106 – If You Give Edwin an Inch…

Alright, so when we last left Edwin he was installed as King of Northumbria by King Raedwald, Bretwalda.  And he had wielded his newly granted power to exact revenge upon King Ceretic of Elmet, probably in response to the British King poisoning Edwin’s Nephew.  But for as powerful as Edwin was in the north, Raedwald was the true power in Britain.  He was referred to Rex Anglorum by Bede… King of the Angles.  And he was certainly that.  But unfortunately, the battle at the river Idle is the last entry we have about Raedwald.  He just vanishes.  So lets hit pause on him for a minute and look south.  To Raedwald’s neighbors in Essex.


Do you remember King Saebert’s three sons?  They were the Pagan Kings who ruled Essex following Saebert’s death.  As you might remember, they controlled both Essex as well as London but it looks like they were rather ambitious.  So in 617, only a year after the Battle at the River Idle, the warbands of the East Saxons clashed with the West Saxons… quite possibly over Surrey.


Now let me say this.  Surrey is beautiful  It really is.  However, they might have regretted their choice because in that battle all three fantastically named kings of Essex, King Sexred, King Saeward, and (probably) King Seaxbald were killed in battle.  Leaving Saeward’s son, Sigeberht, as the sole King of the East Saxons.  And Surrey was still under the control of the West Saxons.  And even worse, this defeat brought an end to the charming tradition of Sex names.


Oh well.


And then things were quiet for a bit… until there was a wedding.


You see, at some point in this period, Edwin married AEthelburh, the daughter of King Aethelberht of Kent and the sister of the current King of Kent, Eadbald.  That’s a pretty good marriage for the new king of Northumbria.  Kent was powerful, and by marrying AEthelburh, he was also tying himself in with the Merovingians of Frankia.  Don’t forget that her mother, the former Queen of Kent, was Bertha, the daughter of the King of Paris.  So through this union, hopefully Edwin’s children would have the support of the Franks.  That’s a pretty smart move.  And as incentive for the marriage to take place, Edwin apparently said that he would consider converting to Christianity.  Not that he WOULD convert, only that he’d consider it.  But hey, it’s a start.  And he’d allow AEthelburh to bring a priest with her.  Which should remind you of how the conversion of King AEthelberht of Kent started.  So the new Queen of Northumbria brought an Italian priest by the name of Paulinus with her, and we’re told that Paulinus was “a man tall of stature, a little stooping, with black hair and a thin face, a hooked and thin nose, his aspect both venerable and awe-inspiring.”

  6 comments for “106 – If You Give Edwin an Inch…

  1. Kiwwy
    December 10, 2013 at 6:01 am

    I loved the waterfall ending. Although I wasnt in bed, it made me feel like having a nap :) This should be the new standard outtro.

    • December 10, 2013 at 8:39 am

      Hahaha, I don’t know. It might be a bit dangerous for the commuter listeners. ;)

  2. Jessica
    December 11, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    Is it odd that my first thought was that Paulinus sounded like Prof. Snape? Seems like a similar description.

  3. September 23, 2015 at 8:30 am

    Hi Jamie, been re listening to these episodes as Edwin’s career is one of the most fascinating stories you’ve told. Quick question: How did Bede know that it was Cwichelm who had despatched Eomer to kill Edwin? The way you describe it sounds like Eomer was killed pretty quickly, so Edwin wouldn’t have had a chance to interrogate him. Did Edwin’s court all already know Eomer, and know that he was loyal to Cwichelm, so they just assumed Cwichelm had sent him? Is it possible Edwin wanted to attack Cwichelm anyway, and that blaming the assassination attempt on him was just a cassus belli for war?

  4. September 23, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Or could the story even have been made up out of whole cloth by Bede to justify Edwin’s attack on Wessex? I mean, given Edwin’s attack on Gwynedd, it doesn’t seem like he was above naked power plays. Maybe Bede felt like he didn’t need to justify the attack on Gwynedd because Cadwallon was such a hated figure in Northumbria, and Welsh to boot, but an attack on a nonaggressive fellow Anglo-Saxon needed a reason if Edwin wasn’t to be painted as a villain. It would also be important to Bede that this war appear justified since it was the war that caused Edwin to (eventually) convert, and it would seem odd to claim that God had helped Edwin to win an unjustified war of aggression.

    • September 23, 2015 at 1:39 pm

      That is entirely possible. Bede and other scribes were constrained by their sources, which was often hearsay. So the information about the assassination is dodgy and it definitely wouldn’t hold up in a modern court. So… who knows?

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