Cerdic of Wessex – the founder and first king of Saxon Wessex
Reign – c. 519 – c. 534
Successor – Cynric or Creoda
Died – 534
Issue – Cynric or Creoda
House – Wessex
Parents – Elessa and Isaive
Wife – Guignier of Cornwall
Founder of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Wessex
Cerdic was an Anglo-Saxon ruler most known as the founder and first king of Saxon Wessex (also known as the Kingdom of the West Saxons). According to The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Cerdic reigned from around 519 to 534. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which provides the history of Britain to as far back as the first century BC, is said to have been first written in the late 9th century AD around the reign of Alfred the Great (849-899). Historians would continue to update the chronicle until around the 12th century AD.
Like many of the stories in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Cerdic of Wessex’s story from the problem of scanty information, repetitions and in some cases outright contradictions. As a result, the story of Cerdic has been exposed to a lot of interesting embellishments as a means to fill the historical gaps.
There aren’t much details about Cerdic’s birth and family history or his origin. What is emphatically clear is that many West Saxon kings venerated him as the founder of Wessex.
King of the Gewissae
It’s been said that Cerdic was known to his contemporaries as king of the Gewissae. The Gewisse were a group of Anglo-Saxon English tribes that were based in the upper Thames region, near Dorchester on Thames (in present day Oxfordshire). It must be noted that Cerdic of Wessex did not call himself king of the Saxons. Instead it was Cædwalla who first took the title of king of the Saxons. Cædwalla took this title following his conquest of the Jutish province and some parts of South Saxons.
Cerdic’s name is considered a Brittonic name, which was probably derived from the name Coroticos. This would explain why many of his descendants had non-Germanic names, including Ceawlin and Cædwalla.
Did you know: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle associates Cerdic of Wessex with Woden (the Norse god Odin)?
In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Cerdic arrived in present day South East England around 495. He was accompanied by his son Cynric in five ships. Upon arriving on the shores of the English Channel, Cerdic waged war against a Brittonic king (in some cases, it was rather a Welsh king) called Natanleod.
Cerdic and his son Cynric defeated and killed Natanloed along with several thousands of his men in 508. Some accounts state that the battle took place at Natanleaga (what is today Netley Marsh in Hampshire).
Cerdic is also said to have conquered territories in the Isle of Wight in 530. Those territories were later bestowed upon Cerdic’s kinsmen Wihtgar and Stuf.
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Cerdic’s reign ended in 534, the year that he died. He was succeeded to the throne by his son Cynric. In a different account, however, Cynric was rather the grandson of Cerdic. In the West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List, Croeda was Cerdic’s heir and son. That will make Croeda the father of Cynric.
There have been some accounts that state Cerdic’s reign spanned from 538 to 554. It’s also been stated Cerdic was perhaps the Saxon leader who suffered a defeat at the hands of the Britons in the Battle of Mount Badon, which was fought around the last decade of the 5th century.
Cerdic and King Arthur
Due to lack of many details on the origin, family and reign of Cerdic, there have been some scholars that have questioned whether Cerdic even existed, with some claiming that the founder of Wessex was an entirely legendary figure. This will explain why some accounts state that Cerdic waged war against King Arthur, another legendary figure in British history. On the other hand, there are some historians that state Cerdic received the territory of Wessex from King Arthur. Alternatively, some historians go as far saying that the King Arthur and Cerdic were the one historical figure.
More on King Cerdic
- There aren’t much details about Cerdic; however, if the accounts in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles are true, then Cerdic is the ancestor of all rulers of England and Britain, except Canute, Hardecanute, the two Harolds, and William the Conqueror.
- Also, the absence of details about the life, reign and military campaigns of Cerdic created a situation where later writers and historians have filled the gaps with a lot of interpretations, some of them which have no basis in history. There
- Much of what we know about Cerdic comes from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (9th-12th centuries AD). Historians Nennius (9th century AD) and Geoffrey of Monmouth (12th century AD) also provide some bit of information about the Wessex king.
- To some historians, Cerdic was a British earl who was forced out of his region and had to settle in Brittany. He would then return to his homeland as mighty leader of a Saxon army.
The Kingdom of the West Saxons
Existing from the 6th century to the 10th century, the Kingdom of the West Saxons was said to be a very powerful and influential kingdom. It could boast of mighty kings like Alfred the Great and Æthelstan. Often times, the Kingdom of the West Saxons had to contend with bitter and brutal invasions by Viking hordes. By the end of Æthelstan’s reign in 939, many of those Viking raids had been quelled and the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England were united under one banner. As a result, Æthelstan is considered by many as the last king of Wessex and the first king of England. To affirm their legitimacy, kings of Wessex always claimed descent from Cerdic.