Cerdic of Wessex

Cerdic of Wessex

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Cerdic of Wessex - History

APPENDIX B: A Possible Chronology of Cerdic's Life

425-30: Birth of Cerdic, son of Eliavres and Ysaive

430's: Spends much of his youth on his father's ships with Saxon seamen

440's: Serves as Vortigern's interpreter

Vortigern marries Hengist's daughter, and Britain thus "passes under the domination of the Saxons".

Cerdic stricken with polio survives, but emaciated and crippled. Cerdic is cured by St. Germanus. Germanus' mission from Aetius to Vortigern unsuccessful or incomplete because of Vortigern's personal misconduct.

Ambrosius Aurelianus sent to Britain by Aetius. With Vortimer and Cador, challenges Hengist and Vortigern for control of the island.

Cerdic, Octha, and Ebessa campaign against the Picts in Scotland, and reopen iron and coal mines, perhaps using captured Picts and Scots as slaves.

448-50: Cerdic bases his fleet in Anglesey, and ravages the coast of Ireland, suppressing the Irish raids and capturing slaves for mines and transport. Weapons produced and stockpiled in Britain.

450: Patrick's letter of complaint over ravagings of Ireland by Coroticus.

451: Huns invade Gaul. Weapons and armor shipped to Nantes enable the Visigoths to lift the siege of Orleans in mid-June. British and loyal Saxon forces (`Gewisse') sail to Vannes and Boulogne. The Battle of Chalons in July. Perhaps at this time Vortimer forces refugees and untrustworthy Saxons onto the Isle of Thanet.

452: Armies return from Gaul (which Geoffrey interprets as reinforcements from Germany). At a banquet of returning veterans, called to reorganize Britain, a brawl erupts and several hundred British nobility are slain. This huge loss of leadership opens the floodgates for droves of marauders who lay waste to the countryside and initiate bitter Briton-Saxon hostilities.

456: Ambrosius organizes and leads the resistance against Saxon raiders, beginning a long struggle to recover order. Cerdic, Cador, and Riagath fight in the defense of Britain. Vortigern and Hengist perish.

460's: The Second Saxon Revolt is eventually put down. Octha comes from Anglesey to take command of Kentishmen, with Ambrosius's sanction. Ambrosius dies and Riagath becomes king. Peace and prosperity in Britain. Cerdic grows wealthy in shipping and iron working. He marries Guignier, and children are born, of whom at least Creoda, Anna, and Cynric survive. Guignier is from Cornwall, and perhaps at this time Cerdic rules Glamorgan, but his ships frequent ports all over Britain and the Gallic coasts. Saxon immigration continues in eastern Britain.

470: Aegidius and Syagrius in the Roman province of northern Gaul attempt to roll back the Visigoths under Euric. They are joined by Riotimus, who brings British cavalry, and Cerdic's Saxon footsoldiers. They are defeated at Deol, and Cerdic and his men are captured. Riotimus is driven into Burgundy. Cerdic, to save his men from massacre, agrees to be Euric's vassal, and is installed as ruler of Nantes and Vannes.

470-85: Cerdic transfers his operations from Anglesey and Glamorgan to Vannes, providing Euric with a fleet. Cerdic's ships supply the Frisians in campaigns against the Franks. Saxon raids increase in Britain, leading to the founding of Sussex and Northumbria. The aggressive Aelle kills Octha and takes Kent. Cador establishes the cavalry fortress of Cadbury, and appeals to Cerdic for help.

485: The death of Euric ends Cerdic's obligation.

495: Euric's son Alaric becomes overextended, and Clovis invades the Loire valley. Cerdic and Cynric leave Creoda in command at Vannes and move displaced vassals, including some Visigoth and Alanic knights, to the Southampton area.

495-98: Cerdic expands and consolidates Hampshire holdings, and begins his campaign to take over the Upper Thames region. Allied with Cador, Cerdic leads the kings of the Britons in battles against Oesc and Aelle's Kentishmen. Cador dies around now.

500: The Battle of Badonbyrig (Banbury?) establishes Wessex.

500-10: The aging king maintains the peace and well protects his country. His sons remain loyal, but a frustrated grandson, Medrot, seeks independence and power. Guignier sympathizes with Medrot.

510-15: Cerdic dies in his 80's, perhaps in an angry quarrel with the young and tragic Medrot.

John C. Rudmin, 864 Chicago Av, Harrisonburg, VA, 22801
Joseph W. Rudmin, Physics Dept., James Madison Univ., Harrisonburg, VA, 22807
(First submitted for publication in Oct 1993)

Copyright statement: Permission is given to copy and distribute this essay freely provided the authors are cited and this statement is included.

Cerdic, King of Wessex

Cerdic was the first king of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Wessex who reigned from 519 to 534, and the ancestor of all the subsequent Anglo-Saxon Kings of England.

The Anglo-Saxons were partly descended from the Germanic tribes who migrated from Europe and settled the south and east of England at the beginning of the early fifth century. Bede states that the West-Saxons were "formerly called Gewissæ". The Gewissae (a Saxon tribe descended from Gewis of Baeldaeg's Folk), landed on the south coast of England and began to conquer an area of territory from the native British Celts.

Saxon helmet

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, commissioned by Cerdic's descendant, Alfred the Great, relates that Cerdic landed at Cerdic's Shore, in Hampshire (possibly the western side of the Solent) in the year 495, he was then described as an ealdorman and was accompanied by his young son Cynric, together with Saxon and possibly some Jutish companions, brought over to England in five keels (ships) -

In the year that was past from the birth of Christ 494, then Cedric and Cynric his son landed at Cerdices ora [Cerdic's ore] from five ships And they fought with the Welsh the same day.'

