1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Northumbria

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NORTHUMBRIA (regnum Northanhymbrorum), one of the most important of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, extended from the Humber to the Forth. Originally it comprised two independent kingdoms, Bernicia and Deira (q.v.). Each of these had a dynasty of its own. The first known king of the former was Ida, who, according to tradition, acquired the throne in 547 and reigned twelve years. To him the foundation of Bamburgh is attributed. Four of Ida's sons successively occupied his throne: Glappa 559—560, Adda 560—568, Aethelric 568—572, and Theodoric 572—579. Of the first three nothing is known, but Theodoric is said (Historia Brittonum) to have been besieged by the Welsh under Urien in Lindisfarne. Theodoric was succeeded by Frithuwald 579—585 or 586 and Hussa 586—592 or 593. Then Æthelfrith (q.v.), son of Æthelric, came to the throne. He greatly extended his territories at the expense of the Welsh, and eventually provoked an invasion of Aidan, king of the Scots, whom he defeated at a place called Daegsastan (603). The first king of Deira of whom we know was Ella, or Aelle, who, according to Bede, was still reigning when Augustine arrived in 597. The Saxon Chronicle, which is a less reliable authority for Northumbrian history, places his death in the year 588. The compiler of this work, however, seems to have used a regnal list of the Bernician kings, which differed considerably from most of those found in our early authorities. Æthelfrith eventually acquired possession of Deira, probably in 604 or 605, perhaps on Ella's death, expelling his son Edwin (q.v.). Thenceforward, with rare intervals, the two kingdoms remained united. Æthelfrith became involved in war with the Welsh towards the end of his reign and captured Chester, probably about 613. Shortly afterwards, in 616, he was defeated and slain in battle on the river Idle by Edwin, who was assisted by the East Anglian king Raedwald. Edwin now became king over both Northumbrian provinces. By his time the kingdom must have reached the west coast, as he is said to have conquered the islands of Anglesea and Man. Under Edwin the Northumbrian kingdom became the chief power in the country. At his death in 633, the kingdom was again divided, Deira falling to his nephew Osric, while Bernicia was occupied by Eanfrith son of Æthelfrith. Both these kings were slain by Ceadwalla in the following year, but shortly afterwards the Welsh king was overthrown by Oswald (q.v.), brother of Eanfrith, who reunited the whole of Northumbria under his sway and acquired a supremacy analogous to that previously held by Edwin. After Oswald's defeat and death at the hands of Penda in 642 Bernicia fell to his brother Oswio, while Oswine son of Osric became king in Deira, though probably subject to Oswio. Oswine's death was compassed by Oswio in 651, and the throne of Deira was then obtained by Æthelwald son of Oswald. He is not mentioned, however, after 655, so it is probable that Deira was incorporated in the Bernician kingdom not long afterwards. After Oswio's victory over Penda in 654—655 he annexed the northern part of Mercia to his kingdom and acquired a supremacy over the rest of England similar to that held by his predecessors. The Mercians, however, recovered their independence in 658, and from this time onward Northumbria played little part in the history of southern England. But Oswio and his son Ecgfrith greatly extended their territories towards the north and north-west, making themselves masters of the kingdoms of Strathclyde and Dalriada, as well as of a large part of the Pictish kingdom. Ecgfrith (q.v.), who succeeded on Oswio's death in 671, expelled the Mercians from Lindsey early in his reign, but was in turn defeated by them in 679, his brother Ælfwine being slain. From this time onwards the Humber formed the boundary between the two kingdoms. In 684 we hear of the first English invasion of Ireland, but in the following year Ecgfrith was slain and his army totally destroyed by the Picts at a place called Nechtansmere (probably Dunnichen Moss in Forfarshire). The Picts and Britons now recovered their independence; for Aldfrith, apparently an illegitimate son of Oswio, who succeeded, made no attempt to reconquer them. He was a learned man and a patron of scholars, and during his reign the Northumbrian kingdom partially recovered its prosperity. He was succeeded in 705 