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)