Includes – Berkshire, Devonshire, Dorsetshire, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Somersetshire, Surrey and Wiltshire.

Although Wessex is so closely associated with the extreme south-central part of southern England it did not originate there. The earliest settlements of the West Saxons were in the valley of the upper Thames, in south Oxfordshire and Berkshire. the story in the early Anglo-saxon Chronicle that the West Saxons landed under their leaders Cerdic and his grandson Cynric in 495 at the head of Southampton Water and that they fought their way northwards and established their kingdom in Hampshire and Wiltshire is no longer accepted. The archeological evidence indicates that the settlers worked their way up the Thames valley, and some perhaps along the Icknield Way from the wash, to settle in the Berkshire area, around about the year 500. Cerdic’s men were probably small groups of adventurers, great fighters but to few to form permanent settlements. they lived off the land they had invaded and fought their way northwards until under Cynric’s son Caewlin, 560-91, they reached the permanent West Saxon settlements in Berkshire which had been established more than half a century earlier. Ceawlin, a great warrior, named by Bede the second Bretwalda of England was accepted as their King by the established West Saxons and become the first real King of Wessex of the House of Cerdic. Under Ceawlin the expansion of Wessex began. About 577 he penetrated into the south part of Hwicce and occupied the area round Gloucester and Cirencester.

Expansion then continued southwards, in the direction from which Cerdic and Cynric had come, into Wiltshire and Hampshire. Under his immediate successors Wessex was unable to withstand the growing power of Mercia. All Wessex north of the Thames, including Dorchester, ite ecclesiastical centre and at that period its only bishopric, passed permanently to Mercia and the rest of Wessex became for a period more or less subordinate to Mercia. Under two strong Kings, Cadwalla 685-8 and Ine 688-726, the strength of Wessex revived and a fresh period of consolidation and expansion developed. Cadwalla conquered Sussex and the Isle of Wight. Under Ine the West Saxons penetrated the Forest of Selwood, hitherto their western boundary, and occupied parts of Somerset and Devon. A Saxon monastery was founded at Exeter before 700. Ine was the greatest of the early Wessex Kings.

He strengthened and consolidated his kingdom and re-organised the church in Wessex. He drew up a famous code of West Saxon law which was later incorporated in the even more famous code of Alfred ‘the Great’. He was an intensely religious man his religion proved a tragedy for his country. He resigned his kingship in 726 in order to die in a monastery in Rome. After him Wessex fell again into internal disorder and became subject to Mercia, at this time more powerful than ever the two successive Kings Athelbald and Offa.

Nearly a century later the third great King of Wessex arose, Ecgbert, 802-39, a descendent of Ine’s brother. He had been expelled from Kent, where his father was sub-King, by Offa in 789. He spent some years in the France of Charlemagne and after Offa’s death returned and was accepted as King by the West Saxons. for twenty years Egbert quietly consolidated and strengthened his country. Then the great trial of strength occurred between him and the Mercian King, no longer an Offa, at Ellandun in 825. The power of Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent and Sussex submitted to Egbert; the unification of England had begun.

Christianity had been introduced into Wessex by Birinus, an independent missionary, 635 approx. The King, Cynegils (611-43) accepted it and made Birinus the first bishop of the West Saxons with his seat at Dorchester. After a few years Birinus left Wessex and disappeared from history as suddenly as he had entered it. It is doubtful whether he had converted many of his people, but he had made an impression which was permanent. Christianity continued to expand its influence, due partly no doubt, as had been the case earlier in Northumbria, to the devoutly religious character of some of the West Saxon Kings, including the greatest. Moreover Celtic Christianity had for long dominant in the south-west, beyond Selwood; Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset and Malmesbury in Wiltshire were originally Celtic /British Orthodox Christian foundations. The celtic church was only loosely organised. Its influence was spread mainly through isolated monasteries and individual small groups of hermits, such as Dicul of Bosham. But the Christian influence was there which made it easier for the later West Saxon Kings, all of whom were of the Roman Orthodox persuasion, to establish a properly organised church.

For some years after the departure of Birinus Wessex had no bishop. Then Bishop Agilbert, a Frank, arrived 650 approx to continue the work. King Cenwalh (643-72) son of Cynegils, made him second bishop of Dorchester. Later 660 approx the King established a second bishopric at Winchester to which he appointed Wine, a Saxon, a bishop. Agilbert soon after left Wessex, the Dorchester area passed to Mercia and Winchester was the only diocese of Wessex for nearly half a century. Cenwal’s son and successor Centwine, 675 approx. 685, was recorded by Aldhelm, the famous Abbot of Malmesbury, as the founder of many churches. It was the great Ine who first organised the church in Wessex. He created a separate bishopric at Sherborne at Sherborne in 705 to look after the needs of ‘Wessex beyond Selwood’ and appointed Aldhelm as the first bishop (705-9). These two were the only sees in Wessex for more than two centuries Under Edward ‘the Elder’, as part of his reorganisation of England after his conquest of the Danelaw, a see of Ramsbury was split off from Winchester to serve Berkshire and Wiltshire, and the two sees of Wells and Crediton were divided off from Serborne to serve respectively Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. Later a separate see of St. Germans was created for created for Cornwall. These sees proved too small to be self-supporting and under Edward the Confessor Ramsbury was reunited to Sherborne, St. Germans was abolished and Cornwall and Devon were included in a new bishopric of Exeter, transferred from Crediton.

