Diving into the enigmatic life of King Cerdic of Wessex, one is immediately confronted with a tantalising web of myth, mystery, and conjecture that continues to perplex historians and fuel the imagination of storytellers.
Wessex, from the Old English form of ‘West Saxon’ was part of the heptarchy, the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. It grew to become the most powerful in England and gave the country Æthelstan, the first king of a unified England. But its beginnings were rather more humble.
Much of what we know about Saxon king Cerdic was written in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle around 400 years after he died. In its pages, he was the founder and the first king of Wessex, but over the course of the last 1,500 years, documented truths became intertwined with stories, legends, personal agendas and myths and there’s not enough genuine evidence to create a full story. This is why later historians, writers and chroniclers were compelled to fill in the blanks to fit their own narratives. Therefore it becomes almost impossible to separate fact from fiction.
What we are left with is an intriguing and complex web of interpretation, conjecture and mystery. This is the story of Cerdic of Wessex.
The Prelude to King Cerdic
Nothing is known about the early life of Cerdic. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he arrived in Britain on the Hampshire coast in 495 with five ships full of warriors, including his son Cynric, probably from modern-day Germany. He was victorious in a battle with the Britons – supposedly on the day they landed – and established a base in what became the kingdom of Wessex.
There is a void of information until 508 when it is said Cerdic and Cynric killed an ancient king of the Britons called Natanleod along with five thousand of his men at what has been identified as Netley Marsh in Hampshire.
In 519, father and son defeated the Britons at a place known then as Cerdicesleag, now believed to be Charford in the New Forest and was either proclaimed, or proclaimed himself, the first king of Wessex.
Like much of the life of the Saxon king Cerdic, conjecture and an element of guesswork play a prominent role in his biography. It was said that after establishing a kingdom and having an army and navy at his disposal, he conquered the Isle of Wight in 530 which he bequeathed to kinsmen named Stuf and Wihtgar.
Cerdic of Wessex & Arthurian Legend
King Arthur is a central figure in British legend but the histories of Arthur and king Cerdic have become inextricably linked.
One source suggests they fought at the Battle of Mount Badon in 520 and another says Cerdic was Arthur’s nephew or even his son. Yet another maintains that Cerdic was in fact King Arthur himself. How much is truth and how much is the result of a millennium and a half of fanciful storytelling will remain forever unknown.
Cerdicus in Latin, the story of the first king of Wessex has been told and retold thousands of times by many ancient historians, writers, religious men and chroniclers all looking to further a particular agenda. It’s therefore perhaps understandable as to why the lives of these early Anglo-Saxon kings are mired in such mystery.
Saxon King Cerdic - Death & Legacy
Cerdic of Wessex is generally believed to have died of natural causes in 534. The throne passed to his son Cynric who reigned for a little over twenty-five years.
As with his life, his legacy is one of conjecture. It’s believed he laid the foundations for the kingdom of Wessex to eventually thrive. According to some historical writings, every English sovereign aside from Canute, Hardicanute, Harold I & II and William the Conqueror are his direct descendents.