Beorhtric's dependency on Mercia continued into the reign
of Offa's successor,
Cenwulf.Beorhtric died in 802, and Egbert came to the throne of
Wessex, probably with the support of Charlemagne and perhaps
also the papacy.
The Mercians continued to oppose Egbert: the day of his
Hwicce (by that time part of Mercia) attacked, under the
leadership of their
Ęthelmund. Weohstan, a Wessex ealdorman, met him with
men from Wiltshire:
according to a fifteenth-century source, Weohstan had
married Alburga, Egbert's sister, and so was Egbert's
The Hwicce were defeated, though Weohstan was killed as well
Nothing more is recorded of Egbert's relations with Mercia
for more than twenty years after this battle. It seems
likely that Egbert had no influence outside his own borders,
but on the other hand there is no evidence that he ever
submitted to the overlordship of Cenwulf. Cenwulf did have
overlordship of the rest of southern England, but in
Cenwulf's charters the title of "overlord of the southern
English" never appears, presumably in consequence of the
independence of the kingdom of Wessex.
In 815 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Egbert
ravaged the whole of the territories of the remaining
Dumnonia, known to the author of the Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle as the West Welsh; their territory was about
equivalent to what is now
Ten years later, a charter dated 19 August 825 indicates
that Egbert was campaigning in Dumnonia again; this may have
been related to a battle recorded in the Chronicle at
Galford in 823, between the men of Devon and the Britons of
The battle of Ellendun
A map of England during Egbert's reign.
It was also in 825 that one of the most important battles
in Anglo-Saxon history took place, when Egbert defeated
Beornwulf of Mercia at Ellendunnow Wroughton, near Swindon. This battle marked the end of the Mercian
domination of southern England.
The Chronicle tells how Egbert followed up his victory:
"Then he sent his son Ęthelwulf from the army, and Ealhstan,
his bishop, and Wulfheard, his ealdorman, to Kent with a
great troop." Ęthelwulf drove Baldred, the king of Kent,
north over the Thames, and according to the Chronicle, the
men of Kent, Essex, Surrey and Sussex then all submitted to
Ęthelwulf "because earlier they were wrongly forced away
from his relatives."
This may refer to Offa's interventions in Kent at the time
Egbert's father Ealhmund became king; if so, the
chronicler's remark may also indicate Ealhmund had
connections elsewhere in southeast England.
However, Wulfred, the archbishop of Canterbury, seems less
likely to have supported Egbert; his coinage was terminated
by Egbert, and it is known that Egbert seized property
belonging to Canterbury.
The Chronicle's version of events makes it appear that
Baldred was driven out shortly after the battle, but this
was probably not the case. A document from Kent survives
which gives the date, March 826, as being in the third year
of the reign of Beornwulf. This makes it likely that
Beornwulf still had authority in Kent at this date, as
Baldred's overlord; hence Baldred was apparently still in
In Essex, Egbert expelled King
Sigered, though the date is unknown. It may have been
delayed until 829, since a later chronicler associates the
expulsion with a campaign of Egbert's in that year against
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle does not say who was the
aggressor at Ellendun, but one recent history asserts that
Beornwulf was almost certainly the one who attacked.
According to this view, Beornwulf may have taken advantage
of the Wessex campaign in Dumnonia in the summer of 825.
Beornwulf's motivation would have been the threat of unrest
or instability in the southeast: the dynastic connections
with Kent made Wessex a threat to Mercian dominance.
The consequences of Ellendun went beyond the immediate
loss of Mercian power in the southeast. According to the
Chronicle, the East Anglians asked for Egbert's protection
against the Mercians in the same year, 825, though it may
actually have been in the following year that the request
was made. In 826 Beornwulf invaded East Anglia, presumably
to recover his overlordship. He was slain, however, as was
his successor, Ludeca, who invaded East Anglia in 827,
evidently for the same reason. It may be that the Mercians
were hoping for support from Kent: there was some reason to
suppose that Wulfred, the Archbishop of Canterbury, might be discontented with
West Saxon rule, as Egbert had terminated Wulfred's currency
and had begun to mint his own, at Rochester and Canterbury.
The outcome in East Anglia was a disaster for the Mercians
which confirmed West Saxon power in the southeast.