Caedwalla

(c. 659-689)
   According to the historian Bede, Caedwalla was "a daring mad young man of the royal house of Gewissae" (232) who began his career as a pagan but converted to Christianity. He was king of the West Saxons for only a few years but initiated the tradition among West Saxon kings, down to Alfred the Great in the ninth century, of attempting to rule all of southeastern England.
   Caedwalla was a member of the royal line but had been sent into exile during the reign of his predecessor, King Æthelwalh. In 685, Caedwalla began his struggle for the kingdom, and leaving exile, he attacked and killed Æthelwalh. He was turned away by his dead rival's retainers but managed to return and assume the throne. As king, he was involved in incessant warfare and conquest. He extended his power throughout southeastern England. Almost immediately after becoming king, Caedwalla invaded the Isle of Wight, where he was seriously wounded, and sought to kill all its inhabitants and replace them with people from Wessex. He took control of Sussex and killed one of its leaders and one of his chief rivals there. In 686, he invaded Kent and managed to secure recognition as king there as well. Although he was able to establish his power in several kingdoms, Caedwalla was unable to keep permanent hold on any of them, with the exception of the Isle of Wight.
   Although he was a ferocious warrior king and pagan, Caedwalla remained on good terms with the bishops of his kingdom and eventually converted to Christianity. He was a patron of the church in England and may have founded a monastery at Hoo, in Kent between the Thames and Medway estuaries. According to Bede, Caedwalla abdicated the throne after roughly two years as king, 688, "for the sake of our Lord and his eternal kingdom" (279). Although accepting the faith in 688, the king desired the great honor of baptism in Rome and hoped to die shortly after baptism so that he could pass to "everlasting happiness" (279). In the summer of 688, Caedwalla left England. He stopped at Calais and donated money for the building of a church, and he also spent time at the court of the king of the Lombards, Cunipert. He reached Rome by the spring of 689 and was baptized by Pope Sergius on Holy Saturday before Easter, April 10, in that year, and was given the name Peter. As he wished, Caedwalla fell ill and died in Rome ten days later on April 20, 689. Although his reign and life were short, Caedwalla left an important legacy for his kingdom as king and Christian convert.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People with Bede's Letter to Egbert and Cuthbert's Letter on the Death of Bede. Trans. Leo Sherley-Price. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1991.
 ♦ Blair, Peter Hunter. The World of Bede. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970.
 ♦ Stenton, Frank M. Anglo-Saxon England. 3d ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.
 ♦ Whitelock, Dorothy, ed. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1986.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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