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Egbert (d. 839), king of Wessex. After a profitable three-year exile in the kingdom (and then the empire) of Charles the Great, Egbert succeeded to the West Saxon throne in 802. He belonged to the native dynasty, and was descended from Ingild, the brother of King Ine (688–726). There is little record of the early years of his reign apart from a powerful and successful campaign against Cornwall in 815. In the 820s, however, he took advantage of Mercian dynastic weakness, winning one of the decisive battles in Anglo-Saxon history at Ellendun (Wroughton to the south of Swindon) in 825, and inflicting further defeat on them in 829. His first victory marks the passing of control of the south-east (and temporarily of East Anglia) from Mercian to West Saxon hands. After his second in 829 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that he conquered Mercia and was recognized as a bretwalda (overlord). The Northumbrians also submitted to him, and for a year (830–1) he was recognized as king throughout England. It is misleading, however, to regard Egbert as the first king of a truly united England. A native prince was quickly restored to Mercia, even if not of the ruling dynasty, and only briefly did Egbert issue coins for Mercia. His own favoured title was ‘king of the West Saxons’ or ‘king of the West Saxons and the Kentishmen’. He set up his son Æthelwulf as a subking in the south-east, and concentrated personally on the western heartlands of his kingdom, winning a substantial victory in 838 against the Danes and their Cornish allies at Hingston Down. His permanent memorial proved to be the achievement of West Saxon mastery over England south of the Thames, the making of a true greater Wessex, and with it an end to all hopes of a Mercian nucleus to a united kingdom of England.

Henry Loyn

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