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  • Kings and Kingdomsof early

    Anglo-Saxon England

    Barbara Yorke

    London and New York

  • First published 1990 by B.A.Seaby Ltd

    Barbara Yorke 1990

    Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group

    This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2003.

    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced orutilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, nowknown or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or inany information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing

    from the publishers.

    British Library Cataloguing in Publication DataYorke, Barbara 1951

    Kings and Kingdoms of early Anglo-Saxon England.1. England. Kings, to 1154

    I. Title942.010922

    Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data

    A catalogue record for this book is available from the Library of Congress

    ISBN 0-203-44730-1 Master e-book ISBN

    ISBN 0-203-75554-5 (Adobe eReader Format)ISBN 0-415-16639-X (Print Edition)

    To the several generations of King Alfreds College History students who haveexplored kings and kingdoms in early Anglo-Saxon England with me

  • iii


    Foreword v

    List of tables and illustrations vi

    I INTRODUCTION: THE ORIGINS OF THE ANGLO-SAXONKINGDOMS 1Written sources: British 1Written sources: Anglo-Saxon 3Archaeological evidence 5The political structure of Anglo-Saxon England c. 600 9The nature of early Anglo-Saxon kingship 15Sources for the study of kings and kingdoms from theseventh to the ninth centuries 19

    II KENT 25Sources 25The origins of the kingdom of Kent 26The history of the kingdom of Kent 28The Kentish royal house 32Royal resources and government 39Conclusion 43

    III THE EAST SAXONS 45Sources 45The origins of the East Saxon kingdom 46The history of the East Saxon kingdom c. 600825 47The East Saxon royal house 52Conclusion 57

    IV THE EAST ANGLES 58Sources 58The origins of the East Anglian kingdom 61The history of the East Anglian kingdom 62Sources of royal power 64

  • Contentsiv

    The royal family and administration 67Conclusion 71

    V NORTHUMBRIA 72Sources 72The royal houses of Bernicia and Deira and the originsof Northumbria 74The early Northumbrian kings and the kingdoms ofsouthern England 81Northumbria and the Celtic kingdoms in the seventhcentury 83Northumbrian kingship in the eighth century 86Eighth-century Northumbrian kings and the otherkingdoms of Britain 94Northumbria in the ninth century 95Conclusion 97

    VI MERCIA 100Sources 100The origins of Mercia 101Mercia in the seventh century 103Mercia in the eighth century 111Mercia in the ninth century 117Conclusion: the evolution of the Mercian state 124

    VII THE WEST SAXONS 128Sources 128The origins of Wessex 130The growth of Wessex to 802 132The pattern of West Saxon kingship to 802 142The West Saxon kingdom 80299 148Conclusion 154

    VIII CONCLUSION: THE DEVELOPMENT OF KINGSHIPc. 600900 157Kingship and overlordship 157Royal resources 162Royal and noble families 167King and Church 172Conclusion 177

    Notes 179

    Bibliography and Abbreviations 196

  • v


    There are many excellent general surveys of Anglo-Saxon history, but their drawbackfor anyone interested in the history of one particular kingdom is that there is notusually an opportunity to treat the history of any one kingdom as a whole. This studysurveys the history of the six best-recorded Anglo-Saxon kingdoms within the periodAD 600900: Kent, the East Saxons, the East Angles, Northumbria, Mercia andWessex. The chapters, like many of the available written sources, approach thehistories of the individual kingdoms through that of their royal families. Dynastichistory is a major concern of the book, but the intention is to go beyond narrativeaccounts of the various royal houses to try to explain issues such as strategies ofrulership, the reasons for success or failure and the dynamics of change to the office ofking. More generalized conclusions suggest themselves from the studies of individualkingdoms and these are brought together in the final chapter which examines fourmain facets in the development of kingship in the period under review: kingship andoverlordship; royal resources; royal and noble families; and king and church. The firstchapter is also a general one and deals with the difficult issue of Anglo-Saxon kingshipbefore 600 and introduces the main classes of written record.

