The story of King Aelle

In the spring of this year, the leader of the Saxons who dwelt in the region of the River Weser in North West Germany called into council all the elders of the tribe. In the township by the river, Aelle accepted their allegiance, together with his three sons Cymen, Lencing and Cissa and his young daughter Elfreda. There was much distress among the people because of the harsh winter, and because of raids by neighbours who wrongly stole their cattle and the food they had diligently produced. So Aelle decreed that he would lead a battle group of his kinsman across the seas to a country called Albion by the Romans of old. He would obtain new and rich lands, as Hengist had done in 449, and settle all his people there. It was also decreed that a fleet should be built and stores assembled. Then a gathering of the tribe made supplications to the god Thor, and the heavens gave their sanctions to the wishes of the people.

May 477 – During the winter two fast war ships had been completed, also a command vessel and two heavy transports. After these had been loaded with food and equipment, Aelle and his sons Cymen and Cissa went aboard with their escorts of fighting men. Then the boats moved down the river and out to sea, watched from a hill-top by all the people, including Lencing who remained behind to protect them.
Each evening the fleet pulled up onto a deserted shore, and camped quietly for the night. Later they were delayed for several days by a great storm, and had to wait in a sheltered inlet, but at last Aelle gave the order to turn away from the land and cross the wide channel towards the new country he had been told about. After many hours, everyone was weary, some were anxious and dismayed, but there was great excitement when green hills and white cliffs were seen. A camp was set up on the rocky shore, and guards were placed around.

June 477 (1st Week) – Cissa led a patrol along the beach, and climbed a steep ravine to the cliff top where many cattle were grazing on the rolling hills of verdant grass. Inland were large forests, and in every clearing there were villages and farm buildings. This was the Kingdom of Kent, and strangers would not be welcome, so Cissa returned quickly to the safety of the camp on the sea shore. Next morning Aelle departed before dawn, and thus avoided the large groups of soldiers who approached from both sides. For several days the fleet moved westwards along the shore, past flat and marshy land and desolate beaches, and past the hilly area where the tribe of Haesta lived (Hastings).

(2nd Week) – The journey continued. There were more high white cliffs, and several places where rivers flowed into the sea. Cissa led another patrol inland, and reported that the land was now reasonably level, and was perfect for agriculture, so Aelle ordered the boats to proceed along the coast searching for a suitable place for a permanent camp. They passed round a large flat head land (Selsey Bill) and then went ashore near an inlet leading into sheltered inland water. Cymen was the first person to land, and so the place was named Cymenesora (probably near the Witterings).

(3rd Week) - A defensive camp was established within easy reach of the boats, strong points were set up, and armed patrols were constantly maintained. Aelle warned his men to be prepared for battle, and sure enough three days later they were attacked by a force of natives, who made a lot of noise but who were ill-equipped and badly led, so they were easily put to flight.

(4th Week) – Aelle was worried because he felt sure that his forces were insufficient to repel a more determined attack, so Cissa led a strong patrol each day to penetrate deep into enemy country. Little was discovered at first but on the third day they came to a group of farm buildings and cottages on a small hill near an inland waterway. Cissa stormed into this hamlet but found it empty, so he moved on to a high point nearby. He then saw that the inlet came to an end with a series of quays and warehouses, but across to the right was a frightening sight, for here there was a very large fortified town, with many houses, and surrounded by a wall of great strength. Outside there was a military encampment where hundreds of men were moving about. It was obvious that a large army was being gathered together from the surrounding countryside. Cissa withdrew at once, and reported back to Aelle and his commanders knew that they could not overcome such a large enemy force, so they made plans to leave by sea, at short notice. Patrols were substantially increased, by day and night, to give early warning of an enemy approach, and the ships were made ready.

