Wiltshire has been inhabited for thousands of years. Stone Age man was present on the land but many of the prehistoric remains are from the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age.
With the arrival of Neolithic man came farming, longbarrows, stone circles and Silbury Hill – the largest prehistoric earthwork of its kind in Europe. Stonehenge and Avebury are perhaps the most famous Neolithic sites in the United Kingdom.
Bronze Age man left his mark by clearing forests and establishing settlements and trade, and Iron Age man created the hill forts and grouped settlement areas into tribal regions, maintaining territorial defences.
Before the Roman Period, the tribes of the Atrebates, Dobunni, Dorotriges and Catuvellauni had their own territories and in the Roman period, Vespasian conquered the region and established Cunetio (Mildenhall), Verlucio (Sandy Lane) and Sorbiodunum (Old Sarum).
During Saxon times, the West Saxons took control when they defeated the inhabitants of Old Sarum in 522. They also took Barbury Castle (near present day Swindon).
The Kingdom of Wessex was established by the Saxons (the name comes from ‘West Saxons’) and it was symbolised by the Wyvern (or dragon). Wilton was the chief town and the place that Egbert of Wessex had his palace. The people of Wessex frequently warred with those from neighbouring Mercia.
In 927, King Athelstan brought the whole of England under one ruler for the first time. Even as part of the Kingdom of England the area continued to have its own identity.
In 1016 the Danish King Cnut conquered England and established earldoms based on the regions of Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria. Wessex was favoured by the king who administered the region personally. The man who held the position of first Earl of Wessex was Godwin and he was one of the most powerful lords in England. On his death, the title went to his son Harold.
Harold eventually became King Harold II and reunited the earldom of Wessex with the crown. However, 1066 when William the Conqueror defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings marked the beginning of the end of the old English aristocracy and Wessex ceased as a political unit.
The first Earl of Wiltshire was William le Scrope in 1397.
During the English Civil War, Wiltshire sided mostly with the parliamentarians. In 1643 at the Battle of Roundway Down in Devizes Sir William Waller was defeated during a bloody engagement by Royalist Lord Wilmot and at Wardour Castle near Tisbury, Lady Blanche Arundell held out for five days against Sir Edward Hungerford’s force.
At the time of the Domesday Survey, Wiltshire was predominantly agricultural but was later to be well known for its woollen industry with major centres at Malmesbury, Chippenham, Devizes, Trowbridge and Bradford-on-Avon.