FROM DOT TO DOMESDAY Early Medieval The Birth of Nations: England
NORTHUMBRIA
section two *
 
634 – 642  Oswald (St Oswald)
Son of Æthelfrith.
Oswald's father, Æthelfrith, king of Bernicia, had, by some means, secured control of Deira, and by so doing became the first to rule Bernicia and Deira as a single kingdom, Northumbria. Æthelfrith had married Acha, daughter of the erstwhile king of Deira, Ælle, and exiled Edwin, Ælle's son. In 616, with the backing of Rædwald, king of the East Angles, Edwin succeeding in supplanting Æthelfrith as king of all Northumbria. Æthelfrith's sons were expelled, and found refuge with the Scots and Picts. During their exile they adopted Christianity. Bede reports that Edwin went on to acquire “the overlordship over all the nations who inhabit Britain, both English and British, except only the people of Kent” (‘HE’ II, 5), and the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ grants him the title Bretwalda. In 627 Edwin had converted to Christianity and been baptized. On 12th October 633, Cadwallon, the Christian king of Gwynedd, aided by Penda, a pagan prince of Mercia, defeated and killed Edwin. Edwin's wife, Æthelburh, taking with her a daughter, a son and a grandson of Edwin, fled to Kent, where her brother Eadbald was king. Osric, Edwin's cousin, succeeded to the throne of Deira. Meanwhile, Æthelfrith's sons “were allowed to return home”, says Bede (‘HE’ III, 1), and the eldest, Eanfrith, became king of Bernicia – which might tend to suggest that it was Cadwallon who “allowed” the brothers' return, and that he was Eanfrith's overlord. At any rate, both of Eanfrith and Osric renounced Christianity on their accession. Bede takes up the story: “But soon after, the king of the Britons, Cadwallon, the unrighteous instrument of rightful vengeance, slew them both. First, in the following summer [i.e. of 634], he put Osric to death; for, being rashly besieged by him in a fortified town, he sallied out on a sudden with all his forces, took him by surprise, and destroyed him and all his army. Then, when he had occupied the provinces of the Northumbrians for a whole year, not ruling them like a victorious king, but ravaging them like a furious tyrant, he at length put an end to Eanfrith, in like manner, when he unadvisedly came to him with only 12 chosen soldiers, to sue for peace. To this day, that year is looked upon as ill-omened, and hateful to all good men; as well on account of the apostasy of the English kings, who had renounced the mysteries of the faith, as of the outrageous tyranny of the British king. Hence it has been generally agreed, in reckoning the dates of the kings, to abolish the memory of those faithless monarchs, and to assign that year to the reign of the following king, Oswald, a man beloved of God. This king, after the death of his brother Eanfrith, advanced with an army, small, indeed, in number, but strengthened with the faith of Christ; and the impious commander of the Britons [Cadwallon], in spite of his vast forces, which he boasted nothing could withstand, was slain at a place called in the English tongue Denisesburna, that is, the brook of Denis [identified as Rowley Burn, near Hexham, Northumberland].” (‘HE’ III, 1).
Henry of Huntingdon: “they were defeated and slain at Denisesburna, that is Denis' brook, so that it is said, “The corpses of Cadwallon's soldiers filled the channel of the Denis.” ”(‘HA’ III, 34).  This is one of six occasions when Henry may be translating into Latin lines from a no longer extant Old English poem on famous battles.
Adomnán (d.704), ninth Abbot of Iona, in his biography of St Columba, writes: “when the same King Oswald had pitched his camp in readiness for battle, one day, while asleep on a pillow in his tent, he sees St Columba in a vision gleaming with angelic beauty, and his lofty figure seemed to touch the clouds with the crown of his head. And this blessed man, revealing his own name to the king standing in the midst of the camp, covered the same camp, except one small distant spot, with his shining garment, and uttered these encouraging words, the same, namely, which the Lord spake to Jesue Ben Nun before the passage of the Jordan, after the death of Moses, saying: “Be of a good courage; lo! I will be with thee”, etc. St Columba, therefore, speaking these words to the king in the vision, adds: “Go forth from the camp to battle this very night, for this time the Lord has granted to me that thine enemies shall be put to flight, and thy foe, Cadwallon, delivered into thine hands, and that after the battle thou shalt come back victor, and that thou shalt reign happily.” The king, waking up after these words, narrates this vision to his assembled council; and all encouraged by it, the whole people promise to believe and to receive baptism after their return from the battle: for up to that time all that Saxon land [i.e. Northumbria] had been wrapt in the darkness of heathendom and ignorance, except King Oswald himself, with twelve men, who were baptized with him what time he was in exile among the Scots.* What more need I say? On that very same night King Oswald, as he had been directed in the vision, goes forth from the camp to battle against many thousands, with an army much smaller, and obtains from the Lord, as it had been promised him, a happy and easy victory ... My predecessor, our Abbot Failbe, related this narrative to me, Adomnán, nothing doubting, and he declared that he had heard it from the mouth of King Oswald himself as he related this same vision to Ségéne the Abbot [fifth of Iona].” (I, 1).
The ‘Historia Brittonum’: “Oswald son of Æthelfrith, reigned 9 years; the same is Oswald Llamnguin [Bright Blade]; he slew Cadwallon, king of Gwynedd, in the battle of Cantscaul, with much loss to his own army.” (§64).
“The place is shown to this day, and held in much veneration, where Oswald, being about to engage in this battle, erected the symbol of the Holy Cross, and knelt down and prayed to God that he would send help from Heaven to his worshippers in their sore need. Then, we are told, that the cross being made in haste, and the hole dug in which it was to be set up, the king himself, in the ardour of his faith, laid hold of it and held it upright with both his hands, till the earth was heaped up by the soldiers and it was fixed. Thereupon, uplifting his voice, he cried to his whole army, “Let us all kneel, and together beseech the true and living God Almighty in His mercy to defend us from the proud and cruel enemy; for He knows that we have undertaken a just war for the safety of our nation.” All did as he had commanded, and accordingly advancing towards the enemy with the first dawn of day, they obtained the victory, as their faith deserved. In the place where they prayed very many miracles of healing are known to have been wrought, as a token and memorial of the king's faith; for even to this day, many are wont to cut off small splinters from the wood of the holy cross, and put them into water, which they give to sick men or cattle to drink, or they sprinkle them therewith, and these are presently restored to health.  The place is called in the English tongue Hefenfelth, which may be rendered in Latin Caelestis campus [Heavenly field], which name it undoubtedly received of old as a presage of what was afterwards to happen, denoting, that the heavenly trophy was to be erected, the heavenly victory begun, and heavenly miracles shown forth to this day. The place is near the wall in the north which the Romans formerly drew across the whole of Britain from sea to sea, to restrain the onslaught of the barbarous nations, as has been said before. Hither also the brothers of the church of Hagustald [Hexham], which is not far distant, long ago made it their custom to resort every year, on the day before that on which King Oswald was afterwards slain, to keep vigils there for the health of his soul, and having sung many psalms of praise, to offer for him in the morning the sacrifice of the Holy Oblation. And since that good custom has spread, they have lately built a church there, which has attached additional sanctity and honour in the eyes of all men to that place; and this with good reason; for it appears that there was no symbol of the Christian faith, no church, no altar erected throughout all the nation of the Bernicians, before that new leader in war, prompted by the zeal of his faith, set up this standard of the Cross as he was going to give battle to his barbarous enemy.”* (‘HE’ III, 2).
Having disposed of Cadwallon, Oswald appears to have been readily accepted as king of Deira as well as Bernicia. “The same Oswald, as soon as he ascended the throne, being desirous that all the nation under his rule should be endued with the grace of the Christian faith, whereof he had found happy experience in vanquishing the barbarians, sent to the elders of the Scots, among whom himself and his followers, when in banishment, had received the sacrament of Baptism, desiring that they would send him a bishop, by whose instruction and ministry the English nation which he governed might learn the privileges and receive the Sacraments of the faith of our Lord.” (‘HE’ III, 3).  “It is said”, writes Bede, that the first bishop sent to Northumbria by the Scots fared badly: “after preaching for some time to the English and meeting with no success, not being gladly heard by the people, [he] returned home, and in an assembly of the elders reported, that he had not been able to do any good by his teaching to the nation to whom he had been sent, because they were intractable men, and of a stubborn and barbarous disposition.” (‘HE’ III, 5).  The elders held a council, to decide on a course of action. Having impressed the council by his reasoning, Aidan, a monk of Iona, was consecrated and despatched to Northumbria: “On the arrival of the bishop, the king appointed him his episcopal see in the island of Lindisfarne, as he desired. Which place, as the tide ebbs and flows, is twice a day enclosed by the waves of the sea like an island; and again, twice, when the beach is left dry, becomes contiguous with the land. The king also humbly and willingly in all things giving ear to his admonitions, industriously applied himself to build up and extend the Church of Christ in his kingdom; wherein, when the bishop, who was not perfectly skilled in the English tongue, preached the Gospel, it was a fair sight to see the king himself interpreting the Word of God to his ealdormen and thegns, for he had thoroughly learned the language of the Scots during his long banishment. From that time many came daily into Britain from the country of the Scots, and with great devotion preached the Word to those provinces of the English, over which King Oswald reigned, and those among them that had received priest's orders administered the grace of Baptism to the believers. Churches were built in divers places; the people joyfully flocked together to hear the Word; lands and other property were given of the king's bounty to found monasteries; English children, as well as their elders, were instructed by their Scottish teachers in study and the observance of monastic discipline. For most of those who came to preach were monks. Bishop Aidan was himself a monk, having been sent out from the island called Hii [Iona] whereof the monastery was for a long time the chief of almost all those of the northern Scots, and all those of the Picts, and had the direction of their people.”* (‘HE’ III, 3).
In 635, Oswald stood as the godfather of Cynegils, the West Saxon king,* and subsequently married Cynegils' daughter. The ‘Historia Brittonum’ reports (§57) that Oswald's brother, Oswiu, married Riemmelth, the granddaughter of a certain Rhun. This Rhun is generally accepted as being the son of Urien – ruler of the British kingdom of Rheged (the lands of which may have spread north and south of the Solway Firth) celebrated in poems attributed to the bard Taliesin. Oswiu had two children who were, themselves, of marriageable age by 653, so his marriage to Riemmelth presumably occurred early in Oswald's reign,* and should probably be seen in the same light as Oswald's to Cynegils' daughter – cementing relations between an independent (for the time being anyway) Rheged and the dynasty of Æthelfrith.*
Northumbrian rule of Lindsey (which covered much of modern-day Lincolnshire) had evidently been lost on Edwin's death, but Oswald retook it.*
The ‘Annals of Ulster’ report “the besieging of Etin” in 638. Etin is identified as Din Eidyn, i.e. ‘Fort of Eidyn’, which is more familiar in the Anglicized form: Edinburgh. It is generally supposed that this brief report marks the capture of Edinburgh and the conquest of the British kingdom of Gododdin (modern south-east Scotland) by Oswald.
Æthelfrith, Oswald's father, was Bernician, and Oswald may have used his political clout to engineer the removal of potential rivals from the Deiran dynasty of his mother, Edwin's sister, Acha. Bede notes (‘HE’ II, 20) that, during the war in which Edwin was killed, Edwin's son, Eadfrith: “compelled by necessity, went over to King Penda, and was by him afterwards slain in the reign of Oswald, contrary to his oath.”  Bede doesn't accuse Oswald of demanding Eadfrith's murder, but he mentions that Edwin's wife, Æthelburh, who was in Kent, where her brother Eadbald was king, had: “for fear of the kings Eadbald and Oswald, sent Uscfrea [Edwin's son] and Yffi [Edwin's grandson] over into Gaul to be bred up by King Dagobert [of the Franks], who was her friend; and there they both died in infancy”, so, clearly, Æthelburh believed Oswald was capable of, and had the power to order, the killing of Edwin's heirs in Kent.
Bede says (‘HE’ III, 6) that Oswald: “obtained of the one God, Who made heaven and earth, a greater earthly kingdom than any of his ancestors. In brief, he brought under his dominion all the nations and provinces of Britain, which are divided into four languages, to wit, those of the Britons, the Picts, the Scots, and the English....
Earlier (‘HE’ II, 5), in his famous list of seven overlords of the English kingdoms south of the Humber, Bede seems to say that Oswald (“the most Christian king of the Northumbrians”), the sixth king in the list, ruled: “within the same bounds” as Edwin, the previous king in the list, had done. However, the subsequent story told by Bede indicates that Oswald had authority in Kent (which Bede specifically states that Edwin did not), and that Oswald's sphere of influence included the Picts and Scots (whereas Bede seems to limit Edwin's authority to the “English and British”). It also appears that Oswald extended the territory of Northumbria itself as far north as the Forth. At any rate, following Bede's lead, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ names Oswald as the sixth Bretwalda. Columba's biographer, Adomnán, makes the somewhat hyperbolic statement (I, 1) that Oswald was: “established by God as the imperator of all Britain.”  A rather enigmatic entry in the “Annals of Tigernach”, which can only be vaguely dated to the first half of Oswald's reign,* records: “The congregation of the Saxons against Oswald.”  If this indicates that Oswald's forces faced an alliance of the other English kingdoms as he was in the process of imposing his overlordship on them, then history would suggest that Oswald was victorious.
.... Though raised to that height of regal power, wonderful to relate, he was always humble, kind, and generous to the poor and to strangers. To give one instance, it is told, that when he was once sitting at dinner, on the holy day of Easter, with the aforesaid bishop [Aidan], and a silver dish full of royal dainties was set before him, and they were just about to put forth their hands to bless the bread, the servant, whom he had appointed to relieve the needy, came in on a sudden, and told the king, that a great multitude of poor folk from all parts was sitting in the streets begging alms of the king; he immediately ordered the meat set before him to be carried to the poor, and the dish to be broken in pieces and divided among them. At which sight, the bishop who sat by him, greatly rejoicing at such an act of piety, clasped his right hand and said, “May this hand never decay.” This fell out according to his prayer, for his hands with the arms being cut off from his body, when he was slain in battle, remain uncorrupted to this day, and are kept in a silver shrine, as revered relics, in St Peter's church in the royal city [Bamburgh], which has taken its name from Bebba, one of its former queens.”*
“Oswald was killed in a great battle, by the same pagan nation and pagan king of the Mercians [Penda], who had slain his predecessor Edwin, at a place called in the English tongue Maserfelth, in the 38th year of his age, on the fifth day of the month of August [642]....
Henry of Huntingdon: “Oswald ... was slain by Penda the Strong, in a great battle at Maserfelth ... Whence it is said, “The plain of Maserfelth was whitened with the bones of saints.” By an inscrutable providence, the foes of God were allowed to massacre his people, and give them for food to the fowls of the air.” (‘HA’ III, 39).  This is another occasion when Henry may be quoting from a lost poem on Anglo-Saxon battles.
The battle of Maserfelth (called the “battle of Cocboy” by the ‘Historia Brittonum’ and the ‘Annales Cambriae’) is traditionally, though not certainly, located at Oswestry. The name Oswestry is derived from the Old English Oswaldestreow, meaning ‘Oswald's tree’, but it is not linked with the battle until the 12th century (in Reginald of Durham's ‘Vita’ of Oswald, written in 1165).
.... How great his faith was towards God, and how remarkable his devotion, has been made evident by miracles even after his death; for, in the place where he was killed by the pagans, fighting for his country, sick men and cattle are frequently healed to this day. Whence it came to pass that many took up the very dust of the place where his body fell, and putting it into water, brought much relief with it to their friends who were sick. This custom came so much into use, that the earth being carried away by degrees, a hole was made as deep as the height of a man. Nor is it surprising that the sick should be healed in the place where he died; for, whilst he lived, he never ceased to provide for the poor and the sick, and to bestow alms on them, and assist them. Many miracles are said to have been wrought in that place, or with the dust carried from it [Bede proceeds to give a couple of examples]” (‘HE’ III, 9).
“the king who slew him commanded his head, and hands, with the arms, to be cut off from the body, and set upon stakes. But his successor in the throne, Oswiu, coming thither the next year with his army, took them down, and buried his head in the cemetery of the church of Lindisfarne, and the hands and arms in his royal city [Bamburgh].” (‘HE’ III, 12).
Bede (‘HE’ III, 11) tells how, many years later, what remained of Oswald's body was found (presumably still on the battle field), and taken to the monastery at Bardney, in Lindsey, by Oswiu's daughter, Osthryth “queen of the Mercians” – she was married to Æthelred, king of the Mercians and son of Penda. It, perhaps, seems a little odd that Oswald's remains should be carted all the way to Bardney, near Lincoln, if Maserfelth/Cocboy is Oswestry. Possibly the battle should be located in or near Lindsey, the ownership of which was a bone of contention between Mercia and Northumbria.
“Nor was the fame of the renowned Oswald confined to Britain, but, spreading rays of healing light even beyond the sea, reached also to Germany and Ireland.” (‘HE’ III, 13).
642 – 670  Oswiu
Son of Æthelfrith.
Bede: “Oswald being translated to the heavenly kingdom, his brother Oswiu, a young man of about 30 years of age, succeeded him on the throne of his earthly kingdom, and held it 28 years ... Oswiu, during the first part of his reign, had a partner in the royal dignity called Oswine, of the race of King Edwin, and son to Osric of whom we have spoken above, a man of wonderful piety and devotion, who governed the province of the Deiri seven years in very great prosperity, and was himself beloved by all men.” (‘HE’ III, 14).
Osric, Oswine's father and a cousin of Edwin, had ruled Deira for less than a year after Edwin's death. Oswald, of the Bernician royal line (though his mother was Edwin's sister), had subsequently reunited Bernicia and Deira. Oswiu succeeded to a united Northumbria, but his hold on Deira would appear to have been tenuous, and, presumably to bolster his claim to rule, he arranged for Edwin's daughter, Eanflæd, to be brought from Kent to be his wife.* In 644, however, Oswine somehow managed to
King of Deira
644 – 651  Oswine (St Oswin)
Son of Osric.
“King Oswine was of a goodly countenance, and tall of stature, pleasant in discourse, and courteous in behaviour; and bountiful to all, gentle and simple alike; so that he was beloved by all men for the royal dignity of his mind and appearance and actions, and men of the highest rank came from almost all provinces to serve him. Among all the graces of virtue and moderation by which he was distinguished and, if I may say so, blessed in a special manner, humility is said to have been the greatest” (‘HE’ III, 14).
Bede proceeds to recount an anecdote demonstrating Oswine's humility – Oswine flings himself at the feet of Aidan, bishop of the Northumbrians (who was based on the island of Lindisfarne), and makes an abject apology for having questioned the bishop's decision to give a fine horse, previously given to Aidan by Oswine, to a beggar. The story concludes with Aidan in tears: “ “I know,” said he, “that the king will not live long; for I never before saw a humble king; whence I perceive that he will soon be snatched out of this life, because this nation is not worthy of such a ruler.” Not long after, the bishop's gloomy foreboding was fulfilled by the king's sad death, as has been said above [see left]. But Bishop Aidan himself was also taken out of this world, not more than 12 days after the death of the king he loved, on the day before the Kalends of September [31st August, 651], to receive the eternal reward of his labours from the Lord.”
651 ? – 655 ?  Œthelwald
Son of Oswald.
After Oswine's murder, Oswald's son, Œthelwald, appears as ruler of Deira. He may have been appointed by Oswiu, but if that was the case he later switched his allegiance to Penda, who had killed Oswald, his father, in 642.
acquire the throne of Deira: “But Oswiu, who governed all the other northern part of the nation beyond the Humber, that is, the province of the Bernicians, could not live at peace with him; and at last, when the causes of their disagreement increased, he murdered him most cruelly. For when each had raised an army against the other, Oswine perceived that he could not maintain a war against his enemy who had more auxiliaries than himself, and he thought it better at that time to lay aside all thoughts of engaging, and to reserve himself for better times. He therefore disbanded the army which he had assembled, and ordered all his men to return to their own homes, from the place that is called Wilfaræsdun,that is, Wilfar's Hill, which is about 10 miles distant from the village called Cataract [Catterick, North Yorkshire], towards the north-west. He himself, with only one trusty thegn, whose name was Tondhere, withdrew and lay concealed in the house of Hunwold, a noble, whom he imagined to be his most assured friend. But, alas! it was far otherwise; for Hunwold betrayed him, and Oswiu, by the hands of his prefect, Æthelwine, foully slew him and the thegn aforesaid. This happened on the 13th of the Kalends of September [i.e. on the 20th of August], in the ninth year of his reign [i.e. in 651], at a place called Ingetlingum [probably Gilling West, North Yorkshire], where afterwards, to atone for this crime, a monastery was built, wherein prayers should be daily offered up to God for the redemption of the souls of both kings, to wit, of him that was murdered, and of him that commanded the murder.”* (‘HE’ III, 14).
Since his victory over Oswald, Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, had apparently made something of a habit of raiding Northumbria: “during the time that he [Aidan] was bishop, the hostile army of the Mercians, under the command of Penda, cruelly ravaged the country of the Northumbrians far and near, even to the royal city, which has its name from Bebba, formerly its queen [i.e. Bamburgh]. Not being able to take it by storm or by siege, he endeavoured to burn it down; and having pulled down all the villages in the neighbourhood of the city, he brought thither an immense quantity of beams, rafters, partitions, wattles and thatch, wherewith he encompassed the place to a great height on the land side, and when he found the wind favourable, he set fire to it and attempted to burn the town.  At that time, the most reverend Bishop Aidan was dwelling in the Isle of Farne, which is about two miles from the city; for thither he was wont often to retire to pray in solitude and silence; and, indeed, this lonely dwelling of his is to this day shown in that island. When he saw the flames of fire and the smoke carried by the wind rising above the city walls, he is said to have lifted up his eyes and hands to heaven, and cried with tears, “Behold, Lord, how great evil is wrought by Penda!” These words were hardly uttered, when the wind immediately veering from the city, drove back the flames upon those who had kindled them, so that some being hurt, and all afraid, they forebore any further attempts against the city, which they perceived to be protected by the hand of God...
Aidan was in the king's township, not far from the city of which we have spoken above, at the time when death caused him to quit the body, after he had been bishop 17 years; for having a church and a chamber in that place, he was wont often to go and stay there, and to make excursions from it to preach in the country round about, which he likewise did at other of the king's townships, having nothing of his own besides his church and a few fields about it. When he was sick they set up a tent for him against the wall at the west end of the church, and so it happened that he breathed his last, leaning against a buttress that was on the outside of the church to strengthen the wall. He died in the seventeenth year of his episcopate, on the day before the Kalends of September [31st August, 651].* His body was thence presently translated to the isle of Lindisfarne ... Finan, who had likewise been sent thither from Hii [Iona], the island monastery of the Scots, succeeded him, and continued no small time in the bishopric. It happened some years after, that Penda, king of the Mercians, coming into these parts with a hostile army, destroyed all he could with fire and sword, and the village where the bishop died, along with the church above mentioned, was burnt down; but it fell out in a wonderful manner that the buttress against which he had been leaning when he died, could not be consumed by the fire which devoured all about it. This miracle being noised abroad, the church was soon rebuilt in the same place, and that same buttress was set up on the outside, as it had been before, to strengthen the wall. It happened again, some time after, that the village and likewise the church were carelessly burned down the second time. Then again, the fire could not touch the buttress; and, miraculously, though the fire broke through the very holes of the nails wherewith it was fixed to the building, yet it could do no hurt to the buttress itself. When therefore the church was built there the third time, they did not, as before, place that buttress on the outside as a support of the building, but within the church, as a memorial of the miracle; where the people coming in might kneel, and implore the Divine mercy. And it is well known that since then many have found grace and been healed in that same place, as also that by means of splinters cut off from the buttress, and put into water, many more have obtained a remedy for their own infirmities and those of their friends.” (‘HE’ III, 16 & 17).
Nevertheless, Bede says (‘HE’ III, 21) that, in 653, Penda's son, Peada: “came to Oswiu, king of the Northumbrians, requesting to have his daughter Alhflæd given him to wife; but he could not obtain his desire unless he would receive the faith of Christ, and be baptized, with the nation which he governed.”  Peada ruled the Middle Angles on behalf of his father. It now becomes evident that a son of Oswiu had already married a daughter of Penda: “When he [Peada] heard the preaching of the truth, the promise of the heavenly kingdom, and the hope of resurrection and future immortality, he declared that he would willingly become a Christian, even though he should not obtain the maiden; being chiefly prevailed on to receive the faith by King Oswiu's son Alhfrith, who was his brother-in-law and friend, for he had married his sister Cyneburh, the daughter of King Penda. Accordingly he was baptized by Bishop Finan, with all his nobles and thegns, and their servants, that came along with him, at a noted township, belonging to the king [Oswiu], called At the Wall. And having received four priests, who by reason of their learning and good life were deemed proper to instruct and baptize his nation, he returned home with much joy.”
Alhfrith and Alhflæd are too old to be the children of Eanflæd – presumably they are the children of Oswiu's previous wife, the British princess, Riemmelth.
Sigeberht, king of the East Saxons, was, says Bede (‘HE’ III, 22), “a friend to King Oswiu”. He used to visit Northumbria regularly, and Oswiu persuaded him to become a Christian. Sigeberht and his entourage were, like Peada, baptized by Bishop Finan at At the Wall.
Sigeberht asked Oswiu to send him some missionaries. Cedd, one of the four priests whom Oswiu had assigned to accompany Peada to the Middle Angles, was given a companion and transferred from Middle Anglia to Essex. On a subsequent visit to Lindisfarne, he was made “bishop of the nation of the East Saxons” by Finan.  Though he was now bishop of the East Saxons, Cedd often visited Northumbria to preach: “Œthelwald, the son of King Oswald, who reigned among the Deiri, finding him a holy, wise, and good man, desired him to accept some land whereon to build a monastery, to which the king himself might frequently resort, to pray to the Lord and hear the Word, and where he might be buried when he died; for he believed faithfully that he should receive much benefit from the daily prayers of those who were to serve the Lord in that place... [Cedd] built the monastery, which is now called Læstingaeu [Lastingham, North Yorkshire], and established therein religious customs according to the use of Lindisfarne, where he had been trained.” (‘HE’ III, 23).
Despite the marriage links that existed between Oswiu and Penda, the latter persisted with his raids on Northumbria. “At this time, King Oswiu was exposed to the cruel and intolerable invasions of Penda, king of the Mercians, whom we have so often mentioned, and who had slain his brother; at length, compelled by his necessity, he [Oswiu] promised to give him countless gifts and royal marks of honour greater than can be believed, to purchase peace; provided that he would return home, and cease to waste and utterly destroy the provinces of his kingdom....
A rather confused account in the ‘Historia Brittonum’ suggests that Penda and his allies besieged Oswiu in a stronghold called Iudeu (generally identified with Stirling), where he delivered: “all the wealth, which was with him in the city, to Penda; who distributed it among the kings of the Britons [who had accompanied him on the expedition]” (§65).  It may have been at Iudeu that Oswiu was obliged to hand over his son, Ecgfrith, to Penda as a hostage.
.... The pagan king refused to grant his request, for he had resolved to blot out and extirpate all his nation, from the highest to the lowest; whereupon King Oswiu had recourse to the protection of the Divine pity for deliverance from his barbarous and pitiless foe, and binding himself by a vow, said, “If the pagan will not accept our gifts, let us offer them to Him that will, the Lord our God.” He then vowed, that if he should win the victory, he would dedicate his daughter to the Lord in holy virginity, and give 12 pieces of land whereon to build monasteries. After this he gave battle with a very small army: indeed, it is reported that the pagans had thirty times the number of men; for they had 30 legions, drawn up under most noted commanders. King Oswiu and his son Alhfrith met them with a very small army, as has been said, but trusting in Christ as their Leader; his other son, Ecgfrith was then kept as a hostage at the court of Queen Cynewise, in the province of the Mercians. King Oswald's son Œthelwald, who ought to have supported them, was on the enemy's side, and led them on to fight against his country and his uncle; though, during the battle, he withdrew, and awaited the event in a place of safety. The engagement began, the pagans were put to flight or killed, the 30 royal commanders, who had come to Penda's assistance, were almost all of them slain; among whom was Æthelhere, brother and successor to Anna, king of the East Angles. He [Penda] had been the occasion of the war, and was now killed, having lost his army and auxiliaries.* The battle was fought near the river Winwæd, which then, owing to the great rains, was in flood, and had overflowed its banks, so that many more were drowned in the flight than destroyed in battle by the sword.” (‘HE’ III, 24).
The ‘Historia Brittonum’ says that Oswiu: “slew Penda in the field of Gai, and now took place the slaughter of Gai Campi [the Field of Gai], and the kings of the Britons, who went out with Penda on the expedition as far as the city of Iudeu, were slain.” (§64).  Apparently not quite all the British kings were killed: “Cadafael alone, king of Gwynedd, rising up in the night, escaped together with his army” (§65).  Cadafael earned the epithet ‘Battle Shirker’.
Henry of Huntingdon: “Penda was slain by King Oswiu near the river Winwæd, whence it is said:
“At the Winwæd was avenged the slaughter of Anna,
The slaughter of the kings Sigeberht and Ecgric,
The slaughter of the kings Oswald and Edwin.” ” (‘HA’ II, 34).
This may be one of six occasions when Henry is translating, into Latin, lines from a now lost Old English poem on famous battles. The first five of these battles occurred within the short period 616–655 and involved Northumbria. (The sixth battle took place in 825 and had no Northumbrian involvement.) Incidentally, the Winwæd is unidentified and the battle site unknown.
“King Oswiu concluded this war in the district of Loidis [Leeds], in the thirteenth year of his reign, on the 17th of the Kalends of December [i.e. on the 15th of November, 655], to the great benefit of both nations; for he delivered his own people from the hostile depredations of the pagans, and, having made an end of their heathen chief, converted the Mercians and the adjacent provinces to the grace of the Christian faith.” (‘HE’ III, 24).
“Then King Oswiu, according to the vow he had made to the Lord, returned thanks to God for the victory granted him, and gave his daughter Ælfflæd, who was scarce a year old, to be consecrated to Him in perpetual virginity; bestowing also 12 small estates of land, wherein the practice of earthly warfare should cease, and place and means should be afforded to devout and zealous monks to wage spiritual warfare, and pray for the eternal peace of his nation. Of these estates six were in the province of the Deiri, and the other six in that of the Bernicians. Each of the estates contained 10 families, that is, 120 in all. The aforesaid daughter of King Oswiu, who was to be dedicated to God, entered the monastery called Heruteu, or, ‘The Island of the Hart’ [Hartlepool], at that time ruled by the Abbess Hild, who, two years after, having acquired an estate of 10 families, at the place called Streanæshealh [Whitby], built a monastery there, in which the aforesaid king's daughter was first trained in the monastic life and afterwards became abbess; till, about the age of 60, the blessed virgin departed to be united to her Heavenly Bridegroom. In this monastery, she and her father, Oswiu, her mother, Eanflæd, her mother's father, Edwin, and many other noble persons, are buried in the church of the holy Apostle Peter.” (‘HE’ III, 24).
King of Deira
655 ? – 664 ?  Alhfrith
Son of Oswiu.
Œthelwald disappears from history after Winwæd. Having opposed Oswiu he, presumably, would have, at the least, been exiled, and it was probably at this point, with Deira firmly in his grasp, that Oswiu appointed his son Alhfrith, who had supported him at Winwæd, to rule Deira on his behalf.
“King Oswiu governed the Mercians, as also the people of the other southern provinces, for three years after he had slain King Penda; and he likewise subdued the greater part of the Picts to the dominion of the English.” (‘HE’ III, 24).  During the three years following Penda's death, Oswiu was at the height of his powers. Bede names him as the seventh, and final, king in his list of overlords of the south-Humbrian English kingdoms (‘HE’ II, 5), adding that he: “for the most part subdued and made tributary the nations of the Picts and Scots, who occupy the northern parts of Britain”.*  Taking its lead from Bede, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ names Oswiu as the seventh Bretwalda.
Bede says (‘HE’ I, 1) that, “when any question should arise”, the Picts: “choose a king from the female royal race rather than from the male”.  Pictish king-lists show that Talorcan, son of Eanfrith, ruled for four years – Talorcan's death is recorded in Irish Annals, indicating his reign was 653–657. It is widely suggested that, during the period of Edwin's rule, when Oswiu and his brothers had been in exile, Eanfrith, the eldest brother (who ruled Bernicia for a year after Edwin's death), had married a Pictish princess, and, according to Pictish practice, as outlined by Bede, Talorcan succeeded to the throne in his own right. On the other hand, perhaps Oswiu had sufficient authority in the region to simply impose his nephew on the Picts, regardless of his eligibility. In any case, it seems reasonable to assume that Talorcan ruled as Oswiu's subordinate.
At first Oswiu allowed his son-in-law, Peada, to govern Southern Mercia, but Peada was assassinated, “as is said”, writes Bede, through the treachery of “his wife” (i.e. Oswiu's daughter, Alhflæd), at Easter 656. All Mercia was then ruled directly by Oswiu. But in 658, Mercian rebels set-up Peada's brother, Wulfhere, as king, and: “they bravely recovered at once their liberty and their lands” (‘HE’ III, 24).  Oswiu's hold over the south-Humbrian English kingdoms was broken, and Wulfhere began to extend his own authority.
In about 660, Oswiu's son, Ecgfrith, married Æthelthryth, daughter of Anna, the late king, and niece of Æthelwald, the incumbent king, of the East Angles.
Broadly speaking, there were two Christian doctrines prevalent in the British Isles at this time: that of the indigenous Churches, often lumped together under the umbrella-term ‘Celtic Church’, as exemplified by Bishop Aidan and the monks of Iona; and that of the Catholic Church of Rome, as promoted amongst the English by the mission of Pope Gregory the Great, which had landed in Kent in 597. When Oswiu's wife, Eanflæd, had returned to Northumbria from Kent, she and her entourage had continued to follow Roman practices, whilst Oswiu and his courtiers followed the teachings of Aidan and his Scottish (i.e. Irish) successors at Lindisfarne. The major difference between the doctrines concerned the formula used to calculate Easter: “Thus it is said to have sometimes happened in those times that Easter was twice celebrated in one year; and that when the king, having ended his fast, was keeping Easter, the queen and her followers were still fasting, and celebrating Palm Sunday... Now Oswiu, having been instructed and baptized by the Scots, and being very perfectly skilled in their language, thought nothing better than what they taught; but Alhfrith, having for his teacher in Christianity the learned Wilfrid, who had formerly gone to Rome to study ecclesiastical doctrine, and spent much time at Lyons with Dalfinus, archbishop of Gaul, from whom also he had received the crown of ecclesiastical tonsure,* rightly thought that this man's doctrine ought to be preferred before all the traditions of the Scots.” (‘HE’ III, 25).
In his Latin ‘Life’ of Wilfrid, Eddius Stephanus writes: “Alhfrith, who was reigning alongside his father Oswiu, got wind of Wilfrid's arrival [c.658], and hearing that he was an adherent of the true Easter rule and an expert in the discipline of the Church of St Peter (to which the king himself was greatly devoted), on the advice of his faithful friend Cenwalh, king of the West Saxons, he ordered him to appear before him.”  Alhfrith fell under Wilfrid's spell, and: “begged him to remain at court preaching the word of God to himself and the nation ... Wilfrid realized the king's affection for him and agreed to stay. Then their souls intertwined in the most wonderful way, just as we read of David's soul being knit to Jonathan's.” (Chapter 7).
In 664 a synod was convened at Abbess Hild's monastery at Whitby,* attended by Oswiu, Alhfrith and clerics of both doctrines: “King Oswiu first made an opening speech, in which he said that it behoved those who served one God to observe one rule of life; and as they all expected the same kingdom in heaven, so they ought not to differ in the celebration of the heavenly mysteries; but rather to inquire which was the truer tradition, that it might be followed by all in common” (‘HE’ III, 25).  Colman, bishop of Lindisfarne, put the case for the ‘Celtic’ method of calculating Easter, whilst Wilfrid argued for the Catholic method. Wifrid's argument won the day – Oswiu decided in favour of the Roman doctrine. Colman and other ‘Celtic’ clergymen who would not adopt the Catholic Easter (nor, indeed, the Roman style of “tonsure in the form of a crown” – Bede notes that “there was no small dispute about that also”), retired to Iona, and thence to Ireland. One Tuda was appointed bishop in Colman's stead. He was the only bishop in Northumbria. Lindisfarne, the bishop's seat, was in Bernicia. Alhfrith decided that Deira should have its own bishop, and so he, with Oswiu's agreement, sent Wilfrid off to Gaul to be consecrated.*
In his ‘Historia Abbatum’ (Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow), Bede notes, in a context which suggests a date around 664, Alhfrith was about to set out on a pilgrimage to Rome, in the company of one Benedict Biscop (who later founded the monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow), but was prevented from doing so by Oswiu (Benedict carried on alone).
In the same year, 664, a devastating plague swept through the British Isles. Bishop Tuda was a victim.
Cedd, the Northumbrian bishop of the East Saxons, also died of the plague. He had acted as interpreter at the Whitby synod – clearly not all the Scottish (i.e. Irish) clergy could speak English * – and had subsequently adopted Catholicism. Cedd died in his monastery at Lastingham, North Yorkshire.
Oswiu sent Chad, brother of Bishop Cedd, to Canterbury to be consecrated bishop, but of York, not Lindisfarne. York was evidently the see that Alhfrith had intended for Wilfrid, who, says Bede: “stayed some time in the parts beyond the sea” (‘HE’ III, 28).  Nothing more is heard of Alhfrith. In his introduction to Oswiu's career (‘HE’ III, 14), Bede remarks that he ruled: “with much trouble, being attacked by the pagan nation of the Mercians, that had slain his brother, as also by his son Alhfrith, and by his nephew Œthelwald, the son of his brother who reigned before him.”  Bede's meaning is obvious regarding the Mercians and Œthelwald, but his reference to Alhfrith is mysterious. It may be that Alhfrith rebelled against his father in 664, and came to an untimely end – hence Wilfrid's dalliance across the Channel. At any rate, when Chad got to Canterbury, he found that Archbishop Deusdedit, who died in July 664 (probably of the plague), had not been replaced. Chad traveled on to Wessex, where he was consecrated by Wine, bishop of the West Saxons, who was the only Catholically ordained bishop in Britain at the time. Wine was, however, assisted by two British, that is ‘Celtic Church’, bishops.
King of Deira
664 ? – 670 ?  Ecgfrith ?
Son of Oswiu.
The anonymous, late-12th century, compiler of the ‘Liber Eliensis’ alleges: “Ecgfrith ... for whom he [Oswiu] had felt a deep love, he appointed as his sharer in the kingship over the province of York, since, being oppressed by bodily illness, he was finding difficulty in maintaining secure jurisdiction over the kingdom.” (I, 8).
When Wilfrid eventually returned to Northumbria, in 666, he found Chad occupying the seat intended for him. Wilfrid withdrew to his monastery at Ripon, which had been previously gifted to him by Alhfrith. Eddius Stephanus says (Chapter 14) that Wilfrid lived: “a humble life at Ripon for the next few years, remaining there all the time except for frequent invitations from King Wulfhere to carry out episcopal duties in Mercia.”  And, since the post of archbishop of Canterbury was still vacant: “the pious King Egbert of Kent summoned Wilfrid to ordain a good number of priests and deacons.”
In 667: “the most noble kings of the English, Oswiu, of the province of the Northumbrians, and Egbert of Kent, consulted together to determine what ought to be done about the state of the English Church, for Oswiu, though educated by the Scots, had rightly perceived that the Roman was the Catholic and Apostolic Church. They selected, with the consent and by the choice of the holy Church of the English nation, a priest named Wigheard, one of Bishop Deusdedit's clergy, a good man and fitted for the episcopate, and sent him to Rome to be ordained bishop, to the end that, having been raised to the rank of an archbishop, he might ordain Catholic prelates for the Churches of the English nation throughout all Britain.” (‘HE’ III, 29).  Sadly, however, Wigheard, and most of his party, died in an epidemic at Rome.* Pope Vitalian selected Theodore, a monk from Tarsus (in modern Turkey), as Wigheard's replacement. He was ordained and despatched to Canterbury, where he eventually arrived on 27th May 669. “Soon after, he visited all the island, wherever the tribes of the English dwelt, for he was gladly received and heard by all persons ... Theodore, journeying through all parts, ordained bishops in fitting places, and with their assistance corrected such things as he found faulty.” (‘HE’ IV, 2).  Theodore judged that Chad's position at York was illegitimate – non-Catholic British bishops had participated in his ordination – and he had to relinquish it to Wilfrid. Chad was properly re-ordained, and, since Mercia was without a bishop, he was sent off to King Wulfhere to act as bishop of the Mercians, and also of Lindsey, which was then a Mercian possession.* “Wilfrid administered the bishopric of York, and of all the Northumbrians, and likewise of the Picts, as far as King Oswiu was able to extend his dominions.” (‘HE’ IV, 3).
“In the year of our Lord 670, being the second year after Theodore arrived in England, Oswiu, king of the Northumbrians, fell sick, and died, in the 58th year of his age.* He at that time bore so great affection to the Roman Apostolic usages, that he had designed, if he recovered from his sickness, to go to Rome, and there to end his days at the holy places, having asked Bishop Wilfrid, with a promise of no small gift of money, to conduct him on his journey. He died on the 15th of the Kalends of March [i.e. on 15th February], leaving his son Ecgfrith his successor.” (‘HE’ IV, 5).*
670 – 685  Ecgfrith
Son of Oswiu.
Eddius Stephanus, biographer of Wilfrid (Wilfrid was at the time bishop of York),* says that: “In the early years of his [Ecgfrith's] reign, while the kingdom was still weak, the vicious tribes of the Picts fiercely resented their being subject to the Saxons; indeed they began to stir up revolt. Swarms of them gathered from every cranny of the north, like ants in summer sweeping up an earthwork to prevent their home from ruin. When the news reached Ecgfrith he quickly mustered a troop of cavalry and putting his trust in God, like Judas Maccabeus, set off with Beornhæth, his trusty sub-king, and the little band of God's people against a vast army hidden in the hills. Ecgfrith was quite gentle with his people and merciful to his enemies, but quick in battle, impatient of delay. Host upon host of the enemy fell before him. He filled two rivers with the slain and his men crossed dry-shod over the corpses to slay the fugitives. Thus the Picts were reduced to slavery, a condition in which they remained until Ecgfrith himself was slain.” (Chapter 19).  “After this”, says Eddius (Chapter 20), “Ecgfrith ruled his people with God's bishop in justice and holiness.”*
King of Deira
670 ? – 679  Ælfwine
Son of Oswiu.
