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See also Ceretic for two kings with a similar name.
Imaginary depiction of Cerdic from John Speed's 1611 "Saxon Heptarchy".

Cerdic (from the early British name represented by modern Welsh Caradog; died 534) was the King of Wessex (519–534) and is regarded as the ancestor of all subsequent Kings of Wessex (See House of Wessex family tree), and as such an ancestor of virtually every royal throne in Europe.

Contents

Official life and career

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Cerdic landed in Hampshire in 495 with his son Cynric in three keels (ships). He is said to have fought a British king named Natanleod at Netley Marsh in Hampshire and killed him in 508, and to have fought at Charford (Cerdic's Ford) in 519, after which he became first king of Wessex. 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.

The early history of Wessex in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is clearly muddled. 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 British at the Battle of Mount Badon, which was probably fought sometime between 490 and 518. This cannot be the case if Dumville is correct, and others assign this battle to Ælle or another Saxon leader.

It should also be noted that while Cerdic's area of operation was, according to the Chronicle, in the area north 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, so it appears likely that the origins of the kingdom of Wessex are more complex than the version provided by the surviving traditions.[1]

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.[2][3]

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.

Origins

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle provides a pedigree tracing Cerdic's ancestry back to Wōden and the antediluvian patriarchs. However, this pedigree has been shown by Kenneth Sisam to have 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.[4]

Curiously, the name Cerdic is thought to be British – a form of the name Ceretic or Caradog (in Latin Caratacus) – rather than Germanic in origin. One explanation for this is the possibility that Cerdic's mother was British and that he was given a name used by his mother's people; if so, this would provide evidence for a degree of mixing, both cultural and biological, between the invaders and the native British. Alternatively, the use of a British name 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 successors including Ceawlin, Cedda and Caedwalla. If this were the case then the records of Cerdic landing in Britain, which were written down many generations after the events they purport to portray, must be looked on as being in the realms of legend.[5]

J.N.L. Myres noted that when Cerdic and Cynric first appear in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 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 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. Some scholars believe that it is likely that his mother was a British Celt who left for the Continent or perhaps was a Continental Celt. Geoffrey Ashe postulates he may be a son of Riothamus.

Modern times

The name "Cedric" (in place of "Cerdic") arose from a misspelling in the novel Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott.

Cerdic is the main protagonist in the historical novel Conscience of the King (1951), by the English author Alfred Duggan.

In the 2004 film King Arthur, Cerdic 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.

Bernard Cornwell names him as a rival of Aelle of Sussex, in his Warlord Chronicles.

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.

References

  1. ^ Fletcher, Richard (1989). Who's Who in Roman Britain and Anglo-Saxon England. Shepheard-Walwyn. pp. 22–23. ISBN 0-85683-089-5.  
  2. ^ Hunter Blair, Peter (1960). An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge University Press. pp. 34–35.  
  3. ^ Campbell, John; John, Eric & Wormald, Patrick (1991). The Anglo-Saxons. Penguin Books. pp. 26. ISBN 0-14-014395-5.  
  4. ^ Sisam, Kenneth, "Anglo-Saxon Royal Genealogies", Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 39, pp. 287-348 (1953)
  5. ^ Howorth, H.H., The Beginnings of Wessex, The English Historical Review, Vol. 13, No. 52 (Oct., 1898), pp. 667-671

External links

Regnal titles
New title
Saxons arrive in southern Britain
King of Wessex
519-534
Succeeded by
Cynric
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