FROM DOT TO DOMESDAY Early Medieval The Birth of Nations: England
East Anglia – the kingdom of the East Angles – enjoyed a brief period of supremacy, under Rædwald, at the beginning of the 7th century. At the end of the 8th century East Anglia was under Mercian control, but, in the aftermath of a resounding West Saxon victory over Mercia in 825, the East Angles recovered their independence. In late 869, however, following their killing of King Edmund, the Vikings became the masters of East Anglia. The last Viking king of East Anglia was killed in 917, as Edward the Elder, king of Wessex, fought to reclaim England from the Scandinavian interlopers.
In the prologue to ‘Beowulf’, the funeral of a king (or ring-giver) is described:
Þær æt hyðe stod hringed-stefna,
isig ond ut-fus, æþelinges fær;
aledon þa leofne þeoden,
beaga bryttan, on bearm scipes,
mærne be mæste. Þær wæs madma fela,
of feor-wegum, frætwa gelæded.
Ne hyrde ic cymlicor ceol gegyrwan
hilde-wæpnum ond heaðo-wædum,
billum ond byrnum; him on bearme læg
madma mænigo, þa him mid scoldon
on flodes æht feor gewitan.
In the harbour stood a ring-prowed ship,
icy, outbound, a nobleman's vessel;
there they laid down their dear lord,
dispenser of rings, in the bosom of the ship,
glorious, by the mast. There were many treasures
loaded there, adornments from distant lands;
I have never heard of a more lovely ship
bedecked with battle-weapons and war-gear,
blades and byrnies; in its bosom lay
many treasures, which were to travel
far with him into the keeping of the flood.
(lines 32–42)*
Gold buckle from Sutton Hoo In 1939, excavations of a low earth mound at Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge in Suffolk, revealed a very rich Anglo-Saxon ship-burial. The ship's timbers had rotted away, but a detailed impression of the vessel (which was about 89 feet long by 14 feet beam) had been left in the sandy soil (incidentally, there One of a pair of shoulder clasps from Sutton Hoo was no evidence of a mast). There weren't any skeletal remains in the central burial chamber, but soil analysis suggests that there once was a body. Frankish coins, which had been inside a purse, suggested a burial date in the 620s, and so the favourite candidate for the occupant's identity is King Rædwald. The treasure is now housed in the British Museum, and the Sutton Hoo Estate is owned by the National Trust.
King of the East Angles
571 ? – 578 ?  Wuffa
Son of Wehha.
578 ? – 599 ?  Tytil / Tyttla
Son of Wuffa.
It is from Wuffa, reports Bede, that “the kings of the East Angles are called Wuffingas” (‘HE’ II, 15), though the ‘Historia Brittonum’ notes that it was Wuffa's father, Wehha (spelled Guecha in the ‘Historia’), “who was the first king of the East Angles” (§59).
Henry of Huntingdon states (‘HA’ II, 25): “The founder of the kingdom of East Anglia, which includes Norfolk and Suffolk, was Wuffa, from whom the kings of the East Angles were called Wuffingas.”*  Henry slots this remark between events dated 571 and 577 by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. A century after Henry, Roger of Wendover, s.a. 571, declares categorically: “Wuffa reigns in East Anglia.”  Then, s.a. 578, he says: “At this period, Wuffa, king of the East Angles ... was succeeded by Tytil his son, who was the father of Rædwald, the tenth from Woden.”  The source of these dates is not known – they may be no more than educated guesses.*
Bede gives Wuffa's son the name Tytil. In the genealogy of the later East Anglian king, Ælfwald, preserved in the so-called ‘Anglian Collection’, Wuffa's son is given as Tyttla.
Roger of Wendover asserts that Tytil was still ruling East Anglia in 586.
599 ? – 624 ?  Rædwald
Son of Tytil.
Bede (‘HE’ II, 15): “King Rædwald was noble by birth, though ignoble in his actions, being the son of Tytil, whose father was Wuffa, from whom the kings of the East Angles are called Wuffingas.”
A modern replica of an ornate helmet, based on remains found in a ship burial at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk. It is widely believed that the burial was that of Rædwald.
There is no date for Rædwald's accession.* During the earlier part of his reign, though, Æthelberht – who was the first Anglo-Saxon king to adopt Christianity, having received the mission of Augustine in 597 – ruled Kent. Bede notes (‘HE’ II, 5) that Æthelberht was the third ruler to have overlordship of all the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms south of the Humber – a position to which the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ would later attach the title Bretwalda. Rædwald was, at some stage, converted to Christianity in Kent, “but in vain”, says Bede: “for on his return home, he was seduced by his wife and certain perverse teachers, and turned aside from the sincerity of the faith; and thus his latter state was worse than the former; so that, like the Samaritans of old, he seemed at the same time to serve Christ and the gods whom he served before; and in the same temple he had an altar for the Christian Sacrifice, and another small one at which to offer victims to devils. Aldwulf, king of that same province, who lived in our time, testifies that this temple had stood until his time, and that he had seen it when he was a boy.” (‘HE’ II, 15).  It was Rædwald's renunciation of Christianity which prompted Bede to call him “noble by birth, though ignoble in his actions”.  At any rate, after Æthelberht's death, in February 616, Rædwald became overlord of “all the southern provinces” – the fourth listed by Bede (and consequently the fourth Bretwalda listed by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’). Indeed, though the meaning of Bede's phraseology is, untypically, not clear, it could be that Rædwald had already achieved independence for East Anglia before Æthelberht's death: “the fourth was Rædwald, king of the East Angles, who, even in the life-time of Æthelberht, had been acquiring the leadership for his own race.” (‘HE’ II, 5).
Sæberht, king of the East Saxons, had also been baptized under Æthelberht's auspices, but rather more successfully than Rædwald. Sæberht apparently died soon after Æthelberht. Following the deaths of these Christian kings, there was a temporary return to paganism in Kent and Essex.
Rædwald provided sanctuary for the fugitive Edwin (son of Ælle, former king of Deira), who, according to Bede (‘HE’ II, 12), had: “wandered for many years as an exile, hiding in divers places and kingdoms, and at last came to Rædwald, beseeching him to give him protection against the snares of his powerful persecutor. Rædwald willingly received him, and promised to perform what was asked of him.”  The “powerful persecutor” was Æthelfrith, the reigning Northumbrian king. Æthelfrith contacted Rædwald, and attempted to bribe him into murdering Edwin, but to no effect: “He sent a second and a third time, offering a greater bribe each time, and, moreover, threatening to make war on him if his offer should be despised. Rædwald, whether terrified by his threats, or won over by his gifts, complied with this request, and promised either to kill Edwin, or to deliver him up to the envoys. A faithful friend of his [Edwin's], hearing of this, went into his chamber, where he was going to bed, for it was the first hour of the night; and calling him out, told him what the king had promised to do with him, adding, “If, therefore, you are willing, I will this very hour conduct you out of this province, and lead you to a place where neither Rædwald nor Æthelfrith shall ever find you.” He answered, “I thank you for your good will, yet I cannot do what you propose, and be guilty of being the first to break the compact I have made with so great a king, when he has done me no harm, nor shown any enmity to me; but, on the contrary, if I must die, let it rather be by his hand than by that of any meaner man. For whither shall I now fly, when I have for so many long years been a vagabond through all the provinces of Britain, to escape the snares of my enemies?” His friend went away; Edwin remained alone without, and sitting with a heavy heart before the palace, began to be overwhelmed with many thoughts, not knowing what to do, or which way to turn.  When he had remained a long time in silent anguish of mind, consumed with inward fire, on a sudden in the stillness of the dead of night he saw approaching a person, whose face and habit were strange to him, at sight of whom, seeing that he was unknown and unlooked for, he was not a little startled. The stranger coming close up, saluted him, and asked why he sat there in solitude on a stone troubled and wakeful at that time, when all others were taking their rest, and were fast asleep. Edwin, in his turn, asked, what it was to him, whether he spent the night within doors or abroad. The stranger, in reply, said, “Do not think that I am ignorant of the cause of your grief, your watching, and sitting alone without. For I know of a surety who you are, and why you grieve, and the evils which you fear will soon fall upon you. But tell me, what reward you would give the man who should deliver you out of these troubles, and persuade Rædwald neither to do you any harm himself, nor to deliver you up to be murdered by your enemies.” Edwin replied, that he would give such an one all that he could in return for so great a benefit. The other further added, “What if he should also assure you, that your enemies should be destroyed, and you should be a king surpassing in power, not only all your own ancestors, but even all that have reigned before you in the English nation?” Edwin, encouraged by these questions, did not hesitate to promise that he would make a fitting return to him who should confer such benefits upon him. Then the other spoke a third time and said, “But if he who should truly foretell that all these great blessings are about to befall you, could also give you better and more profitable counsel for your life and salvation than any of your fathers or kindred ever heard, do you consent to submit to him, and to follow his wholesome guidance?” Edwin at once promised that he would in all things follow the teaching of that man who should deliver him from so many great calamities, and raise him to a throne.  Having received this answer, the man who talked to him laid his right hand on his head saying, “When this sign shall be given you, remember this present discourse that has passed between us, and do not delay the performance of what you now promise.” Having uttered these words, he is said to have immediately vanished. So the king perceived that it was not a man, but a spirit, that had appeared to him.  Whilst the royal youth still sat there alone, glad of the comfort he had received, but still troubled and earnestly pondering who he was, and whence he came, that had so talked to him, his aforesaid friend came to him, and greeting him with a glad countenance, “Rise,” said he, “go in; calm and put away your anxious cares, and compose yourself in body and mind to sleep; for the king's resolution is altered, and he designs to do you no harm, but rather to keep his pledged faith; for when he had privately made known to the queen his intention of doing what I told you before, she dissuaded him from it, reminding him that it was altogether unworthy of so great a king to sell his good friend in such distress for gold, and to sacrifice his honour, which is more valuable than all other adornments, for the love of money.” In short, the king did as has been said, and not only refused to deliver up the banished man to his enemy's messengers, but helped him to recover his kingdom. For as soon as the messengers had returned home, he raised a mighty army to subdue Æthelfrith; who, meeting him with much inferior forces, (for Rædwald had not given him time to gather and unite all his power), was slain on the borders of the kingdom of Mercia, on the east side of the river that is called Idle.* In this battle, Rædwald's son, called Rægenhere, was killed. Thus Edwin, in accordance with the prophecy he had received, not only escaped the danger from his enemy, but, by his death, succeeded the king on the throne [in 616].” (‘HE’ II, 12).
