Kingdom of Mercia

Kingdom of Mercia

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The Kingdom of Mercia (c. 527-879 CE) was an Anglo-Saxon political entity located in the midlands of present-day Britain and bordered on the south by the Kingdom of Wessex, on the west by Wales, north by Northumbria, and on the east by East Anglia. It was founded by the semi-legendary king Icel (r. c. 515 – c. 527 CE) who migrated from Germany with his tribe, later known as `Iclings', to the region of East Anglia and then to the midlands.

For its first 100 years, Mercia struggled to maintain its boundaries and defend its interests from neighboring kingdoms but that changed with the reign of Penda (r. 625-655 CE) who initiated the period of Mercian strength which reached its height under Offa (r. 757-796 CE), the greatest of the Mercian monarchs, best known for the 148-mile-long (238 km) dyke he had constructed along his border with the Welsh kingdoms.

Mercian power was broken by King Egbert of Wessex (r. 802-839 CE) and, as Wessex grew in power, Mercia declined and was further weakened by repeated Viking raids. Independence was first lost in 879 CE when Ceolwulf II (r. 874-883 CE) submitted to Viking sovereignty and became their puppet king. It was later controlled by Wessex under Alfred the Great (r. 871-899 CE) and lost any autonomy completely under his son Edward the Elder (r. 899-924 CE).

Early History & Kings

Icel established an urban center at Tamworth which would become the capital (later possibly moved to Repton). Although he seems to have been king as early as 515 CE, the date of Mercia's founding is given as 527 CE based on the 13th century CE chronicles known as the Flores Historiarum. Icel was succeeded by his only son Cnebba (r. 535 - c. 545 CE) who was then succeeded by his son Cynewald (c. 545 - c. 580 CE); very little is known of their reigns other than approximate dates.

The lack of information on these and later kings – as well as much of Mercian history – is due to the Viking raids and wars with Wessex. Scholar Roger Collins comments:

The Viking conquests of the ninth century and the wars of the tenth apparently so effectively destroyed the material and intellectual records of the Mercian kingdom that all that now survive are a handful of charters, a small number of manuscripts (notably the Book of Cerne), some splendid if fragmentary stone carvings in the church of Breedon-on-the-Hill, and the great frontier dyke that Offa (almost certainly) built between his realm and those of the Welsh kings. Of the Mercian laws, which did exist, and of the kingdom's historiography, which might have done, few elements survive. (194)

While this is true, enough of these records survive to be able to piece together a chronology of the kings and the development of the kingdom. The next king, Creoda (r. 580-c.595 CE), gave away whatever holdings Mercia had to the east and these would develop into the Kingdom of East Anglia. His successor, Pybba (r. 595 - c. 606 CE), consolidated the kingdom and pushed its boundaries west.

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This may have resulted in the Battle of Chester in c. 616 CE and possibly involved Pybba's successor Cearl (r. 606 - c. 625 CE) about whose reign little is known (it is even unclear who he was or how he came to power). Aethelfrith of Northumbria (r. 593-616 CE) defeated the Welsh and their allies, including (possibly) Cearl. The causes of the battle are unclear but it is possible Aethelfrith was responding to Mercian aggression since Cearl was the overlord of the eastern Welsh kingdoms.

Penda, son of Pybba, was the last of the pagan kings of Mercia, who elevated the kingdom to the most powerful in the region.

He was succeeded by Penda, son of Pybba, last of the pagan kings of Mercia, who elevated the kingdom to the most powerful in the region. Penda defeated the West Saxon king Cynegils (r. 611-643 CE) at the Battle of Cirenchester in 628 CE and took the Severn Valley and Kingdom of Hwicce from Wessex. He then allied with the Welsh king Cadwallon ap Cadfan (r. 625-634 CE) to defeat Edwin of Northumbria (r. 616-633 CE) at the Battle of Hatfield Chase in 633 CE. Edwin and his son were killed and the Kingdom of Northumbria collapsed; Penda expanded Mercia to the north and west. In 642 CE Oswald of Northumbria (later known as St. Oswald, r. 634-642 CE) rallied his troops to reassert Northumbria's power but was defeated and killed at the Battle of Maserfield.

Penda's religious beliefs were considered a significant factor in his victories. All of the kings who fought against him had been Christian and his unbroken record of military success argued for the supremacy of the pagan gods over the new Christian faith. By 650 CE, Penda controlled large portions of both Wessex and Northumbria and had strong alliances with East Anglia and the Welsh kingdoms.

In 655 CE, however, he was challenged by Oswald's brother Oswiu (r. 642-670 CE) who controlled the northern region of Northumbria. Penda marched on Oswiu in November 655 CE but was defeated and killed at the Battle of the Winwaed. The Northumbrian victory resulted in the Christianization of Mercia (since it seemed clear the Christian god of Oswiu was stronger than Penda's) and division of the kingdom. Penda's son and successor, Peada (r. 655-656 CE) converted to Christianity before taking the throne and every Mercian king after him would be Christian.

Oswiu divided Mercia in half, leaving Peada the south and ruling the north directly between 655-658 CE. Oswiu was overthrown and driven out by Wulfhere (r. 658-675 CE), one of Penda's sons, who ignored Northumbria and concentrated his efforts on the south. He was defeated at the Battle of Bedwyn in 675 CE by Aescwine of Wessex (r. 674-676 CE) who reclaimed southern regions from Mercia.

Wulfhere was succeeded by another of Penda's sons, Aethelred I of Mercia (r. 675-704 CE), who went in the other direction: he ignored the south and concentrated on Northumbrian relations. He established a clear boundary between the two kingdoms and secured an alliance by marrying into the Northumbrian royal family.

