Wehha of East Anglia

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Wehha
King of the East Angles
Wuffing dynasty Wehha.png
'Wehh Wilhelming' from the Textus Roffensis
Reign unknown
Died unknown
Successor Wuffa of East Anglia
Dynasty Wuffingas
Religious beliefs pagan

Wehha was a pagan king of the East Angles who, if he actually existed, ruled the kingdom of East Anglia during the 6th century, at the time the kingdom was being established by migrants from the Jutland peninsula. Early sources identify him as a member of the Wuffingas dynasty, which became established around the east coast of Suffolk. Nothing of his reign is known.

According to the East Anglian tally from the Textus Roffensis, Wehha was the son of Wilhelm. The 9th century History of the Britons lists both Wehha, who is named as 'Guillem Guercha', as the first king of the East Angles, and his son and successor Wuffa, after whom the dynasty was named. It has been claimed that the name Wehha was a hypocoristic version of Wihstān, from the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, which, along with evidence such as the finds discovered at Sutton Hoo in 1939, suggests a connection between the Wuffingas and a Swedish dynasty, the Scylfings.

Background[edit]

A topographical map of the kingdom of the East Angles

Wehha is thought to have been one of the earliest rulers of East Anglia, an independent and long-lived Anglo-Saxon kingdom that was established in the 6th century, and which includes the modern English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.

According to R. Rainbird Clarke, migrants from northern Jutland "speedily dominated" the Sandlings, an area of southeast Suffolk, and then, by around 550, "lost no time in conquering the whole of East Anglia". Rainbird Clarke identified Wehha, the founder of the dynasty, as one of the leaders of the new arrivals: the East Angles are tentatively identified with the Geats of the Old English poem Beowulf. He used the evidence of the finds at Sutton Hoo to conclude that the Wuffingas originated from Sweden, noting that the sword, helmet and shield found in the ship burial at Sutton Hoo may have been family heirlooms, brought across from Sweden in the beginning of the 6th century.[1] As it is now believed that these artefacts were made in England, there is less agreement amongst scholars that the Wuffingas dynasty was directly linked with Sweden.[2]

The extent of the kingdom of the East Angles can be determined from a variety of sources. Isolated to the north and east by the North Sea, there were mainly impenetrable forests to the south and the swamps and scattered islands of the Fens on its western border. The main land route from East Anglia would at that time have been a land corridor, along which ran the prehistoric Icknield Way.[3] The southern neighbours of the East Angles were the East Saxons and across the other side of the Fens were the Middle Angles.[4] It has been suggested that the Devil's Dyke (near modern Newmarket) at one time formed part of the kingdom's western boundary, but as its construction can only be dated from between the 4th and 10th centuries, it cannot be established to be of Early Anglo-Saxon origin.[5]

Genealogy[edit]

Wehha is a semi-historical figure and no surviving evidence has survived to show he actually existed or was ever king of the East Angles. The name Wehha is included in tallies of the ruling Wuffingas dynasty:[6] the name appears as Ƿehh Ƿilhelming - Wehha Wilhelming - in the East Anglian tally from the Textus Roffensis, an important collection of Anglo-Saxon laws and Rochester Cathedral registers that has survived in the form of two distinct books that were bound together in the 13th century.[7] According to this list, which is also known as the Anglian collection, Wehha was the son of Wilhelm, who was the son of Hryþ, who was the son of Hroðmund, the son of Trygil, the son of Tyttman, the son of Caser (Julius Caesar), the son of the god Wōden. Wehha's son Wuffa, after whom the Wuffingas dynasty is named, is also listed.

