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Kingdom of Sussex

The Kingdom of Sussex, (Suth Seaxe, i.e. the South Saxons), was one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the boundaries of which coincided in general with those of the earlier kingdom of the Regnenses and the later county of Sussex. A large part of that district, however, was covered in early times by the forest called Andred. It was ruled by the kings of Sussex.

History

Foundation

According to the traditional account given in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it was in 477 that a certain Ælle led the invaders ashore at a place called Cymenes ora and defeated the inhabitants. A further battle at a place called Mearcredes burne is recorded under the year 485, and in the annal for 491 we read that Ælle and his son Cissa sacked Anderitum (Pevensey Castle) and slew all the inhabitants. Ælle is the first king of the invading race whom Bede describes as exercising supremacy over his fellows, though little weight can be attached to the dates and events given by the Chronicle, which was not compiled until some centuries later..

7th century

The history of Sussex now becomes a blank until 607, in which year Ceolwulf of Wessex is found fighting against the South Saxons. In 681 Wilfrid of York, on his expulsion from Northumbria by Ecgfrith, retired into Sussex, where he remained until 686 converting its pagan inhabitants. According to Bede, Æðelwealh, king of Sussex, had been previously baptized in Mercia at the suggestion of Wulfhere, who presented him with the Isle of Wight and the district about the Meon. After Wilfrid's exertions in relieving a famine which occurred in Sussex, Æðelwealh gave lands in Selsey to him on which to found Selsey Abbey, that later became the seat of the South Saxon bishopric, and remained so until 1075.

Shortly afterwards, however, Æðelwealh was slain and his kingdom ravaged by the exiled West Saxon prince Caedwalla. The latter was eventually expelled by two Ealdormen named Berhthun and Andhun, who thereupon assumed the government of the kingdom. In 686 the South Saxons attacked Hlothhere, king of Kent, in support of his nephew Eadric, but soon afterwards Berhthun was killed and the kingdom subjugated for a time by Ceadwalla, who had now become king of Wessex.

Of the later South Saxon kings we have little knowledge except from occasional charters. In 692 a grant is made by a king called Noðhelm, or Nunna, to his sister, which is witnessed by another king called Watt. Nunna is described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as the kinsman of Ine of Wessex who fought with him against Geraint, King of the Britons, in 710. According to Bede, Sussex was subject to Ine for a number of years.

8th century

A charter , dated 775 in error for 725, purports to be a grant by Noðhelm to Eadberht, Bishop of Selsey, and to this too Watt appears as a witness. But this charter is now believed to be a forgery from the late 10th century or early 11th century, and is therefore of no value.

There is an undated charter of Noðhelm that is witnessed by a certain Osric, without indication of rank or territory, but presumably another king, as his name is listed before, and he therefore ranked higher than, Eadberht, Bishop of Selsey, whose rank and see are also omitted. The charter can be approximately dated to some point between about 705 and 717.

Noðhelm’s last surviving charter, which is dated 714 in error for 717, , is witnessed by a King Æðelstan.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that "In 722 Ealdberht fled into Surrey and Sussex, and Ine fought against the South Saxons".

A little later, Æðelberht, was King of Sussex, but he is known only from charters. The dates of Æðelberht’s reign are unknown beyond the fact that he was a contemporary of Sigeferth, Bishop of Selsey from 733, as Sigeferth witnessed an undated charter of Æðelberht in which Æðelberht is styled Ethelbertus rex Sussaxonum.

After this we hear nothing more until about 765, when a grant of land is made by a king named Ealdwulf and with two other kings, Ælfwald and Oslac, as witnesses.

In 765 and 770 grants are made by a King Osmund, the latter of which was later confirmed by Offa of Mercia.

Offa also confirmed two charters of Æðelberht, and in 772 he grants land himself in Sussex, with Oswald, dux Suðsax', as a witness. It is probable that about this time Offa annexed the kingdom of Sussex, as several persons, Osmund, Ælfwald and Oslac, who had previously used the royal title, now sign with that of dux.

9th century

In 825 the South Saxons submitted to Ecgberht, and from this time they remained subject to the West Saxon dynasty. The earldom of Sussex seems later to have been held sometimes with that of Kent.

900-1066

The death of Eadwine, Ealdorman of Sussex, is recorded in 982, because he was buried at Abingdon Abbey in Berkshire, where one version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was compiled. According to the abbey’s records, in which he was called princeps Australium Saxonum, Eadwinus nomine, he bequeathed estates to them in his will, although the document itself has not survived. Earlier in the same year he witnessed a charter of King Ethelred the Unready as Eaduuine dux. His name was also added to a forged charter dated 956 (possibly an error for 976)

In the next generation, Wulfnoth Cild, Thegn of Sussex, played a prominent part in English politics. In 1009 his actions resulted in the destruction of the English fleet, and by 1011 Sussex, together with most of South East England, was in the hands of the Danes. In an early example of local government reform, the Anglo-Saxon ealdormanrys were abolished by the Danish kings and replaced a smaller number of larger earldoms. Wulfnoth Cild was the father of Godwin, who was made Earl of Wessex in 1020. His earldom included Sussex. When he died in 1053, Godwin was succeeded as Earl of Wessex (including Sussex) by his son Harold, who had previously been Earl of East Anglia.

Links and references

  • Based on a 1911 encyclopedia article.

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