History Files


Anglo-Saxon Britain

Nothgyth Quest Supporting Notes

by David Slaughter, 3 February 2008

Part 6: The Hwiccean connection

The kingdom of the Hwicce was centred on the River Severn, famous for the annual Severn Bore (Welsh, Egr Hafren). Their kingdom is thought to have become established during the years after 577, when Ceawlin conquered the British domains of Cirencester (Welsh, Caer Geri), Gloucester (Welsh, Caerloyw), and Bath (Welsh, Caerfaddon).

Their three rulers were killed in the process, but these men were not kings as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The names Coinmagil and Farinmagil reveal the real status of these Britons. The suffix 'magil', pronounced as 'ma-yil', is the Welsh 'MAEL', meaning 'lord'. Brenin is the word for a king. The English term 'king' is derived from the word 'kin' and the Saxons tended to call any local ruler a king.

By 577, the unity of an Arturo-Ambrosian state (about 480 to perhaps 508) had long since disappeared, and it had become a matter of conquering local areas under British rule one by one. Perhaps residual Gewisse, whose ancestors had escaped being driven out by the once victorious Britons, were amongst the earliest of the Hwicce.

It is thought by some historians that the Hwicce were converted to Christianity by missionaries from the British church. However that may have been, King Eanfrith and his daughter, Queen Eafe of the South Saxons, were certainly baptised Christians.

Eafe of the South Saxons

In her book on the charters of Selsey, Lesley refers to the similarity between the naming patterns of the royal families of the Hwicce and Sussex. This aspect has to be significant in assisting any conjectural reconstruction of the South Saxon dynasties, which has been attempted in the Nothgyth Quest.

The starting point is taken with the supposition that the Hwiccean princes, Osric, Oshere, and Osred, could have been the full brothers of Queen Eafe of the South Saxons, and therefore the maternal uncles of her children by Aethelwalh.

Eafe was a Christian princess amongst an officially pagan tribe, although she must have had a priest to give her the sacraments and her children were probably baptised, while at the same time having names which bore dynastic significance both for her and her husband, as postulated in the main text. Under such circumstances, Eafe's family and religion would have been very important to her, and their mother's attachment to her homeland would have affected her children.

The children are assumed to have been (possibly) Aethelric, plus Aethelthryth and Aethelstan, and maybe others. They would have travelled to the royal court of the Hwicce and would have come to know their relatives. The experience would have left a lasting impression on them. It is contended here that, as a result, after Aethelthryth had married Nothhelm, the children she had by him bore the 'Os-' prefix of her maternal uncles. It has also been postulated in the main text that Osmund, Oswald, Aelfwald, and Oslac were her grandchildren, although she may not have known the last two.

Arguing in terms of the main hypothesis, Aethelthryth's younger brother, Aethelstan, reacted differently.

Part 1: Woden
Part 2: Rapes
Part 3: Cissa's Witan
Part 4: Agnatic Witan 1
Part 5: Agnatic Witan 2
Part 6: Hwicce
Part 7: Sub-Kings

The three sons

Apparently, Osric of Hicce had three sons, Aethelheard, Aethelweard, and Aethelric. Guided by the conjecture that these noblemen were Aethelstan's maternal first cousins, it is contended that when Aethelheard fathered a son whom he named Eanberht, Aethelstan named his sons Aethelberht and Ealdberht (later, the dissident). There is no documentary evidence for this presumption, but there is a strong possibility to recommend it.

Interestingly, in what must have been the following generation, we find the names of the Hwiccean prince Ealdred and the South Saxon co-ruling king, Ealdwulf. Furthermore, in the generations which follow after that, we have the names of the Hwiccean aldermen, Aethelmund and his son, Aethelric, which correspond with the South Saxon aldermen, Waermund and his conjectured son, Aethelmund. It has been contended here that, besides both the Sussex royal families being Cerdicingas from Wessex, the later generations of both houses were descended from the union between Aethelwalh the son of Cynegils and Eafe, the daughter of King Eanfrith.

The contention has already been made that their family ties with the Hwicceans, whose realm was of much the same status as the kingdom in Sussex, would have set the Sussex royals apart from the Cerdicingas who were governing the West Saxons. In the face of Mercian domination, an affinity with Sussex may have been equally important to the royals of the Hwicce. There may well have been further intermarriage. We simply do not have enough recorded names to propose such a conjecture.



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.