Northumbria - 1: Early Days, Lighting the Beacon - From Ida 'the Flame-Bearer' to Eadwin
"Whither are we bound, Lord?"
"We are bound for land beyond Njord's broad lea, that begs to be taken".
'Will we find homes there, land for the plough, and meadows for our beasts to graze?"
"The land will welcome us with open arms, my child. Fear nought, our broad-bladed swords will be put to good use if the folk there will not let us have that land without a fight!"
Early days - carving out a corner of a new land
Spreading, reaching outward...
Settlement from the Humber northward had begun by the mid-5th Century AD by the Angles, the Aengle. Kinsmen who crossed the North Sea with them entered through land flood-prone or marsh-ridden, not a lot different to where they had come from. They must have wondered at times why they crossed at all. Yet cross they must.
Their reasons for crossing were twofold at least. Firstly the usable- land between the Jutland peninsula and the North German plain was crowded. Other migrations went through their territory, such as the Teutons, the Vandals and Langobards who would reach the southern Alps before settling down in what is now Lombardy. The Vandals would cross Iberia into North Africa and settle in what is now Tunisia and Libya. The Teutons did not go that far, settling in central Germany and eventually east along the Baltic. Secondly much of the land they left was heath or marsh, unworkable with the tools to hand. They needed land that lent itself to tilling and feeding livestock.
All these peoples found what they craved, living space and agricultural land where they could thrive. The Aengle of Northumbria would have to spread inland and northward before they had what they wanted. Their southern neighbours had to push inland along the Trent, the East Aengle inward and upward around the high ground of Northfolc and Suthfolc (Norfolk and Suffolk).
Early days were strife-torn. Territorial claims meant that rival clans would push against one another for neighbouring lands, their understanding of one another's needs clouded to say the least. Good agricultural land and hunting was jealously guarded. These were the days of marking out territories and trespassers were summarily despatched.
It was also a time for the northern Aengle to spread out, ever northward. Initially it was merely clans. Kingdoms came shortly afterward. Clues to settlement come in place-names. Some names from the Romano-Celtic era lived on, such as Catraeth/Cadraig (Catterick, once a hill fort of the Brigantes south of the Tees that became a Roman garrison and in time a British Army garrison from WWI), and the Belgae kingdom of Elmete east of Leeds, otherwise the incomers saturated their conquests with names that reflected the nature of settlement. Endings with -tun (-ton) or -ham indicated agricultural settlement beginnings when settlement became more secure; 'burh' indicated a town, fortified. Roman towns were also taken over. Eboracum became Eoferwic, a town beside a river bend where wild boar (eofer). proliferated in the sometime impenetrable forests to the north of the city. Everton would once have been Eofertun. There are settlements by this name across the eastern counties, midlands and north including a famous one near Liverpool with a Premiership football club.
The North East, beyond the Tees, was occupied by descendants of Romanised Celts and pre-Roman era tribes that had not been quashed as, for example, the Iceni (in what became East Anglia) had been. Further north was a tribal people known as the Gododdin in what became the Lothians (Lothene) under the Aengle. These people are considered to have descended from the Romanised Votadini who populated the southern Forth shore. In AD 538 the Gododdin were beaten by a confederation of Highland Gaels known to us as the Caledonians, of Dalriada/Dalriata, migrants from across the narrows of the northern Irish Sea at Dinas Eiddin, later Dunedin and finally Edinburgh. . .
Deira and Beornica (Bernicia)
Conquest and consolidation.. Ida of Bernicia strikes out northward across the Tweed.
The old British stronghold of Din/Dinas Guyardi was taken by the Aengle warlord Ida 'the Flame-bearer' *in AD 547. The seizure of this historic Celtic fort was a milestone in the fortunes of the emergent kingdom of Beornica we know now as Bernicia. Ida's power was concentrated north of the Tees, initially as far as the Tweed. The rich, fertile lands of the Guyardi would be an asset in the expansion of Ida's power. The name, Beornica, chosen for the kingdom may well have been an Anglicisation of a Brythonic name, as with Deira. (The two kingdoms would in their time be one, yet divide again and belatedly re-unite before Deira went under to the Danes in the 9th Century)
Ida took large tracts of land in the North East, including some south of the Tees by AD 550. His son Theodoric succeeded. Less of a successful leader than his father, his realm was limited to north of the Tees. Some of the Celtic chiefdoms saw him as weaker than his father and refused to pay homage to him.
At this time in the Wolds of East Yorkshire, within the kingdom of Deira an Aengle warband leader's star was on the rise. He was Aelle, seen as Deira's first king. A long drawn-out struggle for overall power would ensue between Beornica and Deira. The Celts were however not yet subdued, notably the kingdom of Rheged - later the kingdom of Strathclyde and known now as Cumbria, down to the Ribble .- and its king Urien would press hard on Theodoric in AD 575. He besieged Theodoric on the isle of Lindisfarena (Lindisfarne) for three days. The siege was unresolved and Urien withdrew from Beornica.
