Beginning of Wessex

maps of the area the cartographer has drawn in the crossed swords of battle, alongside the date 752. Here, Cuthred of Wessex defeated Ethelbald of Mercia, and put him to flight.

Now, modern historians are very sceptical about Burford's claim to be the Beorgfeord mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The philological experts insist that Beorgfeord would have become Barford or Bereford. However, these experts haven't come up with a better site for this battle, so I'm going to ignore them. I want to look at the old Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex, and I want to do it here.

Early Saxon England was a mosaic of kingdoms, often squabbling with one another, and with remaining Celts. Nonetheless, there was usually one kingdom, under a particularly strong King, which was recognised as pre-eminent.

Much of the consolidation of Saxon power had been achieved by Mercia, holding its Midland stronghold against the Welsh of the West and the North, and against Scandinavian marauders. Penda, one of the first great Anglo-Saxons, had carved out this kingdom at the expense of his Romano-Celtic predecessors.

Later, Offa expanded his realm as far as London, whilst securing his heartland against Welsh attack by building a dyke through the Welsh Marches.

But, in the second half of the eighth century, the great men were gone, and Mercian pre-eminence was fading, hastened by increased attacks from Scandinavia. Wessex, insulated from these attacks, grew in importance. It was this burgeoning kingdom which was to form the core of the nation of England, through the efforts of Alfred the Great and his successors.

It is the particular delight of history, to imagine that a few hundred men, straining and grunting against each other across some shallow river-ford, were engaged in a process which was to lay down the pattern of events for all the centuries to come.

In fact, they were probably fighting about the loss of a particularly productive cow, or avenging a casual insult (perhaps involving a comparison between said cow and Ethelbald's wife). But, if it wasn't for the romance of history, I wouldn't be writing this, and you wouldn't be reading it.

Out of the Woods Out of the Woods Burford Burford
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