Part 4: The later Meonware
Having put forward some cautious ideas on who the Meonware might
have been up till 628, what of their history after that date?
In 634 a Frankish bishop named Burinius, who had been
consecrated in Genoa by the archbishop of Milan, came to Britain and
preached to a pagan audience in Dorchester-on-Thames. In 636, Cynegils and his son Cwichelm were baptised there. Bishop Birinius
continued his priesthood in Wessex until his death in 650, when
another Frank, Agilbert, followed him as bishop of the West Saxons.
The thinking here is that the Meonware might have been converted
to Christianity at this time, before Cynegils died in 642. However,
it is probably not possible to establish whether there was a mission
amongst the Meonware like the Irish one at Bosham in Sussex. When
Cenwalh divorced his Mercian queen in 645, his angry brother-in-law,
Penda, annexed the West Saxon kingdom in his absence.
Cenwalh had taken sanctuary at the court of King Anna of the
East Anglians. Perhaps the pagan Arwald was appointed king of the
Wihtgara by Penda in 648, before the end of Cenwalh's exile, the
Christian Meonware being content to remain as a province in the
kingdom of the West Saxons under its recently converted king. In
661, the territory of the Meonware fell into the hands of Wulfhere,
Penda's successor in Mercia. One assumes that the Meonware offered
resistance, but that they were no match for the military power of
Wulfhere. The Mercian ruler also seized the Isle of Wight, forcing
Arwald to accept him as overlord.
In 675, Wulfhere decided to give both his Jutish provinces to
Aethelwalh of the South Saxons. It is hard to imagine that the
Meonware welcomed this development since paganism still flourished
in Sussex. It is equally hard to believe that the pagan Arwald was
glad to exchange one Christian overlord for another.
When the exiled atheling, Caedwalla, seized the Jutish provinces
of the South Saxons in 685, it is possible that the Meonware were
keen to support the atheling's cause and return to the company of
West Saxons. This could have enabled Caedwalla to land on the Isle
of Wight and assassinate Aethelwalh, perhaps on an annual progress
through his island province. Caedwalla's aggressive Christian faith
would have been at odds with the paganism of the insular Jutes. The
South Saxon king is reputed to have been with his son, but it was
Berhthun and Andhun, Aethelwalh's personal aldermen, who were
probably responsible for representing and enforcing royal authority
in Aethelwalh's Jutish lands.