HOME
The Info List - Wessex


--- Advertisement ---



Wessex
Wessex
(/ˈwɛsɪks/; Old English: Westseaxna rīce [westsæɑksnɑ riːt͡ʃe], "kingdom of the West Saxons") was an Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
kingdom in the south of Great Britain, from 519 until England was unified by Æthelstan
Æthelstan
in the early 10th century. The Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
believed that Wessex
Wessex
was founded by Cerdic and Cynric, but this may be a legend. The two main sources for the history of Wessex
Wessex
are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
and the West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List, which sometimes conflict. Wessex
Wessex
became a Christian kingdom after Cenwalh was baptised and was expanded under his rule. Cædwalla
Cædwalla
later conquered Sussex, Kent
Kent
and the Isle of Wight. His successor, Ine, issued one of the oldest surviving English law codes and established a second West Saxon bishopric. The throne subsequently passed to a series of kings with unknown genealogies. During the 8th century, as the hegemony of Mercia
Mercia
grew, Wessex
Wessex
largely retained its independence. It was during this period that the system of shires was established. Under Egbert, Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Essex, and Mercia, along with parts of Dumnonia, were conquered. He also obtained the overlordship of the Northumbrian king. However, Mercian independence was restored in 830. During the reign of his successor, Æthelwulf, a Danish army arrived in the Thames
Thames
estuary, but was decisively defeated. When Æthelwulf's son, Æthelbald, usurped the throne, the kingdom was divided to avoid war. Æthelwulf was succeeded in turn by his four sons, the youngest being Alfred the Great. Wessex
Wessex
was invaded by the Danes in 871, and Alfred was compelled to pay them to leave. They returned in 876, but were forced to withdraw. In 878 they forced Alfred to flee to the Somerset
Somerset
Levels, but were eventually defeated at the Battle of Edington. During his reign Alfred issued a new law code, gathered scholars to his court and was able to devote funds to building ships, organising an army and establishing a system of burhs. Alfred's son, Edward, captured the eastern Midlands and East Anglia
East Anglia
from the Danes and became ruler of Mercia
Mercia
in 918 upon the death of his sister, Æthelflæd. Edward's son, Æthelstan, conquered Northumbria
Northumbria
in 927, and England became a unified kingdom for the first time. Cnut the Great, who conquered England in 1016, created the wealthy and powerful earldom of Wessex, but in 1066 Harold Godwinson reunited the earldom with the crown and Wessex
Wessex
ceased to exist.

Contents

1 History

1.1 Background 1.2 Saxon settlement 1.3 Christian Wessex
Wessex
and the rise of Mercia 1.4 Hegemony
Hegemony
of Wessex
Wessex
and the Viking
Viking
raids 1.5 Last English kingdom 1.6 Unification of England and the Earldom of Wessex

