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Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Saxons & Jutes of Southern England

 

 

 

MapSuth Seaxe (South Saxons / Sussex)
Incorporating the Hæstingas

Three entries in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle associate the transition from British to Saxon authority of the south coast of England with the exploits of a chieftain named Ælle. The entries are evidently derived from a lost saga recalling the more memorable events in a career of conquest that, however short-lived, made Ælle the first Bretwalda of the Anglo-Saxons.

In AD 477, a Saxon group under the leadership of Ælle traditionally landed at Cymensora or Cumenesora (a location probably represented by the Owers Banks, off the low-lying Selsey peninsula and now submerged beneath the sea), and beat off the defending Britons there. These Saxons then settled around the area of Selsey Bill (between Kent and Portsmouth on the south coast), and were isolated by The Weald from the British territories that still operated to the north (although only for a short time, as the Saxons of the Suther-ge were already making inroads along the Thames).

FeatureThe South Saxons were probably major players in the defeat of Mons Badonicus (circa 496), with Ælle quite reasonably leading the attacking forces as Bretwalda. Such is Ælle's authority from the moment he arrived that it is possible he was a recognised person of authority from the European homelands. However, the defeat may have lost him his kingdom, either immediately or soon afterwards, as no further mention is made of it and no Saxon burials are found there for another century. Whatever their political situation, the South Saxons who may have remained in the area were isolated until the kingdom's re-emergence in the mid-seventh century.

A separate band, known as the Hæstingas, settled around what later became Hastings. Little is known about them, although they may have been Jutes from Kent. They eventually become subject to the authority of the South Saxons, but their identity remained a strong one well into the eleventh century. Other South Saxon elements may have drifted west to join Jutish groups in forming the original West Seaxe who were subjugated by the Gewissae under Cerdic from 495.

(Information on late sub-kings of Sussex by David Slaughter, and in general from The Oxford History of England: The English Settlements, J N L Meyers.)

477 - 514?

Ælle / Aelle

First Bretwalda, and clearly an important personage.

477

Newly arrived Saxons under Ælle and his sons, Cymen, Wlencing, and Cissa, land at Cymens ora and beat off the Britons who oppose their landing (part of the proposed British kingdom of Rhegin), driving them to take refuge in the great forest called Andredesleag (the Weald). These Saxons quickly become known as the Suth Seaxe.

Map of Rhegin
This map of Rhegin for about AD 477 shows the principle British settlements

485

The Suth Seaxe defeat the Britons at Mearcraedes burna (modern location unknown). The name of the location has been plausibly interpreted to mean 'the stream of the agreed frontier'. It may therefore relate to a boundary based on one of the river valleys which serve to divide the Sussex coastal plain and its hinterland into naturally self-contained sections. There is, however, no means of knowing which valley was so called in early Saxon times, but it seems to suggest a temporary frontier between Briton and Saxon.

It is interesting to note that the Suth Seaxe turn eastwards, along the line of the Weald, rather than westwards into the fertile open plains of Hampshire. It suggests that this section of the Saxon Shore is comparably easy to pick off (although it still takes Ælle fourteen years to achieve this). Could Ambrosius Aurelianus be defending Hampshire from Caer Gloui and Amesbury with a much stronger force that is capable of annihilating Ælle's still small force?

491

The British fort of Anderita (Saxon Andredesceaster, modern Pevensey in East Sussex) is attacked and conquered by Ælle and Cissa and its entire garrison is slaughtered by the Suth Seaxe in what must be a desperate fight. This seems to end any British opposition in the region.

FeatureNoviomagus (Regnum), the possible capital of the proposed British kingdom of Rhegin (situated on the western border of the newly founded Saxon territory), is left highly vulnerable by this loss. It seems that it is partially destroyed during the completion of Ælle's conquest of the area (and probably falls to the Suth Seaxe, or at least becomes tributary to them).

c.496

FeatureThis is the probable date of the battle of Mons Badonicus, in which Ælle, as Bretwalda, attacks the Britons in the region of Caer Baddan. His force is defeated by the Britons. The Suth Seaxe must suffer heavy casualties as they are so weakened that they now drift into obscurity for around 150 years. British Rhegin quite possibly reasserts its independence, although an event in 501 recorded in the annals of the West Seaxe probably signals its final end.

Ælle's route is probably northwards towards the Thames Valley to build up his forces from the large numbers of Saxons there (along with a probable force from Kent), and then westwards along the upper Thames Valley until he emerges through the Goring Gap. It seems creditable to assume that the north-facing Wansdyke, constructed in the fifth or sixth centuries, has been put up by British forces in Wiltshire in the face of just such a threat of Saxons breaking through from the Thames Valley. It may either have been constructed to ward off this very attack (and perhaps channel the attackers towards Badon), or in response to it, to ensure that no future attacks of this nature could take place. In that it is very effective, until the West Seaxe break through in 577.

514? - 567

Cissa?

Son.

after 523? - 563

Wine?