Cerdic (and later his son Cynric) begin the conquest of the area now known as Wiltshire. The Wiltsaete (or Wilsaetas, Saxons of Wiltshire), migrated into the same territory, either independently as a result of the decaying British defensive situation or as part of Cerdic's invasion. He fought Natanleod, a British Celtic ruler at Natan leag (Netley Marsh) in Hampshire and killed him. Thirteen years later (in 508) he later fought at Cerdicesleag (Charford, Cerdic's Ford) in 519.

Following this conquest, he was crowned king of the West Seaxe, the first king of Wessex, at Winchester in 532. His conquest took place at around the same time as the Saxons in southern Britain were soundly defeated at Mons Badonicus or Mount Badon. This could mean that Cerdic overcame the local territory and its British occupants, but is more likely an indication that the earlier Saxon and Jutish (Ytene) settlements around Southampton Water (neighbouring the Meonware to the immediate east) were allied to Cerdic's cause.

Shield box

Cerdic also conquered the Isle of Wight (then known by the Celtic name of Ynys Weith), the island was later granted to his kinsmen, Stuf and Wihtgar, who were said to have arrived in England with the West Saxons in 514. While Cerdic's area of operation was, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in the area north of Southampton, there is 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.

Cerdic was succeeded by his son Cynric. Descent from Cerdic became a necessary criterion for the later Saxon kings of Wessex, and Egbert of Wessex, progenitor of the English royal house and subsequent rulers of England and Britain, claimed him as their ancestor.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records an exalted pedigree tracing Cerdic's ancestry back to the great Woden himself, however, the pedigree resulted from a process of elaboration upon a pedigree borrowed from the Anglian kings of Bernicia, and therefore before Cerdic himself it has no historical basis and his real ancestry is not known with certainty. The name Cerdic is thought to be Brythonic Celtic, a form of the name Ceretic or Caradog, Caratacus in its Latin form. This may indicate that Cerdic was a native Briton and that his dynasty became Anglicised.

Saxon shield

Cerdic of Wessex is sometimes identified with the contemporary Prince of Gwent, Cerdic, son of Eliseg, who descended in the direct male line from the famous first-century Celtic patriot king, Caractacus, who fought the Roman invaders.

This theory is supported by the non-Germanic names of some of his descendants including Ceawlin, Cedda and Caedwalla. Elesa, thought to have been Cerdic's father, has been identified by some scholars with the Romano-Briton Elasius, the "chief of the region", met by Germanus of Auxerre. As Cerdic is reported to have landed in Hampshire, some argue that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle proves that Cerdic was indeed a Saxon, some scholars believe it likely that his mother was a British Celt who left for the Continent. J.N.L. Myres theorised:-

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, 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.'

Cerdic died in 534, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle relates 'This year died Cerdic, the first king of the West-Saxons. Cynric his son succeeded to the government and reigned afterwards twenty-six winters.

Tradition states that Cerdic was buried at Cerdicesbeorg, a former barrow at Stoke near Hurstbourne in the northwest corner of Hampshire, which is mentioned in an eleventh-century charter. Cynric succeeded him as King of Wessex from 534 to 560. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states Cynric to have been the son of Cerdic, and also (in the regnal list in the preface) to have been the son of Cerdic's son, Creoda. His direct descendant, Egbert, in Old English Ecgbehrt, became the first King of all England, Egbert was born around 770-780 and was the son of Ealhmund, King of Kent, who is mentioned in a charter of 784.

The ‘Bloody Heath’ and Cerdic

The southern coasts of Hampshire appear to have been a magnate for adventurers wishing to plunder the native peoples and it is quite possible that when when Cerdic and his son Cynric landed at the mouth of the River Itchen that this was exactly what they were about but they returned, with a determination to subdue the Britons and claim the kingship of Wessex.
The mystery lies in where they came from. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle describes them as ealdormen, thus suggesting that they had a previous role in a settlement somewhere in Britain and it is quite possible that they held a position of some standing at the time of the retreating Romans and that this incursion along the southern shore was a bit of muscle flexing to assert power in this area.
Cerdic, may have wanted to test the might of other Saxon chiefs in the area and assert his superiority which, if he was successful would have enabled him to claim ‘kingship’.

Cerdic’s Bridgehead showing Ancient Linear Earthworks

In 501 Cerdic attacked Porchester but did not capture it.

A more determined attack was made in 508 but this attack not just of the ‘Gewissas’, West Saxons but of the Jutes and South Saxons as well. Again the chronicle records this as a mighty battle in which 5000 Britons and their leader, died. The leader is thought to have been a man called Natanleod. Still no occupation seems to have taken place until 514, when the area around and to the north of Southampton Water was taken.

It appears that in 519 Cerdic invaded a little further up the coast at a place called Cerdices-ora, thought to be in the area of the modern day settlement of Calshot, where they pushed the remaining Britons back to New Forest, using the Romano British road from Lepe across Beaulieu Heath. The modern settlement of Charford is thought to have been the scene for this battle. Beaulieu Heath was known as the ‘Bloody Marshes’ right up until the C18th and it is thought that this name alluded to the battle that took place there.

Whether Winchester fell before or after this battle is not known, but once it had fallen Cerdic and Cynric became the first kings of the Kingdom of Wessex.

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1 ‘Cerdic and the Cloven Way’, A NTIQUITY V , 441-58 ‘Southampton’ A NTIQUITY, XVI .

