House of Wessex

The House of Wessex, also known as the House of Cerdic (Cerdicingas in Old English[2]), refers to the family that initially ruled a kingdom in southwest England known as Wessex, from the 6th century under Cerdic of Wessex until the unification of the Kingdoms of England by Alfred the Great and his successors. Alfred and his successors would also be part of this dynasty, which would continue ruling in the main line all the way until Alfred's descendant, Ethelred the Unready, whose reign in the late 10th century and early 11th century saw a brief period of Danish occupation and following his and his son Edmund Ironside's death, kingship by the Danish Cnut the Great and his successors to 1042. The House of Wessex then briefly regained its power for 24 years, but after the deposition of its last scion, Ethelred's great-grandson Edgar Ætheling, it faded into the annals of history. Edgar himself died after a long and adventurous life sometime after 1125. All kings of England and Great Britain since Henry II have been descended from the House of Wessex through Henry I's wife Matilda of Scotland––a daughter of Edgar Ætheling's sister, Margaret of Wessex.

House of Wessex
Cerdicingas
Golden Wyvern of Wessex

Golden Wyvern of Wessex[1]
Country
Founded519
FounderCerdic of Wessex
Final rulerEdward the Confessor
Titles
DissolutionAfter 1125

History

The House became rulers of a unified English nation after the descendants of Alfred the Great (871–899) down to Edward the Confessor in 1066. Edward the Elder Alfred's son united under his rule, by conquering the Viking occupied areas, Mercia and East Anglia with Wessex. Then his son, Æthelstan, extended his authority into the north, Northumbria, above the Mersey and Humber, but this was not fully consolidated until after his nephew Edgar succeeded to the throne. This period of the English monarchy is known as the Anglo-Saxon period, because the two main branches of settlers were Angles (in Mercia and East Anglia) or Saxon (in Wessex, Essex, Middlesex, Surrey, Sussex and Northumbria); a smaller group of settlers, the Jutes in Kent, Wight and in parts of east Sussex, merged with the Saxons.

Their rule was often contested, notably by the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard who invaded in 995 and occupied the united English throne from 1013 to 1014, during the reign of Æthelred the Unready and his son Edmund Ironside. Sweyn, his son Canute and his successors ruled until 1042. After Harthacanute, there was a brief Anglo-Saxon restoration between 1042 and 1066 under Edward the Confessor a son of Æthelred, who was succeeded by Harold Godwinson, who was a member of the House of Godwin, possibly a side branch of the Cerdicings (see Ancestry of the Godwins). After the Battle of Hastings, the victorious Duke of Normandy became William I of England. Anglo-Saxon attempts to restore native rule in the person of Edgar the Ætheling, a grandson of Edmund Ironside who had originally been passed over in favour of Harold, were unsuccessful and William's descendants secured their rule. Edgar's niece Matilda of Scotland later married William's son Henry I, forming a link between the two dynasties. Henry II was a descendant of the House of Wessex in the female line, something that contemporary English commentators noted with approval.[3]

Genealogy

For a family tree of the House of Wessex from Cerdic down to the children of King Alfred the Great, see:

A continuation into the 10th and 11th centuries can be found at

Attributed coat of arms

Royal Arms of Edward the Confessor

A coat of arms was attributed by medieval heralds to the Kings of Wessex. These arms appear in a manuscript of the thirteenth century, and are blazoned as Azure, a cross patonce (sometimes a cross fleury or cross moline) between four martlets Or.[4] The assigning of arms to the West Saxon kings is prochronistic, as heraldry did not develop in a form as we know it until the twelfth century. These arms continued to be used to represent the kingdom for centuries after their invention. They have been incorporated into heraldic charges of institutions that associate themselves with Wessex, especially Edward the Confessor, where they are used at Westminster Abbey and in the arms of the City of Westminster.[5]

