Northumbrian Period 2 – Eadwulf – Ecgberht II

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GGF35 – Eadwulf, King of Northumbria (670-717)

At the time of Aldrith’s death, Osred was a child, and it is assumed Eadwulf usurped the throne. Eadwulf’s relationship, if any, to the ruling dynasty, the descendants of Ida, is not known, but it is quite possible that he was indeed of royal descent as two or more other branches of the Eoppingas are found as kings of Northumbria after the extinction of the main line

Initially Eadwulf appears to have had the support of ealdorman Berhtfrith, the son of Berhtred, presumed to be the lord of the north-east frontier of Bernicia, in Lothian and along the Forth.

Bishop Wilfred stained glass

However, a crisis soon arose in 705. Bishop Wilfrid, exiled by Aldfrith, wished to return to Northumbria. Eadwulf aimed to keep the bishop in exile, but Berhtfirth appears to have supported Wilfrid’s return. A short civil war, ended with a siege of Bamburgh, which was won by Berhtfrith, Wilfrid and the supporters of Osred. Osred was restored as child-king of Northumbria.

Eadwulf appears to have been exiled to either Dál Riata or Pictland, his death was reported by the Annals of Ulster in 717. Dál Riata was a Gaelic kingdom that encompassed the western seaboard of Scotland and the north-eastern corner of Ireland, on each side of the Irish Sea. His son Earnwine was killed on the orders of Eadberht of Northumbria in 740. Eadwulf’s great-grandson Eardwulf and Eardwulf’s son Eanred became kings of Northumbria later.


GGF34 – Eardwulf I of Northumbria (?-774)

Symeon of Durham details two Eardwulfs that died in 774 and 775, but little else could be discovered.


GGF33 – Eardwulf II, King of Northumbria (760-810)

Eardwulf is not suggested as being linked with any of the three main factions of the time, instead he was something of an unknown quantity, an outsider.

Early-14th-century Genealogical Roll of the Kings of England illustration of Æthelred I

in 790 King Æthelred I attempted to have Eardwulf assassinated. Symeon of Durham reports: ‘Eardwulf was taken prisoner, and conveyed to Ripon, and there ordered by [Aethelred] to be put to death without the gate of the monastery. The brethren carried his body into the church with Gregorian chanting, and placed it out of doors in a tent; after midnight he was found alive in the church‘. Eardwulf’s survival was viewed as a sign of divine favour. A letter from Alcuin to Eardwulf II suggested that his fortunate recovery was seen as being miraculous.

In 792, Osred retrurned from exile to reign for just 27 days – he was killed by Æthelred’s command on 14 Sep 792. In response, on 18 Apr 796, a group of nobles assassinated Æthelred .

Eardwulf was evidently married before he became king, because the York scholar, Alcuin, reproached him for abandoning his wife for a concubine soon after his coronation.

For 793 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded: ‘In this year dire portents appeared over Northumbria and sorely frightened the people. They consisted of immense whirlwinds and flashes of lightning and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air [a comet!]. A great famine immediately followed these signs, and a little after that in the same year, on 8 June, the ravages of heathen men miserably destroyed God’s church on Lindisfarne, with plunder and slaughter.’

Eardwulf II was crowned in May 796 and was consecrated by Eanbald I, Archbishop of York, and Bishops Æthelberht, Beadwulf and Hygebald, at York Minster.

In 798 Eardwulf fought a battle at Billington Moor against a nobleman named Wada, who had been among those who had killed King Æthelred. Wada was defeated and driven into exile.

Eardwulf, coinsof his first reign, 796-806

In 801 Eardwulf led an army against Coenwulf, king of the Mercians, perhaps because of Coenwulf’s support for other claimants to the Northumbrian throne.

Eardwulf reigned until 806 when he was deposed by Aelfwald, some suggest he hid in the Anchor Church Caves at Repton.

Anchor Church Caves, Repton,
on a tributary of the Trent river
Charlemagne stained glass window

The History of the Church of Durham, stated: Aelfwald ruled for two years before Eanred succeeded. However, Frankish sources claim that, after being expelled from England, Eardwulf escaped to Nijmegen, then travelled to Rome, to see Pope Leo III and Charlemagne. Letters between Charlemagne and Pope Leo III suggest that Coenwulf, king of Mercia had a hand in Eardwulf’s removal. Both decided to have their envoys escort him back to Northumbria to secure his restoration to power. Therefore the precise nature of the succession of Eanred is somewhat unclear.

Charlemagne’s throne in Aachen Cathedral

According to the early 12th-century Annals of Lindisfarne and Durham Eardwulf may have remarried to an illegitimate daughter of Charlemagne.

Saint Mary and Saint Hardulph
at Breedon on the Hill

He was perhaps buried at Breedon on the Hill, 5 miles north of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire. This was a Mercian royal monastery which carries a dedication to Saint Mary and Saint Hardulph, with whom Eardwulf is identified by several historians.


GGF32 – Eanred, King of Northumbria (805-841)

Eanred was born and died at Bamburgh Castle in Northumbria. Aged five he became King of Northumbria, until 841. Do see comments under Eardwulf II above.

Sign indicating the site on which Ecgberht of Wessex defeated Eanred in 829.