2 The Parker Preface is reprinted by Hodgkin, H. of the Anglo-Saxons, 1, 1251”. Ethelweard, Bk. 11, cap. IX (188 years from Ine (688) back to Cerdic), III , ii (350 years from Egbert (802) back to Cerdic. St. Augustine’s coming (597) is 96 years after Cerdic).

3 Cal. Pat. Rolls. Edw. III , p. 150. Roger de Audele, parson at Fordynggebrigge, complains that certain persons (eleven are named) have robbed his house atWulfedele, and (apparently later) assaulted his servant, Richard de Chardele, at Fordingbridge. For this information I am indebted to the Editor.

As a servant (serviens) it is most improbable that Richard took his surname from a place very distant from Fordingbridge. If the name survives, it has very probably been distorted by assimilation to the personal name ‘Charlie’.

4 Ethelweard, A.530, says they were Britons.

5 See J. W. Jeudwine, The First Twelve Centuries of British Story (? 1911), pp. 28ff. The references in Welsh tradition to the Dumnonian kings, Geraint and Mark, as ‘fleet-commanders’, and to Arthur’s famous ship, Prydwen, are not without significance. Jordanes (De Or. Get, cap. 45) shows a British war-fleet active in West Gaul in 469.

6 Does the bardic lament for Geraint son of Erbin and his ‘brave men from the borders of Devon’ who fell at Llongborth—‘and ere they were slain, they slew’—refer to this campaign ? (Black Book of Caermarthen, XXII , Red Book of Hergest XIV ). One would be glad to have the opinions of Prof. Ifor Williams or Mr Kenneth Jackson on this poem.

7 Discussed in my’ Mons Badonicus and ‘Cerdic of Wessex‘, A NTIQUITY, XIII , 92-5, 1939.

8 Crudansceat near Bentley, and Creodanhyl near Alton, Hants. Perhaps also Crydanbricg (Curbridge) near Witney, Oxon. Kemble, Cod. Dip., 1093, 1035, 1070, 1201.

9 See (Collingwood &) Myres, Roman Britain and the English Settlements, pp. 364-6, 397-405. Additional evidence may be found in the place-name Canterton (Cantwara-tum), about 2 miles south of the Cloven Way.

The History of England

1 Arrival of the House of Wessex

In 519, a man called Cerdic landed on the southern coast of England with 5 ships and a band of Saxon adventurers. 1,500 years later his descendants still provide the monarchs of England. This History of England Podcast covers Cerdic and the start of the kingdom he formed by 530.

T h e i n vade rs of the 5th and 6th Centuries famously came from 3 tribes - the Jutes, Angles and Saxons, and each formed kingdoms that eventually became the 7 English Kingdoms - or the Heptarchy.

At first the Britons appealed to Rome to come back and help them. They sent a piteous note to Aetius, the last effective Roman general which read:

‘ The Barbarians push us back to the sea, the sea pushes us back to the barbarians between these two kind of deaths we are either drowned or slaughtered’.

Who was Cerdic ?

The background of the founder of the British Monarchy is not simple. Cerdic is a British name, not Saxon. So who was he ? He may simply have had a British mother - and so be a Saxon with a British name. Or he may have been a local Romano British official. Or maybe he was a British prince come to seek his fortune.

The start of the Kingdom of Wessex

Cerdic arrived at the mouth of the River Test, and over the next 6 years he fought the local British kings, as you can see in the map. These culminated in the battle at Netley Marsh, where he defeated Nathanleod.

Cerdic died in 534, was bruied at Hurstboourne Tarrant in hampshire, and handed the kingdom on to his Grandson, Cynric.


According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, [b] Cerdic, along with his son Cynric, came to Britain in 495. [4] Their three ships landed at Cerdices ora fought the Britons there on the same day. [4] Most of what is known about Cerdic comes from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. [5] In 519 he and his son defeated Britons at Cerdices ford and took Wessex. [6] In 527 at a place called Cerdices leaga Cerdic and Cynric battled with the Britons again. In 530 they conquered the Isle of Wight. [6] The record for 534 states that Cerdic died this year. [7] Cerdic was succeeded by his son Cynric. [8]

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gave Cenred a pedigree going back to the Saxon god Woden. But historian Kenneth Sisam showed this legendary pedigree was borrowed from the Kings of Bernicia and was not historic. [9] But archaeological evidence shows that outside of Kent and Sussex, the main area of settlement was in the upper Thames Valley. [10] This agrees with much of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle although dates are harder to verify.

