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Anglo-Saxon Britain

The Nothgyth Quest Hypothesis

by David Slaughter, 3 February 2008

Part 2: The Ællean warlordship and the Cissan kingdom of the South Saxons

And there shall the songs of Sussex be sung
And the story of Sussex told.
Hilaire Belloc

Except for Cuthwine (see below), the evidence for the existence of the South Saxon nobility, whose entries are to be found in this section, comes from the royal legend of the South Saxons, fragments of which have survived in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and in the fourteenth century writings of Roger of Wendover. The memory of Wincheling, son of Cissa - that is, Wine Cissing - survived in Winchelsea until the late nineteenth century.

Wlenca, born late 420s?

The name of his father is not known. He was the Saxon chieftain who fathered the alderman who was known eventually as Cymen Wlencing. The assumption here is that Wlenca was the consanguine maternal uncle of the royal brothers Ælle and Mealla, and that he was the eldest of the four alderman who landed near Selsey in 477, bringing with him the experience of his years, although he was of a lower hierarchical standing than his nephews.

He probably founded his settlement at Lancing in the same year. This Wlencing chieftainship was inherited eventually by his son, Cymen.

Ælle, born early 450s?

Probably the eldest son of a Saxon king who claimed patrilineal descent from the god Woden, who could have died around 476. Ælle, who perhaps sailed with his three keel-loads of aristocratic warriors from the Rhine delta, may have made a first landing with his fellow aldermen and blood relatives on the island which became his tribal settlement of Hayling Island.

Here, perhaps, he would have been recognised as the local king. He landed with his warriors and senior ranking male relatives near Selsey in 477.

From his bravest and most trusted warriors, Ælle was likely to have made chieftains, many of whom were to settle the new territories which were to be gained from the Britons. Eventually, enough of the coastal strip had been taken over to enable Ælle to capture and destroy Pevensey in 491. There must have been setbacks, most notably the indecisive battle of Mearcred's Burn in 485. Although there is no documentary evidence, it is possible that he made his eldest son, Cissa, his co-warlord of the South Saxons after the destruction of Pevensey (see the entry for Cissa below).

Part 1: Intro
Part 2: Warlordship
Part 3: Ælle's Dynasty
Part 4: Aethelwalh Dynasty
Part 5: Censoring History
Pevensey castle in Sussex

Although the sea has long since retreated from the Roman shore fort at Pevensey in Sussex, it is thought that Ælle executed a seaborne attack to capture the stronghold in 491.

Not only was Ælle the royal warlord of the South Saxons, it is known that he was also recognised as the first bretwalda (in essence this was prior to his proposed presence and decisive defeat by the Britons at Mount Baden [3]). It is likely that this military status would have been accepted by all Jutes and Saxons south of the Thames. Ælle died in 514, leaving the warlordship of the South Saxons to his eldest son, and co-warlord, Cissa.

According to tradition the first bretwalda had three sons, but the names of the younger two were not remembered, overshadowed as they were by Cissa, who was born in 477, and confused with the founding fathers who landed near Selsey in the same year. It is improbable that Ælle was ever king of the all South Saxons, but royal lineage would have helped to assert his authority over them.

Mealla, born in the late 450s?

[3] Although Bede's date for this battle, 493, is considered unsafe, the author believes that the arguments against it are equally unconvincing.

Presumed here to have been a royal alderman and Ælle's younger brother. As such, he may also have been the leading warrior in his warlord brother's retinue until Cissa Aelling reached his majority at the age of fourteen. If Mealla was Ælle's brother, he would probably have landed with Ælle near Selsey in 477, and is likely to have campaigned with his brother during the nascent years of Sussex.

In 491, with Ælle having destroyed the Roman fort of Pevensey, it could have been Mealla who defeated the local Britons who were making their last stand on Mount Cayburn (Old Welsh 'Caerbryn'). Perhaps it was after this British defeat that Mealla founded his own settlement, not far from the Cayburn battle site, at South Malling. This theoretical version of events seems to fit the contemporary circumstances.

Cymen Wlencing, born in the early 450s?

Cymen was Wlenca's son and heir, and is taken here as the maternal first cousin of the royal brothers Ælle and Mealla, and who landed with them near Selsey in 477 at a place which became known as Cymen's Shore, which itself was lost to the sea many generations later. The site is now referred to as The Owers. On Wlenca's death, Cymen would have inherited his father's settlement at Lancing. Cymen then held two aldermanries, and it appears that he was referred to as Cymen Wlencing, probably because of his separated estates.


The left-hand page contains a list of British place names which were documented by Nennius. The British name for Pevensey was recorded by him as Pensavelcoit, perhaps 'Pen + savle + coit' (Welsh, 'Pensafle'r Coed'), meaning 'end of wooded area'.

