The Hwicce (also spelt "Hwicca" or "Wiccia") were one of the peoples of Anglo-Saxon England. The exact boundaries of their kingdom are uncertain, though it is likely that they coincided with those of the old Diocese of Worcester, founded in 679–80, the early bishops of which bore the title "Episcopus Hwicciorum". The kingdom would therefore have included
Worcestershireexcept the northwestern tip, Gloucestershireexcept the Forest of Dean, the southwestern half of Warwickshire, the neighbourhood of Bath north of the Avon, plus small parts of Herefordshire, Shropshireand Staffordshire. [Della Hooke, "The Kingdom of the Hwicce" (1985), pp.12-13]
Old Englishfor trunk or chest, cognate with the modern hutch, though the reasons for its adoption are unknown. The name survives in Wychwoodin Oxfordshire, Whichfordin Warwickshire, Wichenford and Wychbury Hillin Worcestershireand the modern Wychavondistrict (also Worcestershire).
The territory of the Hwicce roughly corresponded to the Roman civitas of the
Dobunni. [J. Manco, [http://www.buildinghistory.org/bath/saxon/dobunni.htm Saxon Bath: The Legacy of Rome and the Saxon Rebirth] , "Bath History", vol. 7 (1998).] The area appears to have remained largely British in the first century or so after Britannialeft the Roman Empire, but pagan burials and place-names in its north-eastern sector suggest an inflow of Anglesalong the Warwickshire Avon and perhaps outher routes, [D.Hooke, "The Anglo-Saxon Landscape: The Kingdom of the Hwicce" (Manchester, 1985), pp.8–10; Sims-Williams, 'St Wilfred and two charters dated AD 676 and 680', "Journal of Ecclesiastical History", Vol. 39, part 2 (1988), p.169.] who may have exacted tribute from British rulers. [N.Higham, "The English Conquest: Gildas and Britain in the fifth century" (Manchester, 1994), chaps. 2, 5.]
According to the "
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" there was a battle at Dyrham in 577 in which the West Saxons under Ceawlin killed three British kings and captured Gloucester, Cirencesterand Bath. West Saxon occupation of the area did not last long, however, and may have ended as early as 584 and the Battle of Fethan leag, though certainly by 603 when, according to Bede, Saint Augustine attended a conference of Welsh bishops "at St. Augustine's Oak on the borders of the Hwicce and the West Saxons" thereby confirming that the Hwicce and West Saxons were separate. The Angles strengthened their influence still further over the area in 628, when (says the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle"), the West Saxons fought the (Anglian) Penda of Merciaat Cirencester and afterwards came to terms. Penda had evidently won, but he had probably forged an alliance with local leaders, for the former Dobunnic polity did not immediately become part of Mercia. Instead it became the allied or client kingdom of the Hwicce.
The first probable kings of whom we read were two brothers,
Eanhereand Eanfrith. Bede notes that Queen Eafe"had been baptised in her own country, the kingdom of the Hwicce. She was the daughter of Eanfrith, Eanhere's brother, both of whom were Christians, as were their people." [Bede, "The Ecclesiastical History of the English People" ed. J.McClure and R.Collins (Oxford, 1994), p.193.] From this we deduce that Eanfrith and Eanhere were of the royal family and that theirs was a Christian kingdom.
It is likely that the Hwicce were converted to Christianity by the British Church, rather than the mission from
Pope Gregory I, since Bede was well-informed on the latter and does not mention the conversion of the Hwicce. [J. Manco, [http://www.buildinghistory.org/bath/saxon/dobunni.htm Saxon Bath: The Legacy of Rome and the Saxon Rebirth] , "Bath History", vol. 7 (1998).] Though place-names show that Anglo-Saxon settlement was widespread in the territory, the limited spread of pagan burials suggest that British Christianity survived the influx, as do two "eccles" place names. There are also probable British Christian burials beneath Worcester Cathedraland St Mary de Lode, Gloucester. [C. Thomas, "Christianity in Roman Britain to AD 500" (1981), pp.253–71; Hooke, p.10; C. Heighway, 'Saxon Gloucester' in J. Haslam ed., "Anglo-Saxon Towns in Southern England" (Chichester, 1984), p.375.] So it seems that incoming Anglo-Saxons were absorbed into the existing Church. The ruling dynasty of the Hwicce were probably key figures in the process. Perhaps they sprang from intermarriage between Anglian and British leading families.
By a complex chain of reasoning, we can deduce that Eanhere married
Osthryth, daughter of Oswiu of Northumbriaand had sons by her named Osric, Oswald and Oshere. Osthryth is recorded as the wife of Æthelred of Mercia. An earlier marriage to Eanhere would explain why Osric and Oswald are described as Æthelred's "nepotes" — usually translated as nephews or grandsons, but here probably meaning stepsons. [John Leland, "Collectanea", vol. 1, p. 240. ]
Osric was anxious for the Hwicce to gain their own bishop, [http://www.anglo-saxons.net/hwaet/?do=get&type=charter&id=51 S51] , but it was Oshere whose influence was seen behind the creation of the see of Worcester in 679–80. Presumably Osric was dead by that time. Tatfrid of Whitby was chosen as the first bishop of the Hwicce, but died before ordination, so he was replaced by Bosel. [Bede, "The Eccesiastical History of the English People", ed. J. McClure and R. Collins (1994), p. 212; "Chronicle of John of Worcester" ed. and trans. R.R. Darlington, J. Bray and P. McGurk (Oxford 1995), 136–8.] A 12th-century chronicler of Worcester comments that Worcester was selected as the seat of the bishop because it was the capital of the Hwicce. ["The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester" in "The Church Historians of England" ed. and trans. J. Stevenson, vol. 2, p.379.]
Oshere was succeeded by his sons Æthelheard, Æthelweard and Æthelric. At the beginning of
Offa's reign we find the kingdom ruled by three brothers, named Eanberht, Uhtredand Aldred, the two latter of whom lived until about 780. After them the title of king seems to have been given up. Their successor Æthelmund, who was killed in a campaign against Wessex in 802, is described only as an earl.
The district remained in possession of the rulers of Mercia until the fall of that kingdom. Together with the rest of English Mercia it submitted to King Alfred about 877–883 under Earl Æthelred, who possibly himself belonged to the Hwicce.
Kings of the Hwicce
No contemporary genealogy or list of kings has been preserved, so the following list has been compiled by historians from a variety of primary sources. ["The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England", ed. M. Lapidge (Blackwell 1999), 507.] Some kings of the Hwicce seem to have reigned in tandem for all or part of their reign. This gives rise to an overlap in the dates of reigns given below. Please consult individual biographies for a discussion of the dating of these rulers.
Ealdormen of the Hwicce
Other notables of the Hwicce
Æthelmodgranted land to Abbess Beorngyth in October 680 and was probably a member of the royal family. [http://www.anglo-saxons.net/hwaet/?do=get&type=charter&id=1167] Osred("c." 693) was a thegn of the Hwicce, who has been described by some historians as a king. [For example he appears on this list of [http://www.britannia.com/history/monarchs/hwicce.html Kings of Hwicce] . Retrieved on 10 March 2005.]
Della Hooke, "The Anglo-Saxon Landscape: The Kingdom of the Hwicce" (1985).
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