Northumbria

EngliscHeritage

Northumbria

Includes – Cumbria (Cumberland and Westmorland), Durham, Lancashire, Northumberland and Yorkshire.

The three eastern counties of this area – Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland-formed the core of the old Anglian kingdom of Northumbria. This arose from a partial unification of two earlier kingdoms; Diera, which covered most of Yorkshire between Humber and Tees, and Bernicia, originally between Tees and Tweed. Deira was founded, or rather grew up, in the second half of the fifth century. Bernicia arose out of Anglian settlements at Bamborough in 547. Little is known of their early history. The earliest known great leader to arise in this region was Athelfrith, King of Bernicia, 593-616. He extended his frontiers northwards to the Forth and westward to the Irish Sea. He married the daughter of Alle King of Deira, and ruled Deira as well from 600 approx onwards. He was the real founder of the historic Northumbrian kingdom. He was killed in battle against Radwald of East Anglia at the river Idle near Doncaster.

Northumbria fortunately had five of its first six Kings were of outstanding ability and personality, and all but the first were Christians. Under the second ruler, the great Edwin, 616-32, brother-in-law of Athelfrith and son of Alle, Northumbria reached the height of its political power. Edwin’s overlordship was accepted throughout the whole country, Kent being the only one of the Anglo-saxon/Englisc kingdoms which did not formally acknowledge it, In 625 Edwin married Athelberg, a daughter of the Christian Athelbert of Kent and Bertha of Paris. Athelberg was accompanied north by the priest and his companions who preached the Gospel in Northumbria, eventually converting Edwin to the faith in 627. Paulinus became the first bishop of York, and Bede records that four churches were built during his ministry; one of wood at York for Edwin’s baptism; a square stone one on the same site (enclosing the earlier wooden one), which was completed by Edwin’s successor Oswald; one at Campodunum, possibly Doncaster, probably of wood as it was burnt soon afterwards, and a stone one at Lincoln which, roofless, was standing in Bede’s day, 731 approx. It seems likely that Paulinus had with him masons from Kent, for at this early date the northern Anglians could hardly have built stone churches, their whole building tradition being in timber.

Paulinus’s ministry lasted only seven years. He and Queen Athelberg fled the kingdom to Kent after Edwin’s death in 632 and did not return. Edwin was defeated and killed at the battle of Hatfield, near Doncaster, fighting against the British Cadwallon, Prince of Gwynedd, and his ally the Heathen Penda of Mercia.

The next King was Oswald, St. Oswald, son of Athelfrith, who reigned from 633-41. He had lived for some years in exile at Iona and it was he who invited Aidan from Iona to form his monastery at Lindisfarne in 634. Oswald defeated and killed Cadwallon at the battle of Hefenfelth, or Heavenfield, near Hexham in 633, It was before this battle that Oswald erected a large wooden cross nearby, which was a prototype of the carved stone standing crosses which became the characteristic expression of the plastic art of the early Anglo-Saxon/Englisc period. According to Bede this was the first christian symbol to be erected in Bernicia. He writes definitely as though it was still in existence in his time, some hundred years after its erection. Oswald was himself defeated and killed by Penda of Mercia at Maserfelth, probably near Oswestry, in 641.

Oswald was succeeded by his brother Oswy in Bernicia only (as Deira was occupied by Penda) until he defeated and killed Penda and his ally Athelhere of the East Angles at the Winwaed, a stream near Leeds, in 654. After this he ruled a reunited Northumbria until his passing in 670. From this time on Northumbria lost its supremacy of all England to Mercia under Wulfere, the Christian son of Penda, 657-74. Henceforth Northumbrian military and political activities were confined to north of the Humber, much to the benefit of the kingdom, for it allowed that internal consolidation which paved the way for the magnificent Anglo-Irish/Hiberno-Saxon art of Northumbria which began to develop about this time. It was Oswy/Oswiu’s reign that the Synod of Whitby was held in 664 at which, due largely to the efforts of Wilfrid of Ripon and the King himself, the Roman method of calculating the date of Easter and the Roman tonsure were accepted as official. As a result of this many of the Celtic/British Orthodox clerics returned to Iona or Ireland and the Roman Orthodox church eventually replaced the Scoto-Celtic teaching of Lindisfarne.

Oswy/Oswiu’s son and successor Ecgfirth, 670-85, was killed fighting the Picts at Nechtanesmere, near Forfar, in 685, a disaster from which recovery was slow and perhaps never complete.

