FROM DOT TO DOMESDAY Early Medieval The Birth of Nations: England
“Those who came over were of the three most powerful nations of Germany – Saxons, Angles, and Jutes... From the Angles, that is, the country which is called Angulus, and which is said, from that time, to have remained desert to this day, between the provinces of the Jutes and the Saxons, are descended the East Angles, the Middle Angles, the Mercians, all the race of the Northumbrians, that is, of those nations that dwell on the north side of the river Humber, and the other nations of the Angles.”
Bede (‘HE’ I, 15).
The kingdom of Mercia – from the Old English Mierce, meaning ‘men of the March [i.e. borders]’ – which eventually encompassed the whole of the English midlands, stretching as far south as the Thames-Avon line, apparently developed from settlements in the upper and middle Trent valley.* Mercia's influence reached its zenith during the reign of Offa in the latter half of the 8th century. Wessex (the kingdom of the West Saxons), however, became the dominant power after decisively defeating the Mercians in 825. Later in the 9th century, Mercia was conquered by the Danes. The country was partitioned – the western half remained in Anglo-Saxon hands, whilst the eastern half was settled by the Danes. The West Mercians accepted the overlordship of Alfred ‘the Great’, king of Wessex. Mercia was never again an independent kingdom.
The Staffordshire Hoard was discovered, by metal-detector, in a field near Lichfield in 2009. (Lichfield became the see of the bishop of the Mercians in 669.) It comprises more than 3,500 items of gold and silver metalwork – mostly gold (in fact, it is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold yet found), some of which is decorated with inlaid (cloisonné) garnet. There are, however, no pieces of female jewellery. Most of the items seem to have been stripped from military equipment – there are, for instance, almost a hundred gold and garnet sword pommel-caps. The Hoard has been, tentatively, dated to the later 600s or earlier 700s. What it represents, and why it was found where it was, are subjects of ongoing speculation.
A few statistics: 5.094 kilos of gold, 1.442 kilos of silver and 3,500 cloisonné garnets. The Hoard was bought for £3.3m by Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.
Left: A selection of items from the Staffordshire Hoard.
King of Mercia
585 ? – 593 ? Creoda ?
593 ? – 597 ? Pybba ?
597 ? – 626 ? Cearl
The early history of Mercia is very obscure. Bede makes a passing reference (‘HE’ II, 14) to “Cearl, king of the Mercians”, being the father-in-law of the exiled future king of Northumbria, Edwin. This would put Cearl on the Mercian throne at some time between about 604 and 616.
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, s.a. 626, provides the following genealogy: “Penda was son of Pybba, Pybba of Creoda, Creoda of Cynewald, Cynewald of Cnebba, Cnebba of Icel, Icel of Eomær, Eomær of Angeltheow, Angeltheow of Offa, Offa of Wærmund, Wærmund of Wihtlæg, Wihtlæg of Woden.”*
Felix, in his ‘Life’ of St Guthlac, says (§II) of Guthlac's father: “the descent of this man was traced in set order through the most noble names of famous kings, back to Icel in whom it began in days of old.”
Henry of Huntingdon states that: “Crida [Creoda], as far as we learn from old records, was the first king of Mercia.” (‘HA’ II, 26).  Henry implies that this was in 585. Following an elaborated account of a battle dated by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ to 592, Henry notes: “After these times Crida, king of Mercia, departed this life, and his son Wippa [Pybba] succeeded him.” (‘HA’ II, 27).*  And then, with an implied date of 597: “Wippa was succeeded by Cherl [Cearl], who was not his son, but his kinsman.” (‘HA’ II, 27). The next Mercian reference Henry makes is to the accession of, Pybba's son, Penda (called “Penda the Strong” by Henry), an event which, according to the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, occurred in 626. Henry of Huntingdon was, however, not averse to using his imagination to improve the story, and there is no reason to suppose that his assertions are anything other than conjectures based on Bede and the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’.* Mercian history, in effect, begins with Penda.
626 ? – 655  Penda
Son of Pybba.
Alongside the year 626, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ says: “Penda held the kingdom 30 winters; and he was 50 winters old when he succeeded to the kingdom.”*  It is highly unlikely that Penda was fifty when he became king of Mercia (far more likely that he was fifty when he was killed), and it is also possible that he didn't actually become king until considerably later than 626.
In 628, according to the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle': "Cynegils [the West Saxon king] and Cwichelm [Cynegils' son] fought against Penda at Cirencester, and afterwards came to an agreement.”  It seems likely that Cynegils ceded Cirencester and territory along the Severn to Penda – the Mercian sub-kingdom of the Hwicce (roughly, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and western Warwickshire) quite possibly dates from this period.*
Edwin, the Christian king of Northumbria, had, according to Bede (‘HE’ II, 5), secured: “the overlordship over all the nations who inhabit Britain, both English and British, except only the people of Kent”.  Penda was obviously ambitious, and he saw a further opportunity to increase his power when Cadwallon, king of Gwynedd, rebelled against Edwin. Bede says that Cadwallon was: “supported by the vigorous Penda, of the royal race of the Mercians, who from that time governed that nation for 22 years with varying success.  A great battle being fought in the plain that is called Hæthfelth [Hatfield Chase, near Doncaster], Edwin was killed on the 4th of the Ides of October [12th October], in the year of our Lord 633, being then 48 years of age, and all his army was either slain or dispersed.* In the same war also, Osfrith, one of his sons, a warlike youth, fell before him; Eadfrith, another of them, compelled by necessity, went over to King Penda, and was by him afterwards slain in the reign of Oswald, contrary to his oath. At this time a great slaughter was made in the Church and nation of the Northumbrians; chiefly because one of the chiefs, by whom it was carried on, was a pagan, and the other a barbarian, more cruel than a pagan; for Penda, with all the nation of the Mercians, was an idolater, and a stranger to the name of Christ; but Cadwallon, though he professed and called himself a Christian, was so barbarous in his disposition and manner of living, that he did not even spare women and innocent children, but with bestial cruelty put all alike to death by torture, and overran all their country in his fury for a long time, intending to cut off all the race of the English within the borders of Britain.” (‘HE’ II, 20).
Presumably Penda soon returned to Mercia. Cadwallon remained in Northumbrian territory for a year, “ravaging them like a furious tyrant” (‘HE’ III, 1), before he was defeated and killed by Edwin's eventual successor, Oswald, who succeeded in reestablishing Northumbria's supremacy. Oswald and Edwin were, however, from rival Northumbrian dynasties – Edwin had exiled Oswald – so, presumably, it was as a conciliatory gesture towards Oswald that Penda killed Edwin's son, Eadfrith, who had previously surrendered to him (mentioned by Bede above).
On 5th August 642, Penda's forces defeated the Northumbrians “in a great battle ... at a place called in the English tongue Maserfelth” (‘HE’ III, 9).*  Oswald was killed – “the king who slew him [i.e. Penda] commanded his head, and hands, with the arms, to be cut off from the body, and set upon stakes” (‘HE’ III, 12). The battle site, Maserfelth, is usually, though not with absolute certainty, identified with Oswestry (‘Oswald's tree’).  The, somewhat erratic, ‘Historia Brittonum’ seems to imply that it wasn't until after Maserfelth (“the battle of Cocboy”) that Penda became king of Mercia: “Penda, son of Pybba, reigned ten years; he first separated the kingdom of Mercia from that of the North-men ... He fought the battle of Cocboy, in which fell Eowa, son of Pybba, his brother, king of the Mercians, and Oswald, king of the North-men, and he gained the victory by diabolical agency. He was not baptized, and never believed in God.” (§65)  This is echoed by another Welsh source, the ‘Annales Cambriae’, which states: “The battle of Cocboy in which Oswald king of the Northmen and Eowa king of the Mercians fell.”*  It may well be that Penda and Eowa were joint kings of Mercia at the time – such arrangements were not uncommon in other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms – and Penda became sole king on Eowa's death.
Nevertheless, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, Bede and the Welsh sources do seem to place Penda's accession at considerably different times. Taking his cue from Bede's comment that Penda ruled Mercia “with varying success”, Nicholas Brooks suggests that Penda became king of Mercia in, “or about”, 626, as stated by the ‘Chronicle’, but that “his reign was intermittent” and that Eowa's reign may have been a time “when Penda's fortunes were low”. Professor Brooks goes further: “the author of the Historia would seem to have believed that before the battle of Cocboy/Maserfelth the Mercians and their king Eowa had indeed been subject to control by the Northumbrian king Oswald. We should therefore beware assuming that Eowa was killed fighting alongside his brother Penda. If Eowa had indeed been a Northumbrian puppet, it is more probable that he fought alongside his overlord to maintain his throne against his brother.”
At some stage round about this time (it may have been before or after Maserfelth – Bede doesn't provide a date and other evidence, such as it is, is not conclusive): “the nation of the Mercians, under King Penda, made war on the East Angles” (‘HE’ III, 18). Sigeberht and Ecgric, the ex-king and incumbent king of the East Angles, were killed. Penda evidently (‘HE’ III, 7) married-off his sister (her name is not recorded) to, the pagan West Saxon king, Cenwalh. Cenwalh unwisely discarded her, and took another wife. In 645, Penda drove him from Wessex. For three years, Cenwalh was an exile in East Anglia, where he had been given refuge by Anna, who had succeeded Ecgric as king there. During his time with Anna, Cenwalh was converted to Christianity, and in 648, perhaps with the help of Anna, he recovered the West Saxon throne. There is no record of any subsequent conflict between Penda and Cenwalh. Around 650, Penda attacked East Anglia and succeeded in, temporarily, expelling Anna. In 654 Penda attacked again, this time killing Anna. It seems likely that control of the Middle Angles (as a grouping of peoples occupying the eastern Midlands were collectively known), who lay between the Mercians and the East Angles, was at the heart of Penda's longstanding dispute with the Anna and his predecessor. As will be seen, events suggest that Anna's successor, his brother, Æthelhere, may have been appointed by Penda.
Penda also harassed Northumbria. At one time, before 651, Bede reports that: “the hostile army of the Mercians, under the command of Penda, cruelly ravaged the country of the Northumbrians far and near, even to the royal city, which has its name from Bebba, formerly its queen [i.e. Bamburgh]. Not being able to take it by storm or by siege, he endeavoured to burn it down; and having pulled down all the villages in the neighbourhood of the city, he brought thither an immense quantity of beams, rafters, partitions, wattles and thatch, wherewith he encompassed the place to a great height on the land side, and when he found the wind favourable, he set fire to it and attempted to burn the town.  At that time, the most reverend Bishop Aidan [bishop of Lindisfarne] was dwelling in the Isle of Farne, which is about two miles from the city; for thither he was wont often to retire to pray in solitude and silence; and, indeed, this lonely dwelling of his is to this day shown in that island. When he saw the flames of fire and the smoke carried by the wind rising above the city walls, he is said to have lifted up his eyes and hands to heaven, and cried with tears, “Behold, Lord, how great evil is wrought by Penda!” These words were hardly uttered, when the wind immediately veering from the city, drove back the flames upon those who had kindled them, so that some being hurt, and all afraid, they forebore any further attempts against the city, which they perceived to be protected by the hand of God.“ (‘HE’ III, 16).  In 651, at a church on a royal estate near Bamburgh, Aidan died: “he breathed his last, leaning against a buttress that was on the outside of the church to strengthen the wall... It happened some years after, that Penda, king of the Mercians, coming into these parts with a hostile army, destroyed all he could with fire and sword, and the village where the bishop died, along with the church above mentioned, was burnt down; but it fell out in a wonderful manner that the buttress against which he had been leaning when he died, could not be consumed by the fire which devoured all about it.” (‘HE’ III, 17).
All the same, Penda's daughter, Cyneburh, married Alhfrith, son of the Northumbrian king, Oswiu, Oswald's brother. Oswiu, however, did not have as much authority as his brother had enjoyed. He was king in Bernicia only. In 651 Oswiu had the king of Diera, the other half of Northumbria, murdered. The new king of Deira was Oswald's son, Œthelwald. Events suggest that Œthelwald recognized Penda as his overlord.
Penda had a son called Peada. He was, says Bede (‘HE’ III, 21): “an excellent youth, and most worthy of the name and office of a king”.  Penda placed Peada in charge of the Middle Angles. Peada visited Oswiu: “requesting to have his daughter Alhflæd given him to wife; but he could not obtain his desire unless he would receive the faith of Christ, and be baptized, with the nation which he governed. When he heard the preaching of the truth, the promise of the heavenly kingdom, and the hope of resurrection and future immortality, he declared that he would willingly become a Christian, even though he should not obtain the maiden; being chiefly prevailed on to receive the faith by King Oswiu's son Alhfrith, who was his brother-in-law and friend”.  The newly baptised Peada returned home, accompanied by four priests: “The aforesaid priests, arriving in the province with the prince, preached the Word, and were heard willingly; and many, as well of the nobility as the common sort, renouncing the abominations of idolatry, were daily washed in the fountain of the faith.  Nor did King Penda forbid the preaching of the Word even among his people, the Mercians, if any were willing to hear it; but, on the contrary, he hated and despised those whom he perceived to be without the works of faith, when they had once received the faith of Christ, saying, that they were contemptible and wretched who scorned to obey their God, in whom they believed. These things were set on foot two years before the death of King Penda.”
According to Bede, Penda continued to raid Northumbria: “King Oswiu was exposed to the cruel and intolerable invasions of Penda ... at length, compelled by his necessity, he promised to give him countless gifts and royal marks of honour greater than can be believed, to purchase peace; provided that he would return home, and cease to waste and utterly destroy the provinces of his kingdom.” (‘HE’ III, 24).
A somewhat confused report in the ‘Historia Brittonum’ suggests that Penda and his allies besieged Oswiu in a stronghold called Iudeu (generally identified with Stirling), where he delivered: “all the wealth, which was with him in the city, to Penda; who distributed it among the kings of the Britons [who had accompanied him on the expedition]” (§65).  It may have been at Iudeu that Oswiu was obliged to hand over his son, Ecgfrith, to Penda as a hostage – the boy being sent into the care of Penda's wife in Mercia.
Bede, however, says that Penda would not to come to terms with Oswiu: “The pagan king refused to grant his request, for he had resolved to blot out and extirpate all his nation, from the highest to the lowest; whereupon King Oswiu had recourse to the protection of the Divine pity for deliverance from his barbarous and pitiless foe, and binding himself by a vow, said, “If the pagan will not accept our gifts, let us offer them to Him that will, the Lord our God.” He then vowed, that if he should win the victory, he would dedicate his daughter to the Lord in holy virginity, and give 12 pieces of land whereon to build monasteries. After this he gave battle with a very small army: indeed, it is reported that the pagans had thirty times the number of men; for they had 30 legions, drawn up under most noted commanders. King Oswiu and his son Alhfrith met them with a very small army, as has been said, but trusting in Christ as their Leader; his other son, Ecgfrith, was then kept as a hostage at the court of Queen Cynewise, in the province of the Mercians. King Oswald's son Œthelwald, who ought to have supported them, was on the enemy's side, and led them on to fight against his country and his uncle; though, during the battle, he withdrew, and awaited the event in a place of safety....
Œthelwald was not the only one to desert Penda. The ‘Historia Brittonum’ (§65) says that: “Cadafael alone, king of Gwynedd, rising up in the night, escaped together with his army, wherefore he was called Cadafael the Battle Shirker.”  The rest of the British kings who had accompanied Penda were killed in the ensuing battle, which the ‘Historia’ calls (§64) “the slaughter of Gai Campi [the Field of Gai]”.
.... The engagement began, the pagans were put to flight or killed, 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. He [Penda] had been the occasion of the war, and was now killed, having lost his army and auxiliaries.* The battle was fought near the river Winwæd [unidentified], which then, owing to the great rains, was in flood, and had overflowed its banks, so that many more were drowned in the flight than destroyed in battle by the sword.* ... King Oswiu concluded this war in the district of Loidis [Leeds], in the thirteenth year of his reign, on the 17th of the Kalends of December [i.e. 15th November, the year being 655], to the great benefit of both nations; for he delivered his own people from the hostile depredations of the pagans, and, having made an end of their heathen chief, converted the Mercians and the adjacent provinces to the grace of the Christian faith.” (‘HE’ III, 24).
Bede includes Edwin and Oswald, Oswiu's predecessors, in a list (‘HE’ II, 5) of seven Anglo-Saxon kings who secured the overlordship of all the English kingdoms south of “the river Humber and the borders contiguous to it” – a distinction later given the title Bretwalda by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’.* Penda does not feature in the list, but at the time of his death he was certainly the most powerful of the Anglo-Saxon kings (as testified by the coalition he mustered for the final showdown with Oswiu). Bede, being both Christian and Northumbrian, can hardly be described as an impartial reporter, and he tends to depict the contest between Penda and Oswiu as ‘belligerent pagan baddy’ versus ‘decent Christian goody’. It seems reasonable, though, to suppose that it was actually a war fought with equal vehemence by two equally ambitious rulers. After Penda's death, Oswiu secured control of all Northumbria, annexed Mercia and acquired overlordship of the other southern English kingdoms. He is the final name on Bede's list, and, consequently, the seventh Bretwalda listed by the ‘Chronicle’.
655 – 658  Northumbrian rule
In 653, Penda's son, Peada, had introduced Christianity to Middle Anglia, where he ruled for his father, as a condition of his marriage to Oswiu's daughter, Alhflæd. Bede reports that Peada: “received four priests, who by reason of their learning and good life were deemed proper to instruct and baptize his nation ... These priests were Cedd and Adda, and Betti and Diuma; the last of whom was by nation a Scot [i.e. an Irishman], the others English... But when he [Penda] was slain [15th November 655], and the most Christian king, Oswiu, succeeded him in the throne [i.e. he annexed Mercia] ... Diuma, one of the aforesaid four priests, was made bishop of the Middle Angles, as also of the Mercians, being ordained by Bishop Finan [bishop of Lindisfarne]; for the scarcity of priests made it necessary that one prelate should be set over two nations.” (‘HE’ III, 21).
“King Oswiu governed the Mercians, as also the people of the other southern provinces, for three years after he had slain King Penda ... At this time he gave to the above-mentioned Peada, son to King Penda, because he was his kinsman, the kingdom of the Southern Mercians, consisting, as is said, of five thousand families, divided by the river Trent from the Northern Mercians, whose land contains 7 thousand families; but Peada was foully slain in the following spring [656], by the treachery, as is said, of his wife, during the very time of the Easter festival.” (‘HE’ III, 24).
An interpolation in Manuscript E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, s.a. 654, says: “In his [Peada's] time he and Oswiu, the brother of King Oswald, came together, and said, that they would rear a monastery to the glory of Christ and the honour of St Peter. And they did so, and gave it the name of Medeshamstede; because there is a well there, called Medeswæl. And they then began the foundation, and thereon wrought, and then committed it to a monk, who was called Seaxwulf.” As will be seen, Manuscript E returns to this subject later.
658 – 675  Wulfhere
Son of Penda.
Bede states that: “Three years after the death of King Penda, the Mercian chiefs, Immin, and Eafa, and Eadberht, rebelled against King Oswiu, setting up for their king, Wulfhere, son to the said Penda, a youth whom they had kept concealed; and expelling the ealdormen of the foreign king, they bravely recovered at once their liberty and their lands; and being thus free, together with their king, they rejoiced to serve Christ the true King, for the sake of an everlasting kingdom in heaven. This king governed the Mercians 17 years” (‘HE’ III, 24).  Having liberated Mercia, Wulfhere proceeded to expand his borders and establish his supremacy over the other southern English kingdoms.
Alongside the year 661, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ records an offensive against the West Saxons: “and Wulfhere, son of Penda, committed ravage as far as Ashdown.* ... And Wulfhere, son of Penda, committed ravage on Wight, and gave the people of Wight to Æthelwald, king of the South Saxons, because Wulfhere had received him at baptism.”  Æthelwald is called Æthelwalh by Bede, who says (‘HE’ IV, 13) that Wulfhere, in fact, gave Æthelwalh: “the province of the Meonware, in the country of the West Saxons” (i.e. the Meon valley, in what is now Hampshire, opposite the Isle of Wight), as well as the Isle of Wight (which still had its own king at this time).
661, the date provided by the ‘Chronicle’ is a little problematic. Events from several years have apparently been combined in the one annal. Bede describes the baptism of Æthelwalh and Wulfhere's gift to him of the two territories as being “not long before” the arrival in Sussex of Wilfrid, the exiled bishop of York, in 681, which might suggest that this particular aspect of the ‘Chronicle’ entry should be dated considerably later than 661 (though it would obviously have to have been at some point before Wufhere's death, which was in 675). At some stage, prior to his baptism, Æthelwalh had married Eafe, who apparently was from the royal family of the Hwicce (a Mercian sub-kingdom, roughly corresponding to Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and western Warwickshire). According to Bede, Eafe: “had been baptized in her own country, the province of the Hwicce. She was the daughter of Eanfrith, the brother of Eanhere, who were both Christians, as were their people” (‘HE’ IV, 13).
In 664 a devastating plague struck Britain. At that time, Sigehere and Sæbbi were co-kings of the East Saxons. They were, however: “subject to Wulfhere, king of the Mercians” (‘HE’ III, 30).  Cedd, bishop of the East Saxons, died of the plague. In the hope of fending off the sickness, Sigehere led a pagan revival in his territory. Wulfhere sent Jaruman, bishop of the Mercians: “to correct their error, and recall the province to the true faith. He acted with much discretion, as I was informed by a priest who bore him company in that journey ... and travelling through all the country, far and near, brought back both the people and the aforesaid king to the way of righteousness ... Having thus accomplished their works, the priests and teachers returned home with joy.” (‘HE’ III, 30).  When the bishop of Winchester, Wine, was expelled by the West Saxon king, Cenwalh, probably in 666, he: “took refuge with Wulfhere, king of the Mercians, of whom he purchased for money the see of the city of London [chief town of the East Saxons], and remained bishop thereof till his death.” (‘HE’ III, 7).
