They came from three very powerful peoples of Germany, that is, the Saxons, the Angles and the Jutes… From the Angles, that is, the country which is called Angulus, and which is said, from that time, to have remained desert to this day, between the provinces of the Jutes and the Saxons, are descended the East Angles, the Middle Angles, the Mercians, all the race of the Northumbrians, that is, of those nations that dwell on the north side of the river Humber, and the other peoples of the Angles.
Bede Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum I, 15

The kingdom of Northumbria came into being at the beginning of the 7th century, when two kingdoms in the north-east of (what is now) England – Bernicia to the north of the Tees, and Deira, to the south – were brought together under a single king.[*] During the 7th century, the unified kingdom expanded west to the Irish Sea, and north to occupy much of (what is now) southern Scotland.

Northumbrian power peaked during the reigns of Edwin (616–633), Oswald (634–642) and Oswiu (642–670), each of whom succeeded in establishing themselves as overlords of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms south of the Humber. From the mid-8th century, however, there was virtually continuous internecine conflict, added to which, at the end of the century, the Northumbrian monasteries, famous for their intellectual achievements, became prime targets for marauding Vikings. Eventually, these Scandinavian pirate bands organized themselves into a “great heathen army” of conquest and settlement. In 867, two competing Northumbrian kings joined forces to fight the invading army. Both kings were killed, and the victorious Vikings set up a puppet regime in their place. In 876, the Vikings partitioned Northumbria, establishing their own kingdom, based on York, in the south.

King of Bernicia

King of Deira

547 – 559  Ida

Bede draws his Ecclesiastical History to a close with an annalistic summary of events, in which appears the entry: “In the year 547, Ida began to reign, from whom the royal family of the Northumbrians has its origin, and he reigned 12 years.” (HE V, 24).  A chronicle-fragment, based on Bede’s summary (composed, roughly, between the mid-8th and mid-9th centuries), adds that Ida: “was the son of Eoppa the son of Eosa. It was Eosa who first came to Britain.”

In the Historia Brittonum (§56), it is said that Ida “was the first king in Bernicia”; that (§57) he “had twelve sons[*]”; that (§61) he “joined Din Guayrdi [which would become Bamburgh] to Bernicia”; and, apparently, mentions (§62) the British leader who opposed Ida: “at that time Eudeyrn fought bravely against the English nation.”

Manuscript E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes, s.a. 547, that Ida: “reigned 12 years, and he built Bebbanburh [Bamburgh], which was first inclosed by a hedge [i.e. palisade], and afterwards by a wall [rampart?].”[*]


According to the Historia Brittonum (§61), Soemil, the great-great-great-grandfather of Ælle (the first Deiran king whose existence is secure): “first separated Deira from Bernicia.”  This is usually interpreted as meaning that Soemil seized control of Deira from the Britons, which, if so, would imply that the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Deira came into existence around the middle of the 5th century.

Archaeological evidence, in the form of early Anglo-Saxon burials, places the origins of Deira in south-eastern Yorkshire (the East Riding).


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is evidently unaware of the existence of two separate Northumbrian kingdoms. A single Northumbrian line of succession is indicated – from Ida of Bernicia, via Ælle and Æthelric, both of Deira, to Æthelfrith of Bernicia (who did, in fact, succeed in gaining control of Deira and ruling a united Northumbria). However, a Northumbrian king-list in the, so-called, Moore Memoranda records the following sequence of Bernician kings between Ida and Æthelfrith:[*]

559 – 560  Glappa

560 – 568  Adda

568 – 572  Æthelric

572 – 579  Theodric

579 – 585  Frithuwald

585 – 592  Hussa

A Bernician king-list in the Historia Brittonum (§63), does not include Glappa, but agrees with the Moore Memoranda in respect of the next five kings – and it also provides the only information, scant and obscure as it is, about events during the reigns of any of them:

Adda, son of Ida, reigned eight years; Æthelric, son of [Ida], reigned four years. Theodric, son of Ida, reigned seven years. Frithuwald reigned six years, in whose time the kingdom of the people of Kent received baptism from the mission of Gregory.[*] Hussa reigned seven years. Against them fought four kings, Urien and Rhydderch Hen and Gwallawg and Morcant. —
Theodric fought bravely against that Urien with his sons.[*] During that time, sometimes the enemy, sometimes the citizens, were defeated,[*] and he [Urien] shut them up for three days and three nights in the island of Medcaut [Lindisfarne]; and whilst he was on campaign, he was murdered at the instigation of Morcant, from jealousy, because his military skill and generalship surpassed that of all the other kings.
Historia Brittonum §63

560 ? – 588 ?  Ælle

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle announces, s.a. 560: “Ælle [son of Yffe] succeeded to the kingdom of the Northumbrians [see opposite], Ida being dead;[*] and … [he] reigned 30 winters.” (although his death is recorded in 588).

Bede concludes his obituary of Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great), who died in 604:

Nor must we pass by in silence the story of the blessed Gregory, handed down to us by the tradition of our ancestors, which explains his earnest care for the salvation of our nation. It is said that one day, when some merchants had lately arrived at Rome, many things were exposed for sale in the market place, and many people resorted thither to buy; Gregory himself went with the rest, and saw among other wares some boys put up for sale, of fair complexion, with pleasing countenances, and very beautiful hair. When he beheld them, he asked, it is said, from what region or country they were brought? and was told, from the island of Britain, and that the inhabitants were like that in appearance. He again inquired whether those islanders were Christians, or still involved in the errors of paganism, and was informed that they were pagans. Then fetching a deep sigh from the bottom of his heart, “Alas! what pity,” said he, “that the author of darkness should own men of such fair countenances; and that with such grace of outward form, their minds should be void of inward grace.”  He therefore again asked, what was the name of that nation? and was answered, that they were called Angli. “Right,” said he, “for they have an angelic face, and it is meet that such should be co-heirs with the angels in heaven. What is the name of the province from which they are brought?”  It was replied, that the natives of that province were called Deiri. “Truly are they De ira,” said he, “saved from wrath, and called to the mercy of Christ. How is the king of that province called?”  They told him his name was Ælle; and he, playing upon the name, said, “Allelujah, the praise of God the Creator must be sung in those parts.”[*]  Then he went to the bishop of the Roman Apostolic See (for he was not himself then made pope), and entreated him to send some ministers of the Word into Britain to the nation of the English, that it might be converted to Christ by them; declaring himself ready to carry out that work with the help of God, if the Apostolic Pope should think fit to have it done. But not being then able to perform this task – because, though the Pope was willing to grant his request, yet the citizens of Rome could not be brought to consent that he should depart so far from the city – as soon as he was himself made pope [590], he carried out the long-desired work, sending, indeed, other preachers, but himself by his exhortations and prayers helping the preaching to bear fruit. This account, which we have received from a past generation, we have thought fit to insert in our Ecclesiastical History.
HE II, 1

Pope Gregory’s mission arrived in Kent in 597. In his Chronica Maiora (Anno Mundi 4557), Bede notes that : “the people of the Angles north of the river Humber, under kings Ælle and Æthelfrith, did not at this time hear the Word of life.”[*]  It seems clear that Bede believed Ælle was ruling Deira and Æthelfrith was ruling Bernicia in 597. However, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle announces that, in 588: “King Ælle died, and Æthelric reigned after him for 5 years.”[*]


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, s.a. 593, notes: “Æthelfrith succeeded to the kingdom of the Northumbrians; he was son of Æthelric, Æthelric of Ida.[*]”  Actually, at this stage, Æthelfrith was king of Bernicia only, and the date, based on the Moore Memoranda king-list, should be 592, not 593.[*]

Evidently there were two Northumbrian kings called Æthelric: one, son of Ida/father of Æthelfrith, in Bernicia, and one, successor of Ælle, in Deira (whose only mention is s.a. 588 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle).[*]

588 ? – 593 ?  Æthelric

Presumably, the original compiler of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle had access to a, no longer extant, Deiran king-list, that showed Æthelric succeeding Ælle. It would appear, though, that the chronicler believed there was a single Northumbrian kingdom at this time, which meant that the year when Æthelfrith (who did, indeed, eventually rule a united Northumbria) succeeded to the Bernician throne (see opposite) must also mark the end of Æthelric’s reign. However, the Historia Brittonum indicates (§63) that Æthelfrith ruled Bernicia for twelve years before managing to establish his rule in Deira as well – by which token (assuming the regnal lengths given by the Chronicle are correct) Ælle’s reign should be dated 569–599, and Æthelric’s 599–604.

King of Northumbria

592 – 616 Æthelfrith

Son of Æthelric (of Bernicia).

