Saxon Bath

It was almost 200 years before the Saxons gained full control of the south of England after the withdrawal of the Romans. In 577 there was a great battle to the north of Bath at Dyrham. The Saxons triumphed, killing three local kings and taking the three cities of Gloucester, Cirencester and Bath.

England became divided into three main kingdoms: Wessex in the south west, Mercia in the middle and Northumbria to the north of the River Humber. The pagan name, Aquae Sulis, was changed to the neutral Aquaemann. During the Saxon occupation Christianity began to be accepted as a religion.

The earliest surviving written reference to Saxon Bath comes in the 7th Century. In 675 the Charter of Osric, King of Hwicce, bestowed a gift of land on the Abbess Bertana to enable a convent of the holy virgins to be established. In 757-8 a Charter made a grant of land to the brethren of the Monastery of St Peter and it seems that, for a time, it was a double house. By 781 it was described as a “most famous” monastery.

Bath was emerging as a significant religious and political base. Situated on the borders of two of the most important kingdoms of England – Wessex and Mercia – its potential as a military base was shown in 781 when control of the monastery transferred from the Bishops of Worcester to the Mercian King, Offa. Bath attracted members of this royal family. In 864 Burhred, the last of the Mercian Kings, held a council meeting in the city, attended by his bishops and nobles. After Alfred’s victory over Danish marauders in 878 control of Bath was ceded to Wessex. Old Roman defences were fortified and a militia sent for added protection.

The Coronation of the First King of England

By the end of the 10th Century the town was prospering, having been rebuilt as a Christian and political centre. Bath’s position on the northern border of Wessex ensured its continued political significance. In 901 a Witan (King’s Council) was held under Edward the Elder, and during his reign Bath’s first Saxon mint was established. This produced fine silver coins, which were used to pay off the Danes as the Viking threat grew.

The pinnacle of Bath’s political importance came on 11th May 973 when the Abbey, which had been re-established after the Danish raids, was chosen as the setting for the grand coronation of King Edgar the Peacemaker, the first King of all England. He was crowned at Bath in the presence of Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury and Oswald, Archbishop of York. 

The overriding legacy of Saxon rule has been place-names that are still in use today. Lansdown (long hill), Odd Down (Odda’s Hill), Claverton Down (hill above the clover place) and Twerton (two-ford) all provide a reminder of their Saxon heritage.