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Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Saxons & Jutes of Southern England

 

 

 

MapThames Valley Saxons
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 Saxon 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, fighting the Britons, and 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 Caer Celemion), 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 Roman 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.

FeatureIt 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 Gewis (of Baeldaeg's Folk) 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.400 - 440

FeatureSmall groups of Saxons settle along the Thames Valley, probably being employed as laeti by the local Britons to support their own defensive efforts. These Saxons seems to be loyal during the first half of the century, but some of them may appear to drift out of British control or loyalty in the Thames Valley as British influence there weakens. Some groups do remain entirely loyal, especially in Caer Gwinntguic, where they form part of a new amalgamated Anglo-British population in the territory's later years.

c.440 - 496

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.

Saxons intent on carving out territory for themselves rather than supporting the Britons begin advancing along the Thames Valley, encroaching on Caer Celemion's 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.

c.441? - 471

A possible period for the campaigns of Cuthwulf (see 571). It may be possible that the campaigns are in fact those of Gewis, who may found an early kingdom or territorial domain in the region around this period. Later West Saxon chroniclers seem to confuse this with the founding of the West Seaxe kingdom itself.

fl c.450?

Gewis

Son of Wieg of Baeldaeg's Folk in Angeln.

Esla

Son.

Elesa

Son.

c.496

FeatureProbable 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.

556

MapA battle in this year is the first mention of Ceawlin of the West Seaxe. Elements in the construction of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle text suggests that Ceawlin may be a ruler of the Thames Valley Saxons whose family somehow becomes united with that of the Cerdicingas (probably through the West Saxon conquest of the region).

Lowbury Hill in Berkshire
During this period a former Roman temple at the top of Lowbury Hill (near Compton in west Berkshire) was apparently converted into a look-out point that helped to protect Caer Celemion's Thames-facing boundary defences

c.560 - 571

The West Seaxe conquer the Ciltern Saetan in the start of a series of campaigns along the Thames Valley. These expeditions can be justified by the fact that the Thames Valley Saxons probably pose as serious a threat to West Seaxe security as they still do at this time to British security in Caer Celemion and Caer Ceri.

571

The Britons in the area of Biedcanford (possibly Bedford, near Luton, part of the kingdom of Cynwidion) are defeated by Cuthwulf of the West Seaxe (one of Ceawlin's relatives).

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.

592 - 611

First Ceol and then Ceolwulf of the West Seaxe secure complete control of the Thames Valley Saxons, ending any pretensions towards independence that they might have held.