Bretwalda

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The title of Bretwalda was one given to some of the kings of the kingdoms of England in the second half of the first millennium AD. Such a king was considered to be the overlord of all of England. The title was not inherited, but rather given to whichever king was considered the most powerful at the moment; often there was no Bretwalda. The word is derived from the Anglo-Saxon Bretenanwealda, "Lord of Britain". Although the Bretwalda was often considered to be the king of all or most of England, he probably was more a primus inter pares than an actual overlord to the other English kings. Thus, it was more a (very prestigious) title of honor than an actual official title with corresponding powers.

Two lists of kings that deserved this title have survived, one by Bede in the ninth century, and one in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from the tenth. The dates given are those of their kinghood over their kingdom, unless otherwise noted.


The original lists of Bretwalda did not contain the kings Ethelbald and Offa, but in all probability they were considered Bretwalda. The reason is probably an anti-Pagan (for Bede) and anti-Mercian (for the Chronicles) bias. The title of Bretwalda gradually fell into disuse around or after the Danish invasion of the 860s and 870s, the king becoming known as 'King of England', the first such king being Alfred the Great, king of Wessex since 871, although he is considered primarily a Bretwalda.

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