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Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Angles of Central England

 

 

 

MapHwicce
Incorporating the Feppingas, Stoppingas, Tomsaetan & Wixan

FeatureThe Hwicce (or Hwicca) emerged from obscurity, probably from within territory controlled by the West Seaxe, to form their own kingdom. The British kingdoms based on Caer Gloui (Gloucester), Caer Ceri (Cirencester) and most of Caer Baddan (Bath) were overrun in a large-scale Saxon attack in 577 and their last kings killed in battle. The people who formed the Hwicce (sometimes spelled as Hwicca) took the opportunity to move into this territory and settle, with communities centred on Gloucestershire and Worcestershire that were apparently independent of the West Seaxe. It may be the case that this mixed Angle and Saxon warrior group simply marched into the pre-existing British kingdom (Caer Gloui) and assumed control, retaining all its Briton-founded features in place. While it is very clear that at the start the southern part was firmly held by Saxons, the northern part seems to have been occupied by Angle groups from the east, with Anglian culture to be found in the Avon valley.

These newly-arrived German elements seem likely to have mingled with the native population of Romano-British Celts. Such a mixing of various peoples is also noted amongst the Belgae on the Continent in the first century BC. Several tribes there are sometimes thought by scholars to be Germanic, although much of the evidence seems to suggest that they were either Belgic Celts, or were ruled by a Belgic nobility. The idea of the Belgae being a mix of Germans and Celts to some extent is firmly stated as being reported to Julius Caesar by the locals. It is a model that could also provide the basis for the foundation of Wessex. Local Belgae, who were perhaps already semi-German, fusing with German foederati in late Roman Britain and then with Saxons to form the population of the new kingdom, people who were sometimes known as the Gewissae (the early West Saxons) and later also as the Hwicce.

FeatureDetails about the Hwicce are very sketchy, even down to the origins of their name. However, analysis of that name seems to suggest it is a Saxon one. Hwicce uses the German 'hw' which is a reduction of 'kw' or 'gw' ('k' and 'g' are interchangeable). So an older form of Hwicce would likely be 'kwicche' or 'gwicce' - and the latter is remarkably similar to Gewissae, a name used for the very first West Saxons prior to their conquest by Cerdic in 519. Hwicce, or Gewisse ('ge-wit', those who know, cognate with 'witch') may have emerged because the Saxons found themselves impressed by the still extant Roman culture and learning in the region (albeit greatly diminished over the course of a century and-a-half), effectively calling themselves the 'Educated Men' because they had acquired some Romano-British semblance of civilisation. The Saxons of the Thames Valley may have had exactly the same idea (and may even have been the founders of the Hwicce, carrying their name with them).

The Anglo-Saxon name 'Gloucester' derives from the same source as British Caer Gloui, 'caer' and 'chester' both being descended from the Latin 'castrum' for fort and 'Gloui' from the Roman Glevum. The evolution of the name 'Worcester' presents a more convoluted breakdown. It was known to the Romans as Branogena. British speech exhibits a strong tendency to drop the final sounds off words and names. It's a verbal laziness equivalent to calling San Francisco 'Frisco'. The Branogena name breaks down into two words: 'brano-', which is Celtic for 'raven', and 'gens', which is Latin for 'clan or race'. So the area was the home of the 'raven clan', a group of Celts who were probably part of the Dobunni. The Latin was dropped, and the Romans used the southern British pronunciation for the initial sound, a 'b' sound that may have been used to indicate the modern English 'v' sound. Farther north this is a modern English 'w' sound. So Brano would have become Wrano but with a diphthong, forming a 'wurano' or 'worano' pronunciation. Then the 'n' was lost (did it become a 'v' sound, only to vanish into the 'o'?). The town would have been known as Woro, following which its fortification would have added 'chester' to form Worcester (the 'h' was silent or was dropped entirely, similarly to Gloucester).

The precise dimensions of the kingdom are unknown but they probably coincided with those of the old diocese of Worcester, the early bishops of which bore the title Episcopus Hwicciorum. It would therefore include Worcestershire, Gloucestershire except the forest of Dean, the southern half of Warwickshire, and the neighbourhood of Bath as far as the River Avon. The name Hwicce survives in Wychwood in Oxfordshire (the eastern edge of the kingdom), Whichford in Warwickshire, and the Wychavon district of Worcestershire. Just nine kilometres or so (six miles) to the north-east of Worcester is a tiny hamlet called Phepson. This records the group of settlers whom Bede called the Feppingas. To their south, the Wixan left their name in the form of the Whitsun Brook. Another group were the Stoppingas. The Tomsaetan (Tame-dwellers) were probably established in Birmingham, Aston, Erdington, Handsworth, and perhaps Edgbaston and Harborne too.

No genealogy or list of kings has been preserved, and it is not known whether the possible rulers of the Hwicce were connected to the West Saxons or the Mercians. It seems likely that the rulers of the Hwicce did not appear until after conquest by Mercia in 628. Instead, Ceawlin of the West Saxons probably dominated until the Mercian conquest.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Oxford History of England: The English Settlements, J N L Meyers, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, and from External Link: Worcester City Council.)

577

Following the West Seaxe defeat of Caer Gloui, Caer Baddan and Caer Ceri, Saxon settlers move into the territory around Gloucester and Bath. Angle migrate into the northern areas of the territory, and together they become known as the Hwicce.

It is possible that the Hwicce do not entirely subjugate the native Britons. Though place-names show that Anglo-Saxon settlement is widespread in the territory, the limited spread of pagan burials suggests that British Christianity survives the influx. The Britons may even absorb the Hwicce into their existing Church structure.

FeatureOne group of settlers enters into southern Warwickshire to form the Stoppingas tribal territory, based around the Forest of Arden near present-day Wootton Wawen in Warwickshire. This region probably forms part of the Hwicce's northern borderland, making the settlers Angles, and the name itself originates from the name of a tenth century Saxon lord. All of the 'arden' forests, such as the one in Warwickshire, take their name from a Celtic word for 'high', reconstructed as 'ardwo', and apparently used as their way of saying 'hills' or 'uplands'.

584

The West Seaxe King Ceawlin and his forge north on a raid upon the Romano-British station at Viroconium in Pengwern, travelling through the Hwicce territory to do so. This strongly suggests that, even if the West Seaxe do not directly control the area, the Hwicce are a subject or allied people. During the raid, Cutha is killed in the fighting at the battle of Fethanleag (possibly Stoke Lyne in north-east Oxfordshire). Ceawlin takes 'many townships and countless spoil and returns in anger to his own', apparently giving up on the possibility of expanding the kingdom to the north. This perhaps leaving the door open for the Hwicce to take full control of the region.

603

The first meeting takes place between the Roman Church in the form of St Augustine of Canterbury, and the British/Celtic Church (the descendant of the former British Church of the Roman period). It is arranged when Æthelbert of the Cantware uses the Hwicce as intermediaries, as they possess a church organisation which seems to have survived intact from prior to the Saxon takeover of the region (and probably a ruling elite, although this is not mentioned and no records survive of the names of any rulers from this period). The meeting occurs at a place Bede names at St Augustine's Oak, on the border between the Hwicce territory and that of the West Seaxe (somewhere on the eastern slopes of the Cotswolds, perhaps near Wychwood in Oxfordshire, which means the 'Hwiccas' wood'). The meeting goes favourably for Augustine.

A second meeting is quickly arranged, although perhaps not in the same year. This takes place at Abberley in Worcestershire, probably close to the border between the Hwicce and Pengwern. It is attended by seven bishops of the Celtic Church, along with many learned monks, mainly from Bangor-is-Coed (in Pengwern). The Britons are not impressed with Augustine's imperious manner and the meeting ends in disappointment for the Roman envoy, with no agreements of cooperation or unity being reached between the two churches.

628

It seems probable that the Hwicce have been dominated until now by the West Seaxe. Cynegils and Cwichelm his son fight against Penda of Mercia at Caer Ceri (Cirencester), which is within the territory of the Hwicce settlers. The fight ends with Penda dominant, although the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle fails to give details, and he and Cynegils 'come to an agreement'. There is little doubt that the agreement involves handing over Caer Ceri and the territory along the Severn, and it is probably Penda who forges the disparate groups of the Hwicce into a Mercian sub-kingdom.

The Hwicce still manage to retain a separate cultural identity from the Mercians, though. They are converted to Christianity around this time (if not before this date), but possibly by the British Church rather than the Roman as, unusually, Bede fails to mention their conversion. Two eccles place names within the kingdom indicate the survival of Christian communities into the period of Anglo-Saxon incursion. There are also scattered clues to a continuity of worship from sub-Roman to Anglo-Saxon. Probable British Christian burials have been found beneath Worcester Cathedral and St Mary de Lode, Gloucester.

c.650

By the middle of the seventh century, place names in the kingdom show that Anglo-Saxon settlement is widespread, Anglian in the north (from Mercia), Saxon in the south (from the West Seaxe). However, pagan burials seem to be clustered to the north-east, on the edges of Mercian territory, suggesting an overlap of pagan Mercian settlement. Quite why a ruling elite has not emerged until this point is unknown. Perhaps it had simply gone unrecorded until Mercia gained a hand in the territory's administration, although it is more likely that no single clan has gained dominance enough to forge a single kingdom until one is created by Mercia. It certainly seems unlikely that anyone would have been able to claim an inherent right to rule over such a disparate mixed group of Angles and Saxons. The first known king, Eanfrith, could be the head of a noble house that has joint Saxon-British heritage.

c.650s - c.674

Eanfrith

First known, Christian, king of the Hwicce.

656 - c.660

With the fall of the British kingdom of Pengwern to the immediate north, groups of settlers move into its former western section from the territory of the Hwicce to form small kingdoms of their own in the Magonset and Wrocenset.

c.661

The Christian Eanfrith had married a sister of Wulfhere of Mercia, by whom he had a daughter, Eafe. Now Eafe is married to Æthelwalh of the Suth Seaxe, who are also under Mercian domination. Her new husband is subsequently baptised.

c.674 - c.675

Eanhere

Brother. m Osthryth, dau of Oswiu of Northumbria.

c.675 - 679

Osric

Son. Buried in Gloucester Cathedral.

c.675

MapOsric, and his brother Oswald, are described by King Æthelred of Mercia as two ministri of noble race, which shows that whatever rank may be theirs by birth, they owe their authority to his gift, despite their own claims of kingship within Hwicce lands. Osric's successor, Oshere, claims to be king of the Hwicce without any qualification, and a generation after his death he is described by an archbishop of Canterbury as a comes or retainer of the Mercian king and a subregulus, sub-king, of the Hwicce. Such terminology is fairly fluid at this time anyway, until a formal phrasing for the various levels of rule in England evolves in the seventh and eighth centuries.

c.679 - 704

Oshere

Brother. Styled himself 'King of the Hwicce'.

680

Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury, establishes a bishopric for the neighbouring kingdom of the Magonset at Hereford, possibly as a result of a re-organisation agreed at the Synod of Hertford in 673. The see of Worcester is also created, this falling within the territory of the Hwicce. The fact that Worcester is chosen as the see for the new diocese (covering land in modern Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire) is extremely significant since both Gloucester (for its size) and Winchcombe (as the Hwiccian royal family seat) may be more suitable candidates. It supports the contention that there is a well-established, and powerful, British Christian community living in the area during its transition into Hwiccian control.

Bosel, the first Anglo-Saxon bishop of Worcester, establishes his minster church of St Peter (possibly a stone building) somewhere on or near the site of the present cathedral, within the defended earthworks which had enclosed the late Roman and post-Roman settlement - an area of about eight hectares (twenty acres). While there is no archaeological evidence for structures outside the earthwork defences until the later part of the ninth century, it is clear that the old Roman roads and streets, and probably the bridge, are still in use during this period.

In addition, the silting-up of the Diglis basin, which had begun in late Roman times, has rendered this area unusable as a major harbour. It is probably from this period that the foreshore on Worcester's east bank becomes commercially valuable for mooring and storage purposes.

c.685 - c.690

Oswald

Brother.

691

The earliest surviving Old English forms for Worcester are in use at this time, shown variously as Weogornaceaster or Weogernaceaster. The Latinised version Weogorna civitas is also used.

fl 700

Ethelbert / Æthelheard

Son of Oshere.

fl 710

Ethelward / Æthelweard

Brother.

fl 720

Ethelric / Æthelric

Brother.

c.721

A clear indication of Worcester's religious importance at this time, and the size of the rural parish its clerics serve, is the appearance by this date of two further churches nestling within the northern bound of the defended area - St Alban's, certainly, on Little Fish Street, and St Margaret's, maybe, whose existence somewhere in the area of Warmstry Slip is only identified in the early twenty-first century. This large ecclesiastical community doubtless provides the focus around which the settlement develops in the eighth and ninth century, with the lay population primarily engaged in activities serving the church. As the church and its increasingly extensive rural estates prosper, so the lay community benefits, and the role of the church in stimulating and supporting commercial activity at this time cannot be overstated.

fl 730s

Osred

Brother.

736/737

Worcester is again mentioned in a written source, this time in another Latin form as castra Weogernensis.

fl c.759

Eanberht

fl c.759 - c.780

Uhtred

Brother and co-ruler.

fl c.759 - c.780

Ealdred / Aldred

Brother and co-ruler.

777

One of the three brothers who jointly govern the Hwicce styles himself 'under-king of the Hwicce by the dispensation of the Lord', bypassing his more earthly overlord in Mercia. In the same Charter, that master, King Offa, paints a more realistic picture by calling him 'my under-king, ealdorman, that is, of his own people of the Hwicce'. It seems that Offa soon tires of these pretensions to nobility as the Hwicce are absorbed directly into Mercia during his reign, possibly towards the end of the decade. The would-be kings are replaced with ealdormen, but possibly from the same ruling house or section of the Hwiccan nobility.

c.796 - 802

Æthelmund

Successor. Ealdorman of the Hwicce. Killed fighting Wessex.

fl 804

Æthelric?

Son. Ealdorman of the Hwicce.

c.805

From this point, the Hwicce lose any independent control of their lands to Mercia, during the reign of Coenwulf. The Mercian kings assume the title 'ealdorman of the Hwicce'. When Mercia fails as an independent kingdom in the face of the great Danish army of the 870s, the title passes to the royal house of Wessex which rules the surviving free half of the kingdom as the Lords of Mercia. Hwiccan identity gradually fades out of use.