2 Contemporary use of the name 3 Symbols

3.1 Wyvern
Wyvern
or dragon 3.2 Attributed coat of arms

4 Cultural and political identity in modern times 5 See also 6 Footnotes 7 Bibliography 8 External links

History[edit] Background[edit] Modern archaeologists use the term Wessex
Wessex
culture for a Middle Bronze Age culture in this area (c. 1600–1200 BC). A millennium before that, in the Late Neolithic, the ceremonial sites of Avebury
Avebury
and Stonehenge
Stonehenge
were completed on Salisbury Plain; but the final phase of Stonehenge
Stonehenge
was erected in the Wessex
Wessex
culture phase, early in the Bronze Age. This area has many other earthworks and erected stone monuments from the Neolithic and Early Bronze periods, including the Dorset
Dorset
Cursus, an earthwork 10 km (6 mi) long and 100 m (110 yd) wide, which was oriented to the midwinter sunset. Although agriculture and hunting were pursued during this long period, there is little archaeological evidence of human settlements. From the Neolithic onwards the chalk downland of Wessex
Wessex
was traversed by the Harrow Way, which can still be traced from Marazion
Marazion
in Cornwall
Cornwall
to the coast of the English Channel
English Channel
near Dover, and was probably connected with the ancient tin trade. During the Roman occupation starting in the 1st century AD, numerous country villas with attached farms were established across Wessex, along with the important towns of Dorchester and Winchester
Winchester
(the ending -chester comes from Latin
Latin
castra, "a military camp"). The Romans, or rather the Romano-British, built another major road that integrated Wessex, running eastwards from Exeter through Dorchester to Winchester
Winchester
and Silchester
Silchester
and on to London. The early 4th century was a peaceful time in Roman Britain. However, following a previous incursion in 360 that was stopped by Roman forces, the Picts
Picts
and Scots attacked Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall
in the far north in 367 and defeated the soldiers stationed along it. They devastated many parts of Britain and laid siege to London. The Romans responded promptly, and Count Theodosius had recovered the land up to the Wall by 368.[1] The Romans temporarily ceased to rule Britain on the death of Magnus Maximus in 388. Stilicho
Stilicho
attempted to restore Roman authority in the late 390s, but in 401 he took Roman troops from Britain to fight the Goths. Two subsequent Roman rulers of Britain, appointed by the remaining troops, were murdered. Constantine III became ruler, but he then left for Gaul
Gaul
and withdrew more troops. The Britons then requested assistance from Honorius, but when he replied in 410 he told them to manage their own defenses. By this point, there were no longer any Roman troops in Britain.[2] Economical decline occurred after these events; circulation of Roman coins ended and the importation of items from the Roman Empire stopped.[3][4] In An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
England, Peter Hunter Blair divides the traditions concerning the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain
Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain
into two categories: Welsh and English. De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, written by Gildas, contains the best preservation of the Welsh tradition. In brief, it states that after the Romans left, the Britons managed to continue for a time without any major disruptions. However, when finally faced with northern invaders, a certain unnamed ruler in Britain (called "a proud tyrant" by Gildas) requested assistance from the Saxons
Saxons
in exchange for land. There were no conflicts between the British and the Saxons
Saxons
for a time, but following "a dispute about the supply of provisions" the Saxons
Saxons
warred against the British and severely damaged parts of the country. In time, however, some Saxon troops left Britain; under Ambrosius Aurelianus, the British subsequently defeated those who remained. A lengthy conflict ensued, in which neither side gained any decisive advantage until the Britons routed the Saxons
Saxons
at the Battle of Mons Badonicus. After this, there occurred a peaceful period for the Britons, under which Gildas
Gildas
was living at the time he wrote the De Excidio et Conqestu Britanniae.[5] One of the English traditions about the Saxon arrival is that of Hengest and Horsa. When Bede
Bede
wrote his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, he adapted Gildas's narrative and added details, such as the names of those involved. To the "proud tyrant" he gave the name Vortigern, and the Saxon commanders he named Hengest and Horsa. Further details were added to the story in the Historia Brittonum, which was partially written by Nennius. According to the Historia, Hengest and Horsa
Hengest and Horsa
fought the invaders of Britain under the condition of gaining the island of Thanet. The daughter of Hengest, Rowena, later arrived on a ship of reinforcements, and Vortigern
Vortigern
married her. However, a war arose in Kent
Kent
due to a dispute between Hengest and Vortigern's son. After losing several battles, the Saxons
Saxons
finally defeated the British by treacherously attacking them once the two parties had convened for a meeting. Some additional details of the Hengest and Horsa
Hengest and Horsa
legend are found in the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle. The Chronicle then records subsequent Saxon arrivals, including that of Cerdic, the founder of Wessex, in 495.[6] Saxon settlement[edit]

Imaginary depiction of Cerdic from John Speed's 1611 "Saxon Heptarchy"

The Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle, the primary written source for the founding of Wessex,[7] states that Cerdic and Cynric landed in Britain with five ships in 495.[8] Although the entry mentions Cynric as Cerdic's son, a different source lists him as the son of Cerdic's son, Creoda.[9] Their place of landing is believed to be the southern Hampshire
Hampshire
coast[10] (though Bede
Bede
recorded that Wessex
Wessex
was inhabited by Jutes
Jutes
and was only annexed by Saxons
Saxons
in the late 7th century, under Cædwalla,[11] and there have been no definitive archaeological findings considered especially "suggestive of early Anglo-Saxon settlement").[12] The Chronicle continues, stating that "Port, and his two sons Bieda and Mægla", landed at Portsmouth
Portsmouth
in 501 and killed a high-ranking British nobleman.[13] In 508, Cerdic and Cynric slew a British king named Natanleod and five thousand men with him,[13] (though the historicity of Natanleod has been disputed)[14] and Cerdic became the first king of Wessex
Wessex
in 519. The Saxons
Saxons
attacked Cerdicesford[15] in 519, intending to cross the River Avon and block a road which connected Old Sarum
Old Sarum
and Badbury Rings, a British stronghold. The battle appears to have ended as a draw, and the expansion of Wessex ended for about thirty years. This is likely due to losses suffered during the battle and an apparent peace agreement with the Britons. The battle of Mons Badonicus is believed to have been fought around this time. Gildas
Gildas
states that the Saxons
Saxons
were completely defeated in the battle, in which King Arthur
King Arthur
participated according to Nennius. This defeat is not recorded in the Chronicle.[16] The thirty-year period of peace was temporarily interrupted,[17] when, according to the Chronicle, the Saxons
Saxons
conquered the Isle of Wight
Isle of Wight
in 530 at a battle near Carisbrooke.[13] Cynric became the ruler of Wessex
Wessex
after Cerdic died in 534, and reigned for twenty-six years.[13] It is presumed[by whom?] that Ceawlin, who succeeded Cynric in about 581, was his son. Ceawlin's reign is thought to be more reliably documented than those of his predecessors, though the Chronicle's dates of 560 to 592 are different from the revised chronology. Ceawlin overcame pockets of resisting Britons to the northeast, in the Chilterns, Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire
and Somerset. The capture of Cirencester, Gloucester
Gloucester
and Bath in 577, after the pause caused by the battle of Mons Badonicus, opened the way to the southwest. Ceawlin is one of the seven kings named in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People as holding "imperium" over the southern English: the Chronicle later repeated this claim, referring to Ceawlin as a bretwalda, or "Britain-ruler". Ceawlin was deposed, perhaps by his successor, a nephew named Ceol, and died a year later. Six years later, in about 594, Ceol was succeeded by a brother, Ceolwulf, who was succeeded in his turn in about 617 by Cynegils. The genealogies do not agree on Cynegils' pedigree: his father is variously given as Ceola, Ceolwulf, Ceol, Cuthwine, Cutha or Cuthwulf. The tradition embodied in the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle, and in the genealogies of the West Saxon dynasty, is open to considerable doubt. This is largely because the founder of the dynasty and a number of his alleged descendants had Brittonic Celtic, rather than Anglo-Saxon Germanic, names.[18] The name Cerdic is derived from the British name *Caraticos.[19][20] This may indicate that Cerdic was a native Briton, and that his dynasty became anglicised over time.[21][22][23] Other members of the dynasty possessing Celtic names include Ceawlin and Cædwalla. Cædwalla, who died as late as 689, was the last West Saxon king to possess a Celtic name.[24] Christian Wessex
Wessex
and the rise of Mercia[edit]

The Celtic and Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
kingdoms in around 600

