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Updated:  Aug 12, 2013
prev: Egbert, Saint Egbert, Saint Egbert (Archbishop of Trier) next: Egbert (Archbishop of Trier)

Egbert

Self-styled King of England, d. A.D. 839

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Egbert (ECGBERHT or ECGBRYHT), frequently though incorrectly called "First King of England", d. A.D. 839. He styled himself in 828 Rex Anglorum, i.e. "Overlord of East Anglia", a title used by Offa fifty years before; in 830 he described himself as "King of the West Saxons and Kentishmen", and in 833 he is "King of the West Saxons". He came of the royal race descended from Ine of Wessex and, owing to his pretensions to power, was exiled by the joint action of Beorhtric of Wessex and Offa of Mercia. The date and duration of his exile are unknown, but he returned in 802 and was chosen King of the West Saxons. In 815 he ravaged Cornwall and conquered the West Welsh who dwelt there. They rebelled in 825, when he again defeated them just in time to repel a Mercian invasion at the battle of Ellandune. Shortly afterwards Kent, Surrey, Sussex, and Essex accepted him as king and East Anglia submitted to his overlordship. War with Mercia again broke out, and ended in Egbert driving out Wiglaf and receiving the submission of that kingdom. In 829 he attacked Northumbria, but the Northumbrians met him at Dore and recognized him as overlord.

Thus for the first time he had united the whole English race under one overlordship, in this way substantially justifying the title King of England, though the idea of territorial kingship had not at that time come into being. Nor was he actually king of all the subject tribes, for the underkings still ruled, though they were under him as Bretwalda. Thus he restored Wiglaf to the throne of Mercia and made his own son Ethelwulf King of the Kentishmen. In his own Kingdom of Wessex he developed the shire system, carefully regulating the relations of the ealdorman and the bishop to the shire. He also organized the Fyrd, or militia. His ecclesiastical policy was very favorable to the Church, and at the Council of Kingston, in 838, he gave the archbishop assurances of friendship and certain privileges which considerably strengthened the primatial see. In 831 he forced the North Welsh (the people of Wales) to accept his overlordship, but three years later he had to defend his realm from Scandinavian pirates who were invading Sheppey. He beat them off, but they returned in 835 and defeated him at Charmouth in Dorsetshire. In 837 he again had to meet a great fleet of Northmen, who on this occasion were helped by an insurrection of the West Welsh. He, however, won a great victory over the allies at Hengestdune, on the borders of Cornwall, after which he remained at peace till his death.

The chronology of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle is often two, and sometimes three, years out with regard to the events of his reign. His coins, which are rare, though specimens from nineteen different mints are known, bear his name and the title Rex, the additions Saxo, "M", or "A" denoting Wessex, Mercia, and East Anglia respectively.

EDWIN BURTON


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