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Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Saxons & Jutes of Southern England

 

 

 

MapSuther-ge (Suth Rig / Surrey)
Incorporating the Basingas, Godhelmingas, Noxgaga, Ohtgaga, Sunningas, & Woccingas

Evidence for what took place in the region that forms the modern (and ancient) county of Surrey is thin on the ground. A certain amount can be inferred, and a certain amount understood through educated guesswork, but when compared to Kent, for example, the entire region between the Thames Valley and the Thames Estuary during the Anglo-Saxon migration period is a black hole where information is concerned. What can be stated is that Saxons had been settling along the shores of the Thames for some time, almost certainly from the early fifth century onwards, even before the collapse of central Romano-British authority. Many of them may initially have been employed as settled mercenary groups, laeti, perhaps even joining other groups who had been there since the previous century.

Things appear to have gone badly wrong for the governing Britons in the period between about AD 440-455. Following a civil war, they were struck by plague from the Continent and at the same time their many Saxon foederati and laeti rebelled, massacring hundreds. Some control seems to have been regained, but apparently not along the Thames Valley. Here the Britons appear to have been forced back to the west, towards Aylesbury and Durocornovium (Swindon), never to regain control (although Londinium itself may still have remained a base of operations until much later in the century). Newly arrived Saxon groups were already moving up the Thames, independent of central control, and seemingly founding settlements of their own from the mid-fifth century onwards.

FeatureSome of these groups drifted off course from the drift of migration westwards into the Thames Valley to settle on either side of the lower Thames. On the northern bank of the Thames, Saxons settled the countryside to the west (and later the north) of Londinium to form the Middel Seaxe (in what became the former county of Middlesex). The Ciltern Saetan also headed north from the Thames Valley during the late fifth century (and quite possibly earlier) to found their own kingdom. Some Saxons founded settlements on the south bank of the Thames and began to push further southwards towards the great forest of Andredesleag (The Weald), itself a strong barrier to any further advance. These groups seem to have been related closely to those of the Middel Seaxe, and the area was known as the Suther-ge (modern Surrey). To the east were the Cantware, and to the west were the nascent West Seaxe.

The name 'suther-ge' means 'southern region', with 'ge' being equated with the 'gau' or 'district' of later Germany. Suth Rig (pronounced suth-re) is generally taken to be Old English for 'south ridge'. However, upon closer examination, 'suth rig' can be seen to mean 'south rule' (an area ruled over by someone to the north). The word 'rig', usually spelled 'ric' and usually pronounced rich, is cognate with the High German 'reich', and is derived from the proto-Indo-European word for a king. But in Germanic tongues the word for a king was replaced by 'cyning' (and similar spellings), meaning a '(man) of the people', seen in 'king' and 'koenig' (German kings were democratically chosen - ie. elected). Therefore the old word was transferred to the king's domain. So 'rig' and 'ric' became the domain of the king, the area he ruled. As for the pronunciation, the 'g' was originally pronounced in the obvious manner, but it is unclear whether this was due to Germanic settlers with their use of a hard 'k', or the influence of Britons and their use of a hard 'k' that was interchangeable with a 'g'. The latter is favoured here. Another possibility is that the German foederati in the Thames Valley already pronounced it that way, again possibly under Brythonic influence, and the new arrivals took their lead from them. In any event it was softened to a 'y' at some point because the 'g' became a 'k' and then, due to the influence of Saxon dialect, it became a 'ch' (as 'suthrich'), and then softened to nothing so that the vowel took over, 'i' to 'y' (with 'suthrie' becoming 'suthry', remembering that these are all examples of the name in its spoken form - its written form could show further variations).

Both names, 'suth rig' and 'suther-ge', indicate the early link to the Middel Seaxe, probably when both groups were settling areas very close to the Thames. The link seems to have been relatively brief, as the association had passed out of memory before the days of written records. The region south of the Thames was soon controlled by the kings of the East Seaxe at the same time as they controlled the Middel Seaxe, from circa AD 600.

FeatureOne certainty is that Saxon settlement began in the region before the appearance of organised kingdoms in the Thames valley. Another is that Suther-ge was larger than modern Surrey. The Saxon burial grounds at Croydon, Beddington, and Mitcham are among the earliest in the whole Thames basin, and the place names of Eashing, Godalming (home to the Godhelmingas), Tyting, and Woking (home to the Woccingas), plus Getingas (the ancient name of Cobham), and Binton in Seale (formerly Bintungas), show that the Wey Valley was a region of primary Saxon settlement. Further settlements that were later taken out of Suther-ge included the Basingas (at Basingstoke, now in Hampshire) and the Sunningas (at Sonning, now in Berkshire). By the 670s the region was described in the Tribal Hidage (a record of settlements and land holdings) as a provincia with a subregulus - a sub-king - of its own. It may also have been home to the mysterious folks called the Noxgaga and the Ohtgaga (although it is hard to place them anywhere thanks to their brief mention in the Mercian tribal hidage). By 1086, the region was named as Sudrie in Domesday Book, and this usage gradually softened into the modern 'Surrey'.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson, and 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, from Early Medieval Surrey, John Blair (1991), from A Reassessment of the Occurrences of Old English -ingas and -ingahām in Surrey Place-Names, Robert J S Briggs (2016), from The Earliest English Kings, D P Kirby (1991), from Kings and Kingdoms in Early Anglo-Saxon England, Barbara Yorke (1990), from the Onomasticon Anglo-Saxonicum: A List of Anglo-Saxon Proper Names from the Time of Beda to that of King John, William George Searle, and from External Link: British History Online.)

