Cerdic of Wessex

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Cherdik - John Speed.JPG
Imaginary depiction from John Speed's 1611 "Saxon Heptarchy"
King of Wessex (King of the Gewissae)
PredecessorNone (title established)
SuccessorCynric or possibly Creoda[1][2][3]
IssueCynric or possibly Creoda

Cerdic (/ˈɜːrdɪ/; Latin: Cerdicus) is described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a leader of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, being the founder and first king of Saxon Wessex, reigning from 519 to 534 AD. Subsequent kings of Wessex were each claimed by the Chronicle to descend in some manner from Cerdic. His origin, ethnicity, and even his very existence have been extensively disputed. However, though claimed as the founder of Wessex by later West Saxon kings, he would have been known to contemporaries as king of the Gewissae, a folk or tribal group. The first king of the Gewissae to call himself 'King of the West Saxons', was Caedwalla, in a charter of 686.[4]


The name Cerdic is thought by most scholars to be Brittonic – a form of the name Ceretic – rather than Germanic in origin.[5] According to the Brittonic origin hypothesis, Cerdic is derived from the British name *Caratīcos or Corotīcos.[6][7][8][9][10] This may indicate that Cerdic was a native Briton, and that his dynasty became Anglicised over time.[11][12] This view is supported by the potentially non-Germanic names of some of his descendants including Ceawlin, Cedda and Caedwalla.[10][13][14][15]


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle provides a pedigree tracing Cerdic's ancestry back to Wōden and the antediluvian patriarchs. Kenneth Sisam has shown that this pedigree was constructed by borrowing and subsequently modifying a pedigree tracing the ancestry of the kings of Bernicia, and hence before the generation of Cerdic himself the Wessex pedigree has no historical basis.[16] The pedigree gives Cerdic's father as Elesa, who has been identified by some scholars with the Romano-Briton Elasius, the "chief of the region", met by Germanus of Auxerre.[17][18]

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.[19] 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, whose 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.[20]

King of Wessex[edit]

South Britain in the early 6th century

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Cerdic landed in what is today 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 13 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[21]). The conquest of the Isle of Wight is mentioned among his campaigns, and it later was given to his kinsmen Stuf and Wihtgar (who supposedly arrived with the West Saxons in 514). Cerdic is said by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to have died in 534, succeeded by his son Cynric.

The early history of Wessex in the Chronicle has been considered unreliable, with duplicate reports of events and seemingly contradictory information.[22] 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, 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.[23]

Some scholars have gone so far as to suggest that Cerdic is purely a legendary figure, but this is a minority view. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the earliest source for Cerdic, was put together in the late ninth century; though it probably does record the extant tradition of the founding of Wessex, the intervening 400 years mean that the account cannot be assumed to be accurate.[24][25] The annals of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, along with the genealogical descents embedded in that source's accounts of later kings, describe Cerdic's succession by his son Cynric. However, the Genealogical Regnal List that served as preface to the Chronicle manuscripts instead interposes a generation between them, indicating that Cerdic was father of Creoda and grandfather of Cynric.[26]

Descent from Cerdic became a necessary qualification for later kings of Wessex, and he was claimed ancestor of Ecgberht, King of Wessex, progenitor of the English royal house and subsequent rulers of England and Britain.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kirby, D. P. (1965) Problems of Early West Saxon History, The English Historical Review, January 1965, Vol. 80, No. 314, Oxford University Press, pp. 10–29.
  2. ^ Stevenson, W. H. (1899), "The Beginnings of Wessex", The English Historical Review, January 1899, Vol. 14, No. 53, Oxford University Press, pp. 32–46.
  3. ^ Walker, H. E. (1956), "Bede, and the Gewissae: The Political Evolution of the Heptarchy and Its Nomenclature", The Cambridge Historical Journal, 1956, Vol. 12, No. 2, Cambridge University Press, pp. 174–186
  4. ^ Yorke, B. (1989), "The Jutes of Hampshire and Wight and the origins of Wessex", in The Origins of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, Bassett, S. (ed.), Leicester University Press, London and New York, pp. 85–92, p. 96.
  5. ^ Jackson, Kenneth (1953). Language and History in Early Britain. Edinburgh, Scotland: University Press. pp. 554, 557, 613, 680.
  6. ^ Richard Coates, 'On Some Controversy Surrounding Gewissae / Gewissei, Cerdic and Ceawlin', Nomina, 13 (1989–90), pp. 1–11.
  7. ^ Parsons, D. (1997) British *Caraticos, Old English Cerdic, Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 33, pp, 1–8.
  8. ^ Koch, John T. (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 394–395. ISBN 1-85109-440-7.
  9. ^ Hoops, J. (2002) Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, Volume 20, Walter de Gruyter, Germanic Antiquities, pp. 560–561
  10. ^ a b Yorke, B. (1995) Wessex in the Early Middle Ages, A&C Black, p. 190
  11. ^ Koch, J.T., (2006) Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, ISBN 1-85109-440-7, pp. 392–393.
  12. ^ Yorke, B. (1995) Wessex in the Early Middle Ages, A&C Black, pp. 190–191
  13. ^ Howorth, H.H., "The Beginnings of Wessex", The English Historical Review, Vol. 13, No. 52 (Oct., 1898), pp. 667–671
  14. ^ Eagles, B., 2001. Anglo-Saxon presence and culture in Wiltshire c. AD 450-c. 675. In: Ellis, P D.;, ed. Roman Wiltshire and After. Papers in Honour of Ken Annable. Wiltshire Archaeological Society, pp. 199-233. p. 204
  15. ^ Hills, C. (2003), Origins of the English, London: Duckworth, p. 105
  16. ^ Sisam, Kenneth, "Anglo-Saxon Royal Genealogies", Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 39, pp. 287–348 (1953)
  17. ^ Grosjean, P., Analecta Bollandiana, 1957. Hagiographie Celtique pp. 158–226.
  18. ^ Nicholl, D. (1958) Celts, Romans and Saxons, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 47, No. 187 (Autumn, 1958), p. 300
  19. ^ Myres, J. N. L. (1989). The English Settlements. Oxford University Press, pp. 146–147
  20. ^ Myres, Chapter 6 – for all preceding comment.
  21. ^ British History Online, Victoria County History, North Charford with South Charford
  22. ^ 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).
  23. ^ Fletcher, Richard (1989). Who's Who in Roman Britain and Anglo-Saxon England. Shepheard-Walwyn. pp. 22–23. ISBN 0-85683-089-5.
  24. ^ Hunter Blair, Peter (1960). An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge University Press. pp. 34–35.
  25. ^ Campbell, John; John, Eric; Wormald, Patrick (1991). The Anglo-Saxons. Penguin Books. p. 26. ISBN 0-14-014395-5.
  26. ^ Reno, Frank (2011). Arthurian Figures of History and Legend: A Biographical Dictionary. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. p. 83. ISBN 9780786444205.

External links[edit]

Regnal titles
New title
Saxons arrive in southern Britain
King of Wessex
Succeeded by