642. Cynegils of Wessex dies (?)
Cenwealh, Cynegils's son, succeeds to Wessex

Bede notes that Cenwealh refused the Christian faith which his father had accepted (HE, iii.7), and goes on to relate how he lost his earthly kingdom as well. He had been married to Penda's sister, and when he cast her aside Penda drove him into exile for three years (645-8). He took refuge at the court of Anna of the East Angles, and became a Christian there. After Cenwealh's restoration, a Frankish bishop called Agilbert who had been studying in Ireland came to the West Saxon court, and was pressed to stay on as bishop for the West Saxons. (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle dates Agilbert's appointment to 650.) This arrangement continued for many years, until Cenwealh appointed a new bishop at Winchester, where he ordered that a minster be built (see entry on 660), and Agilbert retired to Gaul.

The name of Penda's sister, Cenwealh's earlier wife, is not recorded. He later married a woman called Seaxburh, about whom very little is known, but she ruled the West Saxons for a year after his death in 672. He fought battles in 652 (perhaps a civil strife), 658 (against the Britons), and 661 (against Wulfhere of Mercia). He seems to have shared his authority with Cuthred, son of his brother Cwichelm (see entry on 648), and also with Cenberht, father of Cædwalla, who is called King Cenberht in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle when it notes his death in 661. Bede reports that Cenwealh suffered heavy losses at the hands of his enemies, and it was this which led him to ask Agilbert to come back as bishop of the West Saxons, which led to Agilbert sending his nephew Leuthere (HE, iii.7); the only record of these losses in the Chronicle is the note of Wulfhere of Mercia's raid on Ashdown in 661, but this might well have been part of a prolonged campaign.

August 5, 642. Battle of Maserfelth: Penda of Mercia kills Oswald of Northumbria
Oswine succeeds to Deira, Oswiu succeeds to Bernicia

Described at Bede, HE, iii.9.

645. Penda of Mercia drives Cenwealh of Wessex into exile for three years
Cenwealh takes refuge with Anna of the East Angles, and becomes Christian

Bede associates Cenwealh's exile with his repudiation of his wife, Penda's sister, and notes that Cenwealh spent three years at the court of Anna of the East Angles, and became a Christian there (HE, iii.7). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle repeats some of this under the year 658, and also tracks Cenwealh's exile, noting that he was exiled in 645, baptized in 646, and granting land near Ashdown in Berkshire (i.e., back in power in Wessex) in 648.

648. Cenwealh of Wessex grants Ashdown to nephew Cuthred

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that in 648, Cenwealh gave to his kinsman Cuthred (son of his brother Cwichelm) 3,000 hides of land near Ashdown. This grant is worth mentioning because 3,000 hides would probably be a small kingdom: according to Bede, Mercia in the 650s totalled only 12,000 hides (HE, iii.24). In the Chronicle's note of the grant of Ashdown we should probably see Cenwealh admitting Cuthred to some kind of subkingship or joint kingship, just as Cwichelm seems to have been seen as a king (by the Northumbrians at least) in his father Cynegils's reign.(Bede, HE, ii.9, and see entry on 626). No more is known of Cuthred until the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records his death in 661, when Wulfhere of Mercia was harrying Ashdown.

August 20, 651. Oswine of Deira killed, on orders of Oswiu of Bernicia
Oswiu of Bernicia succeeds to all Northumbria

Bede notes (HE, iii.14) that Oswiu of Bernicia could not live at peace with Oswine of Deira. The reasons are not given, but the causes of dissension increased so greatly that Oswiu resolved to make an end of Oswine, and they both raised armies. Oswine, realising that his was much the smaller army, decided to avoid the battle and wait for a better time. He disbanded his forces and went to hide in the home of a lord called Hunwold. Hunwold, unfortunately for Oswine, betrayed him to Oswiu, who ordered the killing of the Deiran king, a sentence carried out by the reeve Æthlewine at a place near Gilling. Bede adds that Eanflæd, Oswiu's queen, later ordered that a monastery be built there, to say prayers for both the murdered Oswine and Oswiu who had ordered the killing.

Bede adds that Oswiu's rule over all Northumbria was very troubled (laboriosissime), involving attacks by the Mercians and by his son Alhfrith and nephew Æthelwald (HE, iii.14). Æthelwald was able to grant some land to St Cedd in Deira after 651, and may have held the whole Deiran sub-kingdom (Bede, HE, iii.23, is ambiguous); but he was probably removed after his involvement in the battle of Winwæd in 655, when he was supposed to be helping the Mercian Penda against his uncle Oswiu, but in the event sat out the battle in a place of safety (Bede, HE, iii.24). His life expectancy after thus betraying two major lords would be short regardless of which of them caught up with him first, and he disappears from the record.

Alhfrith is associated with his father in rule at the time of the battle of Winwæd and in the preliminaries which led to the council of Whitby in 664 (Bede, HE, iii.24-5). On two other occasions, Alhfrith is explicitly called king (HE, iii.28 and v.9), though this is presumably still under Oswiu's overall authority: where HE, iii.28 says that King Alhfrith sent Wilfrid to be consecrated in Gaul, Stephen's Life of Bishop Wilfrid associates this decision with both kings (chapter 12). Though Bede mentions that Alhfrith attacked his father Oswiu (HE, iii.14), no details of any lasting disagreement have survived: it is true that Oswiu started out on the Irish side of the Easter question, whereas Alhfrith, a student of Wilfrid's, was on the Roman side, but this will have been resolved by the Synod of Whitby in 664. It is assumed that a disagreement escalated to blows some time after 664, the time of the last datable reference to Alhfrith and a point at which he is still acting in harmony with his father, but what that disagreement was remains a mystery.

652. Cenwealh of Wessex fights at Bradford-on-Avon

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes only that Cenwealh fought at Bradford, without mentioning whom Cenwealh was fighting or who won. Æthelweard, in his Latin version of the Chronicle, notes that it was a civil war, and the location of Bradford makes it plausible that this was a fight between Cenwealh and Cuthred. (Bradford is west of Ashdown, and may well have been within the 3,000 hides near Ashdown that Cenwealh granted Cuthred in 648.) William of Malmesbury in the 12th century does not clearly refer to this battle, but he mentions two battles Cenwealh fought against the British, one at Vortigern's burg and one at Penne (GRA, i.19.2): the battle at Penne is clearly Cenwealh's fight against the British in 658 (at Peonnan), and it may be that the fight at Vortigern's burg is a confused reference to the fight in 652 (but see 665 for another possibility).

R. Mynors and others, William of Malmesbury: Gesta Regum Anglorum (Oxford: 1998)

653. Penda of Mercia makes his son Peada king of the Middle Angles
Peada accepts Christianity from Oswiu of Northumbria and marries Alhflæd

Bede notes that Penda of Mercia installed his worthy son Peada on the throne of the kingdom of the Middle Angles (HE, iii.21). Peada then went to Oswiu of Northumbria, and asked for the hand of his daughter Alhflæd. Oswiu would only consent on condition that Peada become Christian, which he promptly did. Bede adds that Oswiu's son Alhfrith, who was also Peada's friend and brother-in-law (Alhfrith had married Peada's sister Cyneburh), earnestly encouraged Peada to accept the new faith. In his chronological summary (HE, v.24), Bede dates the conversion of the Middle Angles under Peada to 653, and this is followed by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Peada's alliance with the Northumbrians looks like a clever political move, because he was allowed to keep southern Mercia as a kinsman of Oswiu after the Mercian defeat at Winwæd in 655. However, if there is any truth to the rumour that his Northumbrian wife was responsible for his murder the following year (see entry on 655), this was clearly a mixed blessing.

c.653. Sigiberht of Essex accepts Christianity from Oswiu of Northumbria
Oswiu sends Cedd to preach to the East Saxons

Bede says that the conversion of the East Saxon king Sigiberht took place at about the same time as that of Peada of the Middle Angles (HE, iii.22). Bede adds that Sigiberht (sometimes called Sigiberht "the Good"), was the successor of another Sigiberht, called "the Small". This Sigiberht "the Small" presumably succeeded to the East Anglian kingdom some time after the deaths of the three sons of Sæberht in about 616; if there were other intervening kings, their names have not survived.

Bede notes that Sigiberht ["the Good"] often visited Oswiu in Northumbria, and that Oswiu for a long time argued that he should accept the faith. It is likely, though Bede does not mention this, that political overlordship was being urged on Sigiberht as well, and that this might not have been so unwelcome for a small southern kingdom in the glory days of Penda of Mercia. At any rate, Sigeberht, won over finally by arguments and supported by the consent of his friends, finally believed in the new faith. He then (like Edwin of Northumbria before him) called a meeting of his followers to hear their views; when they all agreed to accept the faith, he was baptized with them by Bishop Finan at the Northumbrian royal estate Ad Murum (perhaps Wallbottle?).

Sigiberht returned to Essex, and asked Oswiu to send him teachers to convert his people. Oswiu summoned Cedd from the kingdom of the Middle Angles, and sent him and another priest to preach to the East Saxons. Cedd travelled through the whole kingdom, and after his work prospered he was made a bishop by Bishop Finan in Lindisfarne. Cedd built churches throughout the kingdom, but the two most important were at Bradwell-on-Sea and Tilbury, where he gathered Christians and taught them to observe the discipline of a Rule. (Parts of St Peter's church in Bradwell still date back to the 7th century.)

653?664. Sigiberht of Essex murdered by his kinsmen
Swithhelm succeeds to Essex

Bede notes that for a long time after Sigiberht's conversion all was well, but that Sigiberht was eventually murdered by his own kinsmen, for being too ready to pardon his enemies (HE, iii.22). This death cannot be dated, but was presumably some years after the conversion in about 653, and before the death of Sigiberht's successor Swithhelm in about 664. Bede notes that Swithhelm was the son of Seaxbald, and Seaxbald was perhaps the (otherwise unnamed) third son of Sæberht (see Yorke, p. 52).

Bede adds that Swithhelm was baptised by Cedd in East Anglia, sponsored by King Æthelwold of East Anglia (q.v.). The fact that Swithhelm received Christianity from a neighbouring king and not with the rest of the East Saxon nobility under Sigiberht may suggest that Swithhelm started his reign as a pagan, but it might equally be that he was in exile in East Anglia during Sigiberht's reign.

B. Yorke, Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England (London: 1990)

654. Penda of Mercia kills Anna of the East Angles
Æthelhere, Anna's brother, succeeds to East Anglia

Bede notes that Anna was slain by Penda (HE, iii.18), and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle provides the date 654. It may be that Anna had protested or attacked when Penda made his son Peada ruler of the Middle Angles in 653, or perhaps Penda anticipated that Anna would attack and moved first. Bede notes that Æthelhere was Anna's brother and successor (HE, iii.24), though he died at the battle of Winwæd in 655.

November 15, 655. Battle of Winwæd: Oswiu of Northumbria kills Penda of Mercia

This battle, described at Bede, HE, iii.24, was to be the final settling of scores between the Northumbrians and Penda of Mercia.

November 15, 655. Æthelhere of East Anglia dies
Æthelwold, Æthelhere's brother, succeeds to East Anglia (?)

Bede notes Æthelhere's fall among the thirty royal ealdormen who were supporting Penda at Winwæd (HE, iii.24). The Colgrave-Mynors translation gives the impression that Æthelhere of the East Angles was the cause of the war, but another possible reading which seems more plausible would attribute auctor ipse belli ("the cause of the war himself") to Penda rather than to Æthelhere, and this is the reading followed by Whitelock (EHD, p.693).

