House of Wessex

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House of Wessex
Cerdicingas
Golden Wyvern of Wessex
Golden Wyvern of Wessex[1]
Country
Founded519
FounderCerdic of Wessex
Final rulerSaint Edward the Confessor or Edgar the Ætheling (disputed)
Titles
DissolutionAfter 1125

The House of Wessex, also known as the House of Cerdic (Cerdicingas in Old English[2]), refers to the family that initially ruled a kingdom in southwest England known as Wessex, from the 6th century under Cerdic of Wessex until the unification of the Kingdoms of England by Alfred the Great and his successors. Alfred and his successors would also be part of this dynasty, which would continue ruling in the main line all the way until Alfred's descendant, Æthelred the Unready, whose reign in the late 10th century and early 11th century saw a brief period of Danish occupation and following his and his son Edmund Ironside's death, kingship by the Danish Cnut the Great and his successors to 1042. The House of Wessex then briefly regained its power for 24 years, but after the deposition of its last scion, Æthelred's great-grandson Edgar Ætheling, it faded into the annals of history. Edgar himself died after a long and adventurous life sometime after 1125. All kings of England and Great Britain since Henry II have nevertheless been descended from the House of Wessex through Henry I's wife Matilda of Scotland—a daughter of Edgar Ætheling's sister, Margaret of Wessex.

History[edit]

The House of Wessex became rulers of a unified English nation under the descendants of Alfred the Great (871–899). Edward the Elder, Alfred's son, united England under his rule by conquering the Viking occupied areas of Mercia and East Anglia. His son, Æthelstan, extended the kingdom into the northern lands of Northumbria, which lies above the Mersey and Humber, but this was not fully consolidated until after his nephew Edgar succeeded to the throne. This period of the English monarchy is known as the Anglo-Saxon period, due to the fact that the majority of settlers in England were Angles (in Mercia and East Anglia) or Saxons (in Wessex, Essex, Middlesex, Surrey, Sussex and Northumbria); a smaller group of settlers, the Jutes in Kent, Wight and in parts of east Sussex, merged with the Saxons.

Their rule was often contested, notably by the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard who invaded in 995 and occupied the united English throne from 1013 to 1014, during the reign of Æthelred the Unready and his son Edmund Ironside. Sweyn, his son Canute and his successors ruled until 1042. After Harthacanute, there was a brief Anglo-Saxon restoration between 1042 and 1066 under Edward the Confessor, who was a son of Æthelred, who was later succeeded by Harold Godwinson, a member of the House of Godwin, possibly a side branch of the Cerdicings (see Ancestry of the Godwins). After the Battle of Hastings, the victorious Duke of Normandy became William I of England. Anglo-Saxon attempts to restore native rule in the person of Edgar the Ætheling, a grandson of Edmund Ironside who had originally been passed over in favour of Harold, were unsuccessful and William's descendants secured their rule. Chroniclers describe conflicting stories about Edgar's later years, including a supposed involvement in the First Crusade; he is presumed to have died around 1126. A Northumberland pipe roll mentions an "Edgar Adeling" in 1158, and 1167, by which time Edgar would have been over 100 years old.[3] Beyond this, there is no existing evidence that the male line of the Cerdicings continued beyond Edgar Ætheling. Edgar's niece Matilda of Scotland later married William's son Henry I, forming a link between the two dynasties. Henry II was a descendant of the House of Wessex in the female line, something that contemporary English commentators noted with approval.[4]

The House of Wessex predominantly ruled from Winchester (Wintan-ceastre). Going back to Cynegils, several kings and consorts of the dynasty were buried at the cathedral in Winchester, first in the Old Minster and then the New Minster. The remains of many of these rulers and others were vandalized during the English Civil War; currently the bones rest jumbled in different mortuary chests in the current cathedral.

Though London was already a prominent city in pre-Conquest England, only one king from the House of Wessex was buried there (Æthelred the Unready, at Old St. Paul's, now lost). Edward the Confessor favored Westminster as a residence, and his construction of a large Romanesque church there would lead to its later prominence. Other kings from the Wessex dynasty are buried at Sherborne, Wimborne, and Brookwood.

Timeline[edit]

Edgar ÆthelingHarold GodwinsonEdward the ConfessorHarthacnutHarold HarefootCnut the GreatEdmund IronsideÆthelred the UnreadySweyn ForkbeardÆthelred the UnreadyEdward the MartyrEdgar the PeacefulEadwigEadredEdmund IÆthelstanÆlfweard of WessexEdward the ElderAlfred the GreatÆthelred I, King of WessexÆthelberht of WessexÆthelbald of WessexÆthelwulf, King of WessexEgbert of WessexBeorhtric of WessexCynewulf of WessexSigeberht of WessexCuthred of WessexÆthelheard of WessexIne of WessexCædwalla of WessexCentwine of WessexÆscwine of WessexCenfus of WessexSeaxburh of WessexCenwalh of WessexPenda of MerciaCenwalh of WessexCwichelm of WessexCynegils of WessexCeolwulf of WessexCeol of WessexCeawlin of WessexCynric of WessexCerdic of WessexHouse of GodwinHouse of KnýtlingaIclingas

Genealogy[edit]

For a family tree of the House of Wessex from Cerdic down to the children of King Alfred the Great, see:

A continuation into the 10th and 11th centuries can be found at

Attributed coat of arms[edit]

Royal Arms of Edward the Confessor.svg

A coat of arms was attributed by medieval heralds to the Kings of Wessex. These arms appear in a manuscript of the thirteenth century, and are blazoned as Azure, a cross patonce (sometimes a cross fleury or cross moline) between four martlets Or.[5] The assigning of arms to the West Saxon kings is prochronistic, as heraldry did not develop in a form as we know it until the twelfth century. These arms continued to be used to represent the kingdom for centuries after their invention. They have been incorporated into heraldic charges of institutions that associate themselves with Wessex, especially Edward the Confessor, where they are used at Westminster Abbey and in the arms of the City of Westminster.[6] The arms attributed to Edward were probably based on the design of a type of coin minted during his reign. This silver penny, often called a 'cross/eagle' type, showed an equal-armed cross within a circle, with birds depicted in the spaces between the arms of the cross.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Friar, Basic Heraldry, 12.
  2. ^ Millennium, Tom Holland (p 192)
  3. ^ Freeman, Edward A. The History of the Norman Conquest of England (1869), Vol. III p.766 citing Hodgson, J., and Hinde, J. H. History of Northumberland (1820–1858), Part III, Vol. III, pp. 3, 11
  4. ^ Harper-Hill, C. and Vincent, N. (2007) Henry II: New Interpretations, Boydell Press, p. 382.
  5. ^ College of Arms MS L.14, dating from the reign of Henry III
  6. ^ For example in Divi Britannici by Winston Churchill, published in 1675, and Britannia Saxona by G W Collen, published in 1833.
  7. ^ Delmar, E. (1953) Observations on the Origin of the Arms of Edward the Confessor, The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 95, No. 608 (Nov., 1953), pp. 358-363, Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd.
  • Stephen Friar and John Ferguson (1993), Basic Heraldry, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 978-0-393-03463-9
  • Naismith, Rory (2011). "The Origins of the Line of Egbert, King of the West Saxons, 802–839". English Historical Review. 76 (518): 1–16. doi:10.1093/ehr/ceq377.
House of Wessex
New title
England united under Wessex
Ruling house of England
829–1013
Succeeded by
House of Denmark
Preceded by
House of Denmark
Ruling house of England
1014–16
Ruling house of England
1042–66
Succeeded by
House of Godwin