In 666, Wilfrid, at that time bishop of York designate, returned from Gaul, where he had been consecrated, to find that Chad (brother of Cedd) had been made bishop of York during his, prolonged, absence. Eddius Stephanus, Wilfrid's biographer, says (Chapter 14) that: “Wilfrid withdrew to his old post as abbot, to a humble life at Ripon for the next few years, remaining there all the time except for the frequent invitations from King Wulfhere to carry out episcopal duties in Mercia.”  Bishop Jaruman had died (c.667). For the time being, however, there was no archbishop of Canterbury to consecrate a replacement, so Wilfrid was temporarily acting as bishop of the Mercians. Eddius continues: “Wulfhere had a sincere liking for him [Wilfrid]. God had raised up for Himself this most gracious king – amongst whose good works was the gift, for the good of his soul, of many pieces of land in various places to our bishop. Wilfrid soon used them to found monasteries.”  In 669, Theodore (a monk from Tarsus who had been selected and consecrated by the pope) at last arrived in Britain to begin his tenure as archbishop of Canterbury. Theodore judged that Chad's position at York was illegitimate, and he had to relinquish it to Wilfrid. Mercia needed a bishop, so Wulfhere asked Theodore: “that a bishop should be given to him and his people; but Theodore would not ordain a new one for them, but requested of King Oswiu that Chad might be their bishop. He then lived in retirement at his monastery, which is at Laestingaeu [Lastingham, North Yorkshire], while Wilfrid administered the bishopric of York, and of all the Northumbrians, and likewise of the Picts, as far as King Oswiu was able to extend his dominions... Chad having received the bishopric of the Mercians and of Lindsey, took care to administer it with great perfection of life, according to the example of the ancient fathers. King Wulfhere also gave him land of the extent of 50 families, to build a monastery, at the place called Ad Barvae, or ‘At the Wood’ [Barrow on Humber?], in the province of Lindsey, wherein traces of the monastic life instituted by him continue to this day.  He had his episcopal see in the place called Lyccidfelth [Lichfield], in which he also died, and was buried, and where the see of the succeeding bishops of that province [i.e. Mercia] continues to this day.” (Bede, ‘HE’ IV, 3).  Chad died in 672. “In his place, Theodore ordained Wynfrith, a man of good and sober life, to preside, like his predecessors, over the bishoprics of the Mercians, the Middle Angles, and Lindsey, of all which, Wulfhere, who was still living, was king.” (‘HE’ IV, 3).  The kingdom of Lindsey covered much of modern-day Lincolnshire – indeed, it is named after the Roman name for Lincoln (Lindum Colonia). Its borders are fairly precisely known: the river Humber to the north; the sea to the east; the Foss Dyke and river Witham to the south; in the west, the river Trent, but including the Isle of Axholme, in the marshes (now drained) to the west of the Trent. The genealogy of a king of Lindsey called Aldfrith appears in the Anglian Collection, but his reign cannot be securely dated.* Lindsey has no recorded independent history. From 627 – its earliest appearance in the record: “the province of Lindsey, which is the first on the south side of the river Humber, stretching as far as the sea” (‘HE’ II, 16) – it appears as a satellite of either Northumbria, as was the case in 627, or, as here in Wulfhere's day, Mercia.
The Mildrith Legend texts provide some details of relations between Mercia and Kent. Wulfhere was married to Eormenhild, daughter of Eorcenberht, king of Kent. Wulfhere's brother, Merewalh, was married to Domne (‘Lady’) Eafe, daughter of Eorcenberht's brother. In one of the Mildrith Legend texts, found in the ‘Historia Regum’, Merewalh is called “king of the Mercians”. In two other texts, however, it is made clear that he ruled a western part of Mercian territory, i.e. the Westerna, usually called the Magonsæte (Herefordshire and southern Shropshire).* Eorcenberht died in 664, and was succeeded by his son, Egbert. Egbert was involved in the murder of his two cousins, Æthelberht and Æthelred, the brothers of Domne Eafe, which is the central event of the Mildrith Legend. Merewalh and Domne Eafe had separated by this time, and, in recompense for the murders, Egbert gave Domne Eafe land on the Isle of Thanet, where she founded a monastery (Minster Abbey), and became its first abbess. (Her daughter, Mildrith, succeeded her.) Egbert died, in 673. The date of the succession of his brother, Hlothere, is, however, somewhat uncertain. The dynastic rivalries apparent from the Mildrith Legend may have resulted in a dispute over the kingship. Possibly Wulfhere opposed Hlothere's succession, and it may be that Kent was without a king of its own for a year, leaving Wulfhere in control. What is clear is that, about the time of Egbert's death, Surrey, which had been in Egbert's hands, was taken-over by Wulfhere – a charter (S1165) records a land-grant to the monastery of Chertsey made by one Frithuwald, who was acting for Wulfhere as sub-king (subregulus) of Surrey. Wulfhere confirmed the grant at his residence at Thame, Oxfordshire.
The early-12th century Manuscript E (the ‘Peterborough Manuscript’) of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ has a lengthy interpolation added to annal 656. It returns to the subject, begun in an interpolation s.a. 654 (above), of a monastery at a place called Medeshamstede: “In his [Wulfhere's] time the abbacy of Medeshamstede, which his brother had begun, waxed very rich. Now the king loved it much, for the love of his brother Peada, and for the love of his pledge-brother Oswiu, and for the love of Seaxwulf the abbot. He then said that he would dignify and honour it, by the counsel of his brothers, Æthelred and Merewalh; and by the counsel of [etc. etc.] ... Then said the king to the abbot, “Lo! beloved Seaxwulf, I have sent after thee for my soul's need, and I will plainly tell thee why. My brother Peada and my dear friend Oswiu began a monastery to the glory of Christ and St Peter. But my brother, as Christ has willed it, is departed from this life, and I will pray to thee, O dear friend! that they work diligently on the work, and I will find thee thereto gold and silver, lands and possessions, and all that thereto behoveth.” Then went the abbot home, and began to work. He so sped as Christ granted him, so that in a few years the monastery was ready.”  This preamble leads into an Old English version of a charter (S68) itemizing lands and privileges granted to the abbey by Wulfhere. It is dated 664, and amongst the witnesses are kings Oswiu, Sigehere and Sæbbi. Unfortunately, however, it is a post-Conquest forgery – Robin Fleming calls it: “one of the most elaborate post-Conquest forgeries produced in England”.  Medeshamstede later became known as Peterborough.
Bede notes that, round about 674/5: “Theodore, the archbishop, taking offence at some act of disobedience of Wynfrith, bishop of the Mercians, deposed him from his bishopric when he had held it but a few years, and in his, place ordained Seaxwulf bishop, who was founder and abbot of the monastery which is called Medeshamstede, in the country of the Gyrwe.” (‘HE’ IV, 6). The North and South Gyrwe were two of the peoples known collectively as the Middle Angles.
There is no direct evidence of Wulfhere's involvement in East Anglia, nor does Bede place him in his list (‘HE’ II, 5) of overlords of the southern English (i.e. south of the Humber) – and, consequently, he is not named as a Bretwalda by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ – but it seems very likely that in 673 Wulfhere, whom Eddius Stephanus (Chapter 20) refers to as “a man of proud mind and insatiable will”, was, indeed, in that position. The following year, he decided to extend his overlordship to Northumbria also. Accordingly, he “stirred up all the southern nations” and invaded Northumbria. Wulfhere's plan went woefully awry. The Northumbrian king, Ecgfrith, with a smaller force, “marched forth against the enemy host” and “laid them low. Countless numbers were slaughtered, their king routed, and the Kingdom of Mercia itself put under tribute.”  As a result of Wulfhere's defeat, Lindsey was taken back into Northumbrian ownership.*
Wufhere's grip on power in southern England was loosened, and in 675 he would appear to have faced a West Saxon challenge: “Wulfhere, son of Penda, and Æscwine fought at Biedanheafde [unidentified]; and the same year Wulfhere died, and Æthelred succeeded to the kingdom.” (‘ASC’ s.a. 675).*  Bede records Wulfhere's death in the chronological summary with which he brings his ‘Ecclesiastical History’ to a close (‘HE’ V, 24): “In the year 675, Wulfhere, king of the Mercians, when he had reigned 17 years, died and left the government to his brother Æthelred.”  As for the manner of Wulfhere's death, Eddius Stephanus comments: “I do not know the exact cause.”
The, so-called, ‘Tribal Hidage’ survives in seven medieval manuscripts – the earliest (British Library MS Harley 3271), from which the table below is derived, is early-11th century . It is a list of ‘tribal’ territories, expressed in terms of ‘hides’. Hides evidently equate to Bede's ‘families’ (familiarum mensura) – notionally, one hide/family is the amount of land needed to support a single peasant household. Where, when and why the document was originally produced are all the subjects of debate. It is, though, commonly suggested that it was produced in Mercia, during the reign of one of the Mercian overlords of southern England – Wulfhere (657–674), Æthelbald (716–757) or Offa (757–796) – and it is generally proposed that it was a tribute assessment – in other words, hides (the numbers of which were clearly not arrived at by an accurate count) were a unit of taxation. Be that as it may, the locations of some of the territories are known, and the approximate vicinity of some can be deduced with a degree confidence, but a number remain mysteries.
MAP The Middle Angles, who were between the East Angles and the Mercian heartland – when the Middle Angles got their own bishop (the diocese was created in 679) he was based at Leicester – are not mentioned as a single entity, but as their constituent peoples. From their positions in the Tribal Hidage, several of the ‘mystery peoples’ would seem to belong in Middle Anglia.
+ Myrcna landes30,000“The area first called Mercia”, notes the Tribal Hidage. The assessment of 30,000 hides seems to be at odds with Bede: “the Southern Mercians, consisting, as is said, of five thousand families, divided by the river Trent from the Northern Mercians, whose land contains 7 thousand families” (‘HE’ III, 24).  Presumably the area considered by the Tribal Hidage to have been “first called Mercia” is rather greater than that being referred to by Bede.*
+ Wocensætna37,000The Wreocensæte, i.e. ‘Wrekin-dwellers’.
+ Westerna37,000The ‘Westerners’ – generally equated to the Magonsæte. Bede simply calls them: “those peoples who dwell beyond the river Severn to the westward” (‘HE’ V, 23).*
+ Pecsætna31,200The Pecsæte, i.e. ‘Peak-dwellers’.
+ Elmedsætna3,7600The Elmedsæte, i.e. ‘Elmet-dwellers’. Elmet, around Leeds, was a British kingdom that was conquered by the, Northumbrian king, Edwin in about 616/7.* Assuming the Tribal Hidage is a Mercian tribute-list, and that it was produced for Wulfhere (perhaps most likely), Elmet's inclusion as an independent unit could suggest that it subsequently became a Mercian dependency, before finally reverting to Northumbrian ownership. (Elmet was in Northumbrian hands during the reign of Ecgfrith, Wulfhere's nemesis, whom, Eddius Stephanus reports (Chapter 17), gave land at Yeadon, north-west of Leeds, to Wilfrid.) If the Tribal Hidage was produced for either of Wulfhere's illustrious successors, it could indicate that Mercia contested with Northumbria for control of Elmet during the 8th century.