Winchester remained throughout the centuries the ‘mother’ diocese of Wessex and its greatest centre of religious and cultural life. its scriptorium rivalled that of Canterbury and from the mid-tenth century exceeded Canterbury in fame; for it was at Winchester at about this period that the famous ‘Winchester School’ of book illumination developed and spread throughout the southern part of England Winchester illumination was produced at monasteries as far apart as Exeter, Glastonbury, Canterbury, Abingdon and Ramsey (Hunts). Perhaps its most famous product, produced probably at Winchester, was the Benedictional of St. Athelwold, formerly at Chatsworth and now in the British Museum. The school was tersely and aptly described by T. S. Kendrick as the best thing in Englisc art, Englisc born, the first really Englisc thing in Englisc art; and its influence outlived the Saxon period.

From this short sketch of Wessex it might be inferred that there are many pre-conquest churches in the area. There are at least 16 in Hampshire, and about 20 altogether in Berkshire, Wiltshire and Dorset the four counties which comprise the real Wessex. Some are of a very early date; those with towers are later. Some of the churches includes the famous little church at Bradford-on Avon, Wiltshire, was originally part of the monastery founded in the eight century by Aldhelm. There are seven churches if Surrey is included who have towers, all of the eleventh century. They are Wickham, Berkshire, Netheravon, Wiltshire, Breamore and Warblington, Hampshire and Compton, St. Mary’s, Guildford, and Wotton, Surrey.

Kings of Wessex

(known as the ‘Geuissae’ until the reign of Caedwalla, also from the reign of Ecgberht, the Kings of all England)

Cerdic, 495-534 / 538-554, Cynric, 534-560 / 554-581
Father and son of Saxon origin, the first dates of them landing at Southampton and the second dates of them establishing themselves on the upper reaches of the Thames which appears more likely.

Ceawlin, 560-591 / 581-588
Son of Cynric expelled from his Kingdom.

Ceol, 591-597/588-594
Son of Cutha and grandson of Cynric.

Ceolwulf, 597-611 / 594-611
Brother of Cutha.

Cynegilis, 611-642
Son of Ceol.

Cenwealh, 642-672
Son of Cyngelis.

Queen Seaxburh, 672-674
Widow of Cenwealh took over the Government on the death of her husband.

Aeswine, 674-676
Son of Cenfus, and a descendant of Cerdic.

Centwine, 676-685
Son of Cynegils who was deposed by Caedwalla.

Caedwalla, 685-689
Great-Great-Grandson of Caewlin and son of Cenberht, abdicated and went to Rome to be baptized as Peter passing seven days later.

Ine, 688-725
Son of Cenred and Great-Great-Great Grandson of Ceawlin became one of the most famous Wessex Kings, like Caedwalla before him abdicated to go to Rome.

Aetheiheard, 726-740
Took the throne with agreement of Ine, like Ine did with Caedwalla.

Cuthred, 740-756
Succeeded Aethelheard to the throne, not known where he came from but he restored Wessex’s prestige.

Sigeberht, 756-757
Kinsman of Cuthred, he was deposed by Cynewulf and the Counsellors of Wessex ‘for unlawful actions’.

Cynewulf, 757-786
Claiming descent from Cerdic, Cyneheard brother of Sigeberht had Cynewulf killed whose relief force killed Cyneheard the following day.

Brihtic, 786-802
Succeeded Cynewulf on his murder, of the family of Cerdic, his parentage unknown.

Ecgberht, 802-839
He has a special place in Wessex and English history as the first king of all England.

Aethelwulf, 839-858
Succeeded Ecgberht was a sub-King before in Essex, Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

Athelbald, 858-860
Second son of Aethelwulf, his elder brother Aethelstan sub-king had passed on in 850.

Aethelberht, 860-865
Succeeded his brother, he was a sub-king before the same as Aethelstan.

Aethelred I, 865-871
Fourth son of Aethelwulf who died from wounds after victory at the battle of Ashdown, Berkshire.

Alfred, 871-899
The only English King to be called ‘the Great’, being the father and Founder of England after the victory over Guthrum at the Battle of Ethundun (Edington), Wiltshire.

Edward ‘the Elder’, 899-924
Son of Alfred started the campaign to establish England.

