Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ethelfrid

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ETHELFRID, ÆTHELFRITH, or AEDILFRID (d. 617), king of the Northumbrians, called Flesaurs (Nennius, c. 63), the son of Æthelric of Bernicia, who conquered Deira (A.-S. Chron., Florence, sub an. 588), and reigned over both the Northumbrian peoples, succeeded his father in 593. He wasted the British more than any English king that had been before him, either driving them out and putting English settlers in their place, or subduing them and making them tributary (Bæda, Hist. Eccl. i. 34). The first of his wars of which there is any record was against an invader. The Scots of Dalriada, whose kingdom lay to the east of the Drumalban range, and extended as far north as the mouth of Loch Leven, had now risen to considerable power under their king, Aidan [q. v.], and had driven the English out of the debatable district called Manann to the south of the Firth of Forth. In 603 Aidan marched at the head of a great host of Scots, Britons, and Irish into Liddesdale, on the border between Bernicia and Stratchlyde. Æthelfrith met the invaders at a place called Dægastane, and almost entirely destroyed them, though his brother Theobald, also called Eanfraith (Tighernac, sub an. 600), was slain, and the part of the army under his leadership was overthrown. The English victory was decisive, for Bæda says that from that time on to his own day (731) no king of Scots dared to enter Britain to give battle to the English. Dægsastane is most probably Dawstone in Liddesdale, where certain standing stones on Nine Stone Rig and in the neighbourhood and a huge cairn may be taken as marking the site of the battle, while there are also strong earthworks not far off (Skene, Celtic Scotland, p. 162). It is possible that up to this time Æthelfrith had been fully engaged in the northern part of his dominions, and had had little leisure to assert his power in Deira, and that this victory enabled him to bring the kingdom his father had taken from the sons of Ælle into immediate dependence upon himself; for it is said (Nennius, c. 63) that he reigned twelve years in Berneich (Bernicia) and another twelve in Deur (Deira). In 613 he extended his kingdom to the western sea, and marched on Chester with a large force. The Welsh gave him battle, and were defeated with great slaughter. Before the battle began Æthