Caedwalla of Wessex

Caedwalla (c. 659–April 20, 689) was the King of Wessex from 685 until 688. During his brief reign, he conquered much of southeast England.

Caedwalla was the son of Cenberht, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle traces his lineage back to Cynric and his father Cerdic of Wessex. In 685, apparently acting as an independent warlord (Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, says that Caedwalla, described as "a daring young man", had been banished from his kingdom), he conquered Sussex, killed its king Athelwalh, and "wasted that country with much slaughter and plundering" (Bede). He was, however, soon expelled by Berthun and Andhun, Athelwalh's commanders, "who afterwards held the government of that province".

In the same year, Caedwalla began, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, "to contend for the kingdom" (of Wessex). In 686, by then king of Wessex, he again attacked Sussex, killed Berthun and firmly established West Saxon authority there. He subsequently marched on into Kent, conquering it and possibly establishing his brother Mul there in place of its king Eadric.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that, in 686, "Caedwalla gave Hoo, which is on an island called Avery, into St. Peter's minister, Peterborough."

Caedwalla also attacked the Isle of Wight, which was still an independent pagan kingdom. There he waged a brutal campaign of slaughter against the inhabitants (intending, according to Bede, to replace them with "people from his own province"), and their last king, Atwald, was killed. Bede tells us that two young brothers of Atwald, who had been captured, were converted to Christianity before being executed.

In Kent, there had apparently been a revolt in which Mul was "burned" along with 12 others, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Caedwalla responded with a renewed campaign against Kent, laying waste to its land and leaving it in a state of chaos. At this point, however, Caedwalla abdicated, being succeeded by Ine, and went on a pilgrimage to Rome, possibly because he was dying of the wounds he had suffered while fighting on the Isle of Wight. Although Caedwalla was, according to the 20th century historian Frank Stenton, "an associate and patron of churchmen", he had never been baptized, and Bede states that he wished to "obtain the peculiar honour of being baptized in the church of the blessed apostles". In Rome, he was indeed baptized by Pope Sergius I on the Saturday before Easter (according to Bede), took the name Peter, and died not long afterwards, "still in his white garments". He was buried in St. Peter's church. Bede's Ecclesiastical History and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle agree that Caedwalla died on April 20 (and Bede tells us that he was about 30 years old), but the latter says that he died 7 days after his baptism, although the Saturday before Easter was on April 10 that year.

Preceded by:
King of Wessex
685 - 688
Succeeded by:


  • Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 685 to 688.
  • Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book IV, Chapter XV and XVI; Book V, Chapter VII.
  • Stenton, Frank M. Anglo-Saxon England (1943). Chapter II: "The Kingdoms of the Southern English". Third Edition.

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