On June 6, 2017, while sitting in my bedroom looking over documents on the Lebanese National Movement during 1983 for my research position, I daydreamed of a new project: one that would require absurd amounts of time and energy, which I probably do not have, and that would teach me more about history. Thus, I set forth documenting and handwriting a family tree of the English monarchs starting in 519 CE. Why? Well, partially because I’m crazy and need something to do with the extra time I have over the summer; I am really into drawing things on graph paper; and because I have an unfulfilled need to study ancient, medieval, and old history.
Thus, I set out to document the beginning of the House of Wessex and here began my journey into unreliable data, weird sources, and back-end websites. Enjoy.
House of Wessex Family Tree Part One
The roots of the English monarch extends all the way back into the eighth century CE into the Anglo-Saxon sub-kingdom of Wessex. The beginning of the Wessex House is difficult to determine, however there are three main sources that scholars use when studying this time period in Wessex: the Genealogical Regnal List of the dynasty of Cerdic, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicale, and the West Saxon royal genealogies.
Throughout the fifth through eighth centuries, the land now known as Britain was in a perpetual state of warfare between seven Anglo-Saxon subkingdoms: Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria, Kent, Sussex, Essex, and East Anglia. These subkingdoms are referred to as the heptarchy or the “seven kingdoms,” which is referred to first by Henry of Huntingdon in Historia Anglorum (History of the English People). The heptarchy began in the fifth century with the end of Roman rule over Britain until the kingdoms came under the rule of Egbert of Wessex in 827 CE.
The Cerdicing Dynasty
Decoding the Settlement: ~519CE
According to historians, the Wessex line begins with Cerdicing dynasty roughly around 519 CE. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicale states that in 495 CE, Cerdic and his son, Cynric, arrived in Britain from Saxony, Germany, in what is today known as Hampshire. The Chronicale credits Cerdic as the leader of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain and the founder and first king of Saxon Wessex in 519 CE. As it states, “A.D. 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 Charford. From that day have reigned the children of the West-Saxon kings.”
However, it is important to note that multiple scholars view the first four hundred years of the Chronicale as unreliable because the Chronicale was written around 900 CE and the four hundred years of information between Cerdic and writing of the Chronicale’s contains a lot of contradictory information. However, the Chronicale is the earliest text written on the Wessex line. A few scholars even view Cedric as a legendary figure. However, it is recorded that all kings of Wessex claim descent from Cedric and this descent became a necessary criteria for kings of Wessex. So, whether or not Cerdic was a real person of Germanic descent who came to England and conquered the Britons, a native Briton who adopted a new nationality, or a mythical figure, Cerdic played an important role who determining who was fit to be king. It is recorded that Egbert of Wessex, the beginning of the English royal house, and all subsequent rulers claimed descent from Cerdic.
Keeping this in mind, let us continue to explore the mystery behind Cerdic. In addition to the Chronicale providing with dates that scholars view in the ballpark of when Cerdic landed in Britain, the Chronicale additionally provides us with a pedigree for Cerdic that dates back to the antediluvian patriarchs, described in the Old Testament book of Genesis, and Odin, or Wōden in Old Saxon. The claim of being a descendant of Odin would have made sense during this time, as it is assumed that the Anglo-Saxons are partly descendants from Germanic tribes who migrated to the region during the fifth century. However, in recent times, scholars have discovered that the pedigree detailed in the Chronicale is actually an elaborated and borrowed pedigree from that of the Anglican kings of Bernicia. Therefore, the family line of the House of Wessex is unknown before Cerdic. Thus, I have not included the ancestors to Cerdic listed in the Chronicale on my written family tree.