We will model Cerdic's career on evidence found in the works of Gildas, Nennius, and Geoffrey of Monmouth, and also modern historians. The image of Arthur that comes down to us is that of a young, vigorous, heroic campaigner, who battled Picts, Scots, and Saxons, and who eventually became an aged and beloved king.
If Cerdic was active as a military leader by 450 and was still leading troops around 500 then he must have been born around 425 or 430. His father was associated with the sea, and was probably one of the wealthiest merchants of Britain. Since many of his ships had to be Saxon, Cerdic would have been associating with Saxons from his earliest childhood. There seem to be parallel traditions involving his being cured of a crippling disease. The legend which names Cador and Guignier as the curers seems to involve Cerdic in later life. However, if there is a common origin for the traditions, it is more likely that a cure took place in Cerdic's youth, perhaps involving St. Germanus.
The earliest events in Cerdic's career are mentioned in Nennius and Geoffrey--his serving as Vortigern's interpreter, and then joining with Octha and Ebessa in stopping the Pictish raids along the Antonine wall. We think this activity had a very specific purpose, and was directed by a vigorous and powerful Roman leader--Aetius. We suspect that Aetius recognized the importance of Britain as a base and as a source of iron for the manufacture of weapons to supply the armies which he was gathering to fight the Huns. (Salway, 1981, p476 ff.) Cerdic's mission in northern Britain may have been part of Aetius's preparations. As part of this campaign, he would have participated in or directed the ravaging of the Irish coast to suppress the Irish marauders. (For a deeper discussion of Aetius's campaign, see Appendix C.)
According to the Gallic Chronicle, in 442 Britain passed under the domination of the Saxons. John Morris calls this the first Saxon revolt. (Morris, 1973, p513) Gildas may have described what happened next--from the British viewpoint. ". the Romans send forward, like eagles in their flight, their unexpected bands of cavalry by land and mariners by sea, and planting their terrible swords upon the shoulders of their enemies, they mow them down like leaves .." The Romans instructed the islanders to learn to use weapons to protect their country, and "gave them patterns by which to manufacture arms." We believe that what was happening was that Aetius was sending Roman troops and loyal Saxons to Britain to restore order, to stop the barbarian raids, and most importantly to produce iron for armor and weapons. The reason patterns were needed was that many of the weapons were for warriors of other nations--Frankish battle axes and Visigoth lances and armor--and were unfamiliar to the Britons. We picture that this restoration of Roman authority was led by Ambrosius Aurelianus in the period 446-450.
The restoration was resisted by many Celt and Saxon leaders of the island. In the first half of the fifth century, Britain was the scene of a power struggle between two major wledig-founded clans. ("Wledig" means "landholder".) One was descended from Magnus Maximus, a late fourth century usurper of Rome, through the marriage of his daughter to Vortigern. The principal leaders of this clan were Vitolinus, his son or grandson Vortigern, Vortigern's sons, Vortimer, Pascent, and Categirn, and Vortigern's grandson Riagath, (Bartrum, 1966, p46) who may have led the Britons against the Visigoths in 470. (Ashe, 1984, p44) The other clan was descended from the Celtic patriarch Cunedd, who migrated from the North with his sons around 400. Its leading members would include the likes of Eniaun yrth, Llyr merini, Caradoc Vreichvras, Maelgwn of Gwynedd, and Cuneglassus the Butcher. It may well be that the primary conflict in early fifth century Britain was between these two houses rather than between Britons and Saxons. Each side used Saxon mercenaries. Although the sons of Maximus dominated Britain before 450, Cunedd's house could be found ruling numerous kingdoms by the early 500's. Ambrosius may have influenced this outcome by bringing about the downfall of Vitolinus and Vortigern. The conflict was not monolithic. Vortimer fought against his father's warriors, and Riagath likely enjoyed widely based British support in his campaign.
Vortigern and Vitolinus may have refused to cooperate with the plans of Ambrosius, or perhaps the Roman general knew that the clan wars would be a nuisance and felt that Vortigern's side was the greater perpetrator of the conflict. Whatever the causes, Vitolinus received a walloping at the hands of Ambrosius, and Geoffrey says that Vortigern and Hengist feared Ambrosius. Through Ambrosius's decisive action, iron was produced and the Pictish and Scottish raids were stopped. In the final weeks before the great Battle of Chalons, Vortimer may have driven unreliable Saxons onto the Isle of Thanet for security reasons. Britons and Saxons marched to the coast and joined Aetius' forces at the Battle. A considerable number of men and ships must have been employed just transporting men and supplies across the Channel.
Archeologically, there is evidence that about this time metal production expanded in western Britain. Large buildings --probably warehouses --were erected in Wroxeter. (Wood, 1987, p45) Also at this time, for the first time in eighty years, the Irish raids were brought to a halt, at least partly because, as recorded in a letter by St. Patrick, the soldiers of Coroticus had ravaged the coast of Ireland. Just north of the Antonine wall, a large beehive-shaped stone structure was built, with a small hole at the top, and one door, and no windows. It survived until about 1700, when its stones were used to make a dam. The Scots called it `Arthur's Oven'. It was probably a coking oven, used to make charcoal or coke for iron production. [For a more extensive discussion of Arthur's Oven see Goodrich (1986).] Geoffrey of Monmouth's story of Arthur felling trees to fence in a Saxon army makes little sense. The story may have arisen from a large number of trees which had been felled for making charcoal.
According to Geoffrey's history, Cerdic, and two sons of Hengist, Octha and Ebessa, were sent to northern Britain to defend against maruauding Picts and Scots. They were to be paid in land. Whether Cerdic was in command of this expedition, or whether Octha or Ebessa was, is not obvious. Nennius says that the expedition harried the Picts and Scots, and then encircled Scotland.
It is clear that this had to be done. The major metal working areas of Britain were in the towns and cities of western Britain --Cornwall, Cardigan, and Cambria. Iron and coal had to be shipped from mines along the Antonine wall to Dunbarton, and then down the coast. But not only were the shipping lanes in jeopardy--even the towns were not safe from raiders based in Ireland. The fleet which encircled Scotland was to be based in the Irish sea.
There are several bits of evidence to support this. Some versions of Nennius say that the expedition "took possession of many regions, even to the Pictish confines and beyond the Frenesic Sea (the Irish Sea)", and later "Octha, after the death of his father Hengist, came from the sinistral part of the island to the kingdom of Kent." Archeologically, there are pagan English burials dating from the later fifth century on the Ribble River near Preston, and on the Mersey near Manchester. (Morris, 1973, p107). These burials may be the sites of shipyards. Although rivers are the natural sites for the construction and repair of ships--because trees cut upstream can be floated down to the shipyard--they are not good places to base a fleet due to currents, narrow confines, shifting sandbars, lack of beaches, and occasional flooding. Looking for a more promising site, one spots Anglesey --island of the English --with abundant sheltered waters. The name is ancient, some suggesting that it dates from the conquest by Edwin around 620, but there are several reasons this is unlikely. First, it was the name used by the Welsh, and those who have lost a war seldom grant the name of seized territory to their enemies. Would the Argentines call the Falklands the British Islands? Second, Edwin's conquest was very brief, and there is no suggestion of any population changes. It is more reasonable to suppose that the island of Mona as it was known, was largely abandoned during the Irish raids of the early 400s, and then occupied by Cerdic's Saxons to stop the Irish raiders. The raids were stopped and the grateful Britons called the island Anglesey.
The Romans had grappled with the problem of seaborn raiders for centuries, with no solid results. Enormous effort had been expended on shoreline fortresses and garrisons, watchtowers, and a fleet --the `Classis Brittaniae'. However the raiders came when the winds and tides were favorable to themselves, or they gathered forces large enough to overwhelm the defenders at weaker points, or they came at night or in fog, or they simply waited for another year of more relaxed vigilance. Cerdic's solution was decisive. He ravaged Caledonia and the Irish coast. Villages were plundered and burned, ships seized, occupants killed or enslaved.
Around 450, St. Patrick wrote a letter addressed to the `Soldiers of Coroticus' condemning the ravaging and enslavements. It is generally asserted that this Coroticus was Ceredig of Dunbarton, who had a different genealogy than Cerdic. It is unlikely that Ceredig of Dunbarton ravaged Ireland with a different fleet and army than the one which Cerdic had brought to the Irish Sea. Possibly the two Ceredigs collaborated in the campaign, or else there may have been a confusion of the two. Possibly St. Patrick assumed that the Ceredig responsible was the Dunbarton Ceredig, or perhaps the letter was sent to Cerdic, and later authors made the confusion. It is even possible that Ceredig of Dunbarton is Cerdic and was inserted by the Strathclyde genealogists to explain a period of rule at Dunbarton by Cerdic.