According to the 9th century History of the Britons, a man listed as Guillem Guercha was the first of his line to rule as king of the East Angles. The History of the Britons lists Guillem Guercha's descendants and ancestors: 'Woden begat Casser, who begat Titinon, who begat Trigil, who begat Rodmunt, who begat Rippa, who begat Guillem Guercha, who was the first king of the East Angles'.[8] According to the 19th-century historian Sir Francis Palgrave, Guercha was a distortion of Wuffa.[9] D. P. Kirby is among those historians who have concluded from this information that Wuffa's father was the founder of the Wuffingas line.[10]

Despite the Wuffingas' long list of ancestors — that stretch back to their pagan gods — their power in the region can only have been established in the middle third of the 6th century, if Wehha is taken as the dynastic founder.[11] Martin Carver warns against using the scant material that exists to draw detailed inferences about the earliest Wuffingas kings.[4]

The descendants of Wehha[12]

 
 
 
 
Wehha
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Wuffa
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Tytila
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Rædwald
 
 
 
Eni
 
 
See Wuffingas for a more complete family tree.

The name Wehha[edit]

The name Wehha has been linked as a hypocoristic (shortened) version of Wihstān, the father of Wiglaf in the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, strengthening the evidence for a connection between the Wuffingas dynasty and a Swedish royal dynasty, the Scylfings.[13] It has also been suggested that Wehha is a regular hypocoristic form of Old English names beginning with Wē(o)h-, for instance in the unattested name *Weohha.[11] Lindqvist's conjecture that Wehha is a hypocoristic form of the name Weohstan is linguistically not possible, according to O'Loughlin, as Weohstan is a later West Saxon name.[14]

O'Loughlin notes that Wehha and his father Wilhelm can be linked with a person named Wehilo and his father Weho, who are listed in a genealogy found a manuscript of the laws of Rothari, a 7th-century king of the Lombards.[15][note 1]

Wehha may occur on a bronze pail excavated from the Chessell Down cemetery on the Isle of Wight, which possesses the runic inscription wecca.[16]

Reign and succession[edit]

Nothing is known of Wehha or of his rule, as no written records have survived from this period in East Anglian history. At an unknown date Wehha was succeeded by Wuffa, who was ruling the kingdom in 571, according to the mediaeval chronicler Roger of Wendover.[17] The date given by Roger of Wendover cannot be corroborated.[4]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ See J. N. L. O'Loughlin's article (pp. 10-11) for a detailed discussion of the name Wehha, which forms part of his analysis of the documentary evidence concerning the person commemorated by the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Rainbird Clarke, East Anglia, pp. 138-139.
  2. ^ Yorke, Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England, p. 61.
  3. ^ Collingwood & Myres, Roman Britain and English Settlements, p. 391.
  4. ^ a b c Carver, The Age of Sutton Hoo, p. 5.
  5. ^ Carver, The Age of Sutton Hoo, p. 6.
  6. ^ Newton, The Origins of Beowulf , p. 105.
  7. ^ Medway Council, Medway City Ark: The Textus Roffensis, notes. Accessed 9 August 2010.
  8. ^ Nennius, History of the Britons, p. 412.
  9. ^ Palgrave, The Rise and Progress of the English Commonwealth, p. 413, note 2. According to Palgrave, "Guercha was a distortion of the name Uffa, or Wuffa, arising in the first instance, from the pronunciation of the British writer, and in the next place, from the error of the transcriber".
  10. ^ Kirby, The Earliest English Kings, p. 15.
  11. ^ a b Hoops, Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde, p. 66.
  12. ^ Yorke, Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England, p. 68.
  13. ^ Newton, The Origins of Beowulf , p. 112.
  14. ^ O'Loughlin, J. L. N., Sutton Hoo - the Evidence of the Documents, p. 10.
  15. ^ O'Loughlin, J. L. N., Sutton Hoo - the Evidence of the Documents, p. 1.
  16. ^ Looijenga, Runic Inscriptions, p. 65.
  17. ^ Plunkett, Suffolk in Anglo-Saxon Times, p. 62.

Sources[edit]

English royalty
Preceded by
unknown
King of East Anglia
unknown regnal dates
Succeeded by
Wuffa