Aelfweard, 924-924
Son of Edward ‘the Elder’ had a very brief reign, dying at Oxford.

Aethelstan, 924-939
Grandson of Alfred ‘the Great’ who was brought up in the Mercian court, he became truly ‘the King of England’.

Edmund I, 939-946
Half-brother of Aethelstan who was stabbed to death at Pucklechurch in Gloucestershire.

Edred, 946-955
Succeeded to the throne on the murder of his brother.

Eadwig, 955-959
A young boy when his father was murdered, he succeeded his uncle on his passing.

Edgar, 959-975
Brother of Edwig, he instituted reforms permitted a good deal of autonomy to the Danes, who were allowed to retain their traditional customs.

Edward II ‘the Martyr’, 975-978
On the instigation of his step-mother Aelthryth and allies, he was assassinated at Corfe Castle whilst visiting his half-brother Aethelred, he became a martyr for his proposed reforms for the Church.

Aethelred II, ‘the Unready’, 978-1016
He had a most unfortunate reign with things which appeared to conspire against him coming now doubt from the assassination of his half-brother Edward who he had reburied in a shrine at Shaftsbury Abbey.

Sweyn ‘Forkbead’, 1014-1014
King of Denmark with his son Cnut swore vengeance after St. Brice’s day massacre where Aethelred had people from Danish extraction murdered including his sister, Gunhild. He died soon where Aethelred was recalled from Normandy.

Edmund II ‘Ironside’, 1016
Son of Aethelred who was the strong arm for his father, but died under mysterious circumstances possibly assassinated.

Cnut, 1016-1035
Son of Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’ elected King of England on the death of Edmund ‘Ironside’ was a very good King considering the St. Brice’s day massacre.

Harold I ‘Harefoot’, 1035-1040
Son of Cnut.

Harthacnut, 1040-1042
Son of Cnut, unworthy King, who thankfully died soon after whilst on a drinking bout.

Edward III ‘the Confessor’, 1043-1066
He was crowned King with no opposition but no children were conceived which caused real problems, he named Earl Harold Godwinson as his heir to the throne.

Alfred the Atheling
Son of Aethelred younger brother of Edward ‘the Confessor’ came to England contend against Harold I for throne, Godwine’s men captured him blinded him to die at Ely, no doubt coloured Edwards attitude towards the Godwine family. Edward the Atheling, son of Edmund ‘Ironside’ came over from the Hungarian court for approval but died shortly after arriving.

Harold II, 1066-1066
Elected King by the Witan as he had demonstrated in the past of a trusted and loyal supporter of Edward and the crown, victory at the battle of Stanford Bridge but defeated at Senlac ridge by the Duke of Normandy vassal of the King of France.

Edgar, 1066
Son of Edmund ‘Ironside’ elected King by the Witan on the death of Harold but was swept aside by the duke of Normandy William ‘the Bastard’ whose troops slaughtered hundreds of people outside Westminster Abbey whilst he crowned ‘himself’ King of England ‘cold heart and bloody hand Now rule the English land’.

Wessex Churches

Saint Laurence’s Church
Bradford upon Avon, Wiltshire

Saint Martin’s Church
Northgate, Wareham, Dorsetshire

Saint Michael at the NorthgateOxford, Oxon

Corhampton Church
Corhampton, Hampshire

Saint Swithun’s Church
Headbourne Worthy, Winchester, Hampshire


Geography of Surrey

Surrey is divided in two by the chalk ridge of the North Downs, running east – west. The ridge is pierced by Surrey’s principle rivers, the Wey and the Mole which are tributaries of the Thames which was the northern border of Surrey, Kent to the east, Sussex to the south, Hampshire to south-west/ west, to the north of the Downs the land is mostly flat, forming part of the Thames basin, dominated with London clay to the east and Bagshot sand to the west and alluvial deposits along the river. To the south of the Downs in the western part of the county/shire are the sandstone of the Surrey Hills, while further east is the plain of the low Weald, rising in the extreme south-east to the edge of the hills of the High Weald. The Downs and the area to the south form part of a concentric pattern of geological deposits which also extends across southern Kent and most of Sussex, predominantly composed of Wealden clay, lower Greensand and the chalk of the Downs.

The formation of Surrey

During the 5th and 6th Centuries Surrey was conquered and settled by Saxons. The names of possible tribes inhabiting the area have been conjecturing on the basis of place names. These include the Godneiminga (around Godalming) and Waccingas (between Woking and Wokingham in Berkshire). It has also been speculated that the entries for the Nor gaga and Ont gaga peoples in the tribal Hidage may refer to two groups living in the vicinity of Surrey.

