FROM DOT TO DOMESDAY Early Medieval The Birth of Nations: England
NORTHUMBRIA
section three *
 
716 – 718  Cenred
Son of Cuthwine.
718 – 729  Osric
Son of Aldfrith.
Virtually nothing is known about Cenred and Osric. The Moore Memoranda allocate Cenred a reign of two years and Osric eleven. Genealogies show Cenred to be a descendant, by a previously unknown line, of Ida, the mid-6th century king of Bernicia. Osric is identified as Aldfrith's son, and hence the brother of Cenred's predecessor, Osred, by Symeon of Durham (‘LDE’ I, 13).*
Bede notes (‘HE’ V, 22) that, in 716: “Osred was slain, and Cenred took upon him the government of the kingdom of the Northumbrians”.  And (‘HE’ V, 23) in 729: “on the 7th of the Ides of May [9th May], Osric, king of the Northumbrians, departed this life, after he had reigned 11 years, and appointed Ceolwulf, brother to Cenred who had reigned before him, his successor”.  A misplaced entry in some manuscripts of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ claims that Osric: “was slain”.*
729 – 737  Ceolwulf
Son of Cuthwine.
Bede completed writing his ‘Ecclesiastical History’ in 731, just a couple of years into Ceolwulf's reign, and the work begins with a dedication: “To the most glorious King Ceolwulf.”  In the penultimate chapter (‘HE’ V, 23), however, Bede writes: “the beginning and progress of whose reign have been so filled with many and great commotions and conflicts, that it cannot yet be known what is to be said concerning them, or what end they will have.”  The first of the four annals which form a ‘Continuation’ of the ‘Ecclesiastical History’ in the Moore Manuscript, which seems to be the earliest extant copy of the work, reports that: “In the year 731 King Ceolwulf was taken prisoner, and tonsured, and sent back to his kingdom”.*  No further illumination concerning the “great commotions and conflicts” that marked the start of Ceolwulf's reign is available.
Despite Ceolwulf's problems, Bede, in a summary of “the state of all Britain” at the time he was finishing the ‘Ecclesiastical History’ (‘HE’ V, 23), was able to write that: “The Pictish people also at this time are at peace with the English nation, and rejoice in having their part in Catholic peace and truth with the universal Church. The Scots that inhabit Britain, content with their own territories, devise no plots nor hostilities against the English nation. The Britons, though they, for the most part, as a nation hate and oppose the English nation, and wrongfully, and from wicked lewdness, set themselves against the appointed Easter of the whole Catholic Church;* yet, inasmuch as both Divine and human power withstand them, they can in neither purpose prevail as they desire; for though in part they are their own masters, yet part of them are brought under subjection to the English. In these favourable times of peace and calm, many of the Northumbrians, as well of the nobility as private persons, laying aside their weapons, and receiving the tonsure, desire rather both for themselves and their children to take upon them monastic vows, than to practise the pursuit of war.”
Previously (‘HE ’III, 4), Bede had mentioned: “Bishop Nynia, a most reverend and holy man of the British nation, who had been regularly instructed at Rome in the faith and mysteries of the truth; whose episcopal see, named after St Martin the bishop [of Tours, d.397], and famous for a church dedicated to him, wherein he [Nynia] and many other saints rest in the body, is now in the possession of the English nation. The place belongs to the province of the Bernicians, and is commonly called At the White House [Whithorn], because he there built a church of stone, which was not usual among the Britons.”*  Whithorn is now in Dumfries & Galloway, south-western Scotland. In 731 it had only recently become the seat of a Northumbrian bishop: “in the province of the Northumbrians, where King Ceolwulf reigns, four bishops now preside; Wilfrid [Wilfrid II] in the church of York, Æthelwald in that of Lindisfarne, Acca in that of Hagustald [Hexham], Pehthelm in that which is called the White House, which, as the number of the faithful has increased, has lately become an episcopal see, and has him for its first prelate.” (‘HE’ V, 23).  In fact, later in 731: “Bishop Acca was driven from his see”, says the ‘Continuation’ annal in the Moore Manuscript. Whether Acca's expulsion had anything to do with the crisis that Ceolwulf faced about the same time is not known.
Wilfrid II (Wilfrid the Younger) resigned the bishopric of York in 732. Egbert (who was a cousin of Ceolwulf, and the brother of Ceolwulf's successor, Eadberht) was his replacement.* Bede wrote a letter (more of a lecture) to Egbert, in 734,* advising him how he, Bede, believed Egbert should conduct himself and what he, Bede, thought needed to be done: “Thus far, most beloved Bishop, have I briefly alluded to the calamity under which our country is suffering most severely, and I earnestly beseech you to strive to rectify what you see done amiss. For I believe you have a ready assistant in so good a labour in King Ceolwulf, who, by his own zeal for religion, will endeavour firmly to lend his aid in whatever relates to the rule of piety, and most especially will exert himself to promote and bring to completion the good works which you, his dearest relation, shall undertake; wherefore I would prudently advise him, that he should in your time make the ecclesiastical establishment of our nation more complete than it has hitherto been. This cannot be better done, in my opinion, than by consecrating more bishops ... For the holy Pope Gregory, in his letters to the blessed Archbishop Augustine concerning the faith of our nation ... ordered him to ordain twelve bishops therein, as soon as they [the Northumbrian people] should have embraced the faith, and that the bishop of York should receive the pallium from the Apostolic See, and become their metropolitan [i.e. archbishop]. Wherefore, holy Father, I would wish that you should, under the holy guidance of the above-named king, whom God loveth, endeavour, to the best of your judgment, to make this number of bishops complete, in order that the number of ministers may abound, and the church of Christ be the more fully instructed in those things which pertain to the duties of our holy religion.”  In 735, Egbert did, indeed, receive a pallium, and York became an archbishopric. Also in 735, Bede died.
Symeon of Durham reports (‘HR’) that, in 737: “Ceolwulf resigned the kingdom of the Northumbrians, and became a monk in the island of Lindisfarne; and Eadberht, his uncle's son, succeeded in his stead.”
The above quote is taken from the first of the two chronicles found in the ‘Historia Regum’. In the second chronicle, s.a. 854, appears the comment: “Through the means of this king, when he became a monk, there was given to the monks of the church of Lindisfarne the privilege of drinking wine or ale; before that time they used to drink nothing but milk or water, according to the tradition which they had anciently received from St Aidan, monk and first bishop of that church”.  Elsewhere (‘LDE’ II,1), Symeon lists the considerable quantity of property that Ceolwulf gifted to Lindisfarne, and adds: “Having received the tonsure in the said monastery, it was his delight to live a monastic life amongst the monks, and after having been a ruler upon earth to become a soldier for the kingdom of heaven.”  Ceolwulf died at Lindisfarne, in 764 according to Symeon (‘HR’), but in 760 according to Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’.*
737 – 758  Eadberht
No coins are known to have been produced in Northumbria between the reigns of Aldfrith (685–705) and Eadberht. During Eadberht's reign, production of the small silver coins known as ‘sceattas’ recommenced.* The example above (14 mm diameter, 1.15 g) bears the name of Eadberht (EOTBEREhTVΓ) on one side and the name of the archbishop of York, Egbert, who was Eadberht's brother, on the other.
Son of Eata.
Eadberht succeeded Ceolwulf, his cousin (their paternal grandfather was Leodwald, a descendant of, the mid-6th century king of Bernicia, Ida), when Ceolwulf became a monk at Lindisfarne, in 737. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ notes: “In this year Eadberht, son of Eata (Eata was son of Leodwald), succeeded to the kingdom of the Northumbrians, and held it 21 winters; and his brother was archbishop Egbert, son of Eata; and they both rest at York city, in one porch.”*
Precious little is known about Eadberht's, comparatively long, reign, but the few disconnected, and somewhat cryptic, snippets of information that there are suggest he was a strong leader, a warrior-king. An entry in the ‘Continuation’ of Bede's ‘Ecclesiastical History’ states: “In the year 740 ... Æthelbald, king of the Mercians, cruelly and wrongfully wasted part of Northumbria, their king, Eadberht, with his army, being employed against the Picts.”  Also in 740, as reported by Symeon of Durham (‘HR’): “Earnwine the son of Eadwulf was slain, on Saturday, the 10th of the Kalends of January [23rd December].”  Eadwulf had ruled for two months in the winter of 705/6, before being expelled from Northumbria. Eadwulf may well have found refuge with the Picts, and it is tempting to join up the dots, and raise the possibility that his son, Earnwine, attempted to overthrow Eadberht with Pictish aid. Presumably Æthelbald's attack was opportunistic. Symeon notes that, in 741: “The monastery of the city of York was burnt, on Sunday, the 11th of the Kalends of May [23rd April].”  Whilst the entry for 741 in Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ is: “This year York was burnt.”  Once again, dot-joining might suggest that it was Æthelbald who was responsible, but the ‘Continuation’ of Bede reports that “a great drought came upon the country” in 741, so there must be a strong likelihood that the devastation was caused by an accidental fire that ran out of control.
At this time, the eastern side of what is now southern Scotland was in Northumbria – the Forth separating the Northumbrians from the Picts. In the western side of this region, Northumbrian ownership seems to have only encompassed (roughly) the area of modern Dumfries & Galloway (there was a Northumbrian bishop with his see at Whithorn). North of here were the Strathclyde Britons, ruled from the stronghold of Dumbarton Rock. Symeon of Durham mentions that a “battle was fought between the Picts and the Britons” in 744, whilst the ‘Annals of Ulster’ place a battle “between Picts and Britons” in 750. Eadberht, perhaps taking advantage of their preoccupation with the Picts, attacked the Britons' southern territories. The ‘Continuation’ of Bede notes that: “In the year 750 ... Eadbert added the plain of Kyle [in modern Ayrshire] and other places to his dominions.”  Onuist (or Unust) son of Uurguist (probably better known in the Irish version: Oengus son of Fergus), was king of the Picts during Eadberht's reign in Northumbria. In 756, says Symeon of Durham: “King Eadberht, in the 18th year of his reign,* and Unust, king of the Picts, led an army to the city of Alcluith [Dumbarton Rock]; and hence the Britons accepted terms there, on the first day of August. But on the tenth day of the same month, nearly the whole army perished, which he led from Ouania to Niwanbirig; that is, to the New Town.”  Ouania has plausibly been identified as Govan. Niwanbirig is an English name, and so is in Northumbria – Newbrough, near Hexham, seems a likely candidate. Presumably Eadberht's army was ambushed on its way home from Dumbarton – but, if so, by whom? The Strathclyde Britons would seem the obvious candidates, but the ‘Continuation’ of Bede, recording the death of Oengus, in 761, observes that: “from the beginning to the end of his reign, [Oengus] continued to be a blood-stained and tyrannical butcher”.  Perhaps, then, Oengus double-crossed Eadberht.
