|Edwin of Northumbria|
|King of Deira and Bernicia|
|Reign||616 –12 October 632/633|
|Died||12 October 633 (aged 46–47)|
Hatfield Chase, England
Æthelburg of Kent
|Issue||Osfrith, Uscfrea, Eadfrith, Æthelhun, Eanflæd, Æthelthryth|
Edwin (Old English :Ēadwine; c. 586 – 12 October 632/633), also known as Eadwine or Æduinus, was the King of Deira and Bernicia – which later became known as Northumbria – from about 616 until his death. He converted to Christianity and was baptised in 627; after he fell at the Battle of Hatfield Chase, he was venerated as a saint.
Edwin was the son of Ælle, the first known king of Deira, and seems to have had at least two siblings. His sister Acha was married to Æthelfrith, king of neighbouring Bernicia. An otherwise unknown sibling fathered Hereric, who in turn fathered Abbess Hilda of Whitby and Hereswith, wife to Æthelric, the brother of king Anna of East Anglia.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reported that on Ælle's death a certain "Æthelric" assumed power. The exact identity of Æthelric is uncertain. He may have been a brother of Ælle, an elder brother of Edwin, an otherwise unknown Deiran noble, or the father of Æthelfrith. Æthelfrith himself appears to have been king of "Northumbria"—both Deira and Bernicia—by no later than 604.During the reign of Æthelfrith, Edwin was an exile. The location of his early exile as a child is not known, but late traditions, reported by Reginald of Durham and Geoffrey of Monmouth, place Edwin in the kingdom of Gwynedd, fostered by king Cadfan ap Iago, so allowing biblical parallels to be drawn from the struggle between Edwin and his supposed foster-brother Cadwallon. By the 610s he was certainly in Mercia under the protection of king Cearl, whose daughter Cwenburg he married.
By around 616, Edwin was in East Anglia under the protection of king Rædwald. Bede reports that Æthelfrith tried to have Rædwald murder his unwanted rival, and that Rædwald intended to do so until his wife persuaded him otherwise with Divine prompting.Æthelfrith faced Rædwald in battle by the River Idle in 616, and Æthelfrith was defeated; Rædwald installed Edwin as king of Northumbria. Rædwald's son Rægenhere may have been killed at this battle, but the exact date or manner of Rædwald's death are not known. He likely died between the years 616–627, and the efficacy of Edwin's kingship ostensibly depended greatly on his fealty to Rædwald.
Edwin was installed as king of Northumbria, effectively confirming Rædwald as bretwalda : Æthelfrith's sons went into exile in Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata and Pictland. That Edwin was able to take power not only in his native Deira but also in Bernicia may have been due to his support from Rædwald, to whom he may have remained subject during the early part of his reign. Edwin's reign marks an interruption of the otherwise consistent domination of Northumbria by the Bernicians and has been seen as "contrary to the prevailing tendency".
With the death of Æthelfrith, and of the powerful Æthelberht of Kent the same year, Rædwald and his client Edwin were well placed to dominate England, and indeed Rædwald did so until his death a decade later. Edwin expelled Ceretic from the minor British kingdom of Elmet in either 616 or 626. Elmet had probably been subject to Mercia and then to Edwin.The larger kingdom of Lindsey appears to have been taken over c. 625, after the death of king Rædwald.
Edwin and Eadbald of Kent were allies at this time, and Edwin arranged to marry Eadbald's sister Æthelburg. Bede notes that Eadbald would agree to marry his sister to Edwin only if he converted to Christianity. The marriage of Eadbald's Merovingian mother Bertha had resulted in the conversion of Kent and Æthelburg's would do the same in Northumbria.
