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 dynasties 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, and Part 3 saw the creation of the Kingdom of England under Cerdicing rule. Part 4 featured a number of mediocre kings come to the throne, yet now that a young man known for his genius steps into place, what will he do?
Ecgfrith 1136 - 1179
Ecgfrith is possibly the most intelligent man to hold the title of King of England. An exceptional diplomat, the 20-year old is also a dab hand at every other aspect of ruling. From spying to battle to coin-counting, Ecgfrith can do it all. His brothers, the swarthy result of their father’s penchant for women from Burgundy, are given positions on the council. Neither seem too bothered to have lost the crown to their younger sibling.
England, through a series of complicated inheritance laws, somehow owns Lorraine in France. Austrasia, another kingdom in Europe, declares war to gain it back. Ecgfrith hands the county over immediately, somewhat disappointing Austrasian nobles who have already had their armour polished in preparation. The Duke of Hwice conquers Gwent in Wales in 1137, handing the county over to the crown’s control.
Ecgfrith wastes no time in going back to war with the Scottish over Chester. While he is away campaigning and driving back the Scottish armies, his wife dies in childbirth from pneumonia. Ecgfrith, a distant man at the best of times, ignores this and continues the war. By 1144 the conflict is won and Chester is back under English control. Ecgfrith turns his eyes to Lancaster, which has been under Byzantine influence for too long. He declares war on the ailing Empire in 1145 and occupies the county. Things go swimmingly until, five years later, a worryingly massive Byzantine army turns up and asks politely for Ecgfrith to hand the county back. The king is forced to sue for peace in 1150.
The scheming dukes of England, meanwhile, have been conspiring to place the Duke of Hwice on the throne. The duke has twice as many electoral votes as the king’s heir. If Ecgfrith dies, the title will pass out of his dynasty altogether. The next morning the Duke of Hwice wakes up to find that the succession law has been changed overnight to gavelkind. All elector votes now count for nothing.
In 1151, Austrasia sheepishly asks for an alliance from Ecgfrith despite trying to war with him less than 20 years earlier. Ecgfrith uses his newfound ally to put pressure on the dukes and increase crown authority, but is forced to lower it again when a mob of angry gentry knock on his door in 1153. The nobles of the land continue to be a nuisance to the genius king, who feels hamstrung by his inability to do what he wants. In 1155 Ecgfrith discovers that the Duchess of Mercia plots to murder him and put Hwice on the throne. Ecgfrith orders her arrest and the Duchess rebels. Her forces are no match for the professional men of the king’s personal army and are quickly routed. In 1159 she sues for peace and Ecgfrith banishes her from the realm. Other nobles whistle innocently and pretend they had nothing to do with any of it.
In the midst of rebellion and intrigue, the king has found the time to have seven children. One of them, the second-oldest, is a genius just like his dad. He’s also named Ecgfrith, just like his dad. In 1160 the oldest son dies of stress trying to keep the king’s vassals in line, putting Ecgfrith II in line for the throne. Things seem to be turning out great for the king, who is named as a “Paragon of Virtue” and given the honorific “the Holy” in 1162.
As ever, Ducal power is a worry for the House of Cerdicing. The young, handsome Duke of Kent owns half of England. He seems loyal, though, so Ecgfrith marries one of his daughters to the man to keep him on his side. Ecgfrith II is also married to the daughter of the King of Scotland. At last, it seems like there might be peace between north and south. For about a month anyway. Less than 30 days after the wedding, the Scottish king’s daughter is killed in suspicious circumstances. Rumours fly, the most prominent being that her father realised any child of the union would have a claim on his kingdom.
Ecgfrith [much to my exasperation] decides to take up the family pastime of going completely bonkers. He becomes a lunatic in 1175, then forces the King of Scotland to marry his other daughter to him in 1178. There’s no time for an heir to be born, though, as Ecgfrith the Holy dies aged 64 in 1179.