Meanwhile, in 750, Eadberht had evidently acted to neutralize a potential challenge to his position. Symeon of Durham reports the incident twice. Firstly, as usual, in the ‘Historia Regum’: “King Eadberht led Bishop Cynewulf captive to the city of Bebba [Bamburgh], and made him abide in the church of St Peter in Lindisfarne. Also Offa, the son of Aldfrith, an innocent man, took refuge by compulsion at the relics of St Cuthbert the bishop; almost dead with hunger, he was dragged unarmed from the church.” (‘HR’ s.a. 750).  Secondly, in his tract on the church of Durham: “During the reign of Eadberht ... the bishopric of the church of Lindisfarne was held by Cynewulf for some considerable length of time, but under many annoyances and misfortunes. One of the royal family, named Offa, in order to escape from the persecutions of his enemies, fled to the body of St Cuthbert, but having been forcibly dragged away from it, he was wickedly put to death. Hereupon, King Eadberht, highly displeased, laid hold upon Bishop Cynewulf, and commanded him to be imprisoned in Bebbanburh, and in the meantime the bishopric of Lindisfarne was administered by Frithuberht, bishop of Hexham, until the king becoming appeased, released Cynewulf from his confinement, and permitted him to return to his church.” (‘LDE’ II, 2).
Symeon begins the next chapter of the ‘LDE’: “At this point I interrupt the progress of my history of the bishops, since it appears fitting that I should make a few brief remarks upon King Eadberht ... who when he had mounted the throne gave proof that he was fully competent to fill it, and to retain it with energy and success. When at length he had either reduced to subjection or overcome in battle all who opposed him, not only did all the neighbouring kings of the English, Picts, Britons, and Scots keep peace with him, but were happy in showing him marks of deference. So wide did the reputation of his good deeds extend, that they reached even to Pepin the king of the Franks, who, in consequence, entered into a friendly correspondence with him, and sent him many different kinds of royal gifts. In the 21st year of his reign, whilst he was flourishing in peace and dignity, beloved and favoured by all, he surrendered his kingdom to his son, named Oswulf, and subjected himself to the service of Almighty God as a clerk, notwithstanding that the kings of the English had previously urged him with much importunity not to take this step, and were willing even to have resigned to him a part of their kingdoms as an addition to his own realm. But he preferred the service of God to all the riches and sovereignty, and in that service he continued for ten years, even to the end of his life, when he was buried at York, in the same porch as his brother Egbert, who had died three years before himself.” (‘LDE’ II, 3).  In the ‘Historia Regum’, Symeon places Eadberht's abdication in 758, Egbert's death on 19th November 766, and Eadberht's death on 20th August 768.
758 – 759  Oswulf
Son of Eadberht.
Symeon of Durham (‘HR’), s.a. 758: “Eadberht, king of the Northumbrians, of his own accord, gave up the kingdom bestowed upon him by God, to his own son named Oswulf; who during one single year held, parted from, and lost, the kingdom: for he was wickedly put to death by his household, on the 9th of the Kalends of August [24th July], near Methel Wongtun [unidentified].”
759 – 765  Æthelwald Moll
The iron and brass helmet pictured above was unearthed at York in 1982. It has been dated to around 750–775, and seems to have belonged to one Oshere. The brass banding bears a Latin inscription which translates along the lines of: “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and God; and to all we say amen Oshere”.
The helmet is usually on display in the Yorkshire Museum, York.
Symeon of Durham (‘HR’), s.a. 759: “Æthelwald, who was also called Moll, began to reign on the Nones of August [5th August]."  Æthelwald's lineage is not recorded. Pope Paul I (757–767) had written to King Eadberht,* castigating him for taking three monasteries, “by force”, from one Abbot Forthred and giving them: “to a certain patrician, his [Forthred's] brother, Moll by name.”  It seems likely that this “patrician” was the future king, Æthelwald Moll.
The annals that make up the ‘Continuation’ of the ‘Ecclesiastical History’ of Bede state: “In the year 759, Oswulf was wickedly murdered by his own thegns; and Æthelwald, being chosen the same year by his people, entered upon the kingdom; in whose second year there was great tribulation by reason of pestilence, which continued almost two years, divers grievous sicknesses raging, but more especially the disease of dysentery.”  The entry for the year 761 concludes: “and Oswine was slain.”  Symeon of Durham (s.a. 759) provides some detail: “At the commencement of his [Æthelwald's] third year, a severe battle was fought on the 8th of the Ides of August [6th August], beside Eldunum, near Melrose.* In which, after three days, Oswine was slain, on Sunday. King Æthelwald, who is called Moll, obtained the victory in the battle.”  Presumably Oswine, of whom nothing is known, was intent on deposing Æthelwald.
Symeon notes, s.a. 762, that: “The aforesaid king Æthelwald took Æthelthryth [unknown] as his queen at Cataract [Catterick], on the Kalends [i.e. the 1st] of November.”  In 765, however: “on the third of the Kalends of November [30th October], Æthelwald lost the kingdom of the Northumbrians at Wincanheale”.  Wincanheale was evidently a meeting-place (synods are reported to have been held there), so Æthelwald would appear to have been, in effect, voted out of office. The Irish ‘Annals of Tigernach’ note: “Moll, king of the Saxons, becomes a cleric.”
765 – 774  Alhred
Son of Eanwine.
Genealogies show Alhred to be descended from Ida, the mid-6th century king of Bernicia, by a hitherto unknown line. This seems to have been a questionable claim – “a descendant, as some say, of King Ida”, comments Symeon of Durham (‘HR’), s.a. 765.
Symeon mentions that, in 768, Alhred got married – his wife, Osgifu, was, evidently, the daughter of Oswulf (who had reigned 758–759) – and in the following year, 769: “Cataract [Catterick] was burnt by the tyrant Earnred; and by the judgement of God, he himself miserably perished by fire in the same year.”  Of which incident, nothing more is known.
Alhred was a supporter of English missionary work on the Continent. Symeon reports that one Aluberht was consecrated “bishop for the Old Saxons” at York in 767, and, round about 770, according to a mid-9th century ‘Vita’ of St Willehad, it was Alhred who convened the synod that gave Willehad permission to travel to Frisia as a missionary.*  In 773, Alhred and Osgifu were corresponding with the bishop of Mainz, Lul (an Englishman, from Wessex). A letter, from the king and queen, survives, which shows that Alhred was trying to establish cordial relations with “the most glorious King Charles” of the Franks (i.e. Charlemagne). The letter also refers to: “the disturbances in our churches and people”.
The next year, 774: “at Eastertide, the Northumbrians drove their king Alhred from York”, announce Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’.  Symeon of Durham says that Alhred: “by the design and consent of all his connections, being deprived of the society of the royal family and princes, changed the dignity of empire for exile. He went with a few companions of his flight, first to the city of Bebba [Bamburgh], and afterwards to the king of the Picts, Cynoht [Kenneth, 763–775] by name... Moreover, Æthelred, the son of Æthelwald, in the place of this person, received the kingdom”.
774 – 779  Æthelred I  (first reign)
Son of Æthelwald Moll.
Æthelred was, says Symeon of Durham (‘HR’), s.a. 774: “crowned with such great honour”.  However, if he was Æthelwald's legitimate son by Æthelthryth, Æthelred could hardly have been any older than eleven at the time of his accession.
Æthelred (or the power behind his throne) appears to have ruthlessly suppressed any opposition. In 775, reports Symeon of Durham: “Ealdorman [dux] Eadwulf, taken by cunning treachery, was in a short space of time killed, buried, and forgotten.”  And then: “In the 4th year of king Æthelred, that is the year 778, three ealdormen, namely, Ealdwulf, Cynewulf, and Ecga, at the command of the same king, were treacherously put to death by the princes Æthelbald and Heardberht, on the 3rd of the Kalends of October [29th September]. What happened in the year 779 the following narrative will declare.”  Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, s.a. 778, tell the story rather differently: “Æthelbald and Heardberht slew three high-reeves, Ealdwulf son of Bosa, at King's cliff [Coniscliffe], and Cynewulf and Ecga at Helathirnum [unidentified], on the 11th of the Kalends of April [22nd March]; and then Ælfwald succeeded to the kingdom, and drove Æthelred from the land”.*  Symeon of Durham, s.a. 779: “Æthelred, expelled from his royal throne, and driven into exile, was forced to undergo sad changes, and experience much wretchedness. Ælfwald, the son of Oswulf, on the expulsion of Æthelred, obtained the kingdom of the Northumbrians”.
The annals dated 732 to 802 in Symeon's ‘Historia Regum’ are derived from a lost Northumbrian source. The ‘northern recension’ of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, which survives as Manuscripts D and E, also incorporated material derived from the same source. Kenneth Harrison muses on the possibility that: “the archetypal entry ran somewhat as follows: 778, Ealdwulf son of Bosa was killed at Coniscliffe on 29 September; 779, Cynewulf and Ecga were killed at Helathirnum on 22 March.”*
779 – 788  Ælfwald I
Son of Oswulf.
Ælfwald “was a pious and upright king” according to Symeon of Durham (‘HR’, s.a. 779), but, nevertheless, in 780: “Ealdormen Osbald and Æthelheard, having gathered an army, burnt Beorn, a patrician (patricius) of king Ælfwald, in Seletun [possibly Silton, North Yorkshire], on the 9th of the Kalends of January [24th December].”*
In 786 two papal legates arrived in Britain: “renewing amongst us the ancient friendship, and the catholic faith which St Gregory taught by blessed Augustine”, says Symeon. They arrived in Kent, and then travelled to Mercia, where they separated. One of the legates, George bishop of Ostia, visited Northumbria. The text of his report on the mission has survived.* When Bishop George arrived in Northumbria, Ælfwald “was living far off in the north”, and Eanbald, archbishop of York, had to send messengers to contact him. The king promptly called a synod, “to which the chief men of the district came, ecclesiastical and secular”.  A number of canons (ecclesiastical laws) presented by the legate – amongst them is one that states: “Let no one dare to conspire for the death of a king” – were accepted by the assembled dignitaries. The senior secular magnate present was the patricius Sicga.
After the synod in Northumbria, Bishop George returned to Mercia, where he was reunited with his colleague, Theophylact, bishop of Todi. Another synod was held, presided over by Offa, the powerful Mercian king, and Jænberht, archbishop of Canterbury, at which the new canons were also accepted. The eminent teacher, scholar and theologian, Alcuin, travelled to Mercia with George, as a representative of King Ælfwald and Archbishop Eanbald.
Symeon of Durham reports, s.a. 788: “King Ælfwald, a conspiracy being formed by his patrician, Sicga by name, was miserably slain on the 9th of the Kalends of October [23rd September], at a place called Scythlescester [possibly Chesters], near the Wall [Hadrian's Wall].”*  He was buried in the church at Hexham, but: “On the spot where the just king Ælfwald was slain, light sent down from heaven is said to have been seen by many.”
Symeon notes, s.a. 793: “Ealdorman (dux) Sicga, who murdered King Ælfwald, died by his own hand;* his body was carried to the isle of Lindisfarne on the 9th of the Kalends of May [23rd April].”
788 – 790  Osred II
Son of Alhred.
790 – 796  Æthelred I  (second reign)
Son of Æthelwald Moll.
After King Ælfwald had been murdered in 788: “his nephew, Osred, the son of Alhred, reigned in his place one year“, notes Symeon of Durham (‘HR’).