Henry of Huntingdon provides details of the battle: “Æthelfrith, king of the Northumbrians, and Rædwald, king of East Anglia, levied numerous armies on both sides, in consequence of provocations mutually received. A battle was fought between them on the borders of Mercia, on the eastern bank of the river Idle – from whence it is said “the river Idle was stained with English blood.” The fierce king Æthelfrith, indignant that any one should venture to resist him, rushed on the enemy boldly, but not in disorder, with a select body of veteran soldiers, though the troops of Rædwald made a brilliant and formidable display, marching in three bodies, with fluttering standards and bristling spears and helmets, while their numbers greatly exceeded their enemies. The king of the Northumbrians, as if he had found an easy prey, at once fell upon the close columns of Rædwald, and put the sword to Rægenhere, the king's son, with the division he commanded, his own precursors to the shades below. Meanwhile Rædwald enraged, but not appalled, by this severe loss, stood invincibly firm with his two remaining columns. The Northumbrians made vain attempts to penetrate them, and Æthelfrith, charging among the enemy's squadrons, became separated from his own troops and was struck down on a heap of bodies he had slain. The death of their king was the signal for universal flight.” (‘HA’ II, 30).  It might be supposed that Henry simply invented all this detail (he is not averse to using his imagination to pep-up his work), but there could be another possibility. In Chapter 2 of ‘The Lost Literature of Medieval England’ (1952), R.M. Wilson writes: “Some evidence for the existence of an Old English poem on the famous battles of the Anglo-Saxon period may perhaps be provided by the much later chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon. For many important battles the chronicler has an appropriate quotation introduced by some such phrase as unde dicitur [‘whence it is said’], and many of these quotations, when turned into Old English, seem to fall naturally into alliterative verse. The first of them refers to the battle in which Rædwald defeated and killed Æthelfrith of Northumbria in 617. It is said to have been fought on the eastern bank of the river Idle, ‘unde dicitur; “Amnis Idle Anglorum sanguine sorduit” ’.* The elaborate account of the battle which follows was certainly not drawn from the Chronicle, but just as certainly appears to have a documentary basis of some sort.”
Roger of Wendover places Rædwald's death in 624, which is a reasonable suggestion.*
624 ? – 627/8  Eorpwald
Son of Rædwald.
627/8 ? – 630/1 ?  Ricberht ?
Edwin had, thanks to Rædwald, become king of Northumbria in 616. Bede reports that he went on to gain: “the overlordship over all the nations who inhabit Britain, both English and British, except only the people of Kent” (‘HE’ II, 5).  The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ lists Edwin as the fifth Bretwalda. At Easter 627, Edwin was baptized. “Edwin was so zealous for the true worship, that he likewise persuaded Eorpwald, king of the East Angles, and son of Rædwald, to abandon his idolatrous superstitions, and with his whole province to receive the faith and mysteries of Christ... Eorpwald, not long after he had embraced the Christian faith, was slain by one Ricberht, a pagan; and from that time the province was in error for three years, till Sigeberht succeeded to the kingdom, brother to the same Eorpwald” (‘HE’ II, 15).  Bede says no more of Ricberht, but it is possible that he ruled for the three years during which “the province was in error” (i.e. reverted to paganism).
Bede doesn't provide any dates, but the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ places Eorpwald's conversion in 632. There are, however, grounds to believe that he was christened soon after Edwin, and dead by 628 at the latest (see below).
630/1 – 6 . .  Sigeberht (St Sigebert)
Brother of Eorpwald.
6 . . – 637 ?  Ecgric
“Kinsman” of Sigeberht.
Bede says (‘HE’ II, 15) that Sigeberht was: “a most Christian and learned man, who was banished, and went to live in Gaul during his brother's life, and was there initiated into the mysteries of the faith, whereof he made it his business to cause all his province to partake as soon as he came to the throne. His exertions were nobly promoted by Bishop Felix, who, coming to Honorius, the archbishop, from the parts of Burgundy, where he had been born and ordained, and having told him what he desired, was sent by him to preach the Word of life to the aforesaid nation of the Angles [i.e. the East Angles].* Nor were his good wishes in vain; for the pious labourer in the spiritual field reaped therein a great harvest of believers, delivering all that province (according to the inner signification of his name) from long iniquity and unhappiness, and bringing it to the faith and works of righteousness, and the gifts of everlasting happiness. He had the see of his bishopric appointed him in the city Dommoc, and having presided over the same province with pontifical authority 17 years, he ended his days there in peace.”
Later (‘HE’ III, 18), Bede elaborates, saying that Sigeberht: “had been baptized in Gaul, whilst he lived in banishment, a fugitive from the enmity of Rædwald.* When he returned home, as soon as he ascended the throne, being desirous to imitate the good institutions which he had seen in Gaul, he founded a school wherein boys should be taught letters, and was assisted therein by Bishop Felix, who came to him from Kent, and who furnished them with masters and teachers after the manner of the people of Kent.”
After seventeen years, Bishop Felix was succeeded in East Anglia by Thomas, who was bishop for five years before he died. Thomas' successor was appointed by Archbishop Honorius, whose own death Bede dates 30th September 653 (‘HE’ III, 20). This would place Felix in East Anglia, and hence Sigeberht as king, not later than 631. Eorpwald had been baptized later than Easter 627, and following his death there had been three years of pagan rule, so Sigeberht cannot have been on the throne before 630. The same reasoning dates Eorpwald's death to 627 or 628.
Bede reports that Sigeberht welcomed an Irish missionary, Fursa, to East Anglia. Fursa: “set himself with all speed to build a monastery on the ground which had been given him by King Sigeberht, and to establish a rule of life therein. This monastery was pleasantly situated in the woods, near the sea; it was built within the area of a fort, which in the English language is called Cnobheresburg, that is, Cnobhere's Town; afterwards, Anna, king of that province, and certain of the nobles, embellished it with more stately buildings and with gifts.” (‘HE’ III, 19).
Sigeberht: “became so great a lover of the heavenly kingdom, that at last, quitting the affairs of his kingdom, and committing them to his kinsman Ecgric, who before had a share in that kingdom, he entered a monastery, which he had built for himself, and having received the tonsure, applied himself rather to do battle for a heavenly throne. A long time after this, it happened that the nation of the Mercians, under King Penda, made war on the East Angles; who finding themselves no match for their enemy, entreated Sigeberht to go with them to battle, to encourage the soldiers. He was unwilling and refused, upon which they drew him against his will out of the monastery, and carried him to the army, hoping that the soldiers would be less afraid and less disposed to flee in the presence of one who had formerly been an active and distinguished commander. But he, still mindful of his profession, surrounded, as he was, by a royal army, would carry nothing in his hand but a wand, and was killed with King Ecgric; and the pagans pressing on, all their army was either slaughtered or dispersed. They were succeeded in the kingdom by Anna, the son of Eni, of the blood royal” (‘HE’ III, 18).  “These things happened in the 637th year from the incarnation of the Word of God”, is the opinion of the anonymous, late-12th century, compiler of the ‘Liber Eliensis’ (I, 1).  Bede's comments about Sigeberht abdicating “at last” and his having been in his monastery “a long time”, however, seem at odds with this early date for his death. Further, Bede tells how Fursa, having built the monastery at Cnobheresburg: “became desirous to rid himself of all business of this world, and even of the monastery itself, and forthwith left the care of it and of its souls, to his brother Foillán, and the priests Gobán and Dícuill, and being himself free from all worldly affairs, resolved to end his life as a hermit. He had another brother called Ultán, who, after a long monastic probation, had also adopted the life of an anchorite. So, seeking him out alone, he lived a whole year with him in self-denial and prayer, and laboured daily with his hands.  Afterwards seeing the province thrown into confusion by the irruptions of the pagans, and foreseeing that the monasteries would also be in danger, he left all things in order, and sailed over into Gaul, and being there honourably entertained by Clovis, king of the Franks, or by the patrician Erchinoald, he built a monastery in the place called Latineacum, and falling sick not long after, departed this life.” (‘HE’ III, 19).  Bede has not indicated that Sigeberht had died before Fursa departed, and “the irruptions of the pagans” could well refer to the Mercian attacks which eventually resulted in the deaths of Sigeberht and Ecgric. Mention of “the patrician Erchinoald” suggests that Fursa didn't arrive in Gaul until at least 641,* so perhaps a date around then is more likely for Anna's succession – it was certainly before 645.
637 ? – 654  Anna
Son of Eni.
From 645–648, Anna gave refuge to Cenwalh of Wessex, who was driven from his kingdom by Penda, king of Mercia. Under Anna's auspices, Cenwalh was baptized, and, according to the ‘Liber Eliensis’ (I, 7), Anna assisted Cenwalh to recover his throne.
