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. Part 2 saw a succession of slightly-more-competent rulers come into their own, but now the responsibility of the crown rests on the shoulders of an eight-year old boy.
Eadfrith - 929 - 944
Poor Eadfrith’s reign is predicted to be doomed. Surrounded on all sides by petty dukes, rival counts and a vicious noble council, his outlook is bleak. After a period of time being ruled over by an overbearing duke of Kent, the appointed regent, Eadfirth is crowned in 937. His first action as king is to declare war on Northampton, trying to finish what his father started in Bedford.
The war for Northampton drags on and on, with a series of small skirmishes across the flat county. To a collective intake of breath Eadfrith is maimed in battle in 942, but pulls through in time to see Northampton taken over by Wessex forces. Eadfrith never fully recovers from the wound he gains in battle, though, becoming sick in 943 and succumbing to pneumonia the following year. Once more the throne is ascended by a young, unproven king.
Wulfnoth - 944 -983
Wulfnoth is a decent man, with an understanding of politics, war and religion. What’s more, he understands how to delegate. The dukes of Wessex have grown fat and powerful due to the crown’s low authority. Duke Hereward of Cornwall inherits the entirety of Mercia in 945, bringing a huge swathe of England under the control of the crown. The king, in support of his vassal, aids Hereward in taking York the following year.
Marriage ties prove to be Wulfnoth’s undoing as his older brother, angry at the crown bypassing him, matrilineally marries into Frankish nobility, taking his lands in Oxford with him. Suddenly there is a small patch in the centre of England that belongs to the king of France.
Keen to prevent the Bavarians from extending their influence into East Anglia, Wulfnoth incites a rebellion and then tries to capitalise on the turmoil by capturing the counties there. The war ends inconclusively, leaving Norfolk and Suffolk under the Bavarian yoke for the time being.
Northumbria, feeling the king’s gaze fall upon their as-yet independent realm, pledges itself to the Byzantine Empire for protection. Wulfnoth stares at his maps - now pieces of England are Bavarian, French and Latin respectively. What’s more, the Picts have been steadily increasing their influence, conquering Derby Chester, Shrewsbury and Gwent from the Welsh.
Keen to check Pictish aggression, Wulfnoth declares war on them for Derby in 964. The Picts show their contempt for that claim by severely wounding the king in battle in 965. Wulfnoth refuses to let a few sliced limbs keep him down, though, and wins a series of stunning victories. His personal bravery earns the king the nickname “The Lion of Wessex”.
Fresh from conquering Derby, Wulfnoth calls his dukes to the castle at Winchester. With Wessex controlling more than half of the counties in the region, Wulfnoth declares that the Kingdom of England has been born. He shall rule as a king with two crowns. Accordingly the new king of England changes the succession type to elective and nominates his eldest son as heir.
Unfortunately for Wulfnoth’s poor son, that declaration puts a target on his back. He dies in suspicious circumstances, tragically stepping in front of an arrow (and a few swords) during a hunt. Wulfnoth, distraught at his son’s passing, backs down when the dukes of England call for the succession rule to be changed to gavelkind. The Lion of Wessex dies a few months later age 59, the kingdom split in two between his remaining heirs, Onlaf and Beorhfrith.
Onlaf "The Unready"- 983 - 995
The kingdom splits roughly down the centre, with Onlaf gaining the lands north of the Thames. The eldest of the two rulers, he feels he has got something of a bum deal, as his brother has the richer lands to the south. Sulking on his throne, Onlaf broods for a few years.
In 995 Onlaf discovers his ambitious streak. Overestimating both the support of the dukes and his own military prowess, he declares war on Wessex to unite the crowns again. Before he can muster his army, though, he dies of illness age 69.
Onlaf II "The Fat"- 995 - 1004
It’s safe to say that Onlaf II (electric boogaloo) is just as unready as his father. He loses the war for Wessex in disastrous fashion in 1003, eats too much to make himself feel better and is subsequently labelled as “the fat” from then on. The dukes of the realm begin to wonder why they elected him in the first place and most switch their support to his uncle, Beorhfrith, who is thriving in Wessex. Onlaf II dies in 1004 aged 24, probably from heart disease.
Beorhfrith "The Ill-Ruler"- 1004 - 1038
King Beorhfrith unites England and Wessex again, ruling both realms from Winchester. Unfortunately, it seems the fate of Wulfnoth’s children to be awful rulers. Beorhfrith is a useless treasurer, spy and theologian. His subjects call him “the ill-ruler”, probably to his face because the dukes have so much control he can’t do anything.
Duke Hereward, well into his 80s, conquers Oxford from Francia and returns it back to the English crown. He then leads a faction of dukes to Winchester to demand elective succession. Beorhfrith, peeping through the letterbox, agrees meekly. The king, who is a well-known homosexual, spends much of his time locked away in his keep with his ultra-pious wife, probably debating Leviticus.
Elsewhere in Europe, Italy is wracked by the Lollard heresy. The pope, backed into a corner by religious zealots, calls the first-ever crusade to wipe them out. With cries of “Deus vult!” armies across the continent surge towards Lombardy, the source of the heresy. Beorhfrith joins the crusade days after the birth of his first son. His expedition to Lombardy is disastrous and he is defeated multiple times by heretical armies. In 1014 he’s captured in a final insult.
After a year in captivity the crusade ends. Lombardy has been ravaged by the knights of Europe and returns to proper Catholicism. Beorhfrith is sent home from his prison cell. Determined to ensure that the Kingdom of England doesn’t split again, he takes the decision to wipe out the title of Wessex, erasing it from the history books. The dukes are shocked and appalled by the action.
After a decade of peace or so, the king declares war on Bavaria to try and win Suffolk back for England, succeeding in 1034. The dukes of England help him conquer the county in 1036, with the Duke of Kent winning plaudits and admiration for his command of the armies. That attention is bad news for Beorhfrith, as the duke suddenly gets an overwhelming number of elector votes. If the king dies the title will pass from the Cerdicing family completely.
In 1037 the county of Norfolk declares independence from Bavaria, ending almost 100 years of foreign control. It is immediately absorbed into Beorhfrith’s kingdom. A few months later the dashing young Duke of Kent is found dead at the foot of a tower. Deemed an accident, the title passes on to his infant heir and the elector votes pass back onto Beorhfrith’s son. With this timely “convenience” easing his mind, the king dies in his bed age 68 in 1038.
The Kingdom of Wessex has been destroyed, replaced by the Kingdom of England. The Cerdicing line now holds claim to more than 35 counties, but can it hold on to its power? The elector system is proving tough to rig and could see them toppled at any time. As a new king takes the throne in Winchester the need to deal with troublesome dukes will be paramount.