King Sigebert – The Usurper

Possible Location of Privett Floods

When King Cuthred died in AD 756, he was succeeded by a distant kinsmen, Sigebert.

  • Succession by kinsmen was quite normal during the period of the West Saxon kings. Succession of the King’s son, only occurred if he happened to be the fittest man for the job, other than that it was an elective process but the choice of Sigebert turned out to be a misplaced one.
  • Sigebert was thought to be the nephew to King Cuthred, through his sister Cynegyth and her husband the Essex Prince Sigeric, who was in turn the son of Swefhard.
  • Swefhard was the third son of St Sebbi of Essex and this meant that Sigebert was not a direct male line descendane of Cerdic and it is quite possible that the election of Sigebert was an attempt to open up the succession to heirs of the female line.

Whatever else was the cause for Sigebert’s election, the usurpation, was very likely to have been in response to the marriage of the Wessex heiress Cynethryth to the now King Offa of Mercia.

Cynethryth was a very important woman, being the daughter of King Cuthred. The Wessex Royal House did not want to be absorbed by the Mercian Royal House and so Sigebert was elected by the Wessex nobles. By this action Mercian supremacy over Wessex is lost.

But not all was well in the House of Wessex and King Sigebert, after only one year as King,  the Witan or National Assembly, a council of nobles, deprived himof the greater part of his Kingdom, leaving him with the land known as Hampshire.

  • Quite what Sigebert did to deserve such treatment is not certain, but his ‘unjust doings’ were the end of him. He appears to have murdered one of his own men, an ealdorman called Cumbra and this could have been all or part of his wrong doings.
  • His distant kinsman, Cynewulf was given the Kingdom of Wessex leaving  Sigebert in control of Hampshire, probably as ealdorman.
  • Cynewulf and quite possibly the people of Hampshire were not happy with this arrangement and he drove Sigebert out of Winchester into the Forest of ‘Andredsweald’ which spread from Kent into the middle of Hampshire at this time.

Sigebert took refuge in the forest, at a place called Privets-flood, where he was murdered, stabbed to death, by a local swineherd.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle tells us that this murder is to avenge the death of Cumbra.

What is of great importance to Hampshire historians is that in the telling of this story in the Chronicle, it becomes the first written record of the county of Hampshire.

From the Anglo Saxon Chronicle:


A.D. 754. This year died Cuthred, king of the West-Saxons; and Sebright, his relative, succeeded to the kingdom, which he held one year; Cyneard succeeded Humferth in the see of Winchester; and Canterbury was this year on fire. A.D. 755. This year Cynewulf, with the consent of the West-Saxon council, deprived Sebright, his relative, for unrighteous deeds, of his kingdom, except Hampshire; which he retained, until he slew the alderman who remained the longest with him. Then Cynewulf drove him to the forest of Andred, where he remained, until a swain stabbed him at Privett, and revenged the alderman, Cumbra.