There are many flawed descriptions of who Cerdic’s ancestors are. For example, in David Hughes’ The British Chronicles: Volume 1, Hughes’ describes the early years of Cerdic’s life and family as follows:
“473: Cerdic, son of St. Bran “The Blessed”, Was captured as a young child by a war-band of Saxons under the leadership of the future Aella of Sussex, during one of his pre-conquest raids, and that his father, St. Bran, gave himself as a hostage in exchange for his wife and son. This is the first time that Alesa, Aella’s brother, meets the British princess, Cywed, the mother of Cerdic. Bran is called “King of Britain” in medieval literature, but actually he was one of many regional-kings scattered throughout the British Isles, whose castle is identified as Castell Dinas Bran, at Llangollen, in Clywd, his estate, reigning under the overlordship of whoever was the high-king of Britain, who was called “King of Britain”. Aella’s raid on Britain in 473 appears to have been undertaken as part of imperial policy against the break-away province of Britain and its so-called “rebel king” [Uthyr “Pendragon”]; for the Saxons took their hostages to Rome, where they paraded them through the streets of Rome and before the Roman Emperor Julius Nepos, in a “triumph”. St. Bran was a hostage in Rome for seven months… and was released that same year and returned to Britain carrying with him some holy relics that he purchased from the Church of Rome, which had sunk to selling its relics, among which was the “True cross” which is mentioned in Welsh legends of the late fifth and sixth centuries… 475: St. Bran killed in battle in Ireland in attempt to rescue his sister” (Hughes 234).
While this seems to be a reliable narrative into who Cerdic’s mother and father were, only a little bit of googling will reveal that St. Bran was viewed as a king within Welsh and British mythology and it is roughly estimated that he lived around 60 BCE-40CE. Many sources claim that his wife, Cywed, was the cousin or sister of the Virgin Mary and that Bran the Blessed, himself, was not of the human species, but was a giant. These are just a few of the unreasonably impossible facts about Bran the Blessed and how Cerdic cannot be a son of his. For more information of Bran the Blessed and Welsh mythology, see a great overview by the BBC here. Thus, this explanation for Cedric’s family history is also extremely unreliable.
While the family history of Cerdic is not known, some battles and victories Cerdic fought in are known. Additionally, the Chronicale also states that in 530 CE Cerdic and Cynric took the Isle of Wight, which they gave to their nephews or kinsmen, Stuf and Wihtgar, in 534 CE.
While there are many different theories made by scholars on the origins of Cerdic, I find J.N.L. Myres’ explanation of the origins of Cerdic and Cynric the most compelling. I’ve linked to where you can find Myres’ book for more information here.
While it is uncertain where Cerdic came from and who he was a descendant from, it is known that he had a sister, whose name has been lost in time, who gave birth to two sons: Stuf and Whitgar. Stuf and Whitgar were given the Isle of Wight by Cerdic and, at separate times, served as kings of the island. Stuf had a son, Oslac, whom not much is known about.
~534 CE: Cynric or Creoda?
Following the death of Cerdic, around 534 CE, it is unclear who became king. According to multiple sources it could have been one of two men: Creoda or Cynric. Creoda is a very hazy figure in history, not much is known about him and it is uncertain if he existed. If he did, he was the son of Cerdic. It is almost certain that Cynric existed. Cynric was the son of Creoda, if he existed, or the son of Cerdic. In the Chronicale, it is stated that Cynric is the son of Cerdic within the text, but in the preface, the Chronicale names Creoda as Cynric’s father. Thus, it is very uncertain if Creoda existed and I have not included him on my written family tree for this reason.
Thus, I will assume that following Cerdic’s death, Cynric became king of Wessex. Everything known about Cynric comes entirely from the Chronicale. As the Chronicale states, after 534 CE, Cynric “reigned afterwards for 26 winters” or until 560 CE. During this time, Cynric fought the Britons twice: once, in 552 CE at Sarum and second, with his son Ceawlin at Beranbury. It is known from the Chronicale that Cynric had at least three children: two sons, Ceawlin, who succeeded him after his death, and Cutha; along with another child of unknown sex through whom Cynric’s lineage could possibly be traced forward five generations to Cenfus, a king of Wessex, who could be a possible descendant. However, we’ll get more into him later.
560 CE: Ceawlin
Following the death of Cynric, around 560 CE, Ceawlin became King of Wessex and ruled until 592 CE. Ceawlin is a commonly used case to question the reliability of the Chronicale, as the length of his reign is listed as either seven, seventeen, or thirty odd years. Bebe, a Northumbrian monk who live in the early eighth century, lists Ceawlin as one of seven kings who held “imperium” over all kingdoms in south England in Ecclesiastical History of the English People. The list of seven is extended in the Chronicale to include Egbert of Wessex in 827 CE. The title given to these eight kings in the Chronicale is “bretwalda.” While it is unknown how long Ceawlin held southern England, the Chronicale marks the year 584 CE as the year Ceawlin lost the title due to a large battle loss in Fretherne. Around 592 CE, Ceawlin died.
Sources used in part 1: