Wessex (wĕsˈĭks) [key], one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England. It may have been settled as early as 495 by Saxons under Cerdic, who is reputed to have landed in Hampshire. Cerdic's grandson, Ceawlin (560–93), annexed scattered Saxon settlements in the Chiltern Hills and drove the Celts from the region between the upper Thames valley and the lower Severn. But Ceawlin himself was finally expelled from Wessex, and until the end of the 8th cent. the country was overshadowed successively by Kent, Northumbria, and Mercia. King Cædwalla (reigned 685–88) conducted several successful campaigns; and his successor Ine consolidated the western expansion through Somerset and exacted tribute from Kent. After Ine's death, however, the kingdom relapsed into anarchy. Egbert (802–39) became overlord of all England, but his successors were forced to relinquish many of his gains and to concentrate on defending their lands against the invading Danes. With the reign of Alfred (871–99) and the halting of the Danes, the history of Wessex becomes that of England. In the 10th cent., Edward the Elder, Athelstan, Edmund, and Edred gradually acquired firm control over all England, including the Danelaw. This unity ended, however, after the quiet reign of Edgar (959–75), for Æthelred (978–1016) could offer no effective resistance to the invading Vikings. Canute established Danish rule in 1016. The end of his line caused the recall of Edward the Confessor (1042–66), last of the Wessex line of Alfred. In the novels of Thomas Hardy, Wessex is used to mean the SW counties of England, mainly Dorsetshire.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.