Of Winchester and Chichester

Of Winchester and Chichester

King Alfred the Great (r.871-899)

There is much in common between these ancient cities and the city of Gloucester. Established by the Romans they subsequently formed important capitals for the mobile court of the kingdom of Wessex. They were primary inclusions in King Alfred the Great’s ‘burghal defences’ against Viking invasions. NB Alfred later made London a part of his kingdoms of Wessex. It later fell into the hands of the Danes.

Each of these major towns were modified to meet the needs and protection of their burgess citizens. They formed major centres to administer cover over the wider territory of old Saxon Wessex. Their sovereign status was continued under the Danish and Norman regimes of subsequent monarchs. The old Kingdom of Wessex (West Saxons) grew into four kingdoms – Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia with Wessex. They were unified by Aethelstan, the first King of a united England in 929 AD.

In its earlier Saxon status, from 519, Wessex may be considered to have initially covered Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon, Somerset then Berkshire established by the mid-8th century.

Winchester Witanceaster (fortified market town)

Winchester has a very early history, dating back to the Iron Age when it was a hillfort. It became home to the Celtic Belgae who developed it into a flourishing trading settlement. It is likely that the Romans formed a pact with the Belgae who agreed to abide by the Roman Rule. It seems that the Romans developed the town to become widely known as Venta Belgarum. The new city with Roman status became the regional capital and was the fifth largest town in Roman Britain.

When the Romans left, it seems rather as in their other disbanded properties, the city declined until Christianity grew, and Alfred’s new defensive system restored its protection and trade. Again, it was the influence of Alfred the Great, who having become ruler of the west Saxons, defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Ashdown in 871 at the young age of 21. Alfred was crowned King and established Winchester as his capital.

Saxon Winchester was modified into a defensive burgh and became a fine and leading Medieval city. New Minster and Nunnaminster were founded to become the most important learning centres in England. The Normans rebuilt the royal palace and demolished the old Minster, replacing it with the present cathedral in 1079. Centred in Hampshire, the town lies in the vale of Itchen, it was central in the Roman road system. In the 7th century it became the capital of Wessex.

Both Alfred the ‘Great’ and Canute the ‘Great’ are buried in the cathedral. Winchester’s merchant guild dates back into Saxon times. William II’s 11th century grant to Bishop Walkelin supported the Fair of St Giles which was maintained until the 18th century.

Chichester Cicestre

Chichester was initially a Roman fort that developed to become a medieval city of high recognition. Originally called Noviomagus it became neglected after the Romans left. Eventually, a Saxon leader named Cissa settled within its walls and the settlement became known as Cissa’s Ceaster. In the late ninth century, King Alfred fortified the town as a burgh. The town grew in status, gaining a cathedral and a high reputation for its craftsmen and merchants to become the capital city of West Sussex.

The cathedral, of Norman construction, originated in1075, using stone from the Isle of Wight. Overseen by Bishop Stigand, it was eventually completed and consecrated by Bishop Ralph de Luffa in 1108. Modifications in the Middle Ages include the tall spire and unusually a detached Bell Tower. Chichester was one of Alfred’s largest defensive burghs.

Of King Alfred, he was the perfect monarch, he was pious and scholarly, he visited Rome and translated various Christian documents. Alfred applied himself to administration and reorganisation of the nation. His adage would have been “One cannot act justly without the wisdom of education”.

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