Part 4: The Agnatic Witenagemot 567-645
By the time Cissa reached his eighty-ninth winter, it seems
feasible to suggest that Ceawlin, king of the West Saxons, had
already agreed to the terms of being the guardian of a new regime in
The Royal Legend related that the kingdom of Cissa devolved on
Ceawlin, and it has been postulated in this hypothesis that Ceawlin
could well have been married to Cissa's granddaughter, the child of
Wine. Ceawlin's legitimate children would then have been half South
The establishment of this conjectural regime would have had its
advantages. It would have avoided a contest for kingship between the
members of the presumed Witenagemot that had developed into an
agnatic institution of noblemen descending from Ælle, Mealla and
Wlanca. Royal power was to be shared.
It would have given an unwieldy coastal territory the security
of a strong overlord, and such an arrangement would probably allow
for a considerable measure of independence to continue in the
theoretical centres of power, west and east of the Adur, already
mentioned. It is also suggested that the permanence of this
conjectured regime would have been guaranteed by the accession of
Cuthwine Ceawlining as ruler over both South and West Saxons. If
that had been the plan, such hopes did not materialise.
The circumstances of Ceawlin's paternal nephews, Ceol and
Ceolwulf, taking power in Wessex are not recorded. Maybe the king
suffered a debilitating stroke, and Cuthwine was absent when the
takeover occurred. It is surmised that Ceol had the wisdom, under
the political circumstances put forward in the previous paragraph,
not to aggravate an already dismayed South Saxon leadership.
However, it is proposed that when Ceolwulf became king in 597,
he was determined to divest the highest ranking descendants of Ælle,
Mealla and Wlanca of their regal powers in Sussex. The argument
seems feasible, and an aggressive policy of this nature could easily
have led to an armed struggle in which Cuthwine was involved. By the
time Cynegils had succeeded his paternal uncle in 611 and peace had
been restored, many South Saxon aldermen might have become concerned
about the situation for their tribe. At least that is the contention
These men would have been staunch pagans, apart from anything
else, and what historians describe as the the political baptism of
King Cynegils and Cwichelm, his co-ruling son, in 636, might have
caused considerable alarm. It could be suggested, perhaps, that this
event raised the issue of re-establishing a kingdom of the South
Saxons at the level of the Witenagemot.
Following through this supposition, when Cenwalh became king of
the West Saxons in 642, a delegation might have been sent from
Sussex to ask the new overlord to appoint one of his own brothers as
king of the South Saxons. It has already been asserted in the main
text that the prince in question was Aethelwalh.
Perhaps Cenwalh would have hesitated, being concerned, as he
must have been, with the breakdown of his marriage with King Penda's
daughter. It is postulated here that the supposed delegation were
senior members of the theoretical Witenagemot of the South Saxons
and that its agnatic noblemen would have represented the sixth
generation of their tribe.
The fathers of this generation must have made up the armed
opposition against Ceol recorded briefly by the chroniclers of
Alfred the Great.