July 477 (1st Week) – At this time, Aelle sent a small force in a fast boat to explore the inlets and waterways, and to look for an area that could be more easily defended. It was under the command of Bosa, a fleet captain, who was told he must return within two days. That evening a scout reported that there was great activity in the enemy camp, and the following morning three large army groups were seen moving southwards. One of these was approaching directly towards Aelle’s position, but the first clash of patrols did not occur until mid-day. Then began a general withdrawal to the boats, section by section, and the rear-guards were ordered to move rapidly about, to give the impression that a large force was present. The enemy only advanced with great caution, so everyone was aboard the boats and well out to sea before the British soldiers reached the beach. By great fortune, Bosa and his boat arrived back at this moment and announced that there was a suitable land to the west. Accordingly, Aelle ordered the fleet to sail in the opposite direction until outside of the enemy. Later, he turned back westwards on the ebb tide, moved past the inlet, and landed on a sloping beach of small pebbles (Hayling Island). The whole area was deserted, and Aelle remained there for some days while reorganising his forces.

(2nd Week) – Bosa explained that three miles beyond the first inlet there was another one, and that these two waterways joined together about four miles inland, thus forming an island between them. This island was much wider in the south than in the north, and in the middle it narrowed to only about a half a mile. The land was flat, and of good quality; it could be easily defended, because when the water was low it was surrounded by a great deal of soft mud. Aelle ordered his commanders to explore the whole area, and later they reported that the island was uninhabited except for a small number of hamlets. These had been overcome, and the prisoners brought back to work in the camp. Aelle discovered an ancient stronghold, left behind by the Romans (Tourner Bury), and here he made his headquarters. There were salt works nearby, and safe places to keep the boats. The defence of the island was organised, and plans were made for the maintenance of a permanent camp.

(3rd Week) – At this time a large rally was held to honour the gods who had blessed Aelle and his men with a safe journey and a successful settlement in a new land. It was decreed that the island should be named Aellinga (Hayling) since it was the place where the followers of the great leader Aelle would reside. Small boat crews were organised, and Cymen in a fighting ship and Bosa in a transport left on a long journey back to Germany to collect as many reinforcements as possible. Aelle wished them fair weather and told them to avoid all other boats, and not to contact any natives on shore.
(4th Week)- Twenty men in two small boats were seen to land on the southern shore, and Aelle sent an armed force to bring them to him. Their leaders were named Diddel and Beppa, and they also came from north Germany. They had made a settlement further west along the British shore, but had been driven out with many losses by a large force of natives. They swore allegiance to Aelle, and were accepted with much rejoicing.

September 477 – In this month Cymen and Bosa returned from Germany with many ships and a great many men. They also brought large amounts of food and other supplies, especially seed for planting in the new land. Only once had they seen any enemy boats, but these had disappeared during the night. Lencing now had only a small defence force in Germany, to protect the women and children, and the elderly. These were ready to leave as soon as boats were again available. Aelle was greatly pleased, since he now had sufficient forces to combat any possible attack that might be made upon him. After two days of celebrations, Cymen and Bosa left once more for Germany.

December 477 – In this month, the last boats arrived, with the women and children. Great was the rejoicing, and a large gathering paid tribute to Aelle and his commanders. The journey had been an arduous one, because of bad weather and rough seas on several occasions. The crews and passengers had often been cold and wet, but now they had new huts that were prepared for them. The headquarters stronghold became also a small town, and a number of farm hamlets were established.

478 – Aelle and his son Cissa led strong raiding parties by boat to many different places on the mainland, where they surprised and harried the British, and drove the farmers from their fields. So great was the alarm they caused, that it was only in the larger villages and in the capital city that the enemy felt secure.

479 – In this year, Aelle and his son Cymen led two attack forces from the mainland, where they completely destroyed five large villages. Then they advanced on the main capital town both from the South and from the East, but halted within sight of the town walls. Those within the city saw that the attackers did not have many men, so they rushed forth to destroy them. At this very moment, Cissa arrived at the western gates with a large army, and he attacked the town with great ferocity and courage. There was much slaughter, and the enemy were utterly defeated. Large numbers were driven northwards over the little hills into the wood which was called Andredesleag (Sussex Weald). Cissa took command of the town, and it was named Cissa-cester (Chichester).

480 – Aelle now controlled all the countryside for a great distance around Cissa-cester, and he moved his headquarters from Aellinga Island to the mainland. At a huge gathering near the town, all of Aelle’s followers and also the local tribal leaders, paid homage to Aelle and gave him the title of King of the Suf-sexe (South Saxons = Sussex).