Bede describes Anna as “a man of true religion, and altogether noble in mind and deed” (‘HE’ IV, 19), and as “a good man, and happy in a good and saintly offspring” (‘HE’ III, 7).  Anna had three sainted daughters (Seaxburh, Æthelthryth and Æthelburh) and a sainted stepdaughter (Sæthryth).* The ‘Liber Eliensis’ (I, 2) says it was in the fifth year of her father's reign that, the eldest daughter, Seaxburh (St Sexburga), married Eorcenberht, king of Kent. The marriage of Æthelthryth (St Etheldreda or St Audrey) to one Tondberht, the ruler of a Middle Anglian people called the South Gyrwe, would seem to be associated with the East Anglian take-over of the Isle of Ely. Tondberht soon died, however, and in about 660, after her father's death, Æthelthryth married Ecgfrith, the future king of Northumbria.*
A document written at Nivelles, in modern Belgium, shortly after the events it describes, mentions an attack on East Anglia round about 650: “After the departure [i.e. death] of the blessed man Fursa, there was violence, which he had foreseen in spirit as he was serving [God] in lands overseas. For after the most Christian king, Anna, had been expelled, the monastery which he had built there was looted by an invasion of pagans of all its possessions and its monks were carried off. Abbot Foillán, himself, uterine brother of the above-mentioned man, would have been led off into custody to die if the Divine Right Arm had not saved him for the profit of many, the pagans having been terrified by the reported arrival of the above-mentioned King Anna. With the monks redeemed from captivity, the holy relics found, with the holy implements of the altar and books having been loaded on a ship, they [Abbot Foillán and his monks] then sought the lands of the Franks”.  No doubt “the pagans” were Penda's Mercians. In 654, Anna was: “slain like his predecessors by the same pagan chief of the Mercians.” (‘HE’ III, 18).  It seems reasonable to assume that control of the Middle Angles – the collective name for a number of peoples who occupied the eastern Midlands – was at the heart of the ongoing dispute between the East Angles and Mercia. It may have been Anna's acquisition of the Isle of Ely that prompted the attack in which he was killed.*
The ‘Liber Eliensis’ notes (I, 7) that Anna was buried at Blythburgh, Suffolk, “and to this day is venerated by the pious devotion of faithful people.”*  There is a much cited ‘local tradition’ that the battle where Anna was killed took place at Bulcamp, across the river from Blythburgh.
654 – 655  Æthelhere
Son of Eni.
Perhaps Æthelhere was installed on the throne by Penda. He was certainly one of Penda's allies at the battle of the Winwæd (an unknown river somewhere in the vicinity of Leeds), fought on 15th November 655, against, the Northumbrian king, Oswiu. Despite having the larger army, the battle was a catastrophic defeat for Penda. He was killed, and Bede says (‘HE’ III, 24) that: “the 30 royal commanders, who had come to Penda's assistance, were almost all of them slain; among whom was Æthelhere, brother and successor to Anna, king of the East Angles”.  Bede then seems to name Æthelhere as the cause of the war, but it is now widely accepted that this reading is caused by a scribe's error in punctuation and that Bede was actually naming Penda as the author of his own downfall.
Henry of Huntingdon supplies one of his (possible) quotations: “Penda was slain by King Oswiu near the river Winwæd, whence it is said:
“At the Winwæd was avenged the slaughter of Anna,
The slaughter of the kings Sigeberht and Ecgric,
The slaughter of the kings Oswald and Edwin.” ” (‘HA’ II, 34).
655 – 663/4  Æthelwald
Son of Eni.
After his defeat of Penda, on 15th November 655, the Northumbrian king, Oswiu, became overlord of the southern kingdoms for a period of three years (he is the 7th Bretwalda listed by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’). Oswiu's overlordship was brought to an end by a Mercian rebellion. Bede says (‘HE’ III, 22) that the East Saxon king, Swithhelm: “was baptized by Cedd [bishop of the East Saxons], in the province of the East Angles, in the royal township, called Rendlæsham [Rendlesham], that is, Rendil's Dwelling; and Æthelwald, king of the East Angles, brother to Anna, king of the same people,* received him as he came forth from the holy font.”  This circumstance tends to suggest that Æthelwald had overlordship of Essex at the time – presumably gained after Oswiu's authority collapsed.
In about 660, Æthelwald married off his niece, Æthelthryth, to Oswiu's son (and the future king of Northumbria), Ecgfrith.
663/4 – 713  Aldwulf
Son of Æthelric.
Aldwulf's reign evidently began in 663 or 664, since the synod of Hatfield, which took place on 17th September 679 or 680, was during his seventeenth year.* He is the last East Anglian king mentioned by Bede, who reports (‘HE’ II, 15) that, as a boy, Aldwulf saw a temple set up by Rædwald, having both Christian and pagan altars.
Bede says (‘HE’ IV, 23) that Aldwulf's mother was Hereswith – a daughter of a nephew of King Edwin of Northumbria – who, after the death of Aldwulf's father (before c.647), had become a nun at Chelles, to the east of Paris. Due to a lack of local monasteries at this time, it was not particularly unusual for an East Anglian royal lady to become a nun in Gaul – a connection which may explain why the date of Aldwulf's death, 713, has only survived in Frankish annals. It would seem then, that, remarkably, Aldwulf reigned for fifty years – during which time the first East Anglian coins (known as ‘sceattas’) were minted.*
After twelve years of unconsummated marriage to Ecgfrith, king of Northumbria, Aldwulf's cousin Æthelthryth (St Etheldreda or St Audrey) became a nun. In 673 she returned to East Anglia and founded a double monastery at Ely-.
Although he is not listed as a Bretwalda, it seems likely that during the 660s and early-670s, Wulfhere, king of Mercia, steadily acquired overlordship of the other English kingdoms south of the Humber. There is no direct evidence of his influence in East Anglia, but, probably in 674, he “stirred up all the southern nations”,* which, of course, would include East Anglia, with the intention of gaining the overlordship of Northumbria also. Wulfhere's forces were roundly defeated, however, and his grip on power was loosened. He battled against the West Saxons in 675, and later the same year he died. It would be a half-century or so before another king, once more a Mercian, Æthelbald, dominated southern England.
713 – 749  Ælfwald
Son of Aldwulf.
Ælfwald's genealogy has survived in the, so-called, Anglian Collection, where he is shown to be the son of, his predecessor, Aldwulf.*
Ælfwald is probably best remembered for commissioning a Latin ‘Life’ of St Guthlac.* The ‘Life’, written by one Felix, seemingly between 730 and 740, begins: “In the name of the Lord of Lords, to my lord King Ælfwald, beloved by me beyond any other of royal rank, who rules by right over the realm of the East Angles, Felix, a servant of the Catholic community, sends greetings and wishes him everlasting happiness in Christ.  In obedience to your commands, though not without a bold forwardness, I have drawn up the book which you bade me compose concerning the life of our father Guthlac of blessed memory, weaving the text in a simple pattern. In this confidence I have publicly presented it to you, praying that if, as will happen, my faulty language shall here and there have offended the ears of a learned reader in any respect, he may note at the beginning of the volume these words in which I ask his pardon.”*
Guthlac was in fact a Mercian nobleman turned hermit who lived at Crowland – then an isolated island in the fenland of Middle Anglia (the borderland between Mercia and East Anglia), now a small town on the southern edge of Lincolnshire. He gave succour to, the future king of Mercia, Æthelbald, who was, at the time, an exile. Guthlac died in 714. In 716 Æthelbald succeeded to the throne of Mercia.
In the concluding paragraphs of his ‘Ecclesiastical History’, written in 731, Bede states that the: “southern provinces, as far as the boundary formed by the river Humber, with their several kings, are subject to King Æthelbald.” (‘HE’ V, 23).  That Ælfwald chose to commission the ‘Life’ of a Mercian saint, in which Æthelbald is presented in a positive way, is highly indicative that he and Æthelbald, his overlord, were on very good terms. In the introduction to his edition of ‘Felix's Life of Saint Guthlac’ (1956), Bertram Colgrave suggests: “It may be that Æthelbald had taken refuge in East Anglia during the exile and so, though according to Bede all [southern] English provinces were subject to him, yet he had grateful remembrances of kindnesses received during his time of exile.”  Whilst D.P. Kirby (‘The Earliest English Kings’, Second Edition, 2000, Chapter 6) goes further, proposing: “Perhaps an alliance with the East Angles was the cornerstone of Æthelbald's ascendancy.”
Symeon of Durham (‘HR’), s.a. 749, reports that: “Ælfwald, king of the East Angles, died.”  The combined reigns of Ælfwald and his father span of the best part of nine, ostensibly peaceful, decades. A letter of Ælfwald's, written towards the end of his life, to St Boniface, the ‘Apostle of Germany’, has survived-.
With the death of Ælfwald the mists of time, through which the history of the East Angles has been hazily visible, become an almost impenetrable fog. “Next came Beorna; after him Æthelred. His son was St Æthelberht, whom Offa, king of the Mercians, killed through treachery * ... After him, through the violence of the Mercians, few kings reigned in Eastern Anglia till the time of St Edmund” – so says William of Malmesbury (‘GR’ I §97).
