As a definable area, Berkshire - a county to the west of London comprising the Thames and Kennet Valleys and the Berkshire Downs - began life in the mid-7th century when a kinsman of Cenwalh, King of Wessex, received from his Royal relative a large tract of land roughly approximating to the north and western parts of the county. As a local name, Berkshire first appeared two centuries later, when the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded events for the troubled year AD 860:
'In [King Aethelbert's] days came a large [Viking] naval force up into the country and stormed Winchester. But Alderman Osric, with the command of Hampshire and Ealderman Ethelwulf, with the command of Berkshire, fought against the enemy and putting them to flight, made themselves masters of the field of battle.'
For over a thousand years, Berkshire has remained more or less within the boundaries it possessed in the time of the Saxon kings. In 1974, the administration of the Vale of the White Horse, in the North, was passed to Oxfordshire County Council; while in 1998, Berkshire lost its central administration all together but, geographically and historically, the county lives on. Its history, its importance in farming, its involvement in the English Civil War (1642-1648), its connections with the monarchy, which led to its title of Royal county in 1958 - all this and more remains an indelible part of the story of England.
By David Nash Ford & Brenda Ralph Lewis
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