Æthelred, the son of Æthelwald Moll (r.759–765), had first come to power in 774, after Alhred, Osred's father, had been deposed and exiled. Æthelred, in turn, had been deposed and exiled in 779, at which point Ælfwald had become king. In 790, however: “Æthelred was freed from banishment, and again, by Christ's favour, seated on the throne of the kingdom. But King Osred, overreached by the treachery of his princes, having been taken prisoner, and deprived of his kingdom, assumed the tonsure in the city of York, and afterwards, driven by necessity, went into exile.”  Actually, Osred took refuge on the Isle of Man.
Alcuin, the renowned scholar, was in Northumbria at the beginning of Æthelred's second reign. In a letter to an Irish pupil (A9), he writes: “Æthelred, son of Æthelwald, has just come from misery to majesty, from prison to the throne! The new reign keeps me here against my inclination, so I cannot come to you.”  Alcuin wrote to Æthelred (A11): “Personal affection prompts me to send you a personal letter. I shall always love you, and so shall never stop giving you advice ... You who sit upon the throne should live in a civilised manner. Reason, not anger, should be your master. You should not become hated for your cruelty, but loved for your kindness... My dear son, may Almighty God give you a long and happy reign and an honourable life.”  Writing to a colleague in Francia (A10), Alcuin notes: “I must tell you, my dear brother, that I found things in my own country somewhat disturbed and the new king's attitude not as I hoped or wished. Still I have given some advice to him and to others; and today we are working against injustice, to the best of our ability, with certain men of power.”
During his first reign Æthelred had been ruthless towards potential opponents; and so he continued to be. Symeon of Durham (‘HR’ s.a. 790) reports a singular happening: “In his second year [791], Ealdorman Eardwulf was taken prisoner, and conveyed to Ripon, and there ordered by the aforesaid king to be put to death without the gate of the monastery. The brethren carried his body to the church with Gregorian chanting, and placed it out of doors in a tent; after midnight he was found alive in the church.”  Eardwulf went into exile, but not all of Æthelred's victims were so lucky: “The sons of King Ælfwald, having been carried from the city of York by force, and drawn from the principal church by deceitful promises, were miserably slain by King Æthelred in Wonwaldremere [unidentified]; their names were Oelf and Oelfwine.” (‘HR’ s.a. 791).
In 792, says Symeon: “Osred, induced by the oaths and pledges of certain nobles, came secretly from his exile in Eufania [Isle of Man], and there his soldiers deserting him, he was captured by the aforesaid king Æthelred, and put to death by his order, at a place called Aynburg [unidentified], on the 18th of the Kalends of October [14th September]. His body was brought to the mouth of the river Tyne, and buried in the church of the noble monastery there. In the same year, King Æthelred took as his queen Ælflæd, daughter of Offa, king of the Mercians, at Cataract [Catterick], on the 3rd of the Kalends of October [29th September].”
In 793, the Vikings make their first, dramatic, appearance in Northumbrian history. Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ report: “In this year dire forewarnings came over the land of the Northumbrians, and miserably terrified the people: these were excessive whirlwinds and lightnings,+ and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air. A great famine soon followed these tokens; and a little after that, in the same year, on the 6th of the Ides of June [8th June], the havoc of heathen men miserably destroyed God's church at Lindisfarne, through rapine and slaughter.”  Symeon of Durham (‘HR’ s.a. 793) adds: “the pagans from the Northern region came with a naval armament to Britain, like stinging hornets, and overran the country in all directions, like fierce wolves, plundering, tearing, and killing not only sheep and oxen, but priests and Levites [i.e. deacons], and choirs of monks and nuns. They came, as we before said, to the church of Lindisfarne, and laid all waste with dreadful havoc, trod with unhallowed feet the holy places, dug up the altars, and carried off all the treasures of the holy church. Some of the brethren they killed; some they carried off in chains; many they cast out, naked and loaded with insults; some they drowned in the sea.”*
Alcuin, in a letter (A12) to King Æthelred of Northumbria and his nobles, wrote: “We and our fathers have now lived in this fair land for nearly three hundred and fifty years, and never before has such an atrocity been seen in Britain as we have now suffered at the hands of a pagan people. Such a voyage was not thought possible. The church of St Cuthbert [erstwhile bishop of Lindisfarne, d.687] is spattered with the blood of the priests of God, stripped of all its furnishings, exposed to the plundering of pagans – a place more sacred than any in Britain... Consider closely and carefully, brothers, in case this unprecedented unheard-of disaster is due to some unheard-of evil practice. I do not say that the sin of fornication has not existed among our people in the past. But since the days of King Ælfwald, fornication, adultery and incest have flooded the land to such an extent that these sins are committed without any shame even among nuns. Why should I mention greed, robbery and judicial violence when it is as clear as day how these crimes have increased everywhere.* A plundered people is proof of it... There were warnings of this calamity in unusual happenings or strange conduct. What is the meaning of the bloody rain which we saw in Lent in the city of York in the church of St Peter, the chief apostle, in the chief church of the kingdom, falling in a clear sky menacingly from the top of the roof at the north end of the building?* Does it not mean that punishment by blood was coming from the north upon the people? Its beginning may be seen in the blow which recently fell upon the house of God. Consider the dress, the way of wearing the hair, the luxurious habits of the princes and people. See how you have wanted to copy the pagan way of cutting hair and beards. Are not these the people whose terror threatens us, yet you want to copy their hair? And why this wasteful clothing, beyond the needs of man and beyond the practice of our ancestors? Luxury in princes means poverty for the people... A terrifying judgment has begun at the house of God where rest some of the brightest lights of all Britain. What must we think of other places, when divine judgment has not spared this most holy place? I do not think this is only for the sins of those who live there.”  Alcuin wrote to Hygebald, bishop of Lindisfarne (A26), reiterating his opinion that the Viking attack had “not happened by chance, but is the sign of some great guilt“, and advising the bishop how he and his community should behave: “stand firm in the service of God and the discipline of the monastic life, that the holy fathers whose sons you are may not cease to protect you.” Alcuin concludes: “When our lord King Charles returns from defeating his enemies by God's mercy, I plan to go to him, and if I can then do anything for you about the boys who have been carried off by the pagans as prisoners or about any other of your needs, I shall make every effort to see it is done. Fare well, beloved in Christ, and be ever strengthened in well-doing.”
Symeon of Durham, s.a. 794: “The aforesaid pagans, ravaging the harbour of King Ecgfrith [r.670–685], plundered the monastery at the mouth of the river Don.* But St Cuthbert did not allow them to depart unpunished; for their chief was there put to a cruel death by the English, and a short time afterwards a violent storm shattered, destroyed and broke-up their vessels, and the sea swallowed up very many of them; some, however, were cast ashore, and speedily slain without mercy: and these things befell them justly, since they heavily injured those who had not injured them.”  This was by no means an isolated incident. The ‘Annals of Ulster’, s.a. 794, record: “Devastation of all the islands of Britain by gentiles [i.e. heathens].” V
Despite the Viking threat, the Northumbrian nobility continued to fight amongst themselves. Symeon of Durham s.a. 796: “King Æthelred was slain at Cobre [possibly Corbridge], on the 14th of the Kalends of May [18th April], in the 7th year of his reign; Osbald the patrician was appointed to the kingdom by some chiefs of that nation”.*  Symeon later (s.a. 799) names Æthelred's killer as Ealdorman Ealdred.
In a letter (A41) to Offa, king of the Mercians, Alcuin reveals that “my lord King Charles”, i.e. Charlemagne, had sent gifts to Æthelred and his bishoprics, but when he heard of Æthelred's overthrow and death: “King Charles took his generous gifts back, he was so angry with the people, “that treacherous, perverse people,” as he called them, “who murder their own lords,” for he thought them worse than pagans. If I had not interceded for them, he would have deprived them of every advantage and done them every harm he could.”
796  Osbald
796 – 806  Eardwulf
806 – 808  Ælfwald II
Symeon of Durham (‘HR’) s.a. 796: “Osbald the patrician was appointed to the kingdom by some chiefs of that nation, and 27 days after, forsaken by the whole company of the royal household and princes, having been put to flight and expelled from the kingdom, he, with a few followers, retired to the island of Lindisfarne, and thence went by ship, with some of his brethren, to the king of the Picts. Eardwulf, of whom we have before spoken ....
In 791, Eardwulf had, almost miraculously, survived an attempt on his life by, Osbald's predecessor, Æthelred.
.... the son of Eardwulf,* recalled from exile, was raised to the crown, and was consecrated on the 7th of the Kalends of June [26th May], in York, in the church of St Peter”.  Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ preserve some extra snippets of information: “Eardwulf succeeded to the kingdom of the Northumbrians, on the 2nd of the Ides of May [14th May]; and he was afterwards blessed for king, and raised to his throne on the 7th of the Kalends of June [26th May], at York, by Archbishop Eanbald, and Æthelberht [bishop of Hexham] and Hygebald [bishop of Lindisfarne] and Baldwulf [bishop of Whithorn].”*
“To his eminence King Eardwulf, Alcuin, the deacon, sends greetings... You know well the dangers from which God in his mercy has delivered you and the ease with which he brought you to the throne, when he willed it... Reflect urgently on the sins for which your predecessors lost their thrones and lives... The vengeance of God clearly hangs over the land, for otherwise so much blood of nobles and rulers would not have been spilt, nor would the pagans have so destroyed the holy places, nor would injustice and pride be so strong among the people. I believe you have been saved for better times to set your country right” (A16).  In a letter to a Mercian nobleman (A46), written about a year after Eardwulf's succession,* Alcuin says: “I have heard that much has happened to you to cause you great distress, and not only you personally but your whole kingdom ... Great troubles have fallen upon my nation [i.e. Northumbria] also through the treachery of evil men... These are times of trouble everywhere in our country [i.e. England]: faith is lapsing, truth is silent, ill-will grows and pride increases amid sufferings... give earnest counsel to your king and also to ours, that they keep close to divine goodness, avoiding adultery, not slighting the wives they already have by affairs with women of the nobility, but in the fear of God keeping their own wives or agreeing to live in abstinence. I fear our king Eardwulf must soon lose his throne for the affront to God involved in putting away his wife and openly living with his mistress, as is reported. May your beloved king avoid this ... It looks as if England's good fortune is nearly over, unless by constant prayer, by honesty, humility and purity of life and by keeping to the faith they earn the right from God to keep the land which he freely gave our forefathers... You should also advise the whole Mercian people to maintain good, temperate and pure conduct ... our kingdom, Northumbria, was almost destroyed by internal quarrels and false oaths. Nor do I think their wickedness has ended yet.”
It would appear that, in 798, there was an attempt to reinstate Osbald. Symeon of Durham reports: “Ealdorman Wada, entering into a conspiracy formed by the murderers of King Æthelred, fought a battle against King Eardwulf, in a place called by the English Billingahoth [Billington Moor], near Walalege [Whalley, Lancashire]; and many on both sides being slain, Ealdorman Wada, with his men, was put to flight, and king Eardwulf royally gained the victory over his enemies.”  Once again, Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Chronicle’ bring some other details to the story: “there was a great fight in the land of the Northumbrians, in Lent, on the 4th of the Nones of April [2nd April], at Hwealæge [Whalley]; and there Alric, the son of Heardberht, was slain, and many others with him.”
