This action-packed illustration by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr. (c. 1856–1927) depicts the downfall of King Cynewulf of Wessex. He seized the throne of Wessex by deposing (and then killing) his kinsman, Sigebert, in the year 757. He went on to have a decades-long reign, but his rule was plagued by a bitter feud with Cyneheard—an angry brother of the aforementioned Sigebert, whom Cynewulf had murdered and replaced. As the story goes, Cyneheard waited years for the opportune moment to have his revenge. The time came in 786, when Cynewulf made the mistake of separating from most of his guards and military to see a mistress. Cyneheard and a band of supporters attacked the king of Wessex at that awkward moment, yet the few guards that had accompanied their liege to the home of the mistress put up a good fight, allowing Cynewulf to arm and armor himself. The illustration above depicts the odd moment when the king caught sight of Cyneheard and charged out to fight his opponent. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described the dramatic scene, stating, “And when the king perceived that [he was under attack], he went to the door, and then gallantly defended himself, until he looked on the ætheling [Cyneheard], and then rushed out on him, and sorely wounded him; and they were all fighting against the king, until they had slain him” (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, entry 755). Cyneheard did not enjoy his victory for long, as he too was killed when Cynewulf’s nearby army arrived on the scene. For a more detailed article on the reign of Cynewulf, click HERE.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by Benjamin Thorpe in 1861 and republished by Cambridge University Press, 2012.