Former Anglo-Saxon kingdom in southern England.

See: heptarchy

Unlike the Saxon kingdoms of Essex and Sussex which survived as English counties until the present day, Wessex has not existed in any political or administrative sense since the Norman Conquest, if not earlier. Perhaps because of its preeminence among the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms it came to be so closely identified with England that the distinction ceased to be made - much as modern England itself has a nebulous identity within the United Kingdom, the two often being considered synonymous, usually to the annoyance of the Scots and Welsh.

It was this non-existence that enabled Thomas Hardy to create his fictional county of Wessex, modelled on his native Dorset and neighbouring counties, in which so many of his famous novels are set.

Wessex made a surprising resurgence in 1999 when Prince Edward, youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II, was created Earl of Wessex: what's that all aboout then, Ted?

Anglo-Saxon rulers of Wessex

  • Cerdic (519-534) and his brother Cynric are said to have led the "West Saxons" in an invasion of South Britain near Southampton around 515. Of course (as aneurin's excellent writeup on the Gewissae explains), given the rather Celtic-sounding names of its first kings, Wessex may have actually have started in the Thames Valley, from a home-grown agglomeration of Saxon settlers descended from Roman mercenaries and native Romano-British Celts. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle's rendition of an inexorable Saxon expansion after Cerdic's invasion is certainly one version of reality.
  • Cynric (534-560) supposedly took Wiltshire after a 552 battle at Searoburh, nka Old Sarum.
  • Ceawlin (560-591) (bretwalda)'s drive into Somerset supposedly separated the Welsh of Wales and the Cornish Welsh. He was expelled after losing the the Battle of Wanborough, replaced by
  • Ceolric (592-597)
  • Ceolwulf (597-611)
  • Cynegils (611-643) allowed Christianity to be preached in his kingdom for the first time. If you let the camel's nose into the tent... Presumably, he submitted to the overlordship of Raedwald of East Anglia around 617 until the bretwalda's death sometime around 623.
  • Cenwalh (643-645) discarded his wife, angering his brother-in-law,
  • Penda (645-648) of Mercia, who drove Cenwalh into exile.
  • Cenwalh (648-672) again, after converting to Christianity, and while Penda was busy in Northumbria.
  • Seaxburh (672-674), Cenwalh's widow, is listed in the Chronicle.
  • Aescwine (674-676) may have been a sub-king.
  • Centwine (676-685)
  • Caedwalla (685-688), according to legend, resigned his kingship at the urging of St. Wilfrid (or the bishop of Wessex, St. Haedda), to make a pilgrimage to Rome. Now St. Caedwalla.
  • Ine (688-726) is probably the first real 'West Saxon' king.
  • Aethelheard (726-740)
  • Cuthred (740-756)
  • Sigebert (756-757)
  • Cynewulf (757-786) (conquered Sussex)
  • Beorhtric (786-802)
  • Egbert (802-836) conquered Kent and Surrey, and extracted a nominal fealty from Northumbria.
  • Aethelwulf (Wessex only, 831-836) (all South England, 836-856)
  • Aethelbald (Wessex only) (866-860)
  • Aethelbert (860-865) succeded to the thrones of Kent and Sussex in 860, after which all of South England was permanently united.
  • Aethelred I (865-871)
  • Alfred (871-899) "The Great" managed to fight the Danes to a stalemate, and made a historic agreement partitioning England between Wessex on one side of Watling Street and the Danelaw on the other. Being the sole Anglo-Saxon ruler of any part of Britain, Alfred is often called the first king of all "England".
  • Edward I (899-924) "The Elder" began the process of reconquering the Danelaw, taking East Anglia by 918 and the Five Boroughs by 921.
  • Athelstan (924-939) conquered Jorvik and probably has a better claim to "first king of all England" than Alfred.
  • Edmund I (939-946)
  • Eadred (946-955)
  • Eadwig (955-959) lost control of Mercia and Northumbria to his brother Edgar in 957.
  • Edgar (959-975)
  • Edward (975-978) "The Martyr"
  • Aethelred II (978-1013) "The Unready" saw his kingdom overrrun by a Danish army led by King Sweyn Forkbeard and his son Canute.

All England was united under the kingdom of Wessex in 954. I have repeated the kings between 954-1013, and listed those afterward, in the Rulers of England node.

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