Cerdic of Wessex
- See also Ceretic (disambiguation) for two kings with a similar name.
Imaginary depiction of Cerdic from John Speed's 1611 "Saxon Heptarchy".
|King of Wessex|
|House||House of Wessex|
Cerdic was allegedly the first King of Anglo-Saxon Wessex from 519 to 534, cited by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as the founder of the Kingdom of Wessex and ancestor of all its subsequent kings. (See House of Wessex family tree).
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Cerdic landed in Hampshire in 495 with his son Cynric in five ships. He is said to have fought a Brittonic king named Natanleod at Natanleaga and killed him thirteen years later (in 508), and to have fought at Cerdicesleag in 519. Natanleaga is commonly identified as Netley Marsh in Hampshire and Cerdicesleag as (Charford, Cerdic's Ford). The conquest of the Isle of Wight is also mentioned among his campaigns, and it was later given to his kinsmen, Stuf and Wihtgar (who had supposedly arrived with the West Saxons in 514). Cerdic is said to have died in 534 and was succeeded by his son Cynric.
Any purported connection between Cerdic and southern Hampshire or the Isle of Wight is certainly suspect and probably spurious. While Cerdic's area of operation was, according to the Chronicle, in the area west of Southampton, there is also stronger archaeological evidence of early Anglo-Saxon activity in the area around Dorchester-on-Thames. This is the later location of the first West Saxon bishopric, in the first half of the seventh century. The first English settlers in the Isle of Wight were Jutes and a later Chronicle entry states that the island was conquered by Wessex (only) in the seventh century. There was also an early Anglo-Saxon settlement at Abingdon. All this indicates that the original Kingdom of Wessex (then known as the Gewissae) was probably in the Thames Valley below Oxford. The name of Clearsley in Buckinghamshire was Cerdeslai in the Domesday Book, which makes it a good candidate for Cerdicesleag; and Notley, a mile from Clearsley on the River Thame, is a credible possibility for Natanleaga. These possibilities, though unproven, would locate the battles in the Chronicle within or close to the most credible original borders of Wessex.
The early history of Wessex in the Chronicle is clearly muddled  and enters duplicate reports of events. David Dumville has suggested that Cerdic's true regnal dates are 538-554. Some scholars suggest that Cerdic was the Saxon leader defeated by the Britons at the Battle of Mount Badon, which was probably fought in 490 (and possibly later, but not later than 518). This cannot be the case if Dumville is correct, and others assign this battle to Ælle or another Saxon leader, so it appears likely that the origins of the kingdom of Wessex are more complex than the version provided by the surviving traditions.
Some scholars have gone so far as to suggest that Cerdic is purely a legendary figure, and had no actual existence, but this is a minority view. However, the earliest source for Cerdic, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, was put together in the late ninth century; though it probably does record the extant tradition of the founding of Wessex, the intervening four hundred years mean that the account cannot be assumed to be accurate.
Descent from Cerdic became a necessary criterion for later kings of Wessex, and Egbert of Wessex, progenitor of the English royal house and subsequent rulers of England and Britain, claimed him as an ancestor.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle provides a pedigree tracing Cerdic's ancestry back to Wōden and the antediluvian patriarchs. However, Kenneth Sisam has shown that this pedigree resulted from a process of elaboration upon a root pedigree borrowed from the kings of Bernicia, and hence prior to Cerdic himself it has no historical basis.
Curiously, the name Cerdic is thought to be Brittonic – a form of the name Ceretic or Caradog (in Latin Caratacus) – rather than Germanic in origin. This may indicate that Cerdic was a native Briton, and that his dynasty became Anglicised over time. This view is supported by the non-Germanic names of some of his descendants including Ceawlin, Cedda and Caedwalla. Conversely some Welsh princely dynasties derive from early ancestors with Germanic names such as Tewdrig (Theodoric) and his father Teithfallt. This suggests that ethnicity was possibly not as important in the establishment of rulership within the proto-states of Post-Roman Britain as has been traditionally thought. Cerdic's father, Elesa, has been identified by some scholars with the Romano-Briton Elasius, the "chief of the region", met by Germanus of Auxerre.