+ Lindesfarona
+ mid + Hæthfeld lande
with Hatfield Chase.
+ Suth Gyrwa
+ North Gyrwa
The South and North Gyrwe. Peterborough: “in the country of the Gyrwe”, says Bede (‘HE’ IV, 6). The, late-12th century, ‘Liber Eliensis’ states (I, Preface): “The Gyrwe are all the South Angles who live in the great fen in which the Isle of Ely is situated.”  Bede notes (‘HE’ IV, 19) that Ely: “is in the province of the East Angles, a district of about six hundred families”.  It would appear that in the 650s the East Angles managed to acquire control of the Isle of Ely, following the marriage of an East Anglian princess to the ruler of the South Gyrwe.* Since the Tribal Hidage assesses the South Gyrwe at the same size as Bede rates the Isle of Ely, it may be that they are one and the same.
+ East Wixna
+ West Wixna
+ Spalda37,600Around Spalding, Lincolnshire.*
+ Wigesta37,900?
+ Herefinna31,200?
+ Sweordora37,300Around Sword Point, on Whittlesey Mere (now drained), Cambridgeshire.
+ Gifla37,300In the Ivel valley, Bedfordshire.
+ Hicca37,300Around Hitchen, Hertfordshire.
+ Wihtgara37,600If the inhabitants of the Isle of Wight are meant, there is a discrepancy between the ‘Tribal Hidage’ and Bede to be explained, since the latter says: “The measure of that island, according to the computation of the English, is of twelve hundred families” (‘HE’ IV, 16).
+ Noxgaga35,000?
+ Ohtgaga32,000?
At this point in the list there is a running total: 66,100 hides.
+ Hwinca37,000The Hwicce, presumably.
+ Cilternsætna34,000The Cilternsæte, i.e. ‘Chiltern-dwellers’.
+ Hendrica33,500?
+ Unecungga31,200?
+ Arosætna37,600The Arosæte – along the river Arrow, Warwickshire.
+ Færpinga37,300Bede says that Diuma: “bishop of the Middle Angles, as also of the Mercians ... died [c.658] among the Middle Angles, in the country called Infeppingum” (‘HE’ III, 21). Presumably, Bede's Infeppingum equates to the Tribal Hidage's Færpinga. (In the Tribal Hidage, a margin note adds that Færpinga: “is among the Middle Angles”.) According to later tradition, Diuma was buried at Charlbury, Oxfordshire, which, if correct, is suggestive that Færpinga was in that vicinity.
+ Bilmiga37,600?
+ Widerigga37,600Around Wittering, Northamptonshire.
+ East Willa
+ West Willa
+ East Engle30,000The East Angles – East Anglia.
+ East Sexena37,000The East Saxons – Essex.
+ Cantwarena15,000The People of Kent.
+ Suth Sexena37,000The South Saxons – Sussex. Bede agrees with the Tribal Hidage: “the province of the South Saxons, which extends from Kent to the south and west, as far as the West Saxons, containing land of 7 thousand families” (‘HE’ IV, 13).
+ West Sexena100,000The West Saxons – Wessex. It is widely suggested that the very large number of hides allocated to the West Saxons is a later alteration.
The Tribal Hidage concludes with a final total: 242,700 hides. The correct total, however, is 244,100 hides.
675 – 704  Æthelred (St Ethelred)
Son of Penda.
Mercian authority, over the other major English kingdoms south of the Humber, would appear to have crumbled following the defeat of the combined southern forces of Wulfhere, Æthelred's predecessor and brother, by, the Northumbrian king, Ecgfrith. Indeed, according to Eddius Stephanus (Chapter 20), as a result of the defeat, Mercia was “put under tribute” to Northumbria.
Without further explanation, Bede writes (‘HE’ IV, 12): “In the year of our Lord 676, when Æthelred, king of the Mercians, ravaged Kent with a hostile army, and profaned churches and monasteries, without regard to pity, or the fear of God, in the general destruction he laid waste the city of Rochester; Putta, who was bishop, was absent at that time, but when he understood that his church was ravaged, and everything taken away from it, he went to Seaxwulf, bishop of the Mercians, and having received of him a certain church, and a small piece of land, ended his days there in peace; in no way endeavouring to restore his bishopric”.  If Æthelred's attack was an attempt to reestablish Mercian overlordship of Kent it would appear to have failed – a charter of the Kentish king, Hlothere, dated May 679 (S8) exhibits no sign that Æthelred had any authority in Kent. Perhaps Æthelred's purpose was rather more limited – to deter Hlothere from attempting to take back Surrey or extend his influence in London (it is clear, from a law-code in the names of Hlothere and his nephew, Eadric, that the Kentish kings had commercial interests in London).
At some stage, Æthelred had married Ecgfrith's sister, Osthryth. Nevertheless, in 679, Æthelred and Ecgfrith fought “a great battle ... near the river Trent” (‘HE’ IV, 21), from which Æthelred emerged as the victor. Ecgfrith's young brother, Ælfwine, was killed in the fighting. In order to prevent the situation escalating into a protracted, bloody, feud, Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury, brokered a peace agreement. Æthelred paid the appropriate wergild to compensate Ecgfrith for the loss of Ælfwine: “and this peace continued long after between those kings and between their kingdoms.” (‘HE’ IV, 21).  When Wulfhere had been defeated by Ecgfrith in 674, Lindsey (which covered much of modern-day Lincolnshire) had been taken into Northumbrian ownership. As a result of his victory on the Trent, Æthelred regained Lindsey, which thereafter stayed in Mercian hands.
This passing back and forth of Lindsey is revealed in a somewhat casual fashion by Bede: “Eadhæd was ordained bishop for the province of Lindsey [in 678], which King Ecgfrith had but newly acquired, having defeated Wulfhere and put him to flight; and this was the first bishop of its own which that province had; 2nd was Æthelwine; 3rd Edgar; 4th Cyneberht, who is there at present. Before Eadhæd, Seaxwulf was bishop as well of that province as of the Mercians and Middle Angles; so that, when expelled from Lindsey, he continued in the government of those provinces... Eadhæd returning from Lindsey, because Æthelred had recovered that province, was placed by Theodore over the church of Ripon.” (‘HE’ IV, 12).  Bede was, evidently, unaware that Theodore also divided Seaxwulf's, i.e. the bishop of the Mercians, diocese. Florence of Worcester (in the miscellaneous collection of lists and genealogies that precede his Chronicle proper) says that Theodore did this, in 679, at the request of Æthelred, after the idea had been suggested to the latter by of Oshere, ruler of the Hwicce (a Mercian sub-kingdom – roughly, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and western Warwickshire). At any rate, after Theodore's reform, there were five (briefly, six) bishops in Mercian territories: the bishop of the Mercians had his see at Lichfield, the bishop of the Hwicce had his see at Worcester, the bishop of the Magonsæte (Herefordshire and southern Shropshire) had his see at Hereford, the bishop of the Middle Angles (the eastern Midlands) had his see at Leicester, and the bishop of Lindsey had his see at an unidentified location called Syddensis. The sixth Mercian see was at Dorchester on Thames, in Oxfordshire. Dorchester had been appropriated from Wessex – indeed, it had been the seat of a West Saxon bishop until about 663. Theodore appointed one Ætla to be bishop of Dorchester, but he is not known to have had a successor, and there is no evidence to indicate that the bishopric existed for long.*
Bede tells how, when the remains of Osthryth's uncle, King Oswald (St Oswald), who had been killed and dismembered by Penda, Æthelred's pagan father, in 642, were discovered, Osthryth had them moved to: “a famous monastery in the province of Lindsey, called Beardaneu [Bardney], which that queen and her husband Æthelred greatly loved and venerated, conferring upon it many honours.* ... When the wagon in which those bones were carried arrived towards evening at the aforesaid monastery, they that were in it were unwilling to admit them, because, though they knew him to be a holy man, yet, as he was a native of another province, and had obtained the sovereignty over them, they retained their ancient aversion to him even after his death. Thus it came to pass that the relics were left in the open air all that night, with only a large tent spread over the wagon which contained them. But it was revealed by a sign from Heaven with how much reverence they ought to be received by all the faithful; for all that night, a pillar of light, reaching from the wagon up to heaven, was visible in almost every part of the province of Lindsey. Hereupon, in the morning, the brethren of that monastery who had refused it the day before, began themselves earnestly to pray that those holy relics, beloved of God, might be laid among them. Accordingly, the bones, being washed, were put into a shrine which they had made for that purpose, and placed in the church, with due honour; and that there might be a perpetual memorial of the royal character of this holy man, they hung up over the monument his banner of gold and purple. Then they poured out the water in which they had washed the bones, in a corner of the cemetery. From that time, the very earth which received that holy water had the power of saving grace in casting out devils from the bodies of persons possessed.” (‘HE’ III, 11).
It seems likely that, after securing Lindsey, Æthelred pushed his area of authority into, what is now, northern Wiltshire, at the expense of the West Saxons – he features in charters dated 681 (S71, S73), granting land to Abbot Aldhelm of Malmesbury, in company with his “relative”, Cenfrith. (Cenfrith is described as comes and patricius, titles borrowed from Roman usage, indicating a person of rank and command, equating to the Anglo-Saxon ‘ealdorman’.)
When, in 681, Wilfrid, bishop of York, was expelled from Northumbria by Ecgfrith, he found refuge (according to Eddius Stephanus, Wilfrid's biographer) with a nephew of Æthelred's called Berhtwald. Æthelred and Osthryth found out, however, and pressured Berhtwald into forcing Wilfrid out of Mercia – “They did this to flatter Ecgfrith”, says Eddius (Chapter 40). Wilfrid made his way to Centwine, king of the West Saxons. Presumably it was this same Berhtwald who, in 685, granted land to Abbot Aldhelm (S1169) as Æthelred's sub-king.
In 685, the West Saxon Cædwalla began his meteoric career. In 688, by which time he was in control of all the English south of the Thames, and probably the East Saxons too, he abdicated and travelled to Rome. (He was baptized there, and died a week later.) At the time of Cædwalla's ascendency, the East Saxons were ruled by kings Sigehere and Sæbbi. Charter evidence indicates that Sigehere aligned himself with Cædwalla and assisted him in his take-over of Kent (S233). Sæbbi, on the other hand, possibly didn't support Cædwalla. In 689, Swæfheard, a son of Sæbbi's, was sharing the rule of Kent with Oswine, a member of the Kentish royal family – but one “of doubtful title”, opines Bede (‘HE’ IV, 26). Both Swæfheard and Oswine recognized Æthelred as their overlord (S10, S12). Since by this time Sigehere has disappeared from history, it may be that Æthelred and Sæbbi had acted in cahoots to eradicate the influence of Cædwalla and Sigehere, and plant rulers of their own selection in Kent. However, in late-690 or 691, Wihtred – the “lawful king” of Kent, says Bede (‘HE’ IV, 26) – would seem to have overthrown Oswine. Swæfheard, though, retained his share of the kingdom until sometime between July 692 and July 694, at which time Wihtred became sole king of Kent – neither Sæbbi nor Æthelred retaining any authority there.
