Incorporating the Radingas
South of the Chilterns, and cutting a line westwards through southern
England from Londinium to the Goring Gap (near East Wansdyke), the Thames
Valley proved to be the location of one of the earliest
takeovers. Unfortunately, almost all of the efforts of the Thames Valley
Saxons seem to have gone unrecorded. It isn't even known whether they
formed a single political entity (a collective or kingdom), or if the
various tribal groupings involved made their way westwards individually,
sometimes each other, along the way.
Saxons had been settling along the Thames Valley for some time, almost
certainly from the early fifth century onwards, even before the collapse of
central Romano-British authority. Some groups drifted off on a new course,
such as the Middel Seaxe and
Suther-ge who stopped their
advance to settle on either side of the Thames (in the former country of
Middlesex and modern Surrey), and the
Ciltern Saetan, who moved
north from the Thames Valley during the late fifth century (and quite
possibly earlier) to found their own kingdom. At Reading (on the southern
edge of the territory of the Ciltern Saetan and encroaching on
a group of pagan cemeteries bears witness to the great antiquity of this
settlement at the confluence of the Thames and the Kennet rivers. The name
comes from the Radingas, Saxon for 'the (place of) Readda's People',
who were one of the groups which had followed the Thames Valley westwards
in the late fifth century. Reading was also the site of a possible
settlement, which would explain why early Saxon groups might settle there -
they were probably hired in order to provide defensive capabilities. Another
such group were the Woccingas
who settled around, and gave their name to, modern Woking.
As well as a Saxon settlement at Reading, there were others such as one
further upriver at Abingdon, plus those at Dorchester and Long Wittenham,
all of which date to the early fifth century. Saxon cemeteries and artefacts
are mixed with Roman material, suggesting (and backing-up the claim, above)
that these areas may initially have been settled by laeti to defend
the borders of the various British territories that were starting to emerge.
Caer Celemion certainly seems to have employed them in this regard along
their northern borders from Berkshire to Wiltshire. Eventually, with a new
influx of Saxon settlers arriving from circa 460-490, the local
British were defeated and communities arose to the immediate west of the
Middel Seaxe and their Suther-ge neighbours.
also seems possible that the Gewissae who are traditionally ascribed to
the conquest of Hampshire under Cerdic actually founded a kingdom along
the Upper Thames Valley. The region was conquered by the growing
West Saxon kingdom within
a few generations, and Cerdic's later chroniclers seem to have attached
and his descendants to his own ancestry, probably in an attempt to give
the West Saxon founder a legitimate Anglo-Saxon pedigree. The Gewissae
name also seems to be a basis for the later
Hwicce name, perhaps with
similar origins or even the same origin, the Gewissae escaping imposed
West Saxon control by migrating westwards.
By AD 592 the Thames Valley Saxons (or those that remained after the mooted
migration to Hwicce lands) were firmly under the control of the West Seaxe.
But, as pioneers of English settlement, they played a pivotal role in
pushing back the British and opening the way for later settlers.
(Additional information by Dave Hayward, 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.)
c.440 - 496
There are very few roads at this time, and those that exist are
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
a broad river such as the Thames is effectively a superhighway. Once
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.
Saxons intent on carving out territory for themselves rather than supporting
the Britons begin
advancing along the Thames Valley, encroaching on
northern border (by circa 470), and into the
Chilterns to encroach on the
territory of Cynwidion.
Other groups stop short of the Thames Valley itself to form communities on
either side of the Thames that become known as the
Middel Seaxe and
Suther-ge. Defensive dykes are
erected by the Britons which face towards the Thames, probably at the same
time as the north-facing Wansdyke is constructed by British forces in Wiltshire
in the face of the threat of Saxons breaking through from the Thames Valley.
date of the battle of Mons Badonicus, in which Ælle, as
Bretwalda, attacks the
Britons in the
region of Caer Baddan.
Ælle's route probably takes him through the Thames Valley to collect his
forces from the large numbers of Saxons there, and then westwards along the
upper Thames Valley until he emerges through the Goring Gap.
Is it this battle and subsequent Saxon defeat that breaks the power of the
Thames Valley Saxons? In the pedigree of the
West Seaxe kings, Elesa is
given as the father of Cerdic. However, if Elesa dies around this period,
his power shattered, and perhaps his bloodline ended, then attaching Cerdic
to him as his legitimate descendant in later genealogies would almost be
obligatory for the West Saxon chroniclers.
Britons in the area
of Biedcanford (possibly Bedford, near Luton, part of the kingdom of
defeated by Cuthwulf of the
West Seaxe (one of Ceawlin's
This campaign has long puzzled historians, seemingly relating as it does
to a much earlier situation when the Thames Valley Saxons were still
establishing themselves in the area, and were only just starting to encroach
on the southern borders of Cynwidion, which borders the area, with more
Saxons advancing southwards from the Midlands. It has been proposed that
its inclusion in the A-S Chron should be in the region of 441-471. The
entry could be the sole survivor from a preface to the Ceawlin saga explaining
how his ancestor Cuthwulf came to establish his rule in the Thames Valley.
Alternatively, the campaign may be more or less correctly dated, in which
case it is possibly one that is launched to regain territory lost to the
Britons after the
Germanic defeat at Mons Badonicus. If it is local Britons who have
recaptured the plain beneath the Chilterns then it is likely that they
belong to the kingdom of Cynwidion.