Edwin's expansion to the west may have begun early in his reign. There is firm evidence of a war waged in the early 620s between Edwin and Fiachnae mac Báetáin of the Dál nAraidi, king of the Ulaid in Ireland. A lost poem is known to have existed recounting Fiachnae's campaigns against the Saxons, and the Irish annals report the siege, or the storming, of Bamburgh in Bernicia in 623–624. This should presumably be placed in the context of Edwin's designs on the Isle of Man, a target of Ulaid ambitions. Fiachnae's death in 626, at the hands of his namesake, Fiachnae mac Demmáin of the Dál Fiatach, and the second Fiachnae's death a year later in battle against the Dál Riata probably eased the way for Edwin's conquests in the Irish sea province.
The routine of kingship in Edwin's time involved regular, probably annual, wars with neighbours to obtain tribute, submission, and slaves. By Edwin's death, it is likely that these annual wars, unreported in the main, had extended the Northumbrian kingdoms from the Humber and the Mersey north to the Southern Uplands and the Cheviots.
The royal household moved regularly from one royal vill to the next, consuming the food renders given in tribute and the produce of the royal estates, dispensing justice, and ensuring that royal authority remained visible throughout the land. The royal sites in Edwin's time included Yeavering in Bernicia, where traces of a timber amphitheatre have been found. This "Roman" feature makes Bede's claim that Edwin was preceded by a standard-bearer carrying a "tufa" (OE thuuf, this may have been a winged globe) appear to be more than antiquarian curiosity, although whether the model for this practice was Roman or Frankish is unknown. Other royal sites included Campodunum in Elmet (perhaps Barwick), Sancton in Deira, and Goodmanham, the site where the pagan high priest Coifi destroyed the idols according to Bede.Edwin's realm included the former Roman cities of York and Carlisle, and both appear to have been of some importance in the 7th century, although it is not clear whether urban life continued in this period.
The account of Edwin's conversion offered by Bede turns on two events. The first, during Edwin's exile, tells how Edwin's life was saved by Paulinus of York. The second, following his marriage to Æthelburg, was the attempted assassination at York, at Easter 626, by an agent of Cwichelm of Wessex. Edwin's decision to allow the baptism of his daughter Eanfled and his subsequent promise to adopt Christianity if his campaign against Cwichelm proved successful.[ clarification needed ] Apart from these events, the general character of Bede's account is one of an indecisive king, unwilling to take risks, unable to decide whether to convert or not.
Along with these events, the influence of Edwin's half-Merovingian Queen cannot be ignored, and the letters which Bede reproduces, sent by Pope Boniface V to Edwin and Æthelburg, are unlikely to have been unique. Given that Kent was under Frankish influence, while Bede sees the mission as being "Roman" in origin, the Franks were equally interested in converting their fellow Germans and in extending their power and influence.Bede recounts Edwin's baptism, and that of his chief men, on 12 April 627. Edwin's zeal, so Bede says, led to Rædwald's son Eorpwald also converting.
Bede's account of the conversion is oft-cited. After Paulinus explains the tenets of Christianity, the king asks his counselors what they think of the new doctrine. Edwin's priest Coifi responds that they may be worthwhile; after all, he says, no one has been more respectful of and devoted to their gods than he, and he has seen no benefits from his dedication to them. Then, an unnamed counselor stands up and addresses the king, also seeing the benefit of the new faith. Coifi speaks again and announces that they should destroy the idols and temples they had hitherto worshiped. King Edwin agrees and embraces Christianity; Coifi himself will set fire to the idols,declaring "I will do this myself, for now that the true God has granted me knowledge, who more suitably than I can set a public example, and destroy the idols that I worshipped in ignorance?” Bede goes on to describe the scene as Coifi "formally renounces his superstitions, and asked the king to give him arms and a stallion." Armed with both a sword and spear, Coifi rides Edwin's horse towards the idols, all within view of the crowd gathered to witness Edwin's conversion. Upon reaching the temple, Coifi "cast a spear into it and profaned it."
In an article titled "How Coifi Pierced Christ’s Side", Julia Barrow examines Bede's Latinate text and pays particular attention to the passage concerning Coifi's attack upon the temple. Barrow notes that Bede's use of lancea was "not the word medieval writers normally used for spear", while “hasta was the usual choice." Barrow goes on to claim that lancea was likely used by Bede as a reference to the details of the crucifixion of Christ provided in the vulgate book of John, thus Coifi's desecration of the shrine is to be understood "as an inversion of the piercing of the temple of Christ’s body." All of these details support an understanding that Bede had great "warmth and admiration" for Edwin.
