FROM DOT TO DOMESDAY Early Medieval The Birth of Nations: England
MERCIA
section two *
 
King of Mercia
757  Beornred
Beornred's pedigree is not known. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ states that, in 757: “Beornred succeeded to the kingdom, and held it a little while and unhappily. And in the same year Offa drove out Beornred and + succeeded to the kingdom, and held it 39 winters”.
757 – 796  Offa
Son of Thingfrith, Thingfrith of Eanwulf, Eanwulf of Osmod, Osmod of Eowa (Penda's brother).
The entry s.a. 757 in the ‘Continuation of Bede’ (a set of annals covering the period 732–766 found in a number of manuscripts of the ‘Ecclesiastical History’) states: “Offa, having put Beornred to flight, sought to gain the kingdom of the Mercians by bloodshed.”
Presumably Offa spent the early years of his reign consolidating his position in the Mercian provinces. He evidently had control of the sub-kingdom of the Hwicce from the beginning, but he may have faced opposition elsewhere.
Charters (S55 of 757, S56 of 759) registering grants of land by brothers Eanberht, Uhtred and Ealdred, petty-kings (reguli) of the Hwicce, are witnessed by King (rex) Offa, and in S56 the grant is made “with the licence and permission” of Offa. The three brothers are the last recorded ‘rulers’ of the Hwicce, and the Hwicce would appear to be the last of the, once self-governing, Mercian satellites to be amalgamated into Mercia itself.*
Not surprisingly, Mercian overlordship of the south-Humbrian English kingdoms seems to have collapsed during the civil warfare that followed the murder of Æthelbald in 757. For the first seven years of his reign there is no sign of Offa's influence elsewhere in the Heptarchy. Charter evidence (S105, S34) suggests that he managed to establish himself as overlord of Egbert and Heahberht, co-kings of Kent, in 764.
Sussex was ruled by a number of kings. A charter (S49) shows Offa to be overlord of at least one East Saxon king, Osmund, in 770. Symeon of Durham (‘HR’) reports that, in 771: “Offa, king of the Mercians, subdued by arms the people of the Hestingi [i.e. the men of Hastings].”  In a charter dated 772 (S108), three South Saxon individuals, who had in previous charters been accorded the title rex (king), appear, stripped of their royal status, with the title dux. It would appear, then, that, having mopped up the remaining resistance in 771, Offa proceeded to annex Sussex.*
Offa was apparently still in control of Kent in 774 (S110, S111), but a couple of years later he seems to have faced a rebellion. There was a battle between Mercian and Kentish forces at Otford, Kent, in 776. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ fails to record the outcome, but, since a number of subsequent Kentish charters (S35, dated 778; S36, dated 779; S38, dated 784) show Kentish kings ruling freely, it seems reasonable to speculate that Offa was defeated at Otford, and, for the time being, expelled from Kent.
Cynewulf, king of the West Saxons, had apparently taken advantage of the civil war in Mercia to recover territory previously lost to Æthelbald. He had also appropriated Bath and its surrounds from the territory of the Hwicce. Despite his appearance in the witness-list of a charter of Offa's dated 772 (S108), Cynewulf appears to have retained his independence. In 779, as reported by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’: “Cynewulf and Offa fought at Bensington [Benson, Oxfordshire], and Offa took the town.”  A charter issued after Offa's death (S1258, of 798) states that Offa had: “seized from King Cynewulf the oft-mentioned monastery, Cookham [in Berkshire], and many other towns, and brought them under Mercian rule.”  Bath returned to Mercian control – indeed, in 781, the bishop of the Hwicce (i.e. the bishop of Worcester) was obliged to do a deal with Offa, in which the king gained direct control of the monastery, its environs, and some additional land on the south side of the Avon that had previously been bought, by the bishop, from Cynewulf (S1257). Charters (S144, undated; S127, dated 787) also show that Offa took-over Surrey.
One charter (S38) shows that a King Ealhmund was ruling in Kent in 784. Several charters (S123, S125, S128, S129, S130, S131) make it very clear that from 785 Offa was in sole control of Kent – rather than acting as its overlord, he had annexed the kingdom.
London and the province of the Middle-Saxons (Middlesex and south-east Hertfordshire) had likely been detached from Essex by Offa's predecessor, Æthelbald, and Offa retained them. There is no direct evidence of Offa's control of the East Saxon heartland, but it is quite possible that he annexed that too, since East Saxon kings disappear from the record during his reign, only to reappear after his death.
In 786, Pope Hadrian I (772–795) sent two legates to Britain: “renewing amongst us the ancient friendship, and the catholic faith which St Gregory taught by blessed Augustine”, says Symeon of Durham (‘HR’ s.a. 786). A report of the trip has survived. The legates were first greeted by Jænberht, archbishop of Canterbury. They then travelled to Offa's court. There was a council attended by “Offa, king of the Mercians, and Cynewulf, king of the West Saxons”, in which the legates presented papal letters setting out the need for ecclesiastical reform. One of the legates toured Mercia and “parts of Britain” (by which Wales is probably meant). The other, meanwhile, went to Northumbria, where a synod was held, attended by Ælfwald, king of Northumbria, and Eanbald, archbishop of York. A number of new canons (ecclesiastical laws) presented by the legate were adopted. He returned to Mercia, and there was another synod, presided over by Offa and Jænberht, in which the reforms were also accepted.  The following year, 787: “there was a contentious synod at Cealchyth [Chelsea], and Archbishop Jænberht resigned a part of his bishopric, and Hygeberht was chosen by King Offa”, reports the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’.*  Offa had engineered the division of the archbishopric of Canterbury, “through enmity conceived against the venerable Jænberht and the Kentish people”, writes Offa's eventual successor, Cenwulf, in a letter to Pope Leo III (795–816), Hadrian's successor.* The bishop of Lichfield (i.e. bishop of the Mercians), Hygeberht, was elevated to archbishop, and Jænberht, archbishop of Canterbury, had to cede his jurisdiction over the bishops of Worcester, Hereford, Leicester and Lindsey, all in Mercian territory, plus the bishops of Dommoc and Helmham, both in East Anglia,* to the new archbishop of Lichfield. (Canterbury kept Winchester and Sherborne, in Wessex; Selsey in Sussex; Rochester in Kent, and London.)  The establishment of a Mercian archbishopric is not mentioned in the papal legates' report, but presumably the issue had been discussed. At any rate, Pope Leo, writing to King Cenwulf, says that Pope Hadrian had agreed to the division, and sent the pallium to Hygeberht, because: “Offa, testified in his letter that it was the united wish and unanimous petition of you all, both on account of the vast size of your lands and the extension of your kingdom, and also for many more reasons and advantages.”*  The eminent teacher, scholar and theologian, Alcuin, comments that the division: “was made, it seems, through a desire for power, not by any sensible consideration” (A49). When Jænberht died, in 792, Offa made sure his replacement was not going to be as obstructive to Mercian rule as his predecessor had evidently been – the new archbishop of Canterbury, Æthelheard, had previously been abbot of Louth, in Lindsey.
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ tags onto the end of its report of the synod at Chelsea: “and Ecgfrith was hallowed king.”  Ecgfrith was Offa's only son, and his consecration (presumably by Hygeberht) was a clear signal that he would also be Offa's successor. It is possible that this was the first occasion in which the inauguration of an English ruler contained a Christian element – it is certainly the earliest recorded consecration. A letter (A46) written by Alcuin after Offa's death, makes it plain that Offa killed-off Ecgfrith's potential rivals for the throne: “you know well how much blood the father shed to secure the kingdom for his son.”
During the second half of the 8th century, English coinage (south of the Humber at any rate) underwent reforms which parallelled Frankish developments. The small, dumpy, silver coins – rarely carrying an inscription – known as ‘sceattas’ evolved into broader, thinner and heavier silver pennies which carried the name of the king and the moneyer.* Offa is the first Mercian king to be named on coins. He issued large numbers of his own pennies in Kent and East Anglia, as well as in Mercia (at London). The above ‘heavy’ (1.37 g) penny dates from the end of Offa's reign (c.792–796). The moneyer, OSMOD, named on the reverse, is believed to have been based at Canterbury, Kent. The ‘M’ symbol above OFFA REX stands for Merciorum (of Mercia). Offa also minted coins in the name of his wife, Queen Cynethryth (CYNEðRYð REGINA – ‘M’ in the centre). All are ‘light’ pennies (the example above is 1.03 g), produced by the moneyer EOBA, probably at Canterbury, pre-c.792 (at which time the ‘heavy’ pennies were introduced). A famous curiosity (above, courtesy British Museum) is the single surviving example of a gold coin (20 mm dia. 4.28 g) copied from a 774 dinar of the Kaliph Al-Mansur, with inaccurately executed Arabic inscription, bearing the legend OFFA REX. The coin's purpose is uncertain.
The linking of the East Anglian bishops with the Mercian bishops, in the arrangements decided at Chelsea, is a pretty good clue that Offa was overlord of the East Angles by 787. In 794, however: “Offa, king of the Mercians, commanded the head of Æthelberht [king of the East Angles] to be struck off”.*  Subsequently, Æthelberht was revered as a martyr, and the circumstances surrounding his death became shrouded in legend-.  Æthelberht minted coins, so it seems reasonable to suggest that he had rebelled against Offa, and paid with his life.
Symeon of Durham reports that, in 792, the Northumbrian king, Æthelred: “took as his queen Ælflæd, daughter of Offa, king of the Mercians, at Catterick, on the 29th of September.”  There is, though, no evidence to suggest that Offa had any authority in Northumbria.