Ælfwine is titled ‘king’ by both Bede and Eddius Stephanus, but of where neither of them says. Circumstantial evidence, however, suggests it was Deira. Presumably Ecgfrith installed his young brother in Deira when he, Ecgfrith, succeeded to the overall kingship of Northumbria – Ælfwine would have only been about nine years old at the time. It is possible that Ecgfrith had, himself, previously ruled Deira on behalf of Oswiu, and it may be that Ælfwine was appointed to mark him out as the childless Ecgfrith's nominated successor.
Wilfrid built a splendid stone church at Ripon. Present at its dedication were, says Eddius (Chapter 17): “Those most devout and Christian kings, Ecgfrith and Ælfwine”.*  Wilfrid: “read out in a clear voice a list of lands which previous monarchs and now themselves had given him for their souls salvation with the consent and signature of the bishops and all the ealdormen. He went on to enumerate holy places in various parts of the country which the British clergy, fleeing from our own hostile sword, had deserted. God would indeed be pleased with the good kings for the gift of so much land to our bishop. They gave Wilfrid land round Ribble, Yeadon, Dent, and Catlow, and in other places too.” *
Meanwhile, Wulfhere, king of Mercia, had become the most powerful king south of the Humber. Bede does not include him in his list of overlords of the southern English kingdoms, but it seems likely that by 674, when he turned his attention to Northumbria, he was in that position. Eddius Stephanus reports: “King Wulfhere of Mercia, a man of proud mind and insatiable will, stirred up all the southern nations against our own, intent not merely on war but meaning to enslave us to him as tributaries. His designs were not inspired by God. So Ecgfrith, king of Bernicia and Deira, a man of unwavering purpose, took the advice of his counsellors, followed the injunctions of his bishop, put his trust in God and marched forth against the enemy host, in defence of Church and fatherland, with as few troops as had Barak and Deborah. With God's help he laid them low. Countless numbers were slaughtered, their king routed, and the kingdom of Mercia itself put under tribute. Later [in 675] Wulfhere died (I do not know the exact cause) and Ecgfrith ruled a wider realm in peace.” (Chapter 20).*  An anonymous mid-11th century compilation, the ‘Historia de Sancto Cuthberto’ (History of St Cuthbert) notes: “King Ecgfrith fought against the king of the Mercians, Wulfhere son of Penda, and having cut down [his] army he vanquished him and put him to flight with only one small boy accompanying [him]. And he [Ecgfrith] obtained this through the aid of St Wilfrid, who was with him, but especially through the prayers of St Cuthbert, who was absent.* After this battle King Ecgfrith gave Carham and whatever pertains to it to St Cuthbert and held him in the highest veneration as long as he lived” (§7).  At some stage before 679, Wulfhere's brother and successor, Æthelred, married Ecgfrith's sister, Osthryth.
The earliest Anglo-Saxon coins were gold shillings – frequently called ‘thrymsas’.* They were mainly issued in the south-east, but some seem to have been produced in Northumbria – indeed, because of the locations of their findspots, they are thought to have been minted at York. The reverse of the above example (12 mm diameter, 1.2 g) is clearly inscribed with letters, but their meaning has not been deciphered. The obverse design might, perhaps, represent a building. “This theme of architecture”, asserts Elizabeth J. Pirie: “points to emission during the reign of Ecgfrith, when Wilfrid and Benedict Biscop were concerned with ecclesiastical buildings at Hexham, Wearmouth and Jarrow.”  Other numismatists, however, suggest that the York thrymsas were issued rather earlier than Ecgfrith's reign.*
Wilfrid built another magnificent church at Hexham,* on land given to him by Ecgfrith's wife, Æthelthryth. In about 660, Ecgfrith, around fifteen years old, had married Æthelthryth, saintly daughter of Anna, late king of the East Angles. Æthelthryth was older, and Ecgfrith was her second husband. Bede (‘HE’ IV, 19) asserts that: “Though she lived with him 12 years, yet she preserved the glory of perfect virginity, as I was informed by Bishop Wilfrid, of blessed memory, of whom I inquired, because some questioned the truth thereof; and he told me that he was an undoubted witness to her virginity, forasmuch as Ecgfrith promised to give him many lands and much money if he could persuade the queen to consent to fulfil her marriage duty, for he knew the queen loved no man more than [Wilfrid] himself.”  Eventually, in about 672, Æthelthryth persuaded Ecgfrith to allow her to become a nun, and: “she entered the monastery of the Abbess Æbbe, who was aunt to King Ecgfrith, at the place called the city of Coludi [Coldingham, Berwickshire], having received the veil of the religious habit from the hands of the aforesaid Bishop Wilfrid”.  A year later Æthelthryth became founding abbess of Ely.*  Eddius Stephanus (Chapter 19) maintains that: “While he [Ecgfrith] was on good terms with the bishop, as many will tell you, he enlarged his kingdom by many victories; but when they quarrelled and the queen separated from him to give herself to God, the king's triumphs ceased”.  Eddius implies that Æthelthryth and Ecgfrith divorced after Ecgfrith's victory over Wulfhere, but, evidently, they had divorced a couple of years before.*
Bede: “In the year of our Lord 678, which is the 8th of the reign of Ecgfrith, in the month of August, appeared a star, called a comet, which continued for three months, rising in the morning, and sending forth, as it were, a tall pillar of radiant flame. The same year a dissension broke out between King Ecgfrith and the most reverend prelate, Wilfrid, who was driven from his see,* and two bishops substituted for him, to preside over the nation of the Northumbrians, namely, Bosa, to govern the province of the Deiri; and Eata that of the Bernicians; the former having his episcopal see in the city of York, the latter either in the church of Hagustald [Hexham], or of Lindisfarne; both of them promoted to the episcopal dignity from a community of monks. With them also Eadhæd was ordained bishop for the province of Lindsey, which King Ecgfrith had but newly acquired, having defeated Wulfhere and put him to flight; and this was the first bishop of its own which that province had ... Eadhæd, Bosa, and Eata, were ordained at York by archbishop Theodore” (‘HE’ IV, 12).  Ecgfrith had remarried, and, according to Eddius Stephanus (Chapter 24), it was his new wife, Iurminburh, who stoked-up Ecgfrith's hostility towards Wilfrid: “She used all her eloquence to describe to Ecgfrith all St Wilfrid's temporal glories, listing his possessions, the number of his monasteries, the vastness of the buildings, his countless followers arrayed and armed like a king's retinue. Her darts pierced the king's heart and took effect; from then on the pair used their cunning to secure the condemnation of this holy head of the church and to snatch all the gifts left to God by former kings.“  Eddius accuses Archbishop Theodore of accepting bribes (“for money will blind even the wisest”) to further their plot against Wilfrid. On being replaced by Eadhæd, Bosa, and Eata (“Theodore found three men from somewhere or other”), Wilfrid: “decided to take the case to the Holy See”.*
Bede: “In the ninth year of the reign of King Ecgfrith [in 679], a great battle was fought between him and Æthelred, king of the Mercians, near the river Trent, and Ælfwine, brother to King Ecgfrith, was slain, a youth about 18 years of age, and much beloved by both provinces; for King Æthelred had married his sister Osthryth. There was now reason to expect a more bloody war, and more lasting enmity between those kings and their fierce nations; but Theodore, the bishop, beloved of God, relying on the Divine aid, by his wholesome admonitions wholly extinguished the dangerous fire that was breaking out; so that the kings and their people on both sides were appeased, and no man was put to death, but only the due mulct paid to the king who was the avenger for the death of his brother; and this peace continued long after between those kings and between their kingdoms.” (‘HE’ IV, 21).*
According to Eddius Stephanus, Wilfrid had predicted that a disaster would afflict Ecgfrith's court a year after he had been ejected from his diocese: “And his prophecy was true. For twelve months later, to the day, the corpse of King Ælfwine was carried into York, at the sight of which the whole population wept and tore their hair for grief and rent their garments.” (Chapter 24).
In 680, Bishop Wilfrid returned from Rome with papers from Pope Agatho ordering his reinstatement. Far from being reinstated, however, he was imprisoned for nine months, and then exiled from Northumbria.*
Wilfrid's erstwhile diocese, already split-up in 678, was, in 681, further divided by Theodore – Eata's see was fixed at Lindisfarne, one Tunberht was appointed to Lindisfarne, and: “Trumwine to the province of the Picts, which at that time was subject to English rule.” (‘HE’ IV, 12).  Bede notes: “Eadhæd returning from Lindsey, because Æthelred had recovered that province, was placed by Theodore over the church of Ripon.”  Ecgfrith had taken ownership of Lindsey following his victory over Wulfhere in 674, but lost it again following the battle of the Trent in 679 (certainly a victory for Æthelred, though Bede doesn't explicitly say so). Northumbria never again had control of Lindsey.
Bede (‘HE’ IV, 26): “In the year of our Lord 684, Ecgfrith, king of the Northumbrians, sending his ealdorman, Berht, with an army into Ireland, miserably laid waste that unoffending nation, which had always been most friendly to the English; insomuch that the invading force spared not even the churches or monasteries....
The ‘Annals of Ulster’ report that: “The Saxons lay waste Mag Breg, and many churches, in the month of June.”*
.... But the islanders, while to the utmost of their power they repelled force with force, implored the assistance of the Divine mercy, and with constant imprecations invoked the vengeance of Heaven ... it was believed that those who were justly cursed on account of their impiety, soon suffered the penalty of their guilt at the avenging hand of God. For the very next year [i.e. in 685], when that same king [i.e. Ecgfrith] had rashly led his army to ravage the province of the Picts, greatly against the advice of his friends, and particularly of Cuthbert, of blessed memory, who had been lately ordained bishop ....
Cuthbert was consecrated at Easter (26th March) 685.* He died on 20th March 687.
.... the enemy made a feigned retreat, and the king [Ecgfrith] was drawn into a narrow pass among remote mountains, and slain, with the greater part of the forces he had led thither, on the 13th of the Kalends of June [20th May], in the 40th year of his age, and the 15th of his reign.* His friends, as has been said, advised him not to engage in this war; but since he had the year before refused to listen to the most reverend father, Egbert, advising him not to attack the Scots [i.e. the Irish], who were doing him no harm, it was laid upon him as a punishment for his sin, that he should now not listen to those who would have prevented his death.”
Benedict Biscop built monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow on land donated for the purpose by Ecgfrith. Although they were some seven miles apart and Wearmouth was founded some seven years before Jarrow, the two sites were, in fact, considered to be a single monastery. An inscription recording the dedication of the church at Jarrow still exists:
DEDICATIO BASILICAE
SCI PAVLI VIIII KL MAI
ANNO XV ECFRIDI REG
CEOLFRIDI ABB EIVSDEMQ
Q ECCLES DO AVCTORE
CONDITORIS ANNO IIII
“The dedication of the basilica of St Paul on the 9th of the Kalends of May [23rd April] in the 15th year of King Ecgfrith and in the 4th year of Abbot Ceolfrith founder, by God's guidance, of the same church.”
The 23rd April was a Sunday – the most likely day of the week for the dedication – in 685, so the reckoning of Ecgfrith's regnal years tallies with Bede's, and the church was dedicated just a month before Ecgfrith was killed.
Bede doesn't name the battle-site, but the ‘Annals of Ulster’ state that: “The battle of Dún Nechtain [Fort of Nechtan] was fought on the twentieth day of May, a Saturday, and Ecgfrith son of Oswiu, king of the Saxons, who had completed the 15th year of his reign, was slain therein with a great body of his soldiers”.*  (Dún Nechtain is conventionally identified as Dunnichen, near Forfar.*) The equivalent entry in the ‘Annals of Tigernach’ adds that the Pictish king responsible for Ecgfrith's defeat and death was Bridei (Bruide in Irish) son of Bili. The ‘Historia Brittonum’ (§57) says: “Ecgfrith is he who made war against his cousin Bridei, king of the Picts, and he fell therein with all the strength of his army, and the Picts with their king gained the victory”.  The ‘Historia’ provides the Welsh name for the battle: “it is called Gueith Lin Garan [the Battle of Crane Lake].”  The English name is given by Symeon of Durham, who writes: “in the same year in which King Ecgfrith had caused this venerable father [Cuthbert] to be ordained bishop, he was killed at Nechtanesmere, that is, the Lake of Nechtan ... This happened as the same father Cuthbert had predicted,* upon the 13th of the Kalends of June [20th May], in the 15th year of his reign. His [Ecgfrith's] body was buried in Iona, the island of Columba.” (‘LDE’ I, 9).
Anonymous ‘Life’ of St Cuthbert: “At the time when King Ecgfrith was ravaging and laying waste the kingdom of the Picts, though finally in accordance with the predestined judgment of God he was to be overcome and slain, our holy bishop [Cuthbert] went to the city of Carlisle to visit the queen who was awaiting there the issue of events. On the Saturday, as the priests and deacons declare of whom many still survive, at the ninth hour [about 3 in the afternoon] they were looking at the city wall and the well formerly built in a wonderful manner by the Romans, as Waga the civitatis praepositus [reeve of the city], who was conducting them, explained. The bishop meanwhile stood leaning on his supporting staff, with his head inclined towards the ground and then he lifted up his eyes heavenwards again with a sigh, and said: “Oh! oh! oh! I think that the war is over and that judgment has been given against our people in the battle.” Then when they urgently asked him what had happened and desired to know, he said evasively: “Oh, my sons, look at the sky, consider how wonderful it is, and think how inscrutable are the judgments of God” and so forth. And so after a few days they learned that it had been announced far and wide that a wretched and mournful battle had taken place at the very day and hour in which it had been revealed to him.” (IV,8). *
Bede continues: “From that time the hopes and strength of the English kingdom [i.e. Northumbria] began to ebb and fall away for the Picts recovered their own lands, which had been held by the English; and the Scots that were in Britain, and some of the Britons, regained their liberty, which they have now enjoyed for about 46 years. Among the many English that then either fell by the sword, or were made slaves, or escaped by flight out of the country of the Picts, the most reverend man of God, Trumwine, who had been made bishop over them, withdrew with his people that were in the monastery of Aebbercurnig [Abercorn], in the country of the English, but close by the arm of the sea [the Firth of Forth] which is the boundary between the lands of the English and the Picts.” (‘HE’ IV, 26).