The brief speech by the unnamed counselor, a nobleman, has attracted much attention; suggesting the "wisdom and hopefulness of the Christian message",it has inspired poets such as William Wordsworth and was called "the most poetic simile in Bede":
The present life man, O king, seems to me, in comparison with that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter amid your officers and ministers, with a good fire in the midst whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door and immediately out another, whilst he is within is safe from the wintry but after a short space of fair weather he immediately vanishes out of your sight into the dark winter from which he has emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space but of what went before or what is to follow we are ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.
Noteworthy is Bede's summation of the nature of Edwin's reign as King of Northumbria:
“It is told that at the time there was so much peace in Britannia, that whenever King Edwin’s power extended, as is said proverbially right up to today, even if a woman with a recently born child wanted to walk across the whole island, from sea to sea, she could do so without anyone harming her.”
Kershaw indicates that “Bede’s decision to couch Edwin’s peace in proverbial terms offers ...a chilling insight into the levels of lawlessness accepted in eighth-century England”. Furthermore, a definition of “peace” is to be understood as “freedom from robbery, rape, or violence; security to travel at will and to literally ‘go in peace.’”
Edwin's conversion and Eorpwald's were reversed by their successors, and in the case of Northumbria the Roman Paulinus appears to have had very little impact. Indeed, by expelling British clergy from Elmet and elsewhere in Edwin's realm, Paulinus may have weakened the Church rather than strengthening it. Very few Roman clergy were present in Paulinus's time, only James the Deacon being known, so that the "conversion" can have been only superficial, extending little beyond the royal court. Paulinus's decision to flee Northumbria at Edwin's death, unlike his acolyte James who remained in Northumbria for many years afterwards until his death, suggests that the conversion was not popular, and the senior Italian cleric unloved.
The first challenge to Edwin came soon after his marriage-alliance with Kent, concluded at Canterbury in the summer of 625. By offering his protection to lesser kings, such as the king of Wight, Edwin thwarted the ambitions of Cwichelm of Wessex. Cwichelm's response was to send an assassin, as noted already. Edwin did not immediately respond to this insult, suggesting either that he felt unable to do so, or that Bede's portrayal of him as a rather indecisive ruler is accurate. Following the failed assassination, as noted, Edwin committed himself to Christianity provided only that he was victorious against Cwichelm.
From about 627 onwards, Edwin was the most powerful king among the Anglo-Saxons, ruling Bernicia, Deira and much of eastern Mercia, the Isle of Man, and Anglesey. His alliance with Kent, the subjection of Wessex, and his recent successes added to his power and authority. The imperium, as Bede calls it, that Edwin possessed was later equated with the idea of a Bretwalda, a later concept invented by West Saxon kings in the 9th century. Put simply, success confirmed Edwin's overlordship, and failure would diminish it.
Edwin's supposed foster-brother Cadwallon ap Cadfan enters the record circa 629, but Cadwallon was defeated and either submitted to Edwin's authority or went into exile.With the defeat of Cadwallon, Edwin's authority appears to have been unchallenged for a number of years, until Penda of Mercia and Cadwallon rose against him in 632–633.
Edwin faced Penda and Cadwallon at the Battle of Hatfield in the autumn of 632 or 633 and was defeated and killed. For a time his body was (allegedly) hidden in Sherwood Forest at a location that became the village of Edwinstowe (trans. Edwin's resting place), his head being eventually buried at York and the rest of his body at Whitby. Of his two grown sons by Cwenburh of Mercia, Osfrith died at Hatfield, and Eadfrith was captured by Penda and killed some time afterwards.
