Tag Archives: Anglo-Saxons

Hastings or Haestingas?


Hastings must be one of the most known places in England.  Known as the place that William the Conqueror in 1066 defeated Harold and the Normans took control of England.  The history though of Hastings doesn’t start there.  The Haestingas were one of the tribes that settled in the south eastern tip of England sometime before the end of the 8th Century.  Not much is known about the tribe but let’s look at what is.

The foundation legend of South Saxons is given in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle.  The Chronicle states that in the year 477 AD, Aella arrived at a place called Cymenshore in three ships with his three sons.   Cymenshore traditionally is thought to be located around the Selsey area in the south west of Sussex.  However archaeological evidence based on the number of Anglo Saxon cemeteries indicate that around the 5th Century the South Saxons mainly settled the lower Ouse and Cuckmere rivers in East Sussex.

To the east of Pevensey, beyond the Saxon Shore Fort of Anderitum on the other side of the estuary were a group of people that settled and were called the Haestingas.  They gave their name to the town Hastings.  They were believed to a separate group of people than the South Saxons, although there is no archaeological evidence to support the occupation of the area between the 5th and 8th Century AD.  Medieval sources suggest with place name evidence that there were people living there by the late 8th Century AD.

Some of the Anglo Saxon charters from the Kingdom of Sussex do such that there may have been two separate dynasties and people.  The charters of King Northelm who ruled in Sussex in the late 7th Century and early 8th Century AD mention a second King by the name of Watt (or Wattus).  It is suggested that Watt could have been the ruler of the Haestingas.  This is because around the Hastings area there are place names with Watt or What as part of them, but there are no places like this in West Sussex.

Simon of Durham who was a 11th Century monk, records the defeat of the gens Hestingorum (the people of Hastings) by Offa of Mercia in 771.  Mercian overlordship was ended when they were defeated in 825 AD, by Egbert of Wessex at the Battle of Ellandum.  Egbert annexed the territories of Essex, Kent, Surrey and Sussex.  This suggests that by this time the Haestingas had fused together with the South Saxons of Sussex.  Although in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle it states that the Haestingas were harried by the Danes in 1011.  This would mean that they would of maybe kept an unique identity within Sussex, then Wessex and in England as a whole.

The 19th Century AD writer Grant Allen, suggest that the Hastings area was separated to that of Sussex and Kent, only later to join Sussex.  He stated that it was isolated separated from the rest of Sussex and England by the marshland of the Pevensey Levels lying to the west and the forest of Weald in the North.  It was separated from Kent by the Romney Marsh in the east.  He stated that the Kingdom of the Haestingas went on to join Sussex and to become one of traditional ‘rape’ sub-regions of the county.

The actual origin of the Haestingas people is also up for debate.  It is suggested that they may be of Frankish origin and that Watt was a sub-king to the South Saxons.  It may be that the name also gave name to Watten in north east France supporting this claim.  However some say that they may have been of Jutish origin from Kent.  Kent was one of the first places to be converted to Christianity at the beginning of the 7th Century AD, and the simple Christian burial was introduced.  As there is little archaeological evidence of the Saxon Haestingas it could have been they were already converted to Christianity before they moved to the area around Hastings.

Whether they were Saxon or Jutes, it is clear that the people of Haesta (ingas being the Old English for people of) gave the name to Hastings and with that a significant name at a major turning point in England’s history that will be remembered for ever.

De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae

Gildas (c500-c570) was a 6th Century British Cleric and is one of the best documented figures from the Christian church in the British Isles from that time.  He has sometimes been called Gildas Sapiens, ‘Gildas the Wise’.  His major work of note, ‘De Excidio at Conquestu Britanniae’ contains narratives of the post Roman history of Britain and has been classed by some as the only substantial source for history of this period written by a near contemporary.

There are two versions of Gildas life written as the ‘ Lives of Gildas’.  The first was written in the 9th Century by a monk of Rhuys in Brittany, France, while the second was written by Caradoc of Llancarfan in the 12th Century.

The first life of Gildas, written by the unnamed monk, says that Gildas was the son of Camus (Caw), born in a district of Alt Clut in the Hen Ogledd, the Brythonic speaking region of northern Britain.  Alt Clut was the Brittonic name of the area around the modern Dumbarton Rock.  While Hen Ogledd, is a Welsh term for Northern England and Southern Scotland.  Gildas was entrusted into the care of St. Hildutus (Illtud) in the monastic college of Llan Illtud Fawr (near modern day Cardiff) along with Samson of Dol and Paul Aurelian.