A silver coin, inscribed Beonna rex in a mix of Roman and runic letters. The reverse is inscribed EFE, presumably the moneyer. Beonna's coins (and the coin of Æthelberht from Burrow Hill) are the earliest East Anglian coins to feature the monarch's name.*
Beorna, or rather Beonna, is known from a considerable number of coins inscribed with his name. According to Symeon of Durham (‘HR’), however, when Ælfwald died, in 749: “Hunbeanna and Alberht divided the kingdom between them.”  It is generally thought that Hunbeanna is the result of a scribal inexactitude, and that there was actually a three way division of East Anglia after Ælfwald's death, between Hun, Beonna and Alberht. Alberht has, though, recently undergone a name change. A single coin excavated at Burrow Hill, Suffolk, in company with and stylistically similar to coins of Beonna, is inscribed with the name Ethælbert, i.e. Æthelberht, in runic characters. It would appear that this Æthelberht is Symeon's Alberht. Of Hun's existence there is still no substantiating evidence. It would, in any case, seem that Beonna was the senior figure – he is certainly the only one of them known to William of Malmesbury and Florence of Worcester. Beonna (Beorna) is said by Florence, s.a. 758, to have been ruling the East Angles “at this period”. The coins can't be tightly dated, but perhaps they are indicative that the East Angles, following the murder of King Æthelbald of Mercia in 757, broke free from Mercian domination.* When Beonna's reign ended is not known.
There are no known coins of Æthelred, Beonna's purported successor. Æthelberht, Æthelred's sainted son, is said in later ‘Lives’ (the earliest version being early-12th century) to have succeeded his father in 779. Æthelberht's dramatic demise is recorded by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ s.a. 792 (but should be s.a. 794): “In this year Offa, king of the Mercians, commanded the head of Æthelberht to be struck off.”*  Coins minted in Offa's name indicate that, at some stage beforehand, he had taken control of East Anglia. Æthelberht also minted coins, so perhaps he rebelled against Offa and paid with his life. Subsequently, however, legend accumulated around his death. His execution came to be regarded as a martyrdom, and he was venerated as a saint: “Æthelberht, the most glorious and holy king of the East Angles, whose eminent virtues rendered him acceptable to Christ, the true King, and who was courteous and affable to all men, lost at once both his kingdom and his life, being beheaded by the detestable commands of Offa, the mighty king of Mercia, at the infamous suggestion of his [Offa's] own wife Queen Cynethryth; but though iniquitously slain and deprived of his kingdom, the king and martyr entered the courts of the blessed spirits, while the angels rejoiced in triumph.” (Florence s.a. 793)-.  William of Malmesbury asserts that, after he had beheaded Æthelberht, Offa: “then unjustly seized upon the kingdom of the East Angles which Æthelberht had held.” (‘GR’ I §86).
Coins minted in the name of Eadwald suggest that, following Offa's death in 796, East Anglia snatched another period of independence, before being brought back to the Mercian fold by Offa's eventual successor, Cenwulf.
The defeat of the Mercian king Beornwulf by Egbert of Wessex (at the battle of Ellendun), in 825, marks the turning point in Mercia's fortunes. The incumbent king of Kent (apparently a Mercian puppet) was driven out by Egbert's son, Æthelwulf, and the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ records that: “the Kentish people, and those of Surrey, and the South Saxons, and the East Saxons, turned to him [Egbert] ... And in the same year the king of the East Angles, and the nation, sought Egbert for peace and as protector, from dread of the Mercians”.  The East Angles, though, evidently had no need to call on West Saxon help: “and in this same year the East Angles slew Beornwulf, king of the Mercians.”  The ‘Chronicle’ gives the impression that Ellendun, Æthelwulf's assault on Kent and Beornwulf's death all took place in the same year, 825. The evidence of a Kentish charter (S1267), however, indicates that it was not until after 27th March 826 that Beornwulf was slain. In 827, Ludeca, Beornwulf's successor, and his five ealdormen were killed. The ‘Chronicle’ provides no other information, but Florence of Worcester says that, like Beornwulf before him, Ludeca was killed by the East Angles. Although it seems entirely possible that Florence simply inferred it to be the case,* it is widely believed that it was, indeed, the East Angles who killed Ludeca.* It would appear that Ellendun, and the subsequent West Saxon advance, provided the East Angles with an opportunity to rebel against Mercia. Beornwulf was killed attempting to put down the revolt. Ludeca apparently had some initial success – he recovered sufficient control in East Anglia to enable him to mint coins there (the last Mercian king to do so) – but soon suffered the same fate as his predecessor. Coin evidence suggests that the East Anglian king responsible for freeing his country, once and for all, from Mercian domination was one Athelstan.* For the time being, however, the East Angles were apparently beholden to Egbert. In 829 Egbert invaded Mercia and drove out its king, Wiglaf. The partisan ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ (it originated in Wessex during the reign of Egbert's grandson, Alfred) crows: “Egbert subdued the kingdom of the Mercians, and all that was south of the Humber, and he was the eighth king who was Bretwalda.”  Just a year later, though, in 830, Wiglaf recovered his kingdom.* The East Angles had only recently killed two Mercian kings (certainly, one at least) in order to win their independence, and it is hard to imagine that they would readily accept subservience to the West Saxons. Egbert probably had no influence in East Anglia after 830.* Athelstan was a prolific minter of coins, and a King Æthelweard, presumably Athelstan's successor, is also known only by his coins.
The first record of Viking activity in East Anglia occurs, incorrectly placed s.a. 838 (it should be s.a. 841), in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, which reports on the activities of an army of marauding Danes: “in Lindsey, and in East Anglia, and among the Kentish people, many men were slain by the army.”*
855 – 869  Edmund (St Edmund)
The, so-called, ‘Annals of St Neots’ states s.a. 855: “King Edmund, most glorious of the East Anglian sovereigns, began to reign on the eighth day from the Kalends of January, that is, on Christmas Day, in the fourteenth year of his age.”  Then, s.a. 856: “Hunberht, bishop of the East Angles, anointed with oil, and consecrated as king the most glorious Edmund, amid great rejoicings, and with the highest honour, in the royal town which is called Burna (for at that time it was a royal residence), in the fifteenth year of his age, on the sixth day of the week, the twenty-fourth of the moon's age, being Christmas Day.”
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, s.a. 866, says that there: “came a great heathen army to the land of the English,+ and took winter quarters among the East Angles, and were there horsed; and they [the East Angles] made peace with them.”  The phrase “made peace”, in this context, means ‘bought off’. When describing the activities of the “heathen army”, the ‘Chronicle’ evidently adopts the convention of starting the year in what would be the previous September by modern reckoning.* This large army of Danes arrived, therefore, in the autumn of 865.  Æthelweard (IV, 2) names their leader as “the tyrant Ivar”.  A year later, i.e. in the autumn of 866, the ‘Chronicle’ says that: “the army went from the East Angles, over the mouth of the Humber, to York in Northumbria.” V
“The army” captured York and made it their base. Having killed two Northumbrian kings, the Danes took direct control of the country south of the Tyne, and installed one Egbert, a compliant Englishman, to rule the country beyond the Tyne. In the autumn of 867 they moved on to Nottingham, where eventually, without a fight, “the Mercians made peace with the army”.  A year later the Danes returned to York.
In the autumn of 869, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reports that: “the army rode over Mercia into East Anglia, and took winter quarters at Thetford. And in the winter King Edmund fought against them,+ and the Danes gained the victory, and slew the king, and subdued all that land...”  An interpolation in Manuscript E (the Peterborough Manuscript) carries on: “... and destroyed all the monasteries which they came to. At that same time they came to Medeshamstede [Peterborough], burned and broke, slew the abbot and the monks, and all that they found there; then made that which was ere full rich, that it was reduced to nothing.”  Whilst Manuscript F claims that: “The names of the chiefs who slew the king were Ivar and Ubba.”
Geffrei Gaimar (early-12th century) also associates both Ivar and Ubba with Edmund's killing. He says that Ubba, “an evil-doer” (line 3149), was Ivar's brother.
Between 985 and 987 Abbo, a scholarly monk from Fleury (near Orléans, France) taught at Ramsey Abbey (north of Huntingdon). During this time, he wrote a Latin ‘Passion’ of Edmund.* In a preface, Abbo explains that the source of his information was Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury (d.988). Dunstan, in his youth, had heard the story of Edmund's death told to King Athelstan (r.924–939) by “a broken down veteran” who had been Edmund's armour bearer. At any rate, Abbo simplifies the Danish army's progress up to their arrival in East Anglia in the autumn of 869. He makes no mention of their previous, apparently peaceful, sojourn in East Anglia during 865–6, nor of the year, 867–8, they spent in Mercia. In Abbo's story, the Danes, under the command of Ivar and Ubba, first attack Northumbria, “inflicting upon it the heaviest devastation”, and then, straight away, Ivar on his own leads a shipborne force to East Anglia: “Ivar left on the spot [i.e. in Northumbria] Ubba, his associate in cruelty, and approaching [East Anglia] suddenly with a great fleet, landed by stealth at a city in that region, entered it before the citizens were aware of his approach, and set it on fire. Boys, and men old and young, whom he encountered in the streets of the city were killed; and he paid no respect to the chastity of wife or maid. Husband and wife lay dead or dying together on their thresholds; the babe snatched from its mother's breast was, in order to multiply the cries of grief, slaughtered before her eyes. An impious soldiery scoured the town in fury, athirst for every crime by which pleasure could be given to the tyrant who for sheer love of cruelty had given orders for the massacre of the innocent... a report had reached him that the glorious King Edmund, who was in the prime of life, and in the fullness of vigour, was a keen soldier. On this account Ivar made it his business to cut off all the men whom he could find around, so that the king, deprived of the support of a compact force for the defence of his kingdom, should be unable to offer effective resistance. Edmund, it happened, was at that time staying at some distance from the city, in a township which in the native language is called Hægelisdun, from which also the neighbouring forest is called by the same name.” (‘Passio’ Chapters 5 & 6).  Ivar sends a man ahead to deliver an ultimatum to Edmund: “My august master, and unconquerable sovereign Ivar, a terror by land and sea, having by force of arms brought divers countries into subjection to himself, has landed with a great fleet on the desirable shores of this territory with the intention of fixing his winter quarters here, and in pursuance thereof commands you to share with him your ancient treasures, and your hereditary wealth, and to reign in future under him. But if you hold in contempt his power, which is fortified by innumerable battalions, it will be to your own prejudice, as you will be accounted unworthy to live or reign... Submit therefore with all your people to this greatest of monarchs whom the elements obey”. (‘Passio’ Chapter 7).