Ecgfrith II - 1179 -1197
32 year-old Ecgfrith II is a man much like his old dad. He’s diplomatically astute, a good spymaster and a theological genius. He has horrible, debilitating scars from fighting against the Scots. Ecgfrith II is also a member of the secretive Fraticelli society. The Fraticellis shun material wealth and believe that the opulence of the church is an affront to God. Unable to reconcile his new wealth and power with his religion, Ecgfrith leaves in 1180.
England is suffering from a major brain drain, with most of the talented statesmen killed in either the Scottish wars or in Ecgfrith I’s wars of rebellion. As such, the unfortunate genius Ecgfrith II is surrounded by idiots. Nevertheless, he wins a war for Shrewsbury in 1180, stealing it from the Welsh king.
Osmund, Ecgfrith II’s heir, is born in 1182 -- the same year the amiable Duke of Kent dies of illness. His son, a much angrier, uglier and incompetent man, takes charge. What’s worse, it seems he’s a republican. In Europe the Abu Empire has defeated Spanish attempts at Reconquista and now owns most of Brittany and portions of the South of France. A crusade is called to take back Aquitaine. Ecgfrith can’t ignore the calls of “Deus vult!” and joins it. The king then sits in the wrong seat on the boat over and contracts leprosy. The crusade succeeds in 1186 and Ecgfrith returns (missing a few toes and fingers) to find the Duke of Cornwall fermenting rebellion. He’s swiftly imprisoned but the Duke of Hwice takes up arms in turn. Ecgfrith delivers the Crusader Kings version of a backhand bitchslap and tells the Duke of Hwice to sit down. To show he means business, the king revokes the county of Cornwall.
By 1197 the entire country has converted to the Fraticelli heresy. Ecgfrith comes back into the fold and discovers much to his interest that he can now call holy wars on other Catholic countries. Ostensibly to free the people from the corruption of greedy clergy, he immediately declares a holy war on Munster, in Ireland. There are some whispers that the king is only doing it to stop Scottish influence in the island [they’re right]. The invasion force sweeps aside the first defenders, but runs headlong into an army swollen by Knights Templar. Ecgfrith decides he will lead the attack and is promptly stuffed full of arrows and left to die in a bog somewhere. He is the second King of England to die in battle.
Osmund - 1197 - 1202
Osmund ascends the throne at age 18, immediately cancelling the holy war due to his Catholic faith. Despite that, the allure of Ireland is too much for him. He succumbs and joins the Fraticellis in 1201, then declares a new holy war in 1202. Unfortunately, like his father, Osmund hangs around with the wrong people and has a bad idea of what constitutes hygiene. He dies of illness in 1202 at the age of 23.
Ecgfrith III - 1202 -1207
Ecgfrith III is the cousin of Ecgfrith II. He’s the fabulously wealthy Duke of York, with more than 6,000 pieces of gold in his personal treasury. Unfortunately, when he’s named the new King of England, he’s unable to attend the ceremony. That’s because Ecgfrith III is in a Sicilian prison. The holy war is again cancelled because a Catholic sits on the throne. The commonfolk of England never get to see their wealthy new monarch, as he dies in prison five years later.
Ealdraed - 1207 - 1209
Seven year-old Ealdraed is a much better candidate for king than his predecessor, purely because he’s not incarcerated. The young boy is brave, smart, loyal and generous. He also somehow inherits a small portion of Northern Africa. Too interested in climbing and playing around Winchester, the young king allows his regent, the Earl of Warwick, to run things for him. Another Fraticelli holy war is called, this time against Powys, in 1208. Ealdraed never gets to see the result of the war. The child-king is murdered by the Earl of Devon, who pushes him from a window just after his ninth birthday.
Instability is the main feature of Cerdicing rule. The playthings of the English dukes, can the family ever rise from being controlled by the nobles? Will the border wars between England and Scotland ever cease? Will a king ever make it to old age without contracting a deadly illness or going mad? You’ll have to wait until next week.