Almost nothing is known of the reigns of the next two kings, Coenred (r. 704-709 CE), son of Wulfhere, and Ceolred (r. 709-716 CE), Aethelred I's son. Ceolred was succeeded by Aethelbald of Mercia (r. 716-757 CE) who expanded the kingdom to the south and east and secured his boundaries. He lost territory in 752 CE to Cuthred of Wessex (r. 740-756 CE) who restored his kingdom's primacy in the region at Mercia's expense. Aethelbald was succeeded by Beornred (r. 757 CE) who reigned briefly until he was overthrown by Offa.

King Offa of Mercia

Offa is considered the greatest king of Mercia and the most significant Anglo-Saxon monarch before the rise of Alfred the Great. He reigned for 39 years, during which time he conquered the Kingdom of Kent, took Sussex, and arranged for the marriage of his daughter Eadburh (c. 787-802 CE) to Beorhtric, king of Wessex (r. 786-802 CE) and so easily controlled that kingdom as well. Offa established strong diplomatic relations with rulers on the continent, most notably Charlemagne the Great (King of the Franks 768-814 CE, Holy Roman Emperor, 800-814 CE) and improved Mercia's economy through trade.

He is best known, however, for a marvel of medieval engineering: Offa's Dyke. This is a barrier, surviving in the present as ruins, which runs along the border between Wales and England. Offa campaigned against the Welsh at least four times in the course of his reign and it is known there were frequent Welsh incursions into Mercia. The dyke was probably built as a barrier to prevent or slow these invasions but any records of its purpose or construction have been lost; the only mention of Offa as the dyke's builder is from Asser (d. 909 CE), biographer of Alfred the Great.

That aside, the dyke is an enduring symbol of Offa's power and supremacy in the region. By c. 794 CE he was so powerful that he was able to take control of East Anglia by ordering the death of their king and assuming his position; he did not even have to muster an army. The prosperity of this period has characterized it as the “golden age” of Mercia.

Wessex, Vikings, & Decline

Unfortunately, this affluence would not last long beyond his reign. Offa was succeeded by his son Ecgfrith (r. 796 CE) who was assassinated after a reign of less than 150 days (most likely in retribution for the various nobles Offa had killed to secure his son's succession). He was succeeded by Coenwulf (r. 796-821 CE), a descendant of Penda. Coenwulf struggled to hold his southern territories against rebellions while maintaining his northern boundaries. He was succeeded by his brother Ceolwulf I (r. 821-823 CE) who seems to have failed at every aspect of kingship and was deposed by the nobleman Beornwulf (r. 823-826 CE).

From 802 CE, Wessex had been ruled by King Egbert who had been quietly building an army and equipping it. In 825 CE, Egbert and his son Aethelwulf (r. 839-858 CE) defeated Beornwulf at the Battle of Ellandun and broke Mercian supremacy in the region forever. Egbert claimed the Mercian territories of Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Surrey and left Beornwulf only the center of his once great kingdom. East Anglia was able to throw off Mercian dominance and sided with Wessex and Beornwulf was killed trying to suppress this rebellion in 826 CE. His successor Ludeca (r. 826-827 CE) died trying to do the same.

Ludeca was succeeded by Wiglaf (r. 827-829, 830-839 CE) who was driven from the throne by Egbert in 829 CE. In 830 CE, however, Wiglaf managed to win back his throne and assert Mercian independence, most likely through negotiations with Egbert. He was succeeded by his son Wigmund (r. 839-840 CE) who was succeeded by his son Wigstan (r. 840 CE) about whom next to nothing is known. Wigstan was succeeded by Beorhtwulf (r. 840-852 CE) who was the first Mercian king to experience the Viking raids.

In 842 CE the Vikings sacked the Mercian city of London and left but they returned in 851 CE with a fleet of 350 ships which sailed up the Thames and attacked Canterbury and London again. Beorhtwulf raised an army to oppose them and his efforts may have been instrumental in driving them towards the south where Aethelwulf of Wessex and his sons Aethelbald and Aethelstan defeated them.

Beorhtwulf was succeeded by Burgred (r. 852-874 CE) who married Aethelwulf's daughter Aethelswith (c. 838-888 CE) to secure an alliance with Wessex against future Viking attacks. In 865 CE the Great Heathen Army of the Vikings landed at East Anglia and struck first at Northumbria before making their way back down south to Mercia. In 874 CE, they drove Burgred from the throne and he fled to Rome where he later died. He was replaced by Ceolwulf II who was hand-picked by the Vikings as their puppet-king. Ceolwulf II ceded the eastern part of Mercia to the Vikings for colonization in 879 CE and it became part of the Danelaw (region of Britain dominated by Danish laws and customs) while Ceolwulf II was allowed to govern in western Mercia by consent of the Danes.

Wessex Takes Mercia

Ceolwulf II was succeeded by Aethelred II (r. 883-911 CE) who refused to submit to the Danes and allied himself with Alfred the Great. Under the terms of this alliance, Aethelred II had to accept Alfred as his overlord and to secure the contract he married Alfred's daughter Aethelflaed (r. 911-918 CE). Alfred had defeated the Vikings in Wessex in 878 CE at the Battle of Eddington and secured his kingdom against future attacks through a system of burhs (fortified towns), a more efficient military, and the construction of a navy. He suggested Aethelred do the same in Mercia.