See also

References

  1. ^ Friar, Basic Heraldry, 12.
  2. ^ Millennium, Tom Holland (p 192)
  3. ^ Harper-Hill, C. and Vincent, N. (2007) Henry II: New Interpretations, Boydell Press, p. 382.
  4. ^ College of Arms MS L.14, dating from the reign of Henry III
  5. ^ For example in Divi Britannici by Winston Churchill, published in 1675, and Britannia Saxona by G W Collen, published in 1833.
  • Stephen Friar and John Ferguson (1993), Basic Heraldry, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 978-0-393-03463-9
  • Naismith, Rory (2011). "The Origins of the Line of Egbert, King of the West Saxons, 802–839". English Historical Review. 76 (518): 1–16. doi:10.1093/ehr/ceq377.
House of Wessex
New title
England united under Wessex
Ruling house of England
829–1013
Succeeded by
House of Denmark
Preceded by
House of Denmark
Ruling house of England
1014–16
Ruling house of England
1042–66
Succeeded by
House of Godwin
Beorhtric of Wessex

Beorhtric (d. 802), also Brihtric; meaning "Magnificent ruler" was the King of Wessex from 786 to 802, succeeding Cynewulf, but his wife and father-in-law had most of the power.

Centwine of Wessex

Centwine (died after 685) was King of Wessex from c. 676 to 685 or 686, although he was perhaps not the only king of the West Saxons at the time.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that Centwine became king c. 676, succeeding Æscwine. Bede states that after the death of King Cenwalh: "his under-rulers took upon them the kingdom of the people, and dividing it among themselves, held it ten years". Bede's dismissal of Æscwine and Centwine as merely sub-kings may represent the views of the supporters of the King Ine, whose family ruled Wessex in Bede's time. However, if the West Saxon kingdom did fragment following Cenwalh's death, it appears that it was reunited during Centwine's reign.An entry under 682 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that "Centwine drove the Britons to the sea". This is the only event recorded in his reign. The Carmina Ecclesiastica of Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne (died 709), written a generation after Centwine's reign, records that he won three great battles. In addition, it states that he was a pagan for part of his reign, adopting Christianity and becoming a patron of the church. The Chronicle's version of his ancestry makes Centwine a son of King Cynegils, and thus a brother of King Cenwalh and King Cwichelm, but Aldhelm does not record any such relationship.Chapter 40 of Eddius Stephanus's Life of Wilfrid records that Centwine was married to a sister of Queen Iurminburh, second wife of King Ecgfrith of Northumbria. Her name is not reliably recorded, and the suggestion that she is to be identified with Dunna, Abbess of Withington, is broadly rejected. Their daughter Bugga was certainly a nun when Aldhelm dedicated verses to her, and was probably an Abbess.Centwine is reported to have abdicated and become a monk. Aldhelm writes that he "gave up riches and the reins of government and left his own kingdom in the name of Christ". He was succeeded by Caedwalla. The date of his death is unknown.

Ceol of Wessex

Ceol (also known as Ceola or Ceolric) was King of Wessex from 592 to 597.

Ceol was the son of Cutha (or Cuthwulf), the son of Cynric of Wessex. He reigned from either 591 or 592 to 597. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he began his reign in 591, but it was only in the following year that he drove out his uncle Ceawlin in a battle at Woden's Barrow in Wiltshire, thus denying the throne to the rightful heir, Ceawlin's son Cuthwine. Upon his death the throne passed to his brother Ceolwulf. Because his son Cynegils was presumably too young to inherit the throne, it was given to the brother, as was probably the custom among the Saxons. In 1967 Wright and Jackson found a stone at Wroxeter in a Sub-Roman context (dating to c. 460 – 475 AD[4]) with the inscription CUNORIX MACUS MAQVI COLINE, which translates as "Cunorix ('Hound-king' = Cynric) son of Maqui-Coline ('Son-of-Holly'), both of which are regarded as Irish personal names. It is possible that Maqui Coline is linked to Ceol, suggesting a rival family to that of Ceawlin.

Cerdic of Wessex

Cerdic (; Latin: Cerdicus) is cited in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a leader of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, being the founder and first king of Saxon Wessex, reigning from 519 to 534 AD. Subsequent kings of Wessex were each claimed by the Chronicle to descend in some manner from Cerdic. His origin, ethnicity, and even his very existence have been extensively disputed.