“To his dear friend Osbald, Alcuin, the deacon, sends greeting.  I am disappointed in you for not taking the advice I gave you in my letter more than two years ago, that you should give up the secular life and serve God according to your vow. And now dishonour and disaster have laid your life in ruins. So go back, go back, and fulfil your vow... Do not add sin to sin by ruining your country and shedding blood. Think how much blood of kings, princes and people has been shed through you and your family.* It is an unhappy breed, which has brought so much evil upon our country. Set yourself free, I beg you in God's name, lest your soul be lost for ever.” (A17).
Symeon's entry for the following year (799) states: “Ealdorman Moll was slain by the urgent command of King Eardwulf. Also, at the same time, Osbald, once ealdorman and patrician, and for a time king, after that abbot, breathed his last; his body was buried in the church of the city of York. Ealdorman Ealdred, the murderer of King Æthelred, was slain by Ealdorman Torhtmund, in revenge of his lord, the same king.”  And, in 800: “Ealhmund, son, as some say, of King Alhred [r.765–774], was seized by the guards of King Eardwulf, and by his order put to death with the companions of his flight.”
Ealhmund was buried at Derby, in Mercia, where he was revered as a saint (St Alkmund).*
The Northumbrian nobility were occupied with their own internal power struggle, but the external threat, the Vikings, had not disappeared. Roger of Wendover: “In the year 800, a band of impious pagans cruelly wasted the churches of Hartness and Tynemouth, and retired with the spoils to their ships.”  Nevertheless, Symeon records 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, through the kindness of the king of the English.+ 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.”
Eanbald, archbishop of York, had died in 796, just months after he had presided at Eardwulf's consecration. His successor, a former pupil of Alcuin, was also called Eanbald (though Alcuin, who had a penchant for pet names, calls him Simeon). In 801 Alcuin wrote (A21) to two friends: “I have heard of the troubles of my dear son Simeon. Urge him to be faithful in his trials and not feeble hearted... I fear he may be suffering in part for taking land or supporting the king's enemies. Let him be content with what he has, and not grasp at the property of others, which is often a dangerous proceeding... Why has he so many soldiers in his retinue? He seems to keep them out of charity... I hear he has more than his predecessors had, and they likewise have more rank and file under them than is proper.”
Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, s.a. 806, make the bald statement: “Eardwulf, king of the Northumbrians, was driven from his kingdom”.  At this point the narrative thread of Northumbrian history becomes very thin indeed. The sequence of Northumbrian annals surviving in Symeon's ‘Historia Regum’ and Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Chronicle’, which picked-up from the end of Bede's ‘Ecclesiastical History’, i.e. from 731, have now finished. In his tract on the church of Durham (‘LDE’ II, 5), Symeon writes: “in the tenth year of his reign he [Eardwulf] was expelled from the province, and Ælfwald held it for two years.”*
The ‘Annales Regni Francorum’ (composed during the 8th and 9th centuries) record, s.a. 808: “the king of the Northumbrians, from the island of Britain, Eardwulf by name, came to the emperor [Charlemagne] while he was still at Nijmegen; he had been driven from his kingdom and native land.* After explaining the matter which had brought him, he set out for Rome; and on his return from there he was conducted back into his kingdom by legates of the Roman pontiff and the lord emperor.”  The legates returned to the Continent in 809 (not without incident – one of them, having been captured by pirates, had to be ransomed by a representative of the Mercian king, Cenwulf).
It is clear from extant letters sent by Pope Leo III to Charlemagne, that both men were in contact with Northumbria. (It is, indeed, just possible that Eardwulf had married a daughter of Charlemagne.)* One of Leo's letters reveals that Eanbald, archbishop of York, Wada, the ealdorman, and Cenwulf, king of the Mercians, had written to Charlemagne, who forwarded their letters to Leo. Leo seems to imply that he thought these three were behind Eardwulf's expulsion: “these writers were full of deceit which they had concocted amongst themselves”.
It is generally supposed that the wording of the Frankish annal means that Eardwulf recovered the throne, but no suggestion of that appears in English sources. It does, though, seem likely that his return in 808, with the support of Charlemagne and Pope Leo III, precipitated Ælfwald's downfall. Both Symeon and Durham (‘LDE’ II, 5) and Roger of Wendover say that Ælfwald was succeeded by Eardwulf's son, Eanred, so perhaps Eardwulf stood down in favour of his son.*
It is not known when Eardwulf died. It is, however, widely accepted that he is the St Hardulph who was buried in the monastery at Breedon on the Hill, in Mercia.*
808 ? – 840 ?  Eanred
Son of Eardwulf.
According to Symeon of Durham (‘LDE’ II, 5), Northumbria: “was under the sway of Eanred, the son of King Eardwulf, for 33 years.”  According to Roger of Wendover, however, Eardwulf reigned 32 years.
In 829, the West Saxon king, Egbert, having conquered Mercia, and consequently been named as the eighth (and final) Bretwalda by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’: “led an army to Dore [near Sheffield, on the Mercia/Northumbria border] against the Northumbrians, and they there offered him obedience and concord; and thereupon they separated.”*  Roger of Wendover claims that Egbert actually invaded Northumbria – his: “mighty army ... committing terrible ravages in that province, and putting King Eanred under tribute.”  However, the Mercian king, Wiglaf, recovered his throne the next year (830), and it is unlikely that Egbert had any influence in Northumbria after that.
Roger of Wendover: “In the year of our Lord 840, died Eanred, king of the Northumbrians, and was succeeded by his son Æthelred, who reigned 7 years.”  In the, so called, ‘Annales Lindisfarnenses et Dunelmenses’ (Annals of Lindisfarne and Durham), which has been attributed to Symeon of Durham, Æthelred is said, s.a. 841, to have reigned 9 years.
840 ? – 844 ?  Æthelred II (first reign)
Son of Eanred.
Roger of Wendover, s.a. 844: “Æthelred, king of the Northumbrians, was driven from his kingdom, and was succeeded by Rædwulf ....
844 ?  Rædwulf
.... who was no sooner invested with the diadem than he fought a battle with the pagans at Alutthelia [unidentified], in which himself and his ealdorman [consul] Alfred fell, with the greatest part of their forces, on which Æthelred again obtained the kingdom.” V
844 ? – 848 ?  Æthelred II (second reign)
Roger of Wendover: “In the year of our Lord 848, Æthelred, king of the Northumbrians being slain, Osbert succeeded him”.
South of the Humber, during the second half of the 8th century, the small, thick, silver coins, known as ‘sceattas’, had been superseded by broader, flatter, silver pennies.* In Northumbria, however, this did not happen. Northumbrian coins (which, incidentally, were issued in the names of archbishops of York as well as kings) retained the small thick format, and became progressively more and more debased.* Gareth Williams notes that: “by the early ninth century the silver content was minimal, while by the mid ninth century it had almost completely disappeared.”  These copper alloy coins are known as ‘stycas’.
Pictured right is a styca (14 mm diameter, 1.12 g) assigned to the second reign of Æthelred II. The king's name, +EDILRED REX, is inscribed on the obverse, whilst the name of the moneyer, Eardwulf, +EARDVVLF, is inscribed on the reverse.
Æthelred's successor, Osbert, was the last king of Northumbria to mint coins.
848 ? – 866 ?  Osbert
866 ? – 867 Ælla
According to Roger of Wendover, s.a. 848, Osbert reigned for 18 years, but according to the ‘ALD’, s.a. 850, he reigned for 13 years. Roger has apparently taken no account of the reign of Ælla, to whom the ‘ALD’, s.a. 863, assigns a reign of 4 years. As will be seen, it, perhaps, does seem more likely that Ælla's reign lasted for less than a year.
Meanwhile, by about 848, one Kenneth MacAlpin, a Scot, had secured control of the Picts. From his time, the kingdom of the Scots (Dál Riata) and the kingdom of the Picts were a single kingdom. According to the ‘Scottish Chronicle’ in the Poppleton Manuscript, Kenneth, who died in 858: “invaded England [Saxonia] six times; and he burned Dunbar and seized Melrose [both of which were in Northumbria].”
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, s.a. 866: “In this year ... came a great heathen army to the land of the English,+ and took winter quarters among the East Angles”.  When describing the activities of the “heathen army”, the ‘Chronicle’ apparently adopts the convention of starting the year in what would be the previous September by modern reckoning.* This large Viking army arrived in England, therefore, in the autumn of 865. The East Angles “made peace with them”, which, in this context, means ‘bought them off’. The following autumn: “the army went from the East Angles, over the mouth of the Humber, to York in Northumbria.”
Roger of Wendover: “the cruel army of Danes migrated out of the country of the East Angles to the city of York on All Saints' day [1st November 866].* At this time too there was the greatest dissension among the Northumbrians, for the people had expelled their lawful king Osbert from his kingdom, and had raised to the throne a usurper named Ælla, who was not of the royal lineage; but by divine providence, on the advance of the Danes, Osbert and Ælla, for the good of the commonwealth, made peace among themselves, and then with united forces approached the city of York; on which the Danes straightway fled, and determined to defend themselves within the city walls. The Christian kings pursued, made a very fierce attack on the enemy, and cast down the city walls. At length they entered the city, and engaged in battle with the pagans to their own exceeding loss; for in that fight, which was fought on Palm Sunday [23rd March 867],* there fell the kings Osbert and Ælla, and with them eight ealdormen, with an immense multitude of inferior rank.* The most cruel victors after this ravaged the entire country of the Northumbrians as far as the mouth of the river Tyne, and subdued it to themselves.”
In the ‘HSC’ and the ‘ALD’, the leader of the Danes' assault on Northumbria is named as “Ubba, dux of the Frisians”.  Between 985 and 987 Abbo of Fleury wrote his ‘Passio Sancti Eadmundi’ (Passion of St Edmund). Abbo names the Danes' leaders as “the duces Inguar and Ubba”.  They: “attempted (and nothing but the divine compassion could have prevented them) to reduce to destruction the whole confines of Britain... They set out in the first instance to attack the province of Northumbria, and overran the whole district from one end to the other, inflicting upon it the heaviest devastation. None of the inhabitants could resist these abominable onslaughts, but suffered the too well merited chastisement of the divine wrath through the instrumentality of Ubba the agent of iniquity.” (Chapter 5).