Cynewulf, the West Saxon king, was killed in 786. He was succeeded by one Beorhtric, who married Offa's daughter, Eadburh, in 789. Reporting the death of Beorhtric's successor, Egbert, s.a. 836 (actually, 839), the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ says: “before he [Egbert] was king, Offa, king of the Mercians, and Beorhtric, king of the West Saxons, had driven him from the land of the English into the land of the Franks, for 3 years; and Beorhtric assisted Offa because he had his daughter for his queen.”+  A margin note in Manuscript F of the ‘Chronicle’ identifies Egbert's father as Ealhmund, the king of Kent who, it appears, had been ruling immediately before Offa annexed the kingdom in 784/5. Perhaps Egbert had taken refuge in Wessex, with Cynewulf, at the time of that annexation. Though there were clearly close links between Offa and Beorhtric, opinion seems to be divided whether or not this went as far as Beorhtric recognizing Offa as his overlord.
Crucial to the argument is the interpretation of Egbert's expulsion. Frank Stenton sees Egbert and Beorhtric fighting for the West Saxon throne: “Offa intervened in the struggle on Beorhtric's side, married a daughter to him in 789, and helped him drive Egbert out of the country”.  Professor Stenton describes Beorhtric as “a protected dependant” of Offa, and calls him “Offa's protégé”.  Barbara Yorke writes: “After Cynewulf was killed in 786 Offa was able to increase his control over Wessex. The new king Beorhtric either came to the throne with Offa's help or came under Offa's influence soon afterwards.”  Professor Yorke, too, is of the opinion that “Offa helped Beorhtric” to exile Egbert. Simon Keynes, though, cautions: “one should not forget that Egbert was the son of Ealhmund, who had been recognised as a king of Kent towards the end of the period of Kentish independence from Mercia (776–c.785). Egbert might thus have been perceived as a potential threat to Offa's position in the southeast, and Beorhtric would have been in the best position to secure his removal from England. Of course a West Saxon chronicler might be expected to put the best construction on the events; but his statement that it was Beorhtric who helped Offa (and not vice versa) might reasonably be construed as an indication that, in this instance, the king of the West Saxons was performing a favour for his father-in-law, without any implication of political subordination thereafter.”  D.P. Kirby talks of the “continuing independence” of the West Saxons during Beorhtric's reign, and P.H. Sawyer states: “Offa's friendly relations with Beorhtric did not, however, amount to an overlordship”.*  Certainly, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ doesn't include Offa in the list of south-Humbrian overlords to whom it accords the title Bretwalda, but, since the ‘Chronicle’ originated in Wessex, that might be a simple case of prejudice. In a number of charters Offa is titled ‘king of the English’ (even: ‘king of all the English lands’), but, since none of them exist in their original form, it is widely suspected that the grand titles are the result of later (10th or 11th century) tampering. On the other hand, there are coins inscribed: OFA, which could well stand for Offa Rex Anglorum, i.e. ‘Offa, king of the English’. Even if Offa was Beorhtric's overlord, there is no evidence that he had any power north of the Humber, so ‘king of the English’ would, in any case, seem to be overstating the extent of his authority.
Egbert was not the only Englishman to find refuge from Offa with the Franks – in a letter to Offa, Charles the Great (better known as Charlemagne) king of the Franks,* refers to the “exiles who have sought sanctuary with us” (A40). Presumably this was a source of tension between the two kings, though, writing in 790, Alcuin apparently refers to them as “old friends” (A10). In fact, Alcuin was referring to a “quarrel between old friends” that was underway as he wrote. Elsewhere (A31), he comments that: “A quarrel has recently arisen between King Charles and King Offa, fuel has been devilishly heaped upon the fire, so that on both sides traders are forbidden to sail.”  Alcuin, though, nowhere mentions the cause of the dispute. It seems that, around 789, Charlemagne's son, Charles, had proposed that he should marry one of Offa's daughters. Offa, however, insisted that the marriage could only go ahead if Charlemagne's daughter, Bertha, married his own son, Ecgfrith. Charlemagne took offence and ordered that his ports be closed to English traders.* At some point, normal relations were restored. Indeed, in the previously mentioned letter from Charlemagne to Offa (A40), written in 796, Charlemagne discusses the provisions of a trade agreement between himself and Offa: “Charles, by God's grace king of the Franks and Lombards and patrician of Rome, to the honourable king of Mercia, his dear brother Offa ... You also wrote to us about merchants. It is our will and command that they have full protection in our kingdom to transact their lawful business according to ancient practice. If they are anywhere unjustly treated, they should appeal to us or our judges and we will then see that justice is done. So too with our merchants: if they are unjustly treated within your jurisdiction, they must appeal to your just judgement, so that no disorders may anywhere arise between our subjects.”  He later takes the opportunity to complain to Offa that cloaks recently exported by the English were not of the customary length.
The earliest precisely dated Viking raid on England took place on 8th June 793, at Lindisfarne, an island monastery off the Northumbrian coast. Three Viking ships are also reported to have landed at Portland, Dorset, sometime during Beorhtric's reign (786–802). A text surviving in a 13th century cartulary (London, British Library MS Cotton Julius D ii), however, assuming it to be genuine,* suggests that by 792 Vikings had become a persistent problem in the south-eastern corner of England. The document (S134) is a confirmation of privileges to the churches of Kent, made, at the request of Archbishop Æthelheard, by Offa in the 35th year of his reign, i.e. in 792. Offa grants freedom from secular dues, with the exception of: “army service within Kent against pagan seamen with transgressing fleets, or in Sussex if necessary, and the building of bridges and the strengthening of fortresses against pagans also within the borders of Kent.”
Offa's campaigns against the Britons of Wales are sketchily recorded in the ‘Annales Cambriae’:
[760]  “A battle between the Britons and the Saxons, that is the battle of Hereford ...”
[778]  “The devastation of the South Britons by Offa.”
[784]  “The devastation of Britain by Offa in the summer.”
[795, only in C-text]  “The devastation of Rheinwg by Offa.”*
An inscription on the remains of a free-standing cross, which stands near Llangollen, records the Welsh reconquest of territory from “the English”, i.e. Mercia: “It was Eliseg who united the inheritance of Powys [...] however through force [...] from the power of the English [...] land with his sword by fire[?]”.  The cross (now known as Eliseg's Pillar) was erected by Cyngen (Old Welsh: Concenn), king of Powys (d.854), in memory of his great-grandfather, Elise (Eliseg), who would seem to have flourished around the mid-8th century. It is against this background of Mercian/Welsh hostilities that Offa undertook construction of the massive earthwork that bears his name: Offa's Dyke.
Offa died in 796 (on 26th or 29th July).* Roger of Wendover s.a. 796: “Offa, the magnificent king of the Mercians, having nearly completed his most noble monastery, died, according to the opinion of many, in the town of Offley [in Hertfordshire], and his body is said to have been conveyed to the town of Bedford, and to have been buried in a royal manner in a certain chapel outside the city, situated on the bank of the river Ouse. It is reported by nearly all the people of that neighbourhood, even to the present day, that the aforesaid chapel, from decay and the violence of that river, was precipitated, together with the king's tomb, into the stream; and that the sepulchre is now seen by bathers in the summer time deep beneath the waters, but though it has been sought with the greatest diligence, yet, as if by a fatality, it cannot be found.”
The monastery referred to by Roger of Wendover is St Albans Abbey, where Roger himself was based. According to a long, fanciful, yarn told by Roger, in 793, Offa (whilst “residing in Bath”) was prompted by an angel to “disinter Alban, the saint of God and proto-martyr of the English or Britons, and to place his relics in a shrine more worthy of them.”*  Despite Bede, who, in 731, wrote that, at St Alban's shrine: “the cure of sick persons and the frequent working of wonders cease not to this day” (‘HE’ I, 7), Roger claims that: “The memory of the martyr had perished, and the place of his burial been forgotten, for about three hundred and forty-four years, since the time when St Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, came into Britain with the blessed Lupus, bishop of Troyes”.  At any rate, Roger says that, following the discovery of the remains (their resting place revealed by a heavenly light), in order to get papal blessing for his plans to establish a monastery on the site and to secure Alban's canonization, Offa undertook a journey to Rome. Roger incorporates an anecdote concerning Offa's purchase of a field in Flanders, so that pilgrims might freely graze their horses. Unfortunately, there is no record that Offa ever made a journey to Rome.
796  Ecgfrith
Son of Offa.
Symeon of Durham (‘HR’), s.a. 796: “Offa, the most potent king of the Mercians, died, after a reign of 39 years; to him succeeded in the kingdom his son Ecgfrith, who, in the same year, was cut off by an untimely death.”
Ecgfrith was seemingly on good terms with his brother-in-law, Beorhtric, king of the West Saxons, who persuaded him to return land to Malmesbury Abbey that had previously been seized by Offa (S149): “I, Ecgfrith, king of the Mercians, in the first year of our reign granted by God, at the request of Beorhtric, king of the West Saxons, and Archbishop Æthelheard [of Canterbury], have returned to Abbot Cuthbert and to the brethren of the monastery of Malmesbury land of 30 hides in the place that is called Purton [in Wiltshire], on the eastern side of the wood that is called Braydon, for the remission of my sins and for the repose of the soul of my father, Offa, which while he was alive he took from them.”
Ecgfrith died after a reign of only one hundred and forty-one days (‘ASC’ s.a. 755).  Alcuin wrote (A46) to a Mercian acquaintance: “The noble youth did not die through his own sins, I believe; it was the vengeance of the father's blood that fell upon the son. For you know well how much blood the father shed to secure the kingdom for his son. It proved the undoing, not the making of his reign.”  In another letter (A47), to Ecgfrith's successor, Cenwulf: “Never forget the fine character of your noble predecessor [Offa], his modest way of life and his concern to reform the life of a Christian people. You should adhere scrupulously to the good arrangements he made in the kingdom God has given you, but do not follow him in any cruel or greedy act. For it was not without reason that his noble son lived so short a time after his father. Sons often receive the punishment their fathers earned.”
796 – 821  Cenwulf
Son of Cuthbert.
Offa had eliminated close relatives whom he believed could prevent his own son, Ecgfrith, from succeeding him on the throne,* so, when Ecgfrith died after ruling for less than five months, it was a distant kinsman, Cenwulf, who assumed power. According to his genealogy, preserved in the so-called ‘Anglian Collection’, Cenwulf was descended from Cenwalh, an otherwise unknown brother of Penda.
