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Aethelred I of Mercia

King of Mercia
Aethelred family tree.

Aethelred, also Æthelred or Ethelred, ( 716) was an early King of Mercia. He succeeded his brother Wulfhere when he died in 675. Like his brother, Wulfhere, he was considered an overlord over other English kings. But he never reached the same political status as Wulfhere. His importance was in his contributions to the church. Aethelred ruled Mercia until his abdication in 704. He stepped down to retire to the monastery at Bardney.


King of MerciaEdit

Aethelred was a son of King Penda.[1] At about the same time he succeeded his brother to the throne he married Osthryth, daughter of Oswiu of Northumbria.[2] Aethelred attacked Kent in 676 to get Hlothhere of Kent back in line as a vassal of Mercia. He destroyed much of that kingdom as well as sacked Rochester.[3] In 679 Aethelred continued the struggle his father and brother had with Northumbria. He found Ecgfrith of Northumbria waiting for him on the River Trent which divided north and south Mercia.[4] In the battle, Aelfwine, the younger brother of King Ecgfrith[a] was killed and the Northumbrians were defeated.[6] To prevent a blood feud between the two royal families, Theodore, the Archbishop of Canterbury stepped in to prevent further bloodshed.[7] He secured a truce between Northumbria and Mercia that lasted for 50 years.[7] For the rest of his reign Aethelred was respected as overlord of England even though Bede never listed him among the seven bretwaldas.[3]

Aethelred was very involved in the church. He and his wife Osthryth founded Bardney abbey in Lindsey. Queen Osthryth had the bones of her uncle, Oswald of Northumbria, brought to Bardney to be buried there.[8] This caused some resentment by the monks who at first refused to accept his bones.[b] But they were accepted and buried in the church with all the honors due a saint.[9] Aethelred was a close friend of Wilfrid of York. In 691 Aethelred gave the bishop sanctuary in Mercia after his exile from Northumbria.[10] While welcomed by Aethelred he was not by Queen Osthryth. Wilfred was an old enemy of her brother king Ecgfrith of Northumbria.[10] But Ostryth was not completely accepted in Mercia. She created the cult of Saint Oswald in Mercia which did little to help Mercians forget old feuds with Northumbria.[11] In 697, Queen Osthryth was murdered by Mercian noblemen.[12] She was suspected of having some part in the murder of Peada forty years earlier.[c][3] By this time she had become a nun and had given up married life.[3] In 704 Aethelred stepped down as king to become a monk. His nephew Cenred became King after him. Aethelred retired to the monastery of Bardney where his wife Osthryth had been buried.[1] He became the abbot of Bardney although he remained aware of Mercian politics.[3] Two years after giving up the throne he called his nephew, King Cenred, to Bardsley to ask him to remain on good terms with his old friend Bishop Wilfrid. Aethelred died in 716.[3]

FamilyEdit

Athelred married Ostryth of Northumbria. Athelred may have married a second time.[3] He had two known children but by which wife is uncertain:

  • Ceolred, ruled as king of Mercia 709–716.[1]
  • Ceolwald, may have ruled briefly as king of Mercia in 716.[3]

NotesEdit

  1. Aelfwine was also the brother of Queen Osthryth and so was Aethelred's brother-in-law.[2] According to Bede Aelfwine was much loved in both kingdoms.[5]
  2. The monks refused the bones of Oswald (Saint Oswald) the evening they arrived. It was because he came from Northumbria and ruled over Mercia as a foreign king.[9] His bones remained outside the gates all night. Bede claims a light shown from the cart towards the sky all night.[9] After seeing this sign the monks took and washed his bones. They were then laid in a casket in the church.[9]
  3. She was a sister of Peada's wife Alflaed.[13] It was Alflaed who apparently murdered Peada.

ReferencesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 203
  2. 2.0 2.1 Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1999), p. 254
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1999), p. 255
  4. John Marsden, Northanhymbre Saga; The History of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of Northumbria (London: Kyle Cathie Limited, 1992), p. 168
  5. Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans. Leo Sherley Price, revsd. R. E. Latham (London; New York: Penguin, 1990), p. 240
  6. Peter Hunter Blair, Roman Britain and Early England; 55 B.C.–A.D. 871 (New York; London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1966), p. 197
  7. 7.0 7.1 John Marsden, Northanhymbre Saga; The History of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of Northumbria (London: Kyle Cathie Limited, 1992), pp. 168–69
  8. N. J. Higham, The Kingdom of Northumbria AD 350–1100" (Stroud; Gloucestershire; New York: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1993), p. 128
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans. Leo Sherley Price, revsd. R. E. Latham (London; New York: Penguin, 1990), p. 160
  10. 10.0 10.1 John Marsden, Northanhymbre Saga; The History of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of Northumbria (London: Kyle Cathie Limited, 1992), p. 214
  11. Stephanie Hollis, Anglo-Saxon Women and the Church: Sharing a Common Fate (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1992), p. 236
  12. Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans. Leo Sherley Price, revsd. R. E. Latham (London; New York: Penguin, 1990), p. 327
  13. D. P. Kirby, The Earliest English Kings (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 108

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