Cynric

Cynric was King of Wessex from 534 to 560. Everything known about him comes from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. There, he is stated to have been the son of Cerdic, who is considered the founder of the kingdom of Wessex. Some accounts cite that Cynric was (in the regnal list in the preface) the son of Cerdic's son, Creoda.

Eadred

Eadred (also Edred) (923 – 23 November 955) was King of the English from 946 until his death. He was the son of Edward the Elder and his third wife Eadgifu of Kent, and a grandson of Alfred the Great. Eadred came to the throne following the assassination of his older brother, Edmund I. The chief achievement of his reign was to bring the Kingdom of Northumbria under total English control, which occurred with the defeat and expulsion of Eric Bloodaxe in 954. Eadred died at the age of 32 having never married, and was succeeded by his 15-year-old nephew, Eadwig.

Eadwig

Eadwig, also spelled Edwy (died 1 October 959), sometimes called the All-Fair, was King of England from 955 until his premature death.

The elder son of Edmund I and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury, Eadwig became king in 955 aged 15 following the death of his uncle Eadred. Eadwig's short reign was tarnished by disputes with nobles and men of the church, including Archbishops Dunstan and Oda. He died in 959, having ruled less than four years. He was buried in the capital Winchester. His brother Edgar the Peaceful succeeded him.

Ealhswith

Ealhswith or Ealswitha (died 5 December 902) was the wife of King Alfred the Great. Her father was a Mercian nobleman, Æthelred Mucel, Ealdorman of the Gaini, which is thought to be an old Mercian tribal group. Her mother was Eadburh, a member of the Mercian royal family, and according to the historian Cyril Hart she was a descendant of King Coenwulf of Mercia. She is commemorated as a saint in the Christian East and the West on 20 July.

Edgar the Peaceful

Edgar (Old English: Ēadgār, [æːɑdɣɑːr]; c. 943—8 July 975), known as the Peaceful or the Peaceable, was King of England from 959 until his death. He was the younger son of Edmund I and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury, and came to the throne as a teenager, following the death of his older brother Eadwig. As king, Edgar further consolidated the political unity achieved by his predecessors, with his reign being noted for its relative stability. His most trusted advisor was Dunstan, whom he recalled from exile and made Archbishop of Canterbury. The pinnacle of Edgar's reign was his coronation at Bath in 973, which was organised by Dunstan and forms the basis for the current coronation ceremony. After his death he was succeeded by his son Edward, although the succession was disputed.

Edgar Ætheling

Edgar Ætheling (also spelt Æþeling, Aetheling, Atheling or Etheling) or Edgar II (c. 1051 – c. 1126) was the last male member of the royal house of Cerdic of Wessex (see House of Wessex family tree). He was elected King of England by the Witenagemot in 1066, but never crowned.

Edmund I

Edmund I (Old English: Ēadmund, pronounced [æːɑdmund]; 921 – 26 May 946) was King of the English from 939 until his death. His epithets include the Elder, the Deed-doer, the Just, and the Magnificent.Edmund was the son of Edward the Elder and his third wife Eadgifu of Kent, and a grandson of Alfred the Great. His father died when he was young, and was succeeded by his oldest son Æthelstan. Edmund came to the throne upon the death of his half-brother in 939, apparently with little opposition. His reign was marked by almost constant warfare, including conquests or reconquests of the Midlands, Northumbria, and Strathclyde (the last of which was ceded to Malcolm I of Scotland). Edmund was assassinated after six-and-a-half years as king, while attending Mass in Pucklechurch, Gloucestershire. He was initially succeeded by his brother Eadred, but his two sons—Eadwig and Edgar the Peaceful—both later came to the throne.

Edward the Confessor

Edward the Confessor (Old English: Ēadƿeard Andettere [æːɑdwæɑrˠd ɑndetere]; Latin: Eduardus Confessor [ɛ.dʊˈar.dʊs kɔ̃ˈfɛs.sɔr]; c. 1003 – 5 January 1066), also known as Saint Edward the Confessor, was among the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England. Usually considered the last king of the House of Wessex, he ruled from 1042 to 1066.