It appears that Cenwulf immediately had his mettle tested by the Welsh. The ‘Annales Cambriae’ (A-text), providing no detail, ends the annal recording Offa's death with the simple remark: “and the battle of Rhuddlan.”  Two years later (i.e. in 798), the ‘Annales’, rather more helpfully, note that: “Caradog king of Gwynedd is killed by the Saxons.”  During this same two year period, Cenwulf also had to contend with a rebellion in Kent.
Offa had annexed Kent in 784/5, but, in the aftermath of his death in 796, one Eadberht Præn, who had taken refuge with Charlemagne, king of the Franks, during Offa's reign, and who had been a priest, returned to Kent and managed to establish himself on the throne. The incumbent archbishop of Canterbury, Æthelheard, was Offa's man – when Æthelheard's predecessor, Jænberht, died in 792, Offa had made sure that his replacement was someone sympathetic to himself – and, apparently fearing for his safety under Eadberht's regime, he fled Kent.
Alcuin wrote to Æthelheard (A49), leaving him in no doubt that he disapproved of his abandoning his see. Alcuin also wrote to “the praiseworthy people” of Kent (A50), urging them to recall the archbishop. In the letter, he comments: “The greatest danger overhangs this island and the people living in it. A pagan people habitually makes pirate raids on our shores, a thing never heard of before.* And the English peoples, kingdoms and kings disagree among themselves. Scarcely anyone is found now of the old stock of kings, and I weep to say it; the more obscure their origin, the less their courage.”
Cenwulf entered into correspondence with Pope Leo III (795–816) regarding the organisation of the Church in England. Under Offa, and with the consent of Leo's predecessor, Hadrian I (772–795), the archbishop of Canterbury's jurisdiction had been divided, and a third archbishopric created at Lichfield, in Mercia. Cenwulf told Leo that Offa had been motivated by “enmity conceived against the venerable Jænberht and the Kentish people”, and said that his “bishops and learned men” objected to the arrangement, since it contravened the structure of the Church outlined by Pope Gregory I (590–604). Cenwulf, in effect, proposed that, as was originally intended by Pope Gregory, there should be two archbishop's seats: York in the North and London (not Canterbury) in the South. (London was, of course, firmly in Mercian hands.)  In response, Pope Leo defended his predecessor's agreement to the division of the archbishop of Canterbury's territory – saying Hadrian had been persuaded by the arguments of “your excellent king, Offa” – and ruled out the possibility of relocating the archbishop of Canterbury in London. However, Leo had been informed about the situation in Kent, by Archbishop Æthelheard, and he denounced Eadberht Præn (calling him: “that apostate cleric who mounted the throne”) and excommunicated him – expressing the view that, if necessary, he should be expelled “from his most wicked rule”.*
As reported by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, in 798: “Cenwulf,* king of the Mercians, ravaged Kent as far as the marsh, and took Præn their king, and led him bound into Mercia.”  Symeon of Durham (‘HR’ s.a. 798) and an addition to Manuscript F of the ‘Chronicle’, allege that Cenwulf had Eadberht's eyes put out and his hands cut off.* Cenwulf installed his brother, Cuthred, on the throne of Kent.
Coin evidence – pennies, minted in the name of Eadwald – suggests that the East Angles also enjoyed a short period of independence from Mercia after Offa's death, before Cenwulf regained control. It is possible that Essex had been annexed by Offa, but after his death the East Saxon ruling dynasty reappears – albeit under Mercian overlordship.* Sussex had certainly been annexed by Offa, and it seems to have remained under direct Mercian rule after his death.
Symeon of Durham (‘HR’) reports that, in 801: “Eardwulf, king of the Northumbrians, led an army against Cenwulf, king of the Mercians, because he had given an asylum to his enemies. He [Cenwulf] collected an army, and led many forces from other provinces with him. When there had been a long campaign between them, they finally made peace, by the advice of the bishops and chiefs of the English on either side ... An agreement of sure peace was made between them, which both kings confirmed by an oath on the gospel of Christ, calling God as a witness and surety, that as long as they retained this life, and bore the crown of government, a firm peace and true friendship should exist between them, unshaken and inviolate.”  When, in (probably) 806, Eardwulf was expelled from Northumbria, he found refuge with Charlemagne – who had been crowned emperor by Pope Leo on Christmas Day 800. In a letter to Charlemagne, Leo indicates that he suspected Cenwulf was one of those responsible for Eardwulf's expulsion. Eardwulf returned to Northumbria in 808, escorted by papal and imperial envoys.
In 2001 a metal-detectorist found a unique gold coin (21 mm dia. 4.33 g) by the River Ivel, at Biggleswade in Bedfordshire. It has been identified as a ‘mancus’. The obverse legend reads: COENVVLF REX M (Cenwulf, king of Mercia). The reverse is inscribed: DE VICO LVNDONIAE (from the wic of London). In 2006 it was bought by the British Museum, at a cost of £357,832.
In 802, Beorhtric, king of the West Saxons, died. His wife was Offa's daughter, Eadburh, and, according to a tale related by Asser, biographer of Alfred the Great, she accidentally poisoned her husband-.  Beorhtric's place was taken by Egbert, whom Offa and Beorhtric had previously driven into exile with the Franks. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ records that: “Egbert succeeded to the kingdom of the West Saxons; and on the same day, the ealdorman Æthelmund rode over [the border] from the Hwicce at Cynemæresford [Kempsford, Gloucestershire]; then the ealdorman Weohstan met him with the Wiltshire men; and there was a great fight, and both the ealdormen were slain, and the Wiltshire men got the victory.”*
Meanwhile, Æthelheard, archbishop of Canterbury, had travelled to Rome in 801, and persuaded Pope Leo to restore the see of Canterbury's status. On 12th October 803, in a synod at a place named Clofesho (the location of which is not known, but Brixworth in Northamptonshire is a popular candidate), this was enacted and the archbishopric of Lichfield was formally abolished.* (Presumably, since he had control of Kent, Cenwulf saw no reason to pursue his plans to move the archbishop's seat from Canterbury to London.)
Æthelheard died in 805, and was succeeded by one Wulfred. Eadberht Præn was evidently still being held captive at this time. William of Malmesbury writes about: “the monastery of Winchcombe [in Gloucestershire], which was built by Cenwulf king of the Mercians, a piece of munificence on a scale inconceivable in our own times. He had the church dedicated by thirteen bishops, foremost among them Wulfred archbishop of Canterbury. There, during the formalities of the dedication, and in the presence of ten duces, he freed at the altar the king of Kent, whom he had lately made captive by right of war.” (‘GP’ IV §156).  Elsewhere (‘GR’ I §95), William notes that: “Cuthred, whom he [Cenwulf] had made king over the Kentish people, was present to applaud this act of royal munificence.”*
An indication of the difficulties being presented by Viking raiders is found in a charter issued by “Cenwulf, king of Mercia, and my brother Cuthred, king of Kent" (S160), in 804. It records the grant of an estate inside the walls of Canterbury made to the abbess and community of Lyminge, to serve as a refuge. A later charter, of Wulfred, archbishop of Canterbury, dated 21st April 811 (S1264), refers to the obligation to destroy forts built by “pagans”.
Cuthred died in 807. Thereafter, Cenwulf ruled Kent directly – in a charter dated 809 (S164) he is titled “king of the Mercians and the province of Kent”.
Subsequently, Archbishop Wulfred, and Cenwulf had an acrimonious falling-out. Their dispute seems (as set-out in S1436) to have been centred on Cenwulf's claim to ownership of the monasteries of Reculver and Minster-in-Thanet (of which his daughter, Cwenthryth, was abbess), and escalated to the point where Wulfred was suspended from duty – in 817, when he disappears from charters.
In the later years of his reign, Cenwulf turned his attention, once more, to Wales. The ‘Annales Cambriae’ (B-text) indicates it was in 816 that the: “Saxons invaded the mountains of Eryri [Snowdonia] and the kingdom of Rhufoniog.”  The following year, a battle on Anglesey is recorded, which may have been part of the same campaign. A year later (i.e. 818): “Cenwulf devastated the Dyfed region.”  It seems likely that Cenwulf was planning further action against the Welsh when, in 821, he died at Basingwerk (says Gaimar), at the northern end of Wat's Dyke.
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ simply states: “Cenwulf, king of the Mercians died, and Ceolwulf succeeded to the kingdom.”  By the end of the 11th century, however, a yarn had been conjured up in which Cenwulf left the kingdom to his seven year old son, Kenelm, who was soon murdered on the orders of his sister, Cwenthryth, who entertained the notion of ruling in her own right-.
821 – 823  Ceolwulf I
Brother of Cenwulf.
823 – 826  Beornwulf
826 – 827  Ludeca
Kinsman of Beornwulf ?
Ceolwulf's succeeded his brother, Cenwulf, in 821. Cenwulf had quarreled with Wulfred, archbishop of Canterbury, and suspended him from duty. Ceolwulf, must have come to an agreement with Wulfred by 17th September 822, at which date the archbishop officiated at his consecration (recorded in S186).
On the occasion of his consecration, Ceolwulf, in exchange for a gold ring, granted a parcel of land to Wulfred: “I will free the aforesaid land from all servitude in secular affairs... It is to remain freed everywhere for ever from all burdens, greater or smaller, specified or unspecified, except from these four causes which I will now name: military service against pagan enemies [i.e. Viking raiders], and the construction of bridges and the fortification or destruction of fortresses among the same people” (S186).
William of Malmesbury declares (‘GR’ I §96) that, after Cenwulf: “the kingdom of the Mercians declining, and if I may use the expression, nearly lifeless, produced nothing worthy of historical commemoration.”   Actually, Mercia did have a moment of glory that William was unaware of. Indicating the year 822, the ‘Annales Cambriae’ states: “The fortress of Degannwy [in Gwynedd] is destroyed by the Saxons and they took the kingdom of Powys into their own control.”*
A later charter (S1435, of 825) depicts a disturbed state of affairs during Ceolwulf's reign: “After the death of Cenwulf, king of the Mercians, many disagreements and innumerable disputes arose among leading persons of every kind – kings, bishops, and ministers of the churches of God – concerning all manner of secular affairs”.  In 823, sometime after 26th May, on which date he granted land to Archbishop Wulfred in exchange for a gold and silver vessel (S187), Ceolwulf was overthrown. His replacement was one Beornwulf, whose pedigree is not known.*
Ceolwulf had ruled Kent directly – in his two charters (S186; S187) he is styled ‘king of the Mercians and of the men of Kent’. Beornwulf would appear to have placed a kinsman, Baldred, on the Kentish throne.*
Cenwulf's dispute with Archbishop Wulfred, seems to have been centred on Cenwulf's claim to ownership of the monasteries of Reculver and Minster-in-Thanet, of which Cenwulf's daughter, Cwenthryth, was abbess. When Cenwulf died, Cwenthryth inherited her father's dispute. Following synods held at Clofesho (location unknown) under Beornwulf's auspices in 824 and 825, and a subsequent meeting at a place called Oslafeshlau (“in the province of the Hwicce”), an outcome favouring Wulfred was eventually concluded (S1436).*
From their recent success against the Welsh, it can be judged that the Mercian army was a formidable force. It must have been with a high degree of confidence, therefore, that, in 825, Beornwulf marched against the West Saxon king, Egbert. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reports that battle was joined: “at Ellendun [generally identified with Wroughton, Wiltshire]; and Egbert gained the victory, and a great slaughter was there made. He [Egbert] then sent Æthelwulf his son, from the army, and Ealhstan his bishop, and Wulfheard his ealdorman, to Kent, with a large force, and they drove Baldred the king north, over the Thames; and the Kentish people, and those of Surrey, and the South Saxons, and the East Saxons, turned to him [Egbert], because they had formerly been unjustly forced from his kinsmen.* And the same year the king of the East Angles, and the nation, sought Egbert for peace and as protector, from dread of the Mercians; and in this same year the East Angles slew Beornwulf, king of the Mercians.”  Florence of Worcester adds some detail: “[Beornwulf] assembling a considerable army entered the territories of the East Angles in a hostile manner, and began to put to death their principal people; but their king advanced against the enemy at the head of his forces, and giving them battle, put Beornwulf and the greatest part of his army to the sword: his kinsman Ludeca succeeded to his kingdom.”
Although all the above events – Beornwulf's defeat at Ellendun, the ejection of Baldred, the submission of Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Essex to Egbert, and the East Anglian rebellion against Mercia – are consigned to a single annal, it seems that they actually spread over two years. There is a charter (S1267) which indicates that Beornwulf's authority was still recognised in Kent on 27th March 826. It would appear, then, that Baldred was expelled from Kent and Beornwulf was killed during 826.
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ simply states that, in 827, Ludeca “was slain, and his 5 ealdormen with him”, but, once again, Florence of Worcester adds detail: “Ludeca, king of Mercia, having assembled his forces, marched his army into the province of the East Angles, to revenge the death of his predecessor Beornwulf. The people of that country with their king speedily encountered him, and a desperate battle was fought, in which Ludeca and five of his ealdormen, and great numbers of his troops fell, and the rest took to flight”.  In fact, Florence's report may well represent nothing more than guesswork.* It is, though, widely believed that Ludeca was killed by the East Angles in a final, successful, attempt to free themselves from Mercian domination.* Coin evidence suggests that the East Anglian king who liberated his country from the Mercians was named Athelstan.*
827 – 829  &  830 – 839  Wiglaf
Wiglaf, of unknown pedigree, acquired the Mercian throne following the deaths, in quick succession at the hands of the East Angles, of his predecessors: Beornwulf in 826 and Ludeca in 827.*
In 829 Egbert, king of Wessex, expelled Wiglaf and ruled Mercia himself.* The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ (a West Saxon product) trumpets: “Egbert subdued the kingdom of the Mercians, and all that was south of the Humber, and he was the eighth king who was Bretwalda.”  Having taken control of Mercia, Egbert marched onwards to threaten the Northumbrians, and, at Dore (near Sheffield), on the Mercia/Northumbria border, secured their submission. The following year (830), the ‘Chronicle’ reports that: “Wiglaf again obtained the kingdom of the Mercians ... and in the same year King Egbert led an army against the North Welsh [i.e. the Welsh proper, rather than the Cornish Britons], and he reduced them to humble obedience.”*
The mechanism by which Wiglaf recovered his throne is not recorded. If it was by force of arms, it hardly seems likely that Egbert would be campaigning against the Welsh later in the same year, and, indeed, some scholars suggest that Egbert's campaign against the Welsh, in fact, preceded Wiglaf's restoration.*  According to Henry of Huntingdon (‘HA’ IV, 29): “King Egbert, from motives of commiseration, yielded to Wiglaf the kingdom of Mercia, to be held in subjection to himself.”*  Wiglaf's charters (S188; S190), however, indicate that he ruled independently.* Further, an undated charter of Ceolberht, bishop of London (S1791) features a “minister of Wiglaf, king of the Mercians” called Sigeric, who is given the title “king of the East Saxons”, which raises the possibility that Wiglaf, for a time anyway, managed to reestablish Mercian overlordship of Essex. On the other hand, it may well be that Wiglaf didn't resume the production of coins after his restoration, which could be because Egbert did not allow him to. Perhaps Egbert, realizing he had overstretched himself, was obliged to reach an accommodation with Wiglaf, which enabled the latter to resume his reign as, to all intents and purposes, an independent ruler.*
The year of Wiglaf's death is a little fuzzy. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ mentions neither his nor, his successor, Beorhtwulf's death. The ‘Chronicle’ concludes its entry s.a. 838 * with the note that: “in Lindsey, and in East Anglia, and among the Kentish people, many men were slain by the [heathen] army.”  Florence of Worcester, also s.a. 838, tags onto this: “Wiglaf, king of Mercia, died, and was succeeded by Beorhtwulf.”  By this time, the ‘Chronicle’ is three years behind true date, so certainly the part of Florence's annal 838 that is sourced from the ‘Chronicle’ should be dated 841, but that does not necessarily apply to the notice of Wiglaf's death. On balance, the evidence seems to indicate that Wiglaf died in 839.*
839 – 852  Beorhtwulf
Beorhtwulf's descent is not known, but he may be from the same family as previous Mercian kings whose names begin with ‘B’: Beornred (757) and Beornwulf (823–826).
England had suffered Viking raids since at least the 790s.* At first, though clearly an irritant, they must, for the most part at least, have been relatively small scale and containable. From 835, however – heralded by the announcement in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’: “In this year heathen men ravaged Sheppey” – Viking activity ratcheted-up to the point where the survival of any Anglo-Saxon kingdom was in doubt. London was apparently first targeted in 842, at which time: “there was a great slaughter at London, and at Quentavic, and at Rochester.”  Then, in 851: “came three hundred and fifty ships to the mouth of the Thames, and landed, and took Canterbury and London by storm, and put to flight Beorhtwulf, king of the Mercians, with his army, and then went south, over the Thames into Surrey”.  The “heathen army” was roundly defeated by Æthelwulf, king of the West Saxons.*
Beorhtwulf and Æthelwulf issued stylistically related coins, and even shared moneyers. It seems reasonable to suppose that the Viking menace engendered a spirit of cooperation between the Mercians and the West Saxons.* Perhaps the final transfer of the often disputed border territory of Berkshire to Wessex is another manifestation of this entente cordiale.
The transfer of Berkshire would appear to have been achieved by diplomatic means – there are no recorded battles, and the Mercian ealdorman of Berkshire (another Æthelwulf) retained his position when it was complete.* There seems to be a five year window during which the transfer took place – in a charter dated 844 (S1271), Beorhtwulf would still appear to be in control, but, according to Asser (§1), Alfred (future king of Wessex) was born at Wantage in 849.
There was evidently, however, dynastic rivalry within Mercia. Florence of Worcester, s.a. 850 (though the dating reference he makes actually places it in 849) gives a brief account of the “martyrdom” of one Wigstan (St Wistan or St Wystan): “Beorhtfrith, son of Beorhtwulf, king of Mercia, unjustly put to death his cousin, St Wigstan on the Kalends of June [1st June], being the eve of Pentecost. He was grandson of two of the kings of Mercia; his father, Wigmund, being the son of King Wiglaf, and his mother, Ælfflæd, the daughter of King Ceolwulf. His corpse was carried to a monastery which was famous in that age, called Repton, and buried in the tomb of his grandfather, King Wiglaf. Miracles from heaven were not wanting in testimony of his martyrdom; for a column of light shot up to heaven from the spot where the innocent saint was murdered, and remained visible to the inhabitants of that place for 30 days.“*
Florence of Worcester, s.a. 852: “Beorhtwulf, king of Mercia, died; and Burgred succeeded to the throne.”
852 – 874  Burgred
The tendency of Anglo-Saxon families to favour alliterative names makes it possible that Burgred was a relative of his predecessor, Beorhtwulf.
The impression that, during Beorhtwulf's rule, the Mercians and West Saxons had entered into a new age of cooperation seems to be born out by the events of 853: “Burgred, king of the Mercians, sent messengers to beseech Æthelwulf, king of the West Saxons,* to come and help him in reducing to his sway the midland Britons, who dwell between Mercia and the western sea [i.e. the Welsh], and who were struggling against him beyond measure. So without delay, King Æthelwulf, on receipt of the embassy, moved his army, and advanced with King Burgred against Britain [i.e. Wales], and immediately upon his entrance he ravaged it, and reduced it under subjection to Burgred. This being done, he returned home... In the same year also, after Easter, Æthelwulf, king of the West Saxons, gave his daughter [Æthelswith] to Burgred, king of the Mercians, as his queen, and the marriage was celebrated in princely wise at the royal vill of Chippenham.” (Asser §7 & §9).
