Ine of Wessex


Ine was king of Wessex between 688 and 726. He failed to maintain the territorial gains made by his predecessor, Ceduala, who placed most of southern England under his command and substantially expanded the territories of the West Saxons. By the end of his reign, the kingdoms of Kent, Sussex, and Essex were no longer under West Saxon rule; however, Ine retained control over what is now Hampshire and consolidated and expanded West Saxon territory in the western peninsula.

Ine is remembered for his legal code (Latin: leges Inae – “laws of Ine”), granted around 694, the first by an Anglo-Saxon king outside Kent. They reveal much of the history of Anglo-Saxon society and much of Ine”s Christian convictions. Trade developed significantly during his reign, with the town of Hamwic (now Southampton) gaining in importance. It was probably during Ine”s reign that the West Saxons began to mint their own coins, although none have even been found bearing his name.

He abdicated in 726 to go on pilgrimage to Rome, leaving, in the words of the contemporary chronicler Beda, the kingdom to “younger men.” He was succeeded by Etelredo (Æthelheard).

Ancient sources agree that Ine was the son of Cenredo (from there the agreement diminishes. Among his siblings was a boy, Ingildo (Ingild), and two sisters, Cuteburga (Cuthburh) and Cuemburga (Cwenburg). Cuteburga was married to King Aldfrido (Aldfrith) of Northumbria, and Ine himself was married to Etelburga (Æthelburg). Beda recounts that Ine was “of royal blood,” meaning that he was of the royal line of Gewisse, the oldest West Saxon tribal name.

The genealogy of Ine and the kings of West Saxony is known through two sources: the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” and the “Royal West Saxon Genealogical List.” The Chronicle was written in the late 9th century, probably at the court of Alfred the Great, and some of its annals incorporated brief genealogies of the kings of West Saxony. These generally diverge from the more complete information in the Royal List. The inconsistencies seem to result from the efforts of later chroniclers to demonstrate that each king on the list was descended from Cerdicus (Cerdic), the founder, according to the Chronicle, of the West Saxon lineage in England.

Ine”s predecessor on the throne of West Saxony was Ceduala, but there is some uncertainty about his transition to Ine. Ceduala abdicated in 688 and left for Rome to be baptized. According to the Royal List, Ine reigned for 37 years, abdicating in 726. These dates imply that he did not ascend the throne until 689, which may indicate a period of uncertainty between Ceduala”s abdication and Ine”s ascension. It is possible that the latter reigned together with his father, Cenredo, for a period: there is weak evidence for joint reigns and stronger evidence for sub-reis, reigning under a more powerful monarch in West Saxony not long before this time. Ine acknowledges her father”s help in her legal code, and there is a land deed that indicates that Cenredo was still reigning in West Saxony after Ine”s ascension.

The extent of West Saxon territory at the beginning of Ine”s reign is well known. The upper Thames valley on both sides of the river had long been the territory of Gewisse, although Ceduala lost all territory north of the river to the Kingdom of Mercia before the rise of Ine. To the west, Ceaulinus of West Saxony is known to have reached the Bristol Channel a hundred years earlier, The West Saxons have since expanded southward across the southwestern peninsula, pushing the border with the British kingdoms of Dumnonia, which was probably roughly equivalent to the modern regions of Devon and Cornwall. On the eastern border of West Saxon territory was the kingdom of the East Saxons, which included London and what is now Surrey. To the southeast were the Southern Saxons, on the coast east of the Isle of Wight. Beyond Sussex was the Kingdom of Kent. Ine”s predecessor, Ceduala, imposed himself as lord of most of these kingdoms to the south, although he was unable to prevent Mercian incursions along the upper Thames.

Ine retained control of the Isle of Wight and continued to advance in Dumnonia, but Ceduala”s territorial gains in Sussex, Surrey and Kent were all lost by the end of his reign.

