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Anglo-Saxon Britain

Thoughts on the Meonware

by David Slaughter, 2 March 2008

Editor's Note: While this five-part feature and its two-part addendum series do contain a good deal of valid historical and archaeological discussion, they also appear to take some liberties in terms of filling in large gaps between early records (usually via Bede or the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) without any apparent historical basis. As such, they should be approached with some caution.

Part 2: conjectural timeline

A FIVE PART FEATURE:
Part 1: Intro
Part 2: Timeline
Part 3: Summary
Part 4: Later Meonware
Part 5: Language Timeline
A sketch of Tollund Man

The Tollum bog man, dating from about 1300 BC in Jutland, albeit prior to it becoming the home of the Jutes. He was sacrificed to an earth goddess by hanging, having eaten a meal of crop and flower seeds. His body was discovered in the Tollum fen in 1960.

495

It is feasible that Ælle had planned an early attempt to regain control of the situation by means of taking the initiative. It is therefore premised here that he prompted the naval expedition which was led by Cerdic of the Gewissae, probably to gain a foothold west of the conjectured Ællean warlordship.

It is generally accepted that Cerdic had a British father, that his name was Ceretic (with the emphasis on the first and last syllables in Old Welsh), and that he was a man of high standing. The attack probably resulted in establishing a vital and easily-defended enclave, although more may have been intended.

It may also have established his leadership over warriors from different groups. Of the five keel-loads of men to which Bede refers, perhaps two of the keel-loads were Jutish. It is feasible that a number of Cerdic's force may also have been formed from descendants of local foederati.

501

The real relaunch of a more extensive campaign to advance westwards against the Romano-British would have come with the capture of the Roman fort of Porchester, which was accomplished in this year.

Ceretic's success was achieved by what appears to have been a mixed-race enterprise, possibly of Jutes and Saxons with pro-German Britons led by Maegla, some perhaps of mixed parentage like Ceretic. This would have set Cerdic/Ceretic on course for broader leadership in the years to come. Did he have ambitions to succeed the ageing Ælle as bretwalda?

To 508

In this year, Cerdic proved himself to be the up-and-coming warlord by defeating a local British force led by King Natanleod. As has been mentioned, for a number of possible reasons there had been Jutes in the region for at least half a century. They would have swelled the ranks of the Jutish warriors from the Cantware who, in terms of the thinking proposed here, were already in Cerdic's army. There may even have been fighters amongst them with blood ties.

The British king lost his life in the battle. Perhaps the event should be called the Battle of Netley. It seems that the Britons vacated a considerable portion of territory.

Following his military success, assuming the circumstances outlined here are ostensibly accurate, then Cerdic and his allies would have shared out the newly-gained land, with the Jutes taking the Meon Valley as their own province, although there may also have been mixed populations of Jutes and Saxons across the newly-conquered region.

514

According to tradition, Ælle died in this year and Cissa established his royal centre, although the chroniclers made no mention of either father or son after 491.

This seems to indicate that the bretwalda had lost his drive to engage on the battlefield after Mount Baden. However, Ælle would still have held the authority of his military achievements, namely, his victorious year of 491 and his leadership in establishing an entirely new Saxon territory. The thinking here is that, just as the aristocratic Ambrosius Aurelianus had a battle leader in the so-called Artorius, the possible royal Saxon bretwalda may have had his own battle leader in the mixed-race alderman, Cerdic/Ceretig. For his part, Cissa would have been committed to the kingdom of the South Saxons.

Meanwhile, Cerdic, who had long been an active and, by now, dominant warlord, decided to make another naval attack on Romano-British holdings, perhaps this time on the west bank of the Solent. Ceretic probably knew that an immediate military success would secure for him an unrivalled supremacy over the pure blooded Saxon and Jutish leaders, following the death of the old bretwalda.

Documented history tells us that Cerdic, having [possibly] allied himself with his Jutish nephews, Stuf and Wihtgar, and presumably commanding an army of West Saxons and Meonware, attacked and defeated the Britons. In the wake of this victory, the British population was then driven out and yet more territory was gained for the growing number of settlers.

519

With his son and heir, Cynric, probably having reached manhood by this time, Cerdic had himself recognised as king of the West Saxons with his son as co-ruler. The term 'West Saxon' as used here probably included not only the Meonware, but also other groups such as anyone of mixed-blood, the local descendants of the foederati, and any pro-German Britons.

Within the context of this discussion, it is important to remember here that both the Jutish leaders, Stuf and Wihtgar, were the nephews of the king and members of the new royal family. In the opinion of the present royal archivists these nephews were the sons of Cerdic's sister. In part, they would have been identified with the Britons.

Considering that Cerdic had to lay claim to a long German ancestry to fortify his claim to Saxon kingship, their father's pure Jutish blood must have been of considerable importance to Cerdic's nephews.

527

An indecisive battle was fought against the Britons by a wood or near a ford. If this battle was brought about because of an attack by a British chieftain to regain territory lost to the West Saxons, it may have been by the ford.

Centuries later, the Welsh won a decisive victory at Rhyd-y-Groes (1039), also by a ford. It may have been a favoured British tactic. However, there was to be no breakthrough into the British heartland during the reign of Cerdic. Perhaps it was for this reason, as much as because he was only half Saxon, that Cerdic was never recognised as bretwalda.

A sketch of Borre Fen Man

The Borre bog man, dating from the Danish Iron Age in Jutland. He was sacrificed, probably to the goddess Nerthus, either by hanging or strangulation. His body was discovered in the Borre fen in 1946

530

The capture of the Isle of Wight. A secure coastal kingdom of the West Saxons centred around the Solent would have been guaranteed by taking Ynys Weith and it was in this year that the island became a Saxo-Jutish possession.

This strategically important gain was achieved by the joint leadership of Cerdic, Stuf, and Wihtgar. The gateways of the Solent were now entirely in the possession of the West Saxons. With the Britons gone, the island fortress was very likely populated from an overspill of Jutes from the Meonware. They were to call themselves the Wihtwara [the 'people of Wight'].

534

The death of Cerdic. His son, Cynric, gave the island to the care of his Jutish cousins, Stuf and Wihtgar. It is perhaps possible that this measure of self-government did not continue after the death of Wihtgar, whose burial is part of documented Anglo-Saxon history. Perhaps this was because Wihtgar was the dominant character of the two brothers, or because Stuf was mainly based in the settlement at Stubbington, in charge of the Meonware.

 

 

     
Images are free from copyright. Text copyright © David Slaughter, BA Hons, ATC (Sussex), Blue Robe Order of the Welsh Gorsedd. An original feature for the History Files.