by his son Osred, and under him and his successors Northumbria began rapidly to decline through the vices of its kings and the extravagance of their donations; Osred was slain in 716. He was succeeded by Coenred 716—718, and Coenred by Osric 718—729. The next king was Ceolwulf, to whom Bede dedicated his Historia Ecclesiastica in 731. In the same year he was deposed and forced to become a monk, but was soon restored to the throne. In 737 he voluntarily retired to a monastery and left the kingdom to his cousin Eadberht. The latter appears to have been a vigorous ruler; in the year 740 we hear of his being involved in war with the Picts. Æthe1bald of Mercia seems to have taken advantage of this campaign to ravage Northumbria. In 750 Eadberht is said to have annexed a large part of Ayrshire to his kingdom. Finally in 756, having now allied himself with Œngus king of the Picts, he successfully attacked Dumbarton (Alcluith), the chief town of the Britons of Strathclyde. Eadberht showed considerable independence in his dealings with the church, and his brother Ecgberht, to whom the well-known letter of Bede is addressed, was from 734 to 766 archbishop of York. In 758 Eadberht resigned the kingdom to his son Oswulf, and became a monk. After his abdication Northumbrian history degenerates into a record of dynastic murders. Oswulf was slain by his household at a place called Mechil Wongtun in 759. Moll Æthelwald, who may have been a brother of Eadberht, succeeded, and after a victory over a certain Oswine, who fell in the battle, abdicated and became a monk probably under compulsion in 765. His successor Alchred claimed descent from Ida, but Simeon of Durham appears to doubt the truth of his claim. He sent an embassy to Charlemagne in 768 and was deposed in 774, whereupon he fled to Bamburgh and afterwards to the Picts. His deposition has been ascribed to a formal act of the Witan, but this seems an antedating of constitutional methods and the circumstances point to a palace revolution. The successor of Alchred was Æthelred son of Moll Æthelwald. In 778 three high-reeves were slain at the instigation of the king. Æthelred was expelled during the next year, perhaps in consequence of this event, and Ælfwald son of Oswulf became king. Ælfwald was murdered by Sicga in 789, whereupon Osred his nephew the son of Alchred succeeded. In 790 the banished Æthelred returned to the throne and drove out Osred, whom he put to death in 792. Æthelred, who had married Ælflaed the daughter of Olfa, also killed Œlf and Œlfwine, the sons of Œlfwald and was murdered himself at Corbridge in 796. Oswald, who is called patricius by Simeon of Durham, succeeded, but reigned only twenty-seven days, when he was expelled and eventually became a monk. Eardwulf dux, who had apparently fled abroad to escape the wrath of Æthelred, was now recalled and held the crown until 807 or 808. Ælfwald then became king, but Eardwulf was restored in 808 or 809 after appealing to the emperor and the pope. Eanred, son of Eardwulf, probably came to the throne in 809 and reigned until 841. It was during his reign in 827 that Northumbria acknowledged the supremacy of Ecgberht, king of Wessex. Eanred was succeeded by his son Æthelred, who was slain in 850, when Osberht came to the throne and reigned until 863. On the expulsion of Osberht, Ella or Ælle, succeeded. The chroniclers emphasize the fact that this king was not of royal descent. He is said to have slain Ragnarr Loðbrok. In the year 866 Loðbrok's sons Ingwaere (I'varr, q.v.), Healfdene, Ubba and others brought a vast army to England to avenge the death of their father. In the following year they obtained possession of York. Ella seems now to have made peace with the exiled king Osberht, and their united forces succeeded in recovering the city. In the great battle which ensued the Northumbrian army was annihilated and both kings slain (the death of Ella, according to Irish tradition, being due to the treachery of one of his followers). The southern part of Northumbria now passed entirely into the hands of the invaders, but they allowed a certain Ecgberht to reign over the portion of the kingdom north of the Tyne. Ecgberht was expelled in 872 and died in the course of the following year. His successor Ricsig died in 876 and was followed by Ecgberht II., who reigned until 878. He was the last English king who reigned in Northumbria. After him the chief power north of the Tyne came into the hands of a certain Eadulf of Bamburgh, who did not take