Questioning Egbert's Edict

John Gillingham challenges an idea, recently presented in History Today, that the Anglo-Saxon King Egbert was responsible for the naming of England.

Depiction of Egbert from the Genealogical Chronicle of the English Kings, a late 13th century manuscript in the British Library.In an ingenious article in the February issue George T. Beech argued that Egbert, the early ninth-century king of the West Saxons, established a kingdom of England almost 200 years before anyone had previously believed that such a place could have existed. He did this on the basis of the entry for 828 in a work known as the Winchester Annals. According to this entry, after defeating the Mercians in battle at Ellendun, Egbert was crowned king of all Britain in Winchester and then, on that same day, ‘issued an edict that henceforth the island should be called England and that the people, whether Jutes or Saxons, should be called by the common name, English’.

Beech acknowledged that the author of these ‘annals’ was a late 12th-century Winchester monk, but disputed the long-established orthodoxy holding that this passage was a later fabrication made some 350 years after the event. Instead Beech argued that this monk had at his disposal a now lost source, which he calls the lost annals of Winchester (Annales Wintonienses deperditi).

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