Who was King Ine of Wessex and what did he do?

All but forgotten today, King Ine is probably the greatest king you’ve never heard of. He helped to establish Wessex as a powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdom, he increased trade, and he introduced a set of laws that laid the foundation stone for the structure of English society for hundreds of years. Here is the remarkable story of Ine of Wessex.

History Rulers
3 May 2023

Discover the untold story of King Ine, the legendary monarch who helped establish Wessex as a powerful kingdom and set the foundation for centuries of English society.

Ine, also known as Ini of Wessex and King Ina, was – according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – the son of Cenred, whose line stretches back to Cerdic, the founder of Wessex and its first king. However, as with many of the early kings, some confusion reigns as to the authenticity of such claims.

After his predecessor Cædwalla was injured in battle and abdicated in 688, to see out his final days in Rome, the kingdom of Wessex was beset by internecine struggles.

A number of contenders were vying for the throne, although there’s no historical record of who they may have been. What’s certain is that Ine emerged victorious and began a thirty-seven year reign, often spoken with the same high exalting praise as that of Alfred the Great.

Ine of Wessex inherited a powerful kingdom and his actions only increased its influence. He was a patron of the church, a lawmaker, a politician, an economist and a town planner.

King Ine of Wessex

Britain as it was divided in the time of the English Saxons (Photo: Royal Geographical Society via Getty Images)

After acceding to the throne in 689, King Ine controlled much of the western half of Wessex. However, he struggled to keep a tight grip on the eastern half of the kingdom so turned his attention to the kingdom of Dumnonia – encompassing much of modern-day Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.

Unfortunately, documented information from this period of Anglo-Saxon history is scarce and much of what we know is subject to conjecture. It’s believed that in 710, King Ina and Nothhelm of Sussex joined forces against Geraint of Dumnonia. Geraint was killed and the Wessex border advanced west to the river Tamar.

Five years later, Ini of Wessex was said to have fought a battle at Woden’s Barrow in Wiltshire, either with the king of Mercia or against him but again, the battle wasn’t documented, nor were the belligerents.

Administrative Boundaries

It’s generally believed that King Ine was the first to divide his kingdom into a series of administrative areas known as shires. These divisions created what is essentially Hampshire, Wiltshire, Devon, Dorset and Somerset, and this spread throughout the country and up into Scotland by the ninth century. Each area was governed by an ealdorman known as a shire reeve, or sheriff.

Trade & Industry

By around 715, there was an Anglo-Saxon settlement around the River Itchen known as Hamwic, which became Hamtun. Goods such as glass, hides and pottery were traded here and there were a number of specialist tradespeople including metalworkers, clothmakers and ironmongers. The population of the settlement, said to be around 5,000, would suggest that Ine of Wessex would have needed to govern the area. It has also been suggested that around this time and with so much trade, the first West Saxon coins were minted but, unfortunately, no coins with his name have ever been found.

Ine’s Laws

Saxon farm (Photo: Beeldbewerking via Getty Images)

King Ina, as it was sometimes written, is perhaps most famous for the set of laws he produced in the last years of the seventh century. Ine’s laws were eventually appended into those of Alfred the Great towards the end of the ninth century.

These laws (Ines asetnessa) covered a wide range of aspects of daily life in the seventh century including spiritual welfare. There were rules around baptism and Sunday working, while there were also fines for not paying dues to the church, the precursor of tithes.

In farming, land had to be enclosed and anyone who didn’t fence their property was liable for damage caused if cattle escaped. This law in particular is believed to be the first documented evidence of open field farming, a practice which lasted into the twentieth century.

There were fines for refusing to serve in the military, while other laws discussed the criminal justice system. Trade in the countryside needed to be conducted in the presence of witnesses, to prove the goods weren’t stolen.

These laws issued by Ine of Wessex were an important step in the creation of a societal structure which was further developed over the coming centuries.

Later Years, Death & Succession

Saxon cross (Photo: Photos by R A Kearton via Getty Images)

King Ine abdicated the throne in 726 and is said to have travelled to Rome. According to Bede, a late-seventh and early-eighth century monk and chronicler, he wanted to leave his kingdom ‘to younger men’ but he didn’t name an heir.

The date of Ine’s death is unrecorded and is usually listed as ‘after 726.’ He was succeeded by Aethelheard who may have been his brother-in-law, though this is disputed.

Ine of Wessex left one of the most enduring legacies of any Anglo-Saxon king. He influenced all aspects of life in his kingdom, he reinforced the dynamism of the church, while his laws – or variations of them – were in place for centuries.


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