A Conversation for CELTIC DEVON

AD 722 and the battle of Hehil

Post 1

Ozzie Exile

Here is an interesting post from the Cornwall24 site


The article is interesting as it clearly suggests that the battle did not occur at Hayle ( which is probably not news), but rather someplace (unamed) further east. This is concluded not only because of the timeline does not fit with an Anglo-Saxon advance so far west, but also because of the prompt response of the Welsh.

The article mentions and references the Annales Cambriae, but suggests that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle did not mentions any defeats (again, no surprises there).

However I looked up the ASC references to 722AD, and there it refers to The Queen Ethelburga destroying Taunton, which Ina had previously built, Ealdbert wndering in exile in Surrey ans Sussex, and Ina fighting with (not necessarily against) the South Saxons.

The references to Taunton probably relate to the fort which Ina had built there, and in the context of the battle of Hehil, may (I believe) have been destroyed because it provided to great a risk of being taken over by the British, and then being used against the Saxons.

If so then presumably the battle must have taken place either in close proximity to Taunton, or further to the east (meaning that Taunton had been cut off), or possibly that the battle simply left too few defenders to defend this miltary asset.

If this battle happened, as it is suggested, in East Devon, West Somerset, or even further east, then one could argue that any benefit arising would have assisted the British cause in Devon significantly, and possibly the British in West Somerset as well - rather than just the Cornish as suggested

AD 722 and the battle of Hehil

Post 2

Plymouth Exile

Ozzie Exile,

As the compilation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was commenced during Alfred’s reign over Wessex, we should perhaps take with a pinch of salt the validity of entries for dates such as 722AD.

Far too many historians jump to conclusions from such extracts from the ASC. For instance, Kenneth Jackson (in “Language and History in early Britain”) concluded that by that date “dialects of Brittonic in this region did not have long to survive, since the independence of Devon ended in 710, when Ine of Wessex fought the British king, Gerent.” He apparently reached this conclusion from the ASC entry:-

A.D. 710 . Ina also, and Nun his relative, fought with Grant, king of the Welsh.

This entry gives no indication of where this conflict took place, what the outcome was, or whether one side or the other gained any territory. It is likely that Wessex controlled territory ended somewhere near Taunton after this date if the references to Ine’s Taunton fortress are anything to go by, as the most likely place for a fort would be at a location where a border needed to be defended. Certainly it is a wild extrapolation to assume that Devon independence came to an end at this time and that Celtic speech ended. This would have entailed a massive influx of Saxons, and recent DNA evidence conclusively proves that this did not happen.

As for the destruction of the Taunton fort, the ASC has this to say:-

A.D. 722 . This year Queen Ethelburga destroyed Taunton, which
Ina had formerly built; Ealdbert wandered a wretched exile in
Surrey and Sussex; and Ina fought with the South-Saxons.

A.D. 725 . Ina this year also fought with the South-Saxons, and slew Ealdbert, the etheling, whom he had before driven into exile.

Some historians conclude that the destruction of the Taunton fort and the enforced exile of Ealdbert were linked in some way, and had nothing to do with any conflict between the Britons of Dumnonia and the Saxons of Wessex. If this was the case, then this event would not help in establishing the location and circumstances of the Battle of Hehil.

AD 722 and the battle of Hehil

Post 3


I am beginning to suspect that the Battle of Hehil may have taken place on the Blackdown hills above Taunton and Wellington. There are local stories of a leader of the Exmoor British who was killed in a battle at Simonsborough. He was supposed to be a Danish raider called Simon who was put ashore and ended up leading the Exmoor British against the Saxons. But I cannot find the source of this story.

AD 722 and the battle of Hehil

Post 4

Ozzie Exile


In my experience there are often important details in local stories. Whilst this certainly does not mean that all local stories are correct, they often contain relevant details which are imformative and which help interpret what are often ambiguous references in the more accepted histories.

The idea that the Saxons simply pushed continuously westward ignores the fact that Dartmoor and Exmoor loom large on the geography (quite literally). Local geography has to be considered. To push west to the south of Dartmoor (ie via Plymouth) or to push west to the north (between both moors) both seem to have a massive risk of being outflanked in enemy territory. A force based in the Tamar valley and/or in North Devon could easily cause military "embarassment" to a simple expansion strategy. Devon is not the land of gentle rolling hills you find further east.

A simpler strategy for the Saxons would be to consolidate the land immediatly to the east - in other words around the Blackdowns - and would make much more military sense.

This is especially true if Taunton was still considered to be "at risk" by the Saxons years thereafter, and hence Ine's fortress was razed. Highly unlikely if the battle lines were then in western Cornwall.

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AD 722 and the battle of Hehil

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