The Historia Brittonum says (§63) that Æthelfrith, to whom it gives the nickname Flesaur (the Twister): “gave Din Guoaroy to his wife, whose name was Bebba, and it was named Bebbanburh [Bamburgh] from his wife’s name.”  Bede doesn’t name the king, but confirms (HE III, 6) that: “the royal city … has taken its name from a former queen called Bebba.”

Æthelfrith is the first king to rule a united Northumbria. He succeeded to the throne of Bernicia in 592, but a comment in the Historia Brittonum suggests that it was another twelve years before he also secured control of Deira.[*]

Bede reports that:

… the brave and ambitious king, Æthelfrith, governed the kingdom of the Northumbrians, and ravaged the Britons more than all the chiefs of the English, insomuch that he might be compared to Saul of old, king of the Israelites, save only in this, that he was ignorant of Divine religion. For no one among the leaders, no one among the kings, had subjected more land to the English race or settled it, having first either exterminated or conquered the natives. To him might justly be applied the saying of the patriarch blessing his son in the person of Saul, “Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.” —
— Hereupon, Aedan, king of the Scots that dwell in Britain, being alarmed by his success, came against him with a great and mighty army,[*] but was defeated and fled with a few followers; for almost all his army was cut to pieces at a famous place called Degsastan, that is, Degsa Stone [not certainly identified]. In which battle also Theobald, brother to Æthelfrith, was killed, with all the forces he commanded.[*] This war Æthelfrith brought to an end in the year of our Lord 603, the 11th year of his own reign, which lasted 24 years … From that time, no king of the Scots in Britain durst make war on the English nation to this day.
HE I, 34

According to the chronology indicated by the Historia Brittonum, it was in 604 that Æthelfrith took control of Deira. How he managed this takeover is nowhere recorded, but he married Acha, daughter of Ælle (erstwhile king of Deira), about this time (their son Oswald being thirty-seven at the time of his death in 642 [*]) and, at some stage, he forced Edwin, Ælle’s son, into exile.[*]

About 615/16, Æthelfrith, “having raised a mighty army”, says Bede, roundly defeated British forces at Chester. Selyf ap Cynan, evidently the king of Powys, was killed, though Bede doesn’t mention it – Welsh and Irish annals provide that information.[*] What Bede does record, however, is Æthelfrith’s massacre of the monks of Bangor Is-coed (Bangor-on-Dee):

Being about to give battle, he [Æthelfrith] observed their priests, who were come together to offer up their prayers to God for the combatants, standing apart in a place of greater safety; he inquired who they were, and what they came together to do in that place. Most of them were of the monastery of Bangor, in which, it is said, there was so great a number of monks, that the monastery being divided into seven parts, with a superior set over each, none of those parts contained less than 300 men, who all lived by the labour of their hands. Many of these, having observed a fast of three days, had come together along with others to pray at the aforesaid battle, having one Brocmail [Brochfael] for their protector, to defend them, whilst they were intent upon their prayers, against the swords of the barbarians. King Æthelfrith being informed of the occasion of their coming, said, “If then they cry to their God against us, in truth, though they do not bear arms, yet they fight against us, because they assail us with their curses.”  He, therefore, commanded them to be attacked first, and then destroyed the rest of the impious host, not without great loss to his own army. About twelve hundred of those that came to pray are said to have been killed, and only 50 to have escaped by flight. Brocmail, turning his back with his men, at the first approach of the enemy, left those whom he ought to have defended unarmed and exposed to the swords of the assailants.
HE II, 2

It seems clear that Selyf ap Cynan of Powys was the prime target of Æthelfrith’s attack (Selyf is called “king of the Britons” by the Irish annals), but the Annales Cambriae raise the possibility that Iago ap Beli, of Gwynedd, was also fatally wounded in the fighting,[*] and the Annals of Tigernach report the death of another king, Cetula (otherwise unknown), in the battle. Just how significant the battle was is the subject of debate. The battle of Chester is often represented as the defining moment when the Britons of the North were separated from the Britons of, what would become known as, Wales. On the other hand, Bede attaches no such importance to it. Possibly it was only the slaughter of the monks of Bangor that ensured this particular battle was remembered, whilst many others were forgotten.

Meanwhile, the fugitive Deiran prince, Edwin, had found refuge with Rædwald, king of the East Angles. Æthelfrith’s attempts to bribe Rædwald into murdering Edwin failed, and instead, in 616, Rædwald mounted a surprise attack against Æthelfrith. In the ensuing battle, which took place on the east bank of the river Idle (on the borders of Deira and Mercia), Æthelfrith was defeated and killed.[*] Edwin expelled Æthelfrith’s sons, and established himself as ruler in Bernicia as well as Deira.

616 – 633  Edwin (St Edwin)

Son of Ælle (of Deira).

Bede: “When Æthelfrith, his predecessor, was persecuting him, he [Edwin] wandered for many years as an exile, hiding in divers places and kingdoms” (HE II, 12).  Late yarns have it that Gwynedd was one of those kingdoms,[*] and he certainly must have spent time in Mercia, since Bede (HE II, 14) talks of: “Osfrith and Eadfrith, King Edwin’s sons who were both born to him, whilst he was in exile, of Cwenburh, the daughter of Cearl, king of the Mercians.”  Edwin (Old English: Eadwine) eventually found refuge with Rædwald, king of the East Angles, who took up his cause and led an army against Æthelfrith in 616. Æthelfrith was defeated and killed, and his sons were exiled. Edwin supplanted Æthelfrith as king of both Deira and Bernicia.[*] Rædwald was, explains Bede (HE II, 5), the fourth: “of the English kings who ruled over all the southern provinces that are divided from the northern by the river Humber and the borders contiguous to it”.  Taking its cue from Bede, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (s.a. 827) lists Rædwald as the fourth of eight English kings to whom it grants the title Bretwalda. Edwin owed his position to Rædwald, and must, like the English kings south of the Humber, have recognized him as his overlord.

In due course, Edwin became the next overlord of the south-Humbrian English kingdoms (though with one notable exception) recorded by Bede:

The fifth was Edwin, king of the Northumbrian nation, that is, of those who live in the district to the north of the river Humber; his power was greater; he ruled over all the inhabitants of Britain, both English and Britons, except only the people of Kent; and he reduced also under the dominion of the English, the Mevanian Islands of the Britons [Anglesey and the Isle of Man], lying between Ireland and Britain …[*]
HE II, 5

Edwin is the fifth Bretwalda listed by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  Bede believed that Edwin had been granted his earthly success because he was destined to become a Christian – the first Christian ruler in Northumbria.

Edwin’s Mercian wife, Cwenburh, must have died, because, evidently about the year 624, he contacted the king of Kent, Eadbald, and asked to marry his sister, Æthelburh. (It is, perhaps, reasonable to infer that Rædwald was dead, and that Edwin was already a power to be reckoned with by this time.) Eadbald and Æthelburh were the children of Æthelberht, who had, in 597, received the mission of Pope Gregory I, and had subsequently become the first English king to adopt Christianity. It may well be that Edwin had visited the Kentish court during his years as a wandering exile. At any rate:

When he first sent ambassadors to ask her in marriage of her brother Eadbald, who then reigned in Kent, he received the answer, “That it was not lawful to give a Christian maiden in marriage to a pagan husband, lest the faith and the mysteries of the heavenly King should be profaned by her union with a king that was altogether a stranger to the worship of the true God.”  This answer being brought to Edwin by his messengers, he promised that he would in no manner act in opposition to the Christian faith, which the maiden professed; but would give leave to her, and all that went with her, men and women, priests and servants, to follow their faith and worship after the custom of the Christians. Nor did he refuse to accept that religion himself, if, being examined by wise men, it should be found more holy and more worthy of God.
So the maiden was promised, and sent to Edwin, and in accordance with the agreement, Paulinus, a man beloved of God, was ordained bishop, to go with her, and by daily exhortations, and celebrating the heavenly Mysteries, to confirm her, and her company, lest they should be corrupted by intercourse with the pagans. Paulinus was ordained bishop by the Archbishop Justus, on the 12th of the Kalends of August [21st July], in the year of our Lord 625, and so came to King Edwin with the aforesaid maiden as an attendant on their union in the flesh. But his mind was wholly bent upon calling the nation to which he was sent to the knowledge of truth; according to the words of the Apostle, “To espouse her to the one true Husband, that he might present her as a chaste virgin to Christ.”  Being come into that province, he laboured much, not only to retain those that went with him, by the help of God, that they should not abandon the faith, but, if haply he might, to convert some of the pagans to the grace of the faith by his preaching. But, as the Apostle says, though he laboured long in the Word, “The god of this world blinded the minds of them that believed not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ should shine unto them.”
The next year [i.e. 626] there came into the province an assassin called Eomer, sent by the king of the West Saxons, whose name was Cwichelm, hoping to deprive King Edwin of his kingdom and his life at the same time. He had a two-edged dagger, dipped in poison, to the end that, if the wound inflicted by the weapon did not avail to kill the king, it might be aided by the deadly venom. He came to the king on the first day of the Easter festival, at the river Derwent, where there was then a royal residence, and being admitted as if to deliver a message from his master, whilst unfolding in cunning words his pretended embassy, he startled up on a sudden, and unsheathing the dagger under his garment, assaulted the king. When Lilla, the king’s most devoted thegn [minister], saw this, having no buckler at hand to protect the king from death, he at once interposed his own body to receive the blow; but the enemy struck home with such force, that he wounded the king through the body of the slaughtered soldier. Being then attacked on all sides with swords, he slew in the tumult, with his accursed dagger, another of the soldiers, whose name was Forthhere.
On that same holy Easter night [20th April 626], the queen had brought forth to the king a daughter, called Eanflæd. The king, in the presence of Bishop Paulinus, gave thanks to his gods for the birth of his daughter; and the bishop, on his part, began to give thanks to Christ, and to tell the king, that by his prayers to Him he had obtained that the queen should bring forth the child in safety, and without grievous pain. The king, delighted with his words, promised, that if God would grant him life and victory over the king by whom the murderer who had wounded him had been sent, he would renounce his idols, and serve Christ; and as a pledge that he would perform his promise, he delivered up that same daughter to Bishop Paulinus, to be consecrated to Christ. She was the first to be baptized of the nation of the Northumbrians, and she received baptism on the holy day of Pentecost [8th June], along with 11 others of his household.
At that time, the king, being recovered of the wound which he had received, raised an army and marched against the nation of the West Saxons; and engaging in war, either slew or received in surrender all those of whom he learned that they had conspired to murder him. —
— So he returned victorious into his own country, but he would not immediately and unadvisedly embrace the mysteries of the Christian faith, though he no longer worshipped idols, ever since he made the promise that he would serve Christ; but first took heed earnestly to be instructed at leisure by the venerable Paulinus, in the knowledge of faith, and to confer with such as he knew to be the wisest of his chief men, inquiring what they thought was fittest to be done in that case. And being a man of great natural sagacity, he often sat alone by himself a long time in silence, deliberating in the depths of his heart how he should proceed, and to which religion he should adhere.
HE II, 9

At this point in his narrative, Bede inserts two letters composed by Pope Boniface V. The first is to Edwin, urging him to convert to Christianity:

… we have learnt that your illustrious consort, who is discerned to be one flesh with you, has been blessed with the reward of eternity, through the regeneration of Holy Baptism. We have, therefore, taken care by this letter, with all the goodwill of heartfelt love, to exhort your Highness, that, abhorring idols and their worship, and despising the foolishness of temples and the deceitful flatteries of auguries, you believe in God the Father Almighty and His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost, to the end that, believing and being released from the bonds of captivity to the Devil, you may, through the co-operating power of the Holy and undivided Trinity, be a partaker of eternal life.
HE II, 10

The second letter is to Edwin’s wife, Æthelburh:

… when our fatherly love earnestly inquired concerning your illustrious consort, we were given to understand, that he still served abominable idols, and delayed to yield obedience in giving ear to the voice of the preachers. This occasioned us no small grief, that he that is one flesh with you still remained a stranger to the knowledge of the supreme and undivided Trinity. Whereupon we, in our fatherly care, have not delayed to admonish and exhort your Christian Highness, to the end that, filled with the support of the Divine inspiration, you should not defer to strive, both in season and out of season, that with the co-operating power of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, your husband also may be added to the number of Christians; that so you may uphold the rights of marriage in the bond of a holy and unblemished union. For it is written, “They twain shall be one flesh.”  How then can it be said, that there is unity in the bond between you, if he continues a stranger to the brightness of your faith, separated from it by the darkness of detestable error?
HE II, 11

Bede returns to his narrative:

… when Paulinus perceived that it was a difficult task to incline the king’s proud mind to the humility of the way of salvation and the reception of the mystery of the life-giving Cross, and at the same time was employing the word of exhortation with men, and prayer to the Divine Goodness, for the salvation of Edwin and his subjects; at length, as we may suppose, it was shown him in spirit what the nature of the vision was that had been formerly revealed from Heaven to the king.
HE II, 12

This was a vision that Edwin had experienced during his exile with Rædwald. A spirit had visited him and asked how he would reward a man who could keep him safe, destroy his enemies, and ensure that: “you would be a king surpassing in power, not only all your own ancestors, but even all that have reigned before you in the English nation?”  Edwin promised the spirit “that he would in all things follow the teaching of that man who could deliver him from so many great calamities and raise him to a throne.”  The spirit: “laid his right hand on Edwin’s head saying, ‘When this sign shall be given you, remember this present discourse that has passed between us, and do not delay the performance of what you now promise.’”  Paulinus, having received knowledge of the vision (“as we may suppose, it was shown him in spirit what the nature of the vision was”), went to Edwin: “laid his right hand on his head, and asked whether he recognized that sign.”

Edwin, “trembling”, did indeed recognize the sign. Paulinus told him that God had delivered what he desired, now he should stick to his side of the bargain. Edwin agreed to honour his promise and become a Christian (HE II, 13), but insisted that he would first discuss the matter with his chief-men, to the end that, if they thought it a good idea, they would be baptized at the same time as he was. Thanks to a little “Divine prompting”, they all decided to accept Christianity.[*] However, Edwin’s chief pagan priest, Coifi, asked to hear Paulinus himself speak about God:

When he did so, at the king’s command, Coifi, hearing his words, cried out, “This long time I have perceived that what we worshipped was naught; because the more diligently I sought after truth in that worship, the less I found it. But now I freely confess, that such truth evidently appears in this preaching as can confer on us the gifts of life, of salvation, and of eternal happiness. For which reason my counsel is, O king, that we immediately curse and commit to the flames those temples and altars which we have consecrated without reaping any benefit from them.”  In brief, the king openly assented to the preaching of the Gospel by Paulinus, and renouncing idolatry, declared that he received the faith of Christ. And when he inquired of the aforesaid high priest of his religion, who should first desecrate the altars and temples of their idols, with the precincts that were about them, he answered, “I; for who can more fittingly than myself destroy those things which I worshipped in my folly, for an example to all others, through the wisdom which has been given me by the true God?”  And at once, casting aside his vain superstitions, he asked the king to furnish him with arms and a stallion, that he might mount and go forth to destroy the idols; for it was not lawful before for the high priest either to carry arms, or to ride on anything but a mare. Having, therefore, girt a sword about him, with a spear in his hand, he mounted the king’s stallion, and went his way to the idols. The multitude, beholding it, thought that he was mad; but as soon as he drew near the temple he did not delay to desecrate it by casting into it the spear which he held; and rejoicing in the knowledge of the worship of the true God, he commanded his companions to tear down and set on fire the temple, with all its precincts. This place where the idols once stood is still shown, not far from York, to the eastward, beyond the river Derwent, and is now called Godmunddingaham [Goodmanham], where the high priest, by the inspiration of the true God, profaned and destroyed the altars which he had himself consecrated.
HE II, 13
King Edwin, therefore, with all the nobility of the nation, and a large number of the common sort, received the faith, and the washing of holy regeneration, in the 11th year of his reign, which is the year of our Lord 627, and about 180 years after the coming of the English into Britain. He was baptized at York, on the holy day of Easter, being the day before the Ides of April [i.e. 12th April], in the church of St Peter the Apostle, which he himself had built of timber there in haste, whilst he was a catechumen receiving instruction in order to be admitted to baptism. —
— In that city also he bestowed upon his instructor and bishop, Paulinus, his episcopal see. But as soon as he was baptized, he set about building, by the direction of Paulinus, in the same place a larger and nobler church of stone, in the midst whereof the oratory which he had first erected should be enclosed. Having, therefore, laid the foundation, he began to build the church square, encompassing the former oratory. But before the walls were raised to their full height, the cruel death of the king left that work to be finished by Oswald his successor. Paulinus, for the space of six years from this time, that is, till the end of the king’s reign, with his consent and favour, preached the Word of God in that province, and as many as were foreordained to eternal life believed and were baptized. Among them were Osfrith and Eadfrith, King Edwin’s sons who were both born to him, whilst he was in exile, of Cwenburh, the daughter of Cearl, king of the Mercians.
Afterwards other children of his, by Queen Æthelburh, were baptized, Æthelhun and his daughter Æthelthryth, and another, Uscfrea, a son; the first two were snatched out of this life whilst they were still in the white garments of the newly-baptized, and buried in the church at York. Yffi, the son of Osfrith, was also baptized, and many other noble and royal persons. So great was then the fervour of the faith, as is reported, and the desire for the laver of salvation among the nation of the Northumbrians, that Paulinus at a certain time coming with the king and queen to the royal residence which is called Adgefrin [Yeavering, Northumberland], stayed there with them 36 days, fully occupied in catechizing and baptizing; during which days, from morning till night, he did nothing else but instruct the people, who flocked to him from all the 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. This residence, under the following kings, was abandoned, and another was built instead of it, at the place called Mælmin.
These things happened in the province of the Bernicians; but in the province of the Deirans also, where he was wont often to be with the king, he baptized in the river Swale, which runs by the village of Cataract [Catterick, North Yorkshire]; for oratories or baptisteries could not yet be built, in the early infancy of the Church in those parts.
HE II, 14