In 886 CE, Alfred conquered the Danes of London and was recognized as king of the Anglo-Saxons but this did not resolve the problem of Viking attacks and Aethelred had been too busy fighting off raids and administering his kingdom to initiate Alfred's system of burhs. In 892 CE the Vikings struck Mercia under the command of the legendary leader Hastein (also known as Hasting, 9th century CE). Between 892-896 CE, Aethelred was constantly fending off Hastein's attacks with the help of Alfred.

Alfred died in 899 CE and his son Edward the Elder succeeded him. Edward sent his young son Aethelstan to the Mercian court in 900 CE to be raised by Aethelflaed while he continued his offensive against the Vikings in Wessex. Aethelred fell ill about this time and Aethelflaed took charge of the government, organizing the military defense of Chester against a major Viking attack in 907 CE. Aethelred died in 911 CE and Aethelflaed succeeded him. With Edward, she initiated the burh system in Mercia along all the main routes from neighboring kingdoms.

Aethelflaed designed and constructed these burhs between 912-917 CE, all of which would later grow into towns and cities, while also fighting off Viking raiders and governing her lands. When she died in 918 CE, she was briefly succeeded by her daughter Aelfwynn (r. 918 CE) before Edward annexed Mercia completely under his own reign. When Edward died, he was succeeded by Aethelstan who would rule as King of the Anglo Saxons 824-927 CE and as the first King of England from 927-939 CE.

Mercia in Vikings & Legacy

In the TV series Vikings, Mercia is depicted as a chaotic kingdom from whence Queen Kwenthryth escapes to ask Ecbert of Wessex for help in regaining her throne. Ecbert enlists the aid of the Vikings under Ragnar Lothbrok to defeat the forces of Kwenthryth's uncle and brother and, this done, Kwenthryth then poisons her brother Burgred and proclaims herself queen, returning to her kingdom. In actual history, none of these events took place.

The historical Cwenthryth was the daughter of King Coenwulf of Mercia and was an abbess at the parish village of Minster-in-Thanet who was involved in a dispute over rent with the Archbishop of Canterbury after her father's death in 821 CE. A later scribe of the 12th century CE, most likely upset over her challenge to church authority, used her as the villainess in his story of the murder of St. Kenelm but there is no historical basis for that tale. The character on the show is based on this legendary version of Cwenthryth and also on two other women: Queen Cynethryth, wife of King Offa, and her daughter Eadburh, both of whom had a reputation as scheming and devious queens.

None of these women were related to the Mercian king Burgred who, unlike his depiction in the show, was neither a rapist nor a weak-willed man easily led by others. Burgred, in fact, was strong enough to withstand Viking attacks for years and defend Mercia ably until he was defeated and deposed. The chaotic nature of the Mercian court and nobility in the show is drawn from the reigns of various monarchs, Offa among them, who tended to eliminate people who interfered with their plans.

Unlike the depiction in the TV series, Mercia was not a discordant kingdom easily taken or manipulated by other kings. At its height, it was the most powerful kingdom in Britain and, were it not for the later reign of Alfred, Offa of Mercia would most likely be remembered today for establishing the Kingdom of England. Alfred and the kings of Wessex, as well as the rulers of Northumbria, have always been more widely known than those of Mercia. These kingdoms had something which Mercia did not, however: written records which survived to tell their story.

The Kingdom of Mercia had existed as a kingdom for quite some time, though at one point its leadership was in question. This issue was settled by King Sebastian Acorn, and the rule of Mercia was held by the O'Hedge family for several generations. ΐ] Unfortunately, the last king to sit on the throne of Mercia trusted an evil advisor, Lord Mordred Hood, who had his own ideas for how the kingdom should be run. Α] Β] Γ]

The Kingdom fell into severe decline after the despot Dr. Ivo Robotnik managed to take over the Kingdom of Acorn and spread his empire throughout Mobius. The Kingdom of Mercia was eventually overrun by Robotnik's forces, and Robotnik's Sub-Boss known as the High Sheriff was installed to ensure any rebellions were quelled. Those who managed to escape capture and roboticization at the hands of the High Sheriff and his Robian followers moved to Deerwood Forest, where Rob o' the Hedge became king. Rob also led the Mercian Freedom Fighters in an attempt to end the High Sheriff's rule. The group's efforts failed, and all of the members of the Crazy Kritters except Rob were captured and roboticized. Δ] Ε]

After the Lost Tribe of Echidnas was kidnapped by roboticized Mobians from Mercia, Knuckles traveled to the Kingdom to save them. Along with Rob O' the Hedge, Sonic and Tails, he rescued all the prisoners and members of the Lost Tribe. Δ] Ε]

After Robotnik died and the High Sheriff was apprehended, the Kingdom seemed to regain some of its territory and freedoms, despite the coming of Dr. Eggman. Contact continued between the Kingdom of Mercia and the Republic of Acorn, and Rob remained the region's protector. Ζ] Η] ⎖] His fellow Freedom Fighters were also De-Roboticized, ⎗] only for the group to be forced to deal with a new threat: the Mercia Dark Egg Legion under Grandmaster Mordred Hood. Β] The Legion took a number of captives, and Rob took his family into hiding as a result while his team continued opposing the Legion, with some help from the visiting Chaotix. Β] Γ]


