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The Anglo-Saxon settlement stories for Kent, Sussex and Wessex have too much in common to ring entirely true. Nevertheless, a wholesale rejection of them might still be unwise.

  • Kent

According to Gildas the British invited the Germanic tribes in to help them with raiders from the North. It has long been assumed that these were Picts but Kent is not an obvious place from which to confront Picts. So, was the ‘northern nation’ actually the Catuvellauni? Quoit brooches with incorporated Germanic designs suggest co-operation rather than confrontation. Stylistically mixed artefacts suggest an ethnically diverse population.

Gildas’ focus may well indicate that in the mid fifth century there was a coup d’état there. Although the Cantwara was a successor state to that of the Cantiaci, there was also a strong Frankish influence. One of the early kings, Irmenric, seems to have had a Frankish name and Æðelberht married a Frankish princess. It is even possible that (once again) power structures extended across the Channel.

There was a strong Frankish influence on Kent
Copyright – Simon J Kyte / Ashmolean Museum

West Kent was a major concern with a number of rulers in the area being from Essex – replicating spatial patterns from pre-Roman times. West Kent’s separateness continued to be recognised with two diocese in the county.

There is no formal reference to Kent until 568 and Kent and Sussex were at war over the area to the east of Pevensey – another area which would come to see itself as separate.

  • Sussex

For Sussex the early settlement was in the far east of the civitas of the Regni – but the Sussex border issue was a fluid one. As for ‘Cymenshore’, there is no archaeological evidence for settlement until long after any alleged date. In the sixth century, Mercia granted the Meonwara to Sussex, shifting its centre westward.

  • Wessex

If Cerdic actually arrived as an Anglo-Saxon settler, then he was certainly not the first to do so. Draper notes that in the area around Swindon there are signs of an early blending of cultures. Cerdic and Cynric seem to have been fighting on the borders of Atrebatic territory rather than at its heart. Cerdic’s Celtic name actually lends some historicity – why give a Saxon leader a non-Saxon name?

Some names in Wessex did not change drastically – for example, Durosæte (Dorset). It may have been from there that Gildas was writing.

Myers sees Wessex as the successor to the Atrebatic state but the focus has tended to be on West Saxon / Jutish relations. There is evidence for Jutes on the Isle of Wight but the case for them in Hampshire is more limited. The case for the Upper Thames as the ‘cradle of Wessex’ is a weak and improbable one.

Grave goods from Berinsfield, Thames Valley
Copyright – Simon J Kyte / Ashmolean Museum

However, the battle of 571 does not make much sense to me. Supposedly fought at Bedford, the West Saxons gained the towns of Limbury (now a suburb of Luton), Aylesbury, Eynsham and Benson. These last two are both adjacent to the Thames near Oxford. The next key battle mentioned is Feðanleg (587) – purportedly Stoke Lyne, near Bicester. That sequence makes very limited sense but is critical to Laycock’s belief that the 571 battle is Catuvellauni territory breaking down. [For the record, there has been no archaeological evidence found in Luton and ‘Bedcanford’ does not fit with the early developments in Bedford’s name. However, is it just possible that these were local capitals of tribes such as the Hicca?]

  • East Anglia

A power base in the Rendlesham Forest area hardly aligns neatly with the Roman Iceni distribution of power – far to the north. However, the Wuffingas may not have been the first generation of Anglian rulers in the east and their ship burials at Snape and Sutton Hoo smack far too much of Sweden and West Norway. It was claimed that Rædwald’s grandfather was Wuffa. That would take the foundation back no further than 550. And that implies that such a foundation is later than Spong Hill.

The (partially reconstructed) Sutton Hoo helmet
Copyright – Simon J Kyte / British Museum
Nothing like Spong Man and the mysterious ‘A.L.U.’ references
Copyright – British Library

There is also the marked division between Middle and East Anglian burial practices to consider. [Something to ask ourselves here is whether the North / South Folk division is some reflection of the competition between the Spong and Rendlesham cultures?]

  • Mercia & Lindsey

Although Mercia is amongst the most important kingdoms, it remains amongst the most obscure. Laycock suggests that the separation of Mercia and Lindsey may be the result of a Corieltavian split and that in the late sixth century they may have had the same king: Creoda / Cretta. But a lot of Anglo-Saxon names sound extremely similar.


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