from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English
- n. The official title applied to that one of the Anglo-Saxon chieftains who was chosen by the other chiefs to lead them in their warfare against the British tribes.
from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
- n. A title sometimes applied to an Anglo-Saxon king whose supremacy over some or all of the other kingdoms was acknowledged. The nature of this supremacy is unknown.
Sorry, no etymologies found.
I can think of two broad classes of answer: (a) none of the individuals concerned were of sufficient calibre to establish a heritable power over a united post-Roman Britain; (b) post-Roman Britain was sufficiently politically fragmented that it was effectively impossible to unite by anybody, even if the name 'bretwalda' and Bede's list preserves some sort of idea that it had been once and even that it ought to be.
The powers of Kent, Essex, Sussex, Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria and East Anglia rose and fell as different bretwalda overlords established regional ascendancy.
By the ninth century, Aethelberht is listed in the ASC as 'bretwalda,' or 'ruler of Britain.'
The bretwalda had no power in the civil affairs of the under-kings, but in times of war or danger formed an important centre.
Ethelbert, king of Kent is the first account of any Christian bretwalda conversion and is told by the Venerable Bede in his histories of the conversion of England.
_bretwalda_ bore to the other Anglo-Saxon _reguli_.