Archaeological discoveries show the first Anglian settlements were in the Trent river valley. Γ] The original kingdom of Mercia had a variety of different kinds of land. Most of it would not have been the first choice of anyone wishing to settle there. Not if better land was available elsewhere. Δ] The name 'Mercia' comes from the tribal name Mierce, which means 'boundary folk.' Ε] It was probably a name already known in the English midlands and was adopted by the Angles who settled there. Ε] The Angles, according to Bede, came from Angulus in northern Germany. Α] They were of the same stock as the East Anglians and the Northumbrians. Ζ] The invasion of England by the Germanic tribes was relatively quick. By c. � England was a large collection of small kingdoms each having a warlord or petty king. Η] Within 200 years of their arrival in England, the late seventh century, emerged the Heptarchy: the seven kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England. Η] Mercia was the dominant power among the Anglo-Saxons from the middle of the seventh century to the early ninth century. ⎖] Several Mercian noblewomen played an important role in Mercian affairs. ⎗] This is in contrast to Wessex where women rarely had an active role in the government. ⎘] During the seventh and eighth centuries Mercia struggled mainly with Northumbria. ⎙] By the ninth century Wessex was the dominant power in the region. ⎙] King Egbert of Wessex (802–839) was the overlord and for the first time passed this position down to his heirs. ⎙] From this time on until they ceased to exist as a kingdom, Mercia was a vassal kingdom to Wessex. In the last quarter of the ninth century Mercia lost much of its territory in the midlands to Danish settlers. Γ]

Christianity was introduced into Mercia in the 650s. ⎚] The first monks were Irish followed by Northumbrians. By 653 a single bishopric was established and a series of Irish trained bishops followed. ⎚] In 674 a second diocese was established for eastern Mercia. ⎚]

The church and scholarship in Offa’s time

Northumbria was still preeminent in scholarship, and the fame of the school of York, founded by Bede’s pupil Archbishop Egbert, attracted students from the Continent and from Ireland. Eventually it supplied Alcuin to take charge of the revival of learning inaugurated by Charles the Great Alcuin’s writings exercised great influence on theological, biblical, and liturgical studies, and his pupils carried on his work well into the 9th century.

Learning was not confined to Northumbria one Latin work was produced in East Anglia, and recent attribution of manuscripts to Lichfield suggests that Mercian scholarship has been underestimated. Offa himself took an interest in education, and men from all areas corresponded with the missionaries. The Mercian schools that supplied Alfred with scholars in the 9th century may go back to this period. Vernacular poetry was composed, perhaps including Beowulf and the poems of Cynewulf.

A steady advance was made in the creation of parishes, and monasticism flourished and received support from Offa. A great event in ecclesiastical history was the arrival of a papal legation in 787, the first since the conversion. It drew up reforming statutes, which were accepted by the two ecclesiastical provinces, meeting separately under the presidency of Offa and Aelfwald of Northumbria. Offa used the visit to secure the consecration of his son—the first recorded coronation ceremony in England—and also to have Mercia made into a metropolitan province with its see at Lichfield. The latter seemed desirable partly because he disliked the Kentish archbishop of Canterbury, Jaenberht, but also because it would seem fitting to him that the leading kingdom should be free from external interference in ecclesiastical affairs. This move was unpopular with the church, and in 802, when relations with Canterbury had improved, the archbishopric of Lichfield was abolished.

Anglo-Saxon Mercia: some facts and some legends

But now, because of the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard treasure-trove, which dates to that time, there's a new enthusiasm for learning about Mercia.

Some stories of Mercia are legends - but some unlikely ones are true.

Hear of: the prince martyrs from Stone Penkridge's great day the currency king the woman general the battle-site at Alton Towers - and more.

See photo-gallery: Looking for evidence of Saxons in Staffordshire

During this era, few written records were kept, so many stories arose - some of which may be uncheckable.

The most famous Staffordshire legend of Anglo-Saxon times is that the foundation of the mid-Staffordshire town of Stone.

It is told that the great Mercian king, Wulfhere, who had a palace at nearby Tittensor, was horrified when his two sons, Wulfad and Ruffin (also Rufin), converted to Christianity.

The legend says the two boys followed a white stag into the forest - where they met St Chad, who persuaded them to become Christians.

But when he found out, the angry Wulfhere killed his sons and on that same spot their sorrowing mother buried them under a cairn of stones. A church was built over these stones in 670, just one of the buildings that was predecessor to the present church of St Michael & St Wulfad.

And that is how the town around it, 'Stone', got its name.

Is it all true? Well, Wulfhere did have problems with Christianity, being the last Mercian king to be a pagan, though he did later endow a number of religious houses and was father to the holy St Werburgh.

However - there's no record at all of Wulfad and Ruffin, even though both have churches in the county dedicated to them.

So, is it true? Sadly… it is all very doubtful. But don't tell the people of Stone.

Hard to believe but… the story goes that, even though England was already united in the 10th Century and being firmly administered by the Normans from the 11th, the currency used by ordinary folk over this whole period (and until the 1300s) was that first minted by King Offa of Mercia in the 800s.

Offa's "penny" circulated through the country for 500 years as the one trustworthy coin.

Examples of this Anglo-Saxon coinage can be seen at Tamworth Castle's museum and in the British Museum.

Penkridge - ancient capital?

The people of Penkridge just south of Stafford will happily tell you that their town was once the capital of England. Sometimes they tell you it was capital for a day… or three days… or three years. They are never quite sure.

The fact is that King Edgar did visit the town and did issue a proclamation from there, a sign of some prestige for the town, but as it happened before he formally became king, it is hard to work out how the town could claim to be called a capital.

So, is it true? Sadly, no. The town's historians are now examining that part of the history anew.

Each era produces its great women - the Britons and Boadicea, the Tudor age and Elizabeth I. For the Anglo-Saxons, it was Ethelfleda (Ethelflaeda) the "Lady of The Mercians", the daughter of Alfred The Great and the scourge of the Vikings.

