The English Counties
The establishment of English counties had already begun by the 12th century
and some date from divisions made by Saxon and Celtic tribes.
In southern England, the counties were formed as subdivisions of the Kingdom of Wessex.
Hampshire is the only county on the south coast of England which usually takes the
It is named after the former town of 'Hamwic', the site of which is now part of the
city of Southampton.
Hamwic was a port and market during the 8th and early 9th centuries during which
period there was an economic resurgence in Anglo-Saxon England.
The Life of St. Willibald states that in 721 he caught the 8th century equivalent
of a cross-channel ferry from a place near Hamwic, which is described as a commercial port.
Hamwic must have possessed considerable administrative importance, to have, by the
middle of the 8th century. given its name to the shire - Hamtunscire, that is, Hampshire.
Saxon Hamwic lay on the west bank of the River Itchen and in1978 The Six Dials
archaeological excavations provided conclusively that Hamwic had
at least 60 Saxon buildings and a planned system of well-maintained,
gravelled streets as well as defined plots and properties. This was crucial evidence as it
showed that the settlement had been created by a centralised authority, probably by the King of Wessex.
Ine was King of Wessex from 688 to 726. He was unable to retain the territorial gains of his
predecessor, Cædwalla, who had brought much of southern England under his control and expanded
West Saxon territory substantially. By the end of Ine's reign the kingdoms of Kent, Sussex and
Essex were no longer under West Saxon domination; however, Ine maintained control of what is now
Hampshire, and consolidated and extended Wessex's territory in the western peninsula.
Ine is noted for his code of laws, which he issued in about 694. These laws were the first
issued by an Anglo-Saxon king outside Kent. They shed light on the history of Anglo-Saxon
society, and reveal Ine's Christian convictions. Trade increased significantly during Ine's
reign, with the town of Hamwic becoming prominent. It was probably during Ine's
reign that the West Saxons began to mint coins, though none have been found that bear his name.
Ine abdicated in 726 to go to Rome, leaving the kingdom to "younger men", in the words of the
contemporary chronicler Bede. He was succeeded by Æthelheard (which roughly translated means 'Noble Stern')
who reigned from 726 to 740.
Ine’s laws survive only because Alfred the Great appended them to his own code of laws.
The oldest surviving manuscript, and only complete copy, is in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and
contains both Alfred’s and Ine’s law codes and the oldest text in existence of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
A Potted History of Hampshire
Archaeological evidence indicates that what became southern Britannia was colonised by
humans long before the rest of the British Isles because of
its more hospitable climate between and during the various ice ages of the distant past.
Stonehenge in Wiltshire, right next to Hampshire, is thought to have been erected
around 2500-2000 BC.
There is widespread evidence of prehistoric settlements, Iron Age hillforts and burial mounds
Hampshire. Flint played a significant role
in the development of life as flint tools were used to clear woodland by
early Neolithic farmers. Towards the end of the Iron Age, and through the Roman periods,
Hampshire was noted for its exports of cereals and wool,
an economy that boomed until the end of the Roman occupation.
In the Roman invasion of Britain, Hampshire was one of the first areas to fall to the invading
Julius Caesar invaded southern Britain in 55 and 54 BC and
wrote in De Bello Gallico that the population of southern Britannia was extremely large.
Until the Roman Conquest of Britain, Britain's British population
was relatively stable, and by the time of Julius Caesar's first invasion, the British population of
what was 'old Britain' was speaking a Celtic language generally thought to be the forerunner of the
modern Brythonic languages. Caesar wrote in De Bello Gallico that the population of southern
Britannia was extremely large.
The Romans began their second conquest of Britain in 43 AD, during the reign of Claudius. They
annexed the whole of modern England and Wales over the next forty years.
In common with other regions on the edge of the empire, Britain had enjoyed diplomatic
and trading links with the Romans in the century since Julius Caesar's expeditions in 55
and 54 BC, and Roman economic and cultural influence was a significant part of the
British late pre-Roman Iron Age, especially in the south.
At the time of the Roman occupation, the region was inhabited by the Regni in the south-east
and the Belgae (who formerly inhabited northeast Gaul and areas of southeast England)
towards the south-west, and the Atrebates in the north. The Roman advance,
undertaken by Vespasian, was early and occupation thorough. There were two major towns,
Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum) in the north and Winchester (Venta Belgae) in the south.
