Hwicce pronounced Wick-ah (probably with a soft 'h' in front) was an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of the seventh and eight centuries. Quite where the name 'Hwicce' came from is not known, and is anyone's guess.

Location

Its exact boundaries are uncertain but seems to have included most of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire (with the exception of the Forest of Dean which was very likely still part of Wales at the time) and southern Warwickshire but likely followed the lines of the old diocese of Worcester as the early bishops of Worcester 1 bore the title of Episcopus Hwicciorum. Its capital was either Gloucester or Winchcombe; opinions differ so it may well have shifted over the years, like so much else about the Hwicce the details are very sketchy and ill defined.

Kings of the Hwicce

No genealogy or king list of the Hwicce has been preserved; much of this information comes from the from the survival of various charters recording the grants of land. Hence Eanberht, Uhtred and Ealdred are described as brothers and sub-kings of the Hwicce, in a charter dated to 759, but there is no indication of what relationship they bore to their predecessors or dates of accession or death. 2

History

If the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is to be believed, Ceawlin, ruler of the Gewissae defeated three Brythonic kings of Gloucester, Cirencester, and Bath at the battle of Deorham in 577 and brought that area within his control. But in 628 at the battle of Cirencester, Penda of Mercia fought with Ceawlin's successor, defeated him and "afterwards entered into a treaty there" by which Mercia acquired the territory for itself which may well have served as a buffer state between Mercia proper and the kingdom of the Gewissae/Wessex as well as the Brythonic kingdoms to the west and south.

It is from this time that the territory is referred to as the kingdom of the Hwicce. Now Penda won his victory with the assistance of a war-band led by two exiled Bernician princes, Oslaf and Oswudu. It seems likely that this war band then settled in the newly conquered territory and the royal line of the Hwicce was descended from one or other of these princes. This accounts for the uncanny similarity between the names of the recorded kings of the Hwicce and those of Northumbria.

Not until the death of Penda (who was resolutely pagan) in 655 did Christianity formally arrive in the kingdom and to reinforce the Northumbrian connection first three bishops of the Hwicce were all from the monastery of Whitby. By the 680s Bede tells us that Effa the wife of the Aethelwalh of Sussex "was the daughter of Eanfrith, the brother of Eanhere, who were both Christians, as were their people".

The kings of the Hwicce seem to have petered out by the end of the eight century; successors such as Aethelmund, (who was killed fighting against Wessex in 802) and his son Aethelric simply bore the title of ealdorman. The area remained part of Mercia up until the end of the ninth century when Mercia finally submitted to Alfred and the former lands of the Hwicce were shired and divided into Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Winchcombeshire and Gloucestershire.


NOTES

1 The fact that Worcester was chosen as the see for the new diocese over the more obvious contenders of Gloucester and Winchcombe is used to support the argument that there was already a British (that is Brythonic) Christian community established at Worcester.

2 As recorded in Sawyer's Anglo-Saxon Charters which is available online as the Electronic Sawyer at http://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/sdk13/chartwww/eSawyer.99/eSawyer2.html

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