In this series I’m attempting to chronicle the fortunes of a single dynasty through the entire timeline of Crusader Kings II - which can last almost 500 years. Having selected the House of Cerdicing - the descendants of the Anglo-Saxon invaders of England, I will track every move, mistake and success of the dynasty's kings as they come and go.
In Part 1 the first five kings of the Petty Kingdom of Wessex came and went without much fanfare. Most succumbed to what seems to be a familial trait of catching deadly diseases. When we left off, King Ecgbert had just died after losing a civil war. With the count of Wessex running amok, who could hope to control them?
Ealhmund 825 - 888
At age 15, Ealhmund, son of Ecgbert, ascends to the throne. Due to his father’s inability to have more than one (living) son, the kingdom doesn’t split, leaving the young king with time to set things right. Smart, diplomatic and with a exceedingly dashing mustache, Ealhmund seems a cut above the rest of his dynasty. The king marries a Byzantine noblewoman and has barely time to bed her before he’s invading Cornwall.
After a year of fighting, Ealhmund conquers Cornwall and finally finishes what his ancestors started in the fifth century - driving the Celtic Britons from England. Not long after that Ealhmund’s first son, Uhtred, is born. With the entirety of southern Britain now under Wessex control, the king settles back to ruling. Infrastructure is improved, churches are built and levies reorganised. The king’s unwillingness to leave Winchester leads to some derision and the nickname “Ealhmund the fat” begins to spread among the nobility.
In 835 the Britons revolt. Ealhmund is forced to ride out to meet the rebels in a suit of armour a few sizes larger than the one he wore in 830. He barely has time to gather his troops before news reaches him that Mercia, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom to the North, has joined the Britons. A Mercian army streams down into Wessex, met head-on by Ealhmund’s forces. The king, still in his twenties, fights in the vanguard and routs the enemy army completely. The rebels in Cornwall are dispatched just as quickly. Once again Ealhmund retires to Winchester, another war well won.
Rumours over the king’s recalcitrance are answered in 837 when a proclamation is issued, taking all the kingdom’s nobles aback: King Ealhmund has switched the inheritance laws of the country back to primogeniture. Mere days after the decree is nailed to church doors across the land, the counts deliver an ultimatum to the king. Ealhmund, more than aware of his father’s spinelessness, rejects it out of hand.
The second Wessex gavelkind civil war is a bloody affair. Both Northumbria and Mercia are called into it. The petty kingdom of Essex also tries to steal Kent while Ealhmund’s forces are tied up. The king’s personal army smashes the forces from the north before rounding on the rebel armies, routing them in a grim battle across the river Thames. The rebel counts of Sussex, Dorset and Wiltshire are killed. The ringleaders culled, the civil war dissipates and a white peace is signed in 839.
Ealhmund turns his bloodied veteran army to face Essex and forces the smaller kingdom to its knees in a series of hit-and-run battles. With manpower drained, the war ends in a white peace in 843. Ealhmund has no time to relax, though, as the petty kingdom of Hwice - modern day Somerset - demands control of Wiltshire and declares war. Thankfully it's small armies are no match for the Wessex levies and the war is won.
With the country at war for almost seven years, Ealhmund’s manpower (and his treasury) is running low. The nobles of Wessex return again to Winchester’s gates in 846, demanding the inheritance laws be changed back to gavelkind. Reluctantly, the king agrees. Wessex spends the next few years in peace, though the gossip the king cannot sire any more heirs remains on people’s lips. Gloucester, the county owned by Hwice, is conquered in 864. The count of Gloucester is found plotting the murder of Ealhmund’s son Uhtred and is put to death.
In 870 the king’s wife dies and Ealhmund falls into a deep depression. He orchestrates a few more military campaigns but leaves the fighting to his generals. Wessex conquers Oxford in 873, bringing fully half of modern-day England under Wessex control. A 75-year old Ealhmund, having failed to curb the actions of his rebellious counts and mourning the loss of his wife, finally seeks solace in preparing the throne for his only heir, Uhtred, now 48. With one final royal proclamation, Ealhmund declares that the true Kingdom of Wessex has been born, no longer shall it be called “petty”.
The old king dies aged 78. Despite his nickname and the ire he received from his vassals, the citizens of the kingdom acknowledge him as the finest king Wessex has yet seen.
Uhtred - 888 - 896
Uhtred had been a strong, healthy man in his youth. A famous general, he had personally commanded armies in many of his father’s campaigns. A short war for Middlesex follows his coronation, with the overwhelming force of Wessex’s armies blowing away the small London-based levies.
Uhtred’s twin heirs, Ealhmund and Saeweald, accompany the king on his excursions. The gavelkind rule is still in effect, and already those in court are sizing up the princes. Ealhmund is sickly and weak, the opposite of his tall, handsome younger brother. Unable to deal with the whispers about his weakness and the harsh winter of 890, Ealhmund dies of illness the same year, leaving Saeweald sole heir to both thrones. Uhtred’s reign is marred by no further wars and the king dies of natural causes in 896, aged 51.
Saeweald - 896 - 906
There is excitement over the coronation of Saeweald. A diplomat, general, statesman and theologist, the 25-year old is seen as a great new hope for a golden era in Wessex. Unfortunately, the family curse has other ideas. After injuring himself on a hunting trip in 902, Saeweald falls into a coma and dies four years later.
Eadberht - 906 - 929
Eadberht, a cousin of the king, inherits the throne age 23. Not as exceptional as his predecessor, he feels the burden of expectation on his shoulders. Nevertheless with the help of his advisors and the counts of Wessex he defeats Essex in a war for Kent in 907. With the kingdom growing by the year, Eadberht is convinced by his vassals to split the counties into three major dukedoms - Oxford, Cornwall and Kent - to better control his lands.
Buoyed by his early victories, the king takes in an exiled royal family member from the petty kingdom of Mercia. Using the exile as a casus belli, Eadberht declares war on Mercia in 911, hoping to conquer the kingdom and bring it under the control of the Wessex crown. The war is short but bloody - the king is victorious but wounded in battle in 912. The courtier-claimant, riding by the king’s side, is killed. The war’s cause is no longer valid and the conflict dies away.
Further problems occur when in 921 the Duke of Oxford dies and his son, living in Mercia, take control of the lands. A second war with the northern kingdom is started to win it back. In the midst of another battle the king is driven mad and is reduced to a gibbering wreck. His bodyguards pull him free from the melee and Wessex carries the day. Oxford safe under control, Eadberht “the mad king” sets his sights on Essex and Bedford.
Despite the wishes of his bodyguards the mad king charges into battle again. This time his luck fails and he is run through with a spear. He is the first king of Wessex to die in battle.
Cenwulf 929 - 929
The crown is hastily placed upon the head of the king’s brother, Cenwulf. Cenwulf, however, was also injured in the battle at Bedford and dies comatose in bed a month later.
Only one king from the House of Cerdicing has been remotely successful. The machinations of vassals, counts and duke has been the undoing of the royal line. Now, with the millennium approaching, the crown is passed to a boy. What will happen next?