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Cuthredlocked

(d. 756)
  • Heather Edwards

Cuthred (d. 756), king of the West Saxons, succeeded to the kingship on the death of Æthelheard in 740. In a charter of the previous year, Cuthred's name appears in the witness list directly after that of Æthelheard and before Queen Frithugyth, and this special position suggests that he was Æthelheard's designated successor, presumably a close relative and possibly his son. No succession dispute in 740 is recorded, but the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions that a West Saxon atheling named Cynric was killed in 748, and that Cuthred fought the arrogant ealdorman Æthelhun in 750, and both these incidents may relate to unsuccessful attempts to overthrow Cuthred and seize the kingship.

King Æthelbald of Mercia almost certainly exercised some power in Wessex at the time of Cuthred's accession, although the nature and extent of this power are far from clear. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Cuthred and Æthelbald fought the Britons in 743: probably Cuthred was assisting the Mercians against the Welsh in accordance with some subjection to, or alliance with, Mercia. In 744 Æthelbald authorized the sale of land in what is now Somerset to the monastery at Glastonbury in a charter which Cuthred attests, and Æthelbald is also recorded as a direct benefactor of the house, granting lands, which are unidentified but may have lain in the same area, in the 740s.

However, Cuthred retained his independent royal title and frequently acted without any reference to Mercia. He was a benefactor of monasteries, granting estates in what are now Dorset and Somerset to Sherborne. He gave Wdetun (probably Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire) to Malmesbury in 745 and the unidentified 'Thruhham' to Winchester in 749. About 745 he confirmed the grants of all previous kings, including Æthelbald, to Glastonbury. It may be that Wessex was effectively independent, though subject to Æthelbald's influence when he chose to exert it there.

Later in the reign, probably about 750, Cuthred rebelled against Æthelbald. There was a battle at 'Beorhford' which Cuthred is said to have won, and there is no evidence for any further Mercian power in Wessex during Cuthred's lifetime. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, summing up the reign, says that Cuthred fought stoutly against King Æthelbald, which implies that he enjoyed some success. The evidence is far from conclusive, but it seems likely that during the 750s Cuthred was able to free Wessex from Mercian influence.

In 753 Cuthred turned his attention to fighting the Cornish. In 756 he died and was succeeded by Sigeberht, who may have been his son.

Sources

  • ASC, s.a. 740, 741, 743, 748, 750, 752, 753, 756 [texts A, E]
  • AS chart., S 255, 256, 257, 258, 259, 1410, 1678–9
  • F. M. Stenton, ‘The supremacy of the Mercian kings’, Preparatory to ‘Anglo-Saxon England’: being the collected papers of Frank Merry Stenton, ed. D. M. Stenton (1970), 48–66
  • F. M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, 3rd edn (1971)
  • P. Wormald, ‘Bede, the “Bretwaldas” and the origins of the “gens Anglorum”’, Ideal and reality in Frankish and Anglo-Saxon society, ed. P. Wormald, D. Bullough, and R. Collins (1983), 99–129
  • H. Edwards, The charters of the early West Saxon kingdom (1988)
D. Whitelock, D. C. Douglas, & S. I. Tucker, eds. and trans., (1961)
Bede, ed. and trans. B. Colgrave & R. A. B. Mynors, OMT (1969); repr. (1991)
P. H. Sawyer, , Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks (1968)