We know from Bede (HE, iii.22) that Æthelwold, another brother of Anna and Æthelhere, ruled the East Angles at some point after Anna (and, presumably, Æthelhere) and that during his reign he stood sponsor to the baptism of Swithhelm of the East Saxons. Swithhelm died c.664, and we know that a nephew of Anna and Æthelhere and Æthelwold, Ealdwulf, started ruling in 662/3, so it seems reasonable to assume that Æthelwold ruled 655-662/3, though there is no hard evidence for these dates.

Since Oswiu of Northumbria ruled directly over part of Mercia in 655-8, and Æthelhere of East Anglia was acting as an ally of the Mercians in 655, it may be that Oswiu sent some of his ealdormen to rule over East Anglia for a time as well. Another possibility, since Oswiu had married Edwin's daughter Eanflæd (HE, iii.15) and Æthelwold's brother was married to one of Edwin's grand-nieces (see entry on 662/3), is that Oswiu allowed Æthelwold to rule over the East Angles because of their kinship, just as he allowed Peada to rule over part of Mercia because he was a kinsman.

655-8. Oswiu of Northumbria is overlord of the Mercians

Bede notes (HE, iii.24) that after the battle of Winwæd, Oswiu of Northumbria ruled over Mercia, as well as the rest of the southern kingdoms, for three years. He gave the kingdom of Southern Mercia into the keeping of Penda's son Peada, because he was a kinsman, and sent Northumbrian ealdormen to control Northern Mercia. Peada was murdered in the spring of 656, apparently with the treacherous involvement of his wife, and then presumably the Northumbrian ealdorman took over all of Mercia.

657. Foundation of Whitby

658. Northumbrian ealdormen expelled from Mercia
Wulfhere, Penda's son, succeeds to Mercia

Bede notes (HE, iii.24) that three years after Winwæd the ealdormen of the Mercians, named as Immin, Eafa, and Eadberht, rebelled against King Oswiu, expelled his ealdormen, and set up Penda's young son Wulfhere as king in their stead.

Wulfhere was no more content to stay within the bounds of Mercia than his father Penda had been, and large parts of Southumbrian England fell under his sway. In 661 Wulfhere conquered the Isle of Wight and the province of the Meonware in Hampshire and gave them as baptismal gifts to Æthelwealh of the South Saxons, which implies he was in a position of authority over the South Saxons. In the same year he harried the West Saxons (see entry on 661), and Bede's comment that Cenwealh suffered serious losses at the hands of his enemies (HE, iii.7) suggests we have only a very incomplete account of West Saxon / Mercian relations for the period. Mercian encroachment on West Saxon territory is confirmed by the fact that after Dorchester-on-Thames was abandoned as a West Saxon see it served as a Mercian bishopric instead (see entry on 660). Wulfhere's control over the East Saxons is made explicit c.664, when Bede notes the East Saxon kings are under Wulfhere's overlordship and shortly afterwards when Wulfhere sells Wine the see of London, which had been the East Saxon capital. The kings of the Hwicce witness charters as sub-kings of Wulfhere in the 670s (see entry on c.670-c.790), and Lindsey seems also to have been under Wulfhere's control until he lost it to Ecgfrith of Northumbria in a battle towards the end of his reign (see entry on c.627-731 for Lindsey, and 670?675 for the battle with Ecgfrith). A charter of 672?674 (S 1165) shows that Wulfhere was also the overlord of Surrey in the 670s, though Ecgberht of Kent (664-73) had controlled Surrey at some earlier point. In the last year of his reign, Wulfhere fought Æscwine of the West Saxons (see entry on 675). He died in 675.

658. Cenwealh of Wessex puts the Britons to flight in Somerset

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Cenwealh fought the Britons at Peonnan, and drove them in flight as far as the Parrett (in Somerset). Peonnan remains unidentified, as pen (British for "a hill") is very common in west country place-names: arguments have been advanced for Penselwood (near the Wiltshire-Somerset border), Pinhoe (Devon), and Penn (near Yeovil; see further Yorke, p.53).

B. Yorke, Wessex in the Early Middle Ages (London: 1995)

660. West Saxon see transferred to Winchester

Bede tells that the see of Winchester arose when Cenwealh of Wessex grew tired of Agilbert's "barbarous speech" and divided the kingdom into two dioceses, appointing to the new episcopal seat at Winchester a bishop called Wine, who had also been consecrated in Gaul but who spoke the king's own language. Bede records that Agilbert retired in high dudgeon to Gaul, where he ended his days as bishop of Paris (HE, iii.7), though he was in Northumbria for the Synod of Whitby in 664.

Since Agilbert had had ten years to learn to speak West Saxon (the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes his arrival in 650), and since Cenwealh later appointed Agilbert's nephew Leuthere with no apparent aural ill effects (HE, iii.7), Bede's explanation for the move of the diocese to Winchester is not entirely convincing. It is more likely that Mercian expansion brought Dorchester-on-Thames dangerously close to the Mercian border: Wulfhere was raiding Ashdown (and would have passed Dorchester on the way) in 661, and at some point after the West Saxon departure, Dorchester was briefly a Mercian bishopric (see Yorke, Wessex, p.172).

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes under Cenwealh's accession that he had a minster at Winchester built and dedicated to St Peter. (This would become known as the Old Minster after the foundation of the New Minster in 901, and would be demolished in 1093 after the construction of the Norman cathedral.) One late manuscript of the Chronicle puts the foundation in 648, but as Barbara Yorke argues, this is probably part of later Winchester mythology (by which Cenwealh was carrying out his father's wishes and founded the church at the earliest possible moment, which would be his return from exile, newly Christian, in 648), and it is suspicious that the date does not appear before the late 11th century (see Yorke, "Foundation", pp.77-8). It seems more likely that the minster was built c.660, when the West Saxon bishopric was moved to Winchester.

M. Biddle (ed.), Winchester in the Early Middle Ages: An Edition and Discussion of the Winton Domesday, Winchester Studies, 1 (Oxford: 1976) [pp.306-8 give a brief history of the Old Minster]

B. Yorke, "Foundation of the Old Minster, Winchester", Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society 38 (1982), pp.75-83

B. Yorke, Wessex in the Early Middle Ages (London: 1995)

661. Cenwealh of Wessex fights at Posentesburg
Wulfhere of Mercia harries on Ashdown; Cuthred and Cenberht of Wessex killed

Nothing more is known of Cenwealh's fight at Posentesburg, recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, though an identification with Posbury, Devon, has been suggested (EHD, footnote). If this identification is accepted, Wulfhere was perhaps taking advantage of Cenwealh's absence in the southwest to raid Ashdown, which Cenwealh had given to his nephew Cuthred; the Chronicle adds that Cuthred and King Cenberht died in the same year.

661. Wulfhere of Mercia conquers Isle of Wight, gives it to Æthelwealh of Sussex

Bede (HE, iv.13) notes that Æthelwealh of Sussex was baptized with the sponsorship of Wulfhere of Mercia, and in token of this relationship Wulfhere gave Æthelwealh the territories of Wight and of the Meonware in adjacent southern Hampshire. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle dates Wulfhere's conquest and gift of the Isle of Wight to 661, though it calls the South Saxon king "Æthelwold". South Saxon rule over Wight lasted only about twenty years, as Cædwalla of Wessex would kill Æthelwealh and ravage the Isle of Wight in the 680s (see entries on c.680?685, 686-7).

662/3. Æthelwold of East Anglia dies (?)
Ealdwulf, nephew of Æthelwold, succeeds to East Anglia

As noted above under 655, the dates for Æthelwold of East Anglia are uncertain.

We are much better informed about Ealdwulf of East Anglia. The East Anglian genealogy calls him the son of Æthelric, the son of Eni (so Æthelric was the brother of three earlier rulers, Anna, Æthelhere, and Æthelwold), and Bede notes that Ealdwulf's mother was Hereswith, who was the sister of Hild (the famous abbess of Whitby who discovered Cædmon's gift for religious song), and daughter of the nephew of Edwin of Northumbria (HE, iv.23). We know also that Ealdwulf had a son Ælfwald, listed in the East Anglian genealogy and king of the East Angles after him, and a daughter Ecgburh, abbess of an unnamed monastery according to Felix's Life of St Guthlac, chapter 48.

The date when Ealdwulf started to reign is established from the fact that he is one of the four kings to witness the synodal book of Theodore's Synod of Hatfield (September 17, 679), and it is noted that he does this in the seventeenth year of his reign (HE, iv.17), so his rule must have started in the twelve months after September 17, 662. Ealdwulf died in 713.

B. Colgrave, Felix's Life of St Guthlac (Cambridge: 1956)

D. Dumville, "The Anglian collection of royal genealogies and regnal lists", Anglo-Saxon England 5 (1976), pp.23-50 [e.g. p.31 for Ealdwulf of East Anglia]

664. Eclipse and plague

Bede (HE, iii.27) reports in 664 an eclipse and a sudden pestilence which raged far and wide in southern Britain, Northumbria, and Ireland.

c.664. Swithhelm of Essex dies
Sigehere and Sæbbi succeed to Essex, under overlordship of Wulfhere of Mercia

The date of Swithhelm's death and the accession of Sigehere and Sæbbi is uncertain, though as Bede mentions it in the context of the plague of 664 (HE, iii.30), it is tempting to date it to this year. Bede also notes that Sigehere and Sæbbi were subject to the Mercian king Wulfhere.

Mercian overlordship is clearly shown when bishop Wine buys the see of London from Wulfhere of Mercia (Bede, HE, iii.7), even though London is ostensibly the East Saxon capital. (This transaction is not dated, but it is probably shortly after 664: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says Wine held the bishopric of the West Saxons for three years from 660, though he was still bishop of the West Saxons when he consecrated St Chad in 664, see HE, iii.28, and ASC 664).

664. Synod of Whitby

Bede (at HE, iii.25, giving the date 664 at iii.26) and Stephen of Ripon (a much briefer note at Life of Bishop Wilfrid, chapter 10) record an assembly at Whitby to settle the question of the proper method of calculating the date of Easter. Present were Hild, abbess of Whitby, king Oswiu and his son Alhfrith, Colman, bishop of Lindisfarne, with his Irish clergy, and Agilbert, former bishop of the West Saxons, with the priests Agatho and Wilfrid. For a concise discussion of the debate, see W. M. Stevens's article in the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England. In a nutshell, Wilfrid championed the Roman method of calculation while Colman championed the Irish method. King Oswiu declared in favour of the Roman method and so it was adopted as the standard, and Colman and his followers went back to Iona.

K. Harrison, The Framework of Anglo-Saxon History to AD 900 (Cambridge: 1976)

July 14, 664. Earconberht of Kent dies
Ecgberht (I) succeeds to Kent

665. Second Battle of Badon (?)

This battle is recorded in the Annales Cambriae, but not in any of the English sources. Sims-Williams has suggested that William of Malmesbury's reference to a battle fought by Cenwealh at Vortigern's burg (noted under 652) might preserve an English reference to this battle, by the legendary connection of Vortigern with Mount Badon.

P. Sims-Williams, "The settlement of England in Bede and the Chronicle", Anglo-Saxon England 12 (1983), pp.1-41, at p.39

668. Theodore of Tarsus becomes Archbishop of Canterbury

669. Wilfrid becomes bishop of Northumbria

c.670-c.790. The kings of the Hwicce, dependents of the Mercians

For a hundred years or so, in the late 7th and 8th centuries, there are references to a ruling family of the Hwicce, the dominant people in the area of Worcester. It is clear from these references that the Hwicce were themselves under the domination (or the protection) of the more powerful kings of Mercia, and it may be that they owe their control of the area to a strategic alliance with the Mercians -- but only the fact of the relationship emerges clearly from the sources. Most of the references are in charters, which give us not the beginnings and ends of their reigns, but the information that they were in power in the year that the charter was drafted. Since it would be awkward to present this in the general chronological framework, the references are gathered here instead.

