Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ceawlin

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CEAWLIN (d. 593), king of the West-Saxons, first appears in 556 as taking part with his father Cynric in the battle ‘Beranbyrig,’ probably Barbury hill, to the northwest of Marlborough (Guest). He succeeded Cynric in 560. The battle of Barbury gave the West-Saxons the command of the downs stretching towards the north-east. Ceawlin led his host against Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum), ‘where the roads from Winchester and Old Sarum united on their way to London’ (Green). The remains of the city bear witness to the formidable character of the invaders’ task, for it is still girt with its Roman wall of 2,670 yards circuit, and its fosse of 100 feet width (Archæological Journal, xxx. 12). No written record remains of Ceawlin’s success. From Silchester Ceawlin doubtless advanced, over-running the country to ths south of the great Berkshire forest, and keeping to the south of the Thames until, in 568, he encountered the forces of Æthelberht, king of Kent, at Wibbandun or Wimbledon. In this first battle fought by the invaders between themselves, Ceawlin and his brother Cutha routed the Jutes, and drove Æthelberht back into Kent (A.-S. Chron.; GREEN). In the expedition of his brother Cuthwulf, who in 571 carried the West-Saxon arms as far as Bedford, Ceawlin had no share. Six years later he led his host from Winchester, and marched to Deorham. There he med, defeated, and slew three British kings, and as a consequence of the battle won Gloucester, Bath, and Cirenchester, over which one may suppose they ruled. The victory forms an important era in the history of the conquest of Britain. Independently of the wealth and importance of the cities themselves that were thus gained, they were at the head of a wide-spreading district. From the borders of the vast forests of Wyre and Arden on the north, to the mines of Mendip and the river Axe on the south, the whole country, save the wedge of forest land that ran up to the site of Malmesbury, fell into the hands of the invader. The wide extent of Ceawlin’s somninions led Bæda to reckon him amonhg the kings who held a special pre-eminence in Britain, and who were described by the chronicle-writer, when he copied Bæda’s list, Bretwaldas. In 583 Ceawlin made a fresh advance along the upper course of the Severn. Dr. Guest has shown that the inroad commemorated in Llywarch Hen’s elegy on Kyndylan refers to this war. Tren or Uriconium, the town at the foot of the Wrekin, was destroyed; Pengwyrn, the forerunner of Shrewsbury, was burnt; and the like fate fell on Bassa’s churches, probably ‘some group of churches like Glendalough,’ of which the memory is still preserved in Baschurch, near Shresbury. Here, however, Ceawlin’s further progress was stopped, for the Britons under Brochmæl, prince of Powys, met him at Fethanleag, or Faddiley, at the entrance of Vale Royal, defeated his army, and slew his brother Cutha. ‘Wrathful,’ the chronicle says, ‘he thence returned to his own.’ In 591 his people rose against him, and set up Ceol, or Ceolric, the son of his brother Cutha. William of Malmesbury says that this revolt was caused by the general hatred with shich he was regarded (Gesta Regum, i.17). It has been suggested with considerable probability that the revolt was made by the Hwiccas, the people ‘settled in the newly conqurered country along the lower Severn.’ And that for a time it left Ceawlin the older West-Saxon territory. In 592, however, Ceolric attacked him there also. A league was made, so Malmesbury asserts, between the revolted Saxons and the Britons. The armies met at Woddesbeorg, or Wanborough, ‘the key of Ceawlin’s shrunken realm,’ where the downs rise above the vale of the White Horse (GREEN). The battle was fierce; Ceawlin was defeated and driven out of his kingdom. Henry of Huntingdon brings the part taken by the Welsh prominently forward, and describes the battle of Wanborough as one between Britons and Saxons. In 593 Ceawlin and his brother Cwichelm were slain. Ceawlin’s son was Cuthwine; his house was restored in 685 in the person of Cædwall [q.v.]

[Anglo-Saxon Chron; Bæda’s Hist. Eccl. ii. c. 5 (Eng. Hist. Soc.)p; William of Malmesbury, i. c. 17 (Eng. Hist. Soc.); Henry of Huntingdon, Mon. Brit. Hist. p. 714; Guest's Origines Celticæ, ii. 195, 245-314; Green's Making of England, 128, 201-9.]

W. H.