483 – Aelle and his sons made journeys through the kingdom in many directions, and received the allegience of all the local leaders, especially those to the east, where the followers of Wurth resided (Worthing). In this year also, many of Aelle’s commanders settled their own families in the area. Bosa, the skilled captain of the boats made his home near an inlet from the sea, at Bosa-ham (Bosham). Cocca, the farmer, took over the fertile land near the hills and called it Cocca-ing (Cocking). Diddel and Beppa also created small farmsteads at Diddel-ing (Didling) and Beppa-tun (Bepton).

485 – Aelle gathered a large army and marched to the east, where he came upon a strong force of British encamped upon a hillside near a burna (stream). Here at Mearcraedesburne (believed to be near Shoreham) a fierce battle was fought, but at nightfall both sides withdrew. Although the result was indecisive, the authority of Aelle in the coastal area was never challenged again.

488 – During the summer, the people of Kent became without a leader, and Aesc succeeded to this Kingdom, which had been formed years before by Hengist. When Aelle received this information, he set up a magnificent court, and made a royal progress across the Kingdom of Sussex to meet with the King of Kent on the borders of their lands. The two kings paid homage to each other with much ceremony, and agreed that never would they engage in aggression against each other. The leader of the people of Haesta (Hastings) was also present, but had no influence on events.

491 – King Aelle now sought to improve the eastern part of his kingdom where disobedience and treason had occurred. He and Cissa formed a large army, and marched along the coast, exacting due tribute as they passed. When they reached Andredescester (the Roman fort of Anderida, Pevensey) they besieged the rebels and natives who were enclosed therein, and attacked them continuously. Eventually all the inhabitants were killed – no one survived. After this the people of Haesta submitted to King Aelle – they acceded to the Kingdom of Sussex, and did no further ill.

495 – In this year two Saxon warriors, Cerdic and his son Creoda, came to Britain with many men and after a fight with the natives they established a settlement in the area (probably on the eastern side of Southampton Water).

496 – King Aelle and his court travelled westwards, together with many soldiers. He met with Cerdic, and the two men had great respect and friendship for each other. Cerdic had extended his influence greatly since his arrival, and he sought the help of King Aelle in forcing the native British still further to the west. Aelle was accompanied by his daughter Elfreda, and the young prince Creoda was with Cerdic.

497 – On 1st June, Elfreda, the daughter of the youngest child of King Aelle of Sussex, was married to Creoda, the eldest son of Cerdic who was now an established leader of the West Saxons. Thus was united the two most powerful communities in the south. At first, the South Saxons were dominant, but later on a Kingdom of Wessex was established which prospered greatly. The wedding was a cause of much celebration, and many noble men travelled great distances to be present.

508 – Aelle and Cissa led a strong army into the country of the West Saxons, and combined with Cerdic who had very large forces. Together they swept forward beyond Hamtun (later Suth-hamtun = Southampton), and fought a British prince who was named Natanleod, who was killed in the battle together with a great many of his followers. Afterwards the district was called Natanleag (believed to be Netley Marsh) and extended as far as Cerdicesford (believed to be Charford, by the River Avon on the borders of Hampshire and Wiltshire).

510 – The combined forces of Cerdic and Aelle again moved westwards, and won many battles against the natives. But then they were confronted by a very great King of the British who came from Wales and the west country (this was the mythical King Arthur). At Mons Badonicus (Mount Baden, which may possibly be Bradbury Rings in Dorset) he occupied a very strong encampment. Although Cerdic and Aelle attacked the British prince repeatedly and with great valour, they were unable to overcome him, and eventually had to withdraw. Arthur followed them back to the boundaries of their kingdoms, and after that there was comparative peace in the land for over forty years.

517 – In this year, the great King Aelle, the first Bretwalda (‘ruler of all Britain’) became ill with a fever, and passed away on 24th June at his palace near Chichester, when the summer sun was at its highest in the heavens. His son Cissa succeeded to the Kingdom of Sussex, and ruled over that land, but he paid deference to the King of Wessex.

534 – In March, Cynric the son of Creoda and Elfreda succeeded to the Kingdom of Wessex. He was the grandson, both of Cerdic and Aelle, and from him the long line of Saxon kings of Wessex and of England were descended.

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