Ethelfleda ruled Mercia after the death of her husband and pushed the Vikings, who had already destroyed Tamworth once, as far back as York. Under her the Mercians helped defeat Viking power in central England - and who knows what might have happened if Ethelfleda had lived? But she died in 918 - and the Vikings returned to destroy Tamworth yet again in the 940s.

This is a true story. Her statue stands outside Tamworth Castle.

It's also said that Ethelfleda may have come up with the idea of the three-looped Stafford Knot, the symbol of Staffordshire. A story goes that she looped her girdle around two of her local allies to signify their bondship.

Stafford's patron saint

St Bertelin (also known as Bertram) has the most colourful legend of all.

Supposedly a member of the Mercian royal family, he returned from a visit to Ireland with a princess he loved.

She went into labour as they journeyed through a forest, so he set out to look for food. When he returned, she and the baby were dead, having been attacked by wolves.

His grief made him vow to become a hermit, and he set up on a site that is now in Stafford at St Mary's Church. Later he moved to an even more remote spot, at Ilam in the Staffordshire Moorlands, where his shrine is today, and where people still come on pilgrimage to pray at his tomb.

Did he exist? No one really knows. There is no definite evidence - but if he did not, why does his name have such a strong hold across this area?

He is even the patron saint of Stafford.

The battle of. Alton Towers

Underneath the rides at Alton Towers is a little spot, known on Ordnance Survey maps as "Slain Hollow". The story goes that King Ceolred of Mercia built a fort on Bunbury Hill (on which Alton Towers is today), only to be besieged there in 716 by King Ina of Wessex.

In the battle that resulted, which was a "draw", so many warriors died that locals dubbed it Slain Hollow thereafter.

Is the story true? Well, the battle is mentioned in a one of the chronicles, although the result is sometimes claimed as a victory for Ceolred. And the name 'Slain Hollow' - is that named after the battle? Who knows?

Other Saxon battles are thought to have happened in Staffordshire. At Checkley (near Uttoxeter) they speak of the battle of Deadman's Green, where the warriors fought naked. Near Burton, there is a footpath known as the Battlestead Walk. At Tutbury, they talk of the "massacre of the Danes" on Hound Hill in 1002. And one of the invasions by the Danes wiped out Tamworth.

One of the greatest battles of the Saxon era occurred near present-day Tettenhall, near Wolverhampton. In 910, Ethelfleda (Ethelflaeda) and her Mercian army joined with her brother Edward's army of Wessex men and marched on an invading Viking army. In the massive slaughter that ensued, two Viking kings died. The defeat was so great, it may have been the turning point for what came to be known as England. The Danes/Vikings would never be the same threat again.

Of course, there is always a mystery. Where did the Battle of Tettenhall (or Wodnesfeld) actually take place? It's possible the battle was nearer to present-day Wednesfield than to Tettenhall, but theories are still being explored. And what is the significance of 'Warrior's Tomb', a construction of boulders at nearby Bushbury?


Iclingas Edit

  • Icel (late 5th century–early 6th century) - Son of Eomer, King of the Angles. [b]
  • Cnebba - Son of Icel
  • Cynewald - Son of Cnebba
  • Creoda (c. 584 –c. 593 ) - Son of Cynewald. (c. 593 –c. 606 ) - Son of Creoda.
  • Cearl (c. 606 –c. 626 ) - Listed by Bede (c. 626 –655) - Son of Pybba.
  • Eowa (c. 635 –642) - Co-ruled with Penda, son of Pybba. (655–655) - Son of Penda. (ruled Mercia 655–658) [c] - King of Northumbria, took control of Mercia. (658–675) - Son of Penda. - Son of Penda. (704–709) - Son of Wulfhere. (709–716) - Son of Aethelred.
  • Ceolwald of Mercia (716) - Probable son of Aethelred, may have ruled briefly. (716–757) - Grandson of Eowa.
  • Beornred of Mercia (757) - No known connection to Iclingas dynasty. (757–796) - Great-great-grandson of Eowa. (796) - Son of Offa. [d] (796–821) - A descendant of Pybba. (821–823) - Brother of Coenwulf.

Other dynasties Edit

When the Iclingas line died out in the male line, members of other noble Mercian families competed for the throne. [9] The 'B' dynasty is for kings Beornwulf, Berhtwulf and Burgred. The 'W' dynasty is for king Wiglaf. [9] Others have no dynasty they are connected with.

    (823–826) - "B" dynasty. (826–827) - Unknown or no dynasty connections. (1st reign) (827–829) - "W" dynasty. (829–830) - King of Wessex who took control of Mercia. (restored to the throne) (830–839) - "W" dynasty. (c. 839 –c. 840 ) - "W" dynasty, son of Wiglaf. (840) - "W" dynasty, son of Wigmund.
  • Aelfflaed of Mercia (840) - Daughter of Ceolwulf I, wife of Wigmund. Regent for her son Wigstan. (840–852) - "B" dynasty. (852–874) - "B" dynasty. (874–c. 883 ) - Unknown dynasty.

Client rulers under Wessex Edit

After being defeated by Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex, the rulers were no longer considered kings and queens but rather ealdormen. The title of the female rulers was "Lady of the Mercians." They were styled Kings and Queens in Mercia only.

Rulers in name only Edit

After Mercia became an annex of Wessex (Mercia was no longer a kingdom), 'King of Mercia' became a title only.

Saxon Hoard

Today, Mercia continues to herald its importance with the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest collection of Saxon gold ever found, unearthed not far from the Capital of Mercia. It has been dated from around 590 A.D to 750 A.D.