In a discussion of the conversion of the South Saxons in 680/1 (HE, iv.23), Bede notes that the South Saxon queen, Eabe, had been baptized in her own province of the Hwicce, and that she was the daughter of Eanfrith the brother of Eanhere, who were both Christians, as were their people. The reference to "their people" (and the fact that Eanfrith's daughter became a queen elsewhere) are taken to suggest that Eanhere, and possibly also Eanfrith, ruled the Hwicce. There is no evidence as to when they ruled, but the lack of reference to them in the documentary sources from the 670s or later may suggest that their rule should be placed back in the 660s.

The first Hwiccian king mentioned in his own right is Osric, who appears in the 670s, and is a sub-king of the Mercians Wulfhere (658-675) and Æthelred (675-704). Bede calls him king in a reference which cannot be precisely dated (HE, iv.23), but must be several years after the arrival of Theodore in 668, so perhaps the late 670s. He is called the subregulus (sub-king) of Wulfhere of Mercia in a charter of 672?674 (S 1165), and in a charter of 676 (S 51), he grants an estate as king, but the grant is counter-signed by Æthelred of Mercia. In another charter, of about 680 (S 70), Æthelred of Mercia grants land to Osric and Oswald, whom he calls "my two servants of noble family in the province of the Hwicce". (Though S 70 may not be entirely genuine, the status granted to Osric is similar to that seen in the more clearly authentic documents.)

The next Hwiccian king known from the sources is Oshere, who appears in a charter of 680 and another of the 690s, and seems to be under the overlordship of Æthelred of Mercia. In 680 (S 52) he makes a grant as king, with the permission of Æthelred. In 693?696 (S 53) he makes another grant as king, with no clear reference to Æthelred of Mercia, but in the historical preamble of a charter of 736/7 (S 1429), he is called sub-king of the Hwicce and a retainer of Æthelred.

Sons of Oshere are in charge of the Hwicce in the first half of the 8th century, under the overlordship of Æthelbald of Mercia (716-57). A charter ostensibly of 706 (S 54), by which Æthelweard sub-king, son of Oshere former king of the Hwicce, grants land with the permission of Coenred of Mercia (704-9), is probably not genuine, but the same information recurs in genuine charters. In a charter from 716?737, Æthelric, the retainer of Æthelbald of Mercia, is called the son of Oshere the former king of the Hwicce. In the famous Ismere charter of 736 (S 89), this Æthelric is again called the sub-king and retainer of Æthelbald. In a charter of 737?740, Osred, a member of the royal family of the Hwicce, is called an official (minister) of Æthelbald. The Hwiccians were not alone under Æthelbald's dominion: Bede notes that in his day (in 731) all of the southern kingdoms were subject to Æthelbald of Mercia.

The last known rulers of the Hwicce are the brothers Eanberht, Uhtred and Ealdred, who appear in the third quarter of the 8th century under the overlordship of Offa of Mercia (757-96). In 757 (S 55), Eanberht, regulus (ruler) of the Hwicce, makes a grant which is counter-signed by Offa. In 759 (S 56), Eanberht, Uhtred and Ealdred, make a grant with the permission of Offa, and Offa's signature appears above those of the brothers. Four more charters of the 760s and 770s are cast in similar terms (S 57-9, 63). In a charter of 778 (S 113), Offa grants land to Ealdred, whom he calls "my sub-king, namely ealdorman (dux) of his own people of the Hwicce".

By the 790s, Offa is granting land in the kingdom of the Hwicce with no reference to his sub-kings (S 139 of 793?796), and there are no further references to Eanberht, Uhtred or Ealdred. The chapter on the separate sub-kingdom of the Hwicce seems to have ended.

It may have had one more flicker of life in 802, when the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that the ealdorman Æthelmund rode from the province of the Hwicce into Wessex, where he was repulsed by Weohstan, the ealdorman of Wiltshire. However, if this Æthelmund is correctly identified with the Æthelmund of charters of the 790s, he seems more likely to have been a Mercian official, taking opportunistic advantage of the death of the West Saxon king, than the last hope of an independent Hwicce. (On all this, see Sims-Williams, pp.33-9.)

P. Sims-Williams, Religion and Literature in Western England, 600-800, Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England, 3 (Cambridge: 1990)

February 15, 670. Oswiu of Northumbria dies
Ecgfrith, Oswiu's son, succeeds to Northumbria

Oswiu's death is attributed to sickness by Bede (HE, iv.5), who notes that had he not been struck down he would have gone to Rome to die there. Ecgfrith succeeded to the kingdom of the Northumbrians. Ecgfrith's brother Ælfwine, who was killed at the Battle of the Trent in 679, was also called "king" by Bede, which raises the possibility that he was a sub-king under Ecgfrith, perhaps the sub-king of Deira as Alhfrith and Æthelwald may have been before him.

c.670. Picts rebel against Ecgfrith of Northumbria, but are defeated

This battle is mentioned only in Stephen's Life of Bishop Wilfrid, chapter 19. The Picts are stated to be rebelling against English rule, so Oswiu must have subjected at least some of them. Stephanus dates the rebellion only to Ecgfrith's "early years": it should perhaps be dated to just after Oswiu's death, with the Picts hoping to take advantage of the change of ruler to establish their freedom. Ecgfrith, with the assistance of the sub-king Beornhæth and a troop of horsemen, slew many of the Picts and reduced the rest back to subjection under his rule until his death (fighting the Picts in 685).

Beornhæth is one of the nine named ealdormen after Ecgfrith (and before King Aldfrith) in the list of kings and ealdormen in the Durham Liber Vitae. The next name in the list is that of Berhtred, who died fighting the Picts in 698 and whom the Annals of Tigernach call the son of Beornhæth. Though there is no explicit link, it is tempting to add the Ealdorman Berhtfrith who defeats the Picts in 711 to this family. His name is similar to Berhtred's, and his position to Beornhæth's (Stephanus in chapter 60 calls Beorhtred King Osred's right-hand man, just as Beornhæth was Ecgfrith's sub-king): it may be that three generations of the family held the key role in Northumbria's armies.

670?675. Wulfhere of Mercia leads all of the southern nations to defeat against Ecgfrith of Northumbria

This battle is mentioned in Stephen's Life of Bishop Wilfrid, chapter 20, and retrospectively in Bede's Ecclesiastical History (HE, iv.12). The outer limits for the date of the battle are 670 (Ecgfrith's accession) by 675 (Wulfhere's death). One could try to narrow this on the grounds that Wulfhere would be more likely to command "all of the southern nations" (including Wessex) after 672 or even 673 when Cenwealh and Seaxburh of Wessex were dead (see entry on 672). But this may be reading too much accuracy into the account of a Northumbrian hagiographer writing some 40 years later who wants to show Ecgfrith winning a battle against overwhelming odds. (Compare Eddius's similar rhetoric in chapter 19 about Ecgfrith's defeat of the Picts, where the Picts come from "innumerable tribes from every nook and corner in the north".) Wulfhere could have brought his own Mercian forces and those of his subordinates the South Saxons, the East Saxons, the Hwicce and the people of Lindsey and of Surrey before 673 and it might still have looked like "all of the southern nations" to the outnumbered Northumbrians. Bede notes that by this battle Wulfhere lost control of Lindsey to Northumbria.

672. Theodore's Synod of Hertford

672. Cenwealh of Wessex dies
Cenwealh's queen, Seaxburh, reigns for the following year
Division of kingdom and rule by sub-kings?

Bede notes that when Cenwealh died, sub-kings divided up the kingdom of Wessex and ruled for about ten years (HE, iv.12). The next West Saxon king mentioned by Bede is Cædwalla. However, since Cædwalla was in exile in the years before his accession (HE, iv.14), it may be that Bede's report of ineffective sub-kings reflects Cædwalla's verdict on his predecessors rather than the state of affairs in 672-85. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has Cenwealh dying in 672, his queen Seaxburh reigning for a year after him, Æscwine succeeding in 674, and Centwine succeeding in 676. There is no record of what happened to Seaxburh after her year in power, nor is it clear whether the apparent gap between Seaxburh's reign and Æscwine's accession is deliberate or simply mechanical error. (A literal reading of Stephen's remark that Wulfhere of Mercia led "all of the southern nations" against Ecgfrith of Northumbria would suggest that Wulfhere was briefly in charge, but a literal reading is probably not appropriate; see 670?675.)

July 4, 673. Ecgberht (I) of Kent dies
Hlothhere succeeds to Kent

674. Benedict Biscop founds Monkwearmouth monastery

674. Æscwine succeeds to West Saxons

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives Æscwine's descent as son of Cenfus, son of Cenferth, son of Cuthgils, son of Ceolwulf, son of Cynric, son of Cerdic. Bede ignores him and the only recorded event of his reign is a fight against Wulfhere of Mercia in 675. He died in 676.

675. Wulfhere of Mercia and Æscwine of Wessex fight at Biedanheafde

675. Wulfhere of Mercia dies
Wulfhere's brother Æthelred succeeds to Mercia

Æthelred of Mercia ravaged Kent in 676, and won back Lindsey in the battle of the Trent against Ecgfrith of Northumbria in 679. Bede notes that after that battle there was a long peace between Mercia and Northumbria (HE, iv.21). The Hwicce remained under Mercian control in Æthelred's time (see entry on c.670-790), though Æthelred lost Surrey and Sussex to the control of Cædwalla of the West Saxons (see entry on 685). It was also in the late 680s that members of the East Saxon royal line were ruling in Kent, apparently with Æthelred's support (see entry on 686-90). However, by the early 690s, with the strong rulers Wihtred in Kent and Ine in Wessex, Mercian expansion was blocked and southern English affairs became much more stable. Æthelred resigned and became a monk in 704.

c.675-750. Early English silver coinage

The changeover from gold to silver in about 675 saw a vast increase in the scale on which coins were minted, and also the areas where they were made. From the early 8th century the minting of silver coins spread to East Anglia, Wessex, southern and eastern Mercia, and Northumbria. At the same time there was an influx of coin from Frisia and the lower Rhineland. These silver pennies are the same size and shape as the earlier gold shillings.

Most of the coins have no legends, though some mention the London mint and other gives moneyers' names (e.g. Æpa, Wigred, Tilberht). Northumbrian coins helpfully give the name of the king on one side, and usually the moneyer's name on the other. Designs on the Southumbrian coinage are much more varied than on the gold coins, with busts, seated and standing figures, birds and beasts and wolves, standards and geometric designs: this seeming chaos can be reduced to 26 broad series, and the region where they were minted (if not the specific mints) can normally be identified.

Unfortunately the silver standard was gradually debased just as the gold standard had been, and by the mid-8th century the striking and use of coins seems to have ceased south of the Humber. North of the Humber coins continued to be struck on the old model, and coins more bronze than silver appeared with the names of the Northumbrian kings until the mid-9th century. South of the Humber a reformed silver coinage was brought in in the 760s, silver pennies on a broader and thinner flan, copying Carolingian reforms.

