Sussex, kingdom of

views updated May 29 2018

Sussex, kingdom of. Sussex was ruled by its own kings from the time of Ælle (c.477), who is said by Bede to have been the first overlord (bretwalda) of the southern English, to the end of the 8th cent., but for most of that period the kings (sometimes referred to not under a royal title but as duces or ealdormen) were subordinate to other rulers. In spite of its relatively small size and compact geographical location from the south coast to the weald, Sussex was a complex political unit. Its earliest charters show that it was divided among a number of kings at times with a marked division between East Sussex, probably centred at Lewes, and West Sussex with a centre in the Chichester area. Hastings and its immediate surroundings always preserved individual characteristics, closer to Kent and even as late as 771 referred to specifically as the land of the gens Hastingorum. Socially Sussex developed in some isolation. It was the last substantial kingdom to receive Christianity, owing its conversion to St Wilfrid during his exile from Northumbria in the early 680s. Wilfrid was granted an extensive estate at Selsey by Æthelwalh, who was himself a Christian, and from 709 Selsey became the centre for a bishopric, ultimately transferred to Chichester in 1075. In the 8th cent. Sussex was tributary to the Mercian kings, but after 825 the West Saxon dynasty under Egbert and his successors took control, treating it, together with Surrey and Kent, as a suitable subkingdom for West Saxon princes. Alfred established an important burh at Chichester, and Sussex was easily absorbed into the shire system of later Anglo-Saxon England.

Henry Loyn