Gewisse

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The Gewisse Latin: Gewissæ) were a political group[a] or band of Anglo-Saxons. They originally settled in the upper Thames river valley area. The Gewisse were the most powerful group in what would become the kingdom of Wessex.

Name[change | change source]

The name 'Gewisse' comes from an Old English word for "reliable" or "sure",[1] In the genealogy of King Alfred of Wessex, is a supposed ancestor of Cerdic named Gewis.[2] (also spelled Gwis).[3] The true origin of the name cannot be determined accurately.[4] the name was old in Bede's time. Bede stated the original name for the West Saxons was the Gewisse.[5] The change in name from the Gewisse to the West Saxons seems to have taken place in the latter part of the 7th century.[1] The Gewisse, like the 'Cantwara' (Kent-men) and the 'Meonwara' of Hampshire were political units, not tribes.[6]

History[change | change source]

In 577 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle claims the kings of the Gewisse captured Cirencester, Bath and Gloucester.[7] The date is questionable but the Gewisse did hold those territories.[7] The Gewisse found themselves limited in their ability to expand into new territories by the growing power of Mercia. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 628 says that Cyngils and Cwichelm his son 'fought with Penda at Cirencester and came to an agreement with him there'.[8] The 'agreement' meant giving Cirencester to Penda.[9] It was a permanent loss of Cirencester.[10] By the second half of the 7th century Gewisse was expanding towards the Southwest and Devon.[11] At about the same time they lost territory in the Thames valley to Mercia. The change in name to Wessex may have reflected more a change in their territory.[11]

Bishop Birinus began converting the Gewisse to Christianity in 634, In 635 he baptized their king Cynegils who established Birinus at Dorchester.[10] But the Dorchester bishopric was never considered West Saxon by Bede.[11] He considered it to be Gewisse. In 660 Cenwalh created a new diocese at Winchester and made Wine the first bishop. Bede referred to the Winchester diocese as West Saxon.[11] At the time he was writing in the early 8th century, Bede treated the two names as interchangeable.[12] But when writing of the reign of Cynegils he referred to them as "anciently known as the Gewissae."[13]

Notes[change | change source]

  1. A politically organized body of people under a single leader or family of leaders.

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Barbara Yorke. Wessex in the early Middle Ages (London; New York: Leicester University Press, 1995), p. 34
  2. D. P. Kirby, The Earliest English Kings (London; New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 181
  3. Benjamin Thorpe, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle according to the Several Original Authorities: Translation (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1861), p. 15
  4. Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 21 note 1
  5. Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 21
  6. H. E. Walker, 'Bede and the Gewissae: The Political Evolution of the Heptarchy and Its Nomenclature', Cambridge Historical Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2 (1956), p. 175
  7. 7.0 7.1 T. M. Charles-Edwards, Wales and the Britons, 350-1064 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 381
  8. Benjamin Thorpe, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle according to the Several Original Authorities: Translation (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1861), p. 21
  9. Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 45
  10. 10.0 10.1 Peter Hunter Blair, Roman Britain and Early England; 55 B.C.–A.D. 871 (New York; London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1966), p. 206
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 H. E. Walker, 'Bede and the Gewissae: The Political Evolution of the Heptarchy and Its Nomenclature', Cambridge Historical Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2 (1956), p. 183
  12. D. P. Kirby, The Earliest English Kings (London; New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 38
  13. Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans. Leo Sherley Price, revsd. R. E. Latham (London; New York: Penguin, 1990), p. 153