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Anglo-Saxon Britain

Meonware Supporting Notes

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 1: The first wave of Jutes

With the rise of the Merovingian rulers in Gaul and the former Roman province being peopled by new barbarian populations, settlement for the Saxons south of the Rhine Delta was no longer an inviting option.

However, their own ancestral lands were coming under increasing pressure, not least from sea flooding. Therefore, once Vortigern had allowed Germanic mercenaries into Britain the opportunity had to be taken by other Angles and Saxons. It would seem that such pressing problems would not, however, have driven the warriors of Jutland. As adventurers, with Britain in the throes of a crisis, they availed themselves of the chance to establish a new territories on the Isle of Wight and in Hampshire by founding settlements among the beleaguered Britons.

The Jutish leaders perhaps eventually elected a king. It is contended here that by this time Ambrosius Aurelianus would have taken the helm of a Romano-British state whose existence was threatened on all fronts. He motivated the Britons to take up arms and fight, inspiring young British warriors. The phenomenal success of his military campaign was to enter legend as the twelve battles of 'King' Arthur, with Arthur probably being a battle leader, perhaps called Artorius.

There is no documented history to substantiate the idea, but it is feasible that part of the new British sword power was turned against the early Jutish immigrants in order to subdue them and restore Romano-British rule. Maybe it is worth noting in this context that there may have been an internal Jutish rebellion following the British triumph at Mount Badon in the upper Thames Valley.

The reaction of the Britons was to drive every settler from the region. We can only surmise on this, of course and, unfortunately, the lamentations of Gildas shed no light on these matters. According to Bede, England was won by right of conquest, suggesting that the fighting eventually continued.

In the south, the irreversible breakthrough came first with the West Saxon capture of Salisbury in 552, and then the defeat of the three cities in 577.

Conjectural derivation of the Meon Valley name

The derivation of the name could be Celtic, as many river names in England can still be labelled with their modern Welsh equivalents. Bede gives the name as Mean when referring to the Meonware. As Welsh has come down to us today, there could be four possible candidates, listed here in alphabetical order:

MAEN (pronounced something like 'mine'), meaning 'stone', which would compare with the River Gorlech = 'rocky'.

MEHYN (pronounced with the last syllable stressed), meaning 'a place', which would compare with the River Gafenni (Welsh spelling), referring to a smithy.

MENA (pronounced as 'menna'), which is a personal name and would compare with the River Elan.

MWYN (pronounced like 'moo-in' as a dipthong), meaning 'gentle', which would compare with the River Tawe = 'silent'. Abertawe is the Welsh form of the name Swansea.

Perhaps the most favourable candidates are the words MWYN, since a number of river names are descriptive in Welsh, and MENA.

The name, assuming it was used, could have been paired with the appellation of another river which flows into the Channel. The Eastern Rother, further down the coast, was at one time called the Limen. The older name may have derived from the Welsh Lli Mena = Mena's Flood, referring to the strength of the tide pulling out and flooding back into the Rother. MENA, therefore, seems to be the best choice.

Also, the elements of Bede's 'Mean' are easily traced back to MENA. Possibly it was the name Afon Mena which became the River Mean (said as if bisyllabic, 'me-ann'), and over generations the Meon, which is the source of the name Meonware.

Cerdic Elsing or Ceretic ab Elised?

Was the maternal uncle of the Jutish Stuf and Wihtgar the figure known as Cerdic Elsing or was he Ceretic ab Elised? Was their mother the daughter of Elsa Elsing, or actually the daughter of a British aristocrat?

Although Cerdic is often considered to have been the son of a Saxon nobleman and a Briton, the conjecture put forward in this note is that he may have been the natural son of a British aristocrat whose mistress was a Saxon. Indeed, Cerdic may have been represented in Arthurian legend as Sir Mordred, the king's son by incest.

Following this argument through, the British aristocrat, supposed as Elised here, may have had two children by his Saxon concubine: a daughter, born (possibly) about 467 and Cerdic, born (possibly) about 473. If this is what happened, then both his children would have been seen as blemished by being half barbarian.

Ceretic could have held a grudge as a result of such discrimination, although this is only conjecture. However, let us suppose for a moment that these circumstances were historical actuality. Cerdic would have grown up bilingual and well acquainted both with British and Saxon culture. He would have been baptised into the British church, and later trained for combat with Elised's teulu, or personal warriors.

Yet, taking the ideas which have cautiously been introduced here, by 495 Ceretic is recorded as marshalling an attack against the Britons. As the new leader of the Thames Valley Gewissae, Ceretic was perhaps about twenty-two years old. Presuming his father to have been a Briton, he had committed rather early his loyalties to his mother's people and their heathen view of the world, preferring to be part of the new and vigorous Germanic scene.

This conjecture brings about another perspective on the possible maternal relatives of Stuf and Wihtgar, delivering with it the possibility that their mother's family may have been of mixed blood. This is illustrated below:

Cerdic's possible family ties
The conjectural table attempts to show Cerdic's possible family ties to the native Britons and his claimed Saxon heritage

Part 1: First Wave
Part 2: Timeline
The Moor Woman brewing

The Moor Woman's brew is the mist. She tells a tale about will o' the wisps in one of Hans Andersen's stories. His Moor Woman clearly derives from the myths told to him by old women during his boyhood. Perhaps in Iron Age times  a similar woman was worshipped as an earth goddess by the Bog People of Jutland.

The Eel Breeder's visit

One of the characters in Hans Andersen's Story from the Sand Dunes, set in West Jutland. Here the fishermen used to roof their wooden huts with turf and heather, no doubt in the same manner as the Jutes who once lived there until they moved en masse to settle in Kent, Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight during the fifth and sixth centuries.

Part 1: First Wave
Part 2: Timeline


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.