In the version of this story presented by Roger of Wendover (early-13th century), brothers Ivar and Ubba came to Britain to avenge the murder of Lothbroc, their father. In a highly unlikely yarn (told s.a. 870), King Edmund had been falsely accused, by Berne his huntsman (the real culprit), of the murder. Ivar: “demanded the treasure to conceal his real object, which was rather the head than the money of that most merciful king.”*
In Abbo's telling, Ivar took Edmund by surprise, and so avoided facing him in battle. However, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ states that Edmund fought against “the army”.
Gaimar writes: “ With all the men he had,
He [Edmund] fought; he could not conquer,
Because of the many men the Danes had.
Very fiercely they fought,
The victory of the field was theirs.
O God! What a loss was the lord,
The king Edmund, who was driven
To a castle where his seat was.
And the heathen pursued him.” (lines 2875–2883)
After listening to Ivar's message, Edmund discusses his options with “one of his bishops, who was his confidential adviser”. The bishop advises him to comply with Ivar's demands, or to flee: “ “I fear the tormentors will soon arrive, and you will forfeit your life through the unholy execution of their orders.”  “That,” answered the king, “is what I desire; that is my dearest wish, not to survive my loyal and dear subjects, who have been bereft of their lives and massacred with their children and their wives as they lay in bed, by a bloodthirsty brigand. And what do you advise? that in life's extremity, bereft of my comrades, I should besmirch my fair fame by taking fight? I have always avoided the calumnious accusations of the informer; never have I endured the opprobrium of fleeing from the battlefield, realizing how glorious it would be for me to die for my country ...”  Then, turning to the messenger whom the impious Ivar had sent to announce the terms on which his kingdom might be retained, Edmund exclaimed: “Reeking as you are with the blood of my countrymen, you might justly be doomed to death; but to speak plainly, I would follow the example of Christ my Lord, and refrain from staining my pure hands; and for his name's sake, if the need arise, I am willing and glad to perish by your weapons. Therefore return as fast as you can at once to your lord, and take forthwith this message to him: “Son of the devil, well do you imitate your father ... You, his chief follower, are powerless to terrify me by threats, nor shall you deceive me with the snares and sophistries that inveigle to destruction, for you will not find me lacking the armour of Christian principles. As for the treasures and the wealth, which till now God's favour has bestowed on me, take and squander them as your insatiable greed may prompt, since, even though you should break in pieces this frail and perishable body, like a potter's vessel, my soul, which is truly free, will never for a moment submit to you... You ply me with expectations of a continued reign, after the slaughter of all my people, as if I were possessed by so mad a lust of rule, that I could have the heart to reign over houses emptied of their noble inhabitants: their precious garniture. Let your savage ferocity go on as it has begun: after the subjects let the king be snatched from his throne, dragged away, spat upon, struck and buffeted, and finally butchered. The King of kings sees all that with compassion, and will, I am confident, translate the victim to reign with him in life eternal. Know, therefore, that for the love of this earthly life Edmund, the Christian king, will not submit to a heathen chief, unless you first become a convert to our religion; he would rather be a standard-bearer in the camp of the Eternal King.” ”  (‘Passio’ Chapters 8 & 9). By this time, Ivar was almost at Edmund's palace, so he soon encountered his returning messenger and received Edmund's response. Ivar acted quickly – the palace was surrounded, Edmund was taken captive, and was: “tightly bound with chains, and in his innocence was made to stand before the impious general, like Christ before the governor Pilate, and eager to follow in the footsteps of Him who was sacrificed as a victim for us.” (‘Passio’ Chapter 10).
Roger of Wendover's Edmund cuts a conventionally heroic figure (“the might and prowess of the most pious King Edmund ... his incomparable bodily size and stature”), and in Roger's rendering of the tale, as soon as Ivar's messenger had been dismissed: “King Edmund commanded his companions to fly to arms, declaring it to be an honourable thing to fight for one's faith and country, and exhorting them not to betray the same by their cowardice... the most blessed King Edmund advanced boldly against the enemy with all the forces he could raise, and falling in with them as they came to meet him not far from the town of Thetford, he fought a severe battle with them, in which both sides sustained excessive loss, inflicting mutual slaughter from morning until evening, so that the whole field was red with the blood of the slain ... After the pagans had retired from the place of slaughter, King Edmund, the most blessed confessor of Christ, led the residue of his forces to the royal vill of Haeilesdune, steadfastly purposing in his mind never again to fight with the barbarians, and declaring that it was necessary that he alone should die for the people, that the whole nation might not perish.  While Ivar was inconsolable on account of the slaughter of his followers, his brother Ubba, who had just ravaged the whole of Mercia, joined him at Thetford with ten thousand men. Resolved to take vengeance on the holy King Edmund, they united their forces, and, moving their camp, quickly reached the village of Haeilesdune, where the most blessed King Edmund then was. The tyrant Ivar then commanded the king and all his followers to be surrounded, that not one of them might escape alive; whereupon the most holy King Edmund, perceiving himself to be hedged in by his enemies, by the advice of Hunberht, bishop of Helmham, fled to the church that he might show himself a member of Christ, and there exchanging his temporal for celestial weapons, he humbly prayed the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost to grant him fortitude in suffering. The most merciful King Edmund was then forcibly bound by the ministers of iniquity, and led forth from the church before their wicked chief, as was Christ before the governor Pilate”.
“And so in chains he was mocked in many ways, and at length, after being savagely beaten, he was brought to a tree in the neighbourhood, tied to it, and for a long while tortured with terrible lashes. But his constancy was unbroken, while without ceasing he called on Christ with broken voice. This roused the fury of his enemies, who, as if practising at a target, pierced his whole body with arrow-spikes, augmenting the severity of his torment by frequent discharges of their weapons, and inflicting wound upon wound, while one javelin made room for another. And thus, all haggled over by the sharp points of their darts, and scarce able to draw breath, he actually bristled with them, like a prickly hedgehog or a thistle fretted with spines, resembling in his agony the illustrious martyr Sebastian. But even when it was made apparent to the villainous Ivar that not even by these means could the king be made to yield to the agents of his cruelty, but that he continued to call upon the name of Christ, the Dane commanded the executioner to cut off his head forthwith. The king was by this time almost lifeless, though the warm lifestream still throbbed in his breast, and he was scarcely able to stand erect. In this plight he was hastily wrenched from the blood-stained stem, his ribs laid bare by numberless gashes, as if he had been put to the torture of the rack, or had been torn by savage claws, and was bidden to stretch forth the head which had been adorned by the royal diadem. Then, as he stood in all his meekness, like a ram chosen out of the whole flock, and desirous of hastening by a happy exchange this life for eternity, absorbed as he was in the mercies of God, he was refreshed by the vision of the light within, for the satisfaction of which he earnestly yearned in his hour of agony. Thus, while the words of prayer were still on his lips, the executioner, sword in hand, deprived the king of life, striking off his head with a single blow. And so, on the 20th November [869], as an offering to God of sweetest savour, Edmund, after he had been tried in the fire of suffering, rose with the palm of victory and the crown of righteousness, to enter as king and martyr the assembly of the court of heaven.” (‘Passio’ Chapter 10).
Symeon of Durham (early-12th century): “the Danes invaded the territory of the East Angles under their leader Ivar, a monster of cruelty, and slew the most saintly king Edmund, after various torture and outrages, together with his bishop Hunberht.” (‘LDE’ II, 6).
Geffrei Gaimar: “ Then they called a wretch
Whose name was Coran Colbe.
He cut off the saint's head... (lines 2921–2923).
These cruel kings, Ubba and Ivar,
Did thus with his holy body.” (lines 2931–2932)
“The Danes, with their instigator, instruments of the devil, left his body mutilated, as has been described, and transfixed with javelins, while the sacred head, which had been anointed not with the oil of sinners, but with the sacramental chrism of mystery, was carried by them as they retired into a wood, the name of which is Haglesdun, and was thrown as far as possible among the dense thickets of brambles, and so hidden; the Danes contriving this with the greatest cunning, so that the Christians, but few of whom were left alive, should not be able to commit to such decent burial as their limited means of interment would allow, the sanctified body of the martyr conjoined with the head.  Of this appalling scene there was present as a spectator, though in hiding, one of our religion, who was rescued, as I believe, by God's providence from the swords of the heathen, and so preserved to bring to light the traces of these events, although he was entirely ignorant what had been done with the head, beyond the fact that he had seen the Danes betaking themselves with it into the depths of the wood.” (‘Passio’ Chapters 11 & 12).
