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Anglo-Saxon England

The Mercian Tribal Hidage

by Peter Kessler & Edward Dawson, 2 August 2008

The Tribal Hidage is a late seventh century assessment list, or tribute list, which includes all the dominant tribes in the Mercian kingdom in England, plus territories which were under its domination.

Each tribe was assessed by the number of hides under their control (Old English 'hida', meaning a unit of land). The document was probably compiled under the reign of Berthwald (675-685) or Ethelred (685-702).

In its own way it is an early form of the eleventh century Domesday Book, and represents the growing power of the Mercian monarchy over all of southern England, something the kingdom would maintain throughout the eighth century.

Although this description is a consensus view, others argue that the Tribal Hidage is a document for Northumbrian domination. Historian N J Higham contends that it was drawn up in the 620s by Edwin of Northumbria as an expression of his overlordship of Mercia. However, this seems to be easily dismissed by the lack of northern kingdoms in the list, including the northern half of Elmet which, by the end of the seventh century, seems to have been divided between Mercia and Northumbria.

Through the list, the Mercian king would have been able to assess the taxes that were due to him from each of the many peoples under his control at a time when England was not one nation. Instead it still consisted of multiple kingdoms, each of which was made up of many peoples, sub-groupings, or even regions which had been under Anglo-Saxon control for less than a century. The only exclusion is Cornwall west of the Camel estuary, which was still under independent British control at the time.

The original manuscript has been lost, but it still exists in three, slightly different versions, known as Recension A (dated to 1034, and probably written in Mercia, it is now in the British Library), Recension B (which is from Henry Spelman's ArchŠologus in modum Glosarii ad rem antiquam posteriorem, published in 1626, which is believed to be derived from a Latin version of the Tribal Hidage), and Recension C (from six manuscripts from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries).

The manuscript

This list is taken mainly from Recension A as formatted by Tony Jebson. Suggested locations are influenced to a minor extent by Cyril Hart, and by Wendy Davies & Hayo Vierck.

Peoples

Suggested Locations

Hidage

Myrcna landes is ■rittig ■usend hyda ■Šr
mon Šrest Mrycna hŠt

'the area first called
Mercia'

30,000

Wocen sŠtna is syfan ■usend hida

Wreocenset (Wroxeter)

7,000

Westerna eac swa

Magonset (Hereford)

7,000

PecsŠtna twelf hund hyda

Peak Saxons

1,200

Elmed sŠtna syx hund hyda

Elmetians (the southern
half of British Elmet)

600

Lindesfarona syfan ■usend hyda mid
HŠ■ feldlande

Lindsey (Lincoln) with
Hatfield Chase

7,000

Su■ gyrwa syx hund hyda

Gyrwe based near
Peterborough

600

Nor■ gyrwa syx hund hyda

(as above)

600

East wixna ■ryu hund hyda

Possibly Wisbech in
Cambridgeshire?

300

West wixna syx hund hyda

(as above)

600

Spalda syx hund hyda

Spalding (Lincolnshire)

600

Wigesta nygan hund hyda

Wiggenhall in the
Norfolk marshlands?

900

Herefinna twelf hund hyda

Hyrstingas of
Hurstingbourne in
Huntingdonshire?

1,200

Sweord ora ■ryu hund hyda

Sweod ora, associated
with Sword Point in
Huntingdonshire

300

Gifla ■ryu hund hyda

River Ivel
(Buckinghamshire)

300

Hicca ■ry hund hyda

Hitchin (Hertfordshire)

300

Wiht gara syx hund hyda

Wihtware (Isle of Wight)

 

Noxgaga fif ■usend hyda

Suther-ge (Wokingham,
Berkshire & Woking,
Surrey)?

5,000

Ohtgaga twa ■usend hyda

Suther-ge (Surrey)?

2,000

■Št is six ond syxtig ■usend hyda ond an hund hyda (total)

 

66,100

Hwinca syfan ■usend hyda

Hwicce

7,000

Ciltern sŠtna feower ■usend hyda

Chiltern Saxons

4,000

Hendrica ■ryu ■usend hyda ond fif hund hyda

North Oxfordshire into
Buckinghamshire?

3,500

Unecunga-ga twelf hund hyda

Buckinghamshire?

1,200

ArosŠtna syx hund hyda

River Arrow
(Warwickshire)

600

FŠrpinga ■reo hund hyda
is in Middelenglum FŠrpinga

Charlbury, Oxfordshire

300

Bilmiga syx hund hyda

Northamptonshire into
Rutland

600

Widerigga eac swa

Wittering & Werrington
(Northamptonshire)

600

Eastwilla syx hund hyda

Willeybrook,
Northamptonshire into
the Old Well

600

Westwilla syx hund hyda

Stream of the Fen area

600

East engle ■rittig ■usend hida

East Angles (East
Anglia)

30,000

Eastsexena syofon ■usend hyda

East Saxons (Essex)

7,000

Cantwarena fiftene ■usend hyda

Cantware (Kent)

15,000

Su■sexena syufan ■usend hyda

South Saxons (Sussex)

7,000

Westsexena hund ■usend hyda

West Saxons (Wessex)

100,000

đis ealles twa hund ■usend ond twa ond feowertig ■usend hyda
ond syuan hund hyda (total, recte 244,100)

 

242,700

 

Main Sources

British Library - Harley 3271 f 6v

Brown, Michelle P & Carol Ann Farr - Mercia, Leicester University Press, London 2001

Davies, Wendy & Hayo Vierck - The Contexts of the Tribal Hidage: Social Aggregates and Settlement Patterns, Fruhmittelalterliche Studien 8, 1974

Hart, Cyril - The Tribal Hidage, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Fifth Series, Vol 21, 1971, pp 133-157

Jebson, Tony - Tribal Hidage, Georgetown University, 1994

 

 

     
Text copyright ę P L Kessler & Edward Dawson. An original feature for the History Files.