To continue with his studies Gildas went to Iren (most scholars believe this to be Ireland, although some have muted it as Cirencester).  St. Brigadda (Bridget of Kildare died 524) asked Gildas for a token, to which he created a bell and sent this to her.  Ainmericus, High King of Ireland (between 566-569) asked Gildas to restore church order which he did.  He then travelled to Rome and to Ravenna and later to Brittany where he eventually settled at Rhuys.  At times during his life at Rhuys he would live in solitude and also built a monastery and an oratory on the bank of the River Blayetum (River Blavet).

Statue of Gildas near the village of Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys (France).

Statue of Gildas near the village of Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys (France).

Ten years after leaving Britain he wrote an epistolary book in which he reproved five of the British kings.  He died at Rhuys on 29th January and as per his wishes his body was laid in a boat on the river and allowed to drift down stream.  Three months after his body had been laid to rest in the river it was later found intact by workers from Rhuys. Gildas was then laid to rest and buried in Rhuys.

In contrast the Llancarfan story was written roughly 300 years later by Caradoc.  Caradoc was friends with Geoffery of Monmouth.  Geoffrey wrote Historia Regum Brtanniae which is popular with the legends of King Arthur. The Llancarfan life reads that Gildas was educated in Gaul and then latter retired to a heritage dedicated to the Trinity in Street, near Glastonbury.  He was buried at Glastonbury Abbey, which is also entwined with the legends of Arthur.

Caradoc tells a story of how Gildas intervened between King Arthur and a certain King Melwas of the ‘Summer County’ (Gwalad yr Haf, Somerset) who had abducted Guinevere and brought her to his stronghold at Glastonbury.  Arthur then travelled to Glastonbury with an army and set to besiege the stronghold.  Gildas persuaded Melwas to surrender Guinevere and on her return Arthur lifted the siege.  Caradoc also writes how the brothers of Gildas rose up against Arthur and refused to accept him as their lord.  Arthur chased the eldest brother Huail ap Caw was killed by Arthur.  Gildas at the time was preaching in Armagh, Ireland and was said to be greatly grieved by the news.  The story of Arthur and Huail was popular at the time and also appeared in the 12th Century Welsh prose tale ‘Culhwch and Olwen’.

According to the dates in the Annales Cambriae Gildas would have been a contemporary of King Arthur.  Although the biggest part that makes me wonder regarding the Llancarfan story and how much truth is spin into the story is that Gildas does not mention Arthur in any of his works.  The Annales Cambriae also gives the date of his death as 570 although the Annals of Tigernach give the year as 569.

Gildas is thought to have lived as a hermit for many years on Flatholm Island in the Bristol Channel.  It was during this time according to Welsh scholars he is said to have preached to Nonnita, the mother of St. David while she was pregnant with the future Saint.  He is also said to be responsible for many of the conversations in Ireland due to his many visits and missionary work he is said to have carried out.

A tradition in North Wales places the beheading of the before mentioned brother Huail at Ruthin.  In Ruthin town square there is a stone that is said to be the same stone used for the execution.   Another brother Celyn ap Caw is said to have been based in the north east corner of Anglesey.

Some state that Gildas is also believed to be the teacher of Finnan of Moville who was in turn the teacher of St. Columba of Iona.

Spring of St Gildas, Magoar, Brittany

Spring of St Gildas, Magoar, Brittany

Gildas’ greatest work ‘De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae;’ was a sermon in three different parts.  Although not written as a piece on history it is one of the only written sources from this period and therefore greatly significant when looking at the history of the period.  It was regularly believed that Gildas wrote his piece during the 540s but it is now regarded that quite possibly it was written earlier in the first quarter of the 6th Century and even possibly earlier than this.  One of the first descriptions of the Hadrians and Antonine Walls are both given in the work, although the history given for both is highly inaccurate.

In the work Gildas gives his date of birth as the same year as the Battle of Mons Badonicus which might of taken place in 482 AD.

The first part consists of an explanation for his work and a brief narrative of Roman Britain from its conquest to the time of Gildas.  It includes a mention of Ambrosius  Aurelianus and the Brition’s victory against the Saxon at the Battle of Mons Badonixus.  The De Excidio is the earliest source that has Ambrosius Aurelianus as an important figure for the Britons who is credited with turning the tide against the Anglo-Saxons conquest of the island.