Edwin persuaded Eorpwald, king of the East Angles and son of Edwin’s erstwhile benefactor, Rædwald, to adopt Christianity. Not long after his conversion, however, Eorpwald was killed by a pagan rival.

The kingdom of Lindsey covered much of modern-day Lincolnshire – indeed, it is named after the Roman name for Lincoln (Lindum Colonia). Its borders are fairly precisely known: the river Humber to the north; the sea to the east; the Foss Dyke and river Witham to the south; in the west, the river Trent, but including the Isle of Axholme, in the marshes (now drained) to the west of the Trent. Lindsey has no recorded independent history – appearing as a satellite of either Mercia or, as here, its earliest appearance in the record, Northumbria:

Paulinus also preached the Word to the province of Lindsey, which is the first on the south side of the river Humber, stretching as far as the sea; and he first converted to the Lord the praefectus of the city of Lincoln, whose name was Blæcca, with his whole household.[*] He likewise built, in that city, a stone church of beautiful workmanship; the roof of which has either fallen through long neglect, or been thrown down by enemies, but the walls are still to be seen standing, and every year miraculous cures are wrought in that place, for the benefit of those who have faith to seek them… A certain priest and abbot of the monastery of Peartaneu [Partney], a man of singular veracity, whose name was Deda, told me concerning the faith of this province that an old man had informed him that he himself had been baptized at noon-day, by Bishop Paulinus, in the presence of King Edwin, and with him a great multitude of the people, in the river Trent, near the city, which in the English tongue is called Tiowulfingacæstir [Littleborough]; and he was also wont to describe the person of the same Paulinus, saying that he was tall of stature, stooping somewhat, his hair black, his visage thin, his nose slender and aquiline, his aspect both venerable and awe-inspiring. He had also with him, in the ministry, James the deacon, a man of zeal and great fame in Christ and in the church, who lived even to our days.
It is told that there was then such perfect peace in Britain, wheresoever the dominion of King Edwin extended, that, as is still proverbially said, a woman with her new-born babe might walk throughout the island, from sea to sea, without receiving any harm. That king took such care for the good of his nation, that in several places where he had seen clear springs near the highways, he caused stakes to be fixed, with copper drinking-vessels hanging on them, for the refreshment of travellers; nor durst any man touch them for any other purpose than that for which they were designed, either through the great dread they had of the king, or for the affection which they bore him. His dignity was so great throughout his dominions, that not only were his banners borne before him in battle, but even in time of peace, when he rode about his cities, townships, or provinces, with his thegns, the standard-bearer was always wont to go before him. Also, when he walked anywhere along the streets, that sort of banner which the Romans call a tufa, the English a thuuf, was wont to be borne before him.
HE II, 16

Bede reports (HE II, 18) that Justus, archbishop of Canterbury, died on the 10th of November, but he doesn’t specify the year. It must, however, have been between 627 and 631, and events might tend to suggest that the later end of that range is more likely. At any rate, Justus’ successor, Honorius, was consecrated by Paulinus at Lincoln.[*] It had been the intention of Pope Gregory I (the Great) that there should also be an archbishop based at York.[*] That idea was at last viable, and it would appear that Archbishop Honorius, Edwin and Eadbald, king of Kent, wrote to Pope Honorius I (625–638) requesting that Paulinus be made archbishop of York. Bede quotes the pope’s reply to Edwin:

We are preparing with a willing mind immediately to grant those things which you hoped would be ordered by us for your bishops, and this we do on account of the sincerity of your faith, which has been made known to us abundantly in terms of praise by the bearers of these presents. We have sent a pallium to each of the two metropolitans [archbishops], that is Honorius and Paulinus; to the intent, that when either of them shall be called out of this world to his Creator, the other may, by this authority of ours, substitute another bishop in his place; which privilege we are induced to grant by the warmth of our love for you, as well as by reason of the great extent of the provinces which lie between us and you; that we may in all things support your devotion and likewise satisfy your desires. May God’s grace preserve your Highness in safety.
HE II, 17

Bede also quotes a letter from Pope Honorius to Archbishop Honorius, evidently written at the same time as the letter to Edwin:

… in accordance with your request, and that of the kings our sons, we do hereby in the name of the blessed Peter, chief of the Apostles, grant you authority, that when the Divine Grace shall call either of you to Himself, the survivor shall ordain a bishop in the room of him that is deceased. To which end also we have sent a pallium to each of you, beloved, for celebrating the said ordination; that by the authority which we hereby commit to you, you may make an ordination acceptable to God; because the long distance of sea and land that lies between us and you has obliged us to grant you this, that no loss may happen to your Church in any way, on any pretext whatever, but that the devotion of the people committed to you may increase the more. God preserve you in safety, most dear brother. Given on the 3rd of the Ides of June [11th June], in the reign of these our lords and emperors, in the 24th year of the reign of Heraclius, and the 23rd after his consulship; and in the 23rd year of his son Constantine, and the 3rd after his consulship; and in the 3rd year of the most prosperous Caesar, his son Heraclius, the 7th indiction. That is, in the year of our Lord 634.[*]
HE II, 18

Sadly, at the time Pope Honorius wrote these letters Edwin had been dead for eight months, and Paulinus had fled Northumbria.[*]

Bede twice (HE II, 5 & 9) refers to Edwin bringing “the Mevanian Islands” – the Isle of Man and Anglesey – under English control. A Welsh Triad (26WR) lists Edwin (whom it calls “king of Lloegr”, i.e. king of England) as the third of the: “Three Great Oppressions of Môn [Anglesey], nurtured therein.”  Plainly, the Triad refers to Edwin’s overlordship of Anglesey – the island stronghold of Gwynedd – but it also alludes to a ‘tradition’, which can be traced no earlier than the 12th century, that Edwin had been raised by Cadfan, king of Gwynedd, alongside his own son, Cadwallon (who would eventually be the agent of Edwin’s death). In Triad 29, “Three Faithful War-Bands of the Island of Britain”, first mentioned is: “The War-Band of Cadwallon son of Cadfan, who were with him seven years in Ireland; and in all that time they did not ask him for anything, lest they should be compelled to leave him” – which raises the possibility that, due to persecution by Edwin, Cadwallon was forced to flee Britain. Triad 69 refers to “the Action of Digoll” fought between Edwin and Cadwallon, when: “the Severn was defiled [with blood] from its source to its mouth”.[*]  According to a 9th or 10th century Welsh poem, Marwnad Cadwallon (Death-song of Cadwallon): “Cadwallon the illustrious encamped on Digoll Mount, for seven months and seven battles daily.”  Triad 62: “Three Fettered War-Bands of the Islands of Britain … And the third, the War-Band of Belyn of Llŷn when fighting with [i.e. against] Edwin at Bryn Edwin in Rhos.”[*]  The Annales Cambriae indicate that Belyn died in 627, and two years later record: “The besieging of King Cadwallon in the island of Glannauc.”[*]  Cadwallon evidently didn’t command sufficient forces to overthrow Edwin. What he needed was an ally.