After his death, Edwin's Queen Æthelburg, along with Paulinus, returned to Kent, taking her son Uscfrea, daughter Eanfled, and Osfrith's son Yffi into exile with her. Uscfrea and Yffi were sent to the court of Æthelburg's kinsman Dagobert I, king of the Franks, but died soon afterwards. Eanfled, however, lived to marry her first cousin, King Oswiu, son of Acha and Æthelfrith.
Edwin of Northumbria
|Convert, King, Martyr|
|Venerated in||Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion|
|Patronage||converts; hoboes; homeless people; kings; parents of large families|
Edwin's realm was divided at his death. He was succeeded by Osric, son of Edwin's paternal uncle Ælfric, in Deira, and by Eanfrith, son of Æthelfrith and Edwin's sister Acha, in Bernicia.Both reverted to paganism, and both were killed by Cadwallon; eventually Eanfrith's brother Oswald defeated and killed Cadwallon and united Northumbria once more.
After his death, Edwin came to be venerated as a saint by some, although his cult was eventually overshadowed by the ultimately more successful cult of Oswald, who was killed in 642. They met their deaths in battle against similar foes, the pagan Mercians and the British, thus allowing both of them to be perceived as martyrs; however, Bede's treatment of Oswald clearly demonstrates that he regarded him as an unambiguously saintly figure, a status that he did not accord to Edwin.
Edwin's renown comes largely from his treatment at some length by Bede, writing from an uncompromisingly English and Christian perspective, and rests on his belated conversion to Christianity. His united kingdom in the north did not outlast him, and his conversion to Christianity was renounced by his successors. When his kingship is compared with his pagan brother-in-law Æthelfrith, or to Æthelfrith's sons Oswald and Oswiu, or to the resolutely pagan Penda of Mercia, Edwin appears to be something less than a key figure in Britain during the first half of the 7th century. Perhaps the most significant legacies of Edwin's reign lay in his failures: the rise of Penda and of Mercia, and the return from Irish exile of the sons of Æthelfrith, which tied the kingdom of Northumbria into the Irish sea world for generations.
Rædwald, also written as Raedwald or Redwald, was a king of East Anglia, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom which included the present-day English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. He was the son of Tytila of East Anglia and a member of the Wuffingas dynasty, who were the first kings of the East Angles. Details about Rædwald's reign are scarce, primarily because the Viking invasions of the 9th century destroyed the monasteries in East Anglia where many documents would have been kept. Rædwald reigned from about 599 until his death around 624, initially under the overlordship of Æthelberht of Kent. In 616, as a result of fighting the Battle of the River Idle and defeating Æthelfrith of Northumbria, he was able to install Edwin, who was acquiescent to his authority, as the new king of Northumbria. During the battle, both Æthelfrith and Rædwald's son, Rægenhere, were killed.
Oswald was King of Northumbria from 634 until his death, and is venerated as a saint, of whom there was a particular cult in the Middle Ages.
Northumbria was an early medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom in what is now Northern England and south-east Scotland.
Oswiu, also known as Oswy or Oswig, was King of Bernicia from 642 and of Northumbria from 654 until his death. He is notable for his role at the Synod of Whitby in 664, which ultimately brought the church in Northumbria into conformity with the wider Catholic Church.
Penda was a 7th-century King of Mercia, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom in what is today the Midlands. A pagan at a time when Christianity was taking hold in many of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Penda took over the Severn Valley in 628 following the Battle of Cirencester before participating in the defeat of the powerful Northumbrian king Edwin at the Battle of Hatfield Chase in 633.
Æthelfrith was King of Bernicia from c. 593 until his death. Around 604 he became the first Bernician king to also rule the neighboring land of Deira, giving him an important place in the development of the later kingdom of Northumbria. He was especially notable for his successes against the Britons and his victory over the Gaels of Dál Riata. Although he was defeated and killed in battle and replaced by a dynastic rival, his line was eventually restored to power in the 630s.
Bernicia was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom established by Anglian settlers of the 6th century in what is now southeastern Scotland and North East England.
Osric was a King of Deira in northern England. He was a cousin of king Edwin of Northumbria, being the son of Edwin's uncle Æthelric of Deira. Osric was also the father of Oswine.