An exciting exhibition featuring more than 18 pieces from the Hoard will help visitors explore more about the power struggles of the Anglo-Saxon era, the battles, the blows and the bloodshed. This amazing craftsmanship is showcased at Tamworth Castle, along with artefacts that are brought to life with stunning replica weapons.

We may never know why it was buried or who it belonged to but it will hopefully, in time, unlock some of the secrets of the Saxon age and Anglo-Saxon Tamworth.

More information can be found on the Staffordshire Hoard website.

Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia

O potent Elfleda! Maid, men’s terror!
You did conquer nature’s self worthy
The name of man! More beauteous nature’s form of
A woman but your valour shall secure
Man’s higher name. For name you only need
Not sex to change unconquerable queen,
King rather, who such trophies have obtained!
O virgin and virago farewell!
No Ceasar yet such triumph hath deserved
As you, than any, all, the Ceasars more renown’d!
Francis Peck

Of all the medieval women I have researched and written about, Aethelflaed is by far my favorite. She was the daughter of Alfred the Great and was instrumental in carrying out his vision for a united Britain.

Aethelflaed was born in 868, the eldest child of King Alfred of England and his wife Ealhswith. Ealhswith was related to the house of Mercia through her mother, Eadburh so Aethelflaed had a Mercian pedigree in addition to her West Anglo-Saxon heritage. Mercia was one of the kingdoms of England that’s roughly in the middle of the island between Wales and East Anglia. Aethelflaed grew up in the care of her mother with her younger brother Edward at the royal palace of Chippenham while her father was away governing and fighting the Vikings. Alfred had many battles fighting the Vikings. In 876 he had special troubles with a Danish fighter named Guthrum. He lost a battle and had to make peace with Guthrum and probably pay off the Danes to get them to withdraw from Wessex.

At Christmas in 878, Guthrum attacked the royal palace at Chippenham and Alfred and his family had to flee to safety in the woods. Some historians have conjectured there may have been someone who was disgruntled with Alfred for negotiating with the Vikings and collaborated with Guthrum in this attack. Alfred fled with the family and a few men to the marshes of Somerset and they lived on the island of Athelney for four months. He spent his time here in contemplation and meditation on what his plan of action would be against the Vikings and how to secure his kingdom. He came up with a plan to integrate all the Anglo-Saxon and Danish kingdoms, unite them under Christianity, codify all the laws and re-enforce the entire kingdom by building fortifications and manning them year round, having half the men on duty and the other half taking care of the harvest at home. He probably told Aethelflaed all about his plans because her policies later matched her fathers. The plan started with building a fort on Athelney and Aethelflaed probably helped.

In May of 878, Alfred left Athelney to fight Guthrum and his Vikings at the Battle of Eddington. He defeated Guthrum and negotiated peace. Guthrum agreed to be baptized a Christian, become the adopted son of Alfred and agreed to leave Wessex. For the next six years, Aethelflaed observed her father as he united the kingdom. He pursued educating his people, codified the laws, assembled a navy, built, rebuilt and fortified towns. He began administering the collection of taxes and allocation of expenditures, promoting trade and protecting and cultivating the church. Alfred decided to establish the Wessex capital at Winchester and his family resided there.

Alfred the Great. Image in the public domain

Mercia had suffered under the Vikings for many years. The eastern part was dominated by the Vikings with fortified towns and armies. To the west were the Welsh who were constantly at odds with the Mercians. Somehow, by 878, Ealdorman Aethelred of Mercia managed to free western Mercia from the Vikings. He may have collaborated with Alfred to do this but history is so murky we will never really know for sure. Aethelred heard about Alfred’s program of fortify, build and rebuild towns in defense of the Vikings and went to Alfred’s court. There he met Aethelflaed and talked with her about her father’s plans. Aethelred knew immediately Aethelflaed had invaluable knowledge and wanted to offer her a position as his co-ruler so he could use her expertise to fight the Vikings. That’s how impressed he was with her poise and intelligence at eleven years old.

Aethelflaed and Aethelred of Mercia were married in 884 when she was sixteen and traveled to Mercia with her husband forming a strong alliance between Wessex and Mercia. The Vikings had withdrawn to the continent in 880 and stayed away until 885. They came and attacked at Rochester in Kent and Guthrum came to their aid, breaking his treaty with Alfred. Alfred called upon Aethelred and Aethelflaed to help defeat Guthrum and his friends. Together they took London from the Vikings. Alfred gave London and all territory to the west of London to the Mercians, greatly increasing the size of the kingdom. They negotiated a treaty with Guthrum establishing an English kingdom and a Danish kingdom and opened the way for trade and peace.

During this time of peace, Aethelflaed and her husband began the same program Alfred had started, beginning to build cities. There is a memorandum for a meeting that occurred in London in 888 stating that Alfred, Aethelflaed, Aethelred and two bishops met to discuss rebuilding London and advance trade, security, and prosperity. She then moved on to Oxford to rebuild, then Hereford and then Worcester. She and her husband decided to fortify Gloucester and they made this the capital of Mercia. A Mercian council was held there in 896 and a mint was built and began turning out coins by 899. They built a palace outside the city walls and lived there. In 901, they began fortifying Shrewsbury. Aethelflaed had a daughter c. 888 named Aelfwyn. Aethelflaed’s brother Edward had sent his son Aethelstan to her to get a first class education and Aelfwyn probably received the same schooling.