It is in Cynegils' reign that the first event in West Saxon history that can be dated with reasonable certainty occurs: the baptism of Cynegils by Birinus, which happened at the end of the 630s, perhaps in 640. Birinus
Birinus
was then established as bishop of the West Saxons, with his seat at Dorchester-on-Thames. This was the first conversion to Christianity
Christianity
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
Wessex
became firmly established as a Christian kingdom. Cynegils's godfather was King Oswald of Northumbria
Oswald of Northumbria
and his conversion may have been connected with an alliance against King Penda of Mercia, who had previously attacked Wessex. These attacks marked the beginning of sustained pressure from the expanding kingdom of Mercia. In time this would deprive Wessex
Wessex
of its territories north of the Thames
Thames
and the (Bristol) Avon, encouraging the kingdom's reorientation southwards. Cenwealh married Penda's daughter, and when he repudiated her, Penda
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
Christianity
there. After his return, Cenwealh faced further attacks from Penda's successor Wulfhere, but was able to expand West Saxon territory in Somerset
Somerset
at the expense of the Britons. He established a second bishopric at Winchester, while the one at Dorchester was soon abandoned as Mercian power pushed southwards. Winchester
Winchester
would eventually develop into the effective capital of Wessex. After Cenwealh's death in 673, his widow, Seaxburh, held the throne for a year; she was followed by Æscwine, who was apparently descended from another brother of Ceawlin. This was one of several occasions on which the kingship of Wessex
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. Æscwine'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 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, Cædwalla, who claimed descent from Ceawlin. Cædwalla
Cædwalla
reigned for just two years, but achieved a dramatic expansion of the kingdom's power, conquering the kingdoms of Sussex, Kent
Kent
and the Isle of Wight, although Kent
Kent
regained its independence almost immediately and Sussex followed some years later. His reign ended in 688 when he abdicated and went on pilgrimage to Rome
Rome
where he was baptised by Pope Sergius I and died soon afterwards. His successor was Ine, 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, covering the territories west of Selwood Forest. Near the end of his life he followed in Cædwalla'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
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
Mercia
exerted over smaller kingdoms. During this period Wessex
Wessex
continued its gradual advance to the west, overwhelming the British kingdom of Dumnonia
Dumnonia
(Devon). At this time Wessex
Wessex
took de facto control over much of Devon, although Britons retained a degree of independence in Devon
Devon
until at least the 10th century. ( William of Malmesbury
William of Malmesbury
claimed that the Britons and Saxons
Saxons
inhabited Exeter "as equals" until 927.)</ref> As a result of the Mercian conquest of the northern portion of its early territories in Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire
and Oxfordshire, the Thames
Thames
and the Avon now probably formed the northern boundary of Wessex, while its heartland lay in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Dorset
Dorset
and Somerset. The system of shires which was later to form the basis of local administration throughout England (and eventually, Ireland, Wales
Wales
and Scotland
Scotland
as well) originated in Wessex, and had been established by the mid-8th century. Hegemony
Hegemony
of Wessex
Wessex
and the Viking
Viking
raids[edit]

Anglo-Saxon– Viking
Viking
coin weight, used for trading bullion and hacksilver. The material is lead and it weighs 36 g (1.3 oz). Embedded with an Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
sceat (Series K type 32a) dating to 720–750 and minted in Kent. It is edged in a dotted triangle pattern. Its origin is the Danelaw
Danelaw
region and dates to 870–930.

In 802 the fortunes of Wessex
Wessex
were transformed by the accession of Egbert 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
Gafulford
in 825. During the course of these campaigns he conquered the western Britons still in Devon
Devon
and reduced those beyond the River Tamar, now Cornwall, to the status of a vassal.[25] In 825 or 826 he overturned the political order of England by decisively defeating King Beornwulf of Mercia
Mercia
at Ellendun
Ellendun
and seizing control of Surrey, Sussex, Kent
Kent
and Essex
Essex
from the Mercians, while with his help East Anglia
East Anglia
broke away from Mercian control. In 829 he conquered Mercia, driving its King Wiglaf into exile, and secured acknowledgement of his overlordship from the king of Northumbria. He thereby became the Bretwalda, 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 Viking
Viking
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
Thames
estuary. Having defeated King Beorhtwulf of Mercia
Mercia
in battle, the Danes moved on to invade Wessex, but were decisively crushed by Egbert's son and successor King Æthelwulf in the exceptionally bloody Battle of Aclea. This victory postponed Danish conquests in England for fifteen years, but raids on Wessex
Wessex
continued. In 855–856 Æthelwulf went on pilgrimage to Rome
Rome
and his eldest surviving son Æthelbald took advantage of his absence to seize his father's throne. On his return, Æthelwulf agreed to divide the kingdom with his son to avoid bloodshed, ruling the new territories in the east while Æthelbald held the old heartland in the west. Æthelwulf was succeeded by each of his four surviving sons ruling one after another: the rebellious Æthelbald, then Æthelbert, who had previously inherited the eastern territories from his father and who reunited the kingdom on Æthelbald's death, then Æthelred, and finally Alfred the Great. This occurred because the first two brothers died in wars with the Danes without issue, while Æthelred's sons were too young to rule when their father died. Last English kingdom[edit]

