3 The Mercian Supremacy

tiw-god-of-warAfter Wulfhere, Aethelred and Aethelbald laid the foundations, a prince from the Hwicce, Offa, took Mercia to its greatest achievements.





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Cynewulf and Cyneheard

In 755, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle suddenly breaks into lyricism, with a story about the King of Wessex that has all the hallmarks of a great ballad told in the halls of the powerful – which someone wrote down.

The link to Cynewulf and Cyneheard on Youtube is here, so you can go and like it or whatever one does. Below is the main part of the entry for 755, which is probably the wrong year

This year Cynewulf, with the consent of the West-Saxon council, deprived Sebright, his relative, for unrighteous deeds, of his kingdom, except Hampshire; which he retained, until he slew the alderman who remained the longest with him.  Then Cynewulf drove him to the forest of Andred, where he remained, until a swain stabbed him at Privett, and revenged the alderman, Cumbra.  The same Cynewulf fought many hard battles with the Welsh; and, about one and thirty winters after he had the kingdom, he was desirous of expelling a prince called Cynheard, who was the brother of Sebright.  But he having understood that the king was gone, thinly attended, on a visit to a lady at Merton rode after him, and beset him therein; surrounding the town without, ere the attendants of the king were aware of him.  When the king found this, he went out of doors, and defended himself with courage; till, having looked on the Ætheling, he rushed out upon him, and wounded him severely.  Then were they all fighting against the king, until they had slain him.  As soon as the king’s thanes in the lady’s bower heard the tumult, they ran to the spot, whoever was then ready.  The Ætheling immediately offered them life and rewards; which none of them would accept, but continued fighting together against him, till they all lay dead, except one British hostage, and he was severely wounded.  When the king’s thanes that were behind heard in the morning that the king was slain, they rode to the spot, Osric his alderman, and Wiverth his thane, and the men that he had left behind; and they met the Ætheling at the town, where the king lay slain.  The gates, however, were locked against them, which they attempted to force; but he promised them their own choice of money and land, if they would grant him the kingdom; reminding them, that their relatives were already with him, who would never desert him.  To which they answered, that no relative could be dearer to them than their lord, and that they would never follow his murderer.  Then they besought their relatives to depart from him, safe and sound.  They replied, that the same request was made to their comrades that were formerly with the king; “And we are as regardless of the result,” they rejoined, “as our comrades who with the king were slain.”  Then they continued fighting at the gates, till they rushed in, and slew the Ætheling and all the men that were with him; except one, who was the godson of the alderman, and whose life he spared, though he was often wounded.  This same Cynewulf reigned one and thirty winters.  His body lies at Winchester, and that of the Ætheling at Axminster.  Their paternal pedigree goeth in a direct line to Cerdic. 

12 thoughts on “3 The Mercian Supremacy

  1. I have enjoyed both the History of England and Anglo Saxon podcasts, but the last episode on your typepad.com site for the Anglo Saxon series stops about three months ago at Episode 12. Did you decide to end it there, or is there some other location where we should look for later episodes?

  2. Hi Jon – you ask about the non re-appearance of the Anglo Saxon podcast…I’m really sorry, I have just got stuck, run out of time, and had to focus on the History of England. But at some point I will get back to it!
    Just not sure when…

  3. Greetings from Phoenix, Az., David!
    I’ve been listening to your podcast for about a week now. I started with your Henry II pod(shed)casts, and enjoyed them so much I decided to start with your initial installment and listen to every episode in their proper sequence. I’ve been interested in history for most of my life, and am especially interested in the history of England. You really do know your subject and your presentation is extremely good. I can’t imagine how much time you invest in THOE podcast. You must spend many hours a week on research alone. The time and care you put into each podcast really comes through, and your efforts are most appreciated. As soon as I am in a position to become a year round member, I fully intend on doing so. In the meantime, thank you for doing such an outstanding job. I thoroughly enjoy listening to you.

    1. I blush! Glad you enjoyed Henry II – I am something of a fan of the bloke I have to say. I would have stopped long ago if it wasn’t for the fact that it is just enormously fun to do! The thought that I might be able to support myself by doing a podcast on history is just amazing and a joy. I look forward to welcoming you to the glorious membership, and thanks so much for your kind comment.

    1. Hi Pat. You’d have to click on them, right click, select Save as picture, and save them on your computer; then open them up and print from there. That’s the only way I can see of doing it.

  4. Random questions about the Anglo-Saxon period.
    1. Why did England be called that instead of Saxonland? The Angles seemed to play a fairly small role in the history of this period.
    2. We have Essex, Middlesex, Sussex, Wessex, but no Nossex. Similarly no Southumbria (I think you explained this one a bit), no Wesfolk or Easfolk. Can you comment on the lack of completeness on cardinal point nomenclature please?

    1. Hi Rolf. I have done my job poorly! Angles were the main Germanic settlers of all England from the Thames northwards, all the way up to modern Edinburgh as it happens. The Saxons are luck to have got a look in, an accident of the viking invasions.
      Ad sadly, I do not know! Just Saxon sloppiness maybe!

      1. Thanks for your reply David, I have to leave you with this:
        Were the other kingdoms of the time made an Offa they couldn’t refuse, resulting in the Mercian Supremacy?

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