Edwin reigned most gloriously 17 years over the nations of the English and the Britons, six whereof, as has been said, he also was a soldier in the kingdom of Christ. Cædwalla [i.e. Cadwallon], king of the Britons, rebelled against him,[*] being supported by the vigorous Penda, of the royal family of the Mercians, who from that time governed that nation for 22 years with varying success. A great battle being fought in the plain that is called Hæthfelth [Hatfield Chase?], Edwin was killed on the 4th of the Ides of October [12th of October], in the year of our Lord 633, being then 48 years of age, and all his army was either slain or dispersed.[*] In the same war also, Osfrith, one of his sons, a warlike youth, fell before him; Eadfrith, another of them, compelled by necessity, went over to King Penda, and was by him afterwards slain in the reign of Oswald, contrary to his oath.[*] —
— At this time a great slaughter was made in the Church and nation of the Northumbrians; chiefly because one of the commanders, by whom it was carried on, was a pagan, and the other a barbarian, more cruel than a pagan; for Penda, with all the nation of the Mercians, was an idolater, and a stranger to the name of Christ;  —
— but Cædwalla, though he professed and called himself a Christian, was so barbarous in his disposition and manner of living, that he did not even spare women and innocent children, but with bestial cruelty put all alike to death by torture, and raged through all their provinces for a long time, intending to eradicate all the race of the English within the borders of Britain. Nor did he pay any respect to the Christian religion which had sprung up among them; it being to this day the custom of the Britons to despise the faith and religion of the English, and to have no part with them in anything any more than with pagans.[*] King Edwin’s head was brought to York, and afterwards taken into the church of the blessed Peter the Apostle, which he had begun, but which his successor Oswald finished, as has been said before. It was laid in the chapel of the holy Pope Gregory, from whose disciples he had received the word of life.[*]
The affairs of the Northumbrians being thrown into confusion at the moment of this disaster, when there seemed to be no prospect of safety except in flight, Paulinus, taking with him Queen Æthelburh, whom he had before brought thither, returned to Kent by ship, and was very honourably received by Archbishop Honorius and King Eadbald. He came thither under the conduct of Bass, a most valiant thegn of King Edwin, having with him Eanflæd, the daughter, and Uscfrea, the son of Edwin, as well as Yffi, the son of Osfrith, Edwin’s son [by his first wife]. Afterwards Æthelburh, for fear of the kings Eadbald and Oswald, sent Uscfrea and Yffi over into Gaul to be bred up by King Dagobert [of the Franks], who was her friend; and there they both died in infancy, and were buried in the church with the honour due to royal children and to Christ’s innocents. He also brought with him many rich goods of King Edwin, among which were a large gold cross, and a golden chalice, consecrated to the service of the altar, which are still preserved, and shown in the church of Kent.
At that time the church of Rochester had no pastor, for Romanus, the bishop thereof, being sent on a mission to Pope Honorius by Archbishop Justus, was drowned in the Italian Sea; and thus Paulinus, at the request of Archbishop Honorius and King Eadbald, took upon him the charge of the same, and held it until he too, in his own time [on 10th October 644], ascended to the heavenly kingdom with the fruits of his glorious labours. In which church also, on his death, he left the pallium which he had received from the Pope of Rome. He had left behind him in his church at York, 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; and from him the village, where he chiefly dwelt, near Cataract, has its name to this day. He had great skill in singing in church, and when the province was afterwards restored to peace, and the number of the faithful increased, he began to teach church music to many, according to the custom of the Romans and the people of Kent. And being old and full of days, as the Scripture says, he went the way of his fathers.
HE II, 20

King of Bernicia

633 – 634  Eanfrith

Son of Æthelfrith.

King of Deira

633 – 634  Osric

Son of Ælfric.