England in the late 9th century

In 865, several of the Danish commanders combined their respective forces into one large army and landed in England. Over the following years, what became known as the Great Heathen Army
Great Heathen Army
overwhelmed the kingdoms of Northumbria
Northumbria
and East Anglia. Then in 871, the Great Summer Army arrived from Scandinavia, to reinforce the Great Heathen Army. The reinforced army invaded Wessex
Wessex
and, although Æthelred and Alfred won some victories and succeeded in preventing the conquest of their kingdom, a number of defeats and heavy losses of men compelled Alfred to pay the Danes to leave Wessex.[26][27] The Danes spent the next few years subduing Mercia
Mercia
and some of them settled in Northumbria, but the rest returned to Wessex
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
Somerset
Levels, but after a few months he was able to gather an army and defeated the Danes at the Battle of Edington, bringing about their final withdrawal from Wessex
Wessex
to settle in East Anglia. Simultaneous Danish raids on the north coast of France and Brittany occurred in the 870s – prior to the establishment of Normandy
Normandy
in 911 – and recorded Danish alliances with both Bretons and Cornish may have resulted in the suppression of Cornish autonomy with the death by drowning of King Donyarth
Donyarth
in 875 as recorded by the Annales Cambriae.[28] No subsequent 'Kings' of Cornwall
Cornwall
are recorded after this time, however Asser
Asser
records Cornwall
Cornwall
as a separate kingdom from Wessex
Wessex
in the 890s.[29] In 879 a Viking
Viking
fleet that had assembled in the Thames
Thames
estuary sailed across the channel to start a new campaign on the continent. The rampaging Viking
Viking
army on the continent encouraged Alfred to protect his Kingdom of Wessex.[30] 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, which details the location and garrisoning requirements of thirty-three forts, whose positioning ensured that no one in Wessex
Wessex
was more than a long day's ride from a place of safety.[31] 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
texts into English, doing much of the work in person, and orchestrated the composition of the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle. 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
period and beyond.

Wessex
Wessex
and areas under its control in 871.

Wessex
Wessex
and areas under its control in 886.

Wessex
Wessex
and areas under its control in 897.

The Danish conquests had destroyed the kingdoms of Northumbria
Northumbria
and East Anglia
East Anglia
and divided Mercia
Mercia
in half, with the Danes settling in the north-east while the south-west was left to the English king Ceolwulf, 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 named Aethelred, who acknowledged Alfred's overlordship and married his daughter Ethelfleda. The process by which this transformation of the status of Mercia
Mercia
took place is unknown, but it left Alfred as the only remaining English king. Unification of England and the Earldom of Wessex[edit]

Unification of England and Defeat of the Danelaw
Danelaw
in the 10th century under Wessex.

After the invasions of the 890s, Wessex
Wessex
and English Mercia
Mercia
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 Æthelred died, leaving his widow, Alfred's daughter Æthelflæd, in charge of Mercia. Alfred's son and successor Edward the Elder, then annexed London, Oxford
Oxford
and the surrounding area, probably including Middlesex, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire
and Oxfordshire, from Mercia
Mercia
to Wessex. Between 913 and 918 a series of English offensives overwhelmed the Danes of Mercia
Mercia
and East Anglia, bringing all of England south of the Humber
Humber
under Edward's power. In 918 Æthelflæd
Æthelflæd
died and Edward took over direct control of Mercia, extinguishing what remained of its independence and ensuring that henceforth there would be only one Kingdom of the English. In 927 Edward's successor Athelstan conquered Northumbria, 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. Although Wessex
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 in 955, who had no legitimate heirs, the rule of England passed to his nephew, Edwig. Edwig's unpopularity with the nobility and the church led the thanes of Mercia
Mercia
and Northumbria
Northumbria
to declare their allegiance to his younger brother, Edgar, in October 957, though Edwy continued to rule in Wessex. In 959, Edwy died and the whole of England came under Edgar's control. After the conquest of England by the Danish king Cnut in 1016, he established earldoms based on the former kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia
Mercia
and East Anglia, but initially administered Wessex
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. For almost fifty years the vastly wealthy holders of this earldom, first Godwin and then his son Harold, were the most powerful men in English politics after the king. Finally, on the death of Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor
in 1066, Harold became king, reuniting the earldom of Wessex
Wessex
with the crown. No new earl was appointed before the ensuing Norman Conquest of England, and as the Norman kings soon did away with the great earldoms of the late Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
period, 1066 marks the extinction of Wessex
Wessex
as a political unit. Contemporary use of the name[edit] From the second edition (1989) of the Oxford
Oxford
English Dictionary:

