Cynewulf (DNB00)

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CYNEWULF (d. 785), king of the West Saxons, of the royal race, took the leading part in the expulsion of his kinsman Sigeberht from the throne by the Witan in 755, and was chosen to succeed him, Sigeberht being allowed to reign for a while as under-king in Hampshire. He fought many battles with the Welsh. During his reign the Mercian power, which had been greatly lessened by the consequences of Æthelbald's defeat at Burford [see Cuthred], began to revive under Offa, who in 777 attacked the portion of the West-Saxon territory that lay to the north of the Thames. Cynewulf was defeated at Bensington (Benson in Oxfordshire), and the battle gave the conqueror not only the district north of the river, but, according to one account, the land that lay between it and the Berkshire hills (Chron. Abingdon, i. 14; Parker). After he had reigned about thirty-one years Cynewulf ordered the ætheling Cyneheard, the brother of Sigeberht, to go into banishment. Cyneheard, however, gathered a band of men, and hearing that the king had gone to Merton in Surrey to visit his mistress, and had taken only a few men with him, he went thither, beset the house by night, and surrounded the room where the king was before his men were aware of it. The king came to the door, defended himself desperately, and when he saw the ætheling rushed forth, fell upon him, and wounded him sorely, but was himself slain by Cyneheard's men. Then Cyneheard seized Merton and made the gates fast. In the morning Osric the ealdorman and Wiferth the late king's thegn and others of his men came against the ætheling. He tried to persuade them to make him king, promising them gold and lands, and pointing out that many of their kinsfolk had sworn to stand by him. They answered him that ‘no kinsman was dearer to them than their lord, and that they would never follow his murderer,’ and so they fought with him and slew him and all his company save one who was the ealdorman's godson. and he was wounded. Then Cynewulf was buried at Winchester, and Beorhtric [q. v.] was chosen to reign in his stead. Cyneheard the ætheling was buries at Axminster.

[Anglo-Saxon Chron. sub an. 755, where the story of the death of Cynewulf is told at unusual length; Æthelweard's Chronicle, cap. xviii. (Mon. Hist. Brit.); Flor. Wig. i. 60 (Eng. Hist. Soc.); Chron. Mon. Abingdon, i. 14 (Rolls Series); Parker's Early History of Oxford, p. 109 (Oxford Hist. Soc.); Freeman's Old English History, p. 89; Green's History of England, p. 419.]

W. H.