

 in 955, England was divided between his two sons, with the elder Edwy
Edwy of England
Eadwig, more rarely Edwy , sometimes nicknamed All-Fair or the Fair, was King of England from 955 until his death four years later. The eldest son of King Edmund and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury, Eadwig was chosen by the nobility to succeed his uncle Eadred as King...

 ruling in Wessex while Mercia passed to his younger brother Edgar
Edgar of England
Edgar the Peaceful, or Edgar I , also called the Peaceable, was a king of England . Edgar was the younger son of Edmund I of England.-Accession:...

. However, in 959 Edwy died and the whole of England came under Edgar's control.

After the conquest of England by the Danish king Cnut
Canute the Great
Cnut the Great , also known as Canute, was a king of Denmark, England, Norway and parts of Sweden. Though after the death of his heirs within a decade of his own and the Norman conquest of England in 1066, his legacy was largely lost to history, historian Norman F...

 in 1016, he established earldoms based on the former kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia, but initially administered Wessex personally. Within a few years, however, he had created an earldom of Wessex, encompassing all of England south of the Thames, for his English henchman Godwin
Godwin, Earl of Wessex
Godwin of Wessex , was one of the most powerful lords in England under the Danish king Cnut the Great and his successors. Cnut made him the first Earl of Wessex...

. For almost fifty years the vastly wealthy holders of this earldom, first Godwin and then his son Harold
Harold Godwinson
Harold Godwinson was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England.It could be argued that Edgar the Atheling, who was proclaimed as king by the witan but never crowned, was really the last Anglo-Saxon king...

, were the most powerful men in English politics after the king. Finally, on the death of Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor also known as St. Edward the Confessor , son of Æthelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy, was one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England and is usually regarded as the last king of the House of Wessex, ruling from 1042 to 1066....

 in 1066, Harold became king, reuniting the earldom of Wessex with the crown. No new earl was appointed before the ensuing Norman Conquest of England
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

, and as the Norman kings soon did away with the great earldoms of the late Anglo-Saxon period, 1066 marks the extinction of Wessex as a political unit.

Wyvern or dragon

Wessex is often symbolised by a wyvern
Wyvern
A wyvern or wivern is a legendary winged reptilian creature with a dragon's head, two legs , and a barbed tail. The wyvern is found in heraldry. There exists a purely sea-dwelling variant, termed the Sea-Wyvern which has a fish tail in place of a barbed dragon's tail...

 or dragon
Dragon
A dragon is a legendary creature, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of many cultures. There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern...

.

Both Henry of Huntingdon
Henry of Huntingdon
Henry of Huntingdon , the son of a canon in the diocese of Lincoln, was a 12th century English historian, the author of a history of England, Historia anglorum, "the most important Anglo-Norman historian to emerge from the secular clergy". He served as archdeacon of Huntingdon...

 and Matthew of Westminster
Matthew of Westminster
Matthew of Westminster, long regarded as the author of the Flores Historiarum, is now thought never to have existed.The error was first discovered in 1826 by Francis Turner Palgrave, who said that Matthew was "a phantom who never existed," and later the truth of this statement was completely proved...

 talk of a golden dragon
Dragon
A dragon is a legendary creature, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of many cultures. There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern...

 being raised at the Battle of Burford
Burford
Burford is a small town on the River Windrush in the Cotswold hills in west Oxfordshire, England, about west of Oxford, southeast of Cheltenham and only from the Gloucestershire boundary...

 in AD 752 by the West Saxons. The Bayeux Tapestry
Bayeux Tapestry
The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth—not an actual tapestry—nearly long, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings...

 depicts a fallen golden dragon, as well as a red/golden/white dragon at the death of King Harold II, who was previously Earl of Wessex
Earl of Wessex
The title Earl of Wessex has been created twice in British history, once in the pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon nobility of England and once in the Peerage of the United Kingdom...

. However, dragon standards were in fairly wide use in Europe at the time, being derived from the ensign of the Roman
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 cohort, and there is no evidence that it identified Wessex.