Sometime after the Battle of Chalons came the second Saxon revolt. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is probably alluding to it when it says that Hengist fought Vortigern in 455. It may have been a year or two earlier. Geoffrey and Nennius say that the Saxons plotted a mass slaughter at a banquet and from the number of deaths it would have involved hundreds of plotters. Another possibility is that it was a brawl, made likely by the mixing of Saxon warriors, British nobility, and alcohol. Many of the Saxons may have been veterans disgruntled over the lack of expected rewards. Nennius says that the occasion was to establish a treaty of peace and friendship. Instead, the result was a massive loss of British leadership and the opportunity for raiders to run rampant throughout Britain.
At this point, the Britons sent the second plea for help to Aetius, beginning with Gildas' famous line "To Aetius three times consul--the groans of the Britons." But Aetius had been stabbed to death by Valentinian in 453, and Rome died with him. Gildas reports that Ambrosius organized British resistance and led the counter-attack against the barbarians. Geoffrey says that Ambrosius killed Vortigern, and then he and Eldol defeated and killed Hengist. Nennius says that Vortigern later died in a castle fire and that Octha became the king of Kent after his father's death.
Following Ambrosius's victories, there seems to have been a period of general prosperity, and Cerdic would certainly have shared in it. He was probably one of the leading figures in shipping and iron production, and perhaps dominant. He was a great grandson of Cunedd and respected or feared by Britons, Romans, and Saxons. We can imagine Strongarm's ships to have been the first choice of passengers and merchants.
If the British were not monolithic, neither were the Saxons. We can classify at least six distinct groups with some overlap. Basically these were farming folk, land mercenaries, and seafarers, each subdivided into those living under Roman or regional authority, and those who were immigrants, raiders, and members of independent warbands. These groups can be subdivided still further. For instance land mercenaries under Roman or regional authority could include men and their families who had been in Britain for decades or centuries, and those from the continent who were in the military units sent in by Roman authorities such as Aetius to restore order. Besides these there might also be the soldiers of various British royal clans, garrison troops hired by independent towns, and personal guards hired by merchants and wealthy landowners.
One very numerous group undoubtedly consisted of people whom we would today call refugees. When the Huns came west, the empire, especially Gaul, was flooded with fleeing Germanic tribes. Rulers such as Aetius could do little else except settle them where they went, and hire some of them to control others and defend borders. We can well imagine Germans of the northern lowlands flooding into the traditionally seafaring areas of Jutland, Frisia, and the Angle, and trying to purchase passage for themselves and their families to the safety of Britain. Once put ashore, they were an unmanageable problem for the British and Saxon authorites such as Vortigern and Hengist. "Too numerous to feed", according to Nennius and Geoffrey, they could be contained for a while, but when authority lapsed in the aftermath of the banquet massacre, they exploded into the island creating the havoc of the second revolt.
Immigration may have again been a problem even after Ambrosius restored order. The security which made it possible for British troops to leave for Gaul to aid Syagrius in 470 and the prosperity reported by Germanus' biographer in 480 inevitably attracted refugees to Britain. Also, good times often result in waxing troubles being overlooked. The continual migrations throughout the late fifth century would have eventually produced pressures and strife and may have moved Cerdic to march inland from Southampton and take control of Southwest Britain in the 490's. This will be discussed more thoroughly again.
When next we hear of Cerdic, he is coming to Britain in 495. We can only guess at what happened previously. Legends which place Caradoc or Arthur in Brittany suggest that he ruled at Vannes or Nantes (or both) at a time when it was Visigoth territory. He may have been captured by the Goths on the ill-fated expedition of the British king Riotimus (possibly Riagath), who was defeated by Euric, king of the Visigoths, near Deol in France around the year 470. (Ashe, 1985, pp50-59) If this is the case, Euric must have forced Cerdic into vassaldom, perhaps by threatening to massacre his men. Under the Saxon tradition, vassaldom was for life (Bloch, 1970), so Cerdic may have been bound until Euric's death in 484. Furthermore, one of Euric's most important elements of military strength was his naval power based on the west coast of Gaul. (Wolfram, 1979, p188) The "curved ships of the Saxons" would have been the preferred vessels for both merchants and naval commanders, and we can picture Cerdic being active in both of these roles.
There is some archeological evidence to support the idea that Cerdic was in Nantes from about 470 to 495, and that is the evidence of seaborne trade between Europe and the British Isles. With the Vandals controlling Africa and the open Mediterranean, there were three possible trade routes. Two involve shipping up the Rhone River, and then down the Seine or Somme through northern France, or down the Rhine, and the third would be sailing up the Aude to Carcassone, and then overland to Toulouse, and down the Garonne through Aquitaine to Bordeaux. The northern French route was blocked by hostile Franks, but there is some evidence of trade from Saxony, and much more from Aquitaine. (Alcock, 1971, pp 202-219) Some of the pottery imported into Britain at this time seems to come from Nantes, and Columban travelled from Nantes on a ship engaged in the Irish trade (Morris, 1973, p441). Morris (1973, p223) presents archaeological and historical evidence for vessels of Nantes regularly engaged in trade with the British Isles. It is evident that some shippers were active in this area, and the only one mentioned is Caradoc Vreichvras, ruler of Nantes.
Did Sidonius Apollinaris write about Cerdic? Possibly. He wrote one letter to a Gothic admiral who loved to go Boar-hunting on the Island of Oleron on the west coast of Gaul. In this letter he praised the seamanship of the Saxons, but cautioned the admiral against Saxon treachery and barbarism. If the admiral's name was "Namatius", then it is probably not Cerdic. He could have been another admiral who was based farther south, and whose tastes and duties were similar to those of Cerdic. But if "Namatius" is a title, meaning lord of Namnates (Nantes), then it may have been Cerdic.
Cerdic may have had no obligation to serve Euric's successor Alaric, and by 494 the time was ripe to return to Britain. With his son or grandson, he landed and seized Southampton. Support for both Arthur's involvement in Brittany, his association with Visigoths, and his relocating knights and navy to Britain, are found in Morris (1973, p127) under his discussion of one of Arthur's knights named Theodoric:
The appearance of a Goth in Britain suggests a date and context, for such commanders are commonly enlisted with their men, not empty-handed. Theodoric's later career implies that he had ships at his disposal, and argues that a Gothic admiral who lacked employment was available to aid the British. The troubles of Gaul suggest that such an officer was driven out in the middle years of Arthur's reign, and at no other time. The kingdom of the Visigoths had maintained a Biscay fleet in the later fifth century, but in 507 the kingdom was destroyed by Clovis the Frank, and the Goths were expelled over the Pyrenees into Mediterranean Spain. Their fleet lost its Atlantic harbours. No writer reports what happened to the ships and crews but it is evident that a commander who had lost his homeland and his base might find it prudent to transfer all or part of his fleet to the service of the British and Arthur's campaigns had a use for a naval force.
We differ with Morris in some ways--the Franks may not have conquered Vannes until several centuries later, and in our view Theodoric was a cavalryman, not an admiral. However, the relocation of some units was undoubtedly necessary, and as we have seen, Cerdic began this relocation about a decade earlier, around 495.
Besides the advancing Franks, Cerdic may have had another motive for returning to Britain. During the prosperous time described by Germanus's biographer, Cerdic's navy may have helped protect the coast of Britain from Saxon marauders. However, population growth and increasing tensions between rival chieftains were causing disorder by the 490's and, over time, some aggressive Saxons such as Aelle, Oisc, and Cissa had slipped through the defenses of Cerdic and others. At some point Cerdic decided to move his base from Vannes to Southampton and restore order as Ambrosius had done three to four decades before.
We will return to this last phase of his career shortly, but now pause to make a detailed comparison of the writings concerning Cerdic and Arthur.

