The Battle of Sarum in 552 AD

An DLII Her Cynric zefeaht pið Bryttas ony Pærez stope þe is genemned Seapobýrig Y þa Brýtt pealas geflýmde

“In 552 Cynric fought the Britons at the place now called Searobyrg, and won.”

Reconstruction illustration showing a conjectural view of the gatehouse of the late Romano-British hillfort at Old Sarum in about 552 AD. In the foreground, Cynric the Saxon is shown defeating a post-Roman British soldier.  *

The Roman legions left in 410 AD, leaving Britain open to invasion.  In 495 Cerdic and his son (possibly grandson, with Creoda as Cerdic’s son and Cynric’s father) Cynric in five boats arrived in Southampton from a North Sea coastal area of modern Germany.

Cerdic, credited as king of the West Saxons and of Wessex, named after them, Wes(t)Seax, died in 534. In 552 Cynric fought the Britons at the place now called Searobyrg, (Sælesberic, Searoburh) and won. In 556, he and his son Ceawlin beat the Britons again in Wiltshire, at Barbury Castle, 5 miles south of Swindon. (An DLVI Der Cynric y Ceaplın 5 fuhton pið Brýttar æt Beranbýrig)

The events, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, were:

A.D. 508. This year Cerdic and Cynric slew a British king, whose name was Natanleod, and five thousand men with him. After this was the land named Netley, from him, as far as Charford.

 

AD  509 …………………………………..

 

AD 514…………………………………….

 

A.D. 519. This year Cerdic and Cynric undertook the government of the West-Saxons; the same year they fought with the Britons at a place now called Charford. From that day have reigned the children of the West-Saxon kings.

 

A.D. 527. This year Cerdic and Cynric fought with the Britons in the place that is called Cerdic's-ley.

 

A.D. 530. This year Cerdic and Cynric took the isle of Wight, and slew many men in Carisbrook.

 

A.D. 534. This year died Cerdic, the first king of the West- Saxons. Cynric his son succeeded to the government, and reigned afterwards twenty-six winters. And they gave to their two nephews, Stuff and Wihtgar, the whole of the Isle of Wight.

 

A.D. 538. This year the sun was eclipsed, fourteen days before the calends of March, from before morning until nine.

 

A.D. 540. This year the sun was eclipsed on the twelfth day before the calends of July; and the stars showed themselves full nigh half an hour over nine.

 

A.D. 544. This year died Wihtgar; and men buried him at Carisbrook.

 

AD 547………………………………

 

A.D. 552. This year Cynric fought with the Britons on the spot that is called Sarum, and put them to flight. Cerdic was the father of Cynric, Cerdic was the son of Elesa, Elesa of Esla, Esla of Gewis, Gewis of Wye, Wye of Frewin, Frewin of Frithgar, Frithgar of Brand, Brand of Balday, Balday of Woden. In this year Ethelbert, the son of Eremitic, was born, who on the two and thirtieth year of his reign received the rite of baptism, the first of all the kings in Britain.

 

A.D. 556. This year Cynric and Ceawlin fought with the Britons at Beranbury.

 

The source and indeed the only source is the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, which was written at least 350 years later, so the accuracy must be gauged with that in mind. For example some estimates of his birth give 494.  Saxon raiding boats would need a creche for Cynric to be an infant when he landed in 495 (he and Cerdic were described as aldermen) or if he arrived at a fighting age and died in 560 he must have lived to his eighties after a life of close combat. Both seem unlikely. There is no corroboration of his life details or even his existence. The Anglo-Saxon chronicle was written in the time of a descendant and later king of Wessex, Alfred the Great who also visited (old) Sarum and improved the fortifications there.

 

Source is the Anglo-Saxon chronicle. Original text and a translation of the relevant page is available here, page 23 (James Ingram, 1823, from Codford St Mary, Wiltshire)

Image Credit, Peter Dunn, English Heritage Graphics Team. Copyright © Historic England. IC074/014. No copyright infringement is intended.  Other Peter Dunn Old Sarum pictures are available, with consent, here https://www.stratfordsubcastle.org.uk/old-sarum-paintings

Kerry O’Connor

Local History Group

November 2020

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