Edward was the son of Æthelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy. He succeeded Cnut the Great's son – and his own half brother – Harthacnut. He restored the rule of the House of Wessex after the period of Danish rule since Cnut (better known as Canute) conquered England in 1016. When Edward died in 1066, he was succeeded by Harold Godwinson, who was defeated and killed in the same year by the Normans under William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings. Edgar the Ætheling, who was of the House of Wessex, was proclaimed king after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, but never ruled and was deposed after about eight weeks.

Historians disagree about Edward's fairly long (24-year) reign. His nickname reflects the traditional image of him as unworldly and pious. Confessor reflects his reputation as a saint who did not suffer martyrdom, as opposed to King Edward the Martyr. Some portray Edward the Confessor's reign as leading to the disintegration of royal power in England and the advance in power of the House of Godwin, due to the infighting that began after his heirless death. Biographers Frank Barlow and Peter Rex, on the other hand, portray Edward as a successful king, one who was energetic, resourceful and sometimes ruthless; they argue that the Norman conquest shortly after his death tarnished his image. However, Richard Mortimer argues that the return of the Godwins from exile in 1052 "meant the effective end of his exercise of power", citing Edward's reduced activity as implying "a withdrawal from affairs".About a century later, in 1161, Pope Alexander III canonised the king. Saint Edward was one of England's national saints until King Edward III adopted Saint George as the national patron saint in about 1350. Saint Edward's feast day is 13 October, celebrated by both the Church of England and the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

List of English monarchs

This list of kings and queens of the Kingdom of England begins with Alfred the Great, who initially ruled Wessex, one of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms which later made up modern England. Alfred styled himself King of the Anglo-Saxons from about 886, and while he was not the first king to claim to rule all of the English, his rule represents the start of the first unbroken line of kings to rule the whole of England, the House of Wessex.

Arguments are made for a few different kings deemed to control enough Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to be deemed the first king of England. For example, Offa of Mercia and Egbert of Wessex are sometimes described as kings of England by popular writers, but it is no longer the majority view of historians that their wide dominions are part of a process leading to a unified England. Historian Simon Keynes states, for example, that "Offa was driven by a lust for power, not a vision of English unity; and what he left was a reputation, not a legacy." This refers to a period in the late 8th century when Offa achieved a dominance over many of the kingdoms of southern England, but this did not survive his death in 796.In 829 Egbert of Wessex conquered Mercia, but he soon lost control of it. It was not until the late 9th century that one kingdom, Wessex, had become the dominant Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Its king, Alfred the Great, was overlord of western Mercia and used the title King of the Angles and Saxons, but he never ruled eastern and northern England, which was then known as the Danelaw, having earlier been conquered by the Danes from Scandinavia. His son Edward the Elder conquered the eastern Danelaw, but Edward's son Æthelstan became the first king to rule the whole of England when he conquered Northumbria in 927, and he is regarded by some modern historians as the first true king of England. The title "King of the English" or Rex Anglorum in Latin, was first used to describe Æthelstan in one of his charters in 928.

The Principality of Wales was incorporated into the Kingdom of England under the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284, and in 1301 King Edward I invested his eldest son, the future King Edward II, as Prince of Wales. Since that time, except for King Edward III, the eldest sons of all English monarchs have borne this title.

After the death of Queen Elizabeth I without issue, in 1603, King James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, joining the crowns of England and Scotland in personal union. By royal proclamation, James styled himself "King of Great Britain", but no such kingdom was actually created until 1707, when England and Scotland united to form the new Kingdom of Great Britain, with a single British parliament sitting at Westminster, during the reign of Queen Anne.

List of English royal consorts

The English royal consorts were the spouses of the reigning monarchs of the Kingdom of England who were not themselves monarchs of England: spouses of some English monarchs who were themselves English monarchs are not listed, comprising Mary I and Philip who reigned together in the 16th century, and William III and Mary II who reigned together in the 17th century.

Most of the consorts are women, and enjoyed titles and honours pertaining to a queen consort; some few are men, whose titles were not consistent, depending upon the circumstances of their spouses' reigns. The Kingdom of England merged with the Kingdom of Scotland in 1707, to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. There have thus been no consorts of England since that date.