685 – 705  Aldfrith
Illegitimate son of Oswiu.
It seems that Aldfrith was a souvenir of his father's exile amongst the Scots. His mother appears to have been an Irish princess called Fín, and he is known in Irish as Flann Fína.* He was a noted scholar – to the ‘Annals of Ulster’, for instance, he is “learned Aldfrith, son of Oswiu, king of the Saxons”, whilst Eddius Stephanus calls him “wise King Aldfrith” and Bede “a man most learned in all respects”.  Several literary works, in Irish, are attributed to him, notably a collection of maxims, ‘Bríathra Flainn Fhína maic Ossu’ (The Sayings of Flann Fína son of Oswiu).
Bede, in his prose ‘Life’ of St Cuthbert (he also wrote a verse version), tells how, a year before the event, Cuthbert had predicted the death of Ecgfrith, Aldfrith's predecessor. Ælfflæd, abbess of Whitby and sister of Ecgfrith, pressed Cuthbert to tell her who would succeed Ecgfrith, since, as she pointed out, he had no children or brothers: “Cuthbert was silent for a short time. “Say not,” he said, “that he is without heirs, for he shall have a successor whom you may embrace like you do Ecgfrith himself, with sisterly affection.” But she continued, “Tell me, I beseech thee, where is he now?” And he said, “You see this mighty and wide ocean, with how many islands it abounds. It is easy for God from one of these to provide a ruler for the kingdom of the English.” Wherefore she understood that he spoke of Aldfrith, who was said to be the son of Ecgfrith's father, and who at that time lived in exile, for the sake of studying letters, in the islands of the Scots [i.e. Irish].” (Chapter 24).  Bede wrote his ‘Life’ of Cuthbert around 721. He drew on an earlier (c.700), anonymous, ‘Life’, which says: “She [Ælfflæd] quickly realised that he [Cuthbert] had spoken of Aldfrith who now reigns peacefully and who was then on the island which is called Iona.” (III, 6).  Returning to Bede's account: “And further, to fulfil in all respects the prophetic words of Cuthbert, Ecgfrith was slain the year after by the sword of the Picts [on 20th May 685]. And Aldfrith, his bastard-brother, who for a considerable time previous had gone into voluntary exile for the sake of acquiring learning, through the love of wisdom, in the region of the Scots, was raised to the kingdom in his stead.” (Chapter 24).  Back in more familiar territory, the ‘Ecclesiastical History’, Bede states: “Aldfrith succeeded Ecgfrith in the throne, being a man most learned in the Scriptures, said to be brother to Ecgfrith, and son to King Oswiu; he nobly retrieved the ruined state of the kingdom, though within narrower bounds.” (‘HE’ IV, 26).
In 684, Ecgfrith had mounted a campaign in Ireland – not in person, an ealdorman called Berht was in command of the Northumbrian army. Evidently, Berht had returned to Northumbria with many Irish prisoners, and, after Ecgfrith's death, Adomnán, abbot of Iona and biographer of St Columba, travelled to Northumbria and negotiated their release. The ‘Annals of Ulster’, and also the ‘Annals of Tigernach’, report that, in 687: “Adomnán brought back 60 captives to Ireland.”  Whilst the ‘Annals of Tigernach’ alone record, two years later: “Adomnán brought back captives to Ireland.”  In his ‘Life’ of St Columba, Adomnán himself mentions (II, 46) two occasions that he visited “my friend, King Aldfrith” in “Saxonia”. He doesn't give the reason for his visits, but dates the first of them “after the war of Ecgfrith [in which he died, May 685]” and the second two years later.* Bede refers (‘HE’ V, 15) to just one visit, writing that Adomnán: “was sent by his nation on a mission to Aldfrith, king of the Angles [of Northumbria] ... This same man wrote a book concerning the holy places ... Adomnán presented this book to King Aldfrith, and through his bounty it came to be read by lesser persons. The writer thereof was also rewarded by him with many gifts and sent back into his country.”  Bede notes that: “At this time a great part of the Scots in Ireland, and some also of the Britons in Britain, by the grace of God, adopted the reasonable and ecclesiastical [i.e. the Catholic] time of keeping Easter.”  On Iona, however, the old traditions of the, so-called, ‘Celtic Church’ – the main difference being the formula used to calculate Easter – were still practised. Bede relates how, during his stay in Northumbria, Adomnán was persuaded that the Catholic doctrine was superior. He, in turn, tried to persuade his fellow monks on Iona, but without success. He died in 704. The Catholic Easter was eventually adopted on Iona due to the persuasions of Egbert, an influential English (almost certainly Northumbrian) priest who had been based in Ireland, but who moved to Iona in 716. Egbert died, aged ninety, in 729. Bede says (IV, 26) that Ecgfrith had acted against Egbert's advice when he attacked the Irish, “who were doing him no harm”, in 684.*
In the second year of his reign, Aldfrith recalled Wilfrid, the exiled bishop of York. Wilfrid, however, had much less authority than previously. Soon, relations between him and Aldfrith became strained, and, after five years, Wilfrid went into exile in Mercia.*
The first Anglo-Saxon coins produced in silver (superseding earlier gold issues) are known as ‘sceattas’.* Usually, they don't have inscriptions, but early Northumbrian sceattas bear the name of Aldfrith (+ALdFRIdUS). The next Northumbrian king to feature on coins, however, is Eadberht (737–758), and it may be that no coinage was produced in Northumbria during the reigns of the intervening kings.
In the chronological run-down at the end of the ‘Ecclesiastical History’ (‘HE’ V, 24) is the entry: “In the year 698, Berhtred, an ealdorman of the king of the Northumbrians, was slain by the Picts.”  Bede provides no further information. Irish annals, however, make it clear that Berhtred was killed in battle, and identify him as the son of Beornhæth – the latter being described as Ecgfrith's “trusty sub-king” by Eddius Stephanus (Chapter 19). It seems likely that Berhtred is one and the same as Berht, the ealdorman who led Ecgfrith's army against the Irish in 684.*
At some stage, Aldfrith married Cuthburh, the sister of Ine, king of the West Saxons, but later, as Florence of Worcester puts it: “both renounced connubial intercourse before her death, for the love of God.”  Cuthburh became founding abbess of Wimborne, Dorset.*
In about 703, Aldfrith hosted a synod at Austerfield (near Bawtry, South Yorkshire), at which Berhtwald, archbishop of Canterbury, presided. According to Eddius Stephanus (Chapter 47), it was: “openly declared that it was their wish to strip Wilfrid of all he possessed so that he would not be able to call the smallest cottage his own in either Northumbria or Mercia.“  There was a general outcry at the severity of this decision, and so, as a compromise, it was suggested that Wilfrid: “would be allowed to keep the monastery at Ripon which he himself had built and dedicated to St Peter, with all its lands and possessions, and the privileges granted to the abbot and community would devolve on him. But the grant was made only on condition that he signed a solemn promise to the effect that he would stay there quietly and never leave the monastery bounds without royal consent, nor exercise his episcopal office in any way at all, and finally that he would voluntarily lay down his rank.”  Needless to say, this was not acceptable to Wilfrid. He and his ally, Æthelred, king of Mercia, decided that the matter should be put to the pope. In 705, Wilfrid arrived back in England. Pope John VI (701–705) had given him an open letter (quoted by Eddius, Chapter 54), addressed to Æthelred and Aldfrith, in which he ordered Archbishop Berhtwald to convene a synod to finally work out an agreement that was acceptable to all parties. Aldfrith dismissed Wilfrid's ambassadors, and refused to consider the pope's ruling. Soon after, however, Aldfrith fell seriously ill. Eddius says (Chapter 59) that he decided to heal the rift with Bishop Wilfrid: “ “If only Wilfrid could be persuaded to come to me now,” he [Aldfrith] lamented, “I would quickly make amends.” ”  Sadly, however: “the king's illness gained the upper hand; he lay speechless for five days, then died.”  “In the year of our Lord 705,” announces Bede (‘HE’ V, 18), “Aldfrith, king of the Northumbrians, died before the end of the 20th year of his reign.”  Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, s.a. 705: “In this year Aldfrith, king of the Northumbrians, died on the 19th of the Kalends of January [14th December] at Driffield”. *
705/6  Eadwulf
Descent unknown.
706 – 716  Osred I
Son of Aldfrith.
Bede states that, following Aldfrith's death on 14th December 705: “His son Osred, a boy about eight years of age, succeeding him in the throne, reigned 11 years.” (‘HE’ V, 18).  Not mentioned by Bede, nor, indeed, any other source except Eddius Stephanus, Bishop Wilfrid's biographer, is the brief reign of one Eadwulf. Eddius reports (Chapter 59) that, when King Aldfrith died: “Eadwulf succeeded him for a short while. Our holy bishop, who was at Ripon with Eadwulf's son,* sent messengers to him as a friend – only to be answered with extreme harshness, for the deep rooted malice of Eadwulf's counsellors had turned him against Wilfrid. This was the reply: “I swear on my life that if you are not out of my kingdom within six days, you and any of your companions I can find shall perish.” Shortly afterwards a conspiracy was hatched against the king and he was driven out after a mere two months, reign.* The boy Osred, Aldfrith's son, took his place and became our bishop's adopted son.”
It seems that Osred and his chief-men had been besieged at Bamburgh by Eadwulf's forces. According to Eddius (Chapter 60), they made a vow that, if they should succeed in planting Osred on the throne, they would come to terms with Bishop Wilfrid. Eddius puts words into the mouth of Berhtfrith, the muscle behind young Osred's claim to the throne: “No sooner had we made this vow than the enemy completely changed their minds. They came rushing up to make friends with us. The gates were opened, we came out into the open air, hostilities were over and the kingdom ours.”  Eddius says that Berhtfrith was: “second in rank only to the king”.
In the first year of Osred's reign, a synod, presided over by Berhtwald, archbishop of Canterbury, was held “on the east bank of the Nidd” (exact site not known), to resolve the dispute with Wilfrid. Eddius reports that: “The parley ended with the decision, in which they [the bishops] were joined by king and counsellors, to make an unconditional peace pact with Wilfrid. He got back the two best monasteries, Ripon and Hexham, with all their revenues.” (Chapter 60).  Wilfrid died in 709.*
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reports, s.a. 710, that: “the ealdorman Berhtfrith fought against the Picts between Hæfe [Avon] and Cære [Carron]+”.  (The rivers Avon and Carron join the Forth, on its south bank, about twenty miles west of Edinburgh – in an area known to the Britons as Manaw Gododdin.) Bede places the event in 711 (‘HE’ V, 24), as do the ‘Annals of Ulster’, which leave no doubt who were the victors: “A slaughter of the Picts by the Saxons in Mag Manann”.*
Bede makes a passing mention (‘HE’ V, 22) that, in 716, Osred “was slain”.  Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ note that he “was slain to the south of the border”.*  Assuming the border in question was Northumbria's northernmost border with the Picts (which it may not have been), then the implication would seem to be that Osred was killed by the Picts. Other evidence, however, tends to suggest that he was assassinated.
The boy-king appears to have grown into something of a monster. Archbishop Boniface, the ‘Apostle of Germany’, and a number of other Continental bishops wrote, in 746 or 7, a joint letter to, the Mercian king, Æthelbald. It contains the passage: “after the Apostolic Pope Saint Gregory sent preachers of the Catholic faith from the Apostolic See, and converted the race of the English to the true God, the privileges of the churches in the kingdom of the English remained untouched and unviolated up to the time of Ceolred, king of the Mercians, and Osred, king of the Deirans and Bernicians. At the suggestion of the devil these two kings showed, by their accursed example, that these two deadliest of sins could be committed publicly against the evangelical and apostolic precepts of our Saviour. And lingering in these sins, namely lust and adultery with nuns and the destruction of monasteries, condemned by a just judgment of God, they were cast down from their royal thrones in this life, and surprised by an early and terrible death; deprived of the light eternal they were plunged into the depths of hell and the bottom of the abyss... the spirit of licence drove [Osred] to lust and the frenzied rape of consecrated virgins in the convents of nuns, until by a mean and contemptible death he lost his glorious kingdom, his young life and impure soul.”*   An early-ninth century Northumbrian poem (Æthelwulf ‘De Abbatibus’) describes Osred as: “vigorous in his deeds and words and in all his acts, but alas, undisciplined in his early years, he was an unruly youth: he knew not how to tame the wanton senses with the mind, despising the Thunderer's laws, but was most mighty in arms, and bold in his own strength. He did not respect the nobles, or even worship Christ as he ought, but devoted all his life, alas, to empty deeds, while life remained in his body. Hence it was that his earthly life endured but a little while, and he could not long survive. This, then, was the man who destroyed many [nobles] by a pitiable death, but compelled others to serve their Father above, and to be tonsured and live in monasteries.”  It seems reasonable to suppose that Osred was overthrown and killed by the supporters of his successor, Cenred.
Northumbria continued    
Translations:
‘Historia Brittonum’ by J.A. Giles
‘Liber Eliensis’ by Janet Fairweather
‘Annales Cambriae’ by James Ingram
‘Annals of Tigernach’ by G. Mac Niocaill
Æthelwulf ‘De Abbatibus’ by John Gregory
Bede ‘Vita Sancti Cuthberti’ by Joseph Stevenson
‘Annals of Ulster’ by S. Mac Airt & G. Mac Niocaill
Eddius Stephanus ‘Vita Sancti Wilfridi’ by J.F. Webb
‘Historia de Sancto Cuthberto’ by Ted Johnson South
‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ by Benjamin Thorpe (adapted)
Anonymous ‘Vita Sancti Cuthberti’ by Bertram Colgrave
Adomnán ‘Vita Sancti Columbae’ by Wentworth Huyshe
Symeon of Durham ‘Historia Regum’ by Joseph Stevenson
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ by A.M. Sellar
‘The English Correspondence of St Boniface’ by Edward Kylie
Symeon of Durham ‘Libellus de Exordio’ by Joseph Stevenson
Henry of Huntingdon ‘Historia Anglorum’ by Thomas Forester
Florence of Worcester ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ by Thomas Forester
William of Malmesbury ‘Gesta Pontificum Anglorum’ by M. Winterbottom
In the interests of clarity, the spelling of personal names, most of which are found in several forms, has been standardized. Those names which have survived into modern times are given their familiar spelling.