A panel of 18th century stained glass
Stained glass
The term stained glass can refer to coloured glass as a material or to works produced from it. Throughout its thousand-year history, the term has been applied almost exclusively to the windows of churches and other significant buildings...

 at Exeter Cathedral
Exeter Cathedral
Exeter Cathedral, the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter at Exeter, is an Anglican cathedral, and the seat of the Bishop of Exeter, in the city of Exeter, Devon in South West England....

 indicates that the association of a dragon with the kingdom of Wessex pre-dates the Victorian
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

s. Nevertheless, the association was popularised in the 19th century, particularly in the writings of E A Freeman
Edward Augustus Freeman
Edward Augustus Freeman was an English historian. His reputation as a historian rests largely on his History of the Norman Conquest , his longest completed book...

. By the time of the grant of armorial bearings
Coat of arms
A coat of arms is a unique heraldic design on a shield or escutcheon or on a surcoat or tabard used to cover and protect armour and to identify the wearer. Thus the term is often stated as "coat-armour", because it was anciently displayed on the front of a coat of cloth...

 by the College of Arms
College of Arms
The College of Arms, or Heralds’ College, is an office regulating heraldry and granting new armorial bearings for England, Wales and Northern Ireland...

 to Somerset County Council in 1911, a (red) dragon had become the accepted heraldic emblem of the former kingdom. This precedent was followed in 1937 when Wiltshire County Council
Wiltshire County Council
Wiltshire County Council was the county council of Wiltshire in the South West of England, an elected local Government body responsible for most local government services in the county....

 was granted arms. Two gold Wessex dragons were later granted as supporters to the arms of Dorset County Council
Dorset County Council
Dorset County Council is the county council of the Dorset in England. It provides the upper tier of local government, below which are district councils, and town and parish councils...

 in 1950.

In the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 the wyvern has been used to represent Wessex: The 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division adopted a formation sign consisting of a gold wyvern on a black background, and both the Wessex Brigade
Wessex Brigade
The Wessex Brigade was an administrative formation of the British Army from 1948 to 1968. The Brigade administered the regular infantry battalions of the Wessex area of south and south west England....

 and Wessex Regiment
Wessex Regiment
The Wessex Regiment was a Territorial Army infantry regiment of the British Army between 1971 and 1995. It had two battalions: The 1st Bn with its headquarters at Le Marchant Barracks in Devizes and the 2nd Bn which was headquartered at Brock Barracks in Reading...

s used a cap badge featuring the heraldic beast.

When Sophie, Countess of Wessex was granted arms, the sinister supporter assigned was a blue wyvern, described by the College of Arms as "an heraldic beast which has long been associated with Wessex".

The Wessex Society have promoted the use of a flag, designed by William Crampton, which features an heraldic golden wyvern on a red background.

Attributed coat of arms

A coat of arms
Coat of arms
A coat of arms is a unique heraldic design on a shield or escutcheon or on a surcoat or tabard used to cover and protect armour and to identify the wearer. Thus the term is often stated as "coat-armour", because it was anciently displayed on the front of a coat of cloth...

 was attributed by medieval herald
Herald
A herald, or, more correctly, a herald of arms, is an officer of arms, ranking between pursuivant and king of arms. The title is often applied erroneously to all officers of arms....

s to the Kings of Wessex. These arms appear in a manuscript of the thirteenth century, and are blazon
Blazon
In heraldry and heraldic vexillology, a blazon is a formal description of a coat of arms, flag or similar emblem, from which the reader can reconstruct the appropriate image...

ed as Azure
Azure
In heraldry, azure is the tincture with the colour blue, and belongs to the class of tinctures called "colours". In engraving, it is sometimes depicted as a region of horizontal lines or else marked with either az. or b. as an abbreviation....

, a cross patonce between four martlet
Martlet
A martlet is a heraldic charge depicting a stylized bird with short tufts of feathers in the place of legs...

s Or
Or (heraldry)
In heraldry, Or is the tincture of gold and, together with argent , belongs to the class of light tinctures called "metals". In engravings and line drawings, it may be represented using a field of evenly spaced dots...

. The assigning of arms
Attributed arms
Attributed arms are coats of arms given to legendary figures, or to notable persons from times before the rise of heraldry. Beginning in the 12th century, imaginary arms were assigned to the knights of the Round Table, and soon arms were given to biblical figures, to Roman and Greek heroes, and to...

 to the West Saxon kings is prochronistic
Anachronism
An anachronism—from the Greek ανά and χρόνος — is an inconsistency in some chronological arrangement, especially a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other...

 as heraldry did not develop until the twelfth century. These arms continued to be used to represent the kingdom for centuries after their invention.

