History Files

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Saxons of Central England


MapMagonset (Westerna / Herefordshire Saxons)

The British territory of Pengwern was ended by Oswiu of Northumbria in 656, while he was overlord of the Mercians. Western Pengwern was then settled by Saxon groups who probably migrated northwards from the territory of the West Saxons and the Hwicce. There is also the possibility that some of these groups were already in the area, perhaps as allies of Pengwern.

They made the most of the sudden power gap to found small kingdoms. The first was based on modern Wroxeter (Roman Viroconium, which had evolved into British Caer Guricon), and the new arrivals called themselves Wrocenset or Wreocensæte based on that name. The second was based around modern Kenchester, just west of Hereford in Herefordshire (Roman Magnis). The Roman name had probably been adapted as Caer Magnis by the Romano-British, and bastardised as Magon by the Saxons to produce Magonset or Magonsæte, meaning 'Magon settlers'. The Magonset kingdom also seems to have been known by other names, including Westerna, or Western Hecani.

The kingdoms were small, but they were not obscure, at least not to the people of the time, although few records have survived to describe them. Certainly nothing seems to have been recorded about the Magonset after circa 680, apart from the names of its kings, and even that detail has been lost for the Wrocenset. By the beginning of the eighth century, the Anglian Mercians had gained overall control of the territory of the Magonset and Wrocenset. It could be around this time that the name Westerna was used for the Magonset territory by the Mercians, perhaps to describe the border region with Powys. The Anglian word for borderlands, 'mercna', was already in use for Mercia itself, and its borders did not yet reach as far as Powys.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from The Landscape of King Arthur, Geoffrey Ashe, from the Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons), Nennius (J A Giles, Ed & Trans, 1841, published as part of Six Old English Chronicles (Henry G Bohn, London, 1848)).)

656 - c.660

Pengwern is terminated by Oswiu of Northumbria, and the Saxon and Angle groups which become the Magonset and Wrocenset move into western Pengwern, near the modern Welsh border. They may extend farther to the west at the start, but it is territory that their descendants cannot retain. English place names of an early type occur sporadically beyond the borders of Offa's Dyke, showing a relatively brief period of settlement there.

Tessellated pavement at Kenchester (Magnis)
These remains of a tessellated pavement were uncovered at Kenchester (formerly Caer Magnis), which provided a capital of sorts for the Magonset 'kingdom' of the seventh century

c.650 - 685

Merewalh / Merewald / Merwal

Converted to Christianity c.660.


FeatureMerewalh is an unusual name for a Saxon. It means 'illustrious Welshman' in Old English, making it seem likely the king is British, either from Pengwern or from Hwicce, which has a mixed Saxon/British population (see feature link). The possibility arises that, after the fall of the kingdom of Pengwern, Merewalh forms his own minor kingdom within the territory. It is also possible that he commands a mixed group of Britons and Saxons, just as the Hwicce do at this time, and that he leads them to settle in the Kenchester region (Caer Magnis).

Only the fact that Merewalh starts out as a pagan causes a problem with the theory. If he is from Pengwern or Hwicce there is more of a likelihood that he should already be Christian (although this is by no means a certainty). The West Saxons are more likely to be pagan at this time, so perhaps Merewalh's origins lie here. Opposed to this is the fact that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle seems to imply that he is a son of Penda of Mercia (although this statement is from the tenth century, which weakens its value).


FeatureTheodore of Tarsus, archbishop of Canterbury establishes a bishopric for the kingdom at Hereford, possibly as a result of a re-organisation agreed at the Synod of Hertford in 673. It is believed that Merewalh erects a new cathedral at Hereford (although its location is uncertain) for the new bishop Putta, the former bishop of Rochester in Kent. Merewalh's daughter, Mildred, travels the other way, to Kent to found a priory at Minster-in-Thanet (see link).

St Mildred the Virgin

Daughter. Abbess of Minster-in-Thanet.

685 - c.700




Son of Merewalh. Ruled?

fl early 700s


Brother. Sub-king to Mercia.

c.700 - c.730

The Magonset and Wroconset have both become client kingdoms of Mercia by around 700. Following the death of Mildfrith, the Magonset kingdom is probably fully absorbed into Mercia. The territory remains a highly disputed borderland between Mercia and Powys until the period of Norman power in England.

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