Edwin being slain in battle [12th October 633], the kingdom of the Deirans, to which province his family belonged, and where he first began to reign, passed to Osric, the son of his uncle Ælfric, who, through the preaching of Paulinus, had also received the mysteries of the faith. But the kingdom of the Bernicians – for into these two provinces the nation of the Northumbrians was formerly divided – passed to Eanfrith, the son of Æthelfrith, who derived his origin from the royal family of that province. For all the time that Edwin reigned, the sons of the aforesaid Æthelfrith, who had reigned before him, with many of the younger nobility, lived in exile among the Scots or Picts, and were there instructed according to the doctrine of the Scots, and were renewed with the grace of baptism. Upon the death of the king, their enemy, they were allowed to return to their country, and the aforesaid Eanfrith, as the eldest of them, became king of the Bernicians. Both those kings, as soon as they obtained the government of their earthly kingdoms, abjured and betrayed the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom to which they had been admitted, and again delivered themselves up to defilement and perdition through the abominations of their former idolatry.
But soon after, the king of the Britons, Cædwalla [i.e. Cadwallon, king of Gwynedd], the unrighteous instrument of rightful vengeance, slew them both. First, in the following summer, he put Osric to death; for, being rashly besieged by him in the municipal town [presumably York is meant], 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 agreed by all who compute the dates of 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, 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 Denise [identified as Rowley Burn, near Hexham, Northumberland].
Northumbria/Mainline continued
Centre panel of the carpet page preceding St Matthew’s Gospel.
See Dark Ages.
Manuscripts B and C of the Chronicle do not have this entry. Instead, they feature a genealogy of Ida. Manuscript A also used to have the genealogy, but it was erased, at Canterbury, and replaced with the entry as per Manuscript E.
It is not likely that stone would have been used to build fortifications at Bamburgh during the Anglo-Saxon period.
Written on the badly damaged last leaf of Codex 178, in the Burgerbibliothek, Bern, Switzerland.
The king-list starts with Ida and concludes with Ceolwulf, the king to whom Bede dedicated his Historia Ecclesiastica. Quoting Bede’s date for the commencement of Ida’s reign, i.e. 547, the list provides no further dates, just the length (expressed in Roman numerals) of the succeeding kings’ reigns. Counting forward from 547, therefore, the dates can be calculated. Using such a king-list – working backward from a known date – is, no doubt, how Bede, who mentions none of the six kings listed below, arrived at the year 547 for the start of Ida’s reign in the first place.
The subsequent explanation of Ida’s twelve sons is defective in the Historia. It exists, however, in a number of early-12th century Latin texts.[*] Ida is said to have had six legitimate sons, who are named, and six illegitimate sons, also named. In the Historia, having said that Ida had twelve sons, and naming six of them (the names recognizably equate to the names of the legitimate sons in the 12th century texts), comes: “and one queen. bearnoch. ealric.”  This has been widely interpreted as meaning that Ida’s wife (and, therefore, mother of the six preceding sons) was called Bearnoch, with Ealric being the sole surviving name from the list of illegitimate sons. However, in the 12th century texts, the first two illegitimate sons listed are named Occ (and variants) and Alric, which might tend to suggest that Bearnoch is a phantom of the defective Historia text – bearn having become attached to the first name. In Old English bearn means ‘child’, ‘offspring’.
The Chronicon ex Chronicis, traditionally attributed to Florence of Worcester, and also in the miscellaneous collection of lists and genealogies that precede the chronicle proper.
Two texts associated with Durham at the time of Symeon of Durham: De Primo Saxonum Adventu, and Series Regum Northymbrensium.
Previously (§57), the Historia Brittonum had named Adda, Æthelric and Theodric as sons of Ida, but here (§63) Æthelric is actually said to be the son of Adda. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.a. 670, and again (but not Manuscript E) s.a. 685 – and the genealogy of King Ecgfrith (670–685) in the Anglian Collection present Æthelric as the son of Ida.
The mission of Pope Gregory I arrived in Kent in 597 (see: King Æthelberht). The highlighted statement is, therefore, incompatible with the date of Frithuwald’s reign (579–585) arrived at via Bede and the Moore Memoranda. Presumably the author of the Historia has made an error attempting to synchronize his sources.
To the author of the Historia Brittonum, “the enemy” are, of course, the English.
A Peredur is the eponymous hero of an Arthurian romance found in The Mabinogion. The story begins: “Earl Efrawg held an earldom in the North, and seven sons had he… And his seventh son was called Peredur [there is no mention of a Gwrgi].” (The late-12th century French poet Chrétien de Troyes was responsible for transforming this Peredur into, the Grail-seeking knight, Sir Percival.)  To the Romans, York was Eboracum, to the Britons it was Cair Ebrauc – listed as one of the “cities” of Britain in the Historia Brittonum.[*] Maybe a historical ‘Peredur of Ebrauc (York)’ has metamorphosed into a legendary ‘Peredur son of Efrawg’.
A “Peredur Longspear” is mentioned as one of Arthur’s counsellors in another of The Mabinogion stories, ‘The Dream of Rhonabwy’.
“Peredur of the steel weapons” features in the poem Y Gododdin (attributed to Aneirin). Peredur is killed in a disastrous British raid against the Anglo-Saxons of both Bernicia and Deira, by which token the events described in the poem are generally set round about the year 600 – early in the reign of Æthelfrith, the first king to rule both Bernicia and Deira.
Caitlin Corning discusses some theories and presents her own in her paper ‘The Baptism of Edwin, King of Northumbria: A New Analysis of the British Tradition’ (2000), freely available online (George Fox University).
The meaning is ambiguous – it isn’t clear whether the sons in question are Theodric’s or Urien’s.
David Rollason* writes: “It is conceivable that both traditions were right and that Edwin was really baptized twice, once by Rhun and a second time by Paulinus, and that the discrepancies in dating Easter between the British church and Paulinus (who followed the Roman method of dating Easter) made this double baptism possible and necessary. Nennius [i.e. the Historia Brittonum], however, appears to know nothing else about Rhun’s activities, so that it seems unlikely that a developed tradition about him existed. It seems in short much more likely that Nennius – or his informants – fabricated the information about Rhun in an attempt to give the British credit for Edwin’s conversion which they did not deserve.”
* Northumbria, 500-1100: Creation and Destruction of a Kingdom (2003), Chapter 4 (p.121).
Owain features in the Arthurian romances of The Mabinogion, and is the eponymous hero of Yvain, ou Le Chevalier au Lion (Yvain, or The Knight with the Lion) by medieval French poet Chrétien de Troyes.
The highlighted remark is not present in Chronicle Manuscripts B and C. In Manuscript A, a genealogy of Ælle (which features in Manuscripts B and C, but not in Manuscript E) was erased, at Canterbury, and replaced by the entry mentioning Ida’s death, as per Manuscript E.
The Annals of Tigernach seemingly confuses the names of the brother and the son of Æthelfrith – calling the brother Eanfrith instead of Theobald – but provides the information that Æthelfrith’s brother was killed by Mael Umai, the son of, a dead northern Irish king, Baetán.
The prefix Cair (Caer) means ‘the fort of’. Cair Ebrauc appears in a list of twenty-eight such “cities [civitates]” of Britain (not all of which are identifiable) featured in the Historia Brittonum (§66a). This complies with the statement made by Gildas (De Excidio Britanniae §3): “The Island of Britain … is ornamented with twenty-eight cities”.
The most widely disseminated translation of the Historia Brittonum is probably J.A. Giles’, first published in 1841. As far as possible, Dr Giles employed the translation made by W. Gunn, of a manuscript that the latter had found in the Vatican’s library, and published in 1819. This Vatican manuscript does not contain §§57–76, and, instead of the conventional list of 28 cities (§66a), the section on British, Irish and Pictish origins (§7) starts: “Here beginneth the history of the Britons, edited by Marcus the Anchorite, a holy bishop of that people. The island of Britain derives its name from Brutus, a Roman consul… It contains 33 cities [their names follow]”. Consequently, it is this version of the list that appears in the Giles translation.
Gregory died in 604, but Bede places his death in 605.
The Chronica Maiora (Greater Chronicle) is not a stand-alone work, but a component of De Temporum Ratione (On the Reckoning of Time) – written in 725 (which is, of course, before the Historia Ecclesiastica).
In the Historia Ecclesiastica Bede adopted the, now normal but in his time novel, method of dating based on the year of Christ’s incarnation (Anno Domini). In the Chronica Maiora, however, Bede had based his dates on the supposed year of the creation of the world (Anno Mundi).
This Deiran Æthelric is mentioned neither by Bede nor the Historia Brittonum. Bede does, though, mention a brother of Ælle called Ælfric (HE III, 1). D.P. Kirby* suggests that Æthelric may have been another brother.
* The Earliest English Kings Revised Edition (2000), Chapter 4 (p.57).
The highlighted section appears in Manuscript E only. In Manuscript A, the concluding phrase “of the Northumbrians” was added at Canterbury.
Bede (HE I, 34) says that an event dated 603 took place in the 11th year of Æthelfrith’s reign.
William of Malmesbury makes the two Æthelrics one and the same person. William follows the single Northumbrian line of succession suggested by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, i.e. Ida, having reigned fourteen years (though Bede and the Chronicle say twelve), was succeeded by Ælle, who reigned for thirty years: “On the death of Ælle, Æthelric the son of Ida, advanced to extreme old age, after a life consumed in penury, obtained the kingdom, and after five years was taken off by a sudden death. He was a pitiable prince, whom fame would have hidden in obscurity, had not the conspicuous energy of the son lifted up the father to notice.  When therefore, by a long old age, he had satisfied the desire of life, Æthelfrith, the elder of his sons, ascended the throne, and compensated the greenness of his years by the maturity of his conduct.” (GR I §§46–47).
The two Æthelrics are also equated in the Chronicon ex Chronicis, traditionally attributed to Florence of Worcester, s.a. 559, and similarly in the miscellaneous collection of lists and genealogies that precedes the Chronicon proper, but this is achieved by presenting an alternative Bernician king-list: “[in 559] Ælle began to reign in the province of Deira, and he governed it vigorously for nearly 30 years… Meanwhile, Adda, the eldest son of Ida, reigned over the Bernicians 7 years; Clappa 5; Theodwulf 1; Freothulf 7; Theodric 7; Æthelric 2, during Ælle’s lifetime. On the death of Ælle, and the expulsion from the kingdom of his son Edwin, Æthelric reigned 5 years over both provinces.”