Revival

The English author Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy, OM was an English novelist and poet. While his works typically belong to the Naturalism movement, several poems display elements of the previous Romantic and Enlightenment periods of literature, such as his fascination with the supernatural.While he regarded himself primarily as a...

 used a fictionalised Wessex
Thomas Hardy's Wessex
The English author Thomas Hardy set all of his major novels in the south and southwest of England. He named the area "Wessex" after the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom that existed in this part of that country prior to the Norman Conquest. Although the places that appear in his novels actually exist,...

 as a setting for many of his novels, reviving the term Wessex for South West England
South West England
South West England is one of the regions of England defined by the Government of the United Kingdom for statistical and other purposes. It is the largest such region in area, covering and comprising Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. ...

. His Wessex included all the counties mentioned in the previous paragraph apart from Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire is a county in South West England. The county comprises part of the Cotswold Hills, part of the flat fertile valley of the River Severn, and the entire Forest of Dean....

 and Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire is a county in the South East region of England, bordering on Warwickshire and Northamptonshire , Buckinghamshire , Berkshire , Wiltshire and Gloucestershire ....

 (although the city of Oxford
Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

, renamed "Christminster", is visited as part of Wessex in Jude the Obscure
Jude the Obscure
Jude the Obscure, the last of Thomas Hardy's novels, began as a magazine serial and was first published in book form in 1895. The book was burned publicly by William Walsham How, Bishop of Wakefield, in that same year. Its hero, Jude Fawley, is a working-class young man who dreams of becoming a...

), along with Devon
Devon
Devon is a large county in southwestern England. The county is sometimes referred to as Devonshire, although the term is rarely used inside the county itself as the county has never been officially "shired", it often indicates a traditional or historical context.The county shares borders with...

. He gave the counties the following fictionalised names: Berkshire
Berkshire
Berkshire is a historic county in the South of England. It is also often referred to as the Royal County of Berkshire because of the presence of the royal residence of Windsor Castle in the county; this usage, which dates to the 19th century at least, was recognised by the Queen in 1957, and...

 = North Wessex; Devon = Lower Wessex; Dorset
Dorset
Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

 = South Wessex; Hampshire
Hampshire
Hampshire is a county on the southern coast of England in the United Kingdom. The county town of Hampshire is Winchester, a historic cathedral city that was once the capital of England. Hampshire is notable for housing the original birthplaces of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force...

 = Upper Wessex; Somerset
Somerset
The ceremonial and non-metropolitan county of Somerset in South West England borders Bristol and Gloucestershire to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east, and Devon to the south-west. It is partly bounded to the north and west by the Bristol Channel and the estuary of the...

 = Outer Wessex; Wiltshire
Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

 = Mid-Wessex. Neighbouring 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...

 was described as Off-Wessex or Lyonesse
Lyonesse
Lyonesse is a country in Arthurian legend, particularly in the story of Tristan and Iseult. Said to border Cornwall, it is most notable as the home of the hero Tristan, whose father was king...

.

There is a movement in modern day south-central England to create a regional cultural and political identity in Wessex. This consists of three distinct but interlinked organisations. The Wessex Regionalist Party
Wessex Regionalist Party
The Wessex Regionalist Party is a minor political party in the United Kingdom, that seeks a degree of legislative and administrative home rule for Wessex, an area in the south and south-west of England, loosely based on the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of that name...

 is a registered political party which contests elections. The Wessex Constitutional Convention
Wessex Constitutional Convention
The Wessex Constitutional Convention is an all-party pressure group, in the United Kingdom, devoted to pursuing a degree of self-government for Wessex...

 is an all-party pressure group in which those sympathetic to Wessex devolution
Devolution
Devolution is the statutory granting of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to government at a subnational level, such as a regional, local, or state level. Devolution can be mainly financial, e.g. giving areas a budget which was formerly administered by central government...

 who are not members of the Wessex Regionalist Party can also be represented. The Wessex Society is a cultural society which promotes a cultural identity for Wessex while remaining neutral on questions of political devolution. The Wessex Constitutional Convention and the Wessex Regionalist Party do not consider 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...

 to be part of Wessex.

