The Kingdom of Sussex was founded in 477AD.
According to the Saxon Chronicles of the time. Legend has it that it was founded by Aelle who arrived at Cymenshore in three ships with his three sons who saw off local inhabitants.
Whilst historians agree that Saxons first arrived in Sussex in the late fifth century, there is said to be little evidence that the story of Aelle is true but is more likely to be a story handed down in oral tradition, such as the sagas that are known of in the form of epic poems.
In 409 AD Roman Emperor Honorius withdrew troops from Britain to defend the Rhine region from invading Barbarians. Two years later he wrote to all local governors withdrawing all responsibility and telling them they had to take care of their own defences.
The Saxons were residents of Lower Saxony in Germany, and the Angles were from both northern Germany and Southern Denmark. These Germanic marauders, who were raiding the south-east coastline, including Sussex, took advantage of the lack of resistance from the Roman Empire who could no longer afford to maintain this region on the very outskirts of the Empire. Left to defend itself, England began to construct defensive shore forts. The defence of Sussex at this time was the shore port of Pevensey, named as Andredecaester in the Saxon chronicles
The arrival of the Saxons, Jutes and Angles
Roman troops are said to have left Britain around 410AD, though some of them settled in the country and built themselves homes. History is limited between 400 and 600AD, but a sixth-century cleric wrote of invasion and destruction by heathen “Saxones” who had been invited to Britain by King Vortigern as mercenaries to help defend against raids by the Picts and Scots. The truth of this story is unclear as it was written about 100 years after the alleged events.
More Saxons landed in Britain, along with Jutes from Denmark and Angles from what is now known as the region of Shleswig Holstein in Germany, but at that time was known as Angleynn. These visitors, now collectively named as Anglo-Saxon, created a new social structure and culture in southern Britain, which at the time divided up into a few small independent kingdoms. The Saxons settled in Essex, Sussex and Wessex, the Jutes in Kent and the Isle of Wight and the Angles in the north of England. Those settling in Sussex were known as the South Saxons, the suthsaexe, and it is from these people that the county gets its name.
The legend of Aelle
The legend of the first Saxon in Britain, Aelle is said to have made his initial base on Cymen’s Shore an area that no longer exists having been swallowed up by the English Channel but was said to be an island south of Selsey on the West Sussex/Hampshire border. More recently, since there are no early Anglo-Saxon burial-grounds in the Chichester area until 100 years after Cilla’s time,it has been suggested that an East Sussex estuary may, in fact, have been the landing point for the first Saxons, the East Sussex rivers Cuckmere or Ouse, have also been suggested as possibilities. The Saxons were said to have fought off locals and driven them into the woods of the Weald.
Chichester is said to be named after one of Aelle’s sons, Cissa. Under the Romans, Chichester had been known as Noviomagus Regensis. Aelle’s other sons Cymen and Wlenking allegedly gave their names to Cymenshore, the landing place where the invasion started, and Lancing is named after Wlenking.
Archaeological evidence, in particular burials, provides the main evidence that early Anglo-Saxons settled in Sussex. Burial sites have only been found in the east of the county at Alfriston, Selmeston, Bishopstone, Beddingham, Glynde, Saxonbury (Lewes) and Wooodingdean.
End of the Saxon era in Sussex
During the ninth century in Sussex, Earl Godwin came to power in Sussex, though the background to this is unclear. Yet within two generations the family rose to hold significant power in England, starting in 1043 with the marriage of Godwin’s daughter Edith to King Edward the Confessor.