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Anglo-Saxon England

The Mercian Tribal Hidage

by Peter Kessler & Edward Dawson, 2 August 2008

The Tribal Hidage is a late seventh century assessment list, or tribute list, which includes all the dominant tribes in the Mercian kingdom in England, plus territories which were under its domination.

Each tribe was assessed by the number of hides under their control (Old English 'hida', meaning a unit of land). The document was probably compiled under the reign of Berthwald (675-685) or Ethelred (685-702).

In its own way it is an early form of the eleventh century Domesday Book, and represents the growing power of the Mercian monarchy over all of southern England, something the kingdom would maintain throughout the eighth century.

Although this description is a consensus view, others argue that the Tribal Hidage is a document for Northumbrian domination. Historian N J Higham contends that it was drawn up in the 620s by Edwin of Northumbria as an expression of his overlordship of Mercia. However, this seems to be easily dismissed by the lack of northern kingdoms in the list, including the northern half of Elmet which, by the end of the seventh century, seems to have been divided between Mercia and Northumbria.

Through the list, the Mercian king would have been able to assess the taxes which were due to him from each of the many peoples under his control at a time when England was not one nation. Instead it still consisted of multiple kingdoms, each of which was made up of many peoples, sub-groupings, or even regions which had been under Anglo-Saxon control for less than a century. The only exclusion is Cornwall west of the Camel estuary, which was still under independent British control at the time.

The original manuscript has been lost, but it still exists in three, slightly different versions, known as Recension A (dated to 1034, and probably written in Mercia, it is now in the British Library), Recension B (which is from Henry Spelman's Archæologus in modum Glosarii ad rem antiquam posteriorem, published in 1626, which is believed to be derived from a Latin version of the Tribal Hidage), and Recension C (from six manuscripts from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries).

The manuscript

This list is taken mainly from Recension A as formatted by Tony Jebson. Suggested locations are influenced to a minor extent by Cyril Hart, and by Wendy Davies & Hayo Vierck.

Peoples

Suggested Locations

Hidage

Myrcna landes is þrittig þusend hyda þær
mon ærest Mrycna hæt

'the area first called
Mercia'

30,000

Wocen sætna is syfan þusend hida

Wreocenset (Wroxeter)

7,000

Westerna eac swa

Magonset (Hereford)

7,000

Pecsætna twelf hund hyda

Peak Saxons

1,200

Elmed sætna syx hund hyda

Elmetians (the southern
half of British Elmet)

600

Lindesfarona syfan þusend hyda mid
Hæþ feldlande

Lindsey (Lincoln) with
Hatfield Chase

7,000

Suþ gyrwa syx hund hyda

Gyrwe based near
Peterborough

600

Norþ gyrwa syx hund hyda

(as above)

600

East wixna þryu hund hyda

Possibly Wisbech in
Cambridgeshire?

300

West wixna syx hund hyda

(as above)

600

Spalda syx hund hyda

Spalding (Lincolnshire)

600

Wigesta nygan hund hyda

Wiggenhall in the
Norfolk marshlands?

900

Herefinna twelf hund hyda

Hyrstingas of
Hurstingbourne in
Huntingdonshire?

1,200

Sweord ora þryu hund hyda

Sweod ora, associated
with Sword Point in
Huntingdonshire

300

Gifla þryu hund hyda

River Ivel
(Buckinghamshire)

300

Hicca þry hund hyda

Hitchin (Hertfordshire)

300

Wiht gara syx hund hyda

Wihtware (Isle of Wight)

 

Noxgaga fif þusend hyda

Suther-ge (Wokingham,
Berkshire & Woking,
Surrey)?

5,000

Ohtgaga twa þusend hyda

Suther-ge (Surrey)?

2,000

Þæt is six ond syxtig þusend hyda ond an hund hyda (total)

 

66,100

Hwinca syfan þusend hyda

Hwicce

7,000

Ciltern sætna feower þusend hyda

Chiltern Saxons

4,000

Hendrica þryu þusend hyda ond fif hund hyda

North Oxfordshire into
Buckinghamshire?

3,500

Unecunga-ga twelf hund hyda

Buckinghamshire?

1,200

Arosætna syx hund hyda

River Arrow
(Warwickshire)

600

Færpinga þreo hund hyda
is in Middelenglum Færpinga

Charlbury, Oxfordshire

300

Bilmiga syx hund hyda

Northamptonshire into
Rutland

600

Widerigga eac swa

Wittering & Werrington
(Northamptonshire)

600

Eastwilla syx hund hyda

Willeybrook,
Northamptonshire into
the Old Well

600

Westwilla syx hund hyda

Stream of the Fen area

600

East engle þrittig þusend hida

East Angles (East
Anglia)

30,000

Eastsexena syofon þusend hyda

East Saxons (Essex)

7,000

Cantwarena fiftene þusend hyda

Cantware (Kent)

15,000

Suþsexena syufan þusend hyda

South Saxons (Sussex)

7,000

Westsexena hund þusend hyda

West Saxons (Wessex)

100,000

Ðis ealles twa hund þusend ond twa ond feowertig þusend hyda
ond syuan hund hyda (total, recte 244,100)

 

242,700

 

Main Sources

British Library - Harley 3271 f 6v

Brown, Michelle P & Carol Ann Farr - Mercia, Leicester University Press, London 2001

Davies, Wendy & Hayo Vierck - The Contexts of the Tribal Hidage: Social Aggregates and Settlement Patterns, Fruhmittelalterliche Studien 8, 1974

Hart, Cyril - The Tribal Hidage, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Fifth Series, Vol 21, 1971, pp 133-157

Jebson, Tony - Tribal Hidage, Georgetown University, 1994

 

 

     
Text copyright © P L Kessler & Edward Dawson. An original feature for the History Files.