‘Inguar’ is a form of the name Ivar, and Ubba's colleague is known in Scandinavian tradition as Ivar the Boneless, a son of Ragnar Lothbroc (Hairy-breeches). According to the legend, Ælla had previously killed Ragnar Lothbroc by casting him into a snake pit.  Sighvat, an Icelandic scald (bard), around 1030, wrote, somewhat enigmatically: “And Ivar, who dwelt at York, carved the eagle on Ælla's back.”(‘Tøgdrápa’ on King Cnut).  The ‘Orkneyinga Saga’, written around 1200 by an anonymous Icelandic author, relates (§8) how Einar, earl of Orkney in the years around 900, takes revenge on his father's killer, in a way that seems to explain how Ivar is purported to have taken his revenge on Ælla: “The earl made a blood eagle be cut on his back with the sword, and had his ribs severed from the backbone, and his lungs pulled out. Thus he gave him to Odin as an offering for victory”.-
Geffrei Gaimar records an English tradition which knows nothing of snakes or eagles. In this story, Osbert ravishes the wife of one Buern Bucecarle (the Boatsman), as a consequence of which Ælla is raised to the throne and Buern brings in the Danes.-
Symeon of Durham (‘HR’, Chronicle Two, s.a. 867): “After these events the aforesaid pagans appointed Egbert king under their own dominion; Egbert reigned for 6 years after, over the Northumbrians beyond the Tyne.”*  In the autumn of 867, the Viking army moved to Nottingham, in Mercia. V
Symeon (‘LDE’ II, 6) asserts that Osbert and Ælla: “paid the penalty for the injuries which they had previously inflicted on the church of St Cuthbert [Lindisfarne]: for Osbert had dared with sacrilegious hand to wrest from that church Warkworth and Tillmouth, and Ælla had done the like for Billingham, Cliffe, and Wycliffe, and Crayke.”  Symeon qualifies the year of their deaths, 867, as “the fifth of the reign of Ælla, king of the Northumbrians”.  The ‘HSC’ (§10) says: “King Osbert stole from St Cuthbert two vills, Warkworth and Tillmouth. But after the space of one year, God took from him [his] life and kingdom. He was succeeded by King Ælla, who made good promises to the holy confessor but acted badly. For he stole from him Billingham and Cliffe and Wycliffe and Crayke.“  The implication of this statement would seem to be that Ælla had only recently become king when the Danes arrived in Northumbria. According to the ‘HSC’: “When this news [of the Danes' approach to York] reached Ælla who, out of hatred for St Cuthbert, was then staying at Crayke, he rose with great arrogance, gathered an army with his brother Osbert, and rushed upon the enemy; but soon, terrified by the wrath of God and St Cuthbert, [his] army having been struck down, he fled and fell, and lost his life and kingdom“.  So, were King Osbert and King Ælla, literally, brothers? It hardly seems likely, since the general consensus of the sources is that, whilst Osbert was a legitimate king, Ælla was not of royal blood.
 
Having killed rival Northumbrian kings, Osbert and Ælla, in March 867, the Danes appointed one Egbert, an Englishman, to rule the territory north of the Tyne on their behalf. In the autumn, presumably leaving a contingent behind at York to police southern Northumbria, the Viking army moved on to Mercia. A combined force of Mercians and West Saxons besieged the Danes in Nottingham, but no battle took place and the Mercians were eventually obliged to buy peace.
In the autumn of 868: “the army went again to York, and sat there one year.”*  So says the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. Symeon of Durham asserts that they spent that year: “raging and storming, killing and destroying a multitude of men and women.” (‘HR’, Chronicle One, s.a. 869).  And in autumn 869: “An enormous multitude of Danes and, so to speak, troops of legions were assembled, so that many thousands seemed to be present, as if they had increased from one thousand to twenty myriads. They came after this through Mercia to the East Angles.” (‘HR’, Chronicle One, s.a. 870). V
The Danes killed the East Anglian king, “and subdued all that land”.  In late-870, “the army” moved on again, this time to Wessex. The following year saw a great deal of fighting, 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, “the army” set up winter quarters at London in the autumn of 871. The Mercians bought peace.
Roger of Wendover writes that, in 872: “the Northumbrians expelled from the kingdom their king Egbert and archbishop Wulfhere, who thereupon betook themselves to Burgred, king of the Mercians, by whom they were honourably entertained.”*  Symeon of Durham (‘LDE’ II, 6): “the Northumbrians had expelled out of the province their king Egbert and archbishop Wulfhere; and had appointed as their king a person named Ricsige.”  The Englishmen of Northumbria had apparently rebelled against Viking rule – ejecting Egbert, the puppet ruler north of the Tyne, and the archbishop of York (presumably he was regarded as a collaborator) – and installed Ricsige on the Northumbrian throne. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ notes that at the start of its 872–3 campaigning cycle: “the army went into Northumbria”*.  The outcome is not recorded, but before the end of 872 “the army” had returned to Mercian territory – establishing winter quarters at Torksey (about 10 miles north-west of Lincoln). Roger of Wendover notes, s.a. 873: “Egbert, king of the Northumbrians, ended his days, and was succeeded in the kingdom by Ricsige, who reigned three years. In this year also Wulfhere, archbishop of York, was recalled to his see.”*  Plainly, the idea that Ricsige succeeded Egbert, a Viking appointee, in an orderly fashion on the latter's death in 873, is not compatible with the notion that Ricsige was an independent king, planted on the throne by Englishmen during a revolt against Viking rule in 872.* In short, it is not clear whether Ricsige was a Viking puppet or an independent English ruler. V
Having overthrown Burgred, king of the Mercians, and installed an Englishman of their own choosing in his stead, the Viking forces split into two groups. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reports that, in autumn 874, one group, led by “the three kings, Guthrum, Oscetel, and Anwend“ moved on to Cambridge “with a large army”, but:
Halfdan went with a part of the army into Northumbria, and took winter quarters by the river Tyne; and subdued the land, and often harried on the Picts and on the Strathclyde Welsh”.* Symeon of Durham (‘HR’, Chronicle Two, s.a. 875) adds that the Danes: “destroyed all the monasteries. Eardwulf, bishop of Lindisfarne, and Abbot Eadred, taking the body of St Cuthbert from the island of Lindisfarne, wandered about for 7 years.”
In the ‘LDE’ (II, 6), Symeon tells how Halfdan made his winter quarters on the Tyne: “purposing in the spring to pillage the whole of the district lying towards the north of that river, which hitherto had enjoyed peace.”  Bishop Eardwulf, anticipating that Lindisfarne would be destroyed, consulted with Eadred, abbot of Carlisle, about what should be done. They decided to gather together Lindisfarne's collection of relics, and leave: “Thus, then, no sooner had the bishop abandoned the island and its church, carrying away with him the relics which we have specified, than a fearful storm swept over that place, and indeed over the whole province of the Northumbrians, for it was cruelly ravaged far and wide by the army of the Danes, under the guidance of King Halfdan. Everywhere did he burn down the monasteries and the churches; he slew the servants and the handmaidens of God, after having exposed them to many indignities; and, in one word, fire and sword were carried from the eastern sea to the western. Whence it was that the bishop and they who with him accompanied the holy body [of St Cuthbert], nowhere found any place of repose, but going forwards and backwards, hither and thither, they fled from before the face of these cruel barbarians.”
Roger of Wendover tells a yarn which he places s.a. 870 (for autumn 869, prior to the Danes' assault on East Anglia), but which, assuming it is based on a kernel of fact, would seem to sit more comfortably in 875. Ebba, who is otherwise unknown, said to be abbess of the monastery of Coldingham (about 10 miles northwards along the coast from Berwick-upon-Tweed), fearful of the threat to her own and her nuns' chastity: “took a razor, and with it cut off her nose, together with her upper lip unto the teeth, presenting herself a horrible spectacle to those who stood by. Filled with admiration at this admirable deed, the whole assembly followed her maternal example, and severally did the like to themselves.”  The following dawn, the rampaging Danes duly arrived. Horrified by the mutilated nuns they quickly departed, torching the monastery and its inmates as they left. The Danes then sailed southwards: “the most noble monasteries along the sea-coast are said to have been destroyed”.  Roger names them: Lindisfarne, Tynemouth, Jarrow and Wearmouth, Whitby. They then: “passed through the region about York, burning churches, cities, and villages, and utterly destroying the people of whatever sex or age, together with the spoil and the cattle.”*
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ entry for 876 states: “And in that year Halfdan divided the Northumbrians' lands; and they [the Danes] were ploughing and providing for themselves.”*  To which Roger of Wendover adds: “which so affected Ricsige, the king of that province, that he died of a broken heart, and was succeeded by Egbert.”  Whilst Symeon of Durham (‘HR’ Chronicle Two) says: “Ricsige, king of the Northumbrians, died, and Egbert the second reigned over the Northumbrians beyond the river Tyne.”
Asser, biographer of, the West Saxon king, Alfred (the Great), refers to Halfdan (§50) as: “king of one part of the Northumbrians”. The kingdom founded by Halfdan centred on York (Jorvik) – place-name evidence and later history indicates it was roughly the area that would become the county of Yorkshire that was settled by the Danes. Halfdan himself, though, did not remain in charge for long. The ‘HSC’ says that: “soon the wrath of God and of the holy confessor fell upon him [Halfdan]. For he began to rave and to reek so badly that his whole army drove him from its midst, and he was chased far across the sea and was never seen again.”  In the ‘LDE’ (II, 13), Symeon of Durham notes that Halfdan: “fled away in three ships from the Tyne”.*  It is generally believed that Halfdan is “Albann, chief [dux] of the dark gentiles”, reported killed, by the ‘Annals of Ulster’, fighting against another Viking faction, “the fair gentiles”,* at Strangford Lough in 877. V
Meanwhile, in the autumn of 875 the “large army” that had been 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 returned to Mercia, which they partitioned. Roughly speaking, the western half of Mercia was left to the English, whilst the Danes settled in the east. They had not, however, abandoned the idea of conquering the West Saxons. In early January 878, a Danish 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, and a year later they settled in East Anglia.
Following the departure of Halfdan from his kingdom of York, “the army, and such of the inhabitants as survived, being without a king, were insecure”, says Symeon of Durham (‘LDE’ II, 13). Symeon then proceeds to tell how St Cuthbert's miraculous intervention led to the accession of a king acceptable to both English and Danes. A version of the story also appears in the ‘HSC’, and Symeon gives another, brisk, version s.a. 883, in the ‘HR’ (Chronicle Two): “St Cuthbert, aiding by a vision, ordered Abbot Eadred ... to tell the bishop and the whole army of English and Danes, that by paying a ransom, they should redeem Guthred, the son of Harthacnut, whom the Danes had sold as a slave to a certain widow at Whittingham, and should raise him, then redeemed, to be king; and he reigned over York, but Egbert over the Northumbrians.”  Eadred, abbot of Carlisle, and Eardwulf, displaced bishop of Lindisfarne, were, of course, the custodians of St Cuthbert's remains. A king-list in an early-12th century Durham text, ‘De Primo Saxonum Adventu’, allots the second Egbert a reign of 2 years. If that be the case, then, plainly, if he came to the throne in 876, he can't have still been ruling in 883. Returning to Symeon's narrative: “Guthred, therefore, being by consent of all from a slave promoted to be king,* the episcopal see, which was formerly in the island of Lindisfarne, was restored in Chester [Chester-le-Street], anciently called Cunecestre, 7 years after its removal from the island of Lindisfarne. This is a place between Durham and Hexham, six miles distant from Durham.* There also King Guthred, as well as King Alfred, established, to be for ever preserved, the right of sanctuary which St Cuthbert had enjoined by the aforesaid abbot; namely, that whoever took refuge at his body should have sanctuary, to be infringed by no one for 37 days.* And if any one in any way violated this privilege, they decreed that he be fined ninety-six pounds, as if he had broken the king's peace. Besides this, in augmentation of the former bishopric, the two kings aforesaid, with the consent of all, added the whole land between the Tyne and the Tees, as a perpetual possession of St Cuthbert. They delivered over, by a perpetual anathema, to the pains of hell, whoever should attempt by any device to infringe these statutes. Long before this the bishopric of the church of Hexham had ceased to exist.”