P. Grierson and M. Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, 1: The Early Middle Ages (5th-10th centuries) (Cambridge: 1986)

676. Æscwine of Wessex dies
Centwine, son of Cynegils, succeeds to Wessex

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Centwine was a son of Cynegils, which makes him a brother of Cenwealh. Stephen notes that Bishop Wilfrid paused at King Centwine's court in his exile, but did not stay long because Centwine's queen was the sister of the Northumbrian queen Iurminburg, and so Iurmingburg's hatred pursued him there (Life of Bishop Wilfrid, chapter 40). Aldhelm, in the third of his Carmina Ecclesiastica (poems on the dedications of churches), states that Centwine ruled the kingdom (imperium) of the Saxons and won three great battles, that he was a pagan until the end of his reign, and that he finished by becoming a monk. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in 682, Centwine put the Britons to flight, which may be one of the three great battles noted by Aldhelm. Centwine's paganism neatly explains why he does not witness the proceedings of Theodore's Synod of Hatfield in 679, along with the kings of the Northumbrians, the Mercians, the East Angles and the people of Kent.

B. Colgrave, The Life of Bishop Wilfrid by Eddius Stephanus (Cambridge: 1927)

R. Ehwald, Aldhelmi Opera (Berlin: 1919), pp.14-18

M. Lapidge and J. Rosier, Aldhelm: The Poetic Works (Cambridge: 1985), pp.47-49

676. Æthelred of Mercia devastates Kent

Bede (HE, iv.12).

678. Theodore divides the northern diocese into three; Wilfrid leaves

679. Battle of the Trent: Ecgfrith of Northumbria fights Æthelred of Mercia

Bede mentions this battle (HE, iv.21) as a demonstration of the effectiveness of Archbishop Theodore. In the course of the battle, Ecgfrith's brother Ælfwine, who was also Æthelred's brother-in-law and "much beloved in both kingdoms", was slain. Bede notes that the way was clear for fiercer hostilities between the two peoples, but that Archbishop Theodore intervened to try to keep the peace, and convinced the Northumbrians to accept a money-payment for Ælfwine's death (wergeld) instead of a full slaking of their vengeance in blood. Bede adds that this was followed by a long period of peace between Ecgfrith and Æthelred and their respective kingdoms.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle adds no details to Bede's account, and indeed in one version notes only that Ælfwine was slain in 679, with no reference to a battle.

September 17, 679. Theodore's Synod of Hatfield

c.680?685. Cædwalla of Wessex kills Æthelwealh of Sussex

Bede notes (HE, iv.15) that while Cædwalla was in exile before he became king, he took an army to Sussex and slew Æthelwealh and devastated the land. He was driven out by two of the king's ealdormen, Berhthun and Andhun, who ruled the South Saxons until Cædwalla became king of the West Saxons and came back and reduced it again. The first battle must have taken place before Cædwalla became king in 685.

681. Benedict Biscop founds Jarrow monastery

682. Centwine of Wessex puts Britons to flight

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Centwine put the Britons to flight "as far as the sea", but unfortunately offers no indication of which Britions or which sea. It is most likely to be the Britons of Cornwall, west of Wessex, whom Cenwealh of Wessex had previously driven to flight as far as the Parrett in Somerset in 658.

684. Ecgfrith of Northumbria sends an army under Ealdorman Berhtred to Ireland

[Charles-Edwards 1989, p32 n31]

Bede (HE, iv.26) records this as a vicious and unprovoked attack, and sees in the curses of the Irish as they were slain the direct causes of Ecgfrith's death in battle the following year against the Picts.

c.685. Cædwalla emerges as king of Wessex
Cædwalla conquers Sussex, Isle of Wight

Bede mentions Cædwalla becoming king of the West Saxons after time spent in exile (HE, iv.15-16), and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes under 685 that Cædwalla "began to contend for the kingdom". The Chronicle notes further that he was the son of Cenberht (whom Cenwealh apparently granted some royal authority, for he was called King Cenberht at his death in 661), and great-grandson of Ceawlin. It may be that Cædwalla was disappointed that Cenwealh did not confirm him in his father's position, and so finally contested with Cenwealh's brother Centwine for the kingship; perhaps Centwine was forced into a monastery after this struggle and did not retire voluntarily (see entry on 676).

Bede records that after Cædwalla became king he went back and ravaged Sussex and took it over for a second time (HE, iv.15, and see entry on c.680?685) and he also recaptured the Isle of Wight (HE, iv.16; Wulfhere of Mercia had captured it and given it to the South Saxon king in 661). Cædwalla was a heathen throughout his reign, but Bede records that he vowed to give a fourth part of the Isle of Wight to the Lord, and he fulfilled this by giving it to Bishop Wilfrid. Stephen's Life of Bishop Wilfrid speaks highly of Cædwalla (chapter 42), noting that Cædwalla sought out Wilfrid and that Wilfrid supported him in his exile. (This odd alliance of bishop and heathen makes slightly more sense given that Wilfrid was badly treated at the court of Cædwalla's rival Centwine, as noted under 676.) A charter from Cædwalla's reign has him granting land in Surrey (S 235), which suggests that he captured it from Wulfhere's successor Æthelred. The Chronicle records that he ravaged Kent in 686-7, and implies that he set up his brother Mul as king of Kent. After a brief but full reign, Cædwalla retired in 688 and went to Rome, where he died.

February 6, 685. Hlothhere of Kent dies, after battle with South Saxons raised by Eadric of Kent, who succeeds
686. Eadric of Kent dies
686-90. Kent falls to usurpers and foreign kings

Bede (HE, iv.26) records that Hlothhere king of Kent died on 6 February 685, of a wound in battle with the South Saxons whom his nephew Eadric had raised to take the throne. Hlothhere was the brother of Ecgberht, the previous king, while Eadric was Ecgberht's son. Bede adds that Eadric then ruled for a year and a half after Hlothhere, after which the kingdom fell to usurpers and foreign kings until the rightful king, Wihtred, son of Ecgberht, ascended to the kingship.

The West Saxon prince Mul seems to have ruled Kent in 686-7 (see entry on 686-7). According to a Kentish charter (S 10) this was followed by the rule of Swæfheard of the East Saxons, who seems to have ruled part of Kent under the patronage of Æthelred of Mercia from 688 to 692?694, though he was ruling jointly with Wihtred by 692 (see Kelly, pp.196-7). A king called Oswine also began ruling in 688, but had disappeared by 692 (see Kelly, pp.197-8); though he claims legitimacy in his charters, Bede does not admit this, and we have no secure way of judging the matter. (Bede may be an impartial observer, but since Wihtred ruled Kent for most of Bede's adult life (690-725), the prevailing opinion about Oswine's legitimacy will have been that put out by Wihtred's court. If Oswine was a defeated rival of Wihtred, the court would probably call him a pretender whether he had a just claim or not.)

S. Kelly, Charters of St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, and Minster-in-Thanet (Oxford: 1995)

May 20, 685. Battle of Nechtansmere: Ecgfrith of Northumbria dies, fighting the Picts
Aldfrith, Oswiu's illegitimate son, succeeds to Northumbria

Bede (HE, iv.26) states that Ecgfrith's raid against the Picts was undertaken against the advice of his counsellors, particularly St Cuthbert. Nonetheless Ecgfrith prepared to ravage the country, but the Picts feigned flight and lured him into some narrow passes in the mountains, where the Northumbrian king and his forces were slaughtered.

Aldfrith's succession may not have been quite immediate: Bede notes that at his death in 705 he had reigned nearly twenty years (HE, v.18), and if this is consistent with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which dates his death to 14 December 705 he probably succeeded early in 686. In fact, Aldfrith was an illegitimate son of Oswiu and studying among the Irish at Iona in the year before Ecgfrith's death, so he may neither have expected nor have been expected to become king (see the Anonymous Life of St Cuthbert, III.vi, and Bede's Prose Life of St Cuthbert, chapter 24). Bede notes further that Aldfrith was "in exile" among the Irish, so there may have been some prejudice against his becoming king, though there are no more explicit references to delay or dispute in Aldfrith's succession. Bede notes that Aldfrith ably restored the state of Northumbria, albeit within narrower bounds, and praises his learning (HE, iv.26).

[Note also Aldhelm, Alcuin, Adomnan -- or have a separate entry on Aldfrith's court and Northumbria's golden age?]

686-7. Cædwalla of Wessex and Mul ravage Kent and Isle of Wight
Cædwalla's brother Mul set up as king of Kent, but burnt shortly afterwards
Cædwalla ravages Kent again

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in 686 Cædwalla (king of Wessex) and Mul (his brother) ravaged Kent and the Isle of Wight, and that in 687 Mul was burnt in Kent with twelve others, and Cædwalla ravaged Kent again. No mention is made in the Chronicle of Mul's rule of Kent, but a charter of the Kentish monastery of Minster-in-Thanet (S 10) notes that Mul granted an estate as king of Kent.

It seems likely that the attack of 686 resulted in Mul being placed on the Kentish throne, where he ruled for a year or so until the people of Kent rose up and burnt him alive (the "twelve others" were presumably Mul's West Saxon advisors). The Chronicle notes that in 694 the people of Kent made terms with Ine, the king of Wessex after Cædwalla, and paid him 30,000 pence for the burning of Mul.

It is possible that the Chronicle's reference to Cædwalla and Mul ravaging the Isle of Wight in 686 refers to the same event as Bede's remark that Cædwalla captured the Isle of Wight after he became king (HE, iv.16). It might equally refer to a second battle: Bede notes that Cædwalla was in hiding in the mainland territory of the Jutes (southern Hampshire) because of wounds sustained during the fighting, so the conquest of the Isle of Wight was clearly not a walkover.

688. Cædwalla of Wessex abdicates, goes to Rome
Ine succeeds to Wessex
April 10, 689. Cædwalla baptised by Pope Sergius I
April 20, 689. Cædwalla dies; buried in St Peter's church, Rome

Bede records (HE, v.7 and 23) that Cædwalla, after ruling the West Saxons most ably for two years, went to Rome in the third year of Aldfrith of Northumbria (688), was baptised there on the Saturday before Easter Day of 689 (April 10) by Pope Sergius, who gave him the name Peter. Cædwalla/Peter then fell ill, and died on April 20. He was buried in St Peter's church in Rome, and Bede gives the text of an epitaph which he reports was put up on Sergius's orders. [The epitaph was written by Crispus, the then archbishop of Milan, and the stone itself was discovered in the sixteenth century when St Peter's was rebuilt, though it has since disappeared again. -- from the footnote in Colgrave/Mynors]

After Cædwalla left in 688, Ine succeeded to kingship of the West Saxons. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that he was the son of Cenred, son of Ceolwold, who was the brother of Cynegils, both grandsons of Ceawlin. Bede notes that Ine continued to oppress the South Saxons as Cædwalla had done (HE, iv.15), and a letter of Wealdhere, bishop of London, reveals conflicts between the West and East Saxons in 704/5. The Chronicle records a battle in which Ine and his kinsman Nunna of Sussex fought the British king Geraint in 710, and another between Ine and Ceolred of Mercia at Woden's Barrow in 715. Ine was probably the English king who was defeated by the Cornish in 722, in a battle recorded only by Welsh sources. There seems to have been internal tension in 721-5, perhaps amounting to a civil war: Ine killed two æthelings, Queen Æthelburh demolished Taunton, and Ine fought the South Saxons twice, probably for harbouring an exiled ætheling. But in spite of these upsets, with strong kings in Wessex (until 726), Kent (until 725), and Mercia (until 704), the political situation in the south at the turn of the 7th/8th centuries was much more stable than it had been in the days of the wars of Penda or Wulfhere of Mercia or Cædwalla of Wessex. In 694, for instance, the people of Kent paid Ine compensation for the burning of the West Saxon prince Mul in 687, rather than prolonging the fight, and an almost identical clause in the law codes of Ine of Wessex and Wihtred of Kent suggests cooperation on other fronts as well (Wihtred 28 and Ine 20, see EHD, pp.398 and 401). Ine's is the first West Saxon law code to be preserved (it survives as a "reprint" attached to the later laws of Alfred), and it was also in Ine's reign that a second West Saxon bishopric was established, at Sherborne (see entry on 705). Like Cædwalla before him, at the end of his reign he retired to go to Rome (see entry on 726).

