William Sterling

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England’s Earliest Kings: 1 The Sutton Hoo King and the Bretwaldas

October 9 @ 11:00 am - October 16 @ 1:30 pm


After the Romans left in the C5th AD Britain was slowly conquered by Germanic tribes dividing the country up into about a dozen small kingdoms.  The strongest king was known as the Bretwalda or Britain Ruler.  Was the man buried at Sutton Hoo one of them?

We will examine what happened after the Romans left and which tribes settled where. The Jutes founded the kingdoms of Kent and Wight first but the Saxons then dominated setting up Sussex, Wessex and Essex and some minor kingdoms followed by the Angles in the Midlands and North with Bernicia, Deira, Lindsey, East Anglia, Mercia and others. We will look at the sources of this early history including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the History of Britain by the Venerable Bede as well as archaeological evidence. The first Germans to come to Britain to stay were the brothers Hengist and Horsa of the Jutes, invited by the British king Vortigern but he got more than he bargained for when they decided to set up a new kingdom in Kent.  The most famous king of Kent was the third Bretwalda, Ethelbert who became the first English king to accept Christianity after St Augustine came to his kingdom in 597. Sussex provided the first Bretwalda in the form of King Aelle but it was one of the last to accept Christianity and much of its history is lost. The kingdom of Wessex was founded by King Cerdic who is a direct ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II.  His grandson Ceawlin was the second Bretwalda and a powerful ruler by the standards of the time. East Anglia provided the third Bretwalda, Raedwald, and the most likely candidate for the Sutton Hoo king.  Like Raedwald the fourth to sixth Bretwaldas were Angles, Edwin of Deira and the brothers Oswald and Oswiu of Bernicia. They had powerful rivals in Mercia especially Penda but as a pagan he was exclude from the list by the Christian chroniclers.