The kingdom of the East Saxons included the, presumably, once independent province of the Middle Saxons (modern-day Middlesex and south-eastern Hertfordshire), and London was the main East Saxon town. Charters indicate that Æthelred acquired authority in London and the Middle Saxon lands, but not in the East Saxon heartland. Possibly, Pæogthath, who appears with the title comes, in the company of one of Sæbbi's successors, granting land in Twickenham to the bishop of London, “with the authorisation of King Æthelred” (S65, dated 13th June 704), was the Mercian representative in Middle Saxon territory.
Surrey had been in Wulfhere's possession in about 673 (S1165), by 688 it was in Cædwalla's hands (S235), and by 693 Æthelred was in control there (S1248).
Eddius Stephanus says (Chapter 43) that Archbishop Theodore, in his old age and bad health, “was troubled with pangs of conscience” over the treatment that Bishop Wilfrid had received.* In 686 or 687, having made his own peace with Wilfrid, he urged Aldfrith, Ecgfrith's successor, and Æthelred to do the same. Eddius quotes a letter from Theodore to Æthelred: “Dearest son, may your wondrous holiness know that I am now at peace with Bishop Wilfrid. I urge you, beloved son, and charge you by the love of Christ, to do your utmost, as long as you live, to help this devoted servant of God, as you always used to in time past; and now especially, since for a long time now, while bereft of his own goods, he has been labouring among the pagans for the service of the Lord.”  Æthelred was persuaded: “Many monasteries were returned to him [Wilfrid] and lands which he had possessed in his own right. Æthelred treated him with the deepest respect and remained his faithful friend forever.”  Aldfrith also responded favourably to Theodore's entreaties, and recalled Wilfrid to Northumbria. In 691 or 692, however, Wilfrid was expelled again. He “betook himself to his friend the king of Mercia”, says Eddius (Chapter 45). Æthelred gave Wilfrid employment as bishop of the Middle Angles. Archbishop Theodore had died on 19th September 690, and his successor, Berhtwald, was not chosen until 1st July 692. The incumbent bishop of the Hwicce, Bosel, became too ill to perform his duties, and so, in the absence of an archbishop, Wilfrid, “by order of King Æthelred” (‘HE’ IV, 23), consecrated Oftfor, Bosel's replacement.
Bede notes that when, some considerable time before, Oftfor had first arrived in the territory of the Hwicce, it was ruled by one Osric. (Remains, said to be those of Osric, are housed in a medieval tomb in Gloucester Cathedral.)
Wilfrid spent eleven-or-so years under Æthelred's wing, but he clearly hadn't abandoned his claim to the see of York. In about 703, after Aldfrith and Berhtwald had tried to force Wilfrid to give-up all his property except the monastery at Ripon (North Yorkshire), where he was to remain quietly and not carry out any duties as a bishop, Wilfrid, with the backing of his loyal friend Æthelred, decided to plead his case before the pope.
Bede brings his ‘Ecclesiastical History’ to a conclusion with a chronological summary (‘HE’ V, 24). It contains the entry: “In the year 697, Queen Osthryth was murdered by her own nobles, to wit, the nobles of the Mercians.”  Nothing else is known about this occurrence. The next-but-one entry reads: “In the year 704, Æthelred, after he had reigned 31 years over the nation of the Mercians, became a monk, and gave up the kingdom to Cenred.”
704 – 709  Cenred
Son of Wulfhere.*
There are no chronicled incidents, but Cenred would appear to have had his work cut out fighting the Welsh. Felix, in his ‘Life’ of St Guthlac, begins an anecdote: “Now it happened in the days of Cenred king of the Mercians, while the Britons, the implacable enemies of the Saxon race, were troubling the English with their attacks, their pillaging and their devastations of the people+” (§XXXIV).
Charter evidence indicates that Cenred continued the relationship with the East Saxons established by his uncle and predecessor, Æthelred – that is, he had authority in London and Middle Saxon territory, but not of the East Saxon heartland.* The control of Surrey appears to have remained a contentious issue. The purpose of a council at Brentford – mentioned in a letter from Wealdhere, bishop of London, to Berhtwald, archbishop of Canterbury, written in 704 or 705 – may have been to address the issue. Certainly, not long after, Surrey was transferred from the London diocese to, the West Saxon, Winchester diocese.*
Meanwhile, Bishop Wilfrid had been in Rome putting the case for his reinstatement at York to the pope. The pope (John VI) had composed an open letter (‘Vita Sancti Wilfridi’, Chapter 54) to Æthelred, who was still king of Mercia at the time the letter was written, and Aldfrith, the Northumbrian king who had, back in 691/2, expelled Wilfrid, in which he ordered Archbishop Berhtwald to convene a synod to finally work out an agreement that was acceptable to all parties. In 705, Wilfrid arrived back in England. Eddius Stephanus reports: “Wilfrid progressed joyfully westwards to London accompanied by a whole cortège of his abbots and laden with presents. From there he went on to visit that faithful friend whose loyalty had never wavered, Æthelred, the former king of Mercia. He was received with all the usual honours; they kissed and embraced and Æthelred was so overcome with joy that he could not restrain himself. He simply burst into tears.” (Chapter 57).  At Æthelred's insistence, Cenred agreed to support Wilfrid. Aldfrith, though, was immovable – he would have nothing to do with Wilfrid. By the end of 705, however, Aldfrith was dead, and Berhtwald held a synod the following year, in the reign of Aldfrith's son, Osred. The matter was settled – Bishop Wilfrid returned to Northumbria, though he was not restored to the see of York. He died in 709.*
In 709, says Bede: “Cenred, who had for some time nobly governed the kingdom of the Mercians, much more nobly quitted the sceptre of his kingdom. For he went to Rome, and there receiving the tonsure and becoming a monk, when Constantine was pope [708–715], he continued to his last hour in prayer and fasting and alms-deeds at the threshold of the Apostles. He was succeeded in the throne by Ceolred, the son of Æthelred, who had governed the kingdom before Cenred.” (‘HE’ V, 19).  Cenred was accompanied to Rome by a rather obscure East Saxon ruler called Offa, who similarly became a monk and spent the rest of his life in Rome.* Actually, a note in the ‘Liber Pontificalis’ (Book of the Popes) suggests that the rest of Offa's, and indeed Cenred's, life was not a long time: “In his [Constantine's] time two kings of the Saxons came with many others to pray to the apostles; just as they were hoping, their lives quickly came to an end.”  It seems a reasonable bet that the “two kings of the Saxons” were Cenred and Offa.
709 – 716  Ceolred
Son of Æthelred.
It is said that Ceolred's mother was not Osthryth, the wife of Æthelred who was murdered in 697. Assuming that to be true, and that Ceolred was born in wedlock to a subsequent wife, then he cannot have been older than eleven when he succeeded to the throne. Bede says nothing about him. He evidently retained the overlordship of London and the Middle Saxons that his father established and Cenred continued,* and at some point during his reign, his eventual successor, Æthelbald, was driven into exile.*
Eddius Stephanus puts words in the mouth of Bishop Wilfrid: “Our abbots Tibba and Ebba are here from King Ceolred of Mercia to ask me to go and confer with him and they have persuaded me to agree to this for the sake of the monasteries we have in that kingdom. Ceolred has promised to make me his director and to follow my judgement in regulating the whole course of his life.” (Chapter 64).  Ceolred must have just become king at this time, since Wilfrid died in 709. Evidently, Ceolred was in dire need of Wilfrid's advice and guidance. St Boniface, the ‘Apostle of Germany’, and a number of other Continental bishops, sent a long letter of criticism to Ceolred's successor, Æthelbald, in which the following passage appears: “after the Apostolic Pope Saint Gregory sent preachers of the Catholic faith from the Apostolic See, and converted the race of the English to the true God, the privileges of the churches in the kingdom of the English remained untouched and unviolated up to the time of Ceolred, King of the Mercians, and Osred, King of the Deirans and Bernicians. At the suggestion of the devil these two kings showed, by their accursed example, that these two deadliest of sins could be committed publicly against the evangelical and apostolic precepts of our Saviour. And lingering in these sins, namely lust and adultery with nuns and the destruction of monasteries, condemned by a just judgment of God, they were cast down from their royal thrones in this life, and surprised by an early and terrible death; deprived of the light eternal they were plunged into the depths of hell and the bottom of the abyss.”*
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ entry for the year 715 reads: “In this year Ine [king of the West Saxons] and Ceolred fought at Woddesbeorge.”  Woddesbeorge (or Wodnesbeorge), i.e. ‘Woden's barrow’, is identified with a neolithic long barrow known as ‘Adam's Grave’, Wiltshire. The outcome of the battle is unknown.
The ‘Chronicle’ entry for the next year, 716, reports: “Ceolred, king of the Mercians, died, and his body lies in Lichfield, and Æthelred's, the son of Penda, at Bardney.* Then Æthelbald succeeded to the kingdom of the Mercians, and held it forty-one winters.”*  The previously cited letter of Boniface et al. to Æthelbald describes the manner of Ceolred's death: “while Ceolred, your worthy highness' predecessor – as those who were present testify – was feasting splendidly among his nobles, an evil spirit, which by its persuasions had seduced him into the audacious course of breaking the law of God, suddenly turned him in his sin to madness; so that without penitence and confession, insane and distraught, conversing with the devils and cursing the priests of God, he departed from this light assuredly to the torments of hell.”*
716 – 757  Æthelbald
Son of Alweo, Alweo of Eowa (Penda's brother).
The monk Felix, in his Latin ‘Life’ of St Guthlac, written about 730–740, says that Æthelbald had been driven into exile by his predecessor, Ceolred. Guthlac, a reclusive monk living in the Middle Anglian fens at Crowland, in modern Lincolnshire, and himself of Mercian royal descent with a military background,* often sheltered Æthelbald, and is said to have advised him to be patient because God would help him gain the kingdom. Guthlac died in 714 and was buried in his chapel. A year later, his body, when it was being transferred to a new tomb, was found to be incorrupt (a sure sign of saintliness). Subsequently, Guthlac is purported to have appeared to Æthelbald in a vision, prophesying his succession to the throne within the year – “and now, built around it [Guthlac's tomb], we behold wonderful structures and ornamentations put up by King Æthelbald in honour of the divine power: here [at Crowland] the triumphant body of the great man rests in blessedness until this present time” (§LI).
Felix calls the Britons: “the implacable enemies of the Saxon race [i.e. the English]” (§XXXIV).  Indicating the year 722, the ‘Annales Cambriae’ record: “the battle of Hehil among the Cornish, the battle of Garth Maelog, the battle of Pencon among the south Britons, and the Britons were the victors in those three battles.”  Clearly, it was the English who were defeated in all the battles (the site of none of them is known with certainty). Since it was the Cornish Britons who were the victors at Hehil, it would have been the West Saxons who were the losers. The “south Britons” are the natives of southern Wales, and the English beaten at Pencon and Garth Maelog would have been the Mercians.