Tacitus (a senator and historian of the Roman Empire) wrote that there was no great
difference in language
between the people of southern Britannia
and northern Gaul.
Roman rule lasted until about 410, when Julius Caesar abandoned Britain, at which time the Romano-British formed various independent kingdoms
and it fell back into the hands of the Britons.
The population of Britain dramatically decreased after the Roman period. The reduction seems to have
been caused mainly by plague and smallpox. It is known that the plague of Justinian entered the
Mediterranean world in the 6th century and first arrived in the British Isles in 544 or 545,
when it reached Ireland.
Invaded by Anglo Saxons
In the wake of the breakdown of Roman rule in Britain, present day England was
progressively settled by Germanic groups. Collectively known as the Anglo-Saxons, these included
Jutes from Jutland together with larger numbers of Frisians, Saxons from northwestern Germany and
Angles from what is now Schleswig-Holstein.
They first invaded Britain in the mid 5th century, continuing for several decades.
The Jutes appear to have been the principal group of settlers in Kent, the Isle of Wight and parts of coastal
Hampshire, while the Saxons predominated in all other areas south of the Thames and in Essex and
Middlesex, and the Angles in Norfolk, Suffolk, the Midlands and the north.
Saxon settlement was relatively easy and Winchester became the capital of Wessex (Silchester
was abandoned). The Isle of Wight and the eastern valley of the Meon were areas of Jutish settlement
and for a while formed part of the kingdom of Sussex. By the 8th century, a harbour of
Hampton had developed near the site of the small Roman port of Bitterne Clausentum (the Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle referred to Hampton-shire). As Wessex flourished, Winchester became the capital of England -
Edward the Confessor was crowned there and many kings, including Alfred and Cnut, buried there.
The Anglo-Saxons gradually gained control of England and became the chief rulers of the land.
By the end of Alfred's reign in 899 he was the only remaining English king, having reduced
Mercia to a dependency of Wessex, governed by his son-in-law Ealdorman Aethelred. Cornwall (Kernow)
was subject to West Saxon dominance, and the Welsh kingdoms recognised Alfred as their overlord.
The Domesday Book & The Middle Ages
Depiction of the Battle of Hastings in 1066 on the Bayeux Tapestry 'The Norman Conquest' led to
change. William ordered the compilation of the Domesday Book,
a survey of the entire population and their lands and property for tax purposes, which reveals that
within twenty years of the conquest the English ruling class had been almost entirely dispossessed
and replaced by Norman landholders, who also monopolised all senior positions in the government and
the Church. William and his nobles spoke and conducted court in Norman French, in England as well as
in Normandy. The use of the Anglo-Norman language by the aristocracy endured for centuries and left
an indelible mark in the development of modern English.
In the course of the 12th century, the capital was removed from Winchester to Westminster, but Winchester retained importance as a bishopric: the new cathedral, the longest in Europe, was begun in 1079.
The connection with Normandy and the continent enhanced Southampton's trade. In the west
of the county, The New Forest was appropriated by William I as a game reserve.
In the Domesday survey of 1086, Winchester and Southampton were clearly important towns, and
Basingstoke, Christchurch, and Stockbridge were of local significance. Portsmouth is not mentioned
by Domesday but was granted a charter in 1194. Its prosperity rose with the establishment of the
Royal Navy. By 1801 it was the ninth largest town in England with more than four times the
population of Winchester. Andover developed as a centre for the north-west of the shire and Basingstoke
for the north-east: each was far enough from Southampton and Portsmouth to have its own sphere of influence.
Though relatively little touched by the industrial revolution, Hampshire changed considerably
19th and 20th centuries. Bournemouth because of the popularity of seaside holidays and
the Isle of Wight also profited, partly no doubt because of the publicity given to
Osborne House. An equally spectacular growth was in the north-east of the county.
The army began building barracks at Aldershot in 1854, transforming a hamlet into a sizeable town,
and Basingstoke's population grew rapidly having been chosen for urban development in 1963.
Hampshire and King Arthur
Winchester was the capital of Wessex,
the home of the Domesday Book and, allegedly, King Arthur's 'round table'.