Lindisfarena, close as it was to Beornica's heart, would prove significant in AD 590 when Urien of Rheged was slain in battle against the Aengle. He is thought to have been let down by Morgan, chief of the Gododdin north of the Tweed..
Aethelfrith, grandson of Ida took the kingship of Beornica in AD AD 593. Without a strong foe in the nature of Urien his power would be assured over the Celts in the north. In AD 598 Aethelfrith defeated an alliance of Britons at Catraeth, a clash we call the Battle of Catterick, the heart of a kingdom that extended westward between the Swale and the Tees. This confrontation was the culmination of a campaign that saw the Britons move south after gathering at Dinas Eiddin. This alliance was made up of the Gododdin, Rheged and Gwynedd Britons. It seemed the Britons were set on a last ditch show of resistance to the Aengle.
His power now unchallenged, Aethelfrith was master of all he surveyed. Great swathes of land now fell to the Aengle, the Celts between the Swale and the Forth had to acknowledge his overlordship. However, the Celts still held Rheged as far as the northern Pennines, down to Loidis (Leeds), across Elmet to Meicen (marshland territory around Mexborough, west of Doncaster).
AD,603 saw Aethelfrith look to the Celts to the north as his next target, taking on the Dalriada Scots' king Aidan MacGabrain at the battle of Degsastan. The Scots had drawn in the Ulstermen on their side yet still lost. Degsastan is considered to be in Liddesdale. Losing to Aethelfrith meant the kingdoms of Strathclyde, Rheged,and Gododdin would have to acknowledge his mastery.
Now stronger and unassailable in the north, he turned south to take the crown of Deira. Beornica and Deira would be one north of the Hymbra (Humber): Northanhymbia came into being, a marriage of convenience. Many in Deira were unhappy with rule from Beornica, Aethelfrith knew. He fostered Deiran support in a real marriage with Acha, one of their female royal blood. Her brother Eadwin was less than eager to embrace his brother-in-law. He took shelter with the Miercan king Cearl. With Eadwin in Mierca, Aethelfrith saw his presence there as a direct threat to his overall kingship of Northanhymbra. .
In AD 615 Bernicia's heart Din Guyardi was renamed Baebbanburh, 'Baebba's Stronghold', for his new wife, a Pictish princess named Baebba. It would come to be pronounced as 'Bamburh'. The Celts were now no longer a threat, and Aethelfrith sought to subdue his nearest Aenglan opposition. He ousted Cearl from the kingship of Mierca, ruling the midland kingdom through a Miercan ally. Eadwin now fled to East Aengla, still a threat to Aethelfrith's rule over Deira, albeit a more distant one.
Later still in AD 615 he extended his overlordship into Gwynedd, beating the Welsh near Ceaster (Chester) and overpowering Rheged from the south. The Strathclyde Britons were now cut off from their cousins in Gwynedd and Lothene. Only the Lake District itself was held by the Britons.
Aethelfrith would see his power checked. The following year he was cut down in battle when he went against King Raedwald of the East Aengle deep in Deira (near the River Idle by Bawtry, now north Nottinghamshire, close to Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire), a hazardous marshland area bordering on the Isle.of Axholme in Lindsey within fairly easy reach of East Aengla (no more than two day's ride).
*A Briton bard is said to have given King Ida the epithet ..
With Eadwin's kingship...
John Marsden takes you from when the Aengle - the Angles - first crossed the North Sea in the 5th Century, after the Romans withdrew... Follow the course of a kingdom, as its many rivers, and how it developed on the north-east coast of what became England
Turning the tables...
With Eadwin's kingship came Deira's mastery of the Kingdom of Northanhymbra. Yet there was still friction either side of the Tees. Beornica had a contender to the throne in the form of Oswald. Seeing themselves potentially endangered, Oswald and his brother Oswy/Oswiu went into exile on the Gaelic missionary isle of Iona off the west coast of Dalriada (or Dal Riata). Power from conquest was part and parcel of being a king of the Aengle and their southern West Seaxne neighbours. It was as much a necessity for Eadwin as it had been for Aethelfrith.
Eadwin's initial warfaring took him to the southern area of Deira, to the smaller Celtic enclaves close to his boundary with Mierca. In Elmet, west of Loidis (present-day Leeds) he ousted the sub-king Ceretic in AD 626. Meicen (Hatfield near Doncaster) followed in being subjugated. A foray east across the Isle of Axholme saw him take the Aengle kingdom of Lindisse (Lindsey, later part of Mercia under Penda and Offa).
Aethelfrith had done much of the hard work, now Eadwin reaped the harvest of being the strongest king of the Aengle heretofore. However jealousy always follows in the wake of power, so it would be no surprise to anyone to learn that the West Seaxne leader Cwichelm sent Eumer north to destabilise Northanhymbra by killing Eadwin at the feast of the heathen goddess Eoster.(after whom the Christian 'Easter' celebration was named). He would be at his hall in the wolds, the hilly lands south of the Deorewent (Derwent). Eumer drew a dagger tipped with a blood-thinning poison and drew near to Eadwin at his high seat. Lillam, one of Eadwin's stalwarts luckily saw the weapon and leapt between them, to be stabbed instead. In the melee that followed Eadwin suffered a scrape but not from Eumer's blade. Aethelburga gave birth to a son that evening, and Eadwin only had time to see to it that the killer was secured safely for the time being. After holding his son up to the gods for their blessing he went back to the feasting hall, to cheers and loud thumping of ale cups on the boards.