Bede reports (‘HE’ V, 23) that in 731, the time he was writing, all the “southern provinces, as far as the boundary formed by the river Humber, with their several kings, are subject to King Æthelbald.”  Remarkably, though, Bede had previously (‘HE’ II, 5) not included Æthelbald in his list of similarly qualified overlords. Similarly, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, which grants the title Bretwalda to all the kings on Bede's list of overlords of the southern English, does not accord the honour to Æthelbald – although, in a charter of 736 (S89), he is styled rex Britanniæ, which, it might reasonably be supposed, is the Latin equivalent of Bretwalda.* At any rate, Bede doesn't give any indication of the means by which Æthelbald achieved such preeminence, but messy successions after the death of Wihtred in Kent (725) and abdication of Ine in Wessex (726), both of whom had reigned for over thirty years, probably provided the opportunity.
Around 730–740, Felix was commissioned to write his ‘Life’ of Guthlac – the story of a Mercian saint in which Æthelbald plays a sympathetic role – by, Æthelbald's contemporary, King Ælfwald of East Anglia. This tends to suggest that there were cordial relations between the two kings. In ‘The Earliest English Kings’ (Second Edition, 2000, Chapter 6), D.P. Kirby suggests: “Perhaps an alliance with the East Angles was the cornerstone of Æthelbald's ascendancy.”
The boundary between Mercia and Wessex was, in effect, marked by the rivers Thames and Avon. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, s.a. 733, notes that “Æthelbald captured Somerton”.  Somerton, now in Somerset, was then in West Saxon territory, indeed, Æthelweard calls it a “royal vill”.  Somerset wasn't the only area where Æthelbald appropriated territory from the West Saxons – he gave the monastery of Cookham, in Berkshire, to the church of Canterbury (S1258).*  An entry in the ‘Continuation’ of Bede's ‘Ecclesiastical History’ reports, s.a. 740, that: “Æthelbald, king of the Mercians, cruelly and wrongfully wasted part of Northumbria, their king, Eadberht, with his army, being employed against the Picts.”  Possibly Æthelbald was, here also, intent on making territorial gains at the expense of his neighbour. The freedom with which his charters show Æthelbald operating in the province of the Middle Saxons and London, indicate that ownership of those territories finally passed from Essex to Mercia during his reign.
In 746 or 7, Archbishop Boniface and a number of other Continental bishops wrote a joint letter to Æthelbald. It begins innocuously enough, with compliments: “We have heard that thou givest many alms, and upon this we congratulate thee ... We have heard too that thou dost strongly check theft and iniquity, perjury and rapine, and art known to be a defender of widows and the poor and hast peace established in thy kingdom. And in this too, praising God we have rejoiced”.  However, this is just a preamble to the main reasons for the letter: “But among these reports one rumour of evil character concerning your highness' life has come to our hearing; we were cast down by it, and wish that it were not true. From many sources we have learned that thou hast never taken a wife in lawful marriage... If thou hast determined to act thus because of chastity and abstinence, that thou mayst abstain from intercourse with a wife for the love and fear of God, and hast shown this to be something truly accomplished for God's sake, we rejoice thereat; such a course deserves not blame, but praise. If, however, as many say – God forbid – thou hast never taken a lawful wife nor preserved a chaste abstinence for God's sake, but, under the sway of lust, thou hast destroyed by licence and adultery thy glory and renown before God and men, we are greatly grieved: such conduct must be regarded as criminal in the sight of God and destructive of your reputation before men. And what is worse, those who tell us this, add that this crime of deepest ignominy has been committed in convents with holy nuns and virgins consecrated to God. There can be no doubt that this is a twofold sin... Fornication is more grave and repellant than almost any other sin and can truly be called a noose of death and a pit of hell and an abyss of perdition... If indeed the race of the English – as is noised abroad through these provinces, and is cast up to us in France and in Italy, and made a reproach even by the heathen – spurn lawful wedlock and live a foul life in adultery and licence like the people of Sodom, from such intercourse with harlots, a people degenerate, unworthy, mad with lust, will be born, and in the end the whole nation, turning to lower and baser ways, will cease to be strong in war or steadfast in faith, or honourable before men or beloved of God ... Besides, we have been told that thou hast violated many privileges of churches and monasteries, and taken from them many revenues. And this, if it be true, must be regarded as a great sin ... And it is said that thy prefects and counts use greater violence and oppression towards monks and priests, than other Christian kings have ever done before... And so, beloved son, putting forth just counsel, we beg and pray through the living God and through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit, that thou mayst remember, how fugitive is this present life, and how short and momentary is the delight of the impure flesh, and how ignominious it is for a man with his short life to leave an evil example for ever to posterity. Begin, therefore, to order thy life by better laws and to correct the past errors of youth, so that here thou mayst have praise before men and for the future rejoice in glory eternal. That thy highness may fare well and advance in good morals is our wish.”*  Æthelbald may have been stung by this criticism, since, in 749, he issued a grant of privileges to the ecclesiastical establishments of Mercia, releasing them from all obligations: “except alone those which are to be done in common and which all people are ordered to do by edict of the king, that is the building of bridges and the necessary defences of fortresses against enemies.” (S92).
Meanwhile, in 740, Cuthred had succeeded to the West Saxon throne. In 743 Æthelbald and Cuthred, together, “fought against the Welsh” – no further detail is provided by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. Possibly Cuthred was duty-bound to accompany Æthelbald, his overlord, on campaign. Cuthred, however, was not content to be subject to Æthelbald – the ‘Chronicle’, during its report of his accession, had commented that: “he warred boldly against Æthelbald, king of the Mercians.”*  In 752, Cuthred: “fought at Beorhford [unidentified] against Æthelbald,+ king of the Mercians, and put him to flight.”*  Wessex was apparently independent of Mercia until Cuthred's death four years later. Cuthred's successor, Sigeberht, ruled for only a year before he was overthrown and Cynewulf took the West Saxon throne. Perhaps he owed his position to Æthelbald's support, since he immediately appears as witness to a charter in which Æthelbald grants land in Wiltshire to a certain Abbot Eanberht (S96) – Æthelbald is styled: “king, not only of the Mercians but also of the neighbouring peoples”.  Clearly, Æthelbald was Cynewulf's overlord. However, later the same year, 757, as reported in the ‘Continuation of Bede’: “Æthelbald, king of the Mercians, was treacherously and miserably murdered, in the night, by his own guards”.  The ‘Chronicle’ adds that he “was slain at Seckington [in Warwickshire]; and his body lies at Repton”.*  Æthelbald's killing precipitated civil war in Mercia. Cynewulf was able to capitalize on the situation. He evidently recovered territory previously lost to Mercia – he could grant land freely in Wiltshire (as demonstrated by S260, dated 758), and he took the monastery of Cookham, in Berkshire, into his own ownership.* He also annexed land from the Mercian sub-kingdom of the Hwicce (S265).
Mercia/Mainline continued    
‘Beowulf’ by Roy Liuzza
‘Widsith’ by Richard North
‘Historia Brittonum’ by J.A. Giles
‘Liber Eliensis’ by Janet Fairweather
‘Annales Cambriae’ by James Ingram
Felix ‘Vita Sancti Guthlaci’ by Bertram Colgrave
Eddius Stephanus ‘Vita Sancti Wilfridi’ by J.F. Webb
Roger of Wendover ‘Flores Historiarum’ by J.A. Giles
‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ by Benjamin Thorpe (adapted)
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum” by A.M. Sellar
‘The English Correspondence of St Boniface’ by Edward Kylie
Henry of Huntingdon ‘Historia Anglorum’ by Thomas Forester
Florence of Worcester ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ by Thomas Forester
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.
Presumably the Mercians were so-named because they were on the frontier between Anglo-Saxon controlled territory, to the east, and British (Welsh, to the Anglo-Saxons) controlled territory, to the west. A theory that the ‘march’ in question was the border between Mercia and Northumbria seems unlikely. There is no indication that the Mercians were ever known by another name, and, although they eventually had a border with the Northumbrians, in the early-7th century, when the Mercians first appear in history, they were evidently separated from them by other peoples.
This genealogy appears in Manuscripts B and C of the ‘Chronicle’. In Manuscript A it has been erased.
The genealogy of Penda's son, Æthelred, in the so-called Anglian Collection, inserts another generation, one Weothulgeot, between Wihtlæg and Woden. In §60 of the ‘Historia Brittonum’, a further ancestor, Weaga, is placed between Weothulgeot and Whitlæg – however the generations between Eomær and Pybba are not present.
Henry eschews AD dates, attempting instead to link events to the presumed regnal years (derived from the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’) of the kings of Wessex.
Roger of Wendover, whose ‘Flores Historiarum’ employs a conventional AD dating framework, used Henry's work as a source. Roger dates Creoda (“Credda”), “first king” of the Mercians, to 585. He then places Creoda's death and the succession of, “his son”, Pybba (“Wibba”) in 588 – stating that Pybba “reigned three years”. The death of Pybba and succession of Cearl (“Cherl”), “not his son, but a kinsman”, is, however, dated 594. Roger then diverges from Henry, saying that Cearl “reigned ten years” and that Penda was reigning in 610. Roger would seem to be implying that Penda succeeded Cearl in 604, but this must surely be much too early. It would seem likely that Penda was born round about 604.
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ notes that one Crida died in 593, but the context of the entry indicates that the man in question was a West Saxon. Henry of Huntingdon seems to have assumed that he was the king of Mercia.
Offa is the hero of legend, Offa of Angeln (the Continental Anglian homeland), who is mentioned in the Old English poems ‘Widsith’ and ‘Beowulf’.*
Offa ruled Angeln, Alewih the Danes,
who was the bravest of all these men [a list of various Continental rulers precedes this passage],
but he did not outmatch Offa in courage,
for Offa, first among men, fought for and won
the greatest of kingdoms even while a youth.
No one of like age was warrior enough to achieve
greater deeds of valour...
(‘Widsith’ lines 35–41)
... that chief of heroes,
of all mankind, as men have told me,
the best between the two seas,
of all the races of men; therefore Offa,
in gifts and battle, spear-bold man,
was widely honored, and held in wisdom
his own homeland...
(‘Beowulf’ lines 1954–1960)
The extant ‘Beowulf’ text proceeds to say: “From him [Offa] arose geomor”.  Scholars generally amend geomor (which means ‘sad’) to the name Eomer (i.e. Eomær in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ genealogy).* The text then says that Eomer is the nephew or grandson (the word nefa can be either) of one Garmund. Garmund is generally taken to equate with Wærmund in the ‘Chronicle’. All this being the case, the ‘Beowulf’ text apparently presents Eomær as the son of Offa – not the grandson, as the ‘Chronicle’ and other sources do.
Presumably the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.
There are several instances in the ‘Beowulf’ manuscript where scribes have failed to recognize proper names, and have changed them into common words.
‘Widsith’ (meaning ‘far-traveller’) is named from the work's supposed speaker, a fictional itinerant poet. It survives in the Exeter Book (Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501), which was copied-out, by a single scribe, in the late-10th century, and contains the largest existing collection of Old English poetry.
The epic poem ‘Beowulf’ is named after its monster-fighting hero. The story is set in the 6th century, but the sole extant manuscript (British Library MS Cotton Vitellius A xv) was copied-out, by two scribes, around the year 1000. At what stage between those dates the work was originally composed is the subject of scholarly debate – as, indeed, is the antiquity of ‘Widsith’.
