History Files


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 3: Summary of the conjectural timeline

Part 1: Intro
Part 2: Timeline
Part 3: Summary
Part 4: Later Meonware
Part 5: Language Timeline
[1] Adjusted from 493 to tie in with the information on the rest of the site.
A sketch of a woman's combe

A horn combe dating from the Danish Iron Age in Jutland. It belonged to the woman found in the Huldre fen in 1879. Perhaps Whitgar's paternal grandmother - possibly one of the first wave of Jutish settlers - would have used a combe of a similar style.

King Ethelbert of Kent meets St Augustine

St Augustine converted King Ethelbert's people, founding the diocese of Canterbury. Ethelbert's consort, Queen Bertha, was a Christian princess. Some historians believe that the Cantware Jutes were from the Frisian Islands, Denmark being populated by Slavs (there were Slavonic Poladrians in the population), but Bede recorded with conviction that the Jutes came from Jutland.


A large number of Jutes from the Cantware were likely to have been involved in establishing a well-defended headquarters to the west of Sussex, under the leadership of Cerdic.

This could possibly have been where Portsmouth now stands.


Battle of Mount Badon [1].

Jutish men were involved in this contest under Aesc. The aristocratic warriors of Ælle would have been in the front line of combat and were perhaps decimated by the victorious Romano-British, the South Saxons, almost certainly, being made to pay for their destruction of Rhegin.

It is feasible that the Britons were responsible for total carnage. This would explain Ælle's reluctance to re-engage in fighting, the flower of South Saxon manhood having been destroyed. However, he was still bretwalda and probably of royal blood. He would not have lost his charisma, but his all-Saxon warlordship would have needed years to recover.


The Cantware were likely to have supplied men to assist the capture of Porchester, a naval success led by aldermen Porta, Bieda, and Maegla.

'Maegla' may have been a nickname meaning '[the warrior] who ensnares'; compare the modern Welsh 'maglu', meaning 'to trap'. A Romano-British nobleman was killed in combat.

to 508

After his victory, following the conjecture given above, the Cantware and local Jutes took the Meon Valley as there share of the newly gained territory.


Death of Ælle. Cissa, became king in Sussex. Cerdic, and his Jutish nephews, Stuf and Wihtgar, launched a successful naval attack against the Britons, possibly landing on the Solent's western shore.


His son Cynric having reached manhood, Cerdic was now recognised as king of the West Saxons, with Cynric as his co-ruler. There may have been a British initiative to attack Cerdic's forces in this year, to test his new kingship, making a not-unknown tactical use of a ford. Cerdic won the battle and the possible British effort to destabilise his royal authority failed. Allied Meonware warriors were probably involved here as well.


The indecisive battle of Cerdic Wood. Again British action could have caused this battle. They may have tried to ambush Cerdic by a ford, using trees as a cover. Whatever happened, the result was inconclusive.


The Meonware, led by Stuf and Wihtgar, together with the West Saxons, capture the Isle of Wight, putting to the sword a small number Britons at a location called Wihtgar's stronghold. This gain would have secured the gateways of the Solent for the newly-founded kingdom of Jutish and Saxon settlers.


Death of Cerdic. Settlers from the Meonware had begun to inhabit the Isle of Wight. Perhaps others also came from the Cantware and from the ancestral homeland of Jutland. The new islanders called themselves the Wihtgara or Whitware. King Cynric gave the island to his Jutish first cousins, Stuf and Wihtgar, thereby giving the Wihtgara a measure of self government.


Death of Wihtgar. The death of the Jutish leader may have brought to an end the home rule which has been granted by Cynric. Wihtgar's grave is considered to be the Jutish nobleman's burial site at Carisbrooke Castle.


From the capture of Salisbury by Cynric (552), putting the Britons to flight, up until the Battle of Cirencester between Cynegils and his co-ruling son Cwichelm and Penda, king of the Mercians (628).

The thinking here is that the mainland and insular Jutes became an indispensable element of the West Saxon people during this period, while both keeping their ethnicity as Jutes and being respected as West Saxons in their own right.

If this was the case, then the Meonware would have continued to supply fighting men, as indeed did the Wihtgara, during the generations of West Saxon expansion into the British heartland.

The Meonware may even have supplied Ceolwulf's main fighting force when he tried to impose his will on the South Saxons, 597-611.



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.