Together their lands were assessed at a total of 7000 hides equal to the assessment for Sussex or Essex, Surrey may have formed part of a larger Middles Saxon kingdom or confederacy, also including areas north of the Thames. The name Surrey is derived from Suthrige meaning “southern region” and this may originate in its status as the southern portion of the Middle Saxon territory.

If it ever existed, the Middle Saxon kingdom had disappeared by the 7th Century and Surrey became a frontier disputed between the kingdoms of Essex, Sussex, Wessex and Mercia, until its permanent absorption by Wessex in 825, despite this fluctuating situation it retained its identity as an enduring territorial unit. During the 7th Century Surrey became Christian and initially formed part of the East Saxon diocese of London, indicating that is was under the East Saxon rule at that time, but it was later transferred to the West Saxon diocese of Winchester its most important religious institution throughout the Anglo-Saxon period and beyond was Chertsey Abbey, founded in 666. At this point Surrey was evidently under Kentish domination as the abbey was founded under the patronage of King Ecgberht of Kent, however, a few tears later at least part of it was subject to Mercia, since in 673-5 futher lands were given to Chertsey Abbey by Frithuwald, a local sub-king (subregulus) ruling under the sovereignty of Wulfhere of Mercia. A decade later Surrey passed into the hands of King Caedwalla of Wessex who also conquered Kent and Sussex and founded a monastery at Farnham in 686. The region remained under the control of Caedwalla’s successor Ine in the early 8th century, its political history for most of the 8th Century is unclear, although West Saxon control may have broken down around 722, but by 784-5 it had gone into the hands of King Offa of Mercia, Mercia rule continued until 825 when following his victory over the Mercians at the Battle of Ellandun. King Egberht of Wessex seized control of Surrey, along with Sussex, Kent and Essex continued thereafter under the West Saxon kings, who eventually  became kings of England.

Frithuwald  (c 673-675)

Frithuric      (c 675-c686)

The West Saxon and English Shire

In the 9th Century England was afflicted, along with the rest of north-west Europe, by the attacks of Scandinavian Vikings. Surrey’s inland position shielded it from coastal raidings, so it was not normally troubled except by the largest and most ambitious Scandinavian armies. In 851 an exceptionally large invasion force of Danes arrived at he mouth of the Thames in a fleet of about 350 ships, which would have carried over 15000 men, having sacked Canterbury and London and defeated King Beorlhwulf of Mercia in battle, the Danes crossed the Thames into Surrey, but were slaughtered by a West Saxon army led by King Ethelwulf in the Battle of Aciea, bringing the invasion to an end. Two years later the men of Surrey marched into Kent to help their Kentish neighbours fight a raiding force on the Isle of Thanet but suffered heavy losses including the ealdorman Huda, in 892 Surrey was the scene of another major battle when a large Danish army, variously reported as 22, 250 and 350 ship-loads moved west from its encampment in Kent and raided Hampshire and Berkshire, withdrawing with their loot, the Danes were intercepted and defeated at Farnham by an army led by Alfred the Great’s son Edward, the future King Edward he Elder and fled across the Thames into Essex.                              Surrey remained safe from attack for over a century thereafter, due to its location and to the growing power of the West Saxon, later English kingdom, Kingston was the scene for the coronations of AEthelstan in 924 and of AEthelred the Unready in 978 and according to later tradition also of other 10th Century, Kings of England. The renewed attacks by the Danes during the disastrous reign of AEthelred led to the devastation of Surrey by the army of Thorkell the Tall, which ravaged all of south-eastern England in 1009-11. The climax of this were the attacks came in 1016 which saw prolonged fighting between the forces of King Edmund Ironside and the Danish King Canute, including the English victory over the Danes somewhere in north-eastern Surrey, but ended with the conquest of England by Canute when the Witan excepted him as King of England on the murder of King Edmund Ironside by one of his ealdermen.

Canute’s death in 1035 was followed by a period of political uncertainty, as the succession was disputed between his sons, in 1036 Alfred son of King AEthelred returned from Normandy, where he had been taken for safety  as a child at the time of Canute’s conquest of England, it is uncertain what his intensions were, but after landing with a small retinue in Sussex, he was met by Godwin Earl of Wessex who escorted him in a apparently friendly fashion to Guildford having taken lodgings there, Alfred’s men were attacked as they slept and killed, mutilated or enslaved by Godwin’s followers, while the prince himself was blinded and imprisoned, dying shortly afterwards due to his injuries. This must have contributed to antipathy between the Godwins and Alfred’s brother Edward who would be king in 1042.

The Domesday Book records the largest landowners in Surrey at the end of King Edward’s reign was Chertsey Abbey and Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex and King Edward the Confessor himself.

The shire of Surrey was divided into 14 hundreds for administration which lasted until the Victorian era.

Identified ealdormen of Surrey

Wulfheard (c 823)

Huda (c -853)

AEthelweard  (late 10th Century)

AEthelmaer    (? – 1016)