Co-ruling ealdorman.

c.514 - c.550

Following the Roman withdrawal, the former capital of Rhegin, Noviomagus, has declined but has remained occupied. Now the rebuilding of the town is begun by Cissa, although its old name is forgotten in favour of that of its new ruler, becoming Cisseceaster (Cissa's fort, modern Chichester).

c.514 - c.600

Loss of the kingdom to the Britons? The Suth Seaxe lose their prominence and are not mentioned in any records until the middle of the seventh century. Following Badon, strong Jutish influences from Kent enter the land, suggesting an extension of Kentish rule over the eastern parts of the territory, but the Suth Seaxe remain very isolated.

FeatureThe later 'kings' do not claim descent from any of Ælle's sons. The possibility is that the royal family was largely destroyed and did not survive Cissa (if he even existed). A century and a half later, other families had risen to prominence and it is from these that the kings are selected. Unfortunately, no authentic king list remains. Even the kings themselves ruled in groups of three or four at a time, with power being shared equally and indivisibly between then.

607

The West Seaxe under Ceolwulf fight a campaign against the Suth Seaxe. The result is unrecorded, suggesting either defeat for the invaders or a stalemate unworthy of recording.

fl c.661 - c.685

Æthelwalh

Baptised after being persuaded by Wulfhere of Mercia.

c.661

The first reference to Æthelwalh is in the same year that Wulfhere of Mercia gains hegemony over the kingdom. It has been suggested that Æthelwalh himself is a younger son of Cynegils of the West Seaxe, although how he comes to be made king is unknown. He is obliged to marry Eafe, daughter of the Christian King Eanfrith of the Hwicce and accept baptism.

675

The Meonware and the Isle of Wight are ceded to the Suth Seaxe by Mercia, sealing the alliance between the two kingdoms after Æthelwalh's baptism. This is part of Wulfhere's policy of encircling and pressuring the West Seaxe. This event also marks the re-emergence of the Suth Seaxe after two centuries of complete obscurity.

c.675 - c.685

Ecgwald

Sub-king.

680/681

Following Æthelwalh's conversion, the Suth Seaxe people are converted to Christianity by Bishop Wilfred of Northumbria, rather later than much of the rest of Anglo-Saxon England.

685

Æthelwalh is killed by Caedwalla of the West Seaxe and the kingdom is plundered before Berhthun and Andhun can drive him off. It is these two ealdormen who no doubt lead the Suth Seaxe attack against Kent later in the same year.

c.685 - c.688

Berhthun

Ealdorman.

c.685 - c.688

Andhun

Ealdorman.

685

Eadric of Kent, bitter that his uncle holds what he sees as 'his' throne, betrays the king by making an alliance with the Suth Seaxe. He encourages them to attack Kent, possibly using as a carrot the somewhat disputed settlement of the Jutish Hæstingas (in the modern Hastings area, to which they have migrated from the Isle of Oxney region in Kent). The Suth Seaxe also appear to be sympathetic to Mercia (or perhaps even allied to them), while Kent's sympathies lie with the West Seaxe, so the attack is also part of the larger sweep of political manoeuvring in England. Hlothere is killed in the ensuing battle but the Suth Seaxe appear not to gain from the victory.

c.686 - 726

MapThe Suth Seaxe are subjugated by the West Seaxe. Caedwalla kills Berhthun, gaining revenge for the ealdorman driving him out of the territory in 685.

fl 692 - 717

Nothelm / Nunna

Son of Ecgwald? Nunna is the shortened form of Nothelm.

fl c.692 - c.700

Wattus / Watt

Joint king.

694

Wihtred 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, along with the disputed Jutish Hæstingas territory in Sussex, with only the Isle of Oxney remaining in Kent). Together, the West Seaxe and Kent hold the line against Mercia in this period, limiting its ability to interfere south of the Thames.

fl c.700

Bryni

Ealdorman.

fl c.710

Osric?

Joint king.

fl c.714 - 722

Æthelstan

Joint king with Nothelm. m Æthelthryth.

722 - 725

Ealdbert

fl 725 - 758

Æthelbert

c.758 - c.772

Osmund

Deposed by Mercia?

c.765 - c.772

Oslac

Joint sub-king. Reappointed as second sub-king under Mercia.

c.765 - 772

Ealdwulf

Joint sub-king. Reappointed as the third sub-king under Mercia.

c.765 - 772

Ælhwald / Ælfwald

Joint sub-king.

770 - 772

Sussex is subjugated by Offa of Mercia and is made a dependency. The Hæstingas are the last to be conquered, in 771. Offa appoints sub-kings to govern in his name, little more than puppets (who may still be relatives of the previous kings, albeit demoted ones).

772 - ?

Oswald

Sub-king appointed by Offa of Mercia.

776? - after 785

Oslac

Sub-king reappointed by Offa of Mercia.

? - 791

Ealdwulf

Sub-king reappointed by Offa of Mercia.

791 - 825

The kingdom may be ruled directly from Mercia, although this is unclear.

825

Ecgberht of Wessex defeats the mighty Mercians at the Battle of Ellandon. The sub-kingdoms of Essex, Sussex and Suthrige submit to him, and Sussex is ruled by his son, Æthulwulf, who is based in Kent. Sussex soon becomes little more than a province of Wessex, and then of England.