Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?: Egbert

Well, I promised to write a series of articles about the Kings and Queens of England, so here goes.

There were several Kings that I could have chosen to be first, including Alfred, Athelstan, Edgar and William I, but I have come down in favour of Egbert.

Egbert was a member of the West Saxon Royal Family, which traced their descent back to the first of their Kings, Cerdic, and ultimately to Wotan, the Anglo-Saxon version of the great Norse God, Odin.

During the reign of Beorhtric of Wessex, the young Egbert (probably born in 775 and son of Elmund, briefly King of Kent) was in exile, partly at the court of Charlemagne in France and partly with Offa in Mercia. He married Redburga, the sister of Charlemagne, and later became King of Kent, which had little power.

When Beorhtric died in 802, Egbert, who had earlier challenged unsuccessfully for the crown, was elected West Saxon King.

He spent his first few years in consolidation, and then decided to end the situation where he had two borders to defend. He therefore attacked Cornwall, and defeated the Cornish in 815.

In 825, during a Cornish uprising which he put down at Camelford, Egbert’s kingdom was attacked by Beornwulf of Mercia. The Battle of Ellendun, fought at Wroughton near Swindon, proved decisive and was the major factor in Egbert’s becoming overlord of most of England.

He sent an army under his son Ethelwulf into Kent, which soon capitulated, along with Surrey and Sussex.

In 829 Egbert invaded Mercia and deposed the new King Wiglaf, and then continued into Northumbria, where King Enred submitted to him. He was now in control of all England, as East Anglia and Essex already bowed to his authority.

In the last years of Egbert’s reign, however, the threat from the Danish invaders grew, and he was defeated by a Danish force before turning the tables at Hingston Down near Callington.

Egbert, certainly one of the most significant Kings in English history, died in 839 and was succeeded by his son Ethelwulf. He also had a son Athelstan, who succeeded Ethelwulf in the junior position of King of Kent, and a daughter Edith, who became Abbess at Polesworth near Atherstone.

Egbert was buried at Winchester Cathedral, where his bones are now among the mortuary chests.