Who's Who

King Egbert and the Naming of England

George T. Beech investigates whether a King of Wessex adopted a new name for his country in 828, but failed to implement the change.

John Speed's 17th-century map, 'Britain as it was Dividied in the Tyme of the Englishe Saxons especially during their Heptarchy'. Click to enlarge. In the October 2007 edition of History Today I proposed that people first began to call England by that name early in the 11th century. It was the foreign-born Cnut (r.1016-35) and his advisers who almost certainly promoted this move in an attempt to end the fighting between native English peoples and the Danes by creating a unified country under a single monarch. After having finished that project I was startled to come across the statement of an early 17th-century historian, John Speed, who in his History of Great Britain (1625) wrote:

King Egbert … who by his Edict dated at Winchester an. 819 commanded the same to be called Angle-lond according to the name of the place from whence his ancestors, the Anglo-Saxons, came, which was out of the continent part of Denmarke, lying betwixt Iuitland and Holsatia, where to this day the place retaineth the name Engloen.

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