'Ale here!' he called to the hall maids and cheering began anew. Deira, and further, Northanhymbra was safe! ..
The West Seaxan was later put to death. But that was only the beginning of a new campaign to teach Cwichelm a lesson began the same summer, for interfering in matters that had nothing to do with him - events being so far away from any possible Seaxne interests. In a decisive battle the West Seaxne were beaten. A brooding giant would nevertheless bide his time...
The Northanhymbran kings had until then been staunchly heathen, rebutting any moves by Celtic or Roman Christian missionaries to 'teach them the right way of worship' that had so far crept only as far as East Aengla and southern Mierca. The god Woden would take the best warriors after death for his feasting hall, to fight anew each day and feast by night. Tyr, the god of war lorded over the field of slaughter that was to come, one hand bitten off by the wolf Fenrir. Valkyries, the handmaidens of Freyja took their choice of warrior after the goddess took every third man. Hel took those who did not throw themselves into the fray. And Thunor, god of thunder took the craftsmen, the farmers, the fishermen under his wing, wielded his hammer on the gods' foes.
Eadwin, through Raedwald had forged a friendship with King Aethelbald of the Centishmen, the Jutes who had answered the call for help from the Celts under Hengest and Horsa. Aethelbald had agreed the conversion of his kingdom with Augustine of Hippo after he himself had been baptised and taken the bread. It had been put to him - my words - that as a heathen he might lose the faith of his underlings if the Franks took it on themselves to attack his kingdom.
Eadwin had already thought of conversion, and in AD 625 he agreed to take Aethelbald's daughter Aethelburga in wedlock. His defeat of Cwichelm's West Seaxne army in AD 626 was attributed to his new faith and in AD 627 he took baptism at Eoferwic. The missionary Paulinus conducted the rite, and with his heathen high priest Coifi who followed his example in the new timber church named for Peter the Martyr, Eadwin was formally accepted into the new faith on April.11th. To show he really had taken the faith Coifi set fire to the old temple at Godemanham (now Goodmanham) by the Deorewent.
Thousands took baptism when the new Bishop of Eoferwic (Ebor) Paulinus crossed the kingdom, conducting the rite in the River Swalge (Swale) at Catraeth in Deira and in the River Glen near Yeavering in Beornica (near Berwick-upon-Tweed). Near here a hall was built for Eadwin, where the ground plans of various buildings can still be made out on the grass from the air, including some form of public speaking theatre where Paulinus carried out his mission. The site of the hall and its outbuildings is at the base of Yeavering Bell, the site of Ad Gefrin, a Celtic hill fort on the northern rim of the Cheviot Hills. In the case of some of Paulinus' audience he may have had more eager listeners than some of the less convinced Aengle.
The site of the Roman legionary headquarters was where Eadwin's church of Saint Peter was built. In AD 628 the church was rebuilt in stone, materials taken from the crumbling Roman structure, as were many others in the region. However, the fate of the new Roman belief would take a blow on October 12th, AD 633 when Eadwin was slain at Heathfield (Hatfield) in marshland not far from where Aethelfrith was slain less than a decade earlier. This time the winner would be a Miercan warband leader Penda and his Welsh ally Cadwallon* .Eadwin's son Eadfrith yielded after his father's successor Osric was slain along with Eadwin..
In winning against Eadwin Penda, now made king of the Miercans, would lay claim to being the strongest leader in the north; Cadwallon's eyes were on Eadwin's throne, in itself not unusual as many Celts who still lived within Elmet and Meicen would welcome him as one of theirs. Those Celts across the Pennines in Rheged would have seen their fortunes change with one of their own as king.
Meanwhile developments beyond the Tees saw Aethelfrith's heathen son Eanfrith crowned king of Northanhymbra. Beornica would again see its star rise. Those north of the Tees who took the new faith would revert to the old beliefs, in order to keep in step with Eanfrith. - and Christianity would take a backward step with Paulinus' return to Cantuarebyrig/Cantuareburh.
*Cadwallon is mentioned along with Penda in HERITAGE- 11: FOOL'S GOLD:
Perhaps one of the most significant Anglian kings, 'Bretwalda' (High King) of mainland Britain. Brought Northumbria from a divided Deira-Bernicia to one single kingdom, forged links across different kingdoms and brought Christianity to his kingdom - nevertheless he had his enemies and his end came close to where his father met his
Yeavering near Wooler, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland
To follow: NORTHUMBRIA - 2: Oswald and Oswy to Aeldfrith, Days of Bede
© 2015 Alan R Lancaster