B. Yorke, Wessex in the Early Middle Ages (London: 1995)

690. Wihtred, son of Ecgberht, succeeds to Kent

698. Ealdorman Berhtred of Northumbria is killed fighting the Picts

This battle is recorded in Bede's chronological summary (HE, v.24), but not in the main narrative. On Berhtred's father, see above under 670.

704. Æthelred of Mercia retires to a monastery
Coenred, son of Wulfhere, succeeds to Mercia

Very little is known of Coenred's reign. Felix's Life of St Guthlac notes that in the days of King Coenred the Britons troubled the English with their attacks and pillaging and devastation (chapter 34), though no specific battles are mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Bede notes that after ruling for five years Coenred went to Rome and became a monk in 709 (HE, v.19 and v.23).

704/5. Conflicts between West and East Saxons

The conflicts between the West and East Saxons of this period are revealed in a letter from Wealdhere, bishop of London, to Brihtwold, archbishop of Canterbury (EHD 164), composed after Coenred's succession in 704 but before the division of the West Saxon bishopric in 705. Wealdhere implies that there had been disputes for years between the West and East Saxons, in spite of repeated meetings which established peace treaties, by which the East Saxons agreed not to harbour exiles and the West Saxons agreed not to carry out their threats (presumably to devastate Essex). Another such peace meeting was planned for October 15 (of either 704 or 705) at Brentford, and Wealdhere was seeking the archbishop's opinion as to whether or not he should attend. This was an issue because the archbishop had decreed in the previous year that there should be no communication with the West Saxons until they carried out his decree about the ordination of bishops. It would be most interesting to know whether this lost archiepiscopal decree related to (or caused) the creation of a second West Saxon bishopric in 705.

705. Division of West Saxon bishopric into two (Winchester and Sherborne)

The West Saxon bishopric had started out in Dorchester-on-Thames in 635, and had moved to Winchester in 660,.probably to be farther from the border with Mercia. Bede records (HE, v.18) that after the death of Bishop Hædde in 705 the West Saxon bishopric was divided into two dioceses, that at Winchester given to Daniel (who was Bede's West Saxon informant) and the other to Aldhelm. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, recording Aldhelm's death in 709, notes that he was bishop "west of the wood" or "west of Selwood"; the seat was at Sherborne. The two bishoprics would be subdivided again in 909.

December 14, 705. Aldfrith of Northumbria dies
Eadwulf rules Northumbria for two months
Osred, Aldfrith's son, succeeds to Northumbria

Aldfrith's death is recorded in Bede (HE, v.18) and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Chronicle adds that Osred's son succeeded him, but Stephen's Life of Bishop Wilfrid notes that Eadwulf ruled briefly between the reigns of Aldfrith and Osred (chapter 49). Nothing is known of the background of this Eadwulf: Stephen says only that he was driven from the kingdom by a conspiracy after ruling for only two months, which he attributes to the fact that Eadwulf would not re-admit Wilfrid. Since Osred was only eight in 705 according to Bede, Eadwulf may have been appointed as a governor until Osred came of age.

It is not clear what arrangements were made for guiding Osred into maturity after Eadwulf was removed. That they were seen to be insufficient, whatever they were, is suggested by later tirades against Osred from Boniface in the mid-8th century and Æthelwulf in the early 9th. Boniface, in a letter to Æthelbald of Mercia (translated at EHD 177, pp.820-1), notes that Osred was driven by the spirit of wantonness, debauching virgins throughout the nunneries until "with a contemptible and despicable death he lost his glorious kingdom, his young life and his lascivious soul". Æthelwulf in chapter 2 of his De Abbatibus (an account of a monastery founded in Osred's reign) notes further that Osred scorned God's laws in his might and wantonness, and had many people killed, and forced others into monasteries (perhaps against their will). And though the near-contemporary Bede welcomes Osred's accession as a new Josiah in his Verse Life of St Cuthbert, he says almost nothing about the reign in his later History (HE, v.18), which suggests that Osred had failed of whatever initial promise Bede saw.

A. Campbell, ed., Æthelwulf: De Abbatibus (Oxford: 1967)

706. Council by the river Nidd: Wilfrid reinstated

709. Coenred of Mercia goes to Rome
Ceolred, son of Æthelred, succeeds to Mercia

Little is known of Ceolred's reign. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Ceolred fought Ine of Wessex at Woden's Barrow in 715. Stephen notes that Ceolred sent messengers to Bishop Wilfrid (presumably on his accession in 709), asking to confer with him and promising to order his whole life after Wilfrid's instruction. But Wilfrid died before reaching Ceolred (Life of Bishop Wilfrid, chapters 64-5), and Ceolred's life took a less lofty course. St Guthlac promised to Æthelbald that Ceolred's life would be shortened because his hope lay in wickedness (Life of St Guthlac, chapter 49), and Boniface wrote to Æthelbald, reminding him that after a sinful life Ceolred was struck mad by an evil spirit in the middle of a feast and so died, raging and distracted (EHD 177, p. 820). In another letter, Boniface described the vision of the afterlife granted to a monk of Much Wenlock, which included Ceolred being carried off by devils to the tortures of hell (Colgrave, Guthlac, p.6). Ceolred died in 716.

B. Colgrave, Felix's Life of St Guthlac (Cambridge: 1956)

B. Colgrave, The Life of Bishop Wilfrid by Eddius Stephanus (Cambridge: 1927)

710. Ine of Wessex and Nunna of Sussex fight Geraint of Dumnonia

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions the battle, adding that Ine and Nunna were kinsmen, but does not say who won.

711. Ealdorman Berhtfrith defeats the Picts

Bede notes in his chronological summary (HE, v.24) only that Berhtfrith fought the Picts; it is from the Annals of Tigernach that we learn that this was a Pictish defeat. This is the last recorded battle between the Picts and the Northumbrians before King Eadberht's offensive in 740. In his State of the Nation summary for 731 (HE, v.23), Bede notes that the Picts have a peace treaty with the English.

On what might be Berhtfrith's family, see above under 670.

713. Ealdwulf of East Anglia dies
Ælfwald, Ealdwulf's son, succeeds to East Anglia (?)

The date of Ealdwulf's death is fixed by Continental chronicles (see note at Plummer, II.107).

The East Anglian genealogy notes that Ælfwald was Ealdwulf's son, and it is plausible that he succeeded in 713, though we have no precise information. (Ealdwulf is the last East Anglian king mentioned by Bede; see HE, ii.15.) Ælfwald was certainly king of the East Angles by the time that Felix's Life of St Guthlac was written, because it is dedicated to him. Colgrave, the editor of Felix's Life, suggests it was written in the 730s (p.19). The only other contemporary source of information about Ælfwald is a letter of encouragement he wrote to Boniface on the Continent, promising him the prayers of seven East Anglian monasteries (see Colgrave, pp.15-16). According to a post-Conquest source, Ælfwald died in 749.

There must have been friendly relations between East Anglia and Mercia at the time of the writing of the Life of St Guthlac, since Felix notes in his prologue that the life was written at Ælfwald's request, and the life of a saint descended from the Mercian royal line and friendly with the great Mercian king Æthelbald would not make cheerful reading in an East Anglia groaning under the Mercian yoke. It may even be that Æthelbald spent part of his exile before his accession in 716 in East Anglia.

B. Colgrave, Felix's Life of St Guthlac (Cambridge: 1956)

C. Plummer, Venerabilis Baedae Historiam Ecclesiasticam Gentis Anglorum [...] (Oxford: 1896)

715. Ine of Wessex fights Ceolred of Mercia at Woden's Barrow

This battle is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but not the result.

If this Woden's Barrow is the same as one mentioned in a later Wiltshire charter (S 1513), then the modern name for Woden's Barrow is Adam's Grave. (See Place-Names of Wiltshire, p.318.)

J. Gover, A. Mawer and F. Stenton, The Place-Names of Wiltshire (Cambridge: 1939)

716. Osred of Northumbria is killed
Coenred, descended from Ida, succeeds to Northumbria

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Osred was slain south of the border, and Boniface's comment that he died "a contemptible and despicable death" (see EHD 177, p.821) may suggest he was murdered. (In his chronological summary at HE, v.23, Bede makes the distinction that Ceolred died but Osred was killed.) No more is known of the location or manner of his death.

Almost nothing is known of his successor Coenred: Bede notes only his accession on Osred's death in 716, his successor's accession in 718, and the fact that he was the brother of Ceolwulf, who was king when Bede was writing (HE, v.22-23). A genealogy of Ceolwulf appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under 731, which shows descent back to Ida but not through any more recent kings, so Coenred and Ceolwulf were probably only distantly related to Osred.

716. Ceolred of Mercia dies
Æthelbald, grandson of Eowa, succeeds to Mercia

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that Æthelbald was the son of Alweo, the son of Eowa, the son of Pybba (ASC 716), so his ancestry goes back not to Penda but to his brother Eowa. During the reign of Ceolred, who was descended from Penda, Æthelbald was in exile. Felix's near-contemporary Life of St Guthlac reports Æthelbald's several visits to the hermit Guthlac, once in the company of Wilfrid (chapter 40), and on one occasion Guthlac comforted Æthelbald, assuring him that Ceolred would soon die and Æthelbald would assume his rightful place as lord of the Mercians (chapter 49).

Bede remarks famously that by 731, all the southern kingdoms up to the Humber were subject to Æthelbald of Mercia (HE, v.23; Bede names specifically Kent, the kingdom of Essex, the East Angles, the West Saxons, the kingdom of the Mercians and those west of the Severn (the Magonsætan), the kingdom of the Hwicce and the kingdom of Lindsey). Corroboration of some of this appears in the entries for c.670-c.790 (for the rulers of the Hwicce signing as Æthelbald's subkings), 725-760s (for Mercians being appointed as archbishop of Canterbury in Kent), 726 (for Æthelheard of Wessex appearing in Æthelbald's entourage). Several charters granting freedom from tolls show that Æthelbald had important commercial interests in London (see Kelly for discussion). The same impression of wide powers is given by the famous Ismere charter of 736 (S 89), where Æthelbald is called in the text "ruler not only of the Mercians but of all the provinces that go by the general name of 'South English'", and "ruler of Britain" in the witness-list.

Æthelbald occupied West Saxon Somerton in 733, and devastated Northumbria (perhaps burning York) while Eadberht of Northumbria was off fighting the Picts in 740. In 743 Æthelbald and Cuthred of Wessex both fought the Britons, with Cuthred perhaps acting under Æthelbald's orders. However, Cuthred was not quiet under the Mercian yoke, and fought Æthelbald in 750 and managed to put him to flight in 752. The West Saxons may have been back under some sort of control in 757, given that a charter of Æthelbald's from that year gives him the style "king not only of the Mercians but also of surrounding peoples" and includes the attestation of Cynewulf of Wessex (S 96). Æthelbald was killed in 757.

