Wessex was an historical kingdom of England. Wessex is considered to cover the modern counties of Berkshire, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, Hampshire and parts of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Devon and Cornwall.
Wessex grew from two settlements: one was founded, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, by Cerdic and his son (or grandson) Cynric, who landed in Hampshire in 494 or 495 and became kings in 500 or 519; the other, known only from archaeological evidence, was situated on the upper Thames and was probably settled from the northeast. Though the Chronicle implies that this area was in British hands in 571, when Cuthwulf (perhaps a member of the West Saxon royal house) captured Luton, Aylesbury, Bensington (now Benson, in Oxfordshire), and Eynsham, archaeological evidence proves earlier settlement.
Wessex was invaded by the Danes in 871, and Alfred was compelled to pay them to leave. They returned in 876, but were forced to withdraw. In 878 they forced Alfred to flee to the Somerset Levels, but were eventually defeated at the Battle of Edington.
In 927 King Athelstan, Alfred’s grandson, conquered Northumbria, bringing the whole of England under one ruler for the first time. The Kingdom of Wessex had become the Kingdom of England.
After the conquest of England by the Danish king Canute in 1016, he established earldoms based on the former kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia. He created an earldom of Wessex, encompassing all of England south of the Thames, for his English henchman Godwin. For almost fifty years the vastly wealthy holders of this earldom, first Godwin and then his son Harold, were the most powerful men in English politics after the king. Finally, on the death of Edward the Confessor in 1066, Harold became king, reuniting the earldom of Wessex with the crown. No new earl was appointed before the ensuing Norman Conquest and the Norman kings did away with the great earldoms of the late Anglo-Saxon period.