Aldfrith, brother of Ecgfrith, who reigned from 685 to 704, gave stability to his almost ruined country. Bede wrote that Aldfrith ‘ably restored the shattered fortunes of the kingdom, though within boundaries’ and the historian Stenton that the learning of the age of Bede was possible only through the work of Aldfrith in ‘the critical years following the battle of Nechtansmere’. Aldfrith, like his greater successor Alfred the Great, was a considerable scholar and a patron of the arts, and under him the church established its position securely in Northumbria. He was educated in the Celtic/British part of Wessex under the Celtic Aldhelm, Abbot of Malmesbury, who had been a pupil of Theodore and Hadrian at Canterbury and was not therefore entirely Celtic/British in outlook. Before Aldfrith became King he had spent some years studying Celtic culture/British in Ireland and Iona. He was indeed a celtic scholar of Distinction and originality. It was in his reign that learning and art reached their peak of distinction in the Northumbrian monasteries.

The Lindisfarne Gospels were produced under Bishop Eadfrith 700 approx, and the ‘Codex Amiatinus’ was one of three complete bibles ordered to be written by Ceolfrith, Abbot of Jarrow, 690-716. The earliest and the finest and finest of the great standing crosses, those at Ruthwell in Dumfries and Bewcastle in Cumberland/Cumbria, are dated to 690 approx and so would belong to the reign of Aldfrith; and the construction of this great series of carved monuments went on undiminished in Aldfrith’s and later reigns, as well as much church building. Stenton writes of Aldfrith; ‘He was undoubtedly one of the most learned men in his own kingdom, and it is probable that his influence on the development of Northumbrian learning was much greater than appears on the surface of history. He is the most interesting member of the remarkable dynasty to which he belonged, and he stands besides Alfred of Wessex among the few Old Engisc Kings who combined skill in warfare with desire for knowledge.’

The Kings who came after Aldfrith were all Politically obscure, but a few were of great piety and probably exerted a greater influence on the development of culture than their political obscurity would indicate. Thus, Ceolworth, 729-37, otherwise almost unknown, was ‘the most glorious King’ to whom Bede dedicated his famous book ‘A History of the Englisc church and people’ in 731. Ceolworth abdicated in 737 and ‘entered the monastery of Lindisfarne; he gave to (the monks of St. Cuthbert his royal treasures and lands, that is to say Bregesne (possibly Brainshaugh, near Warkworth) and Werceworde, (possibly Warkworth), with their appurtenances (accessories), together with the church he had built there, and four others vills also, Wudecetre (possibly Woodhorn), Hwitingham (possibly Whittingham), Eadulfingham (possibly Whittingham), Eagwulfingham (possibly Eglingham).

Ceolworth’s successor Eadbert, 737-58, also abdicated to live as a monk in the monastery of his brother Ecgberht/Egbert, Archbishop of York. This Ecgberht, who had been a pupil of Bede and was later the teacher of Alcuin, founded the school at York which was later built up and developed by his kinsman Athelbert, also later Archbishop of York. Though Ecgberht the substance of Bede’s teaching was transmitted to a group of scholars, including Alcuin, who rapidly made York a prime centre of Englisc scholarship. Through Alcuin the work of Bede, via York, was a contributory factor, and an important one, in the revival of Western learning under Charlemagne. Charlemagne invited Alcuin in 782 to become head of his Palace School at Aachen, and later made him Abbot of St. Martin’s at Tours, 796-804, a monastery which Alcuin converted into a great centre of learning.

This export of religion and culture to western and north-western Europe is an essential part of the story. Northumbria was not a small outlaying kingdom which developed a brilliant art, culture, architecture and sculpture in isolation. It could not of course have developed very far, if at all, in isolation It influenced and was influenced by, it grew up in cultural association with, the Celtic learning of Ireland and south-west Scotland. Later its scholars and missionaries went abroad to Europe and founded monasteries which also became centres of learning, and which in turn influenced the art and architecture of these Islands. Thus, Willibrord from Northumbria spent more than forty years, from 690 approx, among the Frisians and founded the famous Abbey of Echternach, near Trier 710 approx. Later from the other end of England Boniface of Devon did similar and even more effective work among the west Germans between 719-754, and founded the great Abbey of Fulda 744 approx. His work has been stated to be the most important single influence on the history of Europe that any Engliscman has ever exercised (Christopher Dawson).

