Before ZEthelberht a similar position had been held by the West Saxon king Ceawlin, and at a much earlier period, according to tradition, by Ella or ZElle, the first king of Sussex.
Other early writers, however, do not observe these distinctions, and neither in language nor in custom do we find evidence of any appreciable differences between the two former groups, though in custom Kent presents most remarkable contrasts with the other kingdoms. Still more curious is the fact that West Saxon writers regularly speak of their own nation as a part of the Angelcyn and of their language as Englisc, while the West Saxon royal family claimed to be of the same stock as that of Bernicia.
The oldest Anglo-Saxon codes, especially the Kentish and the West Saxon ones, disclose a close relationship to the barbaric laws of Lower Germany - those of Saxons, Frisians, Thuringians.
The royal family of Essex may really have been of Saxon origin (see Essex), but on the other hand the West Saxon royal family claimed to be of the same stock as that of Bernicia, and their connexions in the past seem to have lain with the Angli.
It is characteristic in this connexion that the West Saxon laws do not make any distinction between ceorls and laets or halffreemen as the Kentish laws had done: this means that the half-free people were, if not Welshmen, reckoned as members of the ceorl class.
It was a hunting-ground of the West Saxon kings, but, as already stated, was afforested by the Conqueror, whose cruelty in the matter is probably exaggerated by the traditional account.
Hickes, whose chief argument, based on the character of the language, is now known to be fallacious, as most of the poetry that has come down to us in the West Saxon dialect is certainly of Northumbrian origin.