Bede quotes a letter (HE I, 29) written by Gregory in 601, to the head of his mission in Britain, Augustine, in which the pope directs Augustine to “send to the city of York such a bishop as you shall think fit to ordain; yet so, that if that city, with the places adjoining, shall receive the Word of God, that bishop shall also ordain twelve bishops, and enjoy the honour of a metropolitan [i.e. he will be an archbishop]”.  Gregory’s plan was for there to be an archbishop based at London and another at York. As events panned out, however, Canterbury, not London, became the archbishop’s seat, and it wasn’t until 735 that York became a permanent archbishopric.
“Æthelfrith the Twister reigned twelve years in Bernicia and another twelve in Deira. He reigned twenty-four years between the two kingdoms.” (Historia Brittonum §63).
Manuscript E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes (s.a. 603): “Hering son of Hussa led the army hither.”  Presumably the Hussa mentioned here is the Hussa who was Æthelfrith’s predecessor as king of Bernicia. No doubt Hering’s plan was to take the Bernician throne himself.
Barbara Yorke* writes: “It appears that Æthelfrith invaded Deira in 604, killing its king (presumably Æthelric), sending Ælle’s son Edwin into exile and marrying Ælle’s daughter Acha.”  D.P. Kirby**, however, suggests: “It is not impossible that Æthelfrith gained victory [at Degsastan] solely with Bernician forces; traditional accounts of the battle could have exaggerated the size of Aedán’s army. Nevertheless, Deiran support would certainly help to explain what seems to have been a shattering defeat of the Scots… Against a background of possible Deiran–Bernician co-operation, the extension of Æthelfrith’s kingship over both territories appears as a formalization of a previous relationship… The expulsion of Edwin did not necessarily follow immediately and Æthelfrith’s hostility to his wife’s kinsmen probably manifested itself only by degrees.”  According to Bede (HE II, 12), Edwin had “wandered for many years as an exile” by 616.
* Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England (1990), Chapter 5 (p.77).
** The Earliest English Kings Revised Edition (2000), Chapter 4 (p.60).
Bede does not date the battle at Chester, but Manuscript E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle makes a faulty inference from Bede and places it s.a. 605. (The notice of the battle as in Manuscript E was added, at Canterbury, to Manuscript A s.a. 606.)  The battle is recorded in Irish annals, and, after adding the ‘standard’ one year correction, is dated 613 by the Annals of Ulster. The Annals of Ulster, though, is found to be two or three years early (after the standard correction), at least in some of its dating, around this period – for instance; the battle at Degsastan is dated 600, whilst Bede dates it 603; two deaths (Eanfrith and Cadwallon) dated 632 by the Annals of Ulster are placed in 634 by Bede. It is evident that the report of the battle at Chester in the Annales Cambriae and the reports in Irish annals are ultimately derived from the same source, and, similarly, a date of 613 is indicated for the battle by the Annales Cambriae. However, according to the Annals of Tigernach, Æthelfrith’s victory at Chester was shortly before his death, which, as will be seen, was in 616. The modern tendency, therefore, is to date the battle to about 615/16.
The Church had evidently survived the tumultuous times that saw Britannia abandoned by Rome and the influx of pagan Anglo-Saxons, and flourished in the areas that remained under British control. Bede accuses the Britons of making no attempt to convert the pagan newcomers: “To other crimes beyond description … they [the Britons] added this – that they never preached the faith to the Saxons or Angles who dwelt amongst them.” (HE I, 22).  When Pope Gregory’s missionaries arrived from Rome to convert the Anglo-Saxons, they found that the British Church was using rituals and practices that were not in line with current Roman custom.
The A-text of the Annales Cambriae says: “The battle of Caer Legion [Chester], and there fell Selyf son of Cynan. And Iago son of Beli slept [i.e. died].”  The deaths of Selyf and Iago are presented as two distinct events, which may, or may not, be related. The B-text, though, loses the distinction, stating that both Selyf and Iago “died with many others” at the battle of Chester, .
The Annales Cambriae indicate that the Welsh eventually adopted the Roman method of calculating Easter in 768: “Easter is changed among the Britons, Elfoddw, a man of God, emending it.”  Incidentally, Elfoddw, whose death is placed in 809 by the Annales, is the Elvodugus, of whom Nennius (purported author of the Historia Brittonum) claims to have been a pupil.
Manuscript E (the only Chronicle manuscript to record Æthelfrith’s demise and Edwin’s succession) places the event s.a. 617. A king-list in the Moore Memoranda and Bede, however, indicate it should be dated 616.
King-lists present sequences of rulers, with the length of each king’s reign typically given in a round number of years. As a result of this approximation, one would expect there to be ‘slippage’ between king-list years and calendar years. However, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reckons years in terms of ‘winters’, and it seems reasonable to speculate that a king’s reign was counted in a similar way – his years being notched-up (perhaps literally, on a tally-stick or suchlike, in pagan times) as he celebrated each Midwinter – so the king-list and the calendar would be locked together. Bede seems to have counted the first whole AD year following a king’s accession as his first regnal year, regardless of the actual date (if it was known to Bede) in the previous year he became king – the whole of that previous year being counted as his predecessors last regnal year (see Anno Domini). At any rate, Bede says the AD year 627 was the 11th year of Edwin’s reign (HE II, 14), and that Edwin had reigned for 17 years when he was killed on 12th October 633 (HE II, 20). The Moore Memoranda king-list also assigns Edwin a reign of 17 years.
Both Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his well known pseudo-history, Historia Regum Britanniae, published c.1139, and Reginald of Durham, in a Vita of, Æthelfrith’s son, St Oswald, written a little later, in 1165, say that Edwin was raised by Cadfan, king of Gwynedd, alongside his own son, Cadwallon. Cadfan was the son of Iago ap Beli, who died in the same year as, and possibly as a result of injuries received in, the battle fought between the Welsh and Æthelfrith at Chester in c.616. Cadwallon would eventually be Edwin’s nemesis.
At any rate, Geoffrey (XII, 1) is typically fanciful: Æthelfrith banished his pregnant wife; she found refuge with Cadfan; she gave birth to Edwin; a little later Cadfan’s son, Cadwallon, was born, and the boys were raised together. Reginald presents a different, more plausible (he at least gives Edwin the correct father), scenario: Æthelfrith killed Ælle, married Ælle’s daughter, and drove Ælle’s son, Edwin, into exile (Ch.27); Edwin was raised by Cadfan, alongside his own son, Cadwallon (Ch.9). The difference in the two scenarios might suggest that something a little more substantial than Geoffrey’s fertile imagination lies behind the notion that Edwin grew up in Gwynedd. The idea receives some support from a Welsh Triad, (26WR, from a mid-14th century manuscript, the White Book of Rhydderch) which speaks of Edwin as: “one of the Three Great Oppressions of Môn [Anglesey], nurtured therein.”
Manuscript E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle places the death of Justus and the consecration of Honorius in 627, but this would seem to be an unwarranted inference from HE. (Manuscript E’s entry s.a. 627 comprises a synopsis of the material presented by Bede in HE II, 14 & 16–19.) Honorius was, though, archbishop of Canterbury when Felix arrived in Britain, which was, at the latest, in 631 (see Sigeberht, king of the East Angles).
Gwallawg is the subject of two poems attributed to the 6th century bard Taliesin – in one he seems (depending on interpretation) to be called “judge over Elmet”. Also, the version of a Welsh Triad – “Three Lovers’ Horses of the Island of Britain” (No. 41) – that appears in the Red Book of Hergest (c.1400), refers to the horse of “Ceredig son of Gwallawg”. The Historia Brittonum mentions (§63) a king of Elmet called Certic. If Ceredig and Certic are one and the same person, then Gwallawg should be king of Elmet.
Whilst the existence of Elmet is evidenced by the Historia Brittonum and by Bede, Rheged is known only from Welsh literary sources, notably poems attributed to Taliesin. Elmet can be placed in the vicinity of Leeds with considerable confidence – its name lives on in the place names Barwick-in-Elmet and Sherburn-in-Elmet, to the east of Leeds. Scholars generally site Rheged (Old Welsh: Reget) in modern-day Dumfries & Galloway and Cumbria (and sometimes in Lancashire also), which it may well have been, but the evidence is actually rather slight. There is a 12th century Welsh poem (Gorhoffedd Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd) which seems to place Carlisle in Rheged. Another Welsh poem – found in the so-called Book of Taliesin (Peniarth MS 2, early-14th century), but written long after Taliesin’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.)
The Annales Cambriae indicate that in 616: “Ceretic died.”  It is generally supposed that this Ceretic is the King Certic who was expelled from Elmet by Edwin. If so, his demise would appear to have been placed too early – the previous entry, recording the battle at Chester, is evidently placed 2 or 3 years early. As it is, the start of Edwin’s reign is placed in the year after Ceretic’s death.
Later (HE II, 9), Bede recaps, noting: “he [Edwin] even subjected to the English the Mevanian islands, as has been said above. The first, which is to the southward [i.e. Anglesey], is the larger in extent, and more fruitful, containing nine hundred and 60 families, according to the English computation; the second contains above three hundred.”
See also: Eadbald.
An earlier version of this ‘Angels’ anecdote appears in an anonymous Latin ‘Life’ of Gregory the Great – evidently written between 704 and 714, at Whitby – but the indications are that Bede had no knowledge of this work, and received his story via a different route.
The Historia Brittonum (§61) identifies Bede’s “Cædwalla, king of the Britons” (Caedualla rex Brettonum) as “Cadwallon, king of the region of Gwynedd” (Catguollauni regis Guendote regionis). That Edwin’s nemesis was indeed the king of Gwynedd is pretty much universally accepted. However, Alex Woolf* has argued that this is a mistake produced by the Historia Brittonum author’s inability to accurately synchronize his various sources, and suggests that Bede’s Cædwalla was in fact a northern British king, “a neighbour to both Deira and Bernicia”.
* ‘Caedualla Rex Brettonum and the Passing of the Old North’, in Northern History Vol. 41 Issue 1 (2004).
In fact, the only surviving manuscript of the Whitby ‘Life’ was copied-out on the Continent (it is preserved in the Abbey Library of Saint Gall, Switzerland), probably in the early-9th century. Obviously Rædwald was king of the East Angles, but it appears in the manuscript as Uuestanglorum (West Angles). Presumably a scribe failed to register his slip-up due to an unfamiliarity with English affairs.
