Egbert: First King of All English


After the death of Offa, Egbert, Wessex Warlord Extraordinaire, was free to resume his campaign to rule all of England.

Egbert had gone into exile at the “request” of Offa, King of Mercia, who was the nominal overlord. With Offa out of the away, Wessex sent out a call for Egbert to return.

And return he did. Beginning in 802, Egbert ruled not only Wessex but also increasing parts of England. His campaigns against other kingdoms were increasingly successful, including a huge victory over Mercia at the Battle of Ellendun, in 825. A mere four years later, Northumbria succumbed to the might and charm of Egbert, and he became the first Bretwalda to be called by that name.

(It will be remembered that earlier kings had held nominal power over most of the Germanic kingdoms, but the people living in those days did not use the word Bretwalda. Egbert was the first to officially be called as such.)

Egbert was of stern stock, being descended from Wessex’s King Ine himself. Early on, he showed great ambition, so much so that Wessex’s current ruler, Beorhtric, got together with King Offa of Mercia and had Egbert shipped off to lick his wounds. It would be a number of years before Egbert would return, but he would have bloody vengeance before he was through.

He began his campaign in Cornwall in 815. Conveniently, the Welsh rebelled in 825, just as Mercia was preparing an invasion. Egbert and Wessex were victorious on both fronts, however, and the area quieted down for a time.

In later months, Egbert accepted the submissions of Kent, Sussex, Essex, and East Anglia. Mercia proved more troublesome. Egbert, however, had by this time grown into his own as a commander and had little trouble driving Wiglaf from the throne of Mercia.

The addition of Northumbria to the fold was thought to be problematic; but in a historic stroke of opportunism, the Northumbrians showed up at Dore and gave themselves up to Egbert overlordship.

Egbert was also successful in defeating a large Welsh army in 831. Three years later, he faced the sternest test of his career: a Scandinavian invasion. Actually, the first force that arrived from the Norse lands was probably no more than a raiding party and was turned back by Egbert’s forces. They returned in force a year later and gave Egbert a royal thumping at Charmouth in Dorsetshire.

Two years later, another large Norse force landed, with conquest on their minds. Coincidentally or not, the Welsh also arose at this time. But Egbert, fighting the battle of his life, put down all pretenders at the Battle of Hengestdune, on the borders of Cornwall, and gained peace for the rest of his life.