It was the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Wessex and by the late 9th Century,
the main city in King Alfred's kingdom, and the core of the street layout of today can be attributed to Alfred.
As one of only two walled cities of Hampshire, Winchester
remained the capital of Wessex, and then
England, until some time after the Norman Conquest. Indeed, the fact that it was walled stresses its
importance. The West Gate survives to this day.
The exact date of transfer from Winchester to London is
unclear, but there is no doubt that the
Normans saw Winchester as a symbol of England's Saxon past -
a past that they were keen to wipe out.
The Great Hall can be found in Winchester in Hampshire and
is the first and finest of all
13th century halls, with the greatest symbol of medieval mythology, 'The Round Table of King Arthur'.
King Arthur, according to medieval history, led the defence of Britain against the Saxon invaders in the early 6th century.
and the first written accounts of the Arthurian story appeared in 1130 in Geoffrey of
Monmouth's 'History of the Kings of Britain', which maintains that Merlin had the
15-year-old Arthur crowned at nearby Silchester.
Unfortunately so much of Arthur's story is folklore and fictional fantasy
that his existence is doubted by today's historians.
It is, however, usual for this historic period to be undocumented, passed by word of mouth,
that it is to be expected that there is now a section of literature named 'Arthurian' that
we want to belive whilst a small voice tells us that it is probably as accurate as our
televised stories of Robin Hood.
But Arthur is mentioned by many in historical documents including those of Gildas, Nennius and
the Annales Cambriae.
Fact or Fiction?
Nennius was an 8th century historian who was said to be 'unrestrainedly inventive'
but Nennius did have access to no-longer available 5th century sources and as such we cannot
be sure that he wasn't being factual when he wrote:
"Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain,
fought against the Saxons. And though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve
times chosen their commander, and was as often conqueror. The first battle in which he was
engaged, was at the mouth of the river Gleni. The second, third, fourth, and fifth, were on
another river, by the Britons called Duglas, in the region Linuis. The sixth, on the river
Bassas. The seventh in the wood Celidon, which the Britons call Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth
was near Gurnion castle, where Arthur bore the image of the Holy Virgin, mother of God, upon
his shoulders, and through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the holy Mary, put the
Saxons to flight, and pursued them the whole day with great slaughter. The ninth was at
te City of Legion, which is called Cair Lion. The tenth was on the banks of the river
Trat Treuroit. The eleventh was on the mountain Breguoin, which we call Cat Bregion.
The twelfth was a most severe contest, when Arthur penetrated to the hill of Badon.
In this engagement, nine hundred and forty fell by his hand alone, no one but the Lord
affording him assistance. In all these engagements the Britons were successful. For no
strength can avail against the will of the Almighty."
Arthur's name also occurs in 'The Gododdin', probably the oldest surviving British poem, by
the poet Aneirin at the end of the 6th century and recorded in a 13th century Welsh manuscript.
Set in Yorkshire 'The Gododdin' is an epic tale about the Scottish Celts
whose enemies were Germanic settlers
who regarded themselves as English.
They held a bloody battle in Catterick.
At the beginning of the 5th century, the kings of Britain declared independence from the
crumbling Roman empire which
had been raided by German pirates for years along the North Sea coast.
The raids grew steadily worse, until the British High King decided to invite a group of
Germanic mercenaries to help fight off their cousins, promising to pay them well and to give
them the Isle of Thanet in Kent.
This proved to be a disastrous mistake. The mercenaries revolted, called for
reinforcements from over the grey sea and established their own English kingdom in Kent.
Over the next hundred and fifty years, the future of the island hung in the balance.
More tribes arrived to set up new Germanic kingdoms along the south and east coast.
The Britons were weakened by a series of plagues in the old Roman cities, by quarrelling
and civil war between rival petty kingdoms, and by the emigration of many thousands of their
wealthier families to more peaceful lands, particularly Brittany, whose traditional Breton
tongue can still be more or less understood by Welsh speakers.
In spite of this, those who remained resisted the advance of the Angles and Saxons doggedly.
There is little doubt that the legend of King Arthur has its roots in a real great leader who
organised a series of British victories which came close to driving the invaders back into the
and Arthur became a household name as early as 600 AD.
After a generation of uneasy peace the English advance began again.