Burgred also appears to have campaigned successfully in Wales in 865. The ‘Annals of Ulster’ report: “The Britons were driven from their land by the Saxons and were placed in bondage in Maen Chonain.”  The, so-called, ‘Three Fragments’, also an Irish source, reports the same event: “the Saxons came into British Gwynedd, and the Saxons drove the Britons out of the country.”*  The term ‘the Saxons’ is being used in a generic sense – meaning ‘the English’. Presumably, since it isn't mentioned by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ or its derivatives, the Mercians carried out this campaign without any West Saxon assistance.*
In the autumn of 865 “a great heathen army” of Danes landed in East Anglia, where they established their winter quarters. The East Angles “made peace with” (i.e. bought off), the Danes. In the autumn of 866, “the army” moved on to Northumbria, captured York and made it their base. Having killed two Northumbrian kings, the Danes seem to have taken direct control of the country south of the Tyne, whilst installing a compliant Englishman to rule the country beyond the Tyne. In the autumn of 867, they turned their attention to Mercia.
The Danes employed a modus operandi whereby they would establish winter quarters in the autumn, extract what they could from the surrounding area during the following year, and then move on to pastures-new the following autumn. During this period, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ apparently adopts the convention of starting the year in September,* so each annual cycle of the “heathen army” is contained in one annal. Their arrival in Mercia, though occurring in the autumn of 867, is recorded, therefore, s.a. 868.*
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reports that: “the same army went into Mercia to Nottingham,* and there took up winter quarters. And Burgred, king of the Mercians, with his witan, prayed Æthelred, king of the West Saxons, and Alfred his brother, that they would aid them, that they might fight against the army. And they went, with a force of West Saxons, into Mercia as far as Nottingham, and there found the army in the works [i.e. fortress], and there besieged them.+ But there was no hard battle there; and the Mercians made peace with the army.”*  During 868, according to Asser (§29), Alfred married: “a noble Mercian lady, daughter of Æthelred, surnamed Mucil, ealdorman of the Gaini.* The mother of this lady was named Eadburh, of the royal line of Mercia, whom I often saw with my own eyes a few years before her death.”  In the autumn of 868, the Danes returned to York. V
The following autumn (i.e. of 869): “the army rode over Mercia into East Anglia”, notes the ‘Chronicle’. Roger of Wendover asserts that: “they destroyed all the monasteries of monks and virgins that were in the marshes, and slew their inmates.”  An interpolation in Manuscript E (the Peterborough Manuscript) of the ‘Chronicle’ reports that: “they came to Medeshamstede [Peterborough], burned and broke, slew the abbot and the monks, and all that they found there; then made that which was ere full rich, that it was reduced to nothing.”  Having killed the king of the East Angles “and subdued all that land”, “the army” moved on to Wessex at the end of 870. There was a great deal of fighting between the Danes and the West Saxons during the following year, but, despite being reinforced by a “great summer-force” and generally having the upper-hand, the Danes failed to land a knockout punch on the West Saxons.
Having agreed, for a price, to leave Wessex, in the autumn of 871 the Danes set up winter quarters at London. The Mercians bought peace.* In 872 the Northumbrians rebelled against their Viking regime, and so in the autumn of that year: “the army went into Northumbria” (‘ASC’ MS A, B and C). V
The Northumbrians had expelled their Viking-appointed king and the archbishop of York – the two exiles found refuge with Burgred – but Northumbrian affairs are somewhat cryptically recorded, and the situation there is not clear.* “The army” was apparently only in Northumbria a few weeks, since it was back in Mercian territory before the end of 872.
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’: “the army ... took winter quarters at Torksey in Lindsey; and then the Mercians made peace with the army.”+  A year later (i.e. in autumn 873), the Danes, as usual, moved to new quarters: “the army went from Lindsey to Repton, and there took winter quarters, and [in 874] drove the king, Burgred, over sea, two and twenty winters after he had obtained the kingdom, and they subdued all the land; and he went to Rome, and there settled, and his body lies in St Mary's church, in the English quarter.”*
Archaeologists have discovered the location of the earthwork stronghold built by the Danes at Repton. The Anglo-Saxon church was incorporated into the defences, its tower serving as a gatehouse. The crypt that is believed to have housed the bones of King Wiglaf (d.839) and his sainted grandson, Wigstan (St Wystan, d. 849), plus at least one other Mercian king, Æthelbald (d.757), still survives under the present church.*
874 – 879 ? Ceolwulf II
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reports that, having driven out Burgred in 874, the Danes: “gave the kingdom of Mercia to the custody of Ceolwulf, a foolish king's thegn;+ and he swore oaths to them, and gave hostages, that it should be ready for them, on whatever day they would have it; and that he would be ready in his own person, and with all who would follow him, at the service of the army.”  In the autumn of 874, The Danes divided their forces. The ‘Chronicle’ notes that “the three kings, Guthrum, Oscetel, and Anwend, went from Repton to Cambridge with a large army, and sat there one year.”   A “part of the army”, however, moved permanently to Northumbria. V
The ‘Chronicle’ disparagingly describes Ceolwulf II as “a foolish king's thegn”, but he may well have been from the same family as, the earlier Mercian kings, Cenwulf (796–821) and his brother Ceolwulf I (821–823). The ‘Chronicle’ also says Ceolwulf II was a Viking puppet, but his charters (S215 and S216, both dated 875) show him acting independently – he is styled ‘king of the Mercians’, and they are witnessed by Mercian bishops and ealdormen. Furthermore, he and Alfred, king of the West Saxons, collaborated in the production of coinage. So, at the time, Ceolwulf's rule would appear to have been regarded as legitimate in both Mercia and Wessex.
In the autumn of 875 the “large army” that had spent a year at Cambridge invaded Wessex. The Danes' forces were unable to gain the upper-hand, and after suffering the loss of 120 ships in a storm off Swanage, they were obliged to come to terms with King Alfred. In late-summer 877 they left Wessex. The ‘Chronicle’ reports that: “in harvest-time the army went into the Mercians' land, and divided some of it [amongst themselves], and gave some to Ceolwulf.”  The Danes had not, however, abandoned the idea of conquering the West Saxons. In early January 878, “the army”, evidently led by the previously mentioned Guthrum, launched a surprise attack on Wessex from Gloucester. After initial success, the Danes were decisively defeated by King Alfred and forced to accept his terms. In the autumn of 878, Guthrum's forces withdrew to Cirencester, in Mercian territory. At the same time a fresh Viking fleet arrived in the Thames. Asser (§58) seems to imply that this new “army of heathen” met up with Guthrum's army before settling down to overwinter at Fulham. If it was the intention of these two armies to mount a concerted attack on Wessex, it came to nought. A year later, i.e. in the autumn of 879, the ‘Chronicle’ notes that: “the army went from Cirencester to East Anglia, and occupied and divided the land. And in the same year the army, which had before sat down at Fulham, went over sea to Ghent in the land of the Franks”.
The end of Ceolwulf's reign is not chronicled, but he is given a five year reign in a Mercian regnal list from Worcester (British Library MS Cotton Tiberius A xiii), by which token he ceased to rule in 879.*
Mercia continued    
Translations:
Asser ‘Vita Alfredi’ by Albert S. Cook
‘Annales Cambriae’ by James Ingram
Eliseg's Pillar interpretation by Nancy Edwards
‘Chronicle of Æthelweard’ by Joseph Stevenson
‘Annals of Ulster’ by S. Mac Airt & G. Mac Niocaill
Roger of Wendover ‘Flores Historiarum’ by J.A. Giles
‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ by Benjamin Thorpe (adapted)
‘Fragmentary Annals of Ireland’ by Joan Newlon Radner
Symeon of Durham ‘Historia Regum’ by Joseph Stevenson
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum” by A.M. Sellar
Henry of Huntingdon ‘Historia Anglorum’ by Thomas Forester
Florence of Worcester ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ by Thomas Forester
William of Malmesbury ‘Gesta Pontificum Anglorum’ by M. Winterbottom
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.
Back to: section one.
In fact the entry is dated two years earlier than this by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. Between 754 and 845 there is a chronological dislocation in all extant manuscripts of the ‘Chronicle’ – hence it must have been in their common antecedent. The majority of entries up to 828 are placed two years too early. From then until 845 the error is increased to three years. (It is a peculiarity of Manuscript B that after 652 the year-number is generally omitted.)
Highlighted part of annal in Manuscripts D and E only.
Dux (plural: duces), in the Late Roman Empire, was the title of a high-ranking military commander, and is the source of the modern English word ‘duke’. The equivalent in Anglo-Saxon terminology was ‘ealdorman’, from which the modern term ‘alderman’ is derived.
Hwiccean territory roughly corresponded to Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and western Warwickshire.
It used to be thought that Ealfrith rex, who witnessed a confirmation Offa appended to a South Saxon charter (S1183) sometime after 772, was Aldfrith, king of Lindsey (which covered much of modern-day Lincolnshire), whose genealogy appears in the Anglian Collection. It is now, however, generally accepted that Offa's son, Ecgfrith, is the intended rex of the charter. It would seem more likely that Aldfrith flourished in the late-7th/early-8th centuries. The rule of the last known regulus of the Magonsæte (Herefordshire and southern Shropshire), Mildfrith, had ended by 740.
Cookham had previously been taken from the West Saxons by Æthelbald, and then taken back by Cynewulf in the aftermath of Æthelbald's murder.
As detailed elsewhere on this page, the majority of ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ entries at this time are placed two years too early. As a result, the battle of Otford appears s.a. 774, except in Manuscript A, where it is placed s.a. 773.
The ‘Chronicle’, being two years adrift, places this notice s.a. 785 instead of s.a. 787. Manuscripts D, E and F also append the visit by the papal legates to the same annal, but, since they met Cynewulf, who was killed in 786, they clearly couldn't have arrived in 787.