Roger of Wendover: “The headless body of the blessed martyr was carried by these servants of the devil to Haeilesdune Wood, where they left it among thick briars ... for the atrocious robbers, Ivar and Ubba, had heard that their father Lothbroc had been murdered in that wood. Instigated, therefore, by the lies of Berne the huntsman, and desiring to retaliate on the blessed king and martyr Edmund, they ignominiously threw his head into the same wood, where they left it to be devoured by the birds of heaven and the beasts of the field. The most holy King Edmund had as a partner in suffering his inseparable companion Hunberht, bishop of Helmham, who had raised him to the throne, and who, encouraged by the king's undaunted spirit, endured martyrdom, and with him attained the kingdom of heaven. The most blessed king being thus translated to heaven, the pagans triumphed beyond measure, and wintered in those parts, having driven out the few inhabitants who survived the aforesaid slaughter.”
Abbo says (‘Passio’ Chapters 12 & 13) that when the Danes departed, “engaged in the work of devastation elsewhere”, the search began for Edmund's remains. The body was easily found, still laying on the spot where he had been killed. Search parties were formed to scour the woods for his head: “a thing happened marvellous to relate, and unheard of in the course of ages. the head of the holy king, far removed from the body to which it belonged, broke into utterance without assistance from the vocal chords, or aid from the arteries proceeding from the heart.”  The head: “indicated the place where it lay by exclaiming in their native tongue, Here! Here! Here!”  When it was discovered, it was found to be guarded by a wolf, which: “forgetful of its natural voracity, preserved the head from all harm with utmost vigilance, lying outstretched on the earth.”  Its duty done, the wolf returned to its solitary existence. “When the wolf had retired, those who were intrusted with the duty, with the utmost care and with all possible zeal and skill provisionally fitted the head to the sacred body, and committed the two joined together to a becoming sepulchre. And there they built over the grave a chapel of rude construction, in which the body rested for many years, until the conflagration of war and the mighty storms of persecution were over, and the religious piety of the faithful began to revive, upon relief from the pressure of tribulation... the Saint, from beneath the lowly roof of his consecrated abode, made manifest by frequent miraculous signs the magnitude of his merits in the sight of God. These events aroused great numbers of the inhabitants of that province, high and low alike; and in the royal town which, in the English tongue, is named Bedrices-gueord, but in Latin is called Bedrici-curtis [now, Bury St Edmunds], they erected a church of immense size, with storeys admirably constructed of wood, and to this they translated him with great magnificence, as was due.  But, marvellous to tell, whereas it was supposed that the precious body of the martyr would have mouldered to dust in the long interval of time which had elapsed, it was found to be so sound and whole that it would be out of place to speak of the head having been restored to and united with the body, for there was absolutely no trace apparent of wound or scar. And so the king and martyr Edmund was with reverence pronounced to be a Saint, and was translated whole and entire, and wearing every semblance of life, to the place above mentioned, where to this day without change of form he awaits the covenanted felicity of a blessed resurrection.” (‘Passio’ Chapters 14 & 15).  Finds of commemorative coins indicate that Edmund was revered as a saint in East Anglia within thirty years of his death.*
Æthelweard says (IV, 2) that Ivar died in 870, and, indeed, he does vanish from English history after the death of Edmund. It is widely proposed, though, that he is the “Ivar [Ímar in Irish], king of the Northmen of all Ireland and Britain”, whose death, in 873, is noted by the ‘Annals of Ulster. Geffrei Gaimar identifies Ubba as the “brother of Ivar and Halfdan”, unnamed by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, killed in Devon in 878.
Coins, of apparently later date than Edmund, in the names of Æthelred and Oswald, tend to suggest that the Danes established a puppet regime in East Anglia. In late-870, however, “the army” moved on again, this time to Wessex. V
In May 878 the Danish army of King Guthrum was decisively defeated by the forces of Alfred the Great, king of Wessex. Not only did the Danes agree to leave Wessex, but Guthrum was christened, taking the name Athelstan, with Alfred as his godfather. In the autumn of 878 they withdrew to Cirencester, in Mercia, where they stayed for a year. In the autumn of 879: “the army went from Cirencester into East Anglia, and occupied and divided the land.” (‘ASC’ s.a. 880).  Guthrum ruled East Anglia, issuing coins under his Christian name, Athelstan. There exists a treaty, possibly dating from 886 (after Alfred had been accepted as overlord of all Anglo-Saxon held territory), which, amongst other things, defines a boundary between Alfred's and Guthrum's territories. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ notes, s.a. 890, that: “Guthrum, the Northern king, died, whose baptismal name was Athelstan; he was King Alfred's godson, and he abode in East Anglia, and first occupied that land.”  According to the ‘Annals of St Neots’: “he was buried in the royal town which is called Headleaga [Hadleigh, Suffolk] by the East Angles.”
Coins issued in East Anglia after Guthrum's death commemorated St Edmund, but they did not bear the name of the ruling king. The name of only one king is known from chronicles – Eohric, who was killed in 902. The last, unnamed, Danish king of East Anglia was killed in 917, and later the same year “all the army in East Anglia” submitted to Edward, king of Wessex.
‘Beowulf’ by Roy Liuzza
‘Historia Brittonum’ by J.A. Giles
‘Liber Eliensis’ by Janet Fairweather
‘Annals of St Neots’ by Lord Francis Hervey
Felix ‘Vita Sancti Guthlaci’ by Bertram Colgrave
‘Annals of Ulster’ by S. Mac Airt & G. Mac Niocaill
Roger of Wendover ‘Flores Historiarum’ by J.A. Giles
‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ by Benjamin Thorpe (adapted)
Symeon of Durham ‘Historia Regum’ by Joseph Stevenson
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum” by A.M. Sellar
Henry of Huntingdon ‘Historia Anglorum’ by Thomas Forester
Abbo of Fleury ‘Passio Sancti Eadmundi’ by Lord Francis Hervey
Symeon of Durham ‘Libellus de Exordio’ by Lord Francis Hervey
Florence of Worcester ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ by Thomas Forester
Geffrei Gaimar ‘Estoire des Engleis’ by Sir T.D. Hardy and C.T. Martin
‘Additamentum Nivialense de Fuilano’ by Paul Fouracre & Richard A. Gerberding
William of Malmesbury ‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’ by John Sharpe, revised by Joseph Stevenson
In the interests of clarity, the spelling of personal names, most of which are found in several forms, has been standardized. Those names which have survived into modern times are given their familiar spelling.
The term ‘ring-giver’, meaning ‘lord’ or ‘king’, is known as a ‘kenning’ – a metaphorical compound word or phrase, used especially in Old English and Old Norse literature.
A collection of Anglo-Saxon royal genealogies and regnal lists – found in four manuscripts, the oldest of which (British Library MS Cotton Vespasian B vi) was written in the early-9th century. The genealogy of Ælfwald (r.713–749) is fourteen generations long, inclusive, from Woden – whose son, incidentally, is given as Caser, i.e. Caesar.
‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ (Ecclesiastical History of the English People).
According to Henry of Huntingdon (‘HA’ IV, 19), when, in 752, Æthelbald, king of Mercia and overlord of southern England, had been put to flight by the rebellious Cuthred of Wessex, he (Æthelbald) had in his army “a numerous host” from Kent, Essex and East Anglia. It must, though, be said that Henry's account of the battle, which is rich in imaginative detail – at one point he refers to “Amazonian battle-axes” – does not inspire confidence in his testimony.
There is an area of doubt here. Bede clearly states (‘HE’ II, 5) that Æthelberht died in 616, but he then makes a comment which implies that it was in 618. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ places Æthelberht's death in 616.
A Northumbrian king-list in the Moore Memoranda (as it is known) indicates that Edwin succeeded in 616. Bede says (‘HE’ II, 20) that Edwin had ruled for seventeen years in 633, which also dates his succession to 616, and Florence of Worcester places it in 616. Manuscript E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ (the only manuscript to mention the event), however, places it in 617, and so do Henry of Huntingdon and Roger of Wendover.
Roger of Wendover records Rædwald's death twice. The first time is s.a. 599, which is clearly very wrong. Perhaps this was where the death of Tytil and Rædwald's succession should have been entered?
Perhaps “home” for Rædwald was at Rendlesham, Suffolk (not far from Sutton Hoo), which Bede describes (‘HE’ III, 22) as “royal township” of the East Angles. (Bede was talking about events some half-a-century or so later when he made the comment.)
Rædwald probably took advantage of Roman roads to travel quickly north. The battle would have taken place near Bawtry.
In Chapter 1 of ‘A History of Anglo-Latin Literature, 1066–1492’ (1992), however, A.G. Rigg comments: “On five occasions he [Henry of Huntingdon] writes a line or couplet that is clearly an imitation of the alliterative line, as under AD617:
  Amnis Idle / Anglorum / sanguine sorduit
  The river Idle, with English blood befouled...
Although these are introduced by the phrases ut dicitur or unde dicitur, there is no way of knowing if they are translations or original compositions.”
‘Historia Anglorum’ (History of the English).
Rædwald must have lived for some time after 616, to justify his inclusion in Bede's list of overlords, and Edwin instigated negotiations to marry the Christian sister of Eadbald, Æthelberht's son and successor as king of Kent, in 624, which it is, perhaps, difficult to imagine happening whilst he was still beholden to Rædwald. What is certain is that Rædwald's death occurred before Edwin's, which Bede dates 12th October 633.
Perhaps the reason for Rædwald's “enmity” towards Sigeberht can be explained. Bede refers to Sigeberht as Eorpwald's brother, but not as Rædwald's son, and according to William of Malmesbury (‘GR’ I §97), Sigeberht was Eorpwald's “brother by the mother's side”, i.e. he was Rædwald's stepson. (The same assertion also appears amongst the miscellaneous collection of lists and genealogies prefixed to the ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ of Florence of Worcester.) It could be that Rædwald exiled Sigeberht to prevent him contesting for the throne against his own son, Eorpwald.
