Essential Wessex: The Battle of Ellandun

The Battle of Ellandun, fought near Swindon in September 825, is the battle that ended Mercian overlordship in southern England, and established West Saxon dominance. The exact site is unknown, but the most likely of several contenders appears to be near Windmill Hill in the parish of Lydiard Tregoze.

The battle was fought between King Ecgbehrt of Wessex and Beornwulf of Mercia. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC), it ended in a clear victory for Ecgbehrt, after which Kent, Surrey, Essex and Sussex submitted to him, whilst East Anglia petitioned him for aid against Mercian aggression. Sir Frank Stenton has called it "one of the most decisive battles of English history".

Beornwulf appears to have invaded Wiltshire to take advantage of Ecgberht being occupied with a campaign in the far West, in which (again according to the ASC), "a battle was fought between the Welsh in Cornwall and the people of Devonshire, at Camelford". The ASC is somewhat ambiguous about whether or not the two events were connected, though,

Ellandun marks the point at which Wessex became Top Nation, as Sellars and Yeatman might say, and saw Mercia collapse to roughly half its former size. One could argue that it led to a dilution of Wessex identity as the kingdom expanded to cover virtually all of Southern England, but that just shows the dangers of tying modern Wessex regionalism too closely to ancient history.

Grant Family History: Man About Town

John Peter Grant of Burley, aged 19 in 1936 used to go to a number of theatre shows in London. On the left is a menu card dated 12th September 1936, and on the right is a collection of autographs he managed to collect. At the bottom, is that of Douglas Fairbanks, above that is Marlene Dietrich. Both were huge Hollywood stars at the time. Perhaps readers can throw some light on the other signatures. The top one was that of my Father.

Wessex Attractions: Hidcote

Hidcote Manor and its gardens, located near Chipping Campden in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds. are a National Trust-owned property bought by the American-born Major Lawrence Johnston and his mother in the early years of the 20th century and restored according to the principles of the then-burgeoning Arts and Crafts movement. Charles Ashbee moved the Gild (sic) of Handicrafts from East London to Chipping Campden in 1902, and the area quickly became a centre for the movement.

The G(u)ild dissolved five years later, but Major Johnson continued its legacy, He spent the period up to 1914 remodelling the house and gardens according to Arts and Crafts principles, but progress was halted when he went off to fight in World War 1. After the war, a period of expansion began, and the estate was sold to the National Trust in 1948.

Like all National Trust properties, Hidcote Manor is currently closed. but their website allows visitors to experience a virtual tour.

Happy St Ealdhelm’s Day 2020

Today is the feast day of St Ealdhelm, also known as Wessex Day. It is customary for us to show pictures of those local authorities who have flown the flag of Wessex outside their offices, but of course, council offices are all closed this year.

So instead, here's a picture of some Crimson Cloud Hawthorn, a cultivated variety of Crataegus monogyna biflora, or Glastonbury Thorn, whose colours approximate those of the flag. The Society regards the Hawthorn, or Mayflower, as the Wessex flower par excellence, due to its association with Glastonbury and the fact that it blooms around this time of year. Some people regard the Crimson Cloud variety as a bit gaudy, but personally, I rather like the idea of a red and gold (well, OK, hot pink and pale yellow) hawthorn.

Essential Wessex: Jacobitism in Wessex

The Jacobite rebellions are more commonly associated with Scotland, but Jacobitism was a potent political force in Wessex as well, strongly correlating to areas that had been Royalist strongholds during the English civil wars.

Jacobites called for the restoration of the Stuart dynasty, and centred on a belief in the divine right of kings. It was a reaction against newfangled Enlightenment ideas about the sovereign being subject to the will of parliament that had been introduced with the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Jacobitism was strongly linked to the Tory party, which was, and remains to this day, the dominant political force in Wessex. However, loyalty to the Church of England was a key part of Tory ideology, so Stuart Catholicism proved something of a stumbling block, But Tories also believed in unconditional support for a reigning monarch, and were implacably opposed to usurpations and rebellions. Later Restoration Day (29th May) celebrations managed to allay tensions between supporters and opponents of Catholic toleration by uniting them in a shared hatred of Methodists and other Nonconformists, leading to attacks on chapels in Tory-dominated towns such as Bristol and Oxford.

There was a romantic revival of Jacobitism around the turn of the last century. However, it was largely killed off during the First World War when Prince Rupprecht, promoted as the legitimate heir to the throne by Neo-Jacobites, came out in support of the Kaiser. This made Neo-Jacobitism toxic to the general public, and the various societies promoting it quickly shut down.