The pall or pallium: a white, scarf-like, vestment worn by the pope, and bestowed by him on archbishops as a symbol of delegated papal authority.
Cenwulf's letter is preserved by William of Malmesbury, (‘GR’ I §88).
A letter from Pope Hadrian to Charles, king of the Franks (Charlemagne), only loosely dated to between 784 and 791 (‘Codex Carolinus’ No.92), reveals that there had been a rumour that Offa was inciting Charlemagne to overthrow Hadrian and instal a Frankish pope. This rumour had been spread by unnamed “enemies” of Offa and Charlemagne. Some historians suspect that Jænberht was behind it.
St Augustine of Canterbury had, of course, been the leader of a team of missionaries despatched by Pope Gregory I (‘the Great’), in 596: “to preach the Word of God to the English nation” (Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ I, 23). (See: Æthelberht I of Kent.)
Pope Leo's letter survives in British Library MS Cotton Vespasian A xiv. The translation is from Dorothy Whitelock's ‘English Historical Documents, 500–1042’ (Second Edition, 1979).
It is sometimes suggested that 3 (iii) years is a scribal error (which must have been in the common antecedent of the surviving ‘Chronicle’ manuscripts) for 13 (xiii) years. Thirteen years, rather conveniently, allows Egbert to be expelled in 789, the same year that Beorhtric married Eadburh, and remain in exile until 802, in which year Beorhtric died and Egbert became king of the West Saxons.
Highlighted part of annal in Manuscripts A, B and C only.
Highlighted part of annal in Manuscripts A, B and C only.
In Manuscript A, Æthelberht is titled “King Æthelberht”. The language of the ‘Chronicle’ is Old English, but in this instance ‘king’ (OE: cyning) is written as, the Latin, rex.
Frank Stenton ‘Anglo-Saxon England’ (Third Edition, 1971), Chapter 7.
Barbara Yorke ‘Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England’ (1990), Chapter 7.
Simon Keynes ‘The New Cambridge Medieval History’ Vol.II (1995), Chapter 2a.
D.P. Kirby ‘The Earliest English Kings’ (Second Edition, 2000), Chapter 8.
P.H. Sawyer “From Roman Britain to Norman England” (Second Edition, 1998), Chapter 2.
Charlemagne was crowned emperor by Pope Leo III, on Christmas Day 800. He died in 814.
This story is found in the ‘Gesta Sanctorum Patrum Fontanellensis Coenobii’, also known as ‘Gesta Abbatum Fontanellensium’ (Deeds of the Abbots of Fontanelle), written between 833 and 843. The name of the daughter of Offa involved is not mentioned, but presumably it was Ælflæd (who later married Æthelred of Northumbria).
In fact, Alcuin names neither Offa nor Charlemagne in his remark about “old friends” (A10). A sceptical Rosamond McKitterick (‘Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity’, 2008, Chapter 4) writes: “it is unlikely that this refers to Charlemagne and Offa, for describing them as ‘old friends’ is hardly appropriate.”  Professor McKitterick argues that the “old friends” are more likely to have been Charlemagne and Pope Hadrian, and also opines: “Charlemagne's negative attitude to foreign marriages was otherwise so consistent, that this marriage alliance story seems very unlikely.”
This sentence (Vastatio Reinuch ab Offa) is rendered “Devastation by Rheinwg son of Offa” in the James Ingram translation generally used on this website, which is clearly not the intended meaning. There is some uncertainty regarding the location of Rheinwg (‘the country of Rhain’ – in Welsh a region can be named by tacking ‘wg’ onto a personal name). It could be Dyfed or Brycheiniog.
See: At the Empire's Edge.
Alcuin, who was of noble Northumbrian parentage, was educated in the cathedral school at York, and eventually became its headmaster. In 781, whilst returning to York from Rome, he met Charles, king of the Franks (Charlemagne), who invited him to teach in the palace school at Aachen. Alcuin accepted the invitation. He returned to Northumbria on two occasions. The first was in 786, at the time of the visit of the papal legate. He travelled from Northumbria to Mercia, with the legate, to represent King Ælfwald and Archbishop Eanbald at the synod, presided over by King Offa and Archbishop Jænberht, before going back to Francia.* The second was for the period 790–793. In 796, he was appointed abbot of St Martin's monastery at Tours. He died in 804.
In a letter to Offa (A38), Alcuin writes: “I am delighted that you are so keen on encouraging reading, that the light of wisdom, now extinct in many places, may shine in your kingdom. You are the glory of Britain, the trumpet of the gospel, our sword and shield against the enemy.”
Symeon of Durham (‘HR’), correctly, s.a. 796: “on the 26th of July [vii kalendas Augusti], Offa, the most potent king of the Mercians, died after a reign of 39 years”.  All manuscripts of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ place the simple announcement: “King Offa died”, two years too early, s.a. 794. Manuscripts D and E, however, report Offa's death again under the correct year, 796. Manuscript D says it occurred on 29th July (iiii kalendas Augusti). Manuscript E apparently has a scribal error, which renders the date, in modern terminology, 10th August (iiii idus Augusti). Manuscripts D and E also contradict the previous statement of Offa's reign length given in all manuscripts (39 years, s.a. 755), by, evidently wrongly, crediting him with a 40 year reign.
See: St Alban: Britain's Protomartyr.
By this time, the standard form of Anglo-Saxon coinage was the silver penny. The earliest Anglo-Saxon coins were gold, but by about 700 the switch had been made to silver,* and thereafter the production of coins in gold was evidently a very rare event – at the time of writing (Sept. 2012) there are only eight surviving, firmly identified, Anglo-Saxon gold coins minted after 700, one of which is the imitation dinar of Offa and another is Cenwulf's ‘mancus’. It seems clear, as demonstrated by a comment in the will of Eadred, king of the English (d.955): “let there be taken 2000 mancuses of gold and let it be coined into mancuses”, that a mancus was, primarily, a unit of weight applying to gold, but it was also a name used for a gold coin. Ælfric ’the Grammarian’ (c.955–c.1010) says that one mancus had the same value as thirty pennies.
Presumably Cenwulf's father is the Ealdorman Cuthbert, accorded the title princeps, who leased land in Lincolnshire from the abbot of Medeshamstede (i.e. Peterborough), with the consent of Offa and Ecgfrith (S1412 – undated, but, since both Offa and Ecgfrith are titled rex, it must date from between 787, when Ecgfrith was consecrated, and 796).
The term ‘Saxons’ is used generically – simply meaning the English (Anglo-Saxons). For “the Saxons” read “the Mercians”.
In a letter to a Mercian correspondent, Alcuin comments: “you know well how much blood the father shed to secure the kingdom for his son.” (A46).
Cenwulf's letter is preserved by William of Malmesbury (‘GR’ I §88). Pope Leo's survives in British Library MS Cotton Vespasian A xiv, and is translated into English in Dorothy Whitelock's ‘English Historical Documents, 500–1042’ (Second Edition, 1979).
Actually, only Manuscripts B and C correctly name Cenwulf. The rest have Ceolwulf, who was Cenwulf's successor.
Also s.a. 798, Symeon of Durham notes: “London was destroyed by an accidental fire, with a great multitude of people.”
Viking raids on England would appear to have begun around the year 790. An attack on the monastery of Lindisfarne, which took place on 8th June 793, is the earliest precisely dated raid.
Manuscript F of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ has an entry which states, s.a. 798, “Sigeric, king of the East Saxons, went to Rome.”  Sigeric's son, Sigered, appears in the witness-list of two of Cenwulf's charters (S165; S168), dated 811, with the title rex (king). The following year (S170), however, he is only accorded the title subregulus (sub-king). He also appears with the latter title in a charter of Cenwulf's successor, Ceolwulf, dated 823 (S187).
The Hwicce was a region of Mercia corresponding, roughly, to Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and western Warwickshire. It had been a self-governing Mercian satellite, with its own royal dynasty, but during Offa's rule it was fully absorbed into Mercia.
A charter of Cenwulf (S154) refers to a peace treaty between Mercia and the West Saxons. In the form the text has survived, the treaty is said to have been concluded by Cenwulf and Egbert, but the charter is dated 799, which is, of course, not compatible with Egbert's reign. The date would seem to be correct, since it is given a proper Indiction number (seventh) for the AD year (see: Anno Domini). Possibly, as preferred by D.P. Kirby: “friendship was not confirmed between the kings, Cenwulf and Egbert, but between Cenwulf and Beorhtric, for whose name Egbert's has been erroneously substituted.” (‘The Earliest English Kings’, Second Edition, 2000, Chapter 8 note 123).  Patrick Sims-Williams, though prefers to: “accept the date ... and reject the historical allusion to the peace treaty as an antiquarian addition.” (‘Religion and Literature in Western England, 600-800’, 1990, p.171 fn.127).  On the other hand, The Electronic Sawyer implies that maybe the charter's date is wrong, and suggests 802 as the alternative.
In practice the archbishopric of Lichfield had already been abandoned. Hygeberht, the only holder of the office, appears in a charter of 801 (S158) titled simply ‘bishop’, and by 803 he seems to have resigned his bishopric – an abbot of the same name features in a record of the synod at Clofesho (S1431b).
A document (S167) purporting to be the foundation-charter of Winchcombe – in effect, the official record of the dedication described by William of Malmesbury – still survives. The existing text (a 12th century manuscript in British Library MS Cotton Tiberius E iv), however, is spurious. Certainly, its date, 9th November 811, is incompatible with the presence of Cuthred, who, on the authority of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, died in 807. (As detailed elsewhere on this page, the majority of ‘Chronicle’ entries at this time are placed two years too early. As a result Cuthred's death appears s.a. 805. Incidentally, neither the ‘Chronicle’ nor S167 mentions Eadberht's release.)
