Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Coenred

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COENRED or CENRED (reigned 704–709), king of Mercia, was the son of Wulfhere, king of Mercia, and his queen, Eormengild or Eormenhild. On Wulfhere's death in 675 the succession did not pass to Coenred, who was probably too young to rule, but to Wulfhere's brother Ethelred. The 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' tells us that in 697 the Southumbrians (Baeda says the chiefs of the Mercians) put Æthelred's queen Osthryth to death; that in 702 Coenred became king of the Southumbrians; and that in 704 Æthelred assumed the monastic habit, and was succeeded on the throne of Mercia by Coenred. The interpretation to be placed on these brief statements depends on the meaning of the name Southumbrians, which is of very rare occurrence. In the 'Chronicle' under the year 449 this name appears to be used as a synonym of Mercians. If it has that sense in the passages just quoted, the entry under the year 702 (which is found only in three, and those not the oldest, of the six manuscripts of the 'Chronicle,' and has nothing corresponding to it in Bæda) must have been inserted by mistake, being a misdated reference to the event afterwards recorded under the true date of 704. The later historians, as Florence of Worcester and Henry of Huntingdon, evidently take this view, as they ignore the accession of Coenred to the kingdom of Southumbria in 702. It seems, however, unlikely that the chronicler should have committed so obvious a blunder, and the more probable conclusion is that Southumbria is here the name of a portion only of the Mercian kingdom. Whether it denotes the territory of Bæda's 'Northern Mercians' (Hist. Eccl. iii. 24), which was bounded on the south by the Trent, or the province of Lindsey Lincolnshire), which Æthelred had recently recovered from the Northumbrians, there is not sufficient evidence to determine. We may reasonably infer from the statements of the 'Chronicle' that the Southumbrians, whoever they were, had revolted from Æthelred in 697, that in 702 they chose Coenred as their king, and that in 704 Æthelred was induced to yield up the kingdom of Mercia to Coenred. In 709, possibly owing to a reaction against the Southumbrian party, Coenred abdicated in favour of Æthelred's son Ceolred, and, in company with Offa, the young king of the East Saxons, went to Rome, where he received the tonsure, and spent the rest of his life in works of piety. The date of his death is unknown.

The few incidents of Coenred's reign which are recorded are all of a religious or an ecclesiastical nature, and it seems probable that his character was more suited for the cloister than for the throne. Bæda mentions that at the request of his predecessor Æthelred, who had then become abbot of Bardney, he gave an asylum and his friendship to Wilfrith, the banished archbishop of York. The same writer speaks of Coenred as having earnestly striven to effect the conversion of one of his chief nobles, who was a faithful servant to him in the affairs of the kingdom, but irreligious. The king's exhortations were fruitless, and the recipient of them died in despair, after having related to Coenred a fearful vision in which his own future condemnation had been revealed to him. According to William of Malmesbury and succeeding writers, this circumstance was the cause which impelled Coenred to resign his kingdom and become a monk. He was present at a council of the Mercian clergy, held in 705, to consider the readmission to church privileges of a certain Ælfthryth, of whom nothing is known, unless, indeed, she was the abbess of Repton who bore that name. A circumstance which is of some little historical interest, as bearing on the mutual relations of the English kingdoms at this period, is that Coenred's signature and that of his successor Ceolred are attached by way of ratification to a charter (dated 13 June 704) by which Swæbræd, king of Essex, granted lands at Twickenham to Waldhere, bishop of London. He also subscribed a charter of Æthelheard and Æthelweard, joint under-kings of the Hwiccas, addressed to the abbess Cuthswith of Worcester, and another of Æthelweard alone, endowing the newly founded abbey in Evesham with land at Ombersley. The other Evesham charters containing Coenred's name (Cod. Dipl. 57-61) are with good reason considered spurious.

It does not appear that Coenred was married. The great variety of forms in which his name occurs may need explanation. The early Mercian form is Coenraed or Coenred; Coinred is the Northumbrian spelling adopted by Bæda; Cenred or Kenred is West Saxon, and Chenred or Chenret the Norman orthography used by Gaimar. All these forms are phonetically correct according to the usage of the respective dialects, but Florence's spelling Cynred is a mistake due to a common confusion between the prefixes Cn and Cyne.

[Angl.-Sax. Chron. years 702, 704, 709; Bæda's Hist. Eccl. book v. ch. xiii. xix. xxiv.; Flor. Wig. (Eng. Hist. Soc.), i. 46, 47, 251; Kemble's Cod. Dipl. nos. 26, 52, 53, 56-62; William of Malmesbury, Gest. Reg. (Eng. Hist. Soc.), i. 111; Gest. Pont. (Rolls Series), pp. 239, 317, 351-2, 386; Haddan and Stubbs's Councils, iii. 273.]

H. B.