c.460 - 490

Saxon groups force their way westwards from the east coast, through Londinium, and along the Thames Valley, creating settlements along the way. In part these settlements may be amongst already-existing Germanic laeti settlements. A large group settle the territory west and north of the now-abandoned Roman city of Londinium and become the Middel Seaxe. An associated group settle on the south side of the Thames become the people of the Suther-ge ('southern region'). Perhaps the main thrust of migration into the region is from the newly-conquered kingdom of Kent, which appears to retain a level of control over both the Middel Seaxe and Suther-ge for a time.

River Thames at Surrey
The River Thames provided a corridor in the fifth century for Saxon groups to enter Britain and found their own settlements, with some pushing westwards to take land from the Britons and others happy to stop short where they could found the Middel Seaxe and its Suther-ge

There are very few roads at this time, and those that exist are Romans roads in the interior. In spite of their existence, trade and the movement of people is most often by water. Any invading group coming by sea can either land on the coast, or row up a river. To the Saxons a broad river such as the Thames is effectively a superhighway. Once British regional governance is weakened as it has been, these migrants are able to swarm up the river - and any other undefended rivers. People think of the Vikings as something different from the Anglo-Saxons but the truth is that both groups use the same practices, and the same boats. The Thames Valley is undoubtedly settled rapidly.

Several substantial Saxon settlements are formed within the Suther-ge, with the western area providing a home to the theorised Godhelmingas (of modern Godalming) and Woccingas (of modern Woking). These two groups would appear to be the largest, as they form their own major territorial divisions in Suther-ge. The Godhelm in the name is usually found to be a personal name, but Godhelm seems to be more of an eighth century name than a fifth century one. Another theorised settlement would be that of the Dorkingas in southern central Suther-ge. This one is less certain, as Dorking seems not to have been recorded before Domesday Book, but twelfth century spellings of it as a place name (Doreking, Dorchinge, and Dorking) are sufficiently numerous to permit its acceptance.

568

Perhaps already detached from the Middel Seaxe, the Suther-ge area is the subject of a dispute between the kings of the West Seaxe and the Cantware at this early point. Ceawlin defeats Ęthelbert of Kent, driving him back into his own land, and presumably gaining dominance over the Suther-ge.

c.600

By this time the East Seaxe control the Middel Seaxe. They also appear to dominate the southern region of the Middel Seaxe, the Suther-ge, seemingly treating the district as a sub-kingdom. In around 604 King Sęberht is the first East Seaxe king to be baptised (by Mellitus, first bishop of London, consecrated by Augustine of Canterbury himself), but upon his death the kingdom reverts to paganism.

c.623

All three joint kings of the East Seaxe are killed in battle against the West Seaxe. It has been realistically conjectured that the dispute concerns the control of Suth-rig. Sir Frank Stenton, in Anglo-Saxon England writes: 'Like the Saxons of Middlesex, the Saxons of Surrey have no independent history... At different periods in the seventh century Surrey appears as a province of Kent, Wessex, and Mercia... The only certainty in the early history of Surrey is the fact that its settlement had begun before the appearance of organised kingdoms in the Thames Valley.'

661

Mercia gains control of the region, but perhaps only temporarily and with little real authority. Kent still lays claim to Suthrige, as it has always done, but it is strangely dormant during this period, at least as far as surviving records show.

666

The conversion of the pagan Saxons to Christianity by the missionaries from Rome now leads to the founding of Chertsey Abbey by Eorcenwald. He is supported in his efforts by King Egbert of Kent, and becomes its first abbot. He later becomes bishop of London, while the abbey soon benefits from a great donation of land during the subsequent period of Mercian dominance (from about 673).

AD 666 is the year given in the account of the abbey in the Chertsey chartulary, which is preserved among the Cotton Library's MS Vitel A (Vitellius Augustus) xiii. folio 20. The Annals of Dunstable (Ann Mon [Rolls Series] iii. 8) give the year 678, and Reyner, from Capgrave's Life of St Erkenwald, makes it as early as 630. This early date need not be problematical. It is possible for a small religious community to have formed before the abbey itself is founded thirty or so years later.

