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kings of the Hwicce (act. c.670–c.780), ruled over a people in the west midlands, in what is now Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, and part of Warwickshire. The kingdom of the Hwicce, assessed at 7000 hides in the short seventh- or eighth-century text known as the Tribal Hidage, emerges in the late seventh century, already under Mercian overlordship, and was completely absorbed into Mercia in the eighth. It was probably coterminous with the early medieval diocese of Worcester, which reached as far south as Bath; the first extant charter issued by a king of the Hwicce (Osric, with the Mercian king's consent) is the foundation charter for Bath monastery, on the West Saxon border, in 675 (AS chart., S 51). While Osric is styled rex, Ealdred, a century later, is described in a charter of Offa as ‘my underking [subregulus], that is to say ealdorman [dux] of his own people the Hwicce’ (S 113), and his brother Uhtred is described as ‘holding a certain degree of rule over his own people the Hwicce’ (S 57).

The origin of the Hwiccian dynasty is obscure; the connection with the Northumbrian royal family asserted in twelfth-century sources, and in the Dictionary of National Biography, is implausible. Attempts to draw up a family tree for the kings of the Hwicce (as by W. G. Searle and H. P. R. Finberg) rely on guesswork and forged charters, but the recurrence of certain name elements and the uniform alliteration of their names make it certain that the kings listed below were all somehow related. The first known members of the dynasty, the brothers Eanfrith and Eanhere, are mentioned by Bede in his account of Wilfrid's conversion of Sussex in 680 or 681; Bede says that the South Saxon queen Eaba was the daughter of Eanfrith (fl. c.670), brother of Eanhere (fl. c.670), who were Christians along with their people, the Hwicce (Bede, Hist. eccl., 4.13). This implies that Eanhere had been king, and perhaps that Eanfrith had ruled jointly with him. Bede also refers to King Osric (fl. 674–679), apparently as patron of ; charters imply that he ruled at least from 674 to 679, and associate him and his brother Oswald with the foundation of Gloucester and Pershore monasteries respectively. Oswald may be the father of an Æthelmund (d. before 746), son of Oswald, whom Æthelbald of Mercia (d. 757) slew, afterwards making reparation to Gloucester monastery (in 746: AS chart., S 1679). Gloucester tradition says that the first abbess Cyneburh was Osric's sister. The third, Eafe, was conceivably the same woman as the Eaba mentioned above. Osric was evidently succeeded as king of the Hwicce by Oshere (fl. c.680–c.693), the alleged founder of the see of Worcester in 679, whose charters begin in 680 and reach into the 690s. He is possibly the Oshere whose death is lamented by his sister in a letter which St Boniface received c.717; she is conceivably the abbess called Eadburh in Gloucester sources, the successor of Cyneburh and widow of Wulfhere, king of Mercia (d. 675).

By 709 Oshere's four sons, Æthelheard, Æthelweard, Æthelberht, and Æthelric (fl. c.693–736), were attesting charters without him. The last of these is best evidenced in charters; these extend from the 690s to 736, when he is styled subregulus of the Mercian king Æthelbald (AS chart., S 89). He may be associated with the church at Wootton Wawen, Warwickshire. It is not known whether he succeeded Oshere directly; or whether one or more of his three brothers reigned first. Another member of the family who witnesses Æthelbald's charters was Osred, but he may not have ruled. There is in fact a gap in the record of Hwiccian reguli between Æthelric and the appearance together, in charters of 757 and 759, of three brothers, Eanberht (fl. 757–759), Uhtred (fl. 757–777), and Ealdred (fl. 757–777), each styled regulus. This is the first unequivocal evidence of joint rule among the Hwicce. Uhtred and Ealdred were active at least until 777. A relative of theirs was Æthelburh, the abbess of Fladbury, Withington, and Twyning in the 770s; she was the daughter of the thegn Ælfred, and was no doubt related to Oshere's son Æthelheard, who had also been associated with Fladbury. No member of the dynasty is known to have ruled after the 770s; Æthelmund, ealdorman of the Hwicce (d. 802), may be unrelated. His wife Ceolburh may have been the abbess of Berkeley who died in 807, and his son Æthelric refers to an extensive inheritance in the kingdom of the Hwicce in the will that he made in 804. Æthelric's wish to be buried at Deerhurst may indicate a break with the traditions of the Hwiccian kings, for Osric is said to have been buried at Gloucester, and the bodies of the ancestors of the brothers Eanberht, Uhtred, and Ealdred were said to lie in the church of St Peter at Worcester. There is a post-medieval effigy of Osric in Gloucester Cathedral.

Patrick Sims-Williams

Sources  

P. Sims-Williams, Religion and literature in western England, 600–800 (1990) · P. Sims-Williams, Britain and early Christian Europe: studies in early medieval history and culture (1995) · W. G. Searle, Anglo-Saxon bishops, kings, and nobles (1899) · H. P. R. Finberg, The early charters of the west midlands, 2nd edn (1972) · AS chart., S 51–63, 64, 70, 74–5, 79, 89, 94, 1252, 1679 · Canon Bazeley and M. L. Bazeley, ‘Effigies in Gloucester Cathedral’, Transactions of the Gloucestershire and Bristol Archaeological Society, 27 (1904), 304, 306

Likenesses  

effigy?, repro. in Bazeley and Bazeley, ‘Effigies in Gloucester Cathedral’