King Cynric of Wessex – Legitimising the House of Wessex

saxon shields like those used by king cynric of wessex

We have explored the first Saxon king Cerdic and his brother Creoda in previous articles. Now we move onto Creoda’s son, King Cynric of Wessex.

Like Cerdic, Cynric was an important Saxon king, having a long reign and helping the Saxons stabilise their settlement of England further. Under Cynric, the Saxons expanded territory and the Kingdom of Wessex grew.

Let’s discover this pivotal Saxon king.

434 AD – A Year with Three Saxon Kings

Cerdic died at the estimated age of 46 with presumably no heirs to his throne. We assume Creoda was Cerdic’s brother as he is estimated to be 43 at the time he took the throne of Wessex.

Unfortunately, 46 and 43 are old ages for the period with average life expectancy for men being 30 at the time. Creoda died in 434 and fortunately for the Saxons he had a son Cynric. We don’t know how old Cynric was at time of taking the throne, but it would be a good assumption he was in his twenties.

In the space of 12 months, the Kingdom of Wessex had successfully navigated a succession crisis and had three kings.

He ruled until his death in 560 AD for a total of 26 years.

With Cynric the Saxons Had the Opportunity to Expand Territory

Under his uncle Cerdic, we explored how he managed to cement the foothold of Saxons in Wessex and much of his reign was dedicated to peacekeeping and protecting the kingdom.

Creoda, although crucial to the Saxon line, reigned for a matter of months at most and nothing of note happened during this time.

King Cynric of Wessex was young and inherited a kingdom with secure borders, meaning he didn’t need to concentrate on domestic affairs and could focus on expansion of the Saxon Kingdom.

stonehenge in wiltshire
Wiltshire is also known for Stonehenge.
Image credit: Hulki Okan Tabak via Unsplash

Invasion of Wiltshire by King Cynric of Wessex

Cynric likely started his Wiltshire campaign early in his reign and it took over a decade for him to see victory.

Unlike the previous invasions under the Romans, the Saxons relied on smaller forces of semi-skilled men to mount their invasions. They would have met heavy resistance at almost every settlement they came across, purely because they didn’t have the numbers to overwhelm their enemies.

The Bretons in Wiltshire although semi-skilled themselves, inherited Roman military knowledge and would have been a daunting force to encounter if they were organised – and given the time it took to overcome Wiltshire, it is likely they were highly organised.

Eventual Capture of Searobyrig (Old Sarum)

Old Sarum was the largest settlement in Wiltshire and is akin to a modern-day Salisbury. In fact, Salisbury more or less is located where Old Sarum once was.

The settlement was fortified with a typical hillfort layout. It had walls surrounding the entire settlement and infrastructure the Romans had installed to make the town more robust.

Outside the walls were steep banks making it difficult to even reach the settlement. Given its imposing structure and the date the settlement was taken (552), it is possible Cynric tried multiple times over the years to breach the settlement.

After taking Old Sarum, Cynric still encountered resistance in Wiltshire and his last recorded battle was an attack on Barbury Castle (then known as Beranburh).

Battle of Barbury Castle

After Old Sarum fell, it is likely the remaining Bretons retreated to Barbury Castle which was a small hill fort and barrow.

From there they likely launched counter attacks against the Saxons at Old Sarum and possibly into Wessex itself. For a few years, Cynric solidified his position at Old Sarum before mounting an attack on Barbury Castle in 556.

Drone Footage of Barbury Castle and Surrounding Area

The hillfort at Beranburh was not as substantial as Old Sarum and Cynric won a decisive victory.

After this victory and with further Saxon incursions into their land, the Bretons would migrate southwards to Brittany. At this point the Bretons would be inhabitants of Brittany, while remaining native inhabitants of England and Wales would be referred to as Britons.

Last Years and Death of King Cynric of Wessex

With the conquest of Wiltshire complete, Cynric had achieved as much as he reasonably could in his lifetime. His age at the Battle of Beran Byrig (the abovementioned Barbury Castle) would have been around 42 if we presume he took the throne at 20.

If he took the throne at age 25, he would have been considered elderly (47) at the time of Beran Byrig.

He undertook his later campaigns alongside his son Ceawlin who proved to be a very interesting King of Wessex and the focus of my next article.

Given his advanced years, it is safe to assume Cynric died of old age and the succession to his son Ceawlin was smooth.

Legacy of King Cynric of Wessex

King Cynric had a lasting legacy that is still extant today. He likely started the pressure on the Breton people’s which caused their migration to Brittany, France. He also undertook a military campaign that set the Saxons on a course of expansionism rather than relatively peaceful settlement.

By military standards, the land he conquered was small, and fairly worthless. But in doing so, his campaigns had far-reaching consequences and set the Saxons on a path to longevity and glory.

Jon Logan

Jon Logan is an editorial consultant and author that loves living life without boundaries. Over the past 5 years, his content at Immortal Wordsmith has helped thousands of readers gain new perspectives and discover fascinating stories. Jon holds several professional qualifications and is financially qualified in the UK. He left the humdrum world of financial advice to pursue a career in writing – his lifelong passion. He has partnered with local and global brands to help them grow their businesses and audiences through insightful and innovative content strategy. Jon specialises in creating inspirational and thought-provoking writing that challenges readers to look beyond the confines of “the norm.” He uses dynamic writing styles to convey messages to diverse audiences from all walks of life. He is an avid explorer and loves sharing the world from his perspective with his readers.

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