    Another aim of the work is to alert the general reader to the exciting research intoearly Anglo-Saxon England which has been carried out in recent years by historiansand archaeologists, but which may only be available in specialist publications. Anywriter is, of course, dependent on the primary and secondary works which areavailable and differences in the material which has survived or the type of researchwhich has been done have helped dictate the shape of the chapters for the individualkingdoms. Readers who wish to follow up individual references will find full detailsthrough the notes and the bibliography. Notes have been primarily used for referencingsecondary works, but there are some instances in which additional commentary hasbeen provided through them. The reader is alerted to many major problems ofinterpretation through the text, but shortage of space and the nature of the book haveprevented detailed discussion of the more complex issues.

    Although I have been able to indicate the written works to which I have beenindebted, it is more difficult to demonstrate the immense benefit I have gained fromdiscussions with other Anglo-Saxonists. It would be impossible to name all those fromwhom at one time or another I have received advice and encouragement, but I hopethat if they read this they will know that I am grateful. My thanks go, in particular, toProfessor Frank Barlow with whom I began my study of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms formy doctoral thesis and to Dr David Kirby who very kindly read the book inmanuscript and generously made many suggestions for its improvement. I am alsomost grateful to those who provided me with photographs and captions and to asuccession of editors at Seabys for their patience and assistance. Finally, on the homefront, I must thank my husband Robert for without his continuing support 1 doubt ifthis book would ever have been completed.


  • vi


    1 Regnal list of the kings of Kent 332 Genealogy of the Oiscingas kings and princes of Kent 363 Female members of the Kentish royal house and their

    connections by marriage 374 Regnal list of the kings of the East Saxons 515 Genealogy of the East Saxon kings 526 Regnal list of the kings of the East Angles 677 Genealogy of the East Anglian royal house 688 Regnal list of the kings of Bernicia, Deira and Northumbria of

    the sixth and seventh centuries 759 Genealogy of the royal houses of Bernicia and Deira 76

    10 Regnal list of the kings of Northumbria of the eighth andninth centuries 87

    11 The rival families of eighth-century Northumbria 9012 Regnal list of the kings of Mercia 10313 Genealogy of the Mercian royal house 10414 The rival lineages of ninth-century Mercia 11915 Regnal list of the rulers of the West Saxons 13316 Genealogy of the West Saxon rulers 134 Conventions used in the tables d=died; k=killed; m=married; =died in infancy; A broken line in the tables indicatesa hypothetical link.

    For further information on the chronologies and family relationships of the Anglo-Saxon royal houses see the Handbook of British Chronology (Dumville 1986b) with whichthese tables are broadly in agreement.

    Figures 17 appear on plates between pp. 9091 and figures 814 on plates betweenpp. 106107.Fig. 1 The Benty Grange helmet.Fig. 2 The Sutton Hoo helmet.Fig. 3 The Sutton Hoo sceptre.Fig. 4 The Sutton Hoo purselid.Fig. 5 The Alfred jewel.Fig. 6 Offas Dyke.Fig. 7 Hamwic.Fig. 8 Cowderys Down.Fig. 9 Yeavering.Fig. 10 Repton Church.Fig. 11 The Repton sculpture.Fig. 12 Bradwell-on-sea, Essex: St Peters.Fig. 13 Brixworth, Northants: All Saints.Fig. 14 Seven coins of the early Anglo-Saxon period.

    Map 1 Anglo-Saxon provinces at the time of the compositionof the Tribal Hidage (? late seventh century) 12

    Map 2 Bernicia and Deira and their Celtic neighbours 14

  • 1

    Chapter One


    There is a sense in which the history of the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms canbe said to have begun with the arrival of Augustine and a band of nearly fortymonks at the court of King thelbert of Kent in 597. Augustine and hisfollowers had been despatched by Pope Gregory the Great to preach the wordof God to the English race and, as far as we know, their mission was the firstsustained attempt to bring Christianity to the Anglo-Saxons.1 Not surprisinglythe arrival of Augustine and his followers was an event of the utmostsignificance to Bede, whose Ecclesiastical History of the English People (completed in731) is our main narrative source for the seventh and early eighth centuries,and he began his detailed discussion of the history of the Anglo-Saxonkingdoms at this point. Bede as a monk naturally believed that the conversionof his people began a new phase in their history, but it would also be true tosay that it was only after the arrival of the Augustine mission that Bede wasable to write a detailed history of his people. For Augustine and his fellowmonks not only brought a new religion to the Anglo-Saxons; they also broughtthe arts of reading and writing.

    Although the arrival of the Gregorian mission clearly marked a veryimportant stage in the religious history of the Anglo-Saxons and in theproduction of written records