Back to: section one.
Penda's status at this time is not certain. Bede (‘HE’ II, 20) describes him only as being “of the royal race of the Mercians”.
Bede: “Oswald, the most Christian king of the Northumbrians, reigned 9 years, including that year which was held accursed for the barbarous cruelty of the king of the Britons and the reckless apostasy of the English kings; for, as was said above, it is agreed by the unanimous consent of all, that the names and memory of the apostates should be erased from the catalogue of the Christian kings, and no year assigned to their reign.” (‘HE’ III, 9). 
The Old English ‘Hagustaldesham’ (now Hexham) translates into modern English along the lines of: ‘the village of the young warrior’. ‘Cantscaul’ seems to be a Welsh rendition of the same name.
Bede continues: “Nor is it foreign to our purpose to relate one of the many miracles that have been wrought at this cross. One of the brothers of the same church of Hagustald, whose name is Bothelm, and who is still living, a few years ago, walking carelessly on the ice at night, suddenly fell and broke his arm; he was soon tormented with a most grievous pain in the broken part, so that he could not lift his arm to his mouth for the anguish. Hearing one morning that one of the brothers designed to go up to the place of the holy cross, he desired him, on his return to bring him a piece of that sacred wood, saying, he believed that with the mercy of God he might thereby be healed. The brother did as he was desired; and returning in the evening, when the brothers were sitting at table, gave him some of the old moss which grew on the surface of the wood. As he sat at table, having no place to bestow the gift which was brought him, he put it into his bosom; and forgetting, when he went to bed, to put it away, left it in his bosom. Awaking in the middle of the night, he felt something cold lying by his side, and putting his hand upon it to feel what it was, he found his arm and hand as sound as if he had never felt any such pain.”
Bede refers to all the Irish as Scots. By “northern Scots” he must mean the inhabitants of both northern Ireland and 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 wrote his ‘Ecclesiastical History’ – for the various regions of the British Isles to adopt the Catholic Easter. The error of the indigenous churchmen in their calculation of Easter is a subject Bede repeatedly returns to, for instance: “Bishop Aidan, a man of singular gentleness, piety, and moderation; having a zeal of God, but not fully according to knowledge; for he was wont to keep Easter Sunday according to the custom of his country, which we have before so often mentioned, from the 14th to the 20th day of the moon; the northern province of the Scots, and all the nation of the Picts, at that time still celebrating Easter after that manner” (‘HE’ III, 3). Bede adds, however, that: “the Scots which dwelt in the South of Ireland had long since, by the admonition of the bishop of the Apostolic See [i.e. the Pope], learned to observe Easter according to the canonical custom.”  The Picts adopted the Catholic Easter round about 710, Iona in 716, but Wales did not fall into line until 768.
Bede doesn't specify a date (‘HE’ III, 7 – he calls Oswald “the most holy and victorious king of the Northumbrians”), but the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reports the event s.a. 635: “In this year Cynegils was baptized by Birinus the bishop at Dorchester [on Thames], and Oswald [Manuscript E adds: "king of the Northumbrians”] received him.”  D.P. Kirby, though, opines: “Since Oswald was still securing himself as king over the northern Angles in the mid-630s, his presence in the Thames valley before the late 630s seems unlikely; the baptism of Cynegils, therefore, should probably be dated to the late 630s, possibly c.640.”
Bede recounts (‘HE’ III, 11) how Oswald's niece recovered her long dead uncle's remains and took them to the monastery at Bardney, in Lindsey, to be interred. At first, however, the monks refused to accept Oswald's bones: “though they knew him to be a holy man, yet, as he was a native of another province, and had obtained the sovereignty over them, they retained their ancient aversion to him even after his death.”
Bede does not mention Riemmelth, who was evidently Oswiu's first wife, but her existence would seem to be substantiated by the Durham ‘Liber Vitae’ – the manuscript of which (London British Library MS Cotton Domitian A vii) originated in the mid-ninth century. First in a list of “Names of Queens and Abbesses” appears Raegnmaeld, which appears to be an Anglicized version of Riemmelth. The second name in the list is Oswiu's second wife, Eanflæd.
In its ‘Liber Vitae’ (Book of Life), a religious establishment would record the names of its supporters. The idea being that the people named in a ‘Liber Vitae’ on earth, would also be named in the heavenly ‘Liber Vitae’, which would be opened on Judgement Day. The earliest names in the Durham book are probably associated with Lindisfarne (the church at Durham was not established until the very end of the 10th century).
Alfred P. Smyth warns: “it is unwise to assume as several scholars have done, that through this marriage between Riemmelth and Oswiu the old kingdom of Rheged ... passed peacefully into the possession of the Northumbrian kings. Anyone who has studied Celtic polity knows that kingdoms did not passively change hands as dowries, and that even if royal lines were reduced to sole surviving daughters, there were myriads of rival segments in the tribal aristocracy who would not sit idly by and see a Germanic warlord usurp their patrimony.”
The term ‘Saxon’ is used generically – simply meaning English (Anglo-Saxon). Technically, according to Bede (‘HE’ I, 15), the Bernicians and the Deirans were of Angle descent.
Northumbria was not, in fact, completely untouched by Christianity. Bede reports (‘HE’ II, 14) that, following Edwin's baptism in 627, Bishop Paulinus spent thirty-six days at Yeavering, now in Northumberland, then in Bernicia: “fully occupied in catechizing and baptizing; during which days, from morning till night, he did nothing else but instruct the people resorting from all villages and places, in Christ's saving Word; and when they were instructed, he washed them with the water of absolution in the river Glen, which is close by.”  Paulinus had fled Northumbria after Edwin's death, but: “He had left behind him in his Church at York [in Deira], James, the deacon, a true churchman and a holy man, who continuing long after in that Church, by teaching and baptizing, rescued much prey from the ancient enemy” (‘HE’ II, 20).
The entry is placed two years after Oswald's victory over Cadwallon, which would indicate a date of 636; three years before the siege of Edinburgh, indicating 635; and four years before the battle in which Oswald was killed, indicating 638.
According to the ‘Historia Brittonum’ (§63), Bebba had been a wife of Oswald's father, Æthelfrith.
Bede continues: “ Through this king's [i.e. Oswald's] exertions the provinces of the Deiri and the Bernicians, which till then had been at variance, were peacefully united and moulded into one people. He was nephew to King Edwin through his sister Acha; and it was fit that so great a predecessor should have in his own family such an one to succeed him in his religion and sovereignty.” (‘HE’ III, 6).  This passage is flattering to Oswald (obviously a hero of Bede), but is not entirely truthful. Both Æthelfrith and Edwin had previously ruled a united Northumbria. These kings had been fierce rivals, and the Bernician and Deiran dynasties they represented continued to be rivals. After Oswald's death, Northumbria again split into its constituent parts.
Following Edwin's death (633), Eanflæd had escaped to Kent with her mother, Æthelburh, who was the sister of Eadbald, king of Kent.
Since Ecgfrith, their son, was in his 40th year in May 685, the marriage of Oswiu and Eanflæd probably took place c.644.
Oswiu had been married previously – to Riemmelth, a princess of the British kingdom of Rheged (which is widely thought to have been in modern-day Cumbria and Dumfries & Galloway).
In his chronological recap (‘HE’ V, 24), Bede explicitly states: “In the year 651, King Oswine was killed”.  However, since Oswald was killed on 6th August 642, 20th August 651 would be expected to be in Oswiu's tenth year, not his ninth as stated by Bede. This might suggest that there was a gap between Oswald's death and Oswiu's succession, but there are other explanations (see: Anno Domini).
Later (‘HE’ III, 24), Bede says: “Trumhere, an Englishman, but educated and ordained by the Scots ... was abbot of the monastery that is called Ingetlingum, and is the place where King Oswine was killed, as has been said above; for Queen Eanflæd, his [Oswine's] kinswoman, in expiation of his unjust death, begged of King Oswiu that he would give Trumhere, the aforesaid servant of God, a place there to build a monastery, because he also was kinsman to the slaughtered king; in which monastery continual prayers should be offered up for the eternal welfare of the kings, both of him that was murdered, and of him that commanded the murder.”
“The Middle Angles, that is, the Angles of the Midland country”, says Bede. See: Tribal Hidage.
Identity uncertain, though Bede says (‘HE’ III, 22) it was called At the Wall (Ad Murum): “because it is close by the wall which the Romans formerly drew across the island of Britain, at the distance of twelve miles from the eastern sea”, which makes Walbottle, a western suburb of Newcastle upon Tyne, the favourite candidate.
Penda had killed King Anna (in fact, he had also killed Anna's predecessors, Sigeberht and Ecgric), and it is possible that it was he who placed Æthelhere on the East Anglian throne.
As originally written, it seems as though Bede is, out of the blue and without reason, blaming Æthelhere for causing the war. In Joseph Stevenson's translation (1853), this section reads: “... were almost all of them slain; among whom was Æthelhere, brother and successor to Anna, king of the East Angles, who had been the occasion of the war, and who was now killed, with all his soldiers and auxiliaries.”  The proposal made by J. O. Prestwich (‘English Historical Review’, Vol.83, No.326, 1968), that scribal disregard of punctuation has resulted in this false reading, is now generally accepted. The insertion of a full stop allows Penda to be the cause of the war (as Bede surely intended), and, furthermore, gives notice of his death, which otherwise would be absent from Bede's report.
(It just so happens that A.M. Sellar, whose 1907 translation of the ‘Ecclesiastical History’ is used in this website, chose to break the offending sentence into two, but he was still of the opinion that Æthelhere was the subject of Bede's comment.)
In his chronological recap (‘HE’ V, 24), Bede explicitly states: “In the year 655, Penda was slain”.  However, since Oswald was killed on 6th August 642, 15th November 655 would be expected to be in Oswiu's fourteenth year, not his thirteenth as stated by Bede. This might suggest that there was a gap between Oswald's death and Oswiu's succession, but there are other explanations (see: Anno Domini).
Hild (St Hilda) was the daughter of a nephew of Edwin, Hereric. Her sister, Hereswith, had married into the East Anglian royal family and was the mother of Aldwulf, who became king of the East Angles in 663 or 4.
Bede presents something of a conundrum. He says (‘HE’ III, 6) that Oswiu's brother, Oswald, had: “brought under his dominion all the nations and provinces of Britain, which are divided into four languages, to wit, those of the Britons, the Picts, the Scots, and the English”.  In the passage where he names the overlords of southern England (‘HE’ II, 5), however, Bede makes no mention that Oswald, the sixth overlord, had any authority over the Picts and Scots, but states, as if it were a fresh achievement, that Oswiu, the seventh overlord: “for the most part subdued and made tributary the nations of the Picts and Scots, who occupy the northern parts of Britain”.  Clare Stancliffe writes: “One possibility worth mooting is that Oswald achieved theoretical recognition as overlord from Dál Riata [the kingdom of the Scots in Britain, see: Scotland] and the Picts, but that Oswiu later re-established or redefined this in more oppressive terms, requiring them to render tribute, the badge of subjection to a foreign king.”
Though he doesn't mention it, Bede draws, very selectively, on a ‘Vita’ of St Wilfrid written by Eddius Stephanus. It is Eddius who names the bishop of Lyon “Dalfinus”. The bishop in question was, however, evidently called Aunemundus. Scholars have tended to rationalize this anomaly by either presenting Dalfinus as the, otherwise unnamed, brother of Aunemundus, or by saying that Aunemundus was also known as Dalfinus (the position adopted by the 17th century editor of, the traditional account of Aunemundus' ‘Deeds’, the ‘Acta Aunemundi’), but it seems that there is no early substantiation for either suggestion.
Another bone of contention between the two doctrines was the style of a monk's tonsure, i.e. the pattern in which the head was shaven.
Whitby was a double monastery, i.e. one having communities of both men and women. All known double monasteries in England were headed by an abbess.
See: ‘The Life and Death of Bishop Wilfrid’.
It was the visit to Northumbria of Agilbert, a Frankish bishop (Catholic of course) and “a friend”, says Bede (‘HE’ III, 25), of Alhfrith and Wilfrid, that had precipitated the decision to hold the synod. Agilbert, too, couldn't speak English, and so he nominated Wilfrid to speak on his behalf. Agilbert had been bishop of the West Saxons. According to Bede's story (‘HE’ III, 7), a dispute between him and the West Saxon king, Cenwalh, had arisen from Agilbert's inability to speak English, and culminated with Agilbert leaving Wessex. The dating evidence is less than clear, but it would appear that Agilbert abandoned his position in Wessex in 663. He journeyed to Northumbria, and, at Alhfrith's request, ordained Wilfrid as a priest. After the synod at Whitby, Agilbert returned to Gaul. He was one of a number of bishops who officiated at Wilfrid's consecration as a bishop, which took place at Compiègne, and by 668 he had become bishop of Paris. Eddius Stephanus says that Wilfrid wanted to be consecrated in Gaul to ensure it was carried out in an unimpeachable Catholic manner.
See: Queen Æthelthryth.
See the whole: Letter of Boniface, and other bishops, to King Æthelbald.
The term ‘Saxons’ is used generically – simply meaning the English (Anglo-Saxons). Technically of course, according to Bede (‘HE’ I, 15), the Northumbrians were of Angle descent.
Lindsey covered much of modern-day Lincolnshire – indeed, it is named after the Roman name for Lincoln (Lindum Colonia). The genealogy of a king of Lindsey called Aldfrith appears in the Anglian Collection, and, though the date of his reign cannot be securely dated, it seems likely that he flourished during the late-7th century or early-8th century. Lindsey, however, has no recorded independent history. From 627 – its earliest appearance in the record: “the province of Lindsey, which is the first on the south side of the river Humber, stretching as far as the sea” (‘HE’ II, 16) – it appears as a satellite of either Northumbria, as was the case in 627, or, as here in Wulfhere's day, Mercia.