Wessex (ˈwɛsɪks) [OE. West Seaxe West Saxons.] (This entry suggests that the name was first used in 1868, modelled on the county names Essex, East Seaxe East Saxons, and Sussex, Suth Seaxe South Saxons) 1. The name of a kingdom in south-west England in Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
times, used by Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy
as the name of the county in which his stories are set (corresponding approximately to Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, and Wiltshire) and since used as a name for south-west England or this part of it.

1868 W. Barnes Poems of Rural Life in Common Eng. Pref., As I think that some people, beyond the bounds of Wessex, would allow me the pleasure of believing that they have deemed‥my homely poems in our Dorset
Dorset
mother-speech to be worthy of their reading, I have written a few of a like kind, in common English. 1874 Hardy in Cornh. Mag. Nov. 624 Greenhill was the Nijnii Novgorod of Wessex; and the busiest‥day of the whole statute number was the day of the sheep-fair. 1876 Examiner 15 July 794/1 The Wessex
Wessex
man knows that these passages have in them the real ring, all equally true to life and scenery. 1938 Proc. Prehistoric Soc. IV. 52 The work‥was‥undertaken with a view to examining the cultures of the geographical area usually comprised in the term 'Wessex' in the period immediately following the Beaker phase. 1979 N. & Q. June 193/2 All [volumes] share a chronology of the life and works, Hardy's General Preface to the Wessex
Wessex
Edition, and notes on Wessex
Wessex
and Wessex
Wessex
names.

Symbols[edit] Wyvern
Wyvern
or dragon[edit]

The Wessex
Wessex
flag designed by William Crampton in the 1970s

Wessex
Wessex
is often symbolised by a wyvern or dragon. Both Henry of Huntingdon and Matthew of Westminster talk of a golden dragon being raised at the Battle of Burford
Burford
in 752 by the West Saxons. The Bayeux Tapestry
Bayeux Tapestry
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. Dragon
Dragon
standards were in fairly wide use in Europe at the time, being derived from the draco standard employed by the later Roman army , and there is no evidence that it explicitly identified Wessex.[32] A panel of 18th century stained glass at Exeter Cathedral
Exeter Cathedral
indicates that an association with an image of a dragon in south west Britain pre-dated the Victorians. Nevertheless, the association with Wessex was only popularised in the 19th century, most notably through the writings of E. A. Freeman. By the time of the grant of armorial bearings by the College of Arms
College of Arms
to Somerset
Somerset
County Council in 1911, a (red) dragon had become the accepted heraldic emblem of the former kingdom.[33] This precedent was followed in 1937 when Wiltshire
Wiltshire
County Council was granted arms.[34] Two gold Wessex
Wessex
dragons were later granted as supporters to the arms of Dorset
Dorset
County Council in 1950.[35] In the British Army
British Army
the wyvern has been used to represent Wessex: the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division, and postwar regional 43 (Wessex) Brigade adopted a formation sign consisting of a gold wyvern on a black or dark blue background. The regular Wessex Brigade of the 1960s adopted a cap badge featuring the heraldic beast, until the regiments took back up individual regimental badges in the late 1960s. The Territorial Army Wessex Regiment
Wessex Regiment
continued to wear the Wessex
Wessex
Brigade badge until the late 1980s when its individual companies too readopted their parent regular regimental cap badges. The now disbanded West Somerset
Somerset
Yeomanry adopted a Wessex
Wessex
Wyvern
Wyvern
rampant as the centre piece for its cap badge, and the current Royal Wessex Yeomanry
Royal Wessex Yeomanry
adopted a similar device in 2014 when the Regiment moved from wearing individual squadron county yeomanry cap badges to a unified single Regimental cap badge. When Sophie, Countess of Wessex
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".[36] In the 1970s William Crampton, the founder of the British Flag Institute, designed a flag for the Wessex
Wessex
region which depicts a gold wyvern on a red field.[37] Attributed coat of arms[edit]