John C. Rudmin, 864 Chicago Av, Harrisonburg, VA, 22801
Joseph W. Rudmin, Physics Dept., James Madison Univ., Harrisonburg, VA, 22807
(First submitted for publication in Oct 1993)

Copyright statement: Permission is given to copy and distribute this essay freely provided the authors are cited and this statement is included.


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. [6]

Curiously, the name Cerdic is thought to be Brittonic – a form of the name Ceretic rather than Germanic in origin. [7] The name derives, ultimately, from the British name *Caraticos. [8] [9] [10] [11] This may indicate that Cerdic was a native Briton, and that his dynasty became Anglicised over time. [12] [13] This view is supported by the potentially non-Germanic names of some of his descendants including Ceawlin, Cedda and Caedwalla. [11] [14] Conversely some Welsh princely dynasties derive from early ancestors with potentially 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. [15]

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. [16] 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. [17]

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 of Wessex - History

The Road to Camlann Part IV

The Battle of Cerdicesford
Charford in the north-west corner of Hampshire has attracted some attention from scholars of Arthuriana in the search for the site of the battle of Camlann. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records a series of battles fought by Cerdic and his son Cynric in the foundation of the kingdom of the West Saxons. In 519 AD Cerdic and Cynric fought the Britons at 'Cerdicesford' (Certiceford) and from that day on ruled the West Saxons.

