Defining Wessex



The boundaries of the historic kingdom (later earldom) of Wessex changed many times over the years. In more recent times, the name of Wessex has been revived by a number of different institutions, each with their own definition. This posed a problem when the Society was first formed – what exactly do we mean by Wessex? It would be logical to use the definition used by the Earl of Wessex in defining his Earldom, since that would carry official status, but Buckingham Palace has never issued an official statement on what that definition might be (a letter of enquiry from the Society was never replied to). A case could be made for letting Wessex mean whatever each individual member wanted it to mean. But it is hard to promote an identity for Wessex if you are unable even to say what the name means. The most popular definition is the six-county one used by Thomas Hardy: Berkshire, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire. However, Hardy himself expanded Wessex into Oxfordshire for his last novel, Jude The Obscure. Also, Hardy’s regional boundary cuts right through the middle of Bristol, which is problematic for an organisation dedicated to regional identity. For these reasons, we decided to adopt a “Hardy plus” definition, which also includes Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. We would never be arrogant enough to claim that ours is the one true definition of Wessex. But it is the one that best serves our purposes.