Scholars generally place the British kingdom of Rheged on both sides of the Solway Firth – in modern-day Dumfries & Galloway and in Cumbria (and sometimes in Lancashire also) – which could well be the case, though the evidence is somewhat insubstantial.*
Barbara Yorke: “[Northumbrian] Expansion west of the Pennines was made at the expense of the British kingdom of Rheged. The main advances here seems to have been achieved by Egfrith though we are dependent on veiled allusions in the Life of St Wilfrid whose hero benefited from grants of substantial estates that had supported British religious communities in the kingdom.”
Alfred P. Smyth: “It is clear that Wilfrid's building programme at Ripon ... was financed by plunder and endowments from confiscated British church lands in the Pennines. The estates which Ecgfrith had granted to Wilfrid included Yeadon in Airedale which must have been in Elmet [British kingdom conquered by Edwin, 616–633] ... The three other places mentioned – Ribble, Dent and Catlow – all formed part of the remoter highlands of Rheged in the northern Pennines. Wilfrid and his king were presiding at Ripon over the dismemberment of at least part of the Rheged kingdom. There is nothing to suggest that these British lands had lain deserted for generations: on the contrary, there is a certain immediacy in Eddius's text which shows us, incidentally,that Anglo-Saxon aggression was directed against British warriors and clergy alike.”
A 12th century Welsh poem implies that Carlisle is in Rheged (Old Welsh: Reget). Another Welsh poem – which, though found in the so-called ‘Book of Taliesin’ (early-14th century), was written long after the famous 6th century bard's time – contains a phrase that can be read as: ‘beyond the sea of Rheged’. The supposed Sea of Rheged has been equated with the Solway Firth. It has been argued that the place-name Dunragit, in Galloway, means ‘Fort of Rheged’.
(Rochdale, in Lancashire, is recorded in the Domesday Book as Recedham, and it has been suggested that this too preserves the name of Rheged.)
Amongst the other dignitaries present were: “the kings beneath them”. It would seem that government of the various regions comprising the enormous kingdom of Northumbria was delegated to high-ranking nobles, subreguli (sub-kings), such as the previously mentioned Beornhæth.
Eddius Stephanus provides neither date nor place for Ecgfrith's victory over Wulfhere. Bede mentions the event only in passing – whilst discussing the year 678 he refers to: “the province of Lindsey, which King Ecgfrith had but newly acquired, having defeated Wulfhere and put him to flight” (‘HE’ IV, 12).  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’. It falls into two parts: a Bernician/Northumbrian king-list and an aide-memoir in which nine, minimally described, events are related to an unspecified year. Peter Hunter Blair, in his paper ‘The Moore Memoranda on Northumbrian History’ (first published in 1950), demonstrated that the unspecified year was 737, and argued that pugna Ecgfridi ante annos lxiii (a battle, Ecgfrith, 63 years ago), which produces the year 674 (737 - 63 = 674) could only refer to Ecgfrith's defeat of Wulfhere. This is now generally accepted.
In the chronological recap (‘HE’ V, 24), Bede provides an explicit date: “In the year 679, Ælfwine was killed.”
Bede quotes (‘HE’ III, 29) a letter written to Oswiu by Pope Vitalian: “To the most excellent lord, our son, Oswiu, king of the Saxons, Vitalian, bishop, servant of the servants of God. We have received to our comfort your Excellency's letters; by reading whereof we are acquainted with your most pious devotion and fervent love of the blessed life; and know that by the protecting hand of God you have been converted to the true and Apostolic faith, in hope that even as you reign in your own nation, so you may hereafter reign with Christ... we have not been able now, on account of the length of the journey, to find a man, apt to teach, and qualified in all respects to be a bishop, according to the tenor of your letters. But, assuredly, as soon as such a fit person shall be found, we will send him well instructed to your country, that he may, by word of mouth, and through the Divine oracles, with the blessing of God, root out all the enemy's tares throughout your island. We have received the presents sent by your Highness to the blessed chief of the Apostles, for an eternal memorial of him, and return you thanks, and always pray for your safety with the clergy of Christ. But he that brought these presents has been removed out of this world, and is buried at the threshold of the Apostles, for whom we have been much grieved, because he died here. Nevertheless, we have caused the blessed gifts of the saints, that is, the relics of the blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, and of the holy martyrs, Laurentius, John, and Paul, and Gregory, and Pancratius, to be given to your servants, the bearers of these our letters, to be by them delivered to your Excellency. And to your consort also, our spiritual daughter, we have by the aforesaid bearers sent a cross, with a gold key to it, made out of the most holy chains of the blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul; for, hearing of her pious zeal, all the Apostolic See rejoices with us, even as her pious works smell sweet and blossom before God.  We therefore desire that your Highness should hasten, according to our wish, to dedicate all your island to Christ our God; for assuredly you have for your Protector, the Redeemer of mankind, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who will prosper you in all things, that you may gather together a new people of Christ, establishing there the Catholic and Apostolic faith.”  It seems as though Vitalian thought that Wigheard was merely a messenger, whose mission was to request that he, Vitalian, choose and send an archbishop to England. Bede is clear, though, that Wigheard had already been selected for the position, and had gone to Rome to be ordained.
A.M. Sellar, whose 1907 translation of ‘HE’ this is, actually has “after he had been bishop sixteen years” here. Of the main manuscripts of ‘HE’, some have the numeral XVI (sixteen) years and some have XVII (seventeen).* In a footnote, Sellar gives the reason that he opted for sixteen: “the statement that he died in the seventeenth year of his episcopate” that follows (i.e. if he was only in his seventeenth year, then he couldn't have completed seventeen years in office). However, later (‘HE’ III, 26) Bede once again, and unarguably, allots seventeen years to Aidan's episcopate: “the year of our Lord 664 ... the thirtieth of the episcopate of the Scots among the English; for Aidan was bishop seventeen years, Finan ten, and Colman three.”  Seventeen is evidently a rounded-off number, so Bede would not necessarily be contradicting himself in saying that when Aidan died “he had been bishop 17 years”, and also that he was in the “seventeenth year of his episcopate”. The edition/translation of ‘HE’ by Bertram Colgrave and R.A.B. Mynors, first published in 1969 (which is the modern standard edition of the work), renders the offending phrase: conpletis annis episcopatus sui XVII erat; “after completing seventeen years as bishop”.
As will be seen, apparent dating inconsistencies of similar type are a feature of ‘HE’, and have been the subject of scholarly debate.
In ‘HE’ manuscripts, numbers appear in a (not always the same) mix of Roman numerals and written, Latin, words. This difference is not usually reflected in translations. On this website, an attempt has been made on to represent numbers in a similar way to the manuscripts.
In fact, Bede has incorrectly placed the comet in 678 – it was actually visible in 676 – but this does not invalidate 678 as the correct year for Wilfrid's expulsion. There does, however, seem to be a dating inconsistency between August 678 and the eighth year of Ecgfrith's reign. It might be supposed that, since Ecgfrith's father and predecessor, Oswiu, died on 15th February 670, August 678 would fall in Ecgfrith's ninth year.
The first event of Ecgfrith's reign reported by Bede (‘HE’ IV, 5) is: “In the 3rd year of his reign, Theodore [archbishop of Canterbury] assembled a council of bishops, along with many other teachers of the church, who loved and were acquainted with the canonical statutes of the fathers. When they were met together, he began, in the spirit which became a bishop, to enjoin the observance of such things as were in accordance with the unity and the peace of the Church.”  Bede then quotes from the official record of the synod, which begins: “In the name of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who reigns for ever and governs His Church, it was thought meet that we should assemble, according to the custom prescribed in the venerable canons, to treat about the necessary affairs of the Church. We met on the 24th day of September, the first indiction, at the place which is called Herutford [Hertford] ...”  At the end of his quote, Bede adds: “This synod was held in the year of our Lord 673.”  The Indiction number (first) from the official record, however, would suggest that it should be in 672. Rightly or wrongly, though, Bede clearly believed that 673 was the correct year, since he repeats it in the chronological recap that draws the ‘Ecclesiastical History’ to a close (‘HE’ V, 24).
There is another chronological difficulty. Bede says that the synod was in Ecgfrith's third regnal year. Since he had just dated the death of Ecgfrith's father and predecessor, Oswiu, 15th February 670, it would appear that 24th September 673 should be in Ecgfrith's fourth year. In fact, this discrepancy – Ecgfrith's regnal year apparently lagging by one – recurs during Bede's coverage of Ecgfrith's reign. A number of solutions have been proposed. Perhaps Oswiu's death actually took place in 671, not 670 as Bede states on two separate occasions. Possibly there was a gap between Oswiu's death and Ecgfrith's succession. Or maybe there only seems to be a discrepancy – an illusion resulting from the way that regnal years were counted.
The ‘wergild’ – the monetary value, based on rank, of a person's life.
In his chronological recap (‘HE’ V, 24), Bede states: “In the year 680, a synod was held in the plain of Hæthfelth [Hatfield], concerning the Catholic faith, Archbishop Theodore presiding”.  Previously (‘HE’ IV, 17), however, Bede had quoted from the record of the synod, which states that the synod took place in the tenth year of Ecgfrith's reign, on: “the 15th of the Kalends of October [17th September], the 8th indiction”.  If the document was dated using the so-called ‘Greek Indiction’, in which the year starts on 1st September, then the year would be 679. If the ‘Bedan Indiction’ was being used, in which the year starts on 24th September, then the year would indeed be 680 (see: Anno Domini). Since popes at this time used the ‘Greek Indiction’, then it seems likely that the synod of Hatfield would have been dated using this system. Though there is clearly an area of doubt, most modern scholars seem to place the synod in September 679. Nevertheless, Bede placed it in 680, which, once more, is apparently at odds with Ecgfrith's regnal year.
Bede continues (‘HE’ IV, 22): “In the aforesaid battle, wherein King Ælfwine was killed, a memorable incident is known to have happened, which I think ought by no means to be passed over in, silence; for the story will be profitable to the salvation of many.”  This is the only time Bede gives Ælfwine the title ‘king’. He proceeds to tell a tale in which “a youth called Imma, one of the king's thegns” taken captive by Mercians, is sold as a slave, to a Frisian, in London. For miraculous reasons, however, he cannot be fettered. When the Frisian realizes this he gives Imma permission to try to ransom himself: “He [Imma], having taken an oath that he would either return, or send his owner the money for the ransom, went into Kent to King Hlothere, who was the son of the sister of Queen Æthelthryth [Ecgfrith's ex-wife] ... for he had once been that queen's thegn. From him he asked and obtained the price of his freedom, and as he had promised, sent it to his master for his ransom.”
Mag Breg is the plain around Tara, County Meath.
In fact, applying the customary one year correction to the date given by the ‘Annals of Ulster’, in this instance (and, indeed, other instances around this time where English events are recorded), puts the ‘Annals’ at odds with Bede. In other words, the uncorrected year, 684, agrees with Bede.
The ‘Annals of Ulster’ record the military exploits in Ireland of “Britons” s.a. 682, 697, 702, 703 and 709 (corrected dates). Alfred P. Smyth writes: “This record shows that British warbands were active along a 160-mile stretch of the east coast of Ireland from 682 until 709. They are first heard of in Ulster which suggests they came from northern Britain rather than Wales”.  Professor Smyth proposes that the Britons were fugitive warriors from Rheged: “Their first appearance in Ireland coincided with a time when Ecgfrith of Northumbria was engaged in a major offensive against his northern neighbours, and when Wilfrid was busy acquiring confiscated British church lands west of the Pennines. The arrival of these Britons in north-east Ireland would fit in well with the migration of a warrior élite from Galloway or from Cumbria and the Solway plain who were driven to seek their fortune at the courts of Irish kings always in need of warriors for their own incessant warfare. Finally, if we view these warriors as part of an exiled warband of Rheged, then their earliest appearance in eastern Ireland in 682 makes sense at last out of the punitive expedition dispatched by Ecgfrith of Northumbria against eastern Ireland in 684.”
Bede (‘HE’ IV, 28): “it was carried out at Easter, in the city of York, and in the presence of the aforesaid King Ecgfrith; seven bishops coming together for his [Cuthbert's] consecration, among whom, Theodore, of blessed memory, was Primate. He [Cuthbert] was first elected bishop of the church of Hagustald [Hexham], in the place of Tunberht, who had been deposed from the episcopate; but because he chose rather to be placed over the church of Lindisfarne, in which he had lived, it was thought fit that Eata should return to the see of the church of Hagustald, to which he had been first ordained, and that Cuthbert should take upon him the government of the church of Lindisfarne.”
Once again, there seems to be an inconsistency between the date and Ecgfrith's regnal year. Assuming he succeeded his father on 15th February 670, then Ecgfrith had actually completed fifteen years, and was in his sixteenth year when he was killed.
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reckons years in terms of ‘winters’. It seems reasonable to speculate that the round-numbered reign lengths typically found in king-lists were produced by counting the number of midwinters (Christmases in Christian times) that passed whilst a king was ruling. The beauty of this scheme is that it avoids potential mathematical errors, by not having to take into account fractions of years. Perhaps, then, Bede considered the first regnal year of a king to be the first whole A.D. year following his accession, regardless of the actual date in the previous year he became king (the whole of that previous year being credited to his predecessor).* For instance: Oswiu would appear to have become king on 5th August 642, and died on 15th February 670. In reality, this produces a reign length of twenty-seven years, six months and some days. Both Bede and the king-list found in the Moore Memoranda, however, give Oswiu a reign of twenty-eight years. Ecgfrith's reign, apparently fifteen years, three months and some days long, is given in both as just fifteen years.
This attractive theory was proposed by Wilhelm Levison in his ‘England and the Continent in the Eighth Century’ (1946), and supported by Susan Wood in an article titled ‘Bede's Northumbrian Dates Again’ (‘English Historical Review’ Vol.98, No.387, 1983).
At the time of Ecgfrith's victory, Cuthbert was prior of the monastery at Lindisfarne.
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.a. 673: “St Æthelthryth began the monastery at Ely.”  And s.a. 679: “St Æthelthryth died”.  According to Bede, Æthelthryth and Ecgfrith divorced after twelve years. Æthelthryth became abbess of Ely a year later, and died seven years after that. Hence, Æthelthryth and Ecgfrith married c.660 and divorced c.672.