Viking warriors landing and attacking

By 902, Aethelred was very ill with a debilitating disease that kept him bedridden for the rest of his life. Aethelflaed became the ruler of Mercia in all but name. The Irish had driven the Vikings out of Ireland and they came to Chester to ask for land. Aethelflaed granted them land in the area with the promise they would be peaceful. Of course, they couldn’t keep that promise and Aethelflaed had to take an army and fight them. She won and the Vikings began to settle in the area and integrate with the Mercians. She then began building Chester according to the usual plans.

Her brother Edward had united Wessex and Mercia with East Anglia. The Welsh had made peace with the Mercians too and now all these kingdoms were united. Then in 909 Edward started harassing the Northumbrians, angering them so much they began to attack Mercia. Aethelflaed worked to fortify more cities to help protect the kingdom. Her plans started with Bremesburh, Scergeat, Bridgnorth, Tamworth, Stafford, Eddisbury, Warwick, Chirbury, Weardburh (Whitchurch) and Runcorn. In the midst of all this work, Aethelred died in 911. The Mercian Witan (council) named Aethelflaed ruler immediately showing their complete trust in her.

From 911 until her death in 918, she commanded an army in the field three times. The first battle was in Chester where she subdued the Vikings there. Her second campaign was in 915 when a Viking force landed in Bristol Channel and attacked her allies in Wales. She successfully fought them and forced them to leave. Her third campaign was against a Welsh king who killed a Mercian abbot. She won again.

In 917, Aethelflaed saw an opportunity to defeat the Vikings and negotiate for a lasting peace. She attacked the city of Derby with an alliance of Welsh kings, the Kings of Strathclyde and Bernicia and the Scottish King Constantine. They had a tremendous victory. Their victory was so complete the Vikings of Leicester and then the great Viking stronghold of York acknowledged the inevitable and surrendered to her. This was a great and marvelous moment in history.

Then the worst thing happened. Aethelflaed died at Tamworth on June 12, 918. All the work she had put into settling the kingdom in a peaceful and thoughtful way came to an end. With her brother stirring up trouble in Northumbria, things began to deteriorate. Although we don’t know for sure, the Mercian Witan trusted Aethelflaed and her daughter and they may have named Aelfwyn as her successor. Three weeks before Christmas 919, Aelfwyn’s uncle, King Edward came and deprived Aelfwyn of all her authority and took her back to Wessex. The Mercians recognized Edward as their King and Aelfwyn joined a nunnery and lived out her life there.

Aethelflaed’s body was taken to Gloucester and she was buried next to Aethelred, her husband. She was named the “Lady of the Mercians” by the Anglo-Saxon chronicle. The Annals of Ulster noted her death without mentioning her brother’s or her father’s. They called her “a most famous queen of the Saxons”.

Achievements of King Offa of Mercia

The achievements of Offa of Mercia include building Offa’s dyke, an earthwork that stretched for 270 km (169 miles), from the River Severn to the Dee estuary between England and Wales. The dyke, parts of which still stand, roughly follows the border between Mercia and Welsh settlements to the west. It stood 18 meters high (60 feet) in places and included a ditch 3.66 m (12 feet) deep. It was more of a demarcation line than a fortification. Today, it is a long-distance walking path and runs through beautiful country.

The 1200 year old earthwork, Offa’s Dyke, runs along the once border between Powys (Wales) and Mercia (now united England) ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Some say the most enduring achievement of Offa’s rule was the minting of new coins that bore his name and title and the name of the moneyer who minted the coins. The English used the methods and principles of making money in this way for centuries.

Offa King of Mercia 757-793 gold dinar. (PHGCOM / Public Domain )

Book Corner: Mercia, the Rise and Fall of a Kingdom by Annie Whitehead

Many people know about Wessex, the ‘Last Kingdom’ of the Anglo-Saxons to fall to the Northmen, but another kingdom, Mercia, once enjoyed supremacy over not only Wessex, but all of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. At its zenith Mercia controlled what is now Birmingham and London ‒ and the political, commercial paramountcy of the two today finds echoes in the past.

Those interested in the period will surely have heard of Penda, Offa, and Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians ‒ but remarkably there is no single book that tells their story in its entirety, the story of the great kingdom of the midlands.

Historically, the records are in two halves, pre- and post-Viking, in the way they have been preserved. Pre-Viking, virtually all the source material was written by the victims, or perceived victims, of Mercian aggression and expansion. Post-Viking, the surviving documents tend to hail from places which were not sacked or burned by the Northmen, particularly from Wessex, the traditional enemy of Mercia. The inclusion of those records here allows for the exploration of Mercia post-924.

Mercia ceased to be a kingdom when Alfred the Great came to power, but its history did not end there. Examining the roles of the great ealdormen in the anti-monastic reaction of the tenth century, through the treachery of Eadric Streona in the eleventh, and the last, brave young earls who made a stand against William the Conqueror, this book shows the important role the Mercians played in the forging of the English nation.

I have been waiting eagerly for Annie Whitehead’s Mercia: the Rise and Fall of a Kingdomever since I knew she was writing it. Luckily, I got an advanced copy from the publisher – but it was well worth the wait! In her introduction Annie Whitehead promises:

This is the story of the Mercians, the kings, the queens, saints, sinners, earls and warrior women who governed the kingdom and shaped its history.

And she does not disappoint!