The great achievements of Northumbian culture, though rendered possible, or at least facilitated, by the outstanding personalities and patronage of the Northumbrian Kings, were brought about by four great churchmen whose work resulted in what has been called the Heroic Age of Anglo-Saxon/Englisc Church in the eighth century. These men were Benedict Biscop, 628-90, Wilfred of Ripon, 634-709, Bede of Jarrow, 763-735, and the great organiser and ecclesiastical statesman Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, 668-90. Theodore indeed has been described as ‘the first man in Englisc history to whom we fittingly give the name statesman’. He not Augustine, was the true founder of the organised Anglo-Saxon /Englisc Church. He made his authority effective throughout the whole country. He cut several dioceses out of the single unwieldy one of Northumbria and brought them under the authority of Canterbury. Bede has been sufficiently referred to the above. His genius was in letters, theology and above all in history. He was not the only Englisc historian and the greatest of his age; his equal did not appear again for five hundred years. But apart from his very great general influence on culture he had no direct influence on architecture or on church building.

Benedict Biscop and Wilfred, both members of royal houses, were great builders. They must be regarded as the initiators of church building in stone in Northumbria. Benedict Bishop made six journeys to Rome, bringing back pictures, books treasures for the churches he intended to build. He also brought masons, glaziers and other craftsmen from Gaul to help him build ‘more Romanorun’ i.e. in the manner of the Romans, in stone.

The spread of Christianity throughout Northmbria, in fact throughout all England, was surprisingly rapid and extensive, and the conversion of Kings and nobles apparently genuine and sincere. The Kings became great patrons of the arts. They supplied lands and endowments for church buildings and were fortunate in that there was great ecclessiatics to take full advantage of this great opportunity. Also at this time, at this early time England was not a unified country but comprised seven politically separate kingdoms, those of the so-called Heptarchy, developing culturally along their own lines, although of course deeply influenced by the not very dissimilar cultures of their neighbours.

Later, after the first great series of Danish invasions was over, and Alfred had reorganised his part of the country, and after his son Edward ‘the Elder’ and grandson ‘Athelstan’ had re-conquered the Danelaw and so created one country, England, a new wave of church building as Christianity took a new lease of life, again under royal patronage, the patronage of Edgar, Canute and Edward ‘the Confessor’. With once again with great ecclesiastics to take full advantage this time with St. Dunstan, St. Athelwold of Winchester, St. Oswald of Worcester and York, one may add Edward the confessor himself-were able to build monasteries and churches, in a truly national style in late Anglo-Saxon/Englisc period.

Kings of Bernicia
Ida, 547-559
Son of Eoppa, fortification of Bamburgh.

Adda, 560-568
Eldest son of Ida.

Aethelric, 568-572
son of Ida.

Theodric, 572-579
Brother of Athelric.

Frithuwald, 579-585
Son of Ida.

Hussa, 585-592
His son led the Bernicians to a great victory over Aedan mac Gabhrain at Degsastan in 603.

Urien
Ruler of Rheged to the west who with other warlords besieged Hussa at the island of Lindisfarne in c580 but was betrayed and slain.

Aethelfrith, 593-616
Added the neighboring Kingdom of Deira due to a marriage but was slain at the battle of the river Idle.

Edwin of Deira, 616-633
Succeeded to the throne on the victory of river Idle, given to him by king Raedwald of East Angles.

Eanfrith, 633-634
Son of Aethelfrith who acceded the throne on the passing of Edwin, but was slain by the Briton Cadwallon a year later.

Oswald, 634-642
Another son of Aethelfrith, reunited Deira and Bernicia when he succeeded his brother in 634, but he was slain when fighting Penda of Mercia at the battle of Maserfield, near Oswestry, west of Shrewsbury.

Oswiu/Oswy, 642-655
Younger brother of Oswald took the throne after the slaying of his brother, greatest victory at the battle of Winwaed when Penda of Mercia was slain and joining Bernicia and Deira forever to form
Kings of Deira
Aelle, 560/588
The only thing known of him is from the Anglo-Saxon chronicle that gave him a pedigree from Woden.Aethelfric of Bernicia, 588-593
Possibly a sub-king put on the throne by his son Aethelfrith.

Aethelfrith of Bernicia, 593-617
Became King of Deira through his wife, slain at the battle of the River Idle where Edwin took the throne of Deira.

Edwin, 617-633
Became King of both Deira and Bernicia after victory at the battle of the River Idle. Edwin was slain with his son at the battle of Hatfield chase (Heathfield) by the Briton Cadwallon of Gwyned and Penda of Mercia.

Osric, 633-634
Attempted to hold Deira after the death of Edwin but was slain by the Briton Cadwallon of Gwynedd, whom he was besieging.