A coat of arms was attributed by medieval heralds to the Kings of Wessex. These arms appear in a manuscript of the 13th century, and are blazoned as Azure, a cross patonce (alternatively a cross fleury or cross moline) between four martlets Or.[38]

Penny of King Edward

The attributed arms of Wessex
Wessex
are also known as the "Arms of Edward the Confessor", and the design is based on an emblem historically used by King Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor
on the reverse side of pennies minted by him. The heraldic design continued to represent both Wessex
Wessex
and Edward in classical heraldry[39] and is found on a number of church windows in derived shields such as the Arms of the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster (Westminster Abbey, which was founded by the king). Cultural and political identity in modern times[edit] Further information: Thomas Hardy's Wessex At its greatest extent Wessex
Wessex
encompassed the modern areas of Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Dorset
Dorset
and Wiltshire, as well as the western half of Berkshire
Berkshire
and the eastern hilly flank of Somerset. This covers an area of about 11,500 km2 (4,400 sq mi). The English author Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy
used a fictionalised Wessex
Wessex
as a setting for many of his novels, adopting his friend William Barnes' term Wessex
Wessex
for their home county of Dorset
Dorset
and its neighbouring counties in the south and west of England. Hardy's Wessex
Wessex
excluded Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire
and Oxfordshire, but the city of Oxford, which he called "Christminster", was visited as part of Wessex
Wessex
in Jude the Obscure. He gave each of his Wessex
Wessex
counties a fictionalised name, such as with Berkshire, which is known in the novels as "North Wessex". The film Shakespeare in Love
Shakespeare in Love
included a character called "Lord Wessex" – a title which did not exist in Elizabethan times. The ITV television series Broadchurch
Broadchurch
takes place in Wessex
Wessex
and its characters are seen attending South Wessex
Wessex
Secondary School. See also[edit]

Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
England portal

Heptarchy Earl of Wessex List of monarchs of Wessex Wessex
Wessex
Constitutional Convention Wessex
Wessex
Regionalist Party

Footnotes[edit]

