Government policy on devolution in England, debated since at least 1879, has always been based on hypothetical areas defined as compass bearings – North West, South East, etc. This ignores the rich history of England and its constituent parts that existed until England was first united under West Saxon leadership in 927AD. Our view has always been that new regions need solid roots that people will recognise as “their” area; hence Wessex.
Defining Wessex is difficult given the fluid nature of boundaries in the pre-Conquest period and the undeniable fact that England was ultimately united under Wessex. Indeed, one of its claims to legitimacy used by the royal family is a descent from the Kings of Wessex.
Wessex means many things to different people; for some it is the fictional Wessex of Hardy; for some it is “the West Country”; to others it is the region which shares a common dialect – where “R” is sounded; for many the desire is to have a less centralised form of government in Britain and who would re-use the name only to give an identity to new boundaries.
The earliest identifiable West Saxon core settlements are centred on Dorchester-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. This territory covered parts of Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Wiltshire and corresponded with the first West Saxon diocese. In the century following the coronation of Edgar as the first King of All England at Bath in 973AD, England came to be organised into five Great Earldoms; the Earldom of Wessex – a title revived for Prince Edward – was one of these Earldoms.
These facts shaped our definition of Wessex, embracing Berkshire, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire, Somerset, and Wiltshire. Cornwall, as the last of the Celtic areas to be incorporated into Wessex, retained a more distinct character which it has sought to re-affirm in the modern era and has its own devolution party, Mebyon Kernow, with whom WR has a long working relationship.