Ok, last episode, we jumped forward a little to take the story of East Anglia to the point where Sigebehrt took the throne… but lets go back about 3 years… to 628 (ish)… and look at what is going on in Mercia.
Mercia, the Midland kingdom, has been a bit of a backwater in our story so far but it’s about to get more important very soon. So we really should chat a bit about it.
So Mercia… what exactly are we talking about here? Some of you might be already familiar with the old Kingdom of Mercia through the Staffordshire Hoard episodes… or maybe you know about Offa’s Dyke… but lets cover what we know about this Kingdom and give a rough outline of where it came from.
Part of what makes so interesting is how mysterious it is. It’s beginnings are hazy and semi-mythical, even when looked at in comparison with the other Anglo Saxon kingdoms. We know about Wessex due to Alfred and his scribes… we know about Northumbria due to the efforts of Bede. But Mercia? There really weren’t any scribes writing the story of Mercia, from the Mercian perspective… at least not like some of the other kingdoms had. Basically, Mercia lacked an Apologist. Sorry, Bede, but in some respects that is what you were… for example, look at the free pass you gave AEthelfrith after that business with the monks. So yeah, no apologist, and really not much of a written record at all. There’s the Hidage, which we’ll get to, but overall there isn’t a ton.
So lets start with Mercia at it’s most basic level, the name itself is a latinized term for the Old English kingdom that roughly translates to the Border People. What were they bordering. The assumption is that they were bordering the Welsh, given that their dynasty would claim to be Anglian… decendants of Icel. But as you have learned in earlier episodes, this stuff often tends to be at least partially mythological and backgrounds tend to be a great deal more complex than that. What with Ethnogenesis and all.
But was that really who they were bordering? Their capital was Tamworth… that’s surprisingly close to Wales, if they were an Anglian kingdom bordering the Welsh. So rather than just assuming things, lets have a bit of a look at the evidence.