Kent, Essex, Sussex and Surrey

Ine made peace with Kent in 694, when its king, Vitredo paid Ine a large sum of money to compensate for the death of Ceduala”s brother, Mul, who had been killed during Kent”s revolt of 687. The amount offered is uncertain; most manuscripts of the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” report “thirty thousand” and others specify thirty thousand “pounds.” If these pounds were equal to the esceta, then the amount would be the same as a royal veregild, that is, the legal value of a human life according to one”s social status.

Ine managed to keep the southern Saxons, conquered by Ceduala in 686, under control for a period. There is a reference to King Notelmo of Sussex (Nothhelm) in a deed of 692 to a relative of Ine (perhaps related by marriage). Sussex was still under West Saxon rule in 710, when a record appears of Notelmo having participated in a campaign with Ine in the west against Dumnonia.

Control of Surrey, which was possibly never an independent kingdom, had passed through Kent, Mercia, Essex, and West Saxony in the years before Ine. Essex also included London, and the Diocese of London included Surrey, which seems to have been a cause of friction between Ine, the East Saxons, and the Mercian kings, until the province was finally transferred to the Diocese of Winchester in 705. Evidence for Ine”s control over Surrey from the beginning comes from the introduction of his legal code, in which he refers to Earconvaldo (Earconwald), bishop of London, as “my bishop.” Ine”s subsequent relations with the East Saxons were made a little more clear in a letter, written in 704 or 705, by Bishop Valdero (Waldhere) of London to Bertualdo (Berhtwald), the archbishop of Canterbury. It refers to “disputes and discords” that arose “between the king of the West Saxons and the monarchs of our country.” The monarchs cited by Valdero are Sigeardo (Sigeheard) and Suefredo (Swæfred) of the East Saxons and the cause of the discord was the sheltering of West Saxon exiles in Essex. Ine agreed to peace provided the exiles were expelled. A council, at Brentford, was planned to settle the matter definitively. By now, Surrey had clearly passed into West Saxon control.

Beda reports that Ine kept Sussex under control for “many years,” but in 722, an exile named Ealdberto fled from Surrey to Sussex, which gave Ine reason to invade. Three years later, he invaded again, this time killing Ealdberto, which indicates Sussex had managed to rid itself of West Saxon rule at some point before this. It has already been suggested that Ealdberto was either Ine”s son or his brother Ingildo.

Dumnonia and Mercia

In 710, Ine and Notelmo fought Gerainto of Dumnonia according to the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” and according to John of Worcester, Geraint was killed in battle. Ine”s advance brought him control of the region of modern Devon and established Dumnonia”s new frontier on the River Tamar. The Annales Cambriae, a 10th century chronicle, reports that in 722 the Britons defeated their enemies at the Battle of Hehil. The “enemies” can only be Ine or people under his command, but the location of the battle remains a mystery; historians have already suggested several locations in both Cornwall and Devon.

In 715, Ine fought a battle at Woden”s Barrow against the Mercians led by Ceolredo of Mercia (the result is not recorded. Woden”s Barrow is a tumulus, currently called Adam”s Grave, in Alton Prior, Wiltshire. Ine may not have obtained any of the lands north of the Thames that belonged to the West Saxons at the time of his predecessors, but he is known to have controlled the south bank: a deed of 687 reveals that he granted land to a church at Streatley on the Thames and nearby Basildon.

Other conflicts

In 722, the “Chronicle” reports that Ine murdered one Cinevulph (Cynewulf), about whom we know nothing more, although his name suggests a connection with the royal line of West Saxony. A dispute apparently broke out in the royal family soon after: in 722, still according to the “Chronicle,” Ine”s queen Etelburga destroyed Taunton, built by her husband at some earlier point in his reign.

The first mention of the function of ealdorman in West Saxony and the first reference to the counties they commanded occurred during the reign of Ine. It may have been Ine who divided West Saxony in a similar way to the modern counties of Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon and Dorset, although older administrative boundaries may also have influenced this division. It has already been suggested that these counties began as divisions of the kingdom between members of the royal family.

