Magonset (Westerna / Herefordshire Saxons)
The British territory
of Pengwern was ended by Oswiu
of Northumbria in
656, while he was overlord of the Mercians.
Western Pengwern was then settled by
groups who probably migrated northwards from the territory of the
West Saxons and the
Hwicce. There is also the
possibility that some of these groups were already in the area, perhaps as
allies of Pengwern.
They made the most of the sudden power gap to found small kingdoms. The first
was based on modern Wroxeter
Viroconium, which had evolved into British Caer Guricon), and the new arrivals
called themselves Wrocenset or Wreocensæte based on that name. The second was
based around modern Kenchester, just west of Hereford in Herefordshire (Roman
Magnis). The Roman name had probably been adapted as Caer Magnis by the
Romano-British, and bastardised as Magon by the Saxons to produce Magonset or
Magonsæte, meaning 'Magon settlers'. The Magonset kingdom also seems to have
been known by other names, including Westerna, or Western Hecani.
The kingdoms were small, but they were not obscure, at least not to the people
of the time, although few records have survived to describe them. Certainly
nothing seems to have been recorded about the Magonset after circa
680, apart from the names of its kings, and even that detail has been lost
for the Wrocenset. By the beginning of the eighth century, the
Mercians had gained overall control of the territory of the Magonset and Wrocenset.
It could be around this time that the name Westerna was used for the Magonset
territory by the Mercians, perhaps to describe the border region with
Powys. The Anglian word for borderlands,
'mercna', was already in use for Mercia itself, and its borders did not yet reach
as far as Powys.
(Additional information from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon
England, Sir Frank Stenton.)
656 - c.660
is terminated by Oswiu of
and the Saxon
groups which become the Magonset and Wrocenset move into western Pengwern,
near the modern Welsh
border. They may extend farther to the west at the start, but it is territory
that their descendants cannot retain.
English place names of an
early type occur sporadically beyond the borders of Offa's Dyke, showing a
relatively brief period of settlement there.
Remains of a tessellated pavement at Kenchester (Magnis), which
provided a capital of sorts for the Magonset 'kingdom' of the
Merewalh is an unusual name for a Saxon. It means
'illustrious Welshman' in Old
English, making it seem
likely the king is
from Pengwern or from
Hwicce, which has a mixed
Saxon/British population. The possibility arises that, after the fall of
the kingdom of Pengwern, Merewalh forms his own minor kingdom within the
territory. It is also possible that he commands a mixed group of Britons
and Saxons, just as the Hwicce do at this time, and that he leads them to
settle in the Kenchester region (Caer Magnis).
Only the fact that Merewalh starts out as a pagan causes a problem with the
theory. If he is from Pengwern or Hwicce there is more of a likelihood that
he should already be Christian (although this is by no means a certainty).
The West Saxons are more likely
to be pagan at this time, so perhaps Merewalh's origins lie here. Opposed to
this is the fact that the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle seems to imply he is a son of Penda of
Mercia (although this
statement is from the tenth century, which weakens its value).
Theodore of Tarsus, archbishop of
Canterbury establishes a
bishopric for the kingdom at Hereford, possibly as a result of a re-organisation
agreed at the Synod of Hertford in 673. It is believed that Merewalh erects a
new cathedral at Hereford (although its location is uncertain) for the new bishop
Putta, the former bishop of Rochester in