Oswald of Bernicia, 634-642
He reunited Bernicia and Deira after he defeated and slew Cadwallon of Gwynedd at the battle on the Deniseburn, known as Heavenfield, near Hexham, but was later slain by Penda of Mercia.

Oswine, 642-651
Succeeded Oswald to the throne of Deira but was slain by Gilling in 651 on the orders of Oswiu/Oswy of Bernicia.

Aethelwald, 651-655
Son of Oswald, of Bernicia, possibly a sub-king put in by his uncle or by the Mercians.
Kings of Northumbria
Oswy 655-671
Brought the Kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira together to form Northumbria. Presided over the synod of Whitby.

Ecgfrith 671-685
Son of Oswy, died fighting Picts which severely weakened Northumbria from then on.

Aidfrid 685-705
Half brother of Ecgfrith, restored a shattered Northumbria within smaller boundaries.

Eadwulf I 705
King for a few months, but his support soon vanished and he was exiled to either Dal Riata or Pictland.

Osred I 705-716
The child son of Aldfrid, whose government was controlled by Bishop Wilfred and Ealdermen, Osred died young.

Ceonred 716-718
A young man when gaining the crown, but did not last long

Osric 718-729
Brother of Osred or possibly half brother.

Ceolwulf 729-737
Adopted heir by Osric, a distant cousin, deposed in 732, but quickly restored, finally abdicated to enter Lindisfarne.

Eadberht 737-758
Brother of Ecgbert, Archbishop of York, abdicated to become a monk.

Oswulf 758-759
Son of Eadberht, murdered by his servants and bodyguards.

Aethelwald moll 759-765
Seized throne after Oswulf’s murder, but was deposed by a Witenagemot of Northumbrian nobles.

Alhred 765-774
Married Osgifu daughter of Oswulf, later deposed and exiled, fled to the Picts.

Aethelred I 774-779
Son of Aethelwald moll, straw man compared to his father, very soon deposed with the in fighting in Northumbria.

Aelfwald I 779-788
Possible son of Oswulf, but was murdered by an Ealderman.

Osred II 788-790
Son of Alhred,but he did not last long even though he united the competing factions in Northumbria, forcibly tonsored.

Aethelred II `restored` 790-796
His second reign, just as troublesome as before who was eventually murdered. Alcuin blamed Aethelred and his nobles on the sack of Lindisfarne by the Vikings.

Osbald 796
Friend of Alcuin a monk from York, but he was a violent man, who was abandoned by the royal court after 27 days in power, exiled to Lindisfarne.

Eardwulf II 796-806
Little to record of his reign, except the continued in fighting within Northumbria, deposed in 806.

Aelfwald II 806-808
Followed Eardwulf after his deposition, but only lasted two years when he was deposed himself.

Eardwulf II ‘restored’ 808-810
Restored to the throne with help of Charlemagne, but only reigned for two years.

Eanred 810-840
Little is known of his reign, offered terms of obedience and subjection to Ecgbert ‘King of all England/Wessex’ in 829.

Aethelred II 840-844    (854-858)
Son of Eanred, expelled in favour of Redwulf

Redwulf 844 (858)
He reigned less than a year died fighting the Vikings.

Aethelred II ‘restored’ 844-848   (858-862)
Restored after the death of Redwulf, was assassinated few years later.

Osberht 848 -867
Little is known of his reign deposed in 862.

Aella 862-867
Took the crown from Osberht, who could have been his brother, both died fighting the Vikings of York in 867.

There is confusion on the dates from Aethelred onwards with new evidence these could be their actual dates of reign.

With all the infighting in Northumbria going on for over a century the Vikings saw and used this opportunity to invade Northumbria and very nearly conquered the whole of England. These now named are the Viking King of York and beyond, in this is the English Kings who eventually defeated the Vikings.

Halfedene 876-877

Guthred-Cnut 883-894

Siegfred (Sievet) 893-896

Aethelwald of Wessex 900-902

Regnald 918-921

Sihtric Caoch 921-926

Guthfrith Sihtricson 926

Aethelstan ‘King of England’ 926-939

Anlaf I Guthfrithson 940 -942

Anlaf II Quaran 942-944

Edmund and Eadred ‘Kings of England’ 944-947

Eric blood axe 947-948

Anlaf II Quaran ‘restored’ 949-952

Eric blood axe ‘restored’ 952-954

 

Northumbrian Churches
Saint John’s Church
Escombe, Nr Bishop Auckland, Durham

Saint Peter’s Church
Heysham, Nr Morecombe, Lancashire

Saint Gregory’s Minster
Kirkdale, North Yorkshire