Cissa [4]

The assertion here is that Cissa did not die in 590, as recorded almost a millennium later by Roger of Wendover, but that he died at the age of ninety. The rest of the timescale of Cissa's life, as given by Roger, has been modified accordingly.

Cissa was perhaps born at his father's vil on Hayling Island in 477 and died in 567. He was probably the eldest of Ælle's three sons, the names of the other two having been forgotten. It is contended here that when Cissa reached his majority, at the age of fourteen in 491, he was elevated by his father to be the co-warlord, perhaps after the fall of Pevensey. If this contention is correct, then Cissa was indeed a ruler for seventy-six years as inferred by Roger. On Ælle's death in 514, Cissa would have inherited the warlordship as his own, and presumably was able to use the influence of royal ancestry to found the kingdom of the South Saxons.

He made the old Roman town of Noviomagum Regnorum his royal centre, renaming it Cissan Ceaster, today's Chichester. Concluding the timescale referred to above, Cissa reigned from 514-567 and, like Claudia Crysis of Roman Lincoln, he lived to be a nonagenarian. Rectifying Roger of Wendover's uncontextual date of 586, four years before Cissa's supposed death in 590 to a possible historical event, Wine, his son and heir might have already predeceased him by 563. After Cissa's death, the kingship of the South Saxons passed to Ceawlin, by then king of the West Saxons, who perhaps had married a granddaughter of Cissa (for this speculation, see the entry for Wine Cissing below).

However, a separate kingdom of the South Saxons became irrelevant, in a warrior age, when armed men from Sussex could avenge the defeat of their forefathers at Mount Baden by fighting for Ceawlin, king of their fellow Saxons and the second bretwalda, as he advanced against the now disunited Britons.

[4] Pronounced chissa.

Wine Cissing, born in the late 500s? [5]

Following remembered tradition he died, perhaps, about 563, thereby predeceasing his father Cissa by four years. He founded the earliest settlement at Winchelsea, perhaps calling it Winesceseley, the Gwent-chesel-ey of the later mediaeval period, which was finally lost to the sea in the great storm of 1287.

Wine probably had his vil at Winchelsea from where, as his father's heir (or perhaps Atheling?), he would have represented royal authority along the kingdom's 'east march' (border) near the Jutish settlement of Hastings. Here, where the sea filled a large firth in the sixth century, he would have been known as Wine Cissing, the king's son and co-ruler.

This hypothesis speculates that Wine had a daughter, maybe his eldest surviving child, who was wedded to Ceawlin of Wessex (see the entry for Cuthwine below), perhaps sometime in the early 550s, and that this union was to prove extinctive to the survival of a South Saxon kingdom. Most importantly, this would explain why the Cissan kingdom devolved, according to Roger, on the powerful Ceawlin on the death of the old king. Apparently, there was no confrontation from the warrior kindred of Wine to challenge the grasp of the West Saxon ruler. It is true that Ceawlin may have already been recognised by 567 as the second bretwalda, but that did not necessarily give him the right to subsume Sussex.

Cuthwine, born circa 560?

[5] Wrongly stated as 'Wincheling'. Wine Cissing should be pronounced 'winna chissing'.

He is known to have been the eldest son of Ceawlin, king of the West Saxons and second bretwalda. This hypothesis speculates that Cuthwine's mother was the eldest (?) daughter of Wine Cissing (see the entry for Wine Cissing above), and that this successful warrior was destined to inherit his father's authority over both West Saxons and South Saxons. It is recorded that he went into battle with his father as early as 577. It is also speculated that the choice of giving him an old dynastic name, Cuthwine, would have reflected the ties of Ceawlin's son to both peoples. Cutha is known to have been Cuthwine's paternal uncle, and in terms of this hypothesis, Wine of Sussex was his maternal grandfather.

However, as history records, Ceawlin was deposed by his nephews, Ceol and Ceolwulf, and power in Wessex shifted to the descendants of King Ceol. This relationship follows the traditional royal line of descent. If, indeed, Cuthwine was King Cissa's great-grandson and he lived to see the endemic strife between Sussex and Wessex during the reign of Ceolwulf (597-611), it seems feasible that he would have lent his support to the South Saxon insurgency.

Cuthwine's family had been deprived of power and this would have been a warrior's opportunity to fight back. The date 607, given as the year of insurrection in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, is probably rhetoric and is based on forty rhetorical years from the death of King Cissa, taken here to have been in 567. According to the traditional royal line of succession already mentioned, Cuthwine's youngest son was Cuthwulf, from whom, in line with the conjectural dynasty of Ecgwald Cuthwulfing discussed below, many later kings of the South Saxons were descended.



Images are free from copyright. Text copyright © David Slaughter, BA Hons, ATC (Sussex), Blue Robe Order of the Welsh Gorsedd, expanded from material first released on the Anglo-Saxon Kings of Sussex blogspot. An original feature for the History Files.