King Egbert (ca. 771-839)King Egbert (ca. 771-839) - When the Angles, Saxons and Jutes migrated to the Isle of Britain, they all established their own little kingdoms on the island (see Anglo-Saxon invasions).  Of course, it wouldn't be long before the rulers of these various kingdoms would attempt to expand their territories at their neighbors' expense.  King Egbert (also spelled Ecgberht) of the Kingdom of Wessex succeeded on a scale that earned him (briefly) the title "Ruler of Britain".  When he ascended to the throne of Wessex in 802, Mercia was the dominant power of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy.  It controlled more land and by 800 had brought Essex, Kent, Sussex and East Anglia under its influence.  Only Northumbria and Wessex remained completely independent of Mercia's hegemony.  King Egbert changed all that in the first half of the ninth century.  He defeated King Beornwulf of Mercia, at the Battle of Wroughton in 825, thereby ending Mercia's dominance of Britain and making Wessex the most powerful kingdom.  As a result, Essex, Kent and Sussex were now controlled by Wessex and East Anglia became independent once again.  Then in 829, he deposed Wiglaf, another king of Mercia and took the title for himself (though he would have to let it go the following year).  And finally, in later 829, he marched an army to Dore, and without a fight, received the submission of King Eanard of Northumbria.  It is at this point that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refers to Egbert as brytenwalda ('mighty-ruler' or bretwalda 'ruler of Britain').

 

But he had over-extended himself and had not the power to control the outlying kingdoms for very long.  However, he did establish a political dynasty that would eventually unite the all the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.  His grandson was Alfred the Great (see Alfred the Great), and Alfred's grandson was Æthelstan, the first king bestowed with the title "King of the English" (from 927 to 939).  A remarkable feat that likely would hold greater historical prominence had it not been overshadowed by the Norman Invasion of 1066 (see William the Conqueror).  The other great drama playing out on the island at this time was the beginning of the Viking Age.  Wessex' first contact with the Vikings came in 789 (four years before Lindisfarne), under Egbert's predecessor, Beorhtric.  Three Danish ships landed on the Wessex coast in Dorset.  The king's reeve, Beaduheard, met the newcomers to escort them to the royal court, perhaps thinking they were traders coming to engage in commerce.  The Danes struck him down, making it clear their motives were not peaceful (there will be more on this invasion under Alfred the Great).