Quite how Ecgfrith and Bridei were related is the subject of much conjecture. The connecting link is usually supposed to be Eanfrith, Ecgfrith's uncle. Eanfrith, Oswiu's older brother, appears to have married a Pictish princess and sired a son, Talorcan, who ruled the Picts from 653 to 657.
Another instance where applying the customary one year correction to the ‘Annals of Ulster’ produces a conflict with Bede. The uncorrected year, 685, not only agrees with Bede but would seem to be right, since 20th May was a Saturday in 685.
An anecdote found in both an anonymous ‘Life’ of St Cuthbert (III, 6), written at Lindisfarne c.700, and in Bede's prose ‘Life’ (he also wrote a verse version) of Cuthbert (Chapter 24), written c.721 (and which draws on the anonymous work), tells how, a year before Nechtansmere, Cuthbert revealed to Ecgfrith's sister, Ælfflæd, abbess of Whitby, that Ecgfrith would die in twelve months time.
Oswiu's widow, Eanflæd, entered the monastery at Whitby. After Hild died in 680, Eanflæd and her daughter, Ælfflæd (whom Oswiu had given over to Hild's care in 655), became joint abbesses of Whitby.
Egbert was an Englishman (almost certainly Northumbrian), of noble birth who became a priest in Ireland. He crossed over to Iona in 716, and persuaded the community to adopt the Catholic Easter. He died on Iona in 729, aged ninety.
The term reeve (gerefa) applies to a whole raft of administrative officials. In the course of time, there arose the position of shire-reeve (scirgerefa), i.e. sheriff.
Iurminburh, whom Eddius Stephanus accuses of turning Ecgfrith against Bishop Wilfrid. Eddius notes (Chapter 24), however: “after the king was killed, she changed from a she-wolf into a lamb of God indeed, a perfect abbess and mother of her community.”
Bishop Wilfrid is purported to have had a vision of Ecgfrith's death. According to a ‘Life’ of Wilfrid by Eadmer (c.1100), Wilfrid (who was, at the time, an exile in Sussex) saw Ecgfrith being killed, by a blow to his head, and his soul being dragged off, groaning, to hell, by two evil spirits.
There is a chronological issue with this scenario. Oswiu would seem to have returned to Northumbria, with his brothers, in 633. By this token, Aldfrith would have been in his early fifties when he succeeded to the throne, and have been siring children in his sixties. Clearly this is not impossible, but it is, perhaps, a little unlikely. Maybe, then, Oswiu's fling with Fín (Bede calls Aldfrith a bastard, so they were not married) took place rather later. The Irish king, one Colmán Rímid, whom genealogical tradition says was the father of Fín, died in 604. D.P. Kirby suggests that Fín was the granddaughter, not daughter, of Colmán Rímid, and that her liaison with Oswiu: “could have occurred c.650. Aldfrith would then have been a man in his early thirties at his accession in 685, which seems more credible.”
The reason for Ecgfrith's raid against the Irish is not clearly apparent. Some historians, however, suggest that Ecgfrith regarded Aldfrith, who was living with the Irish, as a rival. Alfred P. Smyth asserts that, since “they had given refuge to his estranged and exiled brother, Aldfrith”, it was a reason for Ecgfrith's “hating the Irish”.  Barbara Yorke writes: “Desire to forestall any claims Aldfrith might have had to the Northumbrian throne could have been one reason for Egfrith's raid.”  Whilst Clare Stancliffe claims that: “Aldfrith, was half-Irish, had studied on Iona, and probably owed his successful bid for the Northumbrian throne to the Pictish/Irish alliance which had overthrown his predecessor.”
There is, in fact, no direct evidence that Ecgfrith was hostile towards Aldfrith (nor, indeed, that there was any Pictish/Irish alliance). Bede says that Aldfrith's exile was self imposed: “for the sake of studying letters”.  Aldfrith would appear to have been a bookish man, content to devote himself to study, who was plucked from obscurity because Ecgfrith had no obvious heir. D.P. Kirby seems to hit the nail on the head: “The prestige of Oswiu's family, or else its capacity for intimidation, must have been very considerable for Aldfrith to return and rule in what seems to have been domestic peace. Bringing Aldfrith back was a master-stroke for those who wished to perpetuate the monopoly of royal power in the hands of Oswiu's family.”
Indeed, Manuscripts D and E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, the only manuscripts to record the ealdorman's death (s.a. 699), name him Berht, not Berhtred.
Florence and the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ impart the information concerning Aldfrith and Cuthburh s.a. 718. The date, however, has no relevance to the couple's story – the material is tacked onto the obituary of Ingeld, brother of Ine and Cuthburh.
Aldfrith had another connection with Wessex. A surviving text by Aldhelm, abbot of Malmesbury (later, bishop of Sherborne), comprises an essay on the number seven, two treatises on Latin metrics, and a collection of one hundred riddles, the whole being addressed to one Acircius (the text is called ‘Epistola ad Acircium’). Acircius is evidently Aldhelm's nickname for Aldfrith (it means ‘someone from the region of the northwest’ – presumably an allusion to Aldfrith's stay on Iona). At any rate, it is clear that the two men had been comrades at least twenty years previously – Aldhelm is a little cryptic, but it seems as though he stood as sponsor to Aldfrith at his confirmation. Aldhelm makes no mention of where they were at the time – Iona and Wessex both have their advocates.
Bede is inconsistent in the way he describes the length of Aldfrith's reign. Assuming Aldfrith succeeded Ecgfrith promptly after the latter's death in May 685, he, in reality, would have ruled for more than twenty years and six months. Though Bede, apparently, did not know exactly when in 705 Aldfrith died, his statement that it was “before the end of the 20th year of his reign” is not inconsistent with the method he had previously used to relate Ecgfrith's regnal years to A.D. dates. This method should lead him to allot Aldfrith a reign of twenty years (as does the king-list preserved by the Moore Memoranda), however, Bede seems to have tripped himself up, stating (‘HE’ V, 1) that Aldfrith: “ruled the nation of the Northumbrians for 19 years.”
D.P. Kirby argues that, in fact, this latter statement is the correct one: “The Northumbrian regnal list gives Aldfrith a reign of twenty years and Bede correspondingly assigned him a reign from 685 to 705 (HE IV, 26; V, 18), but Bede also knew, perhaps from knowledge of a more precise regnal figure, that Aldfrith really reigned nineteen years (HE V, 1) and died before the end of his twentieth regnal year (HE V, 18). Aldfrith, therefore, almost certainly died in 704.”  The ‘Annals of Ulster’ also place Aldfrith's death in 704, but this source (using the standard correction) is one year behind Bede for a number of events relating to English affairs around this time (using no correction, the dates correspond to Bede's), and in the instance of the battle of Nechtansmere (in which Ecgfrith was killed) Bede's date is demonstrably correct. (Adopting R.L. Poole's theory that Bede began his year in September also produces a date of 14th December 704 for Aldfrith's death. See: Anno Domini.)
Gareth Williams writes: “Northumbria was Christianised under the Deiran king Edwin in the 620s and a bishopric was established at York. Some coins within the group carry a cross as part of the design, and again it seems likely that the decision to issue coins followed conversion. With no legible inscriptions on the coinage the group cannot be precisely dated, but it is possible to suggest an approximate dating on the basis of the coins' gold content, as both Frankish and Anglo-Saxon gold coins show a gradual decline in the gold content in the course of the seventh century. This method suggests the Northumbrian series may have begun in the 620s, or not until the 630s”.  J.R. Maddicott refers to “probable gold thrymsa coinage from York of c.650”, whilst Elizabeth J. Pirie confidently talks of the dating of: “the so-called York issues having been brought forward from an earlier period, c.640–50, to the time of Ecgfrith”.
Gareth Williams ‘Early Anglo-Saxon Coins’ (2008), Chapter 3.
J.R. Maddicott ‘Two Frontier States: Northumbria and Wessex, c.650–750’, in ‘The Medieval State’ (2000).
Elizabeth J. Pirie ‘Contrasts and Continuity Within the Coinage of Northumbria, c.670–867’, in ‘Coinage and History in the North Sea World, c.500–1250’ (2006).
See: Shillings and Pence.
Symeon of Durham notes, ‘HR’ s.a. 740, that: “Earnwine the son of Eadwulf was slain”.  The same son who had been with Wilfrid in Ripon thirty-five years previously?
William of Malmesbury writes: “after a couple of months Eadwulf lost both life and kingdom. He had his diadem taken away, and drummed the ground with his feet in death.” (‘GP’ III §109).  There is nothing to suggest, however, that this is anything more than conjecture on William's part. The ‘Annals of Ulster’, though, record the death of “Etulb mac Ecuilb” in 717. This is probably to be rendered ‘Eadwulf son of Ecgwulf’ in English, which would seem to suggest that Eadwulf fled to the Picts or the Scots.
It so happens that the ‘Historia Brittonum’ (§61) has an Ecgwulf (Ecgulf) as great-grandfather of, the later Northumbrian king, Eadberht (737–758), and a descendant of, the mid-6th century Bernician king, Ida. Unfortunately, in the Anglian Collection, and in the miscellaneous lists and genealogies prefixed to the ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ of Florence of Worcester, the name Ecgwald is found in place of Ecgwulf. Nevertheless, it is possible that Eadwulf was from a rival branch of the Bernician royal family tree to Osred. On the other hand, Wilfrid was with Eadwulf's son at Ripon, North Yorkshire, which might suggest that Eadwulf was from the erstwhile Deiran royal family.
The highlighted section appears in Manuscripts D and E only.
It seems almost certain that Berhtfrith was a close kinsman of two earlier senior Northumbrian noblemen, Beornhæth and Berhtred. Berhtred was Beornhæth's son, and Berhtfrith may, indeed, have been Berhtred's son. All three are reported fighting the Picts, and Beornhæth is called Ecgfrith's “trusty sub-king” by Eddius Stephanus (Chapter 19), so it is possible that they governed Northumbria's northernmost territory (of which the Forth formed the boundary) on behalf of the king.
In fact, the Thorpe translation of 1861 (used in this website) has “on the southern border”, but Charles Plummer (in his ‘Notes to the Ecclesiastical History’, 1896) points out that ‘be suðan gemære’ is actually: “ ‘to the south of the border’ (not ‘on the southern border,’ as commonly translated).”  Modern translations (Whitelock, 1961; Swanton, 1996) agree with Plummer.
Boniface, patron saint of Germany, was actually an Englishman – a West Saxon originally called Wynfrith. Having resigned the archdiocese of Mainz, he was killed in 754, by pagans, whilst on missionary work in Frisia.
See: The Early Kingdoms of Wales.
Recently, however, Alex Woolf (‘Dún Nechtain, Fortriu and the Geography of the Picts’, in ‘Scottish Historical Review’ Vol. 85.2, 2006) has made a persuasive case for Dún Nechtain to be equated to Dunachton, on the western shore of Loch Insh, Inverness-shire.
Adomnán only mentions his visits to Northumbria as a means of demonstrating the miraculous power of St Columba. He writes that, during his own lifetime: “the isles of the sea generally, namely Ireland and Britain, have been twice devastated by a dreadful pestilence [in the 660s and the 680s], except two peoples, namely, the people of the Picts and that of the Scots of Britain ... And although there are not wanting amongst both peoples great sins, by which the Eternal Judge is often provoked to anger, yet hitherto, bearing patiently with both, He has spared them. To whom else can this grace, granted them by God, be attributed except to St Columba, whose monasteries, founded within the boundaries of both people, have up to the present time been held in high honour by both?”  Adomnán says that at the time of his visits to Northumbria: “the plague had not yet ceased and was devastating many villages up and down the country”, but thanks to Columba's influence: “not one of my own company died, nor was any one of them troubled by any disease.”
In his chronological recap (‘HE’ V, 24), Bede confirms the year of Oswiu's death: ”In the year 670, Oswiu, king of the Northumbrians, died.”  There are, however, a number of dating inconsistencies during Bede's coverage of the reign of Oswiu's son and successor, Ecgfrith, which have led some scholars to conclude that Oswiu's death actually occurred in 671 (the implication of which is that Bede's Northumbrian dates from Ecgfrith backwards are a year behind).
For instance: Charles Plummer, in his ‘Notes to the Ecclesiastical History’ (1896); and D.P. Kirby ‘Bede and Northumbrian Chronology’, in ‘English Historical Review’ Vol.78, No.308 (1963).
‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ (Ecclesiastical History of the English People).
‘Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD80–1000’ (1984), Chapter 1.
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.
In a paper titled: ‘Oswald, “Most Holy and Most Victorious King of the Northumbrians”’, published in ‘Oswald, Northumbrian King to European Saint’ (1995).
A collection of Anglo-Saxon royal genealogies and regnal lists – found in four manuscripts, the oldest of which (British Library MS Cotton Vespasian B vi) was written in the early-9th century.
The ‘Liber Eliensis’ (Book of Ely) is a history of the monastery of Ely, from its 7th century beginnings – it was founded by King Anna's daughter, Ecgfrith's wife, Æthelthryth (see: Queen Æthelthryth) – to the 12th century.
‘The Earliest English Kings’ (Second Edition, 2000), Chapter 3.
‘Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu istius hoc est Dunhelmensis Ecclesie’ (Tract on the Origins and Progress of this the Church of Durham).
Between references to, the Bernician kings, Ida (547–559) and his son, Adda (560–568), the ‘Historia Brittonum’ notes (§62): “At that time, Talhaearn Tad Awen [Talhaearn Father of the Muse] was famed for poetry, and Aneirin, and Taliesin and Bluchbard, and Cian, who is called Gueinth Guaut [presumably, Guenith Guaut is meant, i.e. Wheat of Song], were all famous at the same time in British poetry.”  Examples of the work of only Taliesin and Aneirin have survived.
‘Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England’ (1990), Chapter 5.
Henry of Huntingdon first produced his ‘Historia Anglorum’ (History of the English) around 1130. He then revisited the work – revising and extending – several times before his death. The final version concludes with the accession of Henry II in 1154.
‘The Earliest English Kings’ (Second Edition, 2000), Chapter 7.
‘The New Cambridge Medieval History’ Vol.1 (2005), Chapter 16.
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’.
‘Historia Regum’ (History of the Kings).
‘Gesta Pontificum Anglorum’ (Deeds of the Bishops of England).
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