Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cædwalla (659?-689)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CÆDWALLA (659?–689) (the variations in the form of whose name are as numerous as in the case of the Welsh Cædwalla), 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 Cædwalla 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. Bæda 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. Cædwalla often applied to him for advice, and Wilfrith lent him also horses and money, and obtained great influence over him (ib.) In 685, when Cædwalla 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, Æthelwealh, 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 Cædwalla 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 brother Mul was burned to death, he turned his arms against the Isle of Wight, which had been conquered some years before by Wulfhere, king of Mercia, and bestowed upon his ally and godson, Æthelwealh, the South-Saxon king (Bæda, iv. 13, 16). The inhabitants of Wight were still heathen, and Cædwalla, 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 Cædwalla 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, Cædwalla 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 (Bæda, iv. 16). Cædwalla 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. Cædwalla 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, Bæda 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 Bæda. 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.

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

W. R. W. S.