In about 747, Boniface and seven other missionary bishops wrote a letter to Æthelbald (EHD 177), praising his good works and alms-giving and keeping the peace, and blaming him for not taking a wife but instead fornicating with nuns, and also for violating the privileges of churches and stealing their revenues. In response, Æthelbald issued a charter in 749 which stated clearly and at length that the churches should be free of all forms of public taxation, and churchmen free of all works and burdens, save those which are exacted from everyone (S 92; see Keynes for discussion).

S. Kelly, "Trading privileges from eighth-century England", Early Medieval Europe 1(1) (1992), pp.3-28

S. Keynes, "The reconstruction of a burnt Cottonian manuscript: The case of Cotton MS. Otho A. I", British Library Journal 22.2, pp.113-60

718. Coenred of Northumbria dies
Osric (perhaps Aldfrith's son?) succeeds to Northumbria

Bede reports that Osric died in 729, after ruling for eleven years (HE, v.23), which puts his accession in 718. His ancestry is unknown, but the similarity of his name with that of the earlier king Osred (705-16), Aldfrith's son, suggests the possibility that he was another son of Aldfrith and Osred's brother (q.v. the sons of Æthelwulf of Wessex in the mid-9th century: Æthelstan, Æthelbald, Æthelberht, Æthelred, and Alfred), though this relationship is not mentioned in the sources before the 12th century (Reginald of Durham's Vita S. Oswaldi, chapter 21).

721-5. Internal divisions in Wessex
(Æthelburh demolishes Taunton; Ine fights the South Saxons)

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records five events in 721-5 that suggest a power-struggle in Wessex. In 721, Ine killed the ætheling Cynewulf. In 722, Queen Æthelburh demolished Taunton, which Ine had built, and the ætheling Ealdberht whom Ine had banished went away to Surrey and Sussex. That same year, Ine fought against the South Saxons, presumably because they were harbouring Ealdberht, and in 725 Ine fought the South Saxons again and killed Ealdberht.

722. Britons defeat the English in three battles

The Annales Cambriae note three battles in 722, that at the river Hayle in Cornwall, the battle of Garth Maelog, and the battle of Pencon "among the south Britons", and notes that the British were victorious in all three. None of these are mentioned in English records.

April 23, 725. Wihtred of Kent dies
725-760s. The kings of Kent

Bede gives the date of Wihtred's death, and notes that he left as heirs three sons, Æthelberht, Eadberht, and Alric (HE, v.23).

No more is known of Alric, but the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Eadberht, king of Kent, died in 748 and Æthelberht, king of Kent, died in 762. While these two kings are known from the Chronicle, the charters reveal several more kings operating in Kent in this period, and an understanding of the succession is therefore heavily dependent on analysis of the charters. The following discussion is based on that of Kelly, pp.198-203. To sum up, it seems that Æthelberht and Eadberht and their followers ruled jointly. On Eadberht's death in 748, he was succeeded by Eardwulf, and at some point before 762 Eardwulf was probably succeeded by Sigered. On Æthelberht's death in 762, he was succeeded by Eadberht. Later medieval historians confused this second Eadberht (762-4?) with the first (725-48), but Kelly has explained how this confusion came about and demonstrated that there were two separate people. [Eardwulf issues two charters, one of them witnessed by Æthelberht (S 30, dated 762 but this date is impossible since one of the witnesses had died by 760, and S 31, undated). The second Eadberht issues two charters in 762/3 (S 28-9), and Sigered grants estates near Rochester in the early 760s (S 32, dated 762, and S 33, datable to 761?764).]

The fine details are perhaps only of local interest, because Kent had fallen under the control of Offa of Mercia by 764, and was clearly under the shadow of Æthelbald of Mercia (716-57) long before that. Bede notes that in his day (731) the various southern kings were all subject to Æthelbald of Mercia, and he also notes that the archbishop of Canterbury appointed in 731, Tatwine (731-4), was a Mercian (HE, v.31). Tatwine's successor Nothhelm (735-9) was also Mercian, which argues strong Mercian influence if not outright control, though we are less well-informed about the next two archbishops (see Brooks, p.80). There is no reason to believe that Mercian overlordship of Kent wavered between Bede's comment of 731 and Æthelbald's death in 757. Since Offa was not Æthelbald's chosen successor, Kent probably regained its independence after Æthelbald's death in 757, but it was only eight years later that Offa demonstrated Mercian control much more obviously, since in 764 the charters in the names of the kings of Kent cease outright. Aside from a couple of later interludes, where Mercian control wavered and independent Kentish kings reappeared briefly (Ecgberht and Ealhmund in 776-784, Eadberht Præn in 796-8), Kent became a province of Mercia until the 820s, when it was conquered by Wessex in its turn.

N. Brooks, The Early History of the Church of Canterbury (Leicester: 1984)

S. Kelly, Charters of St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, and Minster-in-Thanet (Oxford: 1995)

726. Ine of Wessex retires, goes to Rome
Æthelheard succeeds to the West Saxons; fights rival claimant Oswald

Bede records that at the end of his rule of the West Saxons, Ine went to Rome to spend some time as a pilgrim there before he died (HE, v.7). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Æthelheard succeeded; his relationship to Ine is not known, though some manuscripts note that he was a kinsman. The Chronicle continues that Æthelheard had almost at once to fight the ætheling Oswald, presumably a rival claimant, whose descent is given as the son of Æthelbald, son of Cynebald, son of Cuthwine, son of Ceawlin. (This puts him in the same generation as Cædwalla and Ine's father Cenred, but the nearest common ancestor is Ceawlin's son Cuthwine.) The Chronicle records Oswald's death in 730.

The similarity of name between Æthelheard and Ine's queen Æthelburh opens the possibility that Æthelheard was one of Æthelburh's siblings, and only kin to Ine by marriage. But the name element Æthel- is too common for this to be asserted without other evidence. Æthelheard is the first of five kings (the others are Cuthred, Sigeberht, Cynewulf, and Beorhtric) who hold the kingship of the West Saxons until 802 but do not seem to be related to the main West Saxon royal line (or indeed to each other), though descent from Cerdic is claimed for all of them. (See table at Yorke, p.134).

It seems that without the check provided by the strong kings Ine of Wessex and Wihtred of Kent, and with a strong king Æthelbald installed in Mercia, it was not long before Bede could say that all the Southumbrian kingdoms (including the West Saxons) were subject to Æthelbald of Mercia in 731 (HE, v.23). There are hints of this in other sources: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Æthelbald occupied Somerton in Somerset in 733, and in the 720s or 730s, Æthelheard of Wessex witnesses one of the charters of Æthelbald of Mercia with the note that it is while he was on an expedition against the Welsh across the Severn (S 93). Some parts of this charter cannot be accepted as genuine, but the witness-list is probably acceptable, and gives the impression that Æthelheard was acting as the subordinate of Æthelbald of Mercia (see further Kirby, p.133, and Kelly, Abingdon, on S 93). Æthelheard died in 740. He was probably married to the Queen Frithugyth who went to Rome in 737 according to the Chronicle (see Kelly, St Augustine's, p.37, for notes on the charters which link Æthelheard and Frithugyth).

D. Kirby, The Earliest English Kings (London: 1991)

S. Kelly, Charters of St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, and Minster-in-Thanet (Oxford: 1995)

S. Kelly, Charters of Abingdon (Oxford: forthcoming)

B. Yorke, Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England (London: 1990)

May 9, 729. Osric of Northumbria dies, after appointing Ceolwulf his successor
Ceolwulf, Coenred's brother, succeeds to Northumbria

Bede notes that Osric died on May 9, 729, after reigning eleven years and appointing Ceolwulf, the brother of his predecessor Coenred, as his successor (HE, v.23). The king's appointment is a tantalising glimpse into how the succession was arranged when there were no direct heirs, but the tangled mixture of murder and betrayal which characterises the Northumbrian succession later in the 8th century suggests that only a lack of other contenders allowed Ceolwulf's succession to proceed according to the dead king's wishes. Or perhaps, since Ceolwulf was briefly deprived of his kingdom in 731, and gave it up to his cousin in 737, the opposition in 729 just took a bit longer to get organized.

Ceolwulf was the reigning king when Bede wrote his History and it is he to whom the work is dedicated. When it comes to an account of Ceolwulf's reign, Bede's reaction is similar to that of a modern historian pressed for an analysis of too-recent events: he says that the reign has "been filled with so many and such serious commotions and setbacks that it is as yet impossible to know what to say about them or to guess what the outcome will be" (HE, v.23).

731. Ceolwulf of Northumbria captured and tonsured

This is reported not by Bede himself, but among annals for the early 730s appended to the Moore manuscript of Bede's History: "King Ceolwulf was captured, and tonsured, and returned to his kingdom". No more is known of this incident, and we are left wondering who captured Ceolwulf, and also whether they intended to hold him and set up a different king but were prevented, which leads to the further question of who stopped them, or whether they simply tonsured him as a sign of contempt, an indication that they thought him more fit for running a cloister than a kingdom. Bede, in section nine of his Letter to Ecgberht of 734, speaks approvingly of Ceolwulf's devotion to religious causes, and another continuation to Bede notes that Ceolwulf was tonsured at his own request in 737 and resigned the kingdom. This begins to beg the question of why Osric thought Ceolwulf was an appropriate choice for king in the first place, but Ceolwulf's retirement in 737 may have had as much to do with escaping a thankless and bitterly-contested kingship as with religious vocation.

733. Æthelbald of Mercia occupies (West Saxon) Somerton

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Æthelbald occupied Somerton (in Somerset); Æthelweard's version of the Chronicle adds the detail that Somerton was a royal centre.

735. York becomes the second archbishopric

737. Ceolwulf of Northumbria retires to Lindisfarne
Eadberht, Ceolwulf's cousin, succeeds to Northumbria

A continuation of Bede notes that Ceolwulf was tonsured at his own request and resigned the kingdom to Eadberht, whom we learn from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (737-8) was the son of Ceolwulf's paternal uncle. (At ASC 731 Ceolwulf is said to be the son of Cutha, son of Cuthwine, son of Leodwold, and so back to Ida, but "Cutha" is probably a duplication of Cuthwine, because another source gives the descent Ceolwulf son of Cuthwine son of Leodwold; at ASC 738, Eadberht is said to be the son of Eata, son of Leodwold.)

Ceolwulf lived on to the early 760s (the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle puts his death in 762, while Simeon of Durham's 12th-century Historia Regum records it under 764). He was remembered as a saint at Lindisfarne, and also as a benefactor who granted an estate and obtained for the monks permission to drink wine or beer instead of the water or milk to which they had been accustomed before (Simeon of Durham, Historia Regum, at 854).

Eadberht expanded his realm to the north and west against the Picts and Britons. He fought the Picts in 740 and 750, and allied with the Picts to fight the Britons in 756. He also had to cope with civil insurrection, starving out a son of Aldfrith who tried to take over while he was in Pictland (see entry on 750). The 12th-century History of the Church of Durham (at ii.3) speaks of the friendship between Eadberht and Pepin the Short (king 751-68). No other evidence of this has survived, but it is not implausible: we do know that Eadberht's successor Alhred (765-74) sent an embassy to Charlemagne (see entry on 765). Eadberht retired in 758 to York, where his brother Ecgberht had been bishop (and later archbishop) since 732.

D. Dumville, "The Anglian collection of royal genealogies and regnal lists", Anglo-Saxon England 5 (1976), pp.23-50 (Ceolwulf's genealogy is at p.35)

740. Æthelheard of Wessex dies
Cuthred succeeds to Wessex

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records Æthelheard's death in 740. (The eighth-century annals appended to Bede record the death in 739, but as these are Northumbrian rather than local West Saxon annals, and as a reign-length for Æthelheard of 14 years is recorded in the Chronicle and elsewhere, the date 740 is preferred.)