the kingly title, but accepted the overlordship of Alfred the Great perhaps in 886. In the winter of 874—875 Healfdene returned to Northumbria, which he partitioned among his followers. He was probably killed in Ireland in 877. Simeon of Durham makes his death occur about the same time, after he had been expelled from his country and had lost his reason as a punishment for his misdeeds. After an interregnum of a few years a certain Guthred became king in 883. He is said to have been a slave and to have been appointed king at the command of St Cuthbert, who appeared to Eadred the abbot of Carlisle in a dream. There is some reason for the conjecture that he belonged to the family of Loðbrok. He died in 894, after which date little is known of Northumbrian history for a number of years. About the year 919 the country was invaded by Raegenald (Rögnvaldr grandson of I'varr), a Norwegian king from Ireland, who seized York and occupied the lands of St Cuthbert. Aldred, the son of Eadulf, who now ruled north of the Tyne, appealed to Constantine II., king of the Scots, for help, but the Scottish and Northumbrian armies were defeated at Corbridge. Shortly after this, however, all the northern princes submitted to Edward the Elder. Raegenald was succeeded by Sihtric (Sigtryggr, another grandson of I'varr), who married Æthelstan's sister. He died in 926, and his brother and successor Guthfrith was soon afterwards expelled by Æthelstan and fled to Eugenius, king of Strathclyde. The Welsh and Scottish kings, however, both submitted to Ethelstan, and Guthfrith was again driven into exile. He died in 934, leaving a son Anlaf (Olafr), Godfredsson or Godfreyson. In 934 Æthelstan invaded Scotland as far as the Tay. In 937 a great fleet and army were brought together by Constantine and Anlaf, the son of Sihtric, another Norwegian Chieftain who had allied himself with the Scots, helped by Anlaf Godfreyson from Ireland. Æthelstan, however, won a complete victory over them at a place called Brunanburh, probably Burnswark in Dumfriesshire. Anlaf Godfreyson returned to Ireland and died in 941—942 in a raiding expedition in the south of Scotland. Anlaf the son of Sihtric again came to England in 940 just after the death of Æthelstan. He became king of Northumbria and extended his territories as far as Watling Street. Peace was made with King Edmund by the capture of King Anlaf, and a good deal later by the confirmation of King Raegenald, brother to Anlaf Godfreyson and cousin to Anlaf Sihtricson. About two years later, however, both these kings were expelled by Edmund, and the whole of Northumbria was brought under his power. About the second year of Eadred's reign there was another revolt and Eric Bloodaxe, the exiled king of Norway, obtained the throne. During the next few years the kingdom alternated between Eric and Anlaf until 954, when Eadred finally succeeded in establishing his power. Eric was killed by Maccus, the son of Anlaf, while Anlaf himself withdrew to Ireland, where he died in 980. Eadred placed Northumbria in the hands of a certain Osulf, who is called high-reeve at Bamburgh. In the reign of Edgar, Oslac was appointed earl of southern Northumbria, but he was banished at the beginning of the following reign. The next earl was Waltheof and after him Uhtred, who defeated Malcolm II., king of the Scots, in 1006. Twelve years later, however, the Northumbrians were completely defeated at Carhan, and Lothian was annexed by the Scots (see Lothian). Uhtred was slain by the orders of Canute, who gave the province to Eric (Eirikr) earl of Lade. Shortly afterwards, however, part of it at least came into the hands first of Eadulf and then Aldred and another Eadulf, the brother and sons respectively of Uhtred. The younger Eadulf was slain by Siward, probably in the reign of Hardacanute. Siward held the earldom till his death in 1055, when it was given to Tostig, son of earl Godwine, and after his banishment to Morkere, son of Ælfgar, earl of Mercia. Tostig's banishment led to the invasion of Harold Hardrada, king of Norway, and the battle of Stamford Bridge, in which both perished.

Authorities.—Bede, Historia ecrlesiastica, ed. C. Plummer (Oxford, 1896); Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. Earle and Plummer Oxford, 1899); “Annales Lindesfarnenses,” in the Monumenta historica Germanica, Band xix. (Hanover, 1866); Simeon of Durham (“Rolls” series), ed. T. Arnold (1882); J. C. H. R. Steenstrup, Normannerne (Copenhagen, 1876—1882).

 (F. G. M. B.)