It is thought that the Britons of the south and east were exterminated or left and
by 597 AD the Britons of the north were desperate.
Mynyddog, King of the Gododdin, the British tribe inhabiting south east Scotland,
decided on a crusade to turn back the English tide before it was too late.
They marched south to their doom in 598 AD.
Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur
Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur was published in 1485
and depicted Arthur as a king of Britain who defeated the Saxons
and established an empire over the British Isles, Iceland, Norway and Gaul.
This monumental work made the Arthurian cycle available for the first time in English. Malory
took a body of legends from Celtic folklore that had been adapted into French literature, gave
them an English perspective, and produced a work which ever since has had tremendous
influence upon literature.
The story begins with King Uther Pendragon's use of enchantment to lay with Igraine, Duchess
of Cornwall. Arthur is conceived and taken away in secret, returning as a young man to claim
the throne by pulling the sword Excalibur from the stone. In retelling the story of Arthur's rule
of Britain, Malory intertwines the romances of Guinevere and Launcelot, Tristram and Isolde,
and Launcelot and Elaine. Sir Galahad's appearance at Camelot begins the quest for the Holy
Grail. Finally, Camelot is brought down by the conflict between King Arthur and his natural son,
Malory tells that just before the mortally-wounded Arthur passes from this world to Avalon,
Arthur instructs Sir Bedivere (Bedwyr) to throw his sword Excalibur into the nearby water.
Bedivere does not wish to lose such a precious sword, so he returns to Arthur twice having put
the sword away out of sight. Each time Arthur asks what Bedivere saw when he threw the sword into the water.
Bedivere lies twice and said the water merely moved. Nearly cursing him, the dying Arthur commands one last time.
This time Bedivere obeys and throws the sword as far as he can over the water:
"and there came an arm and a hand above the water and met it and caught it, and so shook it
thrice and brandished it, and then vanished away the hand with the sword in the water."
rthur is then taken away to Avalon through the mist by the beautiful women in black on the
barges. Their mourning belies Arthur’s last words that he will go to Avalon to be healed and return if possible.
In the Celtic world, springs, lakes and marshes are sacred places that are intermediaries between
the living and the dead.
When Arthur’s sword Excalibur is returned to the Lady of the Lake, this is most likely associated
with a common Celtic ritual.
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth is believed to have been a learned man, a Master at the College of St. George
He produced 'Historia Regum Britaniae' (The History of the Kings of Britain)
which he claimed drew heavily upon an "ancient book"
loaned to him by Walter, Archbishop of Oxford.
Geoffrey's work came at a time when England was beeing
torn apart by civil war as King Stephen and Queen Maude struggled for ascendancy.
Within his account of his Celtic ancestor's great deeds, Geoffrey provides the first complete
version of the King Arthur legend then present in the folk tales of Wales and Brittany.
Nobody has suggested that Geoffrey invented the King Arthur legends, only that
he gathered myths and historical facts and retold the stories in a more 'modern' way.
He was probably also responsible for Vita Merlini, The Life of Merlin,
which appeared around 1150.
Together, these volumes gave a sense of national
identity to the Saxon, Norman, and British inhabitants of the British Isles.
It is therefore believed that there was a firm basis of historical fact beneath
the romantic tales of Arthur and Merlin.
Many of Geoffrey's tales have been proven by modern archaeological research
to be founded in fact - Geoffrey refers to contact between the British leader Pascent
and the Irish and this was long thought to have been a fictional invention
but recent discoveries of stones in Wales bearing Irish ogham inscriptions tend
to support the tale.
In fact, many elements and incidents that are now an integral part of the Arthurian story appear in
Geoffrey's Historia, including Arthur's father Uther Pendragon, adviser Merlin,
the sword Excalibur, his birth at Tintagel and his death at Camlann and final rest in Avalon.
The 12th-century French writer Chrétien de Troyes, who added Lancelot and the Holy Grail to the story,
began the genre of Arthurian romance that became a significant strand of medieval literature.
In these French stories, the narrative focus often shifts from King Arthur himself to other characters,
such as various Knights of the Round Table.
Alfred the Great
King Alfred the Great, the first King of the Anglo Saxons ruled from 871 to 899 and was the only
English monarch to be given the nickname 'The Great'.
