Sussex was the most backward and primitive of the kingdoms of the Heptarchy, and was last to accept Christianity. The area was isolated on the landward side by heavy clay soils and thick forests which made communication difficult.

The conquering Saxons from Kent and the evangelising Wilfred reached Sussex by sea. A band of Kentish Saxons under a leader Alle landed near Selsey in 477 and had conquered the coastal part of the area as far as Pevensey by 491. According to Bede Alle was the first Bretwalda, but the title at that time could have had little or no territorial significance. It is difficult to believe that Alle, who had taken fourteen years to conquer a part of Sussex and then faded more or less from history, could have been overlord of Southern England. It is more likely that he gained the title as a valiant soldier who had a great reputation for his military skill and successes.

Nothing more is known of Sussex for nearly 200 years. Athelwalh, a Sussex prince in exile, married, 675 approx, Ebba, the daughter of Eanfrith, sub-king of the Hwicce, and accepted baptism, Wulfhere of Mercia acting as godfather. Athelwalh, with the help of Wulfhere, returned as king to Sussex and attempted, though apparently with little success, to evangelise his people. As recorded by Bede, Dicul, a Scot or more probably an Irish/Scotti monk, settled with five or six companions at Bosanham (Bosham) about this time. Their teaching appears to have made little impression on the inhabitants. Success followed the efforts of the energetic Wilfred of Ripon who spent five years, 681-6, of his second exile from Northumbria helping Athelwalh to convert the South Saxons (Sussex). He established a monastery at Selsey and in the words, performed all the duties of a bishop in these parts. ‘Sussex was conquered and Athelwalh killed by cadwalla of Wessex, also a Christian, 685 approx and Wilfrid continued his activities for another year, after which he returned to Northumbria. Sussex regained its independence from Wessex 725 approx but was re-conquered by and became a mere province of Mercia under Offa 771 approx. Later, in 825, after Ecgbert of Wessex had beaten Mercia in the decisive battle of Ellandum, Sussex, Kent and Essex submitted to Ecgbert and as separate kingdoms passed out of history. The subsequent history of Sussex is a part of the history of England.

Wilfrid’s work in Sussex was thorough. When he left the district Christianity was firmly established. He is reported to have built some churches in the Meon valley in east Hampshire, an area added with the Isle of Wight to Athelwalh’s dominions by Wulfhere. A Saxon sundial at Warnford Church (Hampshire) is considered by some writers to be a fragment from Wilfrid’s original church. He must have built churches also in Sussex but there are no remains there definitely known to be of his period. Many churches were built in later times of which more than forty remain today either entire or in part or as fragments remaining in the walls of later rebuilding. Five have towers of the late Saxon period; those at Bosham, Jevington, Singleton, Sompting and perhaps, South Bersted.

Kings of Sussex
(South Saxons & Jutes)

Aelle, 477-500
Founder of Sussex, sailed from Kent to land at Selsey. Nothing is known of Sussex for 150 years.

Aethelwald, 650-680
Slain by Caedwalla of Wessex.

Berthun (West) & Andhun (East), 680-685
Defeated by Caedwalla of Wessex in 685.

Nothelm/Nunna, 688-725
King of Sussex, sub-King of Wessex.

Aethelstan, 714
Presumed sub-King of East Sussex.

Aethelberht, 733-754
Possible son of Aethelstan.

Sussex under Mercian control by 757 ruled by Offa.

Ealdwulf, ruled before and after 765.

Osmund, 765-772

Aelwald, 765-772

Oslac, 780
These were Kings or sub-Kings of Sussex of which were the last to be identified in Sussex.

Sussex Churches

Saint Andrew’s Church
Bishopstone, East Sussex

Saint Peter’s Church
Southease, East Sussex