The Story of Cynewulf, 755

In 755, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records the story Cynewulf, the King of Wessex,
and his struggle for leadership with Cyneard and Sebright. It is the earliest piece
of written narrative prose that comes to us from Anglo Saxon England.

This year Cynewulf, with the consent of the West-Saxon council, deprived
Sebright, his relative, for unrighteous deeds, of his kingdom, except
Hampshire; which he retained, until he slew the alderman who remained the
longest with him. Then Cynewulf drove him to the forest of Andred, where
he remained, until a swain stabbed him at Privett, and revenged the
alderman, Cumbra.

The same Cynewulf fought many hard battles with the
Welsh; and, about one and thirty winters after he had the kingdom, he
was desirous of expelling a prince called Cyneard, who was the brother
of Sebright. But he having understood that the king was gone, thinly
attended, on a visit to a lady at Merton, rode after him, and beset him
therein; surrounding the town without, ere the attendants of the king
were aware of him. When the king found this, he went out of doors, and
defended himself with courage; till, having looked on the atheling, he
rushed out upon him, and wounded him severely. Then were they all
fighting against the king, until they had slain him.

As soon as the king’s thanes in the lady’s bower heard the tumult, they ran to the
spot, whoever was then ready. The atheling immediately offered them life
and rewards; which none of them would accept, but continued fighting
together against him, till they all lay dead, except one British
hostage, and he was severely wounded.

When the king’s thanes that were behind heard in the morning that the king was slain, they rode to the spot, Osric his alderman, and Wiverth his thane, and the men that he
had left behind; and they met the atheling at the town, where the king
lay slain. The gates, however, were locked against them, which they
attempted to force; but he promised them their own choice of money and
land, if they would grant him the kingdom; reminding them, that their
relatives were already with him, who would never desert him. To which
they answered, that no relative could be dearer to them than their lord,
and that they would never follow his murderer. Then they besought their
relatives to depart from him, safe and sound. They replied, that the same
request was made to their comrades that were formerly with the king;
“And we are as regardless of the result,” they rejoined, “as
our comrades who with the king were slain.” Then they continued
fighting at the gates, till they rushed in, and slew the atheling and
all the men that were with him; except one, who was the godson of the ealderman,
and whose life he spared, though he was often wounded.

This same Cynewulf reigned one and thirty winters. His body lies at Winchester,
and that of the atheling at Axminster. Their paternal pedigree goeth in
a direct line to Cerdic.

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