The Rise of Wessex

After the Romans left and the Anglo-Saxons arrived, the south-west of England became the predominant kingdom. William Seymour traces the growth of the Kingdom of Wessex from the early sixth century.

The centuries that followed the withdrawal of the Pax Romana were in Britain, as elsewhere in Europe, marked by the turmoil and distress known to history as the Dark Ages, in which war, murder and royal strife left their curse behind.

And yet these years, from the arrival of Hengist and Horsa in AD 449 to the predominance of Wessex some 450 years later, were the most formative in the emergence of the English race. Wessex gained the mastery partly because of her geographical position, but principally through the courage and skill of her middle kings, and in particular the genius of King Alfred. But it was a hard struggle.

As the Roman empire began to crumble, savage tribes from all over Europe moved in for the kill. In our own island, resistance to the invaders by the native Celts and Britons was spasmodic; but we know it existed, even if the details are vague. Legendary heroes such as the Romano-British chiefs Ambrosius Aurelianus and Arturius1 fought bravely and at times successfully; although even such notable victories as that at Mount Badon (c 500) could do little more than check the invaders.

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