The hamlets of North and South Charford in the New Forest occupy a strategic position near the Hampshire Avon. It is possible this 6th century battle resulted in the demarcation of the early border of Cerdic's realm. Of all the sites of Cerdic's battles the identification of North Charford is fairly certain as it is recorded as 'Cerdeford' in the Domesday Book of 1086.

Yet, Cerdic is recognised as a British name, in the genealogies the ancestor of the kings of Wessex subsequent monarchs all had some level of descent claimed in the Chronicle from Cerdic. He has been identified as Cerdic, son of Cunedda, founder of Ceredigion Cerdic, Vortigern's interpreter Sir Caradoc Briefbras (Short-Arm) a Knight of the Round Table and ancestor to the Kings of Gwent in Welsh legend his father is named as Llyr Marini, the Celtic Sea-God and Cheldric in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 'History of the Kings of Britain'.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle identifies Cerdic's father as Elesa, his grandfather as Esla, son of Gwis, descended from Woden, the god of the Anglo-Saxons. Elesa has been identified with the Romano-Briton Elasius, the “chief of the region” the man who met Germanus of Auxerre.

Sir John Rhys 1 noted long ago the similarity of Cerdic's Saxon forebears Elesa, Elsa, as recorded in the Chronicle, with the Welsh king Eliseg, and his father Elis, inscribed on the pillar at Valle Crucis near Llangollen in Wales. Similarity of one name may not be significant but the duplication of both names suggests a connection. Furthermore, Cerdic's son Cynric has been identified as Cunorix, the name on a tombstone turned up at Viroconium (Wroxeter). We immediately question why the first king of Wessex should be recorded in 9th century Powys?

Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman 2 flirt with the idea that the battle of Certiceford was Arthur's final campaign. Phillips and Keatman see an alliance between Cunormorus in Dumnonia in the south-west of Britain and Cerdic in the east. They suggest that Arthur attempts to drive a wedge between the two kingdoms and ventures into Wessex to engage with Cerdic at Certiceford.

Phillips and Keatman are clearly influenced by Medieval Arthurian sources, Geoffrey of Monmouth has Mordred ally with the Saxons and engage in battle at nearby Winchester before moving the battle on to Camelford in Cornwall, and Malory places the battle of Camlann on Salisbury Plain which is barely 20 miles north of Charford (Certicesford). However, although Phillips and Keatman see this as Arthur's final campaign, they have him return to his homeland, weak and wounded, to fight Camlann in north-west Wales.

John Rudmin and Joseph Rudmin 3 identify CERDIC AS the legendary KING ARTHUR and the battle of Badon, the moment when he and Cynric established the kingdom of the West Saxons, at Banbury in Oxfordshire. Evidently, such theories are based on little evidence and much assumption we cannot even be certain that Arthur's battles were fought against the Anglo Saxons Cerdic is as enigmatic as Arthur himself.

Whereas Aelle and the early foundation of Sussex, the land of the South Saxons, may have lasted twenty years, from the mid-470s to the battle of Badon, c.495, we could argue that the dates of Cerdic's floruit mirrors the period after Badon leading up to Camlann Gildas' golden age when external wars had ceased, the 21 years listed between the two battles in the Welsh Annals.

The Origins of Wessex
The most important historical source produced in Wessex itself is the Anglo Saxon Chronicle compiled in the late 9th century under the instigation of King Alfred. The West Saxon entries begin with the landing of Cerdic and Cynric in 495 at the unidentified Cerdicesora (Cerdic's shore). But not all sources agree that Cynric was his son, for in the earliest recorded version of the West Saxon genealogy Cynric is given as the son of Creoda, son of Cerdic.

However, the Chronicle is not the simple record of West Saxon history which it might at first sight appear. We know it was compiled by more than one individual and seems to have undergone large-scale manuscript copying and circulation. Indeed most historians regard the account of Cerdic as forming the basis for the legendary foundation story of Wessex, yet they are reluctant to abandon the only written account of the birth of the kingdom of the West Saxon kings regardless, to many it is referred to as “The Cerdic Legend”.

Cerdic is cited in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle as the founder of the West Saxon dynasty, reigning from 519 to 534:

495 – Cerdic and Cynric his son, arrived with five ships and fought the Welsh at Cerdices ora.
501 - This year Porta and his two sons, Beda and Mela, came into Britain, with two ships, at a place called Portsmouth and slew a noble young Briton
508 - This year Cerdic and Cynric slew a British king, whose name was Natanleod, and five thousand men with him. After this was the land named Netley, from him, as far as Cerdices ford.
514 – This year the West Saxons came to Britain in three ships at the place called Cerdices ora and Stuf and Wihtgar fought the Britons.
519 - This year Cerdic and Cynric undertook the government of the West-Saxons the same year they fought with the Britons at a place now called Cerdices ford. From that day have reigned the
children of the West-Saxon kings.
527 - This year Cerdic and Cynric fought with the Britons in the place that is called Cerdic's leag. 530 - This year Cerdic and Cynric took the isle of Wight,and slew many men at Wihtgaraesbyrg.
534 - This year died Cerdic, the first king of the West-Saxons. Cynric his son succeeded to the government, and reigned afterwards twenty-six winters. And they gave to their two nephews, Stuff and Wihtgar, the whole of the Isle of Wight.