In 829 Roger of Wendover stated: ‘When Ecgberht [of Wessex] had obtained all the southern kingdoms, he led a large army into Northumbria, and laid waste that province with severe pillaging, and made King Eanred pay tribute.’ The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles said : Ecgberht led an army against Eanred and the Northumbrians as far as Dore (today a Sheffield suburb), where they met him. Ecgberht received terms of obedience and subjection from Eanred. He returned home but was now able to claim he was the first King of the whole of England. Others suggest that the meeting at Dore may have represented a mutual recognition of sovereignty.

King Ecgberht of Wessex
statue at Lichfield Cathedral

Eanred’s reign saw an expansion in use of the styca. Produced in York, large numbers have survived and several moneyers are named on the surviving coins, suggesting that they were minted in significant quantities. Higham, N.J., in his The Kingdom of Northumbria AD 350-1100, suggests that hundreds of thousands of stycas were in circulation. Their principal use was in external trade and payment of taxes, but coins were little used by the great majority of Northumbrians in daily life.

Eanred silver sceat
Eanred brass styca


GGF31 – Aethelred II, King of Northumbria (?-862)

His father Eanred abdicated and Aelfwald seized the throne for two years. Subsequently it was Eanred’s son Aethelred II who reigned as King of Northumbria (North) from 841-844 and 854-862. His crown was usurped during 858 when Rædwulf seized the throne, but he was then killed later the same year while fighting the Vikings.

Aethelred II, AR penny, Long Cross type Wallingford mint, moneyer Wulfwine

Aethelred’s reign saw a further expansion in issue of the styca, a new style of small coin which replaced the earlier sceat (withdrawn 790). These stycas were initially of base silver, progressively became of low silver content, with later coins using a copper alloy. These remained in circulation until 867.

Aethelred II, AE styca
moneyer: Alghere

In 855 Aethlred continued his father’s innovation of issuing small brass coins with little silver, using zinc instead. These were minted in York by a number of ‘moneyers’.


GGF30 – Ecgberht I, King of Northumbria (?-873)

As we saw, Kings Aella and Osberht were killed in battle when they met with the Vikings’ Great Heathen Army at York on 21 March 867. Symeon of Durham reported: ‘Nearly all the Northumbrians were routed and destroyed, the two kings being slain; the survivors made peace with the pagans. After these events, the pagans appointed Ecgberht king under their own dominio; Ecgberht reigned for six years, over the Northumbrians beyond the Tyne[and southern Scotland]. See more details of this under Aella.

Ecgberht I is first referenced when he was apointed the tax collector for the Great Heathen Army.

York Minster, wood-built 627 CE,
completed and consecrated 1472

A rebellion against the Army and its collaborators in 872, saw Ecgberht, accompanied by Wulfhere, Archbishop of York, flee to Mercia. Halfdan Ragnarsson mobilised his army in 875, bringing Northumbria under his control and destroying all of the monasteries.

Halfdan then distributed the land amongst his followers appointing Ricsige as King of Northumbria, he reigned from 873-876, and reinstated Wulfhere.

Ricsige was subsequentl replaced by Ecgberht II.


GGF29 – Ecgberht II, King of Northumbria (837-889)

Note: In continuing to Northumbrian Period 3 it is necessary to appreciate that both Aella and Ecgberht II were my GGF29s – Eadwulf II and Aethelthryth were married, Ecgberht II was his father, and Aella was hers.

Ecgberht was born in 837, and, following the death of King Ricsige of Northumbria in 876, he became the new Danish puppet ruler of Bernicia.

Symeon of Durham, wrote in 876: ‘The pagan king Halfdene divided between himself and his followers the country of the Northumbrians. Ricsige, his appointed king of the Northumbrians, died, and was replaced by Ecgberht II, who reigned over the Northumbrians beyond the river Tyne.’

Bernicia and Deria

He ruled the whole of Northumbria from 876-878, then ruled Bernicia, the part of Northumbria above the Tyne (and into Scotland), for another four years.

Ecgberht coin from the period- but believed to be Archbishop of York, Ecgbehrt, son of Eata

In 877, encouraged by the news of Alfred the Great’s victory at the Battle of Edington, he backed Father Hrothweard’s uprising against the Danish garrison of York.

However, that same year, the Danish Christian king Guthred of Cumberland (aided by Abbot Eadred Lulisc and Uhtred of Bebbanburg) marched on York at the head of the ‘Army of the Holy Man’, an army consisting of both Anglo-Saxon and Danish warriors.

It did not go well for Ecgberht. His own bodyguard deserted him before the two armies could meet, leaving Ecgberht with only twenty-eight men under his command. The people of York deserted the city out of fear that Ivar Ivarsson would return and crush the Saxons. Ecgberht was dragged from his bedchamber to the great hall, where Jarl Ulf, Abbot Eadred, and Uhtred attempted to convince Guthred to have the elderly Ecgberht executed to end his claim to the throne.

Guthred was victorius, but inspired by Alfred’s benevolence, he spared Ecgberht and sent him to a monastery to the south of the river, where he remaineduntil he died of a degenerative disorder by 879.

We could find no record of his wife, but his son was Eadwulf II, who succeeded him..

Note: he is not to be confused with Ecgberht, King of Wessex (775-839) who ruled from 802-839.

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