The ‘HSC’ and the ‘LDE’ have it that King Alfred had been spurred to his decisive victory over the Danes in 878 by a vision of Cuthbert. The saint also provided military assistance to Guthred: “the nation of the Scots collected a numerous army, and among their other deeds of cruelty, they invaded and plundered the monastery of Lindisfarne. Whilst King Guthred, supported by St Cuthbert, was about to engage in battle with them, immediately the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them all up alive” (‘LDE’ II, 13).*  By “nation of the Scots” the combined kingdom of Picts and Scots is meant. In fact, in contemporary records, this kingdom is Pictland (Latin: Pictavia) until the year 900, when the Gaelic name Alba (Latin: Albania) comes into use – Pictish identity simply fades away and all its people become Scots. Anyway, a 12th century Irish text, ‘Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib’ (The War of the Irish with the Foreigners) tells how the “black gentiles” (apparently, Halfdan's army), following their battle against the “white gentiles” in Ireland (in 877), fled across the sea to Alba: “where they gained a battle over the men of Alba, in which were slain Constantine son of Cinaed, chief king of Alba, and a great multitude with him. It was then the earth burst open under the men of Alba.”  Peter Hunter Blair argues that the apparently seismic event that devastated “the men of Alba” in this tale: “must surely refer to the invasion of Northumbria during Guthred's reign when ... the Scottish army was swallowed in the earth, and there is at least a suggestion that Guthred may have been one of the leaders of those vikings who left Ireland after Halfdene's [Halfdan's] death in 877”.  Dr Hunter Blair rejects Symeon's suggested date, 883, for Guthred's accession and suggests that Guthred became king: “within about a year of Halfdene's death”.
The combined kingdom of Picts and Scots was, between 878 and 889, ruled by an obscure king called Giric. John of Fordun, who refers (IV, 18) to Giric as “this glorious King Gregory”, claims (IV, 17) that: “King Gregory himself, also, subdued the upper and western districts [of England] ... The natives of some provinces, however, before he had reached their borders, gave themselves of their own accord, with their lands and property, into his power, after having sworn fealty and homage. For they deemed it a more blissful lot, and more advantageous, willingly to be subject to the Scots, who held the Catholic faith, though they were their enemies, than unwillingly to unbelieving heathens.”  It is likely that, in the wake of the rupture of Northumbria caused by the establishment of the Viking kingdom of York, both the Scots and the Strathclyde Britons made territorial gains, and it is plausible that Giric was able to secure the submission of English-ruled Northumbria, i.e. north and west of the Tyne.
At some stage, Guthred formed an alliance with Anarawd ap Rhodri, who ruled Gwynedd with the assistance of his brothers. By the time Asser wrote (893), however: “Anarawd, son of Rhodri, with his brothers, at length abandoning the friendship of the Northumbrians [i.e. the Danes of the kingdom of York], from whom he had received no good, but rather harm, came into King Alfred's presence, and eagerly sought his friendship.” (§80).
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ announces, s.a. 886: “all the English race turned to him [Alfred] that were not in the bondage of the Danish men”.  It seems reasonable to suppose that an extant treaty agreed by Alfred and Guthrum, the Danish king of East Anglia, which famously defines the border between their territories, dates from this time.
In 892, two new Viking armies arrived in Kent. Alfred secured the word of the Northumbrian Danes and the East Anglian Danes that they would not get involved, but at the earliest opportunity they broke their promises and joined the invaders.
Æthelweard (IV, 3) provides some snippets of information. In 893: “Sigeferth the pirate arrived from the land of the Northumbrians with a large fleet, ravaged twice along the coast [of Wessex?] on that one expedition, and afterwards sailed back to his own land.”  And then in 894, it would appear (Æthelweard's meaning is obscure) that the Northumbrian Danes were ravaging the area of Mercia corresponding to Rutland. Seemingly, Alfred's lieutenant, Æthelnoth, ealdorman of Somerset, went to York and “contacted the enemy”, but whether his mission was diplomacy or combat is impossible to conclude with any degree of certainty.
“In the year eight hundred and ninety-four from our Lord's incarnation king Guthred died”, asserts Symeon of Durham (‘LDE’ II, 14),* “after having reigned no short time in prosperity, leaving behind for the protection of others the inviolable privileges of the church of father Cuthbert... and they are preserved until this present day. No one who has ventured to infringe them, has escaped unpunished.”  In the ‘Annales Lindisfarnenses et Dunelmenses’ (Annals of Lindisfarne and Durham), another text that has been attributed to Symeon of Durham, Guthred's obit is placed s.a. 893. Æthelweard notes (IV, 3) that, in the implied year of 895: “Guthfrith, king of the Northumbrians, died on the nativity of St Bartholomew, the apostle of Christ [24th August]. And his body is entombed in the city of York in the high church.”  It is commonly agreed that Æthelweard's Guthfrith is one and the same as Symeon's Guthred.
Guthred's successor at York is not documented, however, in 1840 a large hoard of silver treasure was found at Cuerdale (near Preston). The hoard was buried around 905, in a lead-lined chest, and consists of over 8,500 objects – mostly coins. Many of the coins were struck for two, otherwise unknown, kings (presumably kings of York): Siefred and Cnut. It appears that Siefred reigned before Cnut – though there are issues which bear the names of both men, the implication of which is a matter of debate. Those coins of Siefred which name a minting-place were produced at York, whilst Cnut's name two mints: York and, ostensibly, Quentovic (at the mouth of the River Canche, in Northern France). There are suspicions, however, that these latter coins are imitations produced in Danish England. It is widely supposed that Siefred was Guthred's immediate successor, and that he was none other than Æthelweard's “Sigeferth the pirate”.
In the summer of 896, the remnants of the Viking forces that had invaded in 892 dispersed. Wessex, though, continued to be harassed by pirate raids from Northumbria and East Anglia. Alfred built a fleet of large ships, apparently to his own design, to counter the nuisance. It proved to be a successful tactic. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ boasts: “In the same summer no less than 20 [pirate] ships, with men and everything, perished on the south coast.”*
Alfred the Great died in 899. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ states: “He was king over all the English race, except the part that was under the dominion of the Danes”.*  Immediately before his notice of Alfred's death, Æthelweard had talked of “a disturbance on a very great scale”, apparently among the English who lived in Danish ruled Northumbria (i.e. in the kingdom of York) – no more is known. At any rate, Alfred was succeeded by his son, Edward (known as Edward the Elder).
Edward the Elder    
Translations:
Bede ‘Letter to Egbert’ by J.A. Giles
Asser ‘Vita Alfredi’ by Albert S. Cook
‘Orkneyinga Saga’ by Sir G.W. Dasent
‘Annales Regni Francorum’ by P.D. King
‘Annals of Tigernach’ by G. Mac Niocaill
Æthelweard ‘Chronicon’ by A. Campbell
‘Annals of Ulster’ by S. Mac Airt & G. Mac Niocaill
‘Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib’ by James Henthorn Todd
Roger of Wendover ‘Flores Historiarum’ by J.A. Giles
‘Historia de Sancto Cuthberto’ by Ted Johnson South
‘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
Symeon of Durham ‘Libellus de Exordio’ by Joseph Stevenson
John of Fordun ‘Chronica Gentis Scotorum’ by Felix J.H. Skene
Henry of Huntingdon ‘Historia Anglorum’ by Thomas Forester
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 two.
Manuscripts D, E and F, like Bede, say that Osric died in 729. Manuscripts A, B, C and D say he was slain in 731. (Manuscript D reports Osric's death in both 729 and 731.)
Bede refers to all the Irish as Scots. The “Scots that inhabit Britain” refers to the people of Dál Riata, the Irish kingdom established in the west of, what is now, Scotland. (See: Scotland).
The native Churches of the British Isles had operated independently for many years. There were doctrinal differences – the main one concerning the proper way to calculate Easter – between these indigenous Churches, frequently lumped together under the umbrella-term ‘Celtic Church’, and the Catholic Church of Rome, the representatives of which, Pope Gregory the Great's mission, had landed in Kent in 597 (see: King Æthelberht). It would be a long process – still under way when Bede finished the ‘Ecclesiastical History’ (731) – for the various regions of the British Isles to adopt the Catholic Easter. The Picts had adopted it round about 710, the Scots of Dál Riata (i.e. the monks of Iona) in 716, but the Britons of Wales did not fall into line until 768.
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.
Ida is said to have had twelve sons. Until this time, the ruling line of descent from Ida had been via his son Æthelric. Osric was of this line. Cenred's descent, however, was via Ida's son Ocga.
A ‘Continuation’ annal in the Moore Manuscript states “In the year 732, Egbert was made bishop of York, in the room of Wilfrid.”  Manuscripts D, E and F of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, though, say that “Egbert was hallowed bishop” in 734.
Bede says “the state of my health” prevented him from travelling to see Egbert in person. The letter is dated 5th November, in the “third indiction”, which can only be 734. (See: Anno Domini.)
This incident is recorded in Irish annals. Ceolwulf is given an Irish name: Eochaid. Ceolwulf was an educated man (see below) and it may well be that he had studied with the Irish.
In the preface to his ‘Ecclesiastical History’, Bede writes: “I formerly, at your request, most readily sent to you the Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, which I had lately published, for you to read and judge; and I now send it again to be transcribed, and more fully studied at your leisure. And I rejoice greatly at the sincerity and zeal, with which you not only diligently give ear to hear the words of Holy Scripture, but also industriously take care to become acquainted with the actions and sayings of former men of renown, especially of our own nation.”
In fact, this entry appears s.a. 738 in Manuscripts A, B, C, D and E of the ‘Chronicle’. Ceolwulf's retirement and Eadberht's succession are, though, placed in 737 by Symeon of Durham, the ‘Continuation’ of Bede, and also Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Chronicle’. (Manuscripts D and E record Eadberht's accession to the throne twice.)
See: Shillings and Pence.
Eotberehtus. In other styles of coin, the character Γ is clearly rendered S.
The characters following Archbishop Egbert's name (ECGBERhT), which in this example look like Ʌn , should apparently be AR, and represent Egbert's title.
23rd December (x Kal Jan) was actually a Friday in 740. Roger of Hoveden says 24th December (ix Kal Jan), which was a Saturday.
A dating inconsistency. If Eadberht was in his 18th year in 756, then he must have become king in 738–739. Previously, however, Symeon had placed Ceolwulf's abdication and Eadberht's succession in 737.
The church of Durham's origins are at Lindisfarne. Viking activity prompted the bishop and monks to abandon the island in 875. Following a period at Chester-le-Street, the community settled at Durham in 995.
The letter is addressed to both Eadberht and his brother, Egbert, archbishop of York, but the pope only ‘talks’ to Eadberht.
The words “near Melrose” are an addition made between the lines – Eldunum being the Eildon Hills. Manuscripts D, E and F of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ (s.a. 761) say that Oswine was killed at “Edwin's Cliff”.
This name appears as both Wincanheale and Pincanheale – apparently the forms of W and P in Anglo-Saxon script are very similar and are commonly confused. In any case, the place is unidentified. (The identification with Finchale, near Durham, is, today, generally believed to be dubious.)
