Bretwalda

   Term used to designate any Anglo-Saxon king who exercised power over all of southern England, bretwalda, or bretwald, was probably a scribal correction of the Old English term Brytenwealda, which probably meant "Britain ruler" or "ruler of the Britons."
   Although often used in modern scholarship, the term bretwalda appears only in one manuscript copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. In the year 829, according to the Chronicle, King Egbert of Wessex conquered "the kingdom of Mercia and all that was south of the Humber, and he was the eighth king who was Bretwalda." Other manuscripts reporting the event use the Old English word Brytenwealda, but even that version of the term was not widely used. However, echoes of the term bretwalda can be heard in a charter of Æthelbald of Mercia from 736, in which the king is called "rex Britanniae," the Latin version of "king of Britain." The Chronicle also lists Egbert's predecessors as bretwalda: Aelle of Sussex, Ceawlin of Wessex, Æthelberht of Kent, Raedwald of East Anglia, and Edwin, Oswald, and Oswy of Northumbria. This list of kings is taken from Bede's history, which identifies the kings as ruling over all the lands south of the Humber and thus reinforces the notion that the term meant "Britain ruler."
   Although a clear definition of the term seems to have existed among Anglo-Saxon writers, bretwalda was probably not a regular institution. The appearance of bretwalda in the Chronicle may reveal the memory of an overall leader of the combined regions of the south from early Anglo-Saxon history. It may also be of poetical origin, emerging in the banquet halls of the kings and used as a term of praise and honor. It may also have emerged from church ideology, and the writing of the church's most famous representative, Bede, to testify to the unity of the English people.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English Church and People. Trans. Leo Sherley-Price. Revised edition. London: Penguin Classics, 1968.
 ♦ Loyn, Henry R. Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman Conquest, 2d ed. London: Longmans, 1991.
 ♦ Sawyer, Peter H. From Roman Britain to Norman England, 2d ed. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.
 ♦ Stenton, Frank M. Anglo-Saxon England. 3d ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.
 ♦ Whitelock, Dorothy, ed. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1986.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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  • bretwalda — or brytenwalda Any of several Anglo Saxon kings with lordship over kingdoms beyond their own. Used in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, the title probably means ruler of the Britons. It was given to Egbert died 839 of Wessex and to seven earlier kings:… …   Universalium

  • bretwalda — ˈbretˌwȯldə,  ̷ ̷| ̷ ̷ ̷ ̷ noun ( s) Usage: usually capitalized Etymology: Old English bretwalda, brytenwealda, probably from Bryten Britain + walda, wealda (from wealdan to rule) more at wield : the chief king in Anglo Saxon England used as a… …   Useful english dictionary

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