In about 710, in the middle of Ine”s reign, the trading settlement of Hamuicus was founded on the west bank of the river Itchen, an area that is now part of the modern city of Southampton. Among the goods traded in this port were glass vessels and, because of archaeological finds of animal bones, furs. Further evidence of trade was revealed by finds of imported goods such as grinding stones and miscellaneous ceramics, as well as city scots, including Frisian coins. More specialized trade was also occurring there, including textiles, metal parts, and general smithies. It is not known whether Ine was interested in Hammuicus, but some of the goods he appreciated, especially luxury goods, were imported there and the merchants probably needed royal protection. The total population of the settlement was estimated at 5,000 and this high number alone indicates Ine”s involvement, for no one but the king could organize a way to feed and house so many people in one place.

The growth of trade around 700 followed the trend of expanding the circulation area of scetas, the common currency of the time, to include the upper Thames valley. The first coins minted by the West Saxons are believed to have been struck during the reign of Ine, although none bearing his name have been found – scetas typically offer no clues to the king who struck them.


The earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon legal code, which may date from 602 or 603, is that of Etelbert of Kent (Æthelberht), whose reign ended in 616. In the 670s and 680s, a code was issued in the names of Clotarius and Eadric of Kent (Eadric). The next kings to grant their own laws were Vitruvius of Kent (Wihtred) and Ine of West Saxony.

The dates of Vitredo”s and Ine”s laws are somewhat uncertain, but there is reason to believe that Vitredo”s were granted on September 6, 695, and Ine”s in 694 or shortly before. At the time, Ine had just agreed to the terms of a peace with Vitredo over Mul”s death, and there are indications that the two monarchs collaborated to some extent in producing their legal codes. In addition to the temporal coincidence, there is a clause that appears almost identically in both codes. Another sign of collaboration is that Vitredo”s laws use the Anglo-Saxon term “gesith” (“noble”) instead of the Kent equivalent, “eorlcund,” as one might expect. It is possible that Ine and Vitredo bestowed their legal codes as a sign of prestige, to re-establish their authorities after periods of revolt in both kingdoms.

Ine”s laws have only survived because Alfred the Great appended them to his own legal code. The oldest manuscript still extant – and the only complete copy – is the “Corpus Christi College, Cambridge MS 173″, which contains Alfred and Ine”s codes, plus the earliest surviving version of the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”. Two other partial versions have survived, one copy, originally complete of Ine”s code, now part of the British Library manuscript MS Cotton Otho B xi, was almost all destroyed in 1731 in a fire at Ashburnham House and only the section between chapters 66 and 76.2 escaped destruction. The other, a fragment of Ine”s code, is in the manuscript MS Burney 277, also in the British Library.

It is possible that the form we know is not the original seventh century one. Alfred mentions in the prologue of his code that he rejected older laws that he did not like, but he did not specify which ones. However, if they were precisely the ones that were no longer relevant in his time, one cannot assume that the surviving version is the complete one.


The prologue to Ine”s laws lists his advisors, three nominally: the bishops Earconvaldo (Earcenwald) and Hedo (Hædde), and Ine”s father, King Cenredo. Ine was a Christian, and his intention to encourage Christianity is evident in his laws. The oath of a Christian, for example, would be considered more important than that of a non-Christian; baptism and religious observance were also addressed. Special attention was also given to civil matters – more so than in the laws of Kent of the same era.

One of the laws states that communal lands could be fenced by several ceorls (the contemporary term for “free Saxons”). Any ceorl who did not fence his fraction, however, and allowed his cattle to wade into another”s field could be considered guilty of the damage caused. This, however, did not mean that the land was communal: each ceorl had his own plot for his livelihood. However, it is remarkable that it takes a royal law to get such an insignificant issue right; the laws do not mention the role of the local lords in the ceorls” compliance, but it is clear in this and other laws that the villagers held the land under the lords” permission, and the close involvement of the king indicates that the relationship between lord and dweller was under royal control.

