Part 5: The Agnatic Witenagemot 645-825
The idea that Aethelwalh, king of the South Saxons, was the
third son of Cynegils and that Penda might have appointed him as the
king in Sussex, gave birth to the Nothgyth Quest Hypothesis.
It is now to be conjectured how a South Saxon Witenagemot of
hereditary nobles might have operated during the later monarchy in
Sussex (which is known to have existed), on the scant evidence
For instance, there may be undocumented evidence that the
leading chieftains east of the Adur might have retained considerable
independence of action, until Offa's conquest of Sussex in 772. This
assumption could explain why Aethelwalh, in spite of his having
married a Christian princess (and probably having allowed his
children by her to be baptised), and in spite of his receiving
baptism in 675, had to bide his time before getting his South Saxon
people converted to the new faith. As is recorded, the exiled
Wilfrid began this mission in 681.
Further, Lesley suggests that it remains questionable how far to
the east Caedwalla was able to press his intended conquest of the
South Saxons, although Bede implies that they were utterly beaten.
Certainly, to judge by the evidence of the extant Selsey Charters,
it might not have been till the reign of Osmund, and beyond, that
royal land grants were usual east of the Adur.
Going by the two dynasties postulated in the main text, it would
seem that until, the 760s the South Saxon Witenagemot favoured the
House of Aethelwalh, originally installed by Penda. Bearing in mind
the conjectured members of the two royal families already discussed,
Nothhelm probably had at least one brother. Yet it appears that King
Ine, recorded as a kinsman of Nothhelm, was persuaded to install
Watt, and then Aethelstan as Nothhelm's co-rulers, and, as has
already been contended, to promote Aethelberht to kingship after the
death of Nothhelm.
Again, following the possible membership of the two dynasties,
whereas there seems to have been no campaign to elevate Osric to
kingly status, there was armed support for the dissident Ealdberht.
It is proposed here that this military backing was supplied by
certain members of the agnatic Witenagemot. Conversely, it is also
contended that, after some three decades of Aethelberht's
centralising policy around his ministers, members of the conjectured
Witenagemot, whose powerbase lay east of the Adur, began to support
Osmund and his younger brothers.
These supposed relationships have been put forward
in the main text.
There could have been a plot, since if Ealdberht was
Aethelberht's heir, as has been surmised, then the old king would
very likely have expected support for his atheling from all the
On this presumed basis, it could be said that a regime change on
the death of Aethelberht, probably in 758, would have been difficult
to avoid. If this chain of events occurred, then the Witenagemot
proposed in these notes was soon to lose all vestige of its former
Further, the idea proposed here that Aethelberht might have
adopted a centralising policy in Sussex, takes into account the
possible influence of the administrations of Charles Martel and
Pepin Le Bref across the English Channel in France.
Notwithstanding their presumed loss of influence, it is also
argued here that the Mercian rulers of Sussex would have been glad
of the loyalty of an hereditary witan of the kind proposed in these
notes. Showing respect to the members of such an elite institution
to secure them as loyalists to the Mercian throne would have helped
the Midlanders maintain stability in their isolated province of the
South Saxons, remembering that Surrey was part of Wessex.
Perhaps this was particularly the case after the death of the
last duke of the South Saxons, Ealdwulf.
Lastly, it is also argued that it was this ancient, agnatic
institution who surrendered Sussex to Ecgberht of Wessex after the
historic victory of the West Saxons over Mercia at Ellendune in 825.
Indeed, the Agnatic Witenagemot of the South Saxons, with a lineage
stretching back to Ælle and his close kinsmen, for which it
has been argued here, would have been the strongest thread in the
identity of the South Saxons.
Perhaps it was in the halls of these noblemen that the
storytellers developed the Royal Legend referred to in the main