Barbara Yorke (‘Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England’, 1990) speculates that, because Bede here refers to, Æthelwald's brother, Anna as previously being king of the East Angles, rather than Æthelhere, also his brother, it could mean that both Æthelwald and Æthelhere originally succeeded Anna, as co-rulers.
Traditionally Cnobheresburg is identified with, the Roman Saxon Shore Fort, Burgh Castle (near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk), but archaeological investigation has been unable to confirm this notion.
D.P Kirby (‘The Earliest English Kings’, Second Edition, 2000) points out that, whilst Bede talks at length of Sigeberht's faith, he does not say that Ecgric was Christian: “and the probability is that Ecgric was and remained a pagan.” (Chapter 5).
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ places Anna's death in 654 (except Manuscript E, which says 653), as does Florence of Worcester. The ‘Liber Eliensis’ says (I, 7) that Anna's death occurred “in the nineteenth year of his reign, the 654th year from the incarnation of the Lord” (which would date his accession to 636).
The compiler of the ‘Liber Eliensis’ used Florence's chronicle “as the continuous thread on which to string together the components of his History of the Isle of Ely in chronological order” – so says Janet Fairweather in the introduction to her translation of the ‘Liber Eliensis’ (2005). (As a consequence, the ‘Liber Eliensis’ shares Florence's claim that Felix and Sigeberht had become friends in Gaul, and that they travelled to England together after Eorpwald's death.) Florence follows the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ in placing Eorpwald's baptism s.a. 632. The ‘Chronicle’ places Felix's ministry in East Anglia s.a. 636 (therefore, by inference, Sigeberht's accession also), but Florence commits a full synopsis of Bede's story – the start of Sigeberht's reign, the arrival of Felix and his ministry, the arrival of Fursa, the abdication of Sigeberht, the killing of Sigeberht and Ecgric, the accession of Anna – to 636.
The pedigree of Ælfwald in the Anglian Collection shows Eni as the son of Tyttla, so Eni was the brother of Rædwald.
Erchinoald became ‘mayor of the palace’ of Neustria in 641.
Lagny-sur-Marne, to the east of Paris.
Bede (‘HE’ III, 8): “at that time but few monasteries had been built in the country of the Angles [i.e. in England], and many were wont, for the sake of monastic life, to repair to the monasteries of the Franks or Gauls; and they also sent their daughters there to be instructed, and united to their Heavenly Bridegroom, especially in the monasteries of Brige [Faremoutiers-en-Brie], of Cale [Chelles], and Andilegum [Andelys-sur-Seine]. Among whom was also Sæthryth, daughter of the wife of Anna, king of the East Angles, above mentioned; and Æthelburh, the king's own daughter; both of whom, though strangers, were for their virtue made abbesses of the monastery of Brige.”
In the miscellany that precedes the ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’, Anna is credited with another saintly daughter, Wihtburh (St Withburga). An insertion in Manuscript F of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, s.a. 798, places Wihtburh's death in 743, which seems somewhat late for a daughter of Anna. It is significant that Bede makes no reference to Wihtburgh, which he surely would have done if she was, indeed, a daughter of Anna. The same applies to St Jurmin, an alleged son of Anna, whose tomb William of Malmesbury, in his ‘Gesta Pontificum Anglorum’ (II §74), mentions being at Bury St Edmunds, but William says that he knew nothing about him except that he was “said to be” the brother of, Anna's daughter, St Æthelthryth. The ‘Liber Eliensis’ presents Anna as the father of both Wihtburgh and Jurmin, citing (I, 2) William's remark as evidence that Jurmin was Anna's son. Most modern scholars doubt that either Wihtburh or Jurmin were Anna's children.
Florence of Worcester, s.a. 636, claims that Felix and Sigeberht had become friends in Gaul, and that they travelled to England together after Eorpwald's death.
Barbara Yorke, in ‘Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England’ (1990) Chapter 4, writes: “As the post-Conquest historians frequently misdate events which can be authoritatively dated from pre-Conquest sources, any unsupported dates must be treated with the greatest caution. There is little sign that these writers did have access to East Anglian sources that are otherwise unknown to us; for instance, they purport to give regnal lists of the East Anglian kings, but do not name rulers known from the coin evidence.”
The ‘Liber Eliensis’ (Book of Ely) is a history of the monastery of Ely, from its 7th century beginnings – it was founded by King Anna's daughter, Æthelthryth – to the 12th century.
‘Additamentum Nivialense de Fuilano’ (The Nivelles Supplement to the Vita Fursei concerning Foillán).
Æthelthryth subsequently became founding abbess of the double monastery (i.e. one having communities of both men and women) at Ely. She was succeeded, after her death, by Seaxburh. See: Queen Æthelthryth.
The names Norfolk (North folk) and Suffolk (South folk) are not actually attested before the 11th century. In the mid-670s the diocese of the East Angles was split into two. The original seat, Dommoc (in what became known as Suffolk), was retained, and a new one was created at Helmham (in what became known as Norfolk). Perhaps the reorganization respected a division that existed even then.
Æthelric is shown as the father of Aldwulf in Ælfwald's Anglian Collection pedigree. Æthelric's father is Eni, so Æthelric was brother to the three previous East Anglian kings: Anna, Æthelhere and Æthelwald. Suggestions that Æthel-ric should be equated with the predecessor of those three kings, Ecg-ric, are dismissed by Barbara Yorke, in Chapter 4 of ‘Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England’ (1990): their first name-elements are two distinct forms, both well-attested among the Anglo-Saxons.”
Bede doesn't name Aldwulf's father, but he names his mother as Hereswith. William of Malmesbury (‘GR’ I §97) and the miscellany prefixed to the ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ have Æthelhere as Aldwulf's father. The compiler of the ‘Liber Eliensis’, cites (I, 2) a “life of the holy virgin Mildburh [St Milburga]” as the source of his information that Hereswith was married to Anna, and, therefore, says Aldwulf was the son of Anna. It is generally accepted that Æthelric and Hereswith were the parents of Aldwulf.
This date is derived from information Bede gives about the life of Hereswith's sister, Hild (St Hilda). In about 647, Hild travelled from Northumbria to East Anglia, where she remained for a year. Hereswith was already in Gaul at that time. Hild subsequently became the first abbess of Whitby (a double monastery, i.e. one having communities of both men and women).
The anonymous compiler says that Anna's “son”, Jurmin (“God's chosen one”), was also buried at Blythburgh, but was subsequently translated to Betrichesworde (now called Bury St Edmunds).
See: Shillings and Pence.
The Anglian Collection has, in any case, precedence over other sources, but William of Malmesbury (‘GR’ I §97) and the miscellany prefixed to the ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ say Ælfwald and Aldwulf were brothers – the sons of Æthelhere. Æthelhere died in 654 and Ælfwald died in 759. The chances of Ælfwald living to be at least 105 years old are, shall we say, unlikely.
The ‘Historia Brittonum’ preserves (§59) an East Anglian genealogy which parallels the one in the Anglian Collection. All the names, though in different form, are recognizable, until the final name in the sequence. Instead of Ælfwald appears Elric, which would seem to be a form of Æthelric – though Ælfwald's grandfather, Æthelric, appears in the form Edric. The ‘Handbook of British Chronology’ (reprinted 2003) laconically comments: “Elric in §59 seems to be an error.”
Boniface, patron saint of Germany, was actually an Englishman – a West Saxon originally called Wynfrith. Having resigned the archdiocese of Mainz, he was killed in 754, by pagans, whilst on missionary work in Frisia.
It becomes apparent from the ‘Life’ that Ælfwald had a sister called Ecgburh. She was an abbess – she sent a shroud and lead coffin to Guthlac – but of which abbey isn't revealed. Before adopting the life of a hermit, Guthlac had become a monk at the double monastery of Repton (Derbyshire), and later writers seem to have assumed that Ecgburh was abbess of that foundation (all known double monasteries in England were headed by an abbess). This is, though, not at all certain. Barbara Yorke (‘Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England’, 1990) considers Ely to be the most likely contender.
It is not clear, though, that the marriage of Æthelthryth and Tondberht had taken place by the time of Anna's death. It may not have happened, and hence East Anglia may not have acquired the Isle of Ely, until the reign of, Æthelthryth's uncle, Æthelwald.
Sam Newton, in ‘The Origins of Beowulf and the pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia’ (1993), argues that, the Old English epic ‘Beowulf’ could also have been composed in Ælfwald's East Anglia.
The same order of succession – Ælfwald, Beorna, Æthelred, St Æthelberht – is also given in the miscellaneous collection of lists and genealogies prefixed to the ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ of Florence of Worcester.
Between 754 and 845 there is a chronological dislocation in all extant manuscripts of the ‘Chronicle’ – hence it must have been in their common antecedent. The majority of entries up to 828 are placed two years too early. From then until 845 the error is increased to three years. (It is a peculiarity of Manuscript B that after 652 the year-number is generally omitted.)
In the chronological summary at the end of the ‘Ecclesiastical History (‘HE’ V, 24), Bede unequivocally dates the synod to 680. Within the body of the work (‘HE’ IV, 17), however, he quotes a document in which the date is given as “the 15th of the Kalends of October [i.e. the 17th of September], the 8th indiction”. If the document was dated using the so-called ‘Greek Indiction’, in which the year starts on 1st September, then the year would be 679. If the ‘Bedan Indiction’ was being used, in which the year starts on 24th September, then the year would indeed be 680. Since popes at this time used the ‘Greek Indiction’, then it seems likely that the synod of Hatfield would have been dated using this system. Though there is clearly an area of doubt, most modern scholars seem to place the synod in September 679. (See: Anno Domini.)
