He held it for one and thirty winters; or so the Anglo Saxon Chronicles say.
Wessex isn’t exactly a county; it is a state of mind. Thomas Hardy wrote all his novels in it, though it is not on the map. In Saxon times, it eventually settled down to being Hampshire, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire; but in the early days, when Cynegils was King, it was located on the Upper River Thames, northern Wiltshire and Somerset, southern Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, and western Berkshire.
Cynegils is mentioned in various writings, not least by Bede. What is left of him – a pile of bones in a gorgeous little ossuary, or bone-box – has for a long time been perched up high on a shelf in Winchester Cathedral, keeping Canute and some of the other early English royalty company. About a year ago, they took all the ossuaries down and gave them a good sort-out. It appears the bones were all jumbled up. Now Cynegils is back in his own box, keeping himself company once more.
He was a relative – contemporaries are shady on the exact relation – of King Ceowulf, and took the throne on the death of the old man in 611.
We know much about his scraps with other British kings: he slew a lot of Welsh folk, but may well have got thrashed by King Penda at Cirencester.
But one thing I do know: a stone’s throw from where I type this, it is highly possible Cyneglis was baptised.
It is said to have been carried out by St Birinus, and witnessed by the King of Northumbria, Oswald.
And it happened at a little place a very short cycle from here, Easthampstead: now a prosaic new-town development filled with little houses and tarmac roads, it has yet held onto its church, St Michael and St Mary Magdalene.
How Cynegils would gape to see how the little place where he was baptised has changed, changed utterly.
I have never seen inside the old place: and today I shall potter down with my friend and take a few snaps of the place where the man buried at Winchester took a step which would turn the whole of Wessex Christian.