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)