The second part is a condemnation of five different British kings and is the only contemporary source regarding them.  Gildas describes the Kings as the allegorical beasts from the Christian Apocalypse and the biblical Book of Daniel. The same animals (a lion, a leopard, a bear and a dragon) are later used in less detail in the Book of Revelation.

The Kings mentioned are;

  • Constantine; the tyrannical whelp of the unclean lioness of Dramnonia.’
  • ‘thou lion’s whelp Aurelius Conanus
  • Vortipore….who like to the spotted leopard….tyrant of the Demetians’
  • Cuneglasse…thou bear’
  • ‘dragon of the island….maglocune

In his condemnation Gildas also mentions the other beasts mentioned in the Apocalypse, such as the eagle, serpent, calf and wolf.  Gildas’ reasons for disaffection with the individuals is unknown.

The third part begins with the words ‘Britain has priests, but they are fools; numerous ministers, but they are shameless; clerics, but they are wily plunderers’.  Gildas continues to attack the clergy of the time in the third part but does not mention any names, so does not cast any light of the history of the Christian Church in Britain at the time.

Gildas’ work is important because it gives us an insight into the feelings and thoughts of the time .  Future writers such as Bebe, Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth all take parts of their own writings from the De Excidio.  Also it shows that at the time of his writing that there was an effective Christian Church in Britain and in places as Roman citizens.  By the . time of St. Augustine’s arrival in Kent in 597, England was ruled by pagan Anglo-Saxons who did not see themselves as Romans.

To be able exactly Gildas’ work would assist with trying to pinpoint the transition from post Roman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England.  Although this can’t be done the work of Gildas is very important especially to people interested about post Roman Britain as not many pieces have survived from the period making it so much harder to pinpoint such events.

The Kings of Hwicce

Hwicce was a kingdom in the Heptarchy period of Anglo-Saxon England. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle it became a Kingdom in 577. It lasted until, 628 when it became client or sub-kingdom of Mercia after the Battle of Cirencester.According to the Anglo-Saxon chronicle there was a battle at Dyhmam in 577 in which the Gewisse (West Saxons) under Ceawlin killed three British Kings and captured Gloucester, Cirencester and Bath.

The Kingdom included the majority of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire. Also small parts of Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and the north-west tip of Wiltshire.

Below is a list of different kings who sometimes ruled in tandem with other kings.

Eanhere and Eanfrith, mid 7th century were brothers who were believed to have been kings of the Hwicce. Eanfrith’s daughter Eafe married Aethelwealh, King of Sussex.

Osric, is believed to reigned jointly at points with his brother Oshere. Osric is believed to be the possible son of Eanhere and Osthryth who was daughter of Oswiu of Northumbria. It is claimed that Osric founded two monastic houses. One at Bath, which is now Bath Abbey and the other in Gloucester, now Gloucester Cathedral. Osric was buried at Gloucester Cathedral next to his sister Cyneburh, before the alter of St Petonilla. Cyneburh was the first Abbess. His remains now lie in a medieval tomb in the cathedral.

Oshere, was the believed brother to Osric. He was reigning in 693 when he issued a charter to Abbess Cuthswith, witnessed by his sons Aethelheard, Aethelweard, Aethelberht and Aetheric. It is believed after the death of Osric, that he would of ruled with his sons, including another son Aethelmod.

Aethelheard and Aethelweard together in 692 issued a charter to Abbess Cuthswith and also a charter with King Aethelred of Mercia. Aethelheard was styled ‘rex’ in a list of witnesses to a possible charter issued by King Cenred of Mercia in 709. Aethelweard in 706 granted land to Bishop Ecgwine.

Aethelric, in 706 was granted land with consent of King Cenred of Mercia, and in 736 he witnessed a charter by King Aethelbald of Mercia. In another undated charter he received a grant hiself from Aethelbald.

Eanberht, is said to have ruled along side Uhtred and Ealdred. In 757 the three granted land to Bishop Milred and in 759 to Abbot Headda. Eanberht is then not recorded after 759.

Uhtred and Ealdred, in 770 Uhtred issued a charter to the thegn Athelmund. Ealdred was styled ‘dux’ or duke by King Offa of Mercia, but considered himself king ruling with Earnberht and Uhtred his brothers. In 778 a charter with Offa gave land to Ealdred and after Ealdred’s death Offa then absorbed Hwicce into Mercia.

Ealdred’s successor was Aethelmund but he was only ever named as Earl or Ealdorman of Hwicce, which leads to believe it had integrated into Mercia fully by this time.


Modern day Bath Abbey

Modern day Bath Abbey