A few things are immediately obvious from this list: the 495 entry would appear to be duplicated 19 years later in 514. The duplication of a number of the Chronicle entries for Cerdic and Cynric 19 years apart has cast doubt on the validity of 495 as a date for the beginning of Cerdic and Cynric’s conquest of Wessex. The Cerdic and Cynric victories around the Hampshire Avon certainly suffers from a defective chronology, we should therefore view the other Cerdic entries with due suspicion the arrival of the West Saxon's certainly bears much in common with the foundation legend of the Jutes in Kent. 4

Portchester Roman walls
Similarly, the battle at Portsmouth in 501 in which a noble young Briton was killed has been related to the Arthurian poem the Battle of Llongborth found in the Black Book of Carmarthen, significant for its early mention of King Arthur. The Elegy for Geraint was written in praise of Geraint, a Dumnonian king, said to have fallen during the Saxon wars in the early 6th century. Llongborth has been interpreted as 'port of the warships' which equates well with Portsmouth, and yet, following this entry, we here no more of Port and his sons.

In studying the regnal dates given in the Chronicle and in the closely related West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List, David Dumville came to the conclusion that the 5th and 6th century dates were extremely unreliable and had been artificially extended to make it appear that the kingdom was founded at an earlier date than was actually the case. Dumville's calculation on the basis of the reign-lengths given in the Genealogical Regnal List was that Cerdic’s reign was originally seen as beginning in 538, six years after his arrival in 532.

Cerdic is somewhat an enigma himself he arrives on the south coast of Hampshire with several ships and quickly establishes his territory. However, although Cerdic may have led a British-English alliance in expanding the territory of the West Saxons it seems unlikely he landed on the south coast of Hampshire at all. Barbara Yorke 5 argues that the account of Cerdic and the origins of Wessex as noted in the Chronicle seems to be based on the foundation legend of the Jutes arrival in Kent. Indeed, Bede identifies the Hampshire coast as being occupied by Jutes:

“Those who came over were of the three most powerful nations of Germany - Saxons, Angles, and Jutes. From the Jutes are descended the people of Kent, and of the Isle of Wight, and those also in the province of the West Saxons who are to this day called Jutes, seated opposite to the Isle of Wight.” 6

Bede, using information supplied by Bishop Daniel, indicates that southern Hampshire and the Isle of Wight were independent provinces which did not become part of Wessex until much later, in fact not until after their conquest by King Cædwalla in 686𔃆 these people were indeed classed as Jutes and not Saxons the south Hampshire coast therefore seems an unlikely geographic origin for the West Saxons.

Archaeology has not helped locate the origins and expansion of the West Saxons, as too often finds are made to fit a preconceived framework based on the evidence of the Chronicle. Further, it would appear that Wessex was established from the upper Thames Valley from the 6th century analysis of the accounts of the origins of the kingdom suggest that Cerdic was establishing his position in the 530s, around the upper Thames valley. Little more can be said until the reign of Ceawlin, son of Cynric, when Wessex began to acquire significant territory. However, it wasn't until after the reign of Cædwalla when the term ‘West Saxon’ begins to appear, whereas Cerdic’s people seem to have been known as the “Gewissae” with Cerdic named in early sources as "dux gewissorum", that is, “duke of the Gewissae”. Indeed Bede writes of “Cædwalla, of the royal race of the Gewissae,” and asserts that the West Saxons of Winchester were Gewissae, 7 a Saxon tribe descended from Gewis of Baeldaeg's Folk.

The identity of the Gewissae is debated among scholars, however, it is fairly certain that they were not a Saxon tribe at all but Britons, which is supported by the British name of their leader Cerdic and perhaps the connection with Powys as we have see on the Pillar of Eliseg. Significantly, the earliest references to the Gewissae is found in the upper Thames region around Dorchester on Thames. Barbara Yorke suggests the name may be derived from the Old English word for “reliable” or “sure”, as in the “trusted ones” which would be appropriate for a British militia. If this is correct then Gewissae would be a corruption of “Gleuissae”, derived from the Latin “Gleuenses” meaning “men of Gloucester” and “men of Gwent” respectively. From this, scholars agree that Cerdic, the “dux gewissorum”, led the Gewissae from Gwent to Gloucestershire, then into Hampshire where they became known as the West Saxons. 8 For a British warlord to have ultimately been accepted as “West Saxon” by writers of the Chronicle indicates his forces relied heavily on Germanic mercenaries.

We should then reconsider Cerdic's first battles around the Hampshire Avon in the context, not of Saxon expansion, but as internecine warfare among the Britons following the 21 year peace of Badon fought against Aelle of the neighbouring South Saxons c.495. According to the Chronicle, Cerdic dies in 534 there is no mention of a battle, no Camlann perhaps old age had caught up with the battle-weary dux gewissorum.

In conclusion it is certainly unlikely that Cerdic had any contact at all with Arthur and had no association with the battles of Badon or Camlann. More likely Cerdic, whoever he was, filled the void left following the demise of Arthur at the battle of Camlann.

Notes & References:
1. John Rhys, Y Cymmrodor, Vol XXI, 1908.
2. Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman, King Arthur: The True Story, Century, 1992.
3. John Rudmin and Joseph Rudmin, Arthur, Cerdic, and the Formation of Wessex
4. Barbara Yorke, The Jutes of Hampshire and Wight and the origins of Wessex, in Origins of the Anglo Saxon Kingdoms, edited by Steve Basset, Leicester University Press, 1989, pp.84-96.
5. Ibid.
6. Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Oxford University Press, 2008, Book I. XV
7. Ibid., Book 4. XV.
8. David Hughes, The British Chronicles, Volume 1, Heritage, 2007, p.229.

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