Chertsey Abbey
Chertsey Abbey, as drawn by a monk in the fifteenth century for inclusion in the cartulary, some eight hundred years after the abbey's founding - in 666, 678, or 630 - and certainly much changed from the original building

673

The sudden death of Egbert I of Kent leaves a break in the kingship. Suthrige is detached from Kent by Mercia and entrusted to the otherwise unknown Frithuwold (the general policy employed by Wulfhere of Mercia is to subordinate rather than rule directly, so Frithuwold may well be the first direct ruler of the region). Later materials refer to him as the brother-in-law of Wulfhere (notably the twelfth century life of Saint Osgyth of Aylesbury), whilst general scholarly opinion says that he is an imported Mercian rather than a native of Suthrige.

Frithuwold begins his sub-kingship by continuing to add to the endowments of Egbert's abbey at Chertsey. Two charters date from this period (670-675) that come from the Chertsey Abbey archive. These also mention the place name Getinges. This is the source of the modern Eaton Park name, but the surviving copies of the charters date from about 1260, which allows for some doubt over the authenticity of the spelling of this place name. Two independent attestations of the name at the end of the same century - Ethinge and Etynge - only adds to this doubt. The general borders of Suthrige itself in this period are unknown, with it being possible that modern Surrey's easternmost lands are at this time Kentish while Frithuwold governs territory that stretches into modern Berkshire.

Three other names also witness Frithuwold's charters - Ęthelwald, Osric, and Wigheard. There is an Osric of the Hwicce precisely at this period, also dominated by the Mercians and also regarded as a sub-king. Wigheard could be the representative of the late archbishop of Canterbury, but this would be strange since his replacement has been in office since 668 so he is more likely an otherwise unknown sub-king. Barbara Yorke has noted a potential link between Wigheard and the later Mercian royal family with their names beginning with 'w' (Wiglaf and Wigstan of the ninth century), suggesting that he, at least, is a relative of Wulfhere. One of these three sub-kings is thought to be the ruler of the Sunningas (the area of modern Sonning in south-eastern Berkshire) which at this time seem to be part of Suthrige.

c.673 - 675

Frithuwold / Frithewold

Sub-king to Mercia. Baptised with his son in 675.

c.675 - 686

Frithuric

Son. Sub-king to Mercia.

680s

Precisely when it happens is unclear, but by the later years of his reign, Hlothere controls Lundenwic (London), the first Kentish king to do so since 616. He maintains a hall there and his presence suggests that he has also regained Suthrige for Kent. Could this change of ownership be the reason for the apparent disappearance of any further sub-kings? They only seem to reappear when Mercia is able to restore its control of the region.

685 - 726

Kent becomes a battleground between Mercia and the West Seaxe. King Eadric is killed, although whether in the attack or obscurely in the chaos following is is unknown. Kent is ravaged and occupied by Caedwalla of the West Saxons and he leaves Mul, his brother, to rule the kingdom in his name. Hlothere's gains of Suthrige and Lundenwic are stripped away. By now the region is certainly known as Suthrige (as mentioned in a charter dated 722).

694

MapWihtred succeeds in freeing Kent of all foreign usurpers and vassals, and agrees with Ine of the West Seaxe on the borders of Kent, Suthrige, and the Suth Seaxe (which confirms the Kentish loss of Surrey). The tribal territories of the Sunningas now become part of Berkshire and that of the (perhaps only recently-settled) Basingas becomes part of Hampshire - both West Saxon domains. Together, the West Seaxe and Kent hold the line against Mercia in this period, limiting its ability to interfere south of the Thames.

c.771

Suthrige again falls under the domination of Mercia, this time with the great Offa now serving as its overlord until his death in 796. Again, if not immediately then very soon after Mercian control is re-established, a sub-king is appointed. No other sub-king is known before 823, so it is likely that Mercian control weakens and the post is again abolished. Brorda is a benefactor to Woking monastery.

Offa silver penny
Shown here is a silver penny that is in very good condition, which was issued during Offa's reign and was minted in London by Eadhun, although Mercian dominance of London and the south would eventually be replaced by West Saxon dominance

 

fl c.775

Brorda

Sub-king ('praefectus') to Mercia.

fl 823

Wulfheard

Sub-king to Mercia or confused with the bishop of Hereford?

825

Ecgberht of Wessex defeats the mighty Mercia at the Battle of Ellandon. The sub-kingdoms of Essex, Sussex and Suthrige submit to him, and Suthrige is ruled by his son, Ęthulwulf, who is based in Kent. Suthrige becomes little more than a province of Wessex, and then of England. Following the Norman invasion, and the fusing together of Norman French and Anglo-Saxon English, the pronunciation of Suthridge gradually softens.