- Cędwalla of Wessex
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Dictionary of National Biography
by Various

CĘDWALLA (659? - 689) (the variations in the form of whose name are as numerous as in the case of the Welsh Cędwalla), was the son of Cyneberht, and a great-grandson of the West-Saxon king Ceawlin [q.v.] but his name indicates some British connection and misled some Welsh writers so far as to confuse him with Cadwaladr, son of the Cędwalla who was killed at Hevenfelth (Brut y Tywysogion, Mon. Hist. Brit. p. 841; REES, Welsh Saints, p. 300). The name of his brother 'Mul' -- the mule or half breed -- points to the probability of their mother being Welsh. Będa calls him a young man of great energy, and he was probably regarded as a dangerous aspirant to the West-Saxon throne. At any rate he was expelled from Wessex and, according to William of Malmesbury , by a faction of the leading men which perhaps included the king himself, Centwine (Gest. Pont. p. 233), and he then led the wild life of an outlaw among the forests of Chiltern and Anderida. Here he was brought into contact, about 681, with Wilfrith who was engaged in missionary labours among the South-Saxons. Cędwalla often applied to him for advice, and Wilfrith lent him also horses and money, and obtained great influence over him (ib.) In 685 when Cędwalla began to strive for the West-Saxon kingdom (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) he ravaged Sussex with a band of lawless followers and, notwithstanding his friendship with Wilfrith, slew the South-Saxon king Ęthelwealh, who was an ally of Centwine. Two ealdormen, however, Berchtun and Andhun, who had been converted by Wilfrith succeeded in driving him out and governing the kingdom independently. On the death or resignation of Centwine, 686 (see FLOR WIG), who seems to have nominated Cędwalla as his successor (Will. Malm. Gest. Pont. p. 352), the latter obtained possession of the West-Saxon throne, and, again invading Sussex, defeated and slew Berchtun, and subdued the whole kingdom. After making a raid on Kent, in which his Mul was burned to death, he turned his against the Isle of Wight, which had conquered some years before by Wulfhere, king of Mercia, and bestowed upon his ally and godson, Ęthelwealh, the South-Saxon king (BĘDA, iv. 13, 16). The inhabitants of Wight were still heathen, and Cędwalla, although not yet baptised, vowed that if he was victorious he would devote a fourth part of the island to God. This was probably due to the suggestion of Wilfrith, who had great influence over him, although the statements of Eddius and William of Malmesbury (Gest. Pont. p. 233) that Cędwalla made him a kind of president over his kingdom (ut dominum et magistrum), and did nothing without his approval, must be looked upon as exaggerations. Anyhow, having been successful in subjugating Wight, Cędwalla fulfilled his vow by bestowing a fourth part of the island, three hundred hides, on Wilfrith, who sent two priests (his nephew Bernuin, and another named Hiddila) to instruct and baptise the people in the christian faith (BĘDA, iv. 16). Cędwalla put to death two sons of Arvaldus, king of Wight, who had fled for refuge to the mainland, but, at the request of an abbot of a neighbouring monastery, permitted them first to be baptised. All this time he himself had not been baptised, and had not, so far as our records enable us to judge, exhibited much christian virtue in his conduct. He had indeed bestowed many liberal gifts upon monastic houses, but William of Malmesbury (Gest. Pont. p. 352) implies that he did this to obtain favour when he was ambitious of the West-Saxon throne. Suddenly, however, in 688, the fierce warrior turned into a penitent devotee. He resigned his kingdom and took his journey to Rome, in order to be baptised by the pope. Cędwalla was baptised by Pope Sergius I, under the name of Peter, on Easter eve, 689, being then about thirty years of age. He had hoped to die Będa says (E.H. v.7), soon after his baptism, in order to pass at once to eternal joys; and his hope was fulfilled, for death came before he had put off the chrisom or white fillet which converts wore for eight days after their baptism. He was buried in St Peter's on 20 April.His epitaph, consisting of some turgid Latin elegiacs, followed by a few lines in prose, has been preserved by Będa. A copy of the metrical inscription alone, taken from the original stone in old St. Peter's, exists in John Gruter's work, 'Inscrip. Antiq. Amstel.' 1707, ii. 1174, and also in Raffael Fabretti's 'Inscrip. Antiq.' 1702, Rome, p. 735, No. 463.

[Będa, Eccl. Hist. iv. 13, 15, 16, v. 7; William of Malmesbury's Gesta Pontincum, Rolls Series.]

Written by The Rev. W. R. W. Stephens


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