History Files


Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Angles of Central England




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.

FeatureThe 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. Details 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 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, and from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton.)


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'.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


Brother. m Osthryth, dau of Oswiu of Northumbria.

c.675 - 679


Son. Buried in Gloucester Cathedral.


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


Brother. Styled himself 'King of the Hwicce'.

c.685 - c.690



fl 700

Ethelbert / Æthelheard

Son of Oshere.

fl 710

Ethelward / Æthelweard


fl 720

Ethelric / Æthelric


fl 730s



fl c.759


fl c.759 - c.780


Brother and co-ruler.

fl c.759 - c.780

Ealdred / Aldred

Brother and co-ruler.


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


Successor. Ealdorman of the Hwicce. Killed fighting Wessex.

fl 804


Son. Ealdorman of the Hwicce.


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.