He was the most famous of the Saxon monarchs of Wessex and is considered
to be the force behind the formation of the modern city. Hampshire is steeped
in this great King's history.
Before Alfred, his elder brothers Æthelbald, Ethelbert and Ethelred all reigned as King.
In 871 Alfred succeeded to the throne of Wessex and the Danes were battling although there was
a respite for 5 years when peace was made and the Danes occupied other
parts of England.
In 876, with a new leader, Guthrum, the Danes attacked Wareham in Dorset.
They moved westwards and took Exeter in Devon where Alfred defeated them.
The Danes withdrew to Mercia but, in January 878, made
a sudden attack on Chippenham, a royal stronghold in which Alfred had been staying over
Christmas, "and most of the people they reduced, except the King Alfred, and he
with a little band made his way by wood and swamp, and after Easter he made a fort at
Athelney, and from that fort kept fighting against the foe" .
A popular legend originating from early twelfth century chronicles,
tells how Alfred was given shelter by a peasant woman who, unaware of his identity, left
him to watch some cakes she had
left cooking on the fire. Preoccupied with the problems of his kingdom, Alfred
accidentally let the cakes burn and was taken to task by the woman upon her return.
When she realised the king's identity, the woman apologised but Alfred insisted
that he was the one who needed to apologise. From his fort at Athelney
Alfred was able to mount an effective resistance movement while rallying the
local militia from Somerset, Wiltshire and Hampshire.
Disguised As A Minstrel
The Vikings threatened to overrun the whole of England, and the King of Mercia fled
overseas, as did many West Saxons.
On the verge of total disaster, in early 878 AD, Alfred the Great was surrounded in the marshes of
Athelney in Somerset, almost finished but he re-formed his army and defeated the Vikings later
that year at Edington in Wiltshire.
Another story relates how Alfred disguised himself as a minstrel in order to gain entry to Guthrum's
camp and discover his plans. This supposedly led to the Battle of Edington in Wiltshire.
The result was a decisive victory for Alfred. The Danes submitted and, according to Asser, Guthrum
and 29 of his chief men received baptism when they signed the Treaty of Wedmore. As a result,
England became split in two: the southwestern half was kept by the Saxons, and the northeastern
half including London, thence known as the Danelaw, was kept by the Vikings. By the following year
(879), both Wessex and Mercia, west of Watling Street, were cleared of the invaders.
Due to the Danish threat during Alfred's reign he
fortified Winchester by planning a layout surrounded by a city wall.
The Old East Gate may still be seen today, just beside Alfred's statue.
Winchester was Alfred's capital of
After the peace that Alfred forced on the Vikings, the Viking army seems to have moved across
the Channel which gave the king time to organise for war.
The Danes had been staying in England between raids and moving around attacking
and retreating to their established strongholds or taking over new bases.
Alfred established of a system of fortified centres (burhs) with warriors to defend them, covering
the whole of Wessex.
No part of Wessex was to be more than 20 miles from a burh, and many had huge garrisons.
These fortified centres were the most significant legacy of Alfred to his kingdom.
He built fortresses, established a defence strategy, and built up a navy. The
Vikings returned in the 890s and the West Saxons fought back.
The Viking invasions had destroyed several of the ancient English kingdoms,
the Northumbrians and the East Angles and when Alfred died in 899 AD he
was king of the only remaining independent English kingdom.
The Wessex Dynasty
Alfred ordered the compilation of the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle',
a major source of information and it was also in King Arthur's time that the Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle was published, the first English newspaper which reported all his victories.
Despite Winchester's association with King Alfred, no one has ever found his remains. Thanks to
excavations at the end of the 1990s, the location of a medieval abbey church was identified at
Hyde and this was recognised as the last known
resting place of Alfred the Great. Kim Wilkie, one of the foremost landscape architects in
the UK, has designed a contemporary garden to mark the site. Sadly, the bodies of Alfred,
his Queen and his son which were buried here have still not been found.
King Alfred was succeeded by his son Edward the Elder. By the 910s Edward was
strong enough to embark on the military conquest of the Midlands and East Anglia,
enforcing southern English rule over the lands up to the Humber.
The Wessex dynasty emerged as the winner - the people of Wessex had defeated the
Vikings and eventually, during the
tenth century, incorporated all areas into a kingdom of England under a king of all