The Wessex King

Image Via Wikipedia

Image Via Wikipedia

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.




19 thoughts on “The Wessex King

  1. I do feel the English should have had embedded rules about mucking about with counties. It really does get confusing, especially when doing Genealogical research.
    A good Halloween story would be if on 31st lots of rattling was heard, and on a re-check of ossiaries on the next day the bones were found to be all jumbled again! Sorry, not exactly on the topic of your post, but you see how you stimulate imaginations!

  2. Keep us posted so we can see how much this place has changed in 1,402 years. The shops up the street on Broadway have changed substantially in the 30 years I’ve lived on the Upper West Side. Just sayin’.

  3. i will look forward to the rewards from your field trip, Kate! I marvel at your ability to uncover the stories of ancient kings and monarchies. I have enough trouble keeping American history straight, and that’s a drop in the bucket of time compared to British history. I’m delighted by the story of bone sorting. That the bones were awarded sanctuary yet jumbled up is a mixed message!

    1. It is. History is not always meticulous in its recording methods, is it? Fortunately, I do not have to keep track of all the history, Everyone does it automatically here in the UK, and the chronicles are many and varied. I just pick up the stories 🙂

    1. There are, if memory serves, Gale, six all together, including one for King Canute and one for his wife. Must chase them up and see what has become of them since their official ‘sorting’.

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