Hwicce is Old English for trunk or chest, cognate with the modern hutch, though the reasons for its adoption are unknown. The name survives in Wychwood in Oxfordshire, Whichford in Warwickshire, Wichenford and Wychbury Hill in Worcestershire and the modern Wychavon district (also Worcestershire).
The territory of the Hwicce roughly corresponded to the Roman civitas of the Dobunni. The area appears to have remained largely British in the first century or so after Britannia left the Roman Empire, but pagan burials and place-names in its north-eastern sector suggest an inflow of Angles along the Warwickshire Avon and perhaps outher routes, who may have exacted tribute from British rulers.
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle there was a battle at Dyrham in 577 in which the West Saxons under Ceawlin killed three British kings and captured Gloucester, Cirencester and Bath. West Saxon occupation of the area did not last long, however, and may have ended as early as 584 and the Battle of Fethan leag, though certainly by 603 when, according to Bede, Saint Augustine attended a conference of Welsh bishops "at St. Augustine's Oak on the borders of the Hwicce and the West Saxons" thereby confirming that the Hwicce and West Saxons were separate. The Angles strengthened their influence still further over the area in 628, when (says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), the West Saxons fought the (Anglian) Penda of Mercia at Cirencester and afterwards came to terms. Penda had evidently won, but he had probably forged an alliance with local leaders, for the former Dobunnic polity did not immediately become part of Mercia. Instead it became the allied or client kingdom of the Hwicce.
The first probable kings of whom we read were two brothers, Eanhere and Eanfrith. Bede notes that Queen Eafe "had been baptised in her own country, the kingdom of the Hwicce. She was the daughter of Eanfrith, Eanhere's brother, both of whom were Christians, as were their people. From this we deduce that Eanfrith and Eanhere were of the royal family and that theirs was a Christian kingdom.
It is likely that the Hwicce were converted to Christianity by the British Church, rather than the mission from Pope Gregory I, since Bede was well-informed on the latter and does not mention the conversion of the Hwicce. Though place-names show that Anglo-Saxon settlement was widespread in the territory, the limited spread of pagan burials suggest that British Christianity survived the influx, as do two eccles place names. There are also probable British Christian burials beneath Worcester Cathedral and St Mary de Lode, Gloucester. So it seems that incoming Anglo-Saxons were absorbed into the existing Church. The ruling dynasty of the Hwicce were probably key figures in the process. Perhaps they sprang from intermarriage between Anglian and British leading families.
By a complex chain of reasoning, we can deduce that Eanhere married Osthryth, daughter of Oswiu of Northumbria and had sons by her named Osric, Oswald and Oshere. Osthryth is recorded as the wife of Æthelred of Mercia. An earlier marriage to Eanhere would explain why Osric and Oswald are described as Æthelred's nepotes — usually translated as nephews or grandsons, but here probably meaning stepsons.
Osric was anxious for the Hwicce to gain their own bishop, S51, but it was Oshere whose influence was seen behind the creation of the see of Worcester in 679–80. Presumably Osric was dead by that time. Tatfrid of Whitby was chosen as the first bishop of the Hwicce, but died before ordination, so he was replaced by Bosel. A 12th-century chronicler of Worcester comments that Worcester was selected as the seat of the bishop because it was the capital of the Hwicce.
Oshere was succeeded by his sons Æthelheard, Æthelweard and Æthelric. At the beginning of Offa's reign we find the kingdom ruled by three brothers, named Eanberht, Uhtred and Aldred, the two latter of whom lived until about 780. After them the title of king seems to have been given up. Their successor Æthelmund, who was killed in a campaign against Wessex in 802, is described only as an earl.
The district remained in possession of the rulers of Mercia until the fall of that kingdom. Together with the rest of English Mercia it submitted to King Alfred about 877–883 under Earl Æthelred, who possibly himself belonged to the Hwicce.
No contemporary genealogy or list of kings has been preserved, so the following list has been compiled by historians from a variety of primary sources. Some kings of the Hwicce seem to have reigned in tandem for all or part of their reign. This gives rise to an overlap in the dates of reigns given below. Please consult individual biographies for a discussion of the dating of these rulers.
|628||Kingdom conquered by Penda of Mercia.|
|Eanfrith||mid-7th century||Brother of Eanhere.|
|Osric||active 670s||Entombed in Gloucester Cathedral.|
|Oshere||active 690s||Brother of Osric. Died before 716.|
|Æthelheard||active 709||Son of Oshere. Issued charter with Æthelweard.|
|Æthelweard||active 709||Son of Oshere.|
|Æthelric||active 736||Son of Oshere.|
|Eanberht||active 750s||Not recorded after 759.|
|Uhtred||active 750s - 779|
|Ealdred||active 750s - 778|
|780s||Assimilation of the Hwicce into Mercia is completed.|
|Æthelmund||c. 796-802||Died in battle 802.|
|?Æthelric||fl. 804||Son of Æthelmund. His will of 804 requests burial at Deerhurst.|
|Leofwine||d.c.1023||Father of Leofric, Earl of Mercia|
|Odda||d.1056||Built Odda's Chapel at Deerhurst for the soul of his brother Ælfric. Buried at Pershore. The area of his jurisdiction probably did not include the Hwicce.|
Æthelmod granted land to Abbess Beorngyth in October 680 and was probably a member of the royal family.
Osred (c. 693) was a thegn of the Hwicce, who has been described by some historians as a king.