The boundaries of Wessex are unclear. The Wessex Constitutional Convention and Wessex Society add Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire to Hardy's list. The Wessex Regionalists use Hardy's definition of Wessex. Most definitions exclude Cornwall. In addition there are some (e.g. within Devon) who would identify with a different regional identity that is not so geographically broad, and would include Cornwall.
This definition of Wessex has been criticised from a number of quarters. Some people regard Hardy's definition as correct on the grounds that the counties north of the Thames, along with Berkshire and north-east Somerset, were part 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...

 for most of the Anglo-Saxon period.

The Wessex regionalist movements justify their eight-shire
Shire
A shire is a traditional term for a division of land, found in the United Kingdom and in Australia. In parts of Australia, a shire is an administrative unit, but it is not synonymous with "county" there, which is a land registration unit. Individually, or as a suffix in Scotland and in the far...

 definition of Wessex in terms both of history and of modern regional geography and point to the impossibility of pleasing everyone as an argument against change at the present time, though they do not rule out the possibility of change in the future if the popular will demands it.

Modern uses

  • Wessex Synod of the United Reformed Church
    United Reformed Church
    The United Reformed Church is a Christian church in the United Kingdom. It has approximately 68,000 members in 1,500 congregations with some 700 ministers.-Origins and history:...

     (URC)
  • Wessex Institute of Technology
    Wessex Institute of Technology
    The Wessex Institute of Technology is an educational institute offering higher degrees validated by the University of Wales, located at Ashurst Lodge in the New Forest National Park, in the south of England.The overall aim of Wessex Institute is to develop a series of knowledge transfer...

  • Wessex Stadium
    The Wessex Stadium
    The Bob Lucas Stadium, is a football stadium in Weymouth, England. It has been the home ground of Weymouth F.C. since 1987.-History:The ground, which was built to hold 10,000 with 900 seated in the stand, first saw a football kicked with the visit of Taunton Town in the Western Counties Floodlight...

    , home to Weymouth F.C.
    Weymouth F.C.
    Weymouth F.C. are an English football club based in the town of Weymouth, who currently play in the Southern League Premier Division.-History:Weymouth Football Club were founded in 1890 and played their first game on 24 September of that year...

  • 43rd (Wessex) Brigade
    British 43rd Infantry Brigade
    The British Army's 43rd Infantry Brigade was originally created during World War I as part of the 14th Division. It was reformed as a Lines of Communication security force in North Africa during the Second World War....

     - British Army's regional command for the South West region
  • Royal Wessex Yeomanry
    Royal Wessex Yeomanry
    The Royal Wessex Yeomanry is an armoured regiment of the British Territorial Army consisting of four squadrons, each of which bears the cap badge of an old yeomanry regiment:*B Squadron*A Squadron...

     - British Army territorial unit
  • Wessex Archaeology
    Wessex Archaeology
    Wessex Archaeology is one of the largest private archaeological organisations operating in the United Kingdom, based near Salisbury in Wiltshire.-Background:...

     - An educational charity and the largest UK archaeological practice
  • Wessex culture
    Wessex culture
    The Wessex culture is the predominant prehistoric culture of central and southern Britain during the early Bronze Age, originally defined by the British archaeologist Stuart Piggott in 1938...

     - an archæological label used anachronistically to describe a Bronze Age
    Bronze Age
    The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

     culture whose remains are found in the Wessex area
  • Wessex League
    Wessex League
    The Wessex League is an English association football league formed in 1986, with its premier division currently at the fifth step of the National League System, or the ninth tier of the overall English football league system...

     - football
    Football (soccer)
    Association football, more commonly known as football or soccer, is a sport played between two teams of eleven players with a spherical ball...

     league covering Hampshire and parts of the surrounding counties
  • Wessex Sound Studios
    Wessex Sound Studios
    Wessex Sound Studios was a recording studio located in Highbury New Park, London, England. Many renowned popular music artists recorded there, including The Sex Pistols, King Crimson, The Clash, Theatre of Hate, XTC, The Sinceros, Queen, Talk Talk and The Rolling Stones...

     - a renowned former recording studio
  • Wessex Trains
    Wessex Trains
    Wessex Trains was the primary passenger rail operator in the South West of England. The company operated trains in the region bounded by Penzance, Cardiff, Gloucester, Worcester and Brighton...