The date of Offa's annexation of Sussex, c.771, depends upon the authenticity of S108. Frank Stenton, in Chapter 7 (p.208, footnote 5) of his ‘Anglo-Saxon England’ (Third Edition, 1971) writes: “This charter is only known from a thirteenth-century copy, and its text has been partly rewritten. But the portion of the witness-list where these names occur includes other names appropriate to the period, which no forger would have been likely to know, and it does not read like a fabrication.”  However, in a note (n.33) to Chapter 8 of ‘The Earliest English Kings’ (Second Edition, 2000), D.P. Kirby comments: “but the untypical witness-list as it stands is surely highly suspect.”  Within Chapter 8 proper, Dr Kirby argues that: “in Sussex in 770–1, Offa's involvement appears to have been limited and shortlived” and that it was: “probably a response to political instability among the South Saxons.”  He suggests that, if S108 is, indeed, a fabrication: “there is no evidence for Offa's presence as a dominant factor in South Saxon affairs until the late 780s. Though Oslac dux of the South Saxons, and Eadwulf, also dux of the South Saxons, may be identical to the kings of these names c.770, it was not until after c.789 (when Wihthun was bishop of the South Saxons) that Offa confirmed their grants to South Saxon churches [S1184; S1183] ... The first clear indication that Offa had gained control of the South Saxons, therefore, comes only c.790, suggesting a Mercian annexation of the area in the late 780s.”
Leo's letter is published, in Latin, in ‘Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents’ Volume 3 (1871).
William of Malmesbury (‘GR’ I §96) agrees with Florence – Ludeca was killed by the East Angles whilst trying to avenge the killing of Beornwulf. In the poetic version of history presented by Geffrei Gaimar, Ludeca is said to have been “killed by the Welsh” (line 2292). Roger of Wendover, on the other hand, states that Ludeca was “slain by King Egbert” (an event that Roger places in 828).
The ‘Three Fragments’ firmly locate the action in Gwynedd, and Maen Chonain, mentioned by the ‘Annals of Ulster’, is widely reckoned to be the Isle of Anglesey, though writers rarely give a reason. However, in ‘Early Sources of Scottish History A.D. 500 to 1286’ (Vol.I, 1922, by A.O. Anderson) Maen is equated with Môn (Latinized as Mona), the Welsh name for Anglesey. Chonain is an Irish form of the name Cynan, by which token, Maen Chonain, is ‘Anglesey of Cynan’. A Cynan, king of Gwynedd, contested for the island against a rival, Hywel, and died in 816 (see: Altered States).
Recent evidence suggests that Wat's Dyke was built in the early-9th century – later than its more famous relative, Offa's Dyke. It could well be that Cenwulf was responsible for the construction of Wat's Dyke (see Offa's Dyke page).
See: Shillings and Pence.
See: The Birth of Nations: Wales.
Ceolwulf is identified as Cenwulf's brother by William of Malmesbury (‘GR’ I §96) and in the miscellaneous collection of lists and genealogies prefixed to the ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ of Florence of Worcester.
D.P. Kirby (‘The Earliest English Kings’, Second Edition, 2000, Chapter 9) suggests that, since it would be unlikely for Ceolwulf to have been deposed after a great military success against the Welsh, the campaign noted by the ‘Annales Cambriae’ should be assigned to the beginning of Beornwulf's reign.
Baldred issued coins as ‘king of Kent’. It is possible that he was an independent Kentish ruler, but subsequent events indicate he was a Mercian appointee, and his name, beginning with ‘B’, suggests he was a relative of Beornwulf. (By the same token, Beornwulf may be from the same family as Beornred, who had ruled Mercia, very briefly, before being overthrown by Offa in 757.)
Presumably the ‘Chronicle’ is only referring to Kent having been “unjustly forced from his [Egbert's] kinsmen”, the other territories mentioned being, in effect, in parentheses. Egbert's father, Ealhmund, had briefly ruled Kent in the mid-780s, prior to its takeover by Offa.
The synod at Clofesho of 824 is recorded (wrongly s.a. 822) by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. The whole annal, somewhat mysteriously, reads: “In this year [824] two ealdormen, Burghelm and Muca, were slain; and there was a synod at Clofesho.”  Burghelm is otherwise unknown (though his name might indicate he was related to Beornwulf), but Muca is a signatory to the two charters of Ceolwulf (S186; S187). In his equivalent annal, Florence of Worcester calls them “two most resolute ealdormen”. Perhaps Beornwulf saw them as potential rivals for his throne. Æthelweard says (III, 2) they were killed at Clofesho, but that may be just his faulty interpretation of the notice as it appears in the extant versions of the ‘Chronicle’.
Florence is unique in identifying Ludeca as a kinsman (propinquus) of Beornwulf.
Florence of Worcester exhibits the same chronological dislocation as the ‘Chronicle’. Both sources place this event two years early, i.e. in 825 instead of 827.
Athelstan is known from a substantial number of coins, but one of them appears to be stylistically earlier than the rest. It could be that he had made an attempt to seize back control of East Anglia from the Mercians following the death of Cenwulf in 821, but was driven out by Cenwulf's successor, Ceolwulf.
In ‘The Origins of Beowulf: From Vergil to Wiglaf’ (2006), Richard North suggests that ‘Beowulf’: “was composed in the winter of 826–7 by Eanmund, abbot of the minster of Breedon on the Hill in north-west Leicestershire, not only as a requiem for King Beornwulf of Mercia who was killed in battle earlier that year, but also as a work of recommendation for Wiglaf, an ealdorman who was plotting to succeed him.”  (In the story, Beowulf nominates a character called Wiglaf as his successor.) It is not, in fact, certain that Ludeca, who ruled briefly between Beornwulf and Wiglaf, was killed by the East Angles. Richard North argues that he was killed by Wiglaf.
Egbert minted coins at London inscribed: ECGBERHT REX M (Egbert, king of Mercia).
As detailed elsewhere on this page, the majority of ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ entries at this time are placed two years too early. As a result, Egbert's conquest of Mercia appears s.a. 827 instead of 829, and Wiglaf's restoration s.a. 828 instead of 830.
S188 records a grant of land in Middlesex, made by Wiglaf, to Wulfred, archbishop of Canterbury. It is dated 831: “the first year of my second reign”.
S190 is dated 836: “in the seventh year of our reign granted by God”. It is an original document from a synod, held at Croft in Leicestershire, that was attended by the archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops from territory under West Saxon control. Wiglaf refers to them as “my bishops”, the implications of which are much debated.
William of Malmesbury (‘GR’ II §107), similarly: “Wiglaf ... first driven from his kingdom by Egbert, and afterwards admitted as a tributary prince, augmented the West Saxon sovereignty.”
Wiglaf's coins, like those minted at London by Egbert, are very rare. It is entirely possible that no coins were produced in Mercia during Wiglaf's second reign. In ‘Early Anglo-Saxon Coins’ (2008), Chapter 5, Gareth Williams comments: “He [Egbert] also conquered Mercia in 829, briefly issuing coins which celebrated his control of London and Mercia. However, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle indicates that in the following year Wiglaf of Mercia ‘obtained’ his kingdom again. How he obtained it is not specified, and it may be that the phrase refers to some sort of loose West Saxon over-kingship rather than full Mercian independence. Certainly Wiglaf appears not to have issued coins for the remaining ten years of his reign, perhaps echoing the suppression of the coinage of lesser kings during the Mercian supremacy of Offa.”
The influential historian Frank Stenton (‘Anglo-Saxon England’, Third Edition, 1971) was of the opinion that Wiglaf was restored by a rebellion against Egbert's rule. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ originated in Wessex, and Professor Stenton argues that if Egbert had indeed handed Mercia back to Wiglaf, a West Saxon chronicler would have certainly recorded such magnanimity with a flourish, rather than the low-key announcement: “Wiglaf again obtained the kingdom of the Mercians”.
Ludeca was sufficiently well ensconced in East Anglia to mint coins there, so the motive of hot-bloodied revenge seems somewhat fanciful. Ludeca was evidently the last Mercian king to produce coins in East Anglia, so Mercian control of the country didn't outlast him, whoever was responsible for his death.
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. When correct chronology is restored in the other manuscripts, Manuscript C promptly adds two extraneous blank annals to move two years ahead. After its entry s.a. 853, Manuscript C omits a blank annal, reducing the error to one year in advance of true date, at which level it stays for the remainder of the century. As a consequence, the events of:
835 appear s.a. 832
842 appear s.a. 839
851 appear s.a. 851, but s.a. 853 in Manuscript C.
(It is a peculiarity of Manuscript B that after 652 the year-number is generally omitted.)
The location of Dommoc is not known. The most popular suggestion is Dunwich, Suffolk. There are two alternatives for the location of Helmham: North Elmham in Norfolk and South Elmham in Suffolk. Although it is an arguable point, North Elmham seems the most likely option.
The text does not make any obviously spurious claims, but, along with others in the same cartulary, its witness-list has not been preserved, which makes judging its authenticity difficult.
S1271 records a grant of land at Pangbourne, Berkshire, made by the bishop of Leicester to Beorhtwulf. Although it is dated 844 (dcccxliiii), it is also given the Indiction number 6 (vi), which is correct for 843 but not 844 (see: Anno Domini). 843 could, therefore, be the correct date. (S1271 is also said to be in Beorhtwulf's 4th regnal year. The year of Wiglaf's death/Beorhtwulf's succession is, as previously discussed, a little nebulous, but 839 is possibly the best guess. If this is correct, then 843 for S1271 would also be correct.)
Except Manuscripts E and F, which have no entries for 838.
