We clue this variously as ‘Alfred the Great’s kingdom’, ‘Thomas Hardy’s fictional area’ or even ‘Prince Edward, Earl of …’. So what or where is Wessex? The story of Wessex is really the story of the beginning of England.

Wessex was the Kingdom of the West Saxons, founded around AD 500 by Cerdic. The kingdom grew slowly over the next 350+ years and in 871 when Alfred became king it was one of the island’s strongest kingdoms and were better able to face the marauding Danes than many others. After Alfred (who became known as ‘the Great’) defeated the Vikings at Edington, the lands were divided and Alfred was now king of the English (though there is debate about who was truly the first king of all England).

Alfred’s defeat of the Vikings led the way to the unification of England under Alfred’s grandson Athelstan and Wessex became an earldom and no longer a kingdom. After William the Conqueror’s arrival the earldom was split up.

Wessex covered most of Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, and the former county of Berkshire. The capital of Wessex was Winchester. Author Thomas Hardy, who came from Dorset, used Wessex as the fictional name for the county where his now well-known stories were set.

When Prince Edward was made Earl of Wessex the title had not been used for over 900 years. The last earl was killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.