     - train operating company
    Train operating company
    The term train operating company is used in the United Kingdom to describe the various businesses operating passenger trains on the railway system of Great Britain under the collective National Rail brand...

     that used to operate in much of the South West region
  • Wessex Water
    Wessex Water
    Wessex Water Services Limited, known as Wessex Water, is a water supply and sewerage utility company serving an area of the south west of England, covering 10,000 square kilometres including Dorset, Somerset, Bristol, most of Wiltshire and parts of Gloucestershire and Hampshire...

     - water supply and sewage company that covers much of the South West region
  • Wessex Cyclists Touring Club - cycling and events across the region
  • University of Southampton
    University of Southampton
    The University of Southampton is a British public university located in the city of Southampton, England, a member of the Russell Group. The origins of the university can be dated back to the founding of the Hartley Institution in 1862 by Henry Robertson Hartley. In 1902, the Institution developed...

     sports teams have adopted 'Wessex' as a group identity
  • Southampton University Rugby Football Club players are called Wessex Rangers.
  • University of Reading
    University of Reading
    The University of Reading is a university in the English town of Reading, Berkshire. The University was established in 1892 as University College, Reading and received its Royal Charter in 1926. It is based on several campuses in, and around, the town of Reading.The University has a long tradition...

     halls of residence adopted 'Wessex' as its name.
  • Wessex Scene
    Wessex Scene
    The Wessex Scene is the oldest student news provider at the University of Southampton, and has been in print since 1936. The Wessex Scene has evolved over the years and now takes the forms of an online news site and a monthly magazine publication, available across the campuses and Halls of...

     - a student newspaper produced by Southampton University Student's Union (SUSU)
  • Westland Wessex
    Westland Wessex
    The Westland Wessex is a British turbine-powered version of the Sikorsky S-58 "Choctaw", developed under license by Westland Aircraft , initially for the Royal Navy, and later for the Royal Air Force...

     - a British built helicopter
  • Wessex Saddleback
    Wessex Saddleback
    The Wessex Saddleback or Wessex Pig is a breed of domestic pig originating in the West Country of England, , especially in Wiltshire and the New Forest area of Hampshire. It is black, with white forequarters. In Britain it was amalgamated with the Essex pig to form the British Saddleback, and it...

     - a pig breed originating from Wessex
  • Thomas Hardy's Wessex
    Thomas Hardy's Wessex
    The English author Thomas Hardy set all of his major novels in the south and southwest of England. He named the area "Wessex" after the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom that existed in this part of that country prior to the Norman Conquest. Although the places that appear in his novels actually exist,...

     the semi-fictional region described in the novels of Thomas Hardy
    Thomas Hardy
    Thomas Hardy, OM was an English novelist and poet. While his works typically belong to the Naturalism movement, several poems display elements of the previous Romantic and Enlightenment periods of literature, such as his fascination with the supernatural.While he regarded himself primarily as a...

  • A338 - Known locally as the Wessex Way, it is a road linking Bournemouth to the A31 and leading up to Salisbury
  • Wessex Deanery - Responsible for the organisation and assessment of junior doctors training within the area

Earl of Wessex

In an unusual move, The Prince Edward
Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex KG GCVO is the third son and fourth child of Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh...

 was made Earl of Wessex and Viscount
Viscount
A viscount or viscountess is a member of the European nobility whose comital title ranks usually, as in the British peerage, above a baron, below an earl or a count .-Etymology:...

 Severn
River Severn
The River Severn is the longest river in Great Britain, at about , but the second longest on the British Isles, behind the River Shannon. It rises at an altitude of on Plynlimon, Ceredigion near Llanidloes, Powys, in the Cambrian Mountains of mid Wales...

 in honour of his marriage to Sophie Rhys-Jones. The title Earl of Wessex had not been in use for over 900 years. The last earl, King Harold Godwinson
Harold Godwinson
Harold Godwinson was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England.It could be argued that Edgar the Atheling, who was proclaimed as king by the witan but never crowned, was really the last Anglo-Saxon king...

, was famously killed at the Battle of Hastings
Battle of Hastings
The Battle of Hastings occurred on 14 October 1066 during the Norman conquest of England, between the Norman-French army of Duke William II of Normandy and the English army under King Harold II...

in 1066.

External links

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