Eanflæd was a Deiran princess, queen of Northumbria and later, the abbess of an influential Christian monastery in Whitby, England. She was the daughter of King Edwin of Northumbria and Æthelburg, who in turn was the daughter of King Æthelberht of Kent. In or shortly after 642 Eanflæd became the second wife of King Oswiu of Northumbria. After Oswiu's death in 670, she retired to Whitby Abbey, which had been founded by Hilda of Whitby. Eanflæd became the abbess around 680 and remained there until her death. The monastery had strong association with members of the Northumbrian royal family and played an important role in the establishment of Roman Christianity in England.
Cadwallon ap Cadfan was the King of Gwynedd from around 625 until his death in battle. The son and successor of Cadfan ap Iago, he is best remembered as the King of the Britons who invaded and conquered the Kingdom of Northumbria, defeating and killing its king, Edwin, prior to his own death in battle against Oswald of Bernicia. His conquest of Northumbria, which he held for a year or two after Edwin died, making him one of the last recorded culturally traditional Celtic Britons to hold substantial territory in eastern Britain until the rise of the Welsh House of Tudor. He was thereafter remembered as a national hero by the Britons and as a tyrant by the Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria.
Eanfrith (590–634) was briefly King of Bernicia from 633 to 634. His father was Æthelfrith, a Bernician king who had also ruled Deira to the south before being killed in battle around 616 against Raedwald of East Anglia, who had given refuge to Edwin, an exiled prince of Deira. His mother was Acha of Deira.
The Battle of Hatfield Chase was fought on 12 October 633 at Hatfield Chase near Doncaster. It pitted the Northumbrians against an alliance of Gwynedd and Mercia. The Northumbrians were led by Edwin and the Gwynedd-Mercian alliance was led by Cadwallon ap Cadfan and Penda. The site was a marshy area about 8 miles (13 km) northeast of Doncaster on the south bank of the River Don. It was a decisive victory for Gwynedd and the Mercians: Edwin was killed and his army defeated, leading to the temporary collapse of Northumbria.
Cearl was an early king of Mercia who ruled during the early part of the 7th century, until about 626. He is the first Mercian king mentioned by Bede in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum. Bede was a Northumbrian who was hostile to Mercia, and historian Robin Fleming speculates that as "ceorl" means "rustic" in Old English, his name may have been a joke.
Æbbe, also called Tabbs, was an Anglian abbess and noblewoman. She was the daughter of Æthelfrith, king of Bernicia from c. 593 to 616. She founded monasteries at Ebchester and St Abb's Head near Coldingham in Scotland.
James the Deacon was a Roman deacon who accompanied Paulinus of York on his mission to Northumbria. He was a member of the Gregorian mission which went to England to Christianise the Anglo-Saxons from their native Anglo-Saxon paganism, although when he arrived in England is unknown. After Paulinus left Northumbria, James stayed near Lincoln and continued his missionary efforts, dying sometime after 671 according to the medieval chronicler Bede.
Eorpwald; also Erpenwald or Earpwald,, succeeded his father Rædwald as ruler of the independent Kingdom of the East Angles. Eorpwald was a member of the East Anglian dynasty known as the Wuffingas, named after the semi-historical king Wuffa.
Hereswith or Hereswitha, also spelt Hereswithe, Hereswyde or Haeresvid, was a 7th-century Northumbrian saint. She married into the East Anglian royal dynasty and afterwards retired to Gaul to lead a religious life. Hereswith's sister was Saint Hilda, founder of the monastery at Whitby. Details of her life and identity come from Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica, the Anglian collection and the Lives of Edwin of Northumbria and Hilda of Whitby.
Events from the 7th century in England.
The Christianisation of Anglo-Saxon England was a process spanning the 7th century. It was essentially the result of the Gregorian mission of 597, which was joined by the efforts of the Hiberno-Scottish mission from the 630s. From the 8th century, the Anglo-Saxon mission was, in turn, instrumental in the conversion of the population of the Frankish Empire.
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