History Files


Anglo-Saxon Britain

Meonware Supporting Notes

by David Slaughter, 2 March 2008

Part 2: A proposed timeline for the Wihtware

Although a timeline for the Meonware has already been set out, it would seem appropriate now to suggest a time line for the insular Jutes of the Isle of Wight.

We are told that the consort of King Aethelwulf of Wessex, Queen Osburgh, was a descendant of Wihtgar, the first Jutish ruler of the island. To speculate, Wihtgar could have been born to Cerdic's sister around 488, his father being a Jutish warrior. If this date is assumed, then there would have been some twelve generations of Wihtgar's descendents down to Oslac, the father of Osburh.

A timeline is proposed below, based on a conjectural reconstruction of the aldermanic dynasty of Wihtgar. To achieve this, a notional life span of sixty years has been used, with a notional onset of fatherhood at the age of 24. It is also presumed that the insular Jutes would have been more conservative in their outlook than their mainland cousins, which would account for their late adherence to outmoded paganism and, in all likelihood, the continuing use of their Jutish tongue. Interestingly, in this regard, we know that there were still monoglot Cornish speakers up to about 1680.

The timeline

Wihtgare I, 530 - c.625 to 635, starting at the capture of the Isle of Wight from the Britons and ending with the children of the fourth generation of Wihtgar's descendents. The cluster of -stone place names in the south-West may derive from a tribal group of extended families, with a chieftain, that might have been the pattern for early settlement. Sacred sites for pagan ritual would also have been established during this period.

Wihtgare II, c.625 to 635 - 686. A period which brought considerable change on the mainland and for the islanders, ending with the death of King Arwald and the martyrdom of his sons. The Jutish king was perhaps the four-times great-grandson of Wihtgare. The island, arguably governed by local thingsteads and a small gathering of senior chieftains at Carisbrooke (Wihtgaraesbyrg), became a kingdom ruled by Arwald. Maybe appointed by Penda in 648, he was killed fighting against Caedwalla's West Saxons.

Wihtgare III, 686 - c.740 to 750. A period covering the lifespan of the last generation of islanders who would have had adult memories of paganism, and ending with the children of the tenth generation of Wihtgar's descendents. However, even with their passing, it is likely that the Wihtgare would have remained Jutlandic-spoken under Christianity. The new faith was probably consolidated during the long episcopacy of Daniel, Bishop of Winchester from around 705 until 744, and by the continuity of his spiritual leadership.

Wihtgare IV, c.740 to 750 - 825. This proposed period ends in the year of Ecgberht's victory over the Mercians and the immediate expansion of Wessex. The late eighth century saw the arrival of the Vikings to raid the South Coast. They might have established a colony at Bonchurch. Such uncertain times very likely served to enhance the loyalty of the Wihtgare to their Jutish roots and their Jutlandic speech, in the face of these newcomers. There was, perhaps, a political motive for the union of King Ecgberht's heir, Aethelwulf, with Osburh of the isle of Wight.

Wihtgare Integration, from 825. No defined ending date is proposed here for this final stage. Under the pervading influence of West Saxon power, there must have been an inevitable, if slow decline in a distinctive Wihtgare culture. Perhaps this process gathered some momentum when Osburh became queen of Wessex in 839. Conceivably, a still Jutlandic-spoken island would have become Old English-spoken by the reign of King Edgar. Nevertheless, like the Meonware, the Wihtgare would have remembered their ancestry.

Part 1: First Wave
Part 2: Timeline
The Old Bard

The Old Bard in Hans Andersen's 'Bird of Popular Song'. The story begins by the burial mound of a giant king whose spirit wears a golden circlet. King Boewulf was buried with his treasure in a mound and Wihtgar was buried in his stronghold, said to be the warrior's grave at Carisbrooke Castle.



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.