This entry appears in Manuscripts A, B and C.
The monetary value, based on rank, placed on a person's life.
Oswald was killed in battle, at a place called ‘Maserfelth’ by Bede (‘HE’ III, 9). Penda had the fallen king's head and arms removed from his corpse and displayed on stakes. A year later, Osthryth's father, Oswiu, recovered these body parts. Traditionally, Maserfelth is identified with Oswestry, Shropshire – the name being derived from the Old English Oswaldestreow, meaning ‘Oswald's tree’. Assuming that the residue of Oswald's body had been left to rot on the battlefield (Bede doesn't say where the bones were found), it, perhaps, seems somewhat strange that the remains were carted all the way to Bardney, near Lincoln. Perhaps, then, Maserfelth should be located in or near Lindsey – after all, possession of Lindsey was hotly contested by Mercia and Northumbria.
Henry of Huntingdon: “Report says that in the battle just mentioned, the plain of Hæthfelth reeked throughout with red streams of noble blood; it was, indeed, the scene of a sudden and deplorable slaughter of the bravest warriors.” (‘HA’ III, 33).  Reading Henry's ‘Historia’, it becomes plain that he sees nothing unethical in employing literary licence to embellish the often terse notices of his sources. In the above instance, however, his embellishment seems to be drawn from somewhere other than his own imagination: “Report says that in the battle just mentioned, the plain of Hæthfelth reeked throughout with red streams of noble blood”. On five other occasions, he introduces quotes which could possibly be translations into Latin of lines from a, now lost, Old English poem. In ‘The Lost Literature of Medieval England’ (1952), R.M. Wilson suggests that Henry did indeed have access to an Old English poem on famous battles.
References in two pieces of Welsh poetry indicate that Penda had British, i.e. Welsh, allies. In the 9th or 10th century ‘Canu Heledd’ (Song of Heledd) appears the lines:
“I saw on the ground of Maes Cogwy
Hosts, and strife of battle.
Cynddylan gave assistance.”
Cynddylan is a Powysian chieftain. In the ‘Marwnad Cynddylan’ (Death-song of Cynddylan), thought to have 7th century origins:
“When Pyd's son [i.e. Penda, son of Pybba] wished, how ready he [Cynddylan] was.”
Maes Cogwy = ‘Field of Cogwy’. The word Cogwy is another form of Cocboy.
Henry of Huntingdon: “Oswald ... was slain by Penda the Strong, in a great battle at Maserfelth ... Whence it is said, “The plain of Maserfelth was whitened with the bones of saints.” By an inscrutable providence, the foes of God were allowed to massacre his people, and give them for food to the fowls of the air.” (‘HA’ III, 39).  Henry may be quoting from a lost poem on Anglo-Saxon battles.
As originally written, it seems as though Bede is, out of the blue and without reason, blaming Æthelhere for causing the war. In Joseph Stevenson's translation (1853), this section reads: “... were almost all of them slain; among whom was Æthelhere, brother and successor to Anna, king of the East Angles, who had been the occasion of the war, and who was now killed, with all his soldiers and auxiliaries.”  The proposal made by J. O. Prestwich (‘English Historical Review’, Vol.83, No.326, 1968), that scribal disregard of punctuation has resulted in this false reading, is now generally accepted. The insertion of a full stop allows Penda to be the cause of the war (as Bede surely intended), and, furthermore, gives notice of his death, which otherwise would be absent from Bede's report.
Henry of Huntingdon (‘HA’ II, 34) 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.” ”
This wording in Manuscript A. Manuscripts B, C and E simply say that Wulfhere “committed ravage on Ashdown” – Ashdown being the whole Berkshire Downs.
The term ‘Mildrith Legend’ is used by D.W. Rollason to describe a diverse group of texts – Dr Rollason details eleven – linked by some connection to Mildrith (St Mildred), the early-8th century abbess of Minster-in-Thanet, Kent.
The ‘Historia Regum’ is a compilation traditionally attributed to Symeon of Durham. The first item in the compilation is concerned with “the Martyrdom of Saints Æthelberht and Æthelred, youths of the royal lineage”. (Æthelberht and Æthelred were the brothers of Domne Eafe.) It is this item which is one of the Mildrith Legend texts – indeed, it represents the earliest version of the Legend. It is believed to have been composed in the late-10th or early-11th century by Byrhtferth, a monk and teacher at Ramsey Abbey (north of Huntingdon), who based it on a text composed, in Essex, in the second quarter of the eighth century.
1. A Latin ‘Life’ of, Mildrith's sister, Mildburh (St Milburga), probably composed at the end of the 11th century.
2. In the miscellaneous collection of lists and genealogies prefixed to the ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ of Florence of Worcester. (Also in the ‘Chronicon’ proper, which is not a Mildrith Legend text, s.a. 675.)
Mildrith was a daughter of Merewalh and Domne Eafe. Merewalh is said to be Wulfhere's brother in several of the Mildrith Legend texts, though not in the earliest. Opinions regarding the reliability of the attribution are divided.
Barbara Yorke suggests that it “appears to draw on reliable pre-Conquest materials ... Merewalh's membership of the Mercian royal house can receive some support through his naming of one of his sons Merchelm ‘helmet of the Mercians’ and by the tradition of Merewalh's burial at Repton where a number of members of the Mercian royal house were buried.” (‘Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England’, 1990, Chapter 6).
Frank Stenton: “The fact that no names beginning in M occur in the elaborate genealogy of the Mercian kings makes it in the highest degree unlikely that Merewalh was Penda's son. The further fact that the names current in the family alliterate with the name of the Magonsætan suggests very strongly that they had a claim to rule in their own right over this people, and that originally they were independent of the Mercian kings.” (‘Anglo-Saxon England’, Third Edition, 1971, Chapter 2 footnote).
D.P. Kirby: “The eleventh-century claim that Merewalh, king of the Magonsæte, was also a son of Penda cannot be authenticated, even though in the 740s Æthelbald, king of the Mercians, appears to describe Mildrith (later regarded as the daughter of Merewalh and Æbbe (Eafe), a Kentish princess) as his kinswoman [in a charter: S91]; and the likelihood is not that the Magonsæte were a Mercian creation but that Mercian control was being imposed upon their territory across the mid-seventh century. It is not inconceivable that Merewalh was the son of a sister of Penda.” (‘The Earliest English Kings’, Second Edition, 2000, Chapter 5).
Eddius Stephanus provides neither date nor place for Ecgfrith's victory over Wulfhere. Bede mentions the event only in passing, whilst discussing the year 678: “Eadhæd was ordained bishop for the province of Lindsey, which King Ecgfrith had but newly acquired, having defeated Wulfhere and put him to flight; and this was the first bishop of its own which that province had” (‘HE’ IV, 12).  Peter Hunter Blair, in his paper ‘The Moore Memoranda on Northumbrian History’ (first published in 1950), argued that the date was 674. This is now generally accepted.
‘Monastic Lands and England's Defence in the Viking Age’, in ‘English Historical Review’ Vol.100, No.395, 1985.
The annal begins: “In this year Cenwalh [king of the West Saxons] fought at Easter at Posentesbyrig [unidentified]; and Wulfhere, son of Penda, committed ravage ... [etc.]”.  It is generally assumed that Cenwalh's opponents at Posentesbyrig were “the Welsh”, i.e. the Britons. (Cenwalh was previously, s.a. 658, reported fighting “the Welsh” – i.e. the British inhabitants south-western England, not of Wales.)
In her ‘Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England’ (1990), Barbara Yorke remarks (Chapter 6): “at the moment the solid core of Middle Anglia, the later counties of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, cannot be equated with any of the entries in the Tribal Hidage. Either they are to be found among some of the indecipherable peoples or they constitute the bulk of the extra 18,000 hides assigned to Mercia. Such are the problems with which the historians of Middle Anglia have to wrestle.”
Frank Stenton (‘Anglo-Saxon England’, Third Edition, 1971) does not consider the Westerna to be the same people as the Magonsæte of Herefordshire and southern Shropshire, writing (Chapter 9) that the Westerna: “should probably be sought in Cheshire and north Staffordshire.”+
D.P. Kirby (‘The Earliest English Kings’, Second Edition, 2000, Chapter 1) prefers to place “the Spalda in the vicinity of Spaldwick, Huntingdonshire [now Cambridgeshire]”.+
Bede doesn't refer to Elmet as a kingdom. He mentions (‘HE’ II, 14) a “forest of Elmet” in connection with “the country called Loidis”. ‘Leeds’ is derived from ‘Loidis’, and ‘Elmet’ lives on in ‘Sherburn in Elmet’ and ‘Barwick in Elmet’, both to the east of Leeds.
See: Queen Æthelthryth.
Henry of Huntingdon spices-up the rather spare report provided by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ with some imaginative flourishes: “he [Æscwine] had a terrible battle with Wulfhere, king of the Mercians. Inheriting the valour of his father and his grandfather, the Mercian king had rather the better of it in the conflict, though both armies were severely handled, and on either side many thousand soldiers were sent to the shades below. We are led to reflect how worthless are human achievements, how perishable the warlike triumphs of kings and nobles, when we find that, of the two kings, who, for the sake of vain pomp and empty glory, inflicted such grievous sufferings on their country, the one, Wulfhere, died from disease the same year, the other the year following.” (‘HA’ II, 37).
1. Part of helmet cheek-piece.
2. ‘Fish and Eagles’.
3. Sword fitting or dagger hilt.
4. Folded cross.
5. Mount with entwined pattern within rectangle.
6. Hilt piece with inlaid intertwining pattern.
7. Pyramid-shaped mount or sword fixing.
8. Small round stud.
9. Pyramid-shaped mount or sword fixing.
10. Stud with chequerboard pattern.
11. Horse-patterned rod.
12. Folded band with Latin Biblical inscription: “rise up, o Lord, and may thy enemies be scattered and those who hate thee be driven from thy face.” (‘Numbers’ 10.35).
In Edwin's case, though, Bede points out that he, in fact, didn't have the overlordship of Kent. The ‘Chronicle’ applies no such caveat.
It used to be thought that the Ealfrith rex, who features alongside, the great Mercian king, Offa in a charter (S1183) of the late-8th century, was Aldfrith of Lindsey, however, it is now generally accepted that Offa's son, Ecgfrith, was meant. It would seem more likely that Aldfrith flourished in the late-7th/early-8th centuries.
Cedd wasn't in Middle Anglia for long. Oswiu sent him to preach to the East Saxons, in response to a request from their king, Sigeberht.
Ætla receives a passing mention by Bede – in a list of five monks from the Northumbrian monastery of Whitby who went on to become bishops: “it may be briefly stated that he [Ætla] was appointed bishop of Dorchester.” (‘HE’ IV, 23).
See: ‘The Life and Death of Bishop Wilfrid’.
Felix, a monk residing in East Anglia, seemingly wrote his Latin ‘Life’ (Vita) of St Guthlac (a Mercian hermit who died in 714) between 730 and 740.