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Cuthred succeeded, without giving his lineage (which is not recorded elsewhere either), and adds that he fought stoutly against Æthelbald of Mercia. This can be seen in battles in 750 and probably 752. He also fought against the Britons in 743 (probably as a subordinate of Æthelbald of Mercia) and 753, and against one of his ealdorman in 750. He died in 756.

740. Eadberht of Northumbria fights the Picts
Æthelbald of Mercia devastates Northumbria (burns York?)

The 8th-century annals appended to Bede note that Æthelbald of Mercia treacherously devastated Northumbria while Eadberht of Northumbria was off fighting the Picts. The burning of York is not there mentioned, but is recorded without explanation in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under 741 and this should perhaps be associated with Æthelbald's raid.

It is not certain why Æthelbald's raid is called "treacherous": while this may be a natural reaction to any devastating and unprovoked attack, it is also possible that the Northumbrian king tried (and, in the event, failed) to negotiate a peace with his southern neighbours before taking his army to the far north. The raid of 740 may be the first sign of another alliance, between the Mercians and the Picts, which is recorded in the annal for 750.

743. Æthelbald of Mercia and Cuthred of Wessex fight the Britons

This entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle could be interpreted as Æthelbald and Cuthred joining together in an alliance against the Britons (as Burgred of Mercia and Æthelwulf of Wessex came together to do in 853), or as two separate campaigns. The earlier occasion on which Æthelheard of Wessex seems to have been raiding while in the train of Æthelbald of Mercia (see entry on 726) suggests a joint campaign, though under Mercian control rather than the more equal partnerships of the 9th century.

746. Selered of the East Saxons is killed
Swithred, grandson of Sigeheard, succeeds to the East Saxons (?)

Selered's death is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Pre-Conquest sources are then silent on the rulership of the East Saxons until the reference to Sigeric going to Rome in 798 . John of Worcester, in the 12th century, notes that Swithred was king of the East Saxons in 758 (perhaps for 760; see Darlington and others, p.201 n.8), and the pre-Conquest East Saxon regnal list does include a Swithred, son of Sigemund, son of Sigeheard (king c.700). Swithred is the only name in the regnal list (actually three regnal lists, covering different branches of the East Saxon line) which fits plausibly between Selered and Sigeric, so it may be that he succeeded in 746.

R. Darlington and others, The Chronicle of John of Worcester, II: The Annals from 450 to 1066 (Oxford: 1995)

747. Council of Clofesho

It has already been noted that in about 747 Boniface wrote to Æthelbald of Mercia urging him to stop violating the privileges of monasteries, and that in 749 Æthelbald responded with a charter of privileges (see entry on 716). Boniface wrote in a similarly admonitory vein to Archbishop Cuthbert, and the result was the Council of Clofesho of 747, attended by Æthelbald, which promulgated thirty canons and a wide-ranging set of reforms.

C. Cubitt, Anglo-Saxon Church Councils c.650-c.850 (London: 1995), pp.99-152

S. Keynes, "The reconstruction of a burnt Cottonian manuscript: The case of Cotton MS. Otho A. I", British Library Journal 22.2, pp.113-60

749. Ælfwald of East Anglia dies
Hun, Beonna, and Æthelberht succeed to East Anglia
749-94. East Anglia in the later 8th century

Simeon of Durham, writing in the 12th century, notes that in 749 Ælfwald died and Hunbeonna and Alberht divided the kingdom between them. Modern editors, based on surviving coins of "Beonna", assume that Simeon or an earlier scribe made a blunder and the division was threefold between Hun, Beonna, and Æthelberht (Alberht). No more is known of Hun, but a single coin of Æthelberht which closely resembles the coins of Beonna has recently been discovered (see Archibald, pp.7-13; this coin shows that "Æthelberht" is the correct expansion of Simeon's Alberht). Almost all of the surviving East Anglian coins of this period are in the name of Beonna, and John of Worcester in his (12th-century) annal for 758/760 (see Darlington and others, p.201 n.8) names only Beonna as king of the East Angles; it may be that the tripartite division was short-lived, followed by a reign of Beonna as sole king of the East Angles.

Beonna's (and Æthelberht's) coins are worth noting because they are the first attempt at a reformed southern coinage after the debasement of the early pennies (see entry on c.675-750 and Grierson and Blackburn, pp.277-8), and also the first southern coins since the gold shilling of Eadbald of Kent to give the name of the issuing king. Beonna's coinage should probably be dated to the later 750s or early 760s, and may represent a bid for East Anglian independence after the death of Æthelbald in 757 (see Archibald, p.7). It is only in the coinage that we can trace the next events in East Anglian history, as Offa starts to issue an East Anglian coinage probably in the later 760s or early 770s. The issues are not precisely datable, and there are no other sources (such as charters) to give us a clearer picture of when Offa took power in Mercia or what happened to Beonna. Offa's East Anglian coinage was later interrupted by the coinage of another Æthelberht of East Anglia, which should probably be associated with the Æthelberht whose execution was ordered by Offa in 794. This murdered Æthelberht was later revered as a saint, and post-Conquest hagiographies note that he came to the throne in 779 and his father Æthelred had ruled before him (see Yorke, p.64). There is no other evidence of Æthelred's existence, nor any corroboration of Æthelberht's rule beyond three of his pennies.

Without more datable references (attestations of Beonna, Æthelred, and Æthelberht in the charters of Offa, or notes in chronicles), it is difficult to sum up East Anglian affairs in the second half of the 8th century. It seems that Hun, Beonna, and Æthelberht succeeded in 749, but probably still under the overall authority of Æthelbald of Mercia. On Æthelbald's death in 757 the East Angles made a bid for independence, and at least Beonna and Æthelberht issued coins in their own names. Very shortly afterwards, Beonna was recognized as the main (or the only) East Anglian king; but probably within ten years East Anglia had again fallen under the overlordship of Offa, and Beonna's coinage in his own name was discontinued. Beonna may have survived as a subking, though he attests none of Offa's charters, and this sub-kingship may have passed on to the second Æthelberht's father Æthelred, and then on to Æthelberht himself. Later, perhaps in the early 790s, Æthelberht made a renewed bid for East Anglian independence and started to issue coin in his own name, and Offa ordered his execution in 794. This would cow the East Angles until Offa's own death, when they would make another bid for independence under Eadwald (see entry on 796).

A coin of Beonna of East Anglia, by the moneyer Efe. Note that the king's name on the front (below left) is written partly in runes; it reads "Beonna rex".

M. Archibald and others, "A Sceat of Ethelbert I of East Anglia and Recent Finds of Coins of Beonna", British Numismatic Journal 65 (1995), pp.1-19

R. Darlington and others, The Chronicle of John of Worcester, II: The Annals from 450 to 1066 (Oxford: 1995) [see p.201 n.8 on whether the 758 annal should be redated to 760]

P. Grierson and M. Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, 1: The Early Middle Ages (5th-10th centuries) (Cambridge: 1986)

B. Yorke, Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England (London: 1990)

750. Eadberht of Northumbria adds the plains of Kyle and other lands to his kingdom
Offa, perhaps a son of Aldfrith, tries and fails to claim Northumbria

The 8th-century annals appended to Bede briefly note some additions to Northumbria. The fact that the plains of Kyle are in Ayrshire, far beyond the normal borders of Northumbria, shows that a great and sustained military campaign should probably be assumed to lie behind the brief references to Eadberht's northern conquests in 740, 750 and 756.

As before in 740, however, when Eadberht got too far away from Northumbria, trouble arose at home. None of the contemporary sources report it, but the 12th-century historian Simeon of Durham notes in his Historia Regum under 750 that Offa, the son of Aldfrith, was forced to take refuge at the relics of St Cuthbert (at Lindisfarne), and was dragged unarmed from thence almost dead with hunger (see EHD 3, p.265). The 12th-century History of the Church of Durham adds the details (at ii.1) that this Offa was of the royal family, that he was killed after being dragged from sanctuary, and that Eadberht, highly displeased, imprisoned Cynewulf, the bishop of Lindisfarne.

Simeon does not explain these curious events, but the simplest explanation is probably that in Eadberht's absence Offa tried to claim the kingdom, with the support of the bishop of Lindisfarne. Only the sorry end of the revolt is recorded by Simeon, the defeat and death of the pretender, but in claiming descent from Aldfrith, Offa would have been appealing to loyalty to the old royal house of Northumbria, which had ruled long before the descendents of Leodwold, Eadberht and Ceolwulf and Coenred. If such loyalty was there to be tapped, and the complicity of the bishop of Lindisfarne suggests it was, this opens up further possibilities as to who might have captured and tonsured the "upstart" Ceolwulf back in 731.

750. Cuthred of Wessex fights Æthelbald of Mercia and Ealdorman Æthelhun

The eighth-century annals appended to Bede note a battle between Cuthred of Wessex and Æthelbald of Mercia in 750. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports a fight between Cuthred and Æthelbald under 752 (which may be a misdated version of the battle of 750 or may be another battle), and notes under 750 that Cuthred fought against the arrogant Ealdorman Æthelhun.

Nothing more is known of Æthelhun: he does not appear in the few surviving West Saxon or Mercian charters from the mid-eighth century. There is no way of telling whether he was allied with the Mercians (or was himself a Mercian ealdorman, in which case the post-Bedan annals and the Chronicle presumably refer to the same battle), or whether he was staging an internal uprising among the West Saxons (perhaps seizing the moment when Cuthred was distracted by his campaign against Mercia).

752. Cuthred of Wessex defeats Æthelbald of Mercia at Beorhford

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Cuthred of Wessex fought Æthelbald of Mercia at Beorhford (unidentified), and put him to flight. As noted under 750, this may be a misdated reference to the battle of 750, but given the Chronicle's comment at the beginning of Cuthred's reign that he fought stoutly against Æthelbald, it may well be another battle.

753. Cuthred of Wessex fights the Britons

August 1, 756. Eadberht of Northumbria and Angus of the Picts defeat the Britons at Dunbarton
August 10, 756. Most of Eadberht's army destroyed

This battle is not mentioned in the annals appended to Bede or the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It is Simeon of Durham, writing in the 12th century, who first notes this alliance of the Northumbrians and the Picts against the Britons of Strathclyde, and the fact that the Britons accepted terms at Dunbarton on August 1. Simeon goes on to note that almost the whole of Eadberht's army was destroyed on August 10, without offering any explanation: we cannot say whether the Britons reneged on their agreement and attacked, or whether the alliance between Northumbrians and Picts fell apart on the way back from Dunbarton.

756. Cuthred of Wessex dies
Sigeberht succeeds to Wessex

Sigeberht appears as a negligible figure in West Saxon history: he succeeded on Cuthred's death, but was deposed the following year for "unjust acts". Almost nothing is known about him save his treacherous reputation and the manner of his death (see entry on 757).

756. Canterbury burnt down

757. Sigeberht of Wessex deposed by Cynewulf and the counsellors of the West Saxons
Cynewulf succeeds to Wessex

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle relates how Cynewulf and the counsellors of the West Saxons deprived Sigeberht of the kingdom because of his unjust acts, all except for Hampshire. Sigeberht remained in Hampshire until he killed Cumbra, the ealdorman who had been most loyal to him, and then Cynewulf drove Sigeberht into the Weald, where he was slain by a swineherd. Cynewulf then ruled for 29 years, until he was himself slain by Sigeberht's brother Cyneheard (see entry under 786).