In a collection of various lists and genealogies that precedes Florence's work proper (and also by William of Malmesbury, ‘GR’ I §96), both Wiglaf and Beorhtwulf are given reign lengths of 13 years, and Beorhtwulf's successor, Burgred, is given 22 years. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ also gives Burgred a reign length of 22 years. Of course, though regnal lists generally give round numbers, it is extremely unlikely that a king's reign would be an exact number of years (Florence, in fact, talks of Wiglaf and Beorhtwulf's 13th year and Burgred's 22nd). If reign lengths were simply rounded-off, then, plainly, significant errors could accumulate when several reigns were added together. It is clear from the ‘Chronicle’ that years were counted in terms of ‘winters’, so it seems a reasonable hypothesis that it was the number of midwinters (Christmases in Christian times) that passed whilst a king was ruling that were recorded in the regnal list, which means that reign lengths can be manipulated arithmetically without error. At any rate, both the ‘Chronicle’ and Florence date the end of Burgred's reign 874, so, working backwards 35 years from there, Wiglaf died in 839. However, working forwards 13 years, from Wiglaf's first accession in 827 (the regnal list evidently takes no notice of the year when he was expelled), he died in 840.
Roman numerals are very prone to copying errors, and, in their surviving forms, charters contain contradictory dating evidence regarding Beorhtwulf's accession. For instance, S1271 is said to date from his 4th (iiii) regnal year. (In charters, regnal years would be counted from the actual date of the king-in-question's accession.) It is given an AD date of 844 (dcccxliiii) but an Indiction number of 6 (vi), which is not compatible with 844, but is okay for 843 (see: Anno Domini). Assuming the charter does have its origins in Beorhtwulf's 4th regnal year, then he came to the throne either in 840–41 or 839–40. He would, however, certainly seem to have been on the throne at some stage in 840 – S192 is dated 840 with the compatible Indiction number of 3. Dates from two charters of Burgred (S210; S214) combine to place him on the throne in 852, indeed, S210 places him there before 25th July in that year. Beorhtwulf is said to have ruled for 13 years before Burgred, by which token Wiglaf's death is placed in 839.
In 871 Ealdorman Æthelwulf was killed fighting alongside King Æthelred of Wessex, against the Vikings, at Reading. Æthelweard says (IV, 2) that the ealdorman's body was secretly recovered and: “carried into the province of Mercia, to a place called Northworthig, but in the language of the Danes, Deoraby [Derby].”
No coins that can be definitely attributed to the second reign of Beorhtwulf's predecessor, Wiglaf, have survived (though there are a couple of possibles). This is perhaps the most compelling evidence that Egbert, king of Wessex, had some degree of authority over Wiglaf, resulting in the suppression of Mercian coinage. Egbert and Wiglaf died around the same time, and the subsequent revival of Mercian coinage, apparently with the assistance of Æthelwulf's craftsmen, is certainly indicative of a new relationship between Mercia and Wessex.
Quentovic (Cwantawic) was a major Frankish Channel port (near modern-day Étaples). Manuscript C substitutes Canterbury (Cantwarabirig) instead.
William of Malmesbury also carries similarly brisk versions of this story in both ‘GR’ (II §212) and ‘GP’ (IV §161). A longer version appears in a Latin ‘Life’ of Wigstan, composed by Thomas of Marlborough, abbot of Evesham (d.1236). (Evesham was where Wigstan's bones eventually ended up.) Wigstan is said to have been his father's, i.e. King Wigmund's, heir, but, being more interested in religious matters, he allowed his mother, Queen Ælfflæd, and chief-men of Mercia to rule on his behalf. Beorhtfrith, who was Wigstan's cousin and godfather, determined to marry Ælfflæd. Wigstan objected and was killed – Beorhtfrith smashed Wigstan on the top of the head with his sword-hilt, and as a result, by way of divine retribution, Beorhtfrith immediately became mad.
Incidentally, Wigstan's father, Wigmund, is identified as the “king's son” in the witness-list of a land-grant of Wiglaf's dated 831 (S188), but, apart from the above yarn, there is no evidence to suggest that he ever became king himself.
Witan: The king's advisory council, composed of important secular and ecclesiastical personages.
The whereabouts of the Gaini is unknown. The “noble Mercian lady” that Alfred married was, in fact, called Ealhswith (oddly, Asser doesn't name her). She died on 5th December 902, and, in the so-called ‘Metrical Calendar of Hampson’ (originating in the reign of Alfred and Ealhswith's son, Edward) she is commemorated as: “the true and beloved lady of the English”.
Manuscript C, being one year ahead until at least the end of the century, places the events of autumn 867 to autumn 868 s.a. 869.
In 873, Egbert, the Viking-appointed Northumbrian king, died, but Wulfhere, archbishop of York, was restored to his see.
Asser notes (§46) that Burgred: “did not live long after his arrival at Rome”.  Burgred's wife, Æthelswith – sister of Alfred, by now king of the West Saxons – died in 888 (‘ASC’), apparently whilst travelling to Rome, and was buried at Pavia.
The crypt of St Wystan's Church, Repton.
See: Anno Domini.
In ‘Medieval European Coinage, 1: The Early Middle Ages” (1986) Chapter 10, Philip Grierson and Mark Blackburn comment: “A Mercian regnal list assigns Ceolwulf a reign of five years, i.e. until 879, but the size of his coinage could suggest that he reigned longer.”  Charter evidence (S218) demonstrates that Ceolwulf had certainly ceased to rule by 883.
Highlighted part of annal not in Manuscript A.
Asser (§30): “When now the heathen, defended by the stronghold, refused to fight, and the Christians were unable to destroy the wall, peace was made between the Mercians and the heathen, and the two brothers, Æthelred and Alfred, returned home with their troops.”
The sequence of West Saxon kings during Burgred's reign in Mercia:
Æthelwulf, 839–855(8).
Æthelbald, son of Æthelwulf, 855–860.
Æthelberht, son of Æthelwulf, 860–865.
Æthelred, son of Æthelwulf, 865–871.
Alfred, son of Æthelwulf, 871–899.
A charter dated 872 (S1278) contains the explanation that the bishop of Worcester leased a parcel of land to raise money: “chiefly because of the very pressing affliction and immense tribute of the barbarians, in that same year [i.e. 872] when the pagans stayed in London.”
Lindsey – once a kingdom in its own right, but by this time a region of Mercia – occupied much of modern-day Lincolnshire.
The “foolish king's thegn” is not named in Manuscript A.
The Martyrdom of King Æthelberht
Eadburh, daughter of Offa
St Kenelm
Asser (§30) adds that Nottingham: “is called in Welsh Tigguocobauc, but in Latin Speluncarum Domus [House of Caves]”.  In Old English, Nottingham is Snotengaham, which simply means ‘the settlement of Snot's people’.
In a footnote to his piece “Wales and Mercia, 613–918” (published in ‘Mercia: an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom in Europe’, 2001), T.M. Charles-Edwards comments: “While the annal puts Wiglaf's recovery of Mercia first and the Welsh campaign second, the two events may have been in reverse order or contemporaneous. By expressing it as he did, the annalist ended with a West Saxon triumph instead of a reversal.”  Certainly, D.P. Kirby (‘The Earliest English Kings’, Second Edition, 2000, Chapter 9) assumes that the Welsh campaign took place first, writing that: “the success of this campaign must have been overshadowed by Wiglaf's recovery of his kingdom later in the year.”
Indicating a date of 865, the ‘Annales Cambriae’ mention that: “Duda laid Glywysing [in south-eastern Wales] waste.”  Duda is an English name – a Mercian ealdorman?
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.
Charters are referred to by their number in Sawyer's catalogue.
Available online: The Electronic Sawyer.
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.
‘Historia Regum’ (History of the Kings).
The eminent teacher, scholar and theologian, Alcuin, who was of noble Northumbrian parentage, was educated in the cathedral school at York, and eventually became its headmaster. In 781, whilst returning to York from Rome, he met Charles, king of the Franks (Charlemagne), who invited him to teach in the palace school at Aachen. Alcuin accepted the invitation. He returned to England on two occasions. The first was in 786, when he represented the king of Northumbria and the archbishop of York at a synod in Mercia. The second was for the period 790–793. In 796, he was appointed abbot of St Martin's monastery at Tours. He died in 804.
The number refers to Stephen Allott's edition of Alcuin's letter-collection in English translation (the originals are in Latin), first published in 1974, under the title ‘Alcuin of York’.
‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’ (Deeds of the Kings of England).
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.
‘Gesta Pontificum Anglorum’ (Deeds of the Bishops of England).
Anglo-Norman chronicler Geffrei Gaimar wrote his ‘L'Estoire des Engleis’ (History of the English), for a Lincolnshire patroness, in about 1136–37. The earliest known historical work to have been written in the French language, it is based on a now lost version of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, and is in verse (actually, octosyllabic rhymed couplets).
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 epic poem ‘Beowulf’, which is written in Old English (Anglo-Saxon), is so-called after its hero (the original is not titled). The single extant manuscript survived, though not unscathed, a fire, on Saturday 23rd October 1731, in Ashburnham House (now part of Westminster School), where the library of manuscripts collected by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (1571–1631) was housed. It is now in the British Library (British Library MS Cotton Vitellius A xv). The manuscript was produced around the year 1000 (by two scribes), but its story is set in the 6th century – at what stage between those dates the work was originally composed is the subject of scholarly debate.
Heorot, the mead-hall of Hrothgar, king of the Danes, has been terrorized for twelve years by Grendel, a seemingly invincible monster. Beowulf, of the Geats (in southern Sweden), hears of Hrothgar's plight, and sails to his aid. Beowulf fights Grendel with his bare hands, and tears the monster's arm off. Grendel, fatally wounded, retreats to his lair to die. Seeking revenge, Grendel's mother attacks Heorot. Beowulf tracks her down, and, after a great struggle, slays her with an ancient giant's sword. Beowulf becomes king of the Geats, and rules for fifty peaceful years. Then, a fire-breathing dragon, angry that some of its treasure has been stolen, begins to ravage his kingdom. The aged Beowulf, with the assistance of a faithful warrior, Wiglaf, kills the dragon, but is fatally wounded. With his dying breaths he nominates Wiglaf as his successor. Beowulf's body is burned, and his ashes are buried, with much treasure, in a mound on a high headland.
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