^ Peter Hunter Blair (17 July 2003). An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge University Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-521-53777-3.  ^ Blair 2003, pp. 2–3 ^ Blair 2003, p. 3 ^ Yorke 1995, p. 11 ^ Blair 2003, pp. 13–14 ^ Blair 2003, pp. 14–16 ^ Yorke, Barbara (1 November 2002). Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
England. Routledge. pp. 130–131. ISBN 9781134707249.  ^ Giles, John Allen (translator) (1914). The Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
chronicle. G. Bell and Sons, LTD. p. 9. Retrieved 27 July 2015.  ^ Yorke 2002, pp. 130–131 ^ Yorke 2002, p. 130–131 ^ Yorke, p. 131 ^ Loyn, H. R. (1991). Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
England and the Norman Conquest (2 ed.). p. 34.  ^ a b c d Giles, p. 9 ^ Yorke 2002, p. 4 ^ "Cerdicesford" is known with certainty to be Charford. (Major, p. 11) ^ Major, Albany F. Early Wars of Wessex
Wessex
(1912), pp. 11–20 ^ Major, p. 19 ^ Jackson, Kenneth (1953), Language and History in Early Britain. Edinburgh. pp. 554, 557, 613 and 680. ^ Parsons, D. (1997) British *Caraticos, Old English
Old English
Cerdic, Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 33, pp, 1–8. ^ Koch, J.T., (2006) Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, ISBN 1-85109-440-7, pp. 394–395. ^ Koch, J.T., (2006) Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, ISBN 1-85109-440-7, pp. 392–393. ^ Yorke 1995, pp. 190–191 ^ Myres, J.N.L. (1989) The English Settlements. Oxford
Oxford
University Press, pp. 146–147 ^ Yorke, B. (1990), Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
England, London: Seaby, ISBN 1-85264-027-8 pp. 138–139 ^ Major, Albany F. Early Wars of Wessex, p.105 ^ " Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
(849 AD – 899 AD)".  ^ Hooper, Nicholas Hooper; Bennett, Matthew (1996). The Cambridge Illustrated Atlas of Warfare: the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press. pp. 22–23. ISBN 0-521-44049-1.  ^ "Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles: Dumnonii". The History Files. Retrieved 27 December 2015.  ^ Albert S. Cook, Asser's life of King Alfred, 1906 ^ Sawyer, Peter (2001). The Oxford
Oxford
Illustrated History of the Vikings (3rd ed.). Oxford: OUP. p. 57. ISBN 0-19-285434-8.  ^ The Burghal Hidage: Alfred's Towns, Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
website ^ J. S. P. Tatlock, The Dragons of Wessex
Wessex
and Wales
Wales
in Speculum, Vol. 8, No. 2. (Apr., 1933), pp. 223–235. ^ "The Coat of Arms". Somerset
Somerset
County Council. Retrieved 14 January 2008. [dead link] ^ "Civic Heraldry of England and Wales
Wales
Cornwall
Cornwall
and Wessex
Wessex
Area – Wiltshire
Wiltshire
County Council". Civicheraldry.co.uk. Retrieved 6 August 2011.  ^ "Civic Heraldry of England and Wales
Wales
Cornwall
Cornwall
and Wessex
Wessex
Area – Dorset
Dorset
County Council". Civicheraldry.co.uk. Retrieved 6 August 2011.  ^ "The Arms of the Countess of Wessex". Royal Insight. Royal.gov.uk. 28 October 2010. Archived from the original on 22 February 2008. Retrieved 28 November 2010.  ^ The Flag Institute: Wessex. Retrieved 26 August 2015 ^ College of Arms
College of Arms
MS L.14, dating from the reign of Henry III ^ For example in Divi Britannici by Winston Churchill, published in 1675 and Britannia Saxona by G W Collen published in 1833

Bibliography[edit]

Blair, Peter Hunter (17 July 2003). An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England (Third ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-53777-3 Yorke, Barbara (1995). Wessex
Wessex
in the Early Middle Ages. A&C Black. ISBN 978-0-7185-1856-1. 

External links[edit]

The Burghal Hidage Thomas Hardy's Wessex
Thomas Hardy's Wessex
Research site by Dr Birgit Plietzsch The History Files: Kings of the West Saxons Wessex
Wessex
Law Academy Wessex
Wessex
Society

v t e

Kingdoms and subdivisions of Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
England

Kingdoms

East Anglia Essex Kent Mercia Northumbria Bernicia Deira Sussex Wessex

Lesser kingdoms

Wiht Meonwara Surrey Lindsey Hwicce Magonsæte Pencersæte Pecsæte Wreocensæte Tomsæte Haestingas Gyrwas Southumbrians

Minor Anglo-Saxon tribes and fiefs

Ælfingas Æbbingas Godhelmingas Arosæte Beormingas Bilsæte Brahhingas Duddensæte Cilternsæte Eorlingas Husmerae Gaini Sunningas Brycgstowl Banesbyrig Lindisfaras Woccingas Nox-gaga and Oht-gaga Middle Saxons Middle Angles North Mercians Duddaæte Gyrwas Hroðingas Tetingas Basingas Snotingas Spaldingas Stoppingas Sweordora Tewingas Westerne Elmetsæte Gewisse Rēadingas Weorgoran Sumorsaete Waeclingas Haueringas Ytenes

Coordinates: 51°12′N 2°00′W / 51.2°N

.