The Chronicle adds that Cynewulf often fought great battles against the Britons. This keeps up the tradition of his predecessor Cuthred (in 743 and 753), though Cynewulf's battles against the Britons are not individually recorded.

Cynewulf's relations with the Mercians are more difficult to follow. In the first couple of years of his reign, Cynewulf witnesses a charter of Æthelbald of Mercia in 757 (S 96), and his own earliest charter is confirmed by Offa of Mercia in c.758 (S 265); this may imply some West Saxon dependence on the Mercians. Another charter of Offa's of 772 (S 108) is witnessed both by Cynewulf of the West Saxons and by Ecgberht of Kent. However, Cynewulf's other five charters (S 260-4, from 758 to 778) make no mention of Mercian overlordship, and Cynewulf fought Offa at Bensington in 779. Cynewulf attended the meeting with the papal legates with Offa in 786, but the report of the legates gives us no hint as to the relations between Offa and Cynewulf at that point. It seems likely that Cynewulf maintained West Saxon independence after the first couple of years of his reign, but his appearance in a charter of Offa of 772 suggests how precarious and hard-fought that independence may have been.

757. Æthelbald of Mercia killed
Beornred succeeds to Mercia, briefly
Offa succeeds to Mercia

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Æthelbald was killed at Seckington and that his body was buried at Repton. It adds that Beornred succeeded to the kingdom but ruled only for a short time and unhappily, and that in the same year Offa came to the throne. Offa's descent is given through Penda's brother Eowa. Simeon of Durham in the 12th century adds the detail that Æthelbald was killed by his own bodyguard.

While earlier kings of Mercia expanded beyond the borders of Mercia proper (e.g. Penda, Wulfhere, Æthelbald), it was under Offa that this expansion reached its greatest extent, involving not just overlordship but direct control over many of the other English kingdoms and marriages with daughters of Offa for the kings of the two kingdoms (Wessex and Northumbria) that lay outside of Mercian rule.

Already in 757 Offa was confirming the charters of the rulers of the neighbouring Hwicce, and by the 790s that ruling family seems to have vanished altogether (see entry on c.670-c.790). Offa may also have had some control of Wessex early on, but Cynewulf seems to have ruled freely for much of his reign (see entry on Cynewulf's accession in 757); the two clashed at Bensington in 779. Offa took control of Kent in 764, lost it again at the battle of Otford in 776, and regained it in 784/5. It was probably shortly after Offa took Kent that he introduced a reformed coinage based on the Frankish model (see entry on c.765); a second coinage reform was made probably in 792. Offa took control of Sussex in about 771, and his control of East Anglia, though it cannot be precisely dated because it is recorded only in the coins, probably dates to the 760s or early 770s (see entry on 749-74). When the East Anglian king Æthelberht tried to declare independence in about 794, Offa had him beheaded.

Offa was married to Cynethryth, who is the only Anglo-Saxon queen to have coins issued in her own name, apparently following the model of the contemporary Byzantine empress Irene (see Grierson and Blackburn, pp.279-80). They had at least three daughters: Eadburh, who married Beorhtric of Wessex in 789, Ælfflæd, who married Æthelred of Northumbria in 792, and Æthelburh, an abbess. The later legends of Æthelberht of East Anglia note that he had hopes of marrying a fourth, Ælfthryth, and an uncertain charter mentions three more daughters (S 127). Only one son is known, Ecgfrith: Offa worked strenuously to ensure that Ecgfrith should succeed him, going so far as to have Ecgfrith consecrated as king while he (Offa) was still alive, following the recent Frankish precedent. It may have been the unwillingness of the archbishop of Canterbury in occupied Kent to oblige Offa on this point which resulted in Offa's scheme to create a third English archbishopric, at Lichfield within Mercia (see entry on 787). Doubtless the papal legates who visited in 786 were involved in negotiations on this point.

Offa enjoyed good relations with the great Frankish king Charlemagne: gifts were exchanged, and in one letter Charlemagne calls Offa "brother" (the only time he uses the term for another western king; see Wormald, p.101). Relations were nearly broken off c.790, probably because Charlemagne was harbouring Offa's political enemies, but were restored later.

Offa's best-known memorial today, the Dyke, leaves no trace in the narrative records, but the continuing battles with the Welsh that accompanied its creation are noted under 760, 778, 784, and 795.

P. Grierson and M. Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, 1: The Early Middle Ages (5th-10th centuries) (Cambridge: 1986)

P. Wormald in J. Campbell (ed.), The Anglo-Saxons (London: 1982), pp.101-28

758. Eadberht of Northumbria retires to a monastery
Oswulf, Eadberht's son, succeeds to Northumbria
July 25, 759. Oswulf of Northumbria slain by his household
August 5, 759. Æthelwold Moll succeeds to Northumbria

The 8th-century annals appended to Bede note that Eadberht retired to a cloister in 758 and resigned the throne to his son Oswulf, and that in 759 Oswulf was treacherously killed by his thegns and Æthelwold was elected by the people and began to rule. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle adds that Oswulf was killed on July 24/25 (some manuscripts give "24", some "25"). Simeon of Durham in his Historia Regum under 759 adds that Æthelwold Moll began to reign on August 5. (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records Eadberht's death on August 20, 769; Simeon of Durham adds that it was at York.)

Nothing more is known of Oswulf's short reign. His successor Æthelwold seems to have been the first member of his family to achieve power: no genealogy showing his descent back to Ida or other early kings has survived. That this innovation was bitterly contested is shown in a severe battle of 761, where Æthelwold kills one Oswine (perhaps related to Oswulf?), in Æthelwold's own expulsion in 765, and in the expulsion of his son in 778. Northumbrian politics were not notably peaceful earlier in the 8th century -- Osred may have been murdered in 716, and Ceolwulf was captured and tonsured in 731 -- but the killings and quick reverses of fortune do seem to escalate out of all control in the second half of the 8th century. A similar fluidity is seen in the mid-10th century, when York seems able to choose and expel rulers -- King Eadred, Erik Bloodaxe, Olaf Cuaran -- with what to the rest of the country probably looked like alarming ease and rapidity (see entry on 947-54).

Simeon of Durham records that Æthelwold married an Æthelthryth on November 1, 762, at Catterick. There are four Æthelthryths in the list of queens and abbesses in the Durham Liber Vitae, and Æthelwold's queen is very likely one of them.

760. Battle at Hereford between Britons and Saxons

The Annales Cambriae record this battle (probably but not explicitly involving Offa of Mercia, given the location), and note the death of Dyfnwal son of Tewdwr.

August 6, 761. Battle of Eildon (or "Edwin's Cliff"): Æthelwold of Northumbria kills Oswine

The 8th-century annals appended to Bede note that Oswine died in 761, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Moll (Æthelwold) killed Oswine at "Edwin's cliff" on August 6, and Simeon of Durham adds in his Historia Regum that a very severe battle was fought at Eildon on 6 August, that after three days Oswine fell, and that Æthelwold obtained the victory in battle.

We do not know who Oswine was, but in light of the strong probability that Æthelwold was involved in the killing of King Oswulf in 759, that Oswulf's kinsman Alhred would drive out Æthelwold in 765, and that Oswulf's son Ælfwold would drive out Æthelwold's son Æthelred in 779, it seems reasonably likely that the battle in 761 was part of this continuing civil war, and from the similarity of names it may well be that Oswine was a kinsman of the murdered Oswulf, seeking revenge.

764. Offa of Mercia takes direct control over Kent

A charter of 764 (S 105) gives the earliest direct evidence of Mercian control over Kent, in which Offa of Mercia grants an estate to the bishop of Rochester which had previously been granted by an earlier Kentish king. Kings of Kent were issuing charters without reference to Mercia earlier in the 760s (S 25, 27, 32, 33), so the takeover can probably be dated fairly closely to 764, though the circumstances are unclear. For the next twelve years, the only charter issued by a Kentish king (S 34 of 765) is confirmed by Offa. It also seems clear that Offa lost control of Kent after the battle of Otford in 776.

c.765. Offa of Mercia introduces reformed silver coinage

October 30, 765. Battle of Pincanheale: Æthelwold driven from Northumbria
Alhred, descended from Ida, succeeds to Northumbria

The 8th-century annals appended to Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle note only that Alhred began to rule in 765; Simeon of Durham's Historia Regum adds the details of the battle of Pincanheale (unidentified) and the expulsion of Æthelwold Moll. A genealogy of Alhred survives which traces descent back to Ida but none of the other names are known from earlier sources so it is impossible to say how closely related Alhred was to Æthelwold's predecessor Oswulf. Alhred was exiled in turn and replaced by Æthelwold's son in 774.

Alhred is best known for his involvement in Continental affairs. There is a surviving letter (EHD 197) from Alhred and his wife Osgifu requesting the prayers of Lul, archbishop of Mainz (but English by birth and a kinsman of Boniface), and asking him to forward their embassy to the Frankish king Charlemagne. Simeon of Durham records the marriage of Alhred and Osgifu in 768. It was also from an assembly summoned by Alhred that the mission of St Willehad set out, which led to the foundation of the Continental archbishopric of Bremen. And it was in Alhred's reign that the most famous Northumbrian scholar of them all, Alcuin, took his place as master at the school in York (in 767); he would go on to join Charlemagne's court in 781/2 (see Godman).

P. Godman (ed.), Alcuin: The Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York (Oxford: 1982)

Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford: 1971), pp.92-3

769. Catterick burnt by the tyrant Earnred

This reference appears only in Simeon of Durham, who adds that Earnred himself perished miserably by fire in the same year. It is mentioned mainly because an even more cryptic note in the annals appended to Bede says that in 741 Earnwine and Eadberht were killed. There may then have been a family of some importance in mid-8th-century Northumbria which favoured names beginning Earn-, at least one of whom (the "tyrant" Earnred) was in a position of authority, which has now almost entirely vanished. Anglo-Saxon history is full of puzzles like this: sometimes, as in the case of Offa, Aldfrith's son, being dragged from sanctuary in 750, enough pieces remain that the picture can be recovered, but sometimes, as with Earnred and his family, only fleeting glimpses remain.

771. Offa of Mercia conquers the people of Hastings (Sussex)

This conquest is first mentioned by Simeon of Durham in the 12th century. The "people of Hastings" referred not merely to the town but to a district of eastern Sussex. The fall of the South Saxons to Offa is also neatly demonstrated in the fact that an Osmund, king of the South Saxons, issued his own charter in 770 (S 49) but was reduced to witnessing a charter of Offa as ealdorman in 772 (S 108).

Easter, 774. Alhred of Northumbria driven out
Æthelred, son of Æthelwold Moll, chosen as king of Northumbria

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that at Easter 774 the Northumbrians drove their king Alhred from York and took as their king Æthelred, son of Æthelwold Moll. Simeon of Durham adds that Alhred fled with a few companions, first to Bamburgh, and then to the land of the Picts.

This is the first of Æthelred's two reigns. His father Æthelwold reigned from 759 until 765, when he was exiled. Æthelred reigned from 774 until 778/9, when he was exiled in his turn; he was was reinstated in 790, and finally killed in 796. Nothing is known of the earlier history of the family before Æthelwold, but it seems likely that Æthelwold was involved in the killing of the previous king, Oswulf. The killing of three Northumbrian high-reeves in 778 at Æthelred's orders looks like Æthelred pre-emptively removing threats to his reign, and reaction to this may have caused his first expulsion. In his second reign he was much more thorough about removing the opposition from the beginning.