Essential Wessex: Nicknames for Wessaxons

There are many nicknames for people from Wessex. The most obvious one is "wurzels". Whilst most people assume that Adge Cutler named his band after an already-existing name for people from the West Country, it appears to have been his own coinage. There follows a (by no means exhaustive) list of nicknames for people from different parts of Wessex:

Devon - Janners (particularly applies to people from Plymouth, but is sometimes used for Devonians in general).

Dorset - Dorset knobs (from the local biscuit).

Gosport - Turk Towners or Turks (from the Turkish naval cemetery in the town).

Hampshire - Hampshire hogs (from the local tradition of boar hunting).

Isle of Wight - Caulkheads (from the caulking of boats).

Malmesbury - Jackdaws (from the colony of said birds that inhabits the Abbey)

Somerset - Cuckoo-penners (from the folk tale of "penning the cuckoo").

Southampton - Scummers (offensive term used by supporters of Portsmouth FC).

Wiltshire - Moonrakers (from the tale of smugglers evading customs officials by pretending to be yokel idiots, saying they were fishing a big cheese - actually the reflected moon - out of a pond when they were really retrieving contraband.).

Essential Wessex: Edward, King and Martyr

Edward, the boy king of England from 975 until his death three years later while still a teenager, was famously murdered at Corfe Castle and buried at Shaftesbury Abbey. The circumstances of his death are unclear, but a substantial body of legend built up around it. He was commonly seen as a martyr, and is recognised as a saint by the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The pious version of the story states that he was a wise and good leader, generous to the church. But he was resented by his wicked stepmother, Queen Elfreda, who wanted to place her biological son Ethelred (later known as the Unready) on the throne. Elfreda arranged for him to be murdered and his body thrown into a marsh. But God sent a light to reveal the whereabouts of the body.

Today, historians dispute how much involvement, if any, Elfreda had in his death. Relics said to be those of the saint are now kept by the fundamentalist "True Orthodox" monastery at Brookwood in Surrey, though the remains in question have been identified as those of a man aged around 30, and not a teenage boy.

Esential Wessex: Æthelred Unræd

Æthelred Unræd (966-1016) was a king of all the English, descended from the royal house of Wessex. He ascended to the throne as a boy, when his older brother, Edward the Martyr, was murdered at Corfe Castle. As he was so young, he relied on his counsellors, particularly Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester, after whom the famous benedictional which provides the finest example of the Winchester school of manuscript illumination is named.

Since the facts of Æthelred's life are so well-documented elsewhere, this article will concentrate on his Wessex connections. In particular, one of his most notorious acts was the genocide of the Danish population of Oxford on St Brice's Day (13 November) 1002. An excavation at St John's College in 2008 identified the remains of over three dozen people, mostly young men.

More positively, a law code promulgated at Wantage in 997, which formed a body of twelve thegns charged with upholding the law, has been portrayed as the origin of the grand jury. Historians have been challenging this view since the 19th century, however. In 1872, Heinrich Brunner argued that the jury system was Frankish in origin, and only appeared in England during the reign of Henry II.

Essential Wessex: Cardinal Wolsey in Wessex

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (c1475-1530) was born in Ipswich, but he has strong ties to Wessex. He graduated from Magdalen College, Oxford at the age of 15, earning himself the nickname "the boy bachelor". He later amassed great wealth and power for himself, part of which he used to found Christ Church (formerly Cardinal's College) in the university where he had studied. Wolsey's coat of arms is also the arms of the college, the only academic institution in the world which is also a cathedral.

Wolsey was first ordained as a priest at Marlborough by the Bishop of Salisbury in 1498. In 2020, a bust of Wolsey was unveiled at St Peter's Church in Marlborough - together with a bronze figure of his cat! He is also commemorated with a blue plaque at the same church.

Whilst Wolsey is most closely associated with Henry VIII, his rise to power actually began under Henry VII. His administrative talents were noticed by Richard Foxe (1448-1528), Bishop of Winchester and one of Henry VII's most trusted advisors. Wolsey later supplanted Foxe's role under Henry VIII, earning himself Foxe's former nickname of "the other king". Whilst Foxe became somewhat resentful of Wolsey, there appears to have been little personal animosity between them, and they remained friends.

Essential Wessex: The Baptism of Cynegils

Lo, I shall tell you the truest of visions, a dream that I dreamt in the dead of night while people reposed in peaceful sleep. I seemed to see the sacred tree, lifted on high in a halo of light, the brightest of beams; that beacon was wholly gorgeous with gold; glorious gems stood fair at the foot; and five were assembled, at the crossing of the arms. The angels of God looked on.... - The Dream of the Rood

St Berin, often Latinised as Birinus (c600-650), was a Frankish missionary venerated in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches as "the Apostle of Wessex". He baptised Cynegils, the first Christian king of the Gewissae, near his "capital" at Dorchester-on-Thames.

Conversion to Christianity at the time was about more than the state of the king's soul. It meant joining a growing commonwealth of nations instead of looking inwards. It also boosted the transition from an oral to a written culture - a boon to historians, who now have textual as well as archaeological evidence to work from.

Written records also kickstarted a trend for royal genealogies which uncovered (or invented) connections between kingdoms and royal families. Berin and Cynegils could therefore be said to have helped turn the Gewissae from an isolated war-band to a European nation.