Mercia: the Rise and Fall of a Kingdomcovers the story of the English midlands kingdom from its pagan origins, in the 7th century, to its absorption into the kingdom of England a process started in the reign of King Alfred but not completed until after the Norman Conquest. Annie Whitehead traced the fortunes of Mercia from Penda, a king we know little enough about – and that from his enemies. As the author tells us, the problems with knowing anything about early Mercian history spring from the fact Mercia was a pagan land they therefore had no monastic tradition of writing everything down. In which case, their history is taken from such as the Venerable Bede, who lived in the land of Mercia’s enemies, Northumbria.

As a result, Annie Whitehead’s first task was to assess the bias of her sources, all of whom had their own hostile vision of Mercia. She uses sources from varied fields, including charter and archaeological evidence, in order to reconstruct early Mercian society and tell the story of the land itself, and its relations to its neighbours, such as Northumbria, Wessex and East Anglia. Using primary sources wherever possible, Mercia: the Rise and Fall of a Kingdom brings the people of this ancient kingdom to vivid life. The author also uses alliterative analysis, to suggest familial links between such rulers as Coenred and Ceolred, for example. Although this is not an exact science, it does help to give the reader some perspective on the personal and familial relationships between the major players in the region.

Throughout the book, Annie Whitehead retells the story from the available sources, taking great care to avoid filling in the gaps with invention and clearly offering theories and analysis to explain the direction in which the narrative proceeded. She provides an ongoing assessment of sources, discussing their validity, honesty and integrity clearly stating where charters are thought to be spurious or of dubious provenance.

The story portrayed is one of conflict, from within and without the region, marriage alliances, murder and betrayal and the shifting political tensions of the various kingdoms within England. The history, inevitably, draws on the history of Wessex, Northumbria, Kent and Wales. However, Annie Whitehead constantly retains the focus firmly on Mercia, while clearly demonstrating the shifting political alliances and the internal and external forces which decided the direction in which Mercian – and English history as a whole – would eventual be drawn.

It is difficult to piece together the circumstances of Æthelbald’s exile. It doesn’t appear that Ceolred was a strong enough king to stave off contenders, particularly ones of the calibre Æthelbald would prove to be. Perhaps, then, he had been in exile since the time of Æthelred, yet he did not emerge until after Ceolred’s death. Were there other contenders to the throne? Had he been chased out of Mercia because the kings there were strong, or because he was, and thus he was a threat? Dynastic disputes would become a feature of Mercian politics, particularly in the next century.

There is, in fact, a hint that the takeover was not so peaceful, provided by a reference in one source to a Ceolwald reigning between Ceolred and Æthelbald. This man, briefly mentioned in Chapter Three, could, if he existed at all, have been the brother of Ceolred. If so, and if he became king, he did not reign for long, for Æthelbald became king in the same year in which Coelred died. Perhaps there was a coup? If only we knew but as we have seen, particularly when it comes to Mercian history, absence of evidence is most assuredly not evidence of absence, and we can only speculate when we come across these tantalising nuggets of information.

Annie Whitehead provides a thorough and in-depth analysis of Mercia, its history and its people. Where there is uncertainty or conflicting evidence , she carefully sets out the opposing theories, providing her own thoughts and analysis, while making it clear what alternative reasoning there is available. The text is supplemented by some wonderful illustrations, colourful photographs of locations and buildings closely associated with Mercia’s history, from the well-known statue of Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred the Great and Lady of Mercia, to Repton in Derbyshire, burial site of a number of Mercian kings.

On a personal level, it is fascinating to read another author’s interpretation of subjects I have researched myself. Annie Whitehead dedicates (and rightfully so) an entire chapter to the Lady Æthelflæd and her husband Æthelred. And it is good to know that her version of Æthelflæd does not contradict the lady I found when researching Heroines of the Medieval World. The same also happened with her depiction of Lady Godiva. Godiva appears in my next book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest she was the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and grandmother of the last Anglo-Saxon Earl of Mercia, Edwin, who was killed in 1071 after fighting against the Normans.

Mercia: the Rise and Fall of a Kingdom is written in an engaging and conversational manner, leaving the reader both entertained and informed. It is impossible to read this book without being made aware of the depth of research that has gone into producing such an authoritative depiction of Mercia. the

Rich in detail, this is a must-have book for anyone interested in the English midlands, and Anglo-Saxon history. Annie Whitehead delves into all the corners of Mercia, her history and conflicts and relates the story of not just the land, but of the generations of people who occupied it.

About the author:

Annie Whitehead graduated in history having specialised in the ‘Dark Ages’ and is a member of the Royal Historical Society. She’s written three books about early medieval Mercia, the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the Midlands. The first, To Be a Queen, tells the story of Alfred the Great’s daughter, and was long-listed for the Historical Novelist Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016, and was an IAN (Independent Author Network) Finalist in 2017, while the second, Alvar the Kingmaker, is the story of Aelfhere, Earl of Mercia in the 10th century. The third, Cometh the Hour, is the first of two volumes set in seventh-century Mercia. She was a contributor to the anthology 1066 Turned Upside Down, a collection of alternative short stories. She writes magazine articles and has had pieces printed in diverse publications, including Cumbria Magazine and This England. She has twice been a prize winner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing Competition, and won First Prize in the 2012 New Writer Magazine’s Prose and Poetry Competition. She was a finalist in the 2015 Tom Howard Prize for nonfiction, and is also a contributor and editor for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, as well as blogging for her own site – Casting Light upon the Shadow. In 2017 she won the inaugural HWA/Dorothy Dunnett Society Short Story Prize. Her first full-length nonfiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, is published by Amberley and available from Amazon UK.

My books

Heroines of the Medieval World, is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US and worldwide from Book Depository.

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquestwill be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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Watch the video: Kingdom of Mercia: Invasion - Intro (July 2022).


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