Symeon of Durham, ‘HR’, s.a. 764: “Deep snow hardened into ice, unlike anything that had ever been known to all previous ages, covered the earth from the beginning of winter till nearly the middle of spring; by the severity of which the trees and shrubs for the most part perished, and many marine animals were found dead. Also, in the same year, died Ceolwulf, formerly king, at this time a servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, and a monk.”  The annals dated 732 to 802 in the ‘Historia Regum’ are taken from a lost Northumbrian source. Material from this source was also worked into the ‘northern recension’ of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, which survives as Manuscripts D and E. Although not error free, the dates given by Symeon are generally considered to be more reliable than those given by Manuscripts D and E.
Symeon of Durham, s.a. 788, describes Alhred's son, Osred, as the nephew of Oswulf's son, Ælfwald.
Willehad (a Northumbrian, probably educated at York) began his missionary work in Frisia. Eventually, after an adventurous career, he was consecrated bishop (at Worms in 787), but died (in 789) just days after dedicating his new cathedral at Bremen.
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.
Symeon titles Ealdwulf, Cynewulf, and Ecga duces, which is normally the Latin equivalent of ealdormen. Manuscripts D and E, though, title these individuals high-reeves. Æthelbald and Heardberht, not given any title by the ‘Chronicle’ manuscripts, are called principes (princes) by Symeon, which is rather non specific, and can be applied to any men of rank.
The term reeve (gerefa) applies to a whole raft of administrative officials (high-reeve: heahgerefa). In the course of time, there arose the position of shire-reeve (scirgerefa), i.e. sheriff.
Henry of Huntingdon worked from a version of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ similar to Manuscript E. Unlike Symeon of Durham, Manuscript E does not make it clear that Ealdwulf, Cynewulf, and Ecga were killed “at the command” of Æthelred. Henry (‘HA’ IV, 23), who is always liable to add decorative touches to his source material, turns the story on its head: “Æthelbald and Heardberht, duces of the king of Northumbria, rebelling against their master, slew Ealdwulf the son of Bosa, the commander-in-chief of the royal army, in a battle at King's cliff, and afterwards the duces above named slew Cynewulf and Ecga, also royal duces, in a great battle at Helathirnum. The king Æthelred, losing together his duces and his hopes, fled from the face of the rebels”.  Henry's story is repeated, pretty much word for word, by Roger of Hoveden and Roger of Wendover.
Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ record this same event s.a. 779: “the high-reeves of the Northumbrians burned the ealdorman Beorn at Seletun, on the ...”  and here the two manuscripts disagree, D having viii Kal Jan (25th December), whilst E, agreeing with Symeon, has ix Kal Jan (24th December). Though not error free, Symeon's dates are generally considered to be more reliable than Manuscripts D and E.
The Latin term Symeon uses for the Beorn's killers is duces, usually signifying ealdormen. Manuscripts D and E, on the other hand, title them high-reeves, and call Beorn ealdorman. Symeon, though, uses the Latin patricius – a term which is evidently reserved for more powerful individuals than run-of-the-mill ealdormen – for Beorn.
St Augustine of Canterbury was the leader of a team of missionaries – despatched by Pope Gregory I (‘the Great’) to convert the English to Christianity – who had arrived in Kent in 597. (See: Æthelberht I of Kent.)
‘Chronicle’ Manuscripts D and E, s.a. 793, say that Sicga died on the 22nd February.
Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ place the killing of Ælfwald s.a. 789.
In fact, both Manuscripts D and E have January, not June, here. However, in two works that have been attributed to Symeon of Durham – his tract on the church of Durham (‘LDE’) and the, so called, ‘Annales Lindisfarnenses et Dunelmenses’ (Annals of Lindisfarne and Durham) – the month is given as June, which makes much more sense, given all the portents that occurred in 793 prior to the Vikings' arrival, and also the likelihood of favourable weather for making ship-borne raids. Actually, in the ‘LDE’, Symeon gives the date as 7th June [i.e. vii Ides June], but in the ‘Annales’ he gives it as 8th June [i.e. vi Ides June]. It is generally accepted that the intended date is 8th June 793.
The highlighted phrase is only in Manuscript D.
Though Symeon has taken this section from his own ‘LDE’ (II, 5), he has not quoted the date for the raid on Lindisfarne (7th June) that he gives there.
D.P. Kirby, in ‘The Earliest English Kings’ (Second Edition), 2000, Chapter 7, reckons: “Alcuin detected a serious decline in the standards of Northumbrian life ‘from the days of King Ælfwald’ – that is to say, inclusive, of the reign of Ælfwald”.  However, Symeon of Durham (‘HR’) variously refers to Ælfwald (r.779–788) as: “a pious and upright king” (s.a. 779); “very glorious king” (s.a. 781); “excellent king” and “the just king Ælfwald” (s.a. 788).  On the other hand, in the ‘LDE’ (II,5), Symeon refers to Æthelred as: “that most wicked king”.  Perhaps, then, it is reasonable to suppose that Alcuin is attributing the decline in Northumbrian standards to Ælfwald's successors, Osred and Æthelred, i.e. ‘from [the end] of the days of King Ælfwald’, not to Ælfwald himself.
St Paul's monastery, Jarrow, is sited adjacent to the confluence of the Don and the Tyne. In the ‘LDE’ (II, 5), Symeon identifies “the monastery at the mouth of the river Don”, mentioned here, as Jarrow.
If a portent of the Viking arrival occurred in Lent, then clearly the date of 8th January given in ‘Chronicle’ Manuscripts D and E for the sacking of Lindisfarne cannot be correct.
Addressing “his eminent son, King Æthelred, and his dear friends, the patrician Osbald and ealdorman (dux) Osbert”, Alcuin had previously written (A13): “You have seen how the kings and princes who preceded you perished because of their injustice, expropriations and foul ways... Brothers, beware of such wickedness in yourselves”.
Manuscripts D and E make no mention of Osbald's brief reign, and place Eardwulf's succession s.a. 795.
The annals dated 732 to 802 in Symeon of Durham's ‘Historia Regum’ are derived from a lost Northumbrian source. The ‘northern recension’ of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, which survives as Manuscripts D and E, also incorporated material derived from the same source. Although not error free, the dates given by Symeon are generally considered to be more reliable than those given by Manuscripts D and E.
Incidentally, Symeon, writing in Latin, uses the Roman name for York, Eboracum, whilst the ‘Chronicle’, written in the vernacular, uses the Anglo-Saxon name, Eoforwic.
Offa, king of the Mercians, died in late-July 796. His son, Ecgfrith, died after ruling for less than five months. He was succeeded by a distant kinsman, Cenwulf. Alcuin was writing in the wake of these events.
The entry for 797 in the, so called, ‘Annales Lindisfarnenses et Dunelmenses’ (Annals of Lindisfarne and Durham), attributed to Symeon of Durham, states: “Eardwulf reigned 10 [years]. He married the daughter of King Charles.”  This assertion, however, is found nowhere else.
The pedigree of the two Eardwulf's, father and son, is not known, but Barbara Yorke (‘Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England’, 1990, Chapter 5) suggests a descent from Eadwulf, who ruled for two months in the winter of 705/6.
It is not known to which family Osbald belonged.
This rather mysterious phrase is the result of a scribal mistake. Symeon's “king of the English” (regis Anglorum) should evidently read “king of the Angels” (regis Angelorum), as it does in the ‘Chronica’ of Roger of Hoveden.
The water is muddied by Roger of Wendover, who writes: “In the year of our Lord 808, Eardwulf, king of the Northumbrians, was driven from his kingdom, and was succeeded by Ælfwald, who reigned two years. Now the same Ælfwald had driven him out and had seized on his kingdom.”  Roger, however, had previously recorded Eardwulf's succession s.a. 796, noting that he: “reigned ten years.”  Clearly, Roger's two statements are incompatible. Manuscripts D and E (and F) date a lunar eclipse to the 1st of September in the same year that Eardwulf was overthrown, i.e. 806. The ‘Annales Regni Francorum’ (Royal Frankish Annals) confirm the date of the eclipse. In short, it is highly likely that Manuscripts D and E are correct – Ælfwald replaced Eardwulf in 806.
Charles, king of the Franks, better known as Charlemagne, had been crowned emperor by Pope Leo III (795–816) on Christmas Day 800.
Earlier in its entry for 808, the ‘Annales’ had explained: “at the beginning of spring the emperor proceeded to Nijmegen, where he spent the period of the Lenten fast and celebrated holy Easter before returning to Aachen again.”  Since Easter was on 16th April, Eardwulf's arrival at Nijmegen can be dated between the start of March and the middle of April 808.
What this annal does not say is that Eardwulf was expelled from Northumbria in 808 – only that, at some unspecified time (which, as previously argued, was probably 806), he had been expelled.
Having placed the start of Ælfwald's two year reign in 808 (instead of 806, as implied by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’), Roger of Wendover, not surprisingly, places the end of it in 810. Roger allots Ælfwald's successor, Eanred, a reign of thirty-two years, so he is, again, at odds with himself when he places the end of it in 840.
Incidentally, Roger says that Ælfwald “died” and was succeeded by Eanred, but Roger had also said that Osbald (who is misnamed Osred) died in 796, when he had, in fact, only been expelled.
Ealhmund features in 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: “St Ealhmund rests in the monastery at Northworthig [Derby], near the Derwent river.”
Hugh Candidus (mid-12th century chronicler of Peterborough), in a list of saints' resting places, notes: “In Breedon [lies] St Hardulph the king”.
This event is reported in all manuscripts of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. It is actually placed s.a. 827. Between 754 and 845 there is a chronological dislocation applicable to the common entries (but not those peculiar to the ‘northern recension’ manuscripts, i.e. Manuscripts D and E) 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.)
867 in Manuscript C.
Manuscript C is consistently a year in advance from 853 until the end of the century.
“The army” would establish winter quarters in the autumn, extract what they could from the surrounding area during the following year, and then move on again the following autumn. To accommodate this modus operandi, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ apparently adopts the convention of starting the year in September,* so each annual cycle of the Viking army's activities is contained in one annal. This entry, therefore, appears s.a. 869 – but 870 in Manuscript C, which is consistently a year in advance until the end of the century. (It is a peculiarity of Manuscript B that after 652 the year-number is generally omitted.)
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ version of this story (s.a. 867; 868 Manuscript C) provides just the bare bones. It doesn't give a date for the Danes' capture of York. The date given (s.a. 867) by Roger of Wendover, 1st November, is confirmed by Symeon of Durham in the ‘LDE’ (II, 6), and also in the ‘ALD’ (s.a. 868).
The date of the battle is not provided by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. Palm Sunday, as given by Roger, is also given in the ‘ALD’, and in §10 of the ‘HSC’. However, in the ‘HR’, Chronicle Two (s.a. 867), Symeon of Durham, states: “This took place on the 12th of the Kalends of April [21st March], being the Friday before Palm Sunday.”  (The story also appears, s.a. 867, in Chronicle One of the ‘HR’, but without the date.) Symeon gives the same date, 21st March, in the ‘LDE’.