Frank Stenton writes: “there is every reason to believe that it was he [Penda] who first brought the Angles and Saxons of the middle and lower Severn under a single lordship, and that the under-kingdom of the Hwicce which is known to have existed within a generation of his death was in fact his creation.”  Professor Stenton adds a footnote: “The dual origin of the Hwicce makes it very unlikely that any local family can have possessed an inherent right to rule over the whole people, and strongly supports the view that the later reges, reguli, and duces who reigned among them were set in power by the kings of the Mercians.” (‘Anglo-Saxon England’, Third Edition, 1971, Chapter 2).
Bede gives Osric the title ‘king’ (rex). In the witness-list of a charter from about 673 (S1165), Osric features as a ‘sub-king’ (subregulus), in the company of three others with the same title. The charter records a land-grant to the monastery of Chertsey, by one of them, Frithuwald, who was acting as sub-king of Surrey on behalf of Wulfhere. The other two sub-kings (of where is not known) are called Wigheard and Æthelwald. The charter was subsequently confirmed by Wulfhere himself. In S51, from 6th November 675, Osric, with the title king (rex), grants land at Bath, “for the building of a monastery for holy virgins”, with Æthelred's agreement. S70, from around 679, records land-grants made by Æthelred to Osric and his brother, Oswald, “my two servants (ministri) of noble family in the province of the Hwicce”. Osric's share, which was at Gloucester, being used to found a monastery. Gloucester Cathedral now stands on the site.
Although it is the ‘Angle’ part of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ that provides the modern generic name used for all the peoples of Germanic descent in Britain, i.e. ‘English’, the ‘Saxon’ part is also frequently used in ancient sources to the same effect. Here, Felix seems to adopt both conventions in one sentence. The Latin Saxonici generis, translated as ‘Saxon race’, is evidently being used in the generic sense, and so could be translated into current usage as ‘English’. According to Bede (‘HE’ I, 15), of course, the Mercians were of Angle descent. In the context of Felix's narrative, it seems as though his use of Anglorum gentem, translated conventionally here as ‘English’, in this instance, is specifically referring to the Angles of Mercia, rather than the English in general.
Between 708 and 715, Pope Constantine issued a privilege to the monasteries of Bermondsey and Woking. These establishments, both in Surrey, are said to be “in the province of the West Saxons”.
For instance:
S1785 records a grant of land at Fulham, by Tyrhtil, bishop of Hereford, to the bishop of London: “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I, Bishop Tyrhtil, had decided to proffer to and bestow on Wealdhere, bishop of London, a small portion of land in return for an agreed sum of his money, with the agreement and authorisation of Sigeheard, king of the East Saxons, and Cenred, king of the Mercians, in order that [through] these benefits freely granted to the church I might be able to cleanse the consequences of my sins and gain the favoured salvation of the soul from God in His mercy.”
S1786: “I, Cenred, king of the Mercians, have begun diligently to examine what I should do for the good of my soul in order that I shall be safe on the day of the Lord, and, behold, it came to my mind that the holy church that is located in London and is called by the known designation of Paul's burh [i.e. St Paul's Minster] is oppressed by greater servitude than was permitted by Æthelberht, the pious king, who founded this church and raised it with perpetual freedom. Now, therefore, I wish that the enactment of the aforementioned king be publicly renewed and most rigorously preserved.”
Barbara Yorke comments: “It is not clear whether the two men were really impelled by the desire for the monastic life, as Bede implies, or whether they were departing as political exiles.” (‘Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England’, 1990, Chapter 3).
William of Malmesbury was in no doubt of the reason for Cenred's actions: “[he was] chiefly instigated to this by the melancholy departure of a soldier, who, as Bede relates, disdaining to confess his crimes when in health, saw manifestly, when at the point of death, those very demons coming to punish him, to whose vicious allurements he had surrendered his soul.” (‘GR’ I §78).  See Bede's story.
By Thomas of Marlborough (d.1236) in the ‘Chronicon Abbatiae de Evesham’ (Chronicle of Evesham Abbey).
A grant of land in Twickenham, to the bishop of London, made in 704 by Swæfred, the East Saxon king, and one Pæogthath, having the title comes, “with the authorisation of King Æthelred”, was subsequently confirmed by Cenred and re-confirmed by Ceolred (S65).
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.
Highlighted part of annal in Manuscripts D and E only.
It is generally supposed that this notice indicates that Æthelred, Ceolred's father, must also have died in 716. That is certainly how Florence of Worcester interpreted it in his own entry for 716: “Æthelred, formerly king of the Mercians, but afterwards abbot of the monastery of Bardney, which he himself founded, departed out of this life, and entered on the joys of eternal happiness, serenity and light.”  (Sadly, there was to be no “eternal happiness” for Ceolred's soul.) Bede, in his chronological summary (‘HE’ V, 24), places Ceolred's death in 716, but makes no mention of Æthelred's death.
Apparently, both Æthelred and Osthryth, his murdered wife, were venerated as saints at Bardney.
In a letter Boniface wrote to an Abbess Eadburg, he describes a vision that a monk of Much Wenlock (Shropshire) had experienced: “he set forth to me in his own words the marvellous spectacle which he beheld when rapt in spirit beyond the body... And he bore witness likewise about Ceolred, king of the Mercians, who, there is no doubt, was still in the flesh when this vision was seen. He beheld the king protected against the onslaught of demons by a screen of angels like a great book spread out above him. But the enraged demons kept demanding of the angels that this defence be taken away and that they be permitted to work their cruel will upon him. They imputed to him a multitude of horrible and unspeakable crimes, and threatened that he must be shut in the direst dungeons of hell and there, as his sins merited, be tortured by eternal torments. Whereupon the angels, more disheartened than was their wont, said: “Alas, that a sinner should not suffer his defence to stand, and that through his own fault we cannot afford him any aid.” And they took away the bulwark from above him. Then the demons with joy and exaltation gathering from all the universe in numbers he thought beyond all men who drew the breath of life harassed and tore him with infinite tortures.”
Felix says (‘Vita Sancti Guthlaci’ §XLIX) that Æthelbald: “was being driven hither and thither by King Ceolred and tossed about among divers peoples”.  When he was at his lowest ebb, Æthelbald, “as was his custom”, visited Guthlac, a hermit living in the Middle Anglian fens at Crowland (now in Lincolnshire). Guthlac reassured Æthelbald: “be strong, for the Lord is your helper; be patient lest you turn to a purpose which you cannot perform. Not as booty nor as spoil shall the kingdom be granted you, but you shall obtain it from the hand of God; wait for him whose life has been shortened [i.e. Ceolred], because the hand of the Lord oppresses him whose hope lies in wickedness, and whose days shall pass away like a shadow.”
See the whole: Letter of Boniface, and other bishops, to King Æthelbald.
Manuscripts B and C of the ‘Chronicle’ have “Ceolwold” instead of “Ceolred”. Presumably this is a scribal error. However, a Mercian king-list from Worcester has a Ceolwald between Ceolred and Æthelbald. It may be, therefore, that this, otherwise unknown, Ceolwald (the name would suggest he was Ceolred's brother) ruled for a few weeks before being killed or exiled by Æthelbald.
This is the wording in Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Chronicle’. Manuscripts A, B and C simply state “King Æthelbald”, instead of “Æthelbald, king of the Mercians”. Further, Manuscript A places this entry s.a. 741, instead of 740 as in the other manuscripts. (Actually, it is a peculiarity of Manuscript B that after 652 the year-number is generally omitted. Such is the case here.)
“Now when his [Guthlac's] youthful strength had increased, and a noble desire for command burned in his young breast, he remembered the valiant deeds of heroes of old, and as though awaking from sleep, he changed his disposition and gathering bands of followers took up arms;   but when he had devastated the towns and residences of his foes, their villages and fortresses with fire and sword, and, gathering together companions from various races and from all directions, had amassed immense booty, then as if instructed by divine counsel, he would return to the owners a third part of the treasure collected.” (§XVI and §XVII).  After about nine years of this activity, Guthlac saw the light and, at the age of twenty-four, round about the year 697, gave up his old life and became a monk.
There is an inconsistency here. Both Bede and the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ place Æthelred's accession to the throne in 675. Both sources place Æthelred's abdication in 704, but the ‘Chronicle’ apparently corrects Bede's arithmetic, giving him a reign length of 29 years.
‘A History of Wales: from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest’ (1911) Chapter 7.
In the same charter, Æthelbald is called “king not only of the Mercians but also of all the provinces which are known by the general name ‘South English’ [Sutangli]”.
The ‘Continuation’ of Bede, makes it clear that this was, indeed, a rebellion against Mercian domination: “Cuthred, king of the West Saxons, rose up against King Æthelbald”.  (This comment appears s.a. 750.)
Between 754 and 845 there is a chronological dislocation in all extant manuscripts of the ‘Anglo-Saxon 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. As a consequence, Æthelbald's death is placed s.a. 755. (In Manuscript B the year-number is omitted.)
Incidentally, though Æthelbald was buried at Repton, a visionary subsequently saw him (“the late royal tyrant”) being punished in Hell. (This comes from an anonymous letter preserved in the Boniface collection.)
In a symbolic gesture, Æthelbald sent a sod of earth from the monastery's lands, and all the monastery's title-deeds, to Cuthbert, who was archbishop of Canterbury from 740 to 760, for display on the altar of Christ Church, Canterbury.
Æthelbald had previously given the monastery of Cookham to Christ Church, Canterbury. After Cuthbert, archbishop of Canterbury, died, in 760, the deeds were stolen, by two of the archbishop's former pupils, and delivered to Cynewulf, who took the monastery and all its possessions for himself (S1258).
In S265, Cynewulf grants land at North Stoke, Somerset, to the monastery at Bath – both North Stoke and the monastery being north of the Avon, in the territory of the Hwicce.
Cenred is identified as Wulfhere's son in the collection of various lists and genealogies that precede the ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ of Florence of Worcester, and by William of Malmesbury (‘GR’ I §78).
Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ record Cenred's accession twice – in 704, in accordance with Bede (like the other ‘Chronicle’ manuscripts), and in 702: “Cenred succeeded to the kingdom of the Southumbrians.”  Perhaps this entry is a duplication (taken from another source, two years adrift), but it is not completely out of the question that Cenred shared the rule with Æthelred for two years before the latter abdicated.
See: The Early Kingdoms of Wales.
‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ (Ecclesiastical History of the English People).
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.
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.
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.
‘The Formation of the Mercian Kingdom’, published in ‘Anglo-Saxon Myths, State and Church 400–1066’ (2000).
Charters are referred to by their number in Sawyer's catalogue.
Available online: The Electronic Sawyer.
‘The Mildrith Legend: A Study in Early Medieval Hagiography in England’, 1982.
The ‘Liber Eliensis’ (Book of Ely) is a history of the monastery of Ely, from its 7th century beginnings to the 12th century.
‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’ (Deeds of the Kings of England).
A list of saints' resting-places, written in Old English, surviving in two 11th century manuscripts – the earliest is the ‘Liber Vitae’ (Book of Life) of the New Minster, Winchester (British Library MS Stowe 944), which was evidently written in 1031.