J.N.L. Myres noted that when Cerdic and Cynric first appear in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in s.a. 495 they are described as ealdormen, which at that point in time was a fairly junior rank. Myres remarks that,
It is thus odd to find it used here to describe the leaders of what purports to be an independent band of invaders, who origins and authority are not otherwise specified. It looks very much as if a hint is being conveyed that Cerdic and his people owed their standing to having been already concerned with administrative affairs under Roman authority on this part of the Saxon Shore.
Furthermore, it is not until s.a. 519 that Cerdic and Cynric are recorded as "beginning to reign", suggesting that they ceased being dependent vassals or ealdormen and became independent kings in their own right.
Summing up, Myres believed that,
It is thus possible … to think of Cerdic as the head of a partly British noble family with extensive territorial interests at the western end of the Litus Saxonicum. As such he may well have been entrusted in the last days of Roman, or sub-Roman authority with its defence. He would then be what in later Anglo-Saxon terminology could be described as an ealdorman. … If such a dominant native family as that of Cerdic had already developed blood-relationships with existing Saxon and Jutish settlers at this end of the Saxon Shore, it could very well be tempted, once effective Roman authority had faded, to go further. It might have taken matters into its own hands and after eliminating any surviving pockets of resistance by competing British chieftains, such as the mysterious Natanleod of annal 508, it could 'begin to reign' without recognizing in future any superior authority.
Some would disagree with Myres, as Cerdic is reported to have landed in Hampshire. Some also would say that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle proves that Cerdic was indeed a Saxon, however it does not prove that he had no Celtic blood.[who?] Some scholars believe it likely that his mother was a British Celt who left for the Continent, or perhaps a Continental Celt. Geoffrey Ashe postulates he may be a son of Riothamus.
Cerdic was the primary antagonist of the 2004 film King Arthur. He and Cynric were depicted as Saxon invaders, and were killed, respectively, by Arthur and Lancelot at the Battle of Badon Hill (Mons Badonicus). Cerdic was portrayed by Stellan Skarsgård.
Rosemary Sutcliff makes him the half-Briton half-Saxon offspring of Hengest's daughter and the British king Vortigern in her Arthurian saga, an ally of Arthur's treacherous son and the unifier of the Saxons.
In Helen Hollick's Pendragon's Banner trilogy, Cerdic is presented as King Arthur's son by his divorced first wife, Winifred. Later, he marries Arthur's former lover, Mathild, and she gives birth to Cynric. It is unceirtan whether Cynric is Cerdic's or Arthur's son.
Cerdic's name may be commemorated in the name of the village of Chearsley, Buckinghamshire, which appears in the Domesday Book (1086) as Cerdeslai. This is assumed to be the place mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as Cerdicesleah, where King Cerdic and his son Cynric defeated the Britons in 527.
- British History Online, Victoria County History, North Charford with South Charford
- Sir Charles Oman (Oman, England Before the Conquest, 1910:244) found the Wessex annals in the Chronicle "meagre and inexplicable", "confused and suspicious"; Oman's speculation that events in the annals had been duplicated was taken up in detail by Kenneth Harrison (Harrison, "Early Wessex Annals in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" The English Historical Review 86 No. 340 (July 1971:527-533).
- Fletcher, Richard (1989). Who's Who in Roman Britain and Anglo-Saxon England. Shepheard-Walwyn. pp. 22–23. ISBN 0-85683-089-5.
- Hunter Blair, Peter (1960). An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge University Press. pp. 34–35.
- Campbell, John; John, Eric; Wormald, Patrick (1991). The Anglo-Saxons. Penguin Books. p. 26. ISBN 0-14-014395-5.
- Sisam, Kenneth, "Anglo-Saxon Royal Genealogies", Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 39, pp. 287–348 (1953)
- Jackson, Kenneth (1953), Language and History in Early Britain. Edinburgh. pp. 554, 557, 613 and 680.
- Koch, J.T., (2006) Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, ISBN 1-85109-440-7, pp. 392–393.
- Howorth, H.H., "The Beginnings of Wessex", The English Historical Review, Vol. 13, No. 52 (Oct., 1898), pp. 667–671
- Grosjean, P., Analecta Bollandiana, 1957. Hagiographie Celtique pp. 158–226.
- Myres, J.N.L. (1989) The English Settlements. Oxford University Press, pp. 146–147
- Myres, Chapter 6 - for all preceding comment.
Saxons arrive in southern Britain
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