In the ‘LDE’, Symeon of Durham mentions the presence of eight Northumbrian ealdormen, but does not necessarily include them amongst the dead.  The Irish source sometimes called the ‘Three Fragments’, claims that: “the king of the Saxons, i.e. Ælla, was slain there through the deceit and treachery of a young lad of his own household.”
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. The Scandinavian equivalent, ‘jarl’, is Anglicized as ‘earl’.
Roger of Wendover also records the appointment of Egbert by the Danes, and his rule for six years, but fails to note that Egbert's jurisdiction was restricted to the land north of the Tyne – which Symeon also mentions in the ‘LDE’ (II, 6).
Though generally referred to as Danes (by both ancient and modern writers), the “heathen army” comprised: “people from all quarters, that is to say, of the Danes and Frisians, and other pagan nations” (Symeon of Durham ‘LDE’ II, 6).
In the ‘Historia de Sancto Cuthberto’ the Danes are, three times, referred to as Scaldings (Scaldingi). Quite what this means is not clear. One suggestion is that it means: ‘men of the river Scheldt’, another: ‘men of Scyld’ (Scyld Scefing, i.e. Scyld son of Scef, being the legendary founder of a Danish royal dynasty, as featured in the Old English poem ‘Beowulf’).* However, as Robert W. Rix points out: “Every time Scaldingi is used in the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto, it is in connection with the slaughter of the English. So it seems more probable that it is a term of opprobrium.”  Professor Rix prefers the notion that the term Scaldingi is derived from a type of vessel propelled by a punting pole: ‘men of the punted ship’.
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 around the year 1000. At what stage between those dates the work was originally composed is the subject of scholarly debate.
The poem's Prologue is devoted to Scyld Scefing's life, death, and his magnificent funeral (his body is committed to the waves in a treasure-laden ship).
The tale of Ælla, Ragnar and Ivar, as told by Saxo Grammaticus
Gaimar's tale of Buern Bucecarle
Every rule has an exception. There is one known example, found in Cornwall in 1774, of a silver penny inscribed EANRED REX. It is stylistically similar to pennies produced in Wessex after 850. The only King Eanred to whom it could be attributed (as far as is known), though, is Eanred of Northumbria, and he died c.840. This single silver penny, therefore, poses something of a conundrum.
Based on the analysis of numismatic evidence, H.E. Pagan proposed a radically revised chronology for the, meagerly recorded, period of Northumbrian history between 806 and 867. Whilst the documentary evidence indicates Eanred's reign ended in 840, Pagan's revised date is 854. (‘Northumbrian Numismatic Chronology in the Ninth Century’, published in the ‘British Numismatic Journal’, 38, 1969.)
Styca: “is the Northumbrian form of the OE word stycce (‘piece’, cognate with Germ. Stück) used in the Lindisfarne Gospel to translate the duo minuta (‘two mites’) offered by the poor widow in the temple (Mark 12.42), though there is no evidence for its ever having been applied to these coins.” (Philip Grierson and Mark Blackburn, Chapter 10, ‘Medieval European Coinage, 1: The Early Middle Ages”, 1986.)
It seems to be a general rule that Northumbrian coins from the second reign of Æthelred I (790–796) onwards are regarded as stycas.
This, not particularly illuminating, statement appears in Manuscripts A (s.a. 873), B and C (s.a. 874) only.
Symeon of Durham records the expulsion of Egbert and Wulfhere s.a. 872 in ‘HR’ Chronicle Two, but he doesn't mention that they found refuge in Mercia.
Symeon of Durham (‘HR’, Chronicle Two, 873) provides a virtually identical report.
Frank Stenton (‘Anglo-Saxon England’, Third Edition, 1971) proposes that, having arrived in Northumbria at the start of the 872–3 campaigning season, the Danes thought better of wasting time fighting to subdue a country they had already thoroughly pillaged, and so, for the time being, they abandoned Northumbria to independent English rule.
D.P. Kirby (‘The Earliest English Kings’, Second Edition, 2000) has the Danes travel to Northumbria in 873, and stay until the autumn of that year. (To create the time for this to happen, Dr Kirby has the army establish their quarters twice, moving between locations, for the winter of 873/4.) During 873 they succeed in confining Ricsige beyond the Tyne, where he rules independently.
Alfred P. Smyth (‘Scandinavian kings in the British Isles, 850-880’, 1977) also has the Danes travel to Northumbria in 873, but then simply has the Danes appoint Ricsige as successor to the recently dead Egbert.
At this point, Roger has the Danes sail up the Humber, and from there advance across Mercia into East Anglia. He names the Viking leaders during this episode as Ivar and Ubba, which is, of course, not appropriate if it does, indeed, belong in 875. Incidentally, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, s.a. 878 (879 in Manuscript C), identifies Halfdan as Ivar's brother.
The Picts were Northumbria's neighbours across its northernmost border, the Forth, whilst the Strathclyde Welsh (i.e. the Britons of Strathclyde), were Northumbria's neighbours to the north-west, in what is now south-west Scotland.
(See: Scotland.)
This entry is, of course, dated 877 by Manuscript C. In Manuscript E, the Old English ergende, i.e. ‘ploughing’, is written hergende, which actually means ‘harrying’.
Incidentally, Benjamin Thorpe, whose 1861 translation of the ‘Chronicle’ is used on this website, in fact renders the phrase: “ploughing and providing for themselves”, as: “ploughing and tilling”. It is now well established that the former sense is correct.
In both chronicles of the ‘HR’, Symeon misdates and misinterprets material given by Asser and Florence of Worcester. The latter two sources say that, in 878, “the brother of Ivar and Halfdan” was killed in Devon. Symeon, however, says that, in 877, it was Ivar and Halfdan themselves who were killed.
The Invasion of 892
A century later, the community of St Cuthbert relocated again, and finally, to Durham.
A century later, the community of St Cuthbert relocated again, and finally, to Durham.
Symeon had dated Guthred's accession 883. (Roger of Wendover and Roger of Hoveden both date it 882.) The ‘De Primo Saxonum Adventu’ king-list, however, assigns Guthred a reign of 14 years.
Not in Manuscript E at all. Manuscript B, as usual, provides no date. Manuscripts C and D are both one year in advance of true date at this time, so this appears s.a. 897. Manuscript A originally had the correct date, i.e. 896, but a later scribe has, erroneously, changed it to 897.
This statement appears in Manuscripts A, B and C only.
Though Alfred's death, on 26th October, is recorded s.a. 901 in all manuscripts, it should really be s.a. 900 (as it originally was in Manuscript A, until a later scribe changed it to 901). However, Æthelweard's computations suggest that Alfred died in 899, and Symeon of Durham, in both chronicles of the ‘HR’ and in the ‘LDE’, places Alfred's death in 899. Furthermore, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ itself dates Alfred's accession to “after Easter” 871 (Easter falling on 15th April in that year) and gives him a reign length of twenty-eight and a half years, which is consistent with a death in October 899. It seems, then, that the autumn–autumn system of reckoning is being used in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, which would place an event occurring in October 899 s.a. 900.
The Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum
887 in Manuscript C.
In Manuscript A, the word ‘heathen’ is omitted from the highlighted phrase. As usual when referring to Viking forces, the word used for ‘army’ is here. The ‘Chronicle’ generally uses the word fyrd when referring to an English army.
Bishop Nynia is probably better known as St Ninian.
See: The Tales of Two North-British Saints.
Viking factions distinguished by the prefixes dub, i.e. ‘black’ or ‘dark’, and finn, i.e. ‘white’ or ‘fair’, first appear in the ‘Annals of Ulster’ s.a. 851. Another Irish source, sometimes called the ‘Three Fragments’, equates the black/dark faction to Danes and the white/fair faction to Norwegians. Some modern scholars, however, dispute this identification.
See: Black Vikings and White Vikings.
The ‘HSC’, in its wordier account of this happening, locates it at a place called Mundingedene. The ‘HSC’ also alleges that Lindisfarne “had never before been violated”, which is not correct – it had certainly been the subject of a Viking attack in 793. Another problem with the story is that Lindisfarne is said to have been abandoned seven years before Guthred became king.
According to the ‘HSC’ and the ‘LDE’, St Cuthbert's spirit instructed Abbot Eadred to tell Guthred to give all the land between the Tyne and the Wear to his church in the same visitation that he demanded the thirty-seven day period of sanctuary there. In the ‘HSC’ Cuthbert appears to Eadred in a single visitation, in which he orders the ransoming of Guthred, his installation as king, and, after he has been made king, the gift of the lands and the establishment of the right of sanctuary. In the ‘LDE’, however, the saint first appears to Eadred to instruct him how to get Guthred appointed king, and then, after this has been accomplished, appears in another vision to instruct the abbot to demand that Guthred make the gift of the lands and establish the right of sanctuary.
The ‘HSC’ and the ‘LDE’ provide the details that Guthred was made king in a ceremony on a hill called Oswigesdune (Oswiu's Hill), and that a bracelet (of gold, notes the ‘HSC’) was placed on his right arm as a symbol of authority.
‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ (Ecclesiastical History of the English People).
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.
The Moore Memoranda is a short (just eight lines) chronological text written on the final page of the earliest extant manuscript (the Moore Manuscript) of Bede's ‘Ecclesiastical History’.
‘Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu istius hoc est Dunhelmensis Ecclesie’ (Tract on the Origins and Progress of this the Church of Durham).
‘Historia Regum’ (History of the Kings).
Roger of Hoveden's ‘Chronica’ begins with the year 732, and ends, somewhat abruptly, in 1201 – presumably Roger died at this time. Hoveden (Howden, East Riding of Yorkshire) belonged to the see of Durham. The first part of the ‘Chronica’, extending to 1148, is more or less a copy of an unpublished Durham compilation, known as the ‘Historia post Bedam’, which is a mix of material also found in the ‘Historia Regum’ (traditionally attributed to Symeon of Durham) and material from the ‘Historia Anglorum’ of Henry of Huntingdon.
‘The Framework of Anglo-Saxon History to A.D.900’ (1976), Chapter 6.
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.
Alcuin – eminent teacher, scholar and theologian – was of noble Northumbrian parentage, He 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. He was appointed abbot of St Martin's monastery at Tours in 796. 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’.
‘Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents’ Volume 3 (1871), edited by Haddan and Stubbs.
‘Annales Lindisfarnenses et Dunelmenses’ (Annals of Lindisfarne and Durham).
‘Historia de Sancto Cuthberto’ (History of St Cuthbert), an anonymous mid-11th century compilation. The work survives in three manuscripts, none of which is the original. The scribe of the copy thought to be the earliest (now incomplete, in: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Bodley 596) is believed to have been Symeon of Durham.
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).
‘Early Anglo-Saxon Coins’ (2008), Chapter 7.
See: Anno Domini.
John of Fordun's ‘Chronica Gentis Scotorum’ (Chronicle of the Scottish Nation) is the earliest full-scale history of Scotland – from legendary origins to the year 1153 in five books. John would appear to have composed his chronicle in the mid-1380s.
‘Olaf the White and the Three Fragments of Irish Annals’ (1939), published in the compilation ‘Anglo-Saxon Northumbria’ (1984).
‘The Barbarian North in Medieval Imagination: Ethnicity, Legend, and Literature’ (2015), Chapter 6.
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