List of monarchs of Wessex

This is a list of monarchs of Wessex until 927AD. For later monarchs, see the List of English monarchs. While the details of the later monarchs are confirmed by a number of sources, the earlier ones are in many cases obscure.

The names are given in modern English form followed by the names and titles (as far as is known) in contemporary Old English (Anglo-Saxon) and Latin, the prevalent "official" languages of the time in England.

This was a period in which spellings varied widely, even within a document. A number of variations of the details below exist. Among these are the preference between the runic character thorn (Þ, lower-case þ, from the rune of the same name) and the letter eth (Ð or ð), both of which are pronounced /th/ and were interchangeable. They were used indiscriminately for voiced and unvoiced /th/ sounds, unlike in modern Icelandic. Thorn tended to be more used in the south (Wessex) and eth in the North (Mercia and Northumbria). Separate letters th were preferred in the earliest period in Northern texts, and returned to dominate by the Middle English period onward.

The character ⁊ (Tironian et) was used as the ampersand (&) in contemporary Anglo-Saxon writings. The era pre-dates the emergence of some forms of writing accepted today; notably rare were lower case characters, and the letters W and U. W was occasionally rendered VV (later UU), but the runic character wynn (Ƿ or ƿ) was a common way of writing the /w/ sound. Again the West Saxons initially preferred the character derived from a rune, and the Angles/Engle preferred the Latin-derived lettering VV, consistent with the thorn versus eth usage pattern.

Except in manuscripts, runic letters were an Anglian phenomenon. The early Engle restricted the use of runes to monuments, whereas the Saxons adopted wynn and thorn for sounds which did not have a Latin equivalent. Otherwise they were not used in Wessex.

Mul of Kent

Mul (Old English: Mūl, literally "mule") (died 687) may have briefly ruled as King of Kent following its conquest by his brother, Caedwalla of Wessex, in 686. Mul's father was Coenberht, making him a member of the House of Wessex (a descendant of Cynric.) The name Mul is very unusual and it has been postulated that it derives from the Latin mulus meaning mule, a word which is known to have entered the Old English vocabulary; presumably it was a nickname which became habitual.The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle relates that in 686, "Caedwalla and Mul, his brother, ravaged Kent and Wight." In 687, however, it reports that "Mul was burned in Kent, and 12 other men with him; and that year Caedwalla again ravaged Kent."

In 694, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the people of Kent came to terms with Ine, Caedwalla's successor, and granted him a sum "because they had burned Mul earlier".

Mul’s reign is mentioned in a charter of Swæfheard.

Osburh

Osburh or Osburga was the first wife of King Æthelwulf of Wessex and mother of Alfred the Great. Alfred's biographer, Asser, described her as "a most religious woman, noble in character and noble by birth".Osburh's existence is known only from Asser's Life of King Alfred. She is not named as witness to any charters, nor is her death reported in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. So far as is known, she was the mother of all Æthelwulf's children, his five sons Æthelstan, Æthelbald, Æthelberht, Æthelred and Alfred the Great, and his daughter Æthelswith, wife of King Burgred of Mercia.

She is best known from Asser's story about a book of Saxon songs, which she showed to Alfred and his brothers, offering to give the book to whoever could first memorise it, a challenge which Alfred took up and won. This exhibits high-status ninth-century women's interest in books and their role in educating their children.Osburh was the daughter of Oslac (who is also only known from Asser's Life), King Æthelwulf's pincerna (butler), an important figure in the royal court and household. Oslac is described as a descendant of King Cerdic's Jutish nephews, Stuf and Wihtgar, who conquered the Isle of Wight. and, by this, is also ascribed Geatish/Gothic ancestry.

Ælfweard of Wessex

Ælfweard (; c. 902 – 2 August 924) was the second son of Edward the Elder, the eldest born to his second wife Ælfflæd.

Æthelred I, King of Wessex

Æthelred I (Old English: Æþelræd, sometimes rendered as Ethelred, "noble counsel"; c.  847 – 871) was King of Wessex from 865 to 871. He was the fourth son of King Æthelwulf of Wessex. He succeeded his brother, Æthelberht (Ethelbert), as King of Wessex and Kent in 865.

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