It is generally supposed that Rhun’s father, Urien, was the same Urien who had ruled the British kingdom of Rheged. (See above, left.)
The ‘master’ manuscript of the ‘Nennian recension’ of the Historia Brittonum (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 139) claims that Rhun son of Urien and Paulinus were one and the same person. Clearly, they weren’t.
Crop marks revealed by aerial photography suggest that the site of Mælmin is near the village of Milfield, a couple of miles to the north of Yeavering.
The pedigree of a king of Lindsey called Aldfrith appears in the Anglian Collection, but the date of his reign cannot be securely dated (he probably flourished in the late-7th/early-8th century). Though Blæcca, who Bede describes as praefectus (prefect) of Lincoln, does not feature, his name alliterates with some names in the pedigree. It seems reasonable to suppose that Blæcca was a member of the royal house of Lindsey, indeed, he may even have been king. (In the Old English translation of HE, produced round-about 900, praefectus is translated as ‘reeve’.)
The pallium: a white, scarf-like, vestment worn by the pope, and bestowed by him on archbishops as a symbol of delegated papal authority.
In a well known passage, Bede (HE II, 13) puts words into the mouth of one of Edwin’s chief-men:
“The present life of man upon earth, 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 house wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your ealdormen and thegns, while the fire blazes in the midst, and the hall is warmed, but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad. The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry tempest; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter into winter again. So this life of man appears for a little while, but of what is to follow or what went before we know nothing at all. If, therefore, this new doctrine tells us something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”  The other elders and king’s counsellors, by Divine prompting, spoke to the same effect.
Rhos – lying between the rivers Conwy and Clwyd – is a region of Gwynedd.
Triad 62 offers its own explanation as to why these war-bands were “fettered”: seemingly in a death-or-glory gesture, the men shackled their own feet with their horse-fetters to fight. However, in their written form the Triads are late, and Rachel Bromwich* argues that this explanation is a late, and incorrect, addition, and that originally the reference was not to horse-fetters but to worn insignia, such as torques.
* Trioedd Ynys Prydein (The Triads of the Island of Britain) Third Edition (2006), pp.32–3, 176–7.
Cefn Digoll (English name: Long Mountain) is a hill near Welshpool.
Glannauc, a small island off the south-eastern point of Anglesey, is known by several names: Priestholm, Puffin Island, Ynys Seiriol.
The Annales Cambriae place the battle in which Edwin died in the year after the siege of Glannauc. Since Bede dates the battle 633, rather than 630 as indicated by the Annales, the siege of Glannauc should perhaps be dated to 632. The indicated date, 627, of Belyn’s death (presumably this is Belyn of Llŷn, the Annales don’t say) is also probably too early – the previous annal records Edwin’s baptism, which was in 627.
Hæthfelth = ‘Heath-field’. Bede’s “plain that is called Hæthfelth” is traditionally and usually identified with Hatfield Chase, to the east of Doncaster – though a location a little further south, near Edwinstowe, meaning “Edwin’s holy-place”, has its devotees.
The Historia Brittonum (§61) and the Annales Cambriae both name the battle site Meicen. Meicen is an earlier form of Meigen, which Triad 55 places in Powys, and the poem Marwnad Cadwallon links with a battle fought by Cadwallon (his opponent is not named) near the river Severn and Dygen (Dygen Freiddyn evidently being the ancient name for Breidden Hill, near Welshpool). The Whitby ‘Life’ of Gregory the Great (which predates even Bede), however, tells a story (§§18–19) whereby Edwin’s bones were later recovered from “that region called Hæthfelth [Hedfled]” – a resident of a certain village in Lindsey (the anonymous author says his informant couldn’t remember the village’s name), a man called Teoful, knew where the remains were buried – and taken to Whitby. Clearly, Lindsey (north Lincolnshire) is nowhere near the borders of Powys, and it seems somewhat unlikely that Cadwallon fought at two places with the same Welsh name, so perhaps the name of Meigen has become erroneously associated with Hæthfelth.
The Historia Brittonum (§61) and the Annales Cambriae say that Edwin and his two sons were killed in the battle (the sons are named by the Historia: Osfrith and Eadfrith), which was, of course, not the case.
Hereric had two daughters of historical significance. Hereswith married into the East Anglian royal family and was mother of King Aldwulf. Hild (St Hilda) was the first abbess of the monastery (a double monastery, i.e. one having communities of both men and women) at Whitby.
Henry of Huntingdon provides detail of the battle which might be derived from a, now lost, Old English poem on famous battles (see Rædwald).
This last sentence is, of course, Bede’s addition
See Anno Domini.
Ambrones is generally interpreted as a derogatory nickname for the Anglo-Saxons, meaning ‘robbers’ – Gildas uses the term to describe the marauding Picts and Scots (De Excidio Britanniae §16). However, the Historia Brittonum uses the word twice, both times specifically in relation to the Northumbrians (here and in §57), and some scholars suggest Ambrones = Umbrones, i.e. ‘Humber people’.
Manuscript E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (s.a. 617) and the Historia Brittonum (§57) both name Æthelfrith’s seven sons: Eanfrith, Oswald, Oswiu, Oslac, Oswudu, Oslaf and Offa. (The Historia Brittonum uses different forms of the names of course, and has a garbled name, Osguid, instead of Oslac.) Clearly, the name of the eldest, Eanfrith, does not alliterate with the rest. Bede (HE III, 6) identifies Acha as the mother of Oswald, so it seems highly likely that Eanfrith had a different mother – possibly Bebba, after whom Bamburgh was named.
Bede is widely credited with coining the term Northumbria, but Bernicia and Deira probably derived their names from the British territories which they superseded.
In fact, no early source says where the border between Bernicia and Deira lay. Indirect evidence, however (discussed by P. Hunter Blair*), strongly indicates that the Tees formed the boundary.
* ‘The Boundary Between Bernicia and Deira’, Archaeologia Aeliana Series 4, Vol. 27 (1949), freely available online.
Presumably Edwin’s head was removed to prevent it being paraded by the victors, which is precisely what one of the five surviving lines from a Welsh poem of uncertain antiquity, Gofara Braint (The Flooding of the Braint River), claims happened: “The head of Edwin came to the court at Aberffraw [on Anglesey]”.
The Whitby ‘Life’ of Gregory the Great (§§18–19) tells how, during the reign in Mercia of Æthelred (Penda’s son), Edwin’s bones were recovered from their makeshift burial place in “that region called Hæthfelth”, taken to the monastery at Whitby, and buried “with other of our Kings, in the church of St Peter, prince of the apostles, to the south of that altar which is hallowed in the name of blessed Peter, apostle, and to the east of that which is hallowed to St Gregory in that same church.”  There is no mention that the head was missing. Bede later (HE III, 24) makes a passing reference to Edwin having been buried at Whitby, but makes no further comment about his head.
See The Early Kingdoms of Wales.
When Pope Gregory’s missionaries arrived from Rome to undertake the task of converting the pagan English, they found that the long established British Church (which, says Bede, had made no attempt to take Christianity to the English) was using rituals and practices that were not in line with current Roman custom – the main disagreement concerned the proper way to calculate Easter. The missionaries tried to persuade British churchmen to adopt Roman ways and join them in their work. The Britons, however, remained aloof and retained their own traditions.
British Library MS Cotton Nero D iv, view online.
Dutigirn in the manuscripts. This cannot be right, and it is generally accepted that Outigirn – Eudeyrn in modern Welsh – is meant.
Din Guayrdi in §61. Din Guoaroy in §63, where it is identified as Bamburgh. The correct form is not certain.
In 1963 D.P. Kirby published a theory that Bede got the reign-length of the later Northumbrian king, Ecgfrith, wrong, which had the knock-on effect of making his back-calculated dates one year too early (“Bede and Northumbrian Chronology”, The English Historical Review Vol. 78 No. 308). As will be seen, Bede places Edwin’s death in October 633, but Kirby places it in October 634, by which token Pope Honorius would have been writing during Edwin’s lifetime. Kirby reflected his theory in The Earliest English Kings (Revised Edition, 2000), but otherwise it has evidently found few adherents – indeed, it is comprehensively dismantled by Susan Wood (“Bede’s Northumbrian Dates Again”, The English Historical Review Vol. 98 No. 387, 1983).
There is evidence which raises the possibility that St Cuthbert’s body did not lie at Chester-le-Street as Symeon of Durham says.
See St Cuthbert’s Journey to Durham.
Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum
(Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation).
Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu istius, hoc est Dunhelmensis, Ecclesie (Tract on the Origins and Progress of this the Church of Durham).
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.
The scribe who wrote the earliest extant manuscript of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica (a manuscript known as the Moore Bede), added a short (just eight lines) chronological text, known as the Moore Memoranda, on the reverse of the last page. In the Memoranda some past events are related to the year 737, which suggests both it and the copy of the Historia Ecclesiastica were produced in that year.
The Anglian Collection of royal genealogies is found in four manuscripts, the oldest of which (British Library MS Cotton Vespasian B vi) was written in Mercia in the early-9th century.
Triads are linked threesomes – mainly of people or events – that, it is thought, were a device used by medieval bards to enable them to commit narrative detail to memory. Collections of Welsh Triads exist in a number of manuscripts – the earliest from the 13th century. Rachel Bromwich brought them together in Trioedd Ynys Prydein (The Triads of the Island of Britain), first published in 1961.
Gesta Regum Anglorum
(Deeds of the Kings of England).
Between references to, the Bernician kings, Ida (547–559) and his son, Adda (560–568), the Historia Brittonum notes (§62): “Then Talhaearn Tad Awen [Talhaearn Father of the Muse] was famed in poetry; and Aneirin and Taliesin and Blwchfardd and Cian, who is called Gwenith Gwawd [Wheat of Song], were all simultaneously famed in British poetry.”  Examples of the work of only Taliesin and Aneirin have survived.
Henry, archdeacon of Huntingdon, first produced his Historia Anglorum (History of the English) about 1130. He later revisited the work – revising and extending – several times. The final version concludes with the accession of Henry II in 1154.