Incidentally, the location of Hatfield is another grey area. In his chronological summary, Bede says: “a synod was held in the plain of Hatfield [Hæthfelth]”. It is generally identified with Hatfield, Hertfordshire, but perhaps Hatfield Chase, near Doncaster, is more likely.
There are two alternatives for the location of Helmham: North Elmham in Norfolk and South Elmham in Suffolk. Although it is an arguable point, North Elmham seems the most likely option.
As detailed elsewhere on this page, the majority of ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ entries at this time are placed two years too early. As a result, Ellendun etc. appears s.a. 823 instead of 825, Ludeca's death s.a. 825 instead of 827, Egbert's conquest of Mercia s.a. 827 instead of 829, and Wiglaf's recovery of Mercia s.a. 828 instead of 830. (Florence of Worcester exhibits the same error.)
Athelstan is known from a substantial number of coins, but one of them appears to be stylistically earlier than the rest. It could be that Athelstan had made an attempt to seize back control of East Anglia from the Mercians following the death of Cenwulf in 821, but he was driven out by Cenwulf's successor, Ceolwulf.
This annal does not appear in Manuscripts E and F.
Lindsey – once a kingdom in its own right, but by this time a region of Mercia – occupied northern Lincolnshire.
Probably Bures St Mary, Suffolk.
Named after St Neots Priory, where the manuscript was found during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, the ‘Annals’ (written in Latin) were apparently compiled, in the early-12th century, at Bury St Edmunds.
See: Anno Domini.
867 in Manuscript C.
Manuscript C is consistently a year in advance from 853 until the end of the century.
Abbo of Fleury ‘Passio Sancti Eadmundi’ (Passion of St Edmund).
A century before Roger wrote his account, the ‘Annals of St Neots’ (early-12th century) had presented Ivar and Ubba as the sons of Lothbroc. It was in early-12th century Iceland that Ari Thorgilsson (‘Íslendingabók’) first, so far as is known, associated the forename Ragnar with Lothbroc – possibly merging two historical figures, Ragnar and Lothbroc, to create the single mythological character Ragnar Lothbroc.
Traditionally Hægelisdun is identified with Hoxne, but there are no good grounds for this identification. Other candidates have been proposed. Perhaps the most promising is Bradfield St George (some five miles south-east of Bury St Edmunds and fifteen miles south of Thetford), where a field appears with the name Hellesden Ley on a mid-19th century map.
Florence writes: “Ludeca, king of Mercia, having assembled his forces, marched his army into the province of the East Angles, to revenge the death of his predecessor Beornwulf. The people of that country with their king speedily encountered him, and a desperate battle was fought, in which Ludeca and five of his ealdormen, and great numbers of his troops fell, and the rest took to flight”.  William of Malmesbury (‘GR’ I §96) agrees with Florence – Ludeca was killed by the East Angles whilst trying to avenge the killing of Beornwulf. In the poetic version of history presented by Geffrei Gaimar, however, Ludeca is said to have been “killed by the Welsh” (line 2292). Roger of Wendover, on the other hand, states that Ludeca was “slain by King Egbert” (an event that Roger places in 828).
There are four manuscripts of Gaimar's work (dating from early-13th to early-14 centuries). One of them renders the name Curan Cocba, whilst another says “I know not who he was”.
In ‘Medieval European Coinage, 1: The Early Middle Ages” (1986) Chapter 10, Philip Grierson and Mark Blackburn write: “The [St Edmund] coinage commenced c.895, to judge from its absence from the Ashdon and Stamford hoards (dep. c.893/5) and by the overstriking of a specimen by Archbishop Plegmund towards the end of Alfred's reign (Banks and Purvey 1967). It must have continued for a considerable time after the deposit of the Cuerdale hoard (c.905), and may have lasted until the reconquest of East Anglia and eastern Mercia in 917/18.”
This name takes the form Igwar here in the ‘Chronicle of Æthelweard’. In other English sources it appears in variations on that theme – Inguar, Hyngwar etc. In Scandinavian tradition, he is Ivar the Boneless, a son of Ragnar Lothbroc (Hairy-breeches).
Abbo's ‘Passion’ has survived in a large number of manuscripts, but none is earlier than around 1100. Perhaps more well known than Abbo's Latin original today is an Old English adaptation, made, by the homilist Ælfric, around 996/7.
Abbo says that Ivar was an agent of the devil: “he [the devil] despatched one of his own satellites as an adversary to Edmund, in the hope that, stripped of all his possessions, the king might be goaded into an outburst of impatience, and in despair curse God to His face. This adversary was known by the name of Ivar; and he, with another called Ubba, a man of equal depravity, attempted (and nothing but the divine compassion could have prevented them) to reduce to destruction the whole confines of Britain.” (‘Passio’ Chapter 5).
Eddius Stephanus ‘Vita Sancti Wilfridi’, Chapter 20.
In Manuscript A, Æthelberht is titled “King Æthelberht”. The language of the ‘Chronicle’ is Old English, but in this instance ‘king’ (OE: cyning) is written as, the Latin, rex.
In ‘The Origins of Beowulf: From Vergil to Wiglaf’ (2006), Richard North argues that Ludeca and his ealdormen were killed by his successor, Wiglaf, in a Mercian power struggle.
Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Essex (the Mercian possessions that submitted to Egbert during the campaign of 825–6), on the other hand, were bundled together to create a West Saxon sub-kingdom ruled by Egbert's son, Æthelwulf.
Queen Æthelthryth
Ælfwald's letter
The Martyrdom of King Æthelberht
Though generally referred to as Danes (by both ancient and modern writers), the “heathen army” comprised: “people from all quarters, that is to say, of the Danes and Frisians, and other pagan nations” (Symeon of DurhamLDE’ II, 6).
Manuscript E has “St Edmund the king“ here.
The Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum
In Manuscript A, the word ‘heathen’ is omitted from the highlighted phrase. As usual when referring to Viking forces, the word used for ‘army’ is here. The ‘Chronicle’ generally uses the word fyrd when referring to an English army.
The above passage as it appears in the manuscript: Click here to access a high quality photographic copy of British Library MS Cotton Vitellius A xv, on the British Library website. There are other texts bound in the manuscript – Beowulf begins on folio 132r.
There are two main contenders for the location of Dommoc. The most popular suggestion is Dunwich, Suffolk. However, Bede's description of Dommoc as a “city” (civitas) suggests that it was a significant Roman site, and there is, today, no such site at Dunwich, though it could easily have been lost to the sea. That is exactly what has happened to the second contender, Walton Castle, which used to be a Saxon Shore Fort at Felixstowe (the town might possibly be named after the sainted Bishop Felix).
‘Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu istius hoc est Dunhelmensis Ecclesie’ (Tract on the Origins and Progress of this the Church of Durham).
‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’ (Deeds of the Kings of England).
Henry of Huntingdon first produced his ‘Historia Anglorum’ (History of the English) around 1130. He then revisited the work – revising and extending – several times before his death. The final version concludes with the accession of Henry II in 1154.
‘Historia Regum’ (History of the Kings).
Anglo-Norman chronicler Geffrei Gaimar wrote his ‘Estoire des Engleis’ (History of the English), for a Lincolnshire patroness, round-about 1140. It is the earliest known historical work to have been written in the French language, and is in verse (actually, octosyllabic rhymed couplets). In fact, the ‘Estoire des Engleis’ is the latter part of a longer work, but the earlier part has not survived. The existing work covers the period from the arrival in Britain of Cerdic (495) to the death of William Rufus (1100). Up to 959, it is based on a lost version of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’.
The Moore Memoranda is a short (just eight lines) chronological text written on the final page of the earliest extant manuscript (the Moore Manuscript) of Bede's ‘Ecclesiastical History’. Past events are related to the year 737, which suggests both the Memoranda and the copy of the ‘Ecclesiastical History’ were produced at that time.
The epic poem ‘Beowulf’, which is written in Old English (Anglo-Saxon), is so-called after its hero (the original is not titled). The single extant manuscript survived, though not unscathed, a fire, on Saturday 23rd October 1731, in Ashburnham House (now part of Westminster School), where the library of manuscripts collected by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (1571–1631) was housed. It is now in the British Library (British Library MS Cotton Vitellius A xv). The manuscript was produced around the year 1000 (by two scribes), but its story is set in the 6th century – at what stage between those dates the work was originally composed is the subject of scholarly debate.
Heorot, the mead-hall of Hrothgar, king of the Danes, has been terrorized for twelve years by Grendel, a seemingly invincible monster. Beowulf, of the Geats (in southern Sweden), hears of Hrothgar's plight, and sails to his aid. Beowulf fights Grendel with his bare hands, and tears the monster's arm off. Grendel, fatally wounded, retreats to his lair to die. Seeking revenge, Grendel's mother attacks Heorot. Beowulf tracks her down, and, after a great struggle, slays her with an ancient giant's sword. Beowulf becomes king of the Geats, and rules for fifty peaceful years. Then, a fire-breathing dragon, angry that some of its treasure has been stolen, begins to ravage his kingdom. The aged Beowulf, with the assistance of a faithful warrior, Wiglaf, kills the dragon, but is fatally wounded. With his dying breaths he nominates Wiglaf as his successor. Beowulf's body is burned, and his ashes are buried, with much treasure, in a mound on a high headland.
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.