History Files
 

 

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Saxons of Central England

 

 

 

MapMagonset (Westerna / Herefordshire Saxons)

The British territory of Pengwern was conquered by Oswiu of Northumbria in 656, while he was overlord of the Mercians. Western Pengwern was then settled by Saxon groups who probably migrated northwards from the territory of the West Saxons and the Hwicce, although there is a possibility that some of them 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 (Roman Viroconium, which evolved into British Caer Guricon), and the new arrivals called themselves Wrocenset based on that name. The second was in modern Kenchester, just west of Hereford in Herefordshire (Roman Magnis), which was probably adapted as Caer Magnis by the Romano-British and bastardised as Magon by the Saxons: Magonset (or Magonsæte) means settlers of Magon. The Magonset kingdom also seems to have been known by several names, including Westerna, or Western Hecani.

The kingdoms were small, but they were not obscure, at least 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 Anglian Mercians had gained overall control of the territory of the Magonset and Wrocenset. It is perhaps 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

Pengwern is destroyed by Oswiu of Northumbria, and Saxon and Angle 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.

Tessellated pavement at Kenchester (Magnis)
Remains of a tessellated pavement at Kenchester (Magnis)

c.650 - 685

Merewalh / Merewald / Merwal

Converted to Christianity c.660.

c.650

Merewalh is an unusual name for a Saxon. It means 'illustrious Welshman' in Old English, making it seem likely the king is British, either 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.

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 a 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, although the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle seems to imply that he is a son of Penda of Mercia (although this statement is from the tenth century, which weakens its value).

c.680

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. Merewalh is believed to erect a new cathedral at Hereford (although its location is uncertain) for the new bishop Putta, the former bishop of Rochester in Kent.

St Mildred the Virgin

Daughter. Abbess of Minster-in-Thanet.

685 - c.700

Merchelm

Brother.

Merefin

Son of Merewalh. Ruled?

fl early 700s

Mildfrith

Brother. Sub-king to Mercia.

c.700 - c.730

The Magonset and Wroconset have both become client kingdoms of Mercia by around 700. Following the death of Mildfrith, the Magonset kingdom is probably fully absorbed into it. The territory remains a highly disputed borderland area between Mercia and Powys until the period of Norman power in England.