Sealwyda, ‘saltus qui dicitur Seluudu’ (1)

An investigation on Selwood Forest, most of which was in Wiltshire but some was in Somerset. Work in Progress.

When Alfred set out from Athelney, he rode to Egbert’s Stone (‘Ecgbryhtes stane be eastan Sealwyda’, ‘Petram Aegbryhta quae est in orientali parte saltus qui dicitur Seluudu’) to rally his forces. There he was joined by men from Somerset, Wiltshire and Hampshire, and he continued on to Edington (Eþandune) where the decisive battle was fought. So where was this ‘Egbert’s Stone’ in Selwood? Scholarly consensus puts it by Penselwood, about 4 miles north west of Wincanton, not far from the village of Stourton where a monument was even set up to it in the 18th c.

The medieval boundary of the Wiltshire forest

The medieval boundary of the Wiltshire forest

Selwood Forest certainly was ‘sylva magna’ or ‘Coit Maur’: there was Penselwood and Selwood village, now up in Frome, but that is not a quarter of it. A map of the medieval boundaries has it stretching from Bradford-on-Avon in the north almost to Shaftesbury in the south. And that was just the Wiltshire part. The East-West boundaries are still to be discovered (a book is on its way which may help).

Forest: The earliest definition (1297) in the OED is a legal one: “A woodland district, usually belonging to the king, set apart for hunting wild beasts and game, etc”, “an area lying outside the walls … not fenced in”. That could be important.

The attached map is probably too small to read all the names, but the (Wiltshire) boundary has been marked out (a bit unsteadily) in red, and names to note have been marked. The unnannotated version is here: it will enlarge quite well. The western section stretching into Somerset is not given.

And here I will stop as I have said enough already.


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