Dating the Wessex generations

Below is a table that dates the Wessex genealogies up to Alfred’s time.

Gen. Reign Obit Gen. obit Deviation
18 Alfred 899 889 10
17 Æthelwulf 858 862 -4
16 Egbert 839 836 3
12 Ine 728 729 -1
11 Cædwalla 688 702 -3
10 Centwine 685 676 -14
9 Cynegils 642 649 9
8 Ceolwulf 611 622 -11
7 Ceawlin 588 596 -8
6 Cynric 581 569 12
5 Creoda/Cerdic 554 542 12
4 Elesa/Esla 516
3 Giwis/Wig 489
2 Brond 462
1 Bældæg 436
0 Woden 409

The generations have been arrived at by using the following structure:

Yorke, B., 2003

Each generation has been dated using the obit of the individual ruler who died last in that particular generation. So, for example Alfred’s obit has been used rather than those of his brothers. With Saxon pedigrees, unlike Welsh ones where the crown generally passed down to the next generation, it was not unusual for it to go to a sibling. There are gaps in the generations, for example between Egbert of gen. 16 and Ine of gen. 12 as we do not have the obits of the intervening rulers. Note, the obits of Ceawlin, Cynric and Cerdic are not those indicated by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle but instead the values obtained by Dumville’s correction. The zero generation is that ascribed to Woden, unlike the tables for the British kings which uses Arthur’s generation. The two sets cannot be synchronised since they use differing step-sizes.

The analysis shows that for Wessex the generation step-size was 26.7 years. The deviation column shows how far the individuals obit differs from that ascribed to the generation to which he belongs. Most deviations should be less than half a step-size and indeed this is the case.

Cotton MS Tiberius B V 1 British Library

As Sisam noted Elesa/Esla and Giwis/Wig are alliterative pairs for the same individuals. To this list has been added another pair, namely Creoda/Cerdic. The generation obit values for Elesa to Woden are estimated values using the step-size given above. It will be noted that Esla was a contemporary of Arthur. This together with the similarity of names allows us to be fairly confident that he was Osla Gyllellfawr. Sisam points out that the name Esla is unknown in English.[1] This may indicate its British origin. He says Elesa is also unknown unless it is etymologically the same as Elsa in Widsith.[2]

The postulate that there were two Wessex dynasties resolves the paradox that although the ASC tells us Wessex originated from the South coast with Cerdic, the oldest Saxon sites are around the upper Thames valley and the founder was a Giwis.

[1] Stanley, E. G., 1990, 164.
[2] Sisam, K., 1953, 302.

Arthurian connections with Ewyas and Ergyng

In Culhwch ac Olwen,during his chase, Twrch Trwyth killed Llygadrudd Emys and Gwrfoddw, Arthur’s uncles, his mother’s brothers. The latter name appears in that of Gwrfoddw Hen, king of Ergyng, but he appears to be a later ruler. However, Welsh dynasties often preserved the same name, so Gwrfoddw Hen may have been a descendant. This suggests Eigr, Gwrfoddw’s sister, could have come from that region.

Ergyng may have covered parts of Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire. The Brut y Brenhinedd calls Eudaf, an ancestor of Arthur, as “Eudaf yarll ergig ac euas”, that is Earl of Ewyas and Ergyng. However, Geoffrey refers to him anachronistically as “Octavius dux Wisseorum”, presumably the territorial name being derived from Welsh Ewyas.

Magnus Maximus had a daughter, named Sevira, by Elen, daugther of Eudaf. It was through Gwrtheyrn’s marriage with Sevira that he gained control of the territory that was to become known as Ewyas. Geoffrey referred to him as the “Consol Gewissiorum”. He invited Germanic warriors to settle in the Abingdon area to help defend attacks on his territory in Ergyng. The ASC confuses this event with the later settlement in Kent. The name for Gwent is easily confused with that for Kent. Gwrtheyrn locating the Gewisse, a Saxon tribe, in the upper Thames valley made logistical sense, as his opponent, Emrys Wledig i.e. Aurelius Ambrosius, was based in the Wiltshire area. Located in that county is the village of Amesbury, formerly known as “Ambres byrig” in the Cartularium Saxonicum.[1] It is likely that the East Wansdyke earthwork was built by the Britons as a defense against attack from the north.

Cerdic is attributed in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as the founder of the Wessex dynasty. However, as Dumville has pointed out, his reign started later than the chronicle suggests. In fact, he belonged to a second Wessex dynasty. The first dynasty was founded by the eponymous ruler, Wig/Giwis, the two names being, as Sisam explains, alliterative pairs. His reign was followed by that of Esla/Elesa. The latter is known as Osla Gyllellfawr, whose defeat by Arthur brought the first Wessex dynasty to an end. For obvious reasons, this disaster goes unmentioned in the ASC.

[1] Birch, W. de G., 1887, 178.