These laws constitute the first documentary evidence of the use of an open field system on farms. They show that open field farming was practiced in West Saxony in Ine”s time, and it is likely that this practice was also the most important in all of the English midlands, with northern and eastern boundaries at Lindsey and Deira. Not all of West Saxony used the system, however: it was not used in Devon, for example.

The fine for neglecting the fyrd, the compulsory military service for the king, was set to be 120 shillings for the noble and 30 for the ceorl, which reveals that these also had military obligations. Scholars disagree about their military value, but it is not surprising that all were required to fight, as defeat meant slavery.

Another law specified that anyone accused of murder should get at least one person of high status as his “swearing-in helper.” The mission of these was to swear for the accused, clearing him of suspicion of the crime. Ine”s requirement implies that there was no reliance on peasants” exclusive swearing, a significant change from previous practices, when it was a man”s relatives who were supposed to support him in his oaths.

The laws still provided separately for the English and British subjects of Ine and were neither oppressive nor completely fair towards the British. They evidence the incomplete integration between the two populations, a fact further supported by toponymic research, the history of religious houses, and archaeology, all indicating that the western portion of West Saxony was still sparsely populated by the newly arrived Germanics at the time the laws were granted. It is notable that, although issued by a Saxon king of a Saxon kingdom, the term used in the laws to define the Germanic subjects of Ine is “”englisc,”” which reflects the existence, already in this early period, of a common English identity encompassing all Germanic peoples in Britannia.

Ine was a Christian king who ruled as a patron and protector of the church. The introduction to his legal code cites as his advisors two bishops of London and a bishop of Winchester, and he claimed that his laws were also made with the advice and instruction of “all my earldormen and the chief councillors of my people, besides the great assembly of the servants of God.” The laws themselves demonstrate Ine”s Christian convictions, specifying fines for those who did not baptize their children or pay tithes. He supported the church by sponsoring religious houses, especially in the new Diocese of Sherborne, newly separated from the Diocese of Winchester in 705. He had been against the division, ignoring threats of excommunication from the Archbishop of Canterbury, but agreed after Bishop Haedde died.

The first female convent among the West Saxons was founded in Ine”s reign by a relative of hers, Bugga, daughter of King Centuinus (Centwine), and her sister Cuteburga, who founded Wimborne Abbey sometime after separating from her husband, King Aldfrid of Northumbria. At the suggestion of Bishop Aldelmo (Aldhelm), in 705, Ine built the church that would become Wells Cathedral, and the “Chronicle” further reports that Ine built a church (minster) at Glastonbury, a reference to a new construction or rebuilding, as there was already a British monastery on the site.

Ine has been credited with supporting the founding of an organized church in West Saxony, although it is unclear whether this was his initiative. He is also connected with the oldest known West Saxon synod, presiding personally and apparently speaking to the assembled clergy.

In 726, Ine abdicated without any obvious heir and, according to Beda, left the kingdom to “younger men” to travel to Rome, where he died, just as his predecessor did. It was believed at the time that a pilgrimage to Rome would improve a person”s chances of being welcomed into heaven, and according to Beda, many went there for this reason: “…both nobles and simpletons, laymen and clerics, men and women.” Both Ine and Offa of Mercia are traditionally credited with founding the Schola Saxonum in Rome, located in the modern rione Borgo. It borrowed its name from the militia of Saxons who worked in the city, but eventually became an inn for English visitors to the city. Ine”s successor was King Etelhard (Æthelheard””), whose relationship to Ine is unknown, although later sources state that he was his brother-in-law. Etelhard”s succession to the throne was contested by an Atelingo (Aetheling), Osvaldo, and it is possible that the merchant support for Etelhard in the confusion that followed Ine”s abdication both helped establish Etelhard as king and also brought him into the sphere of influence and Etelbald (Æthelbald), the king of Mercia. Ine”s brother Ingildo, who died in 718, is cited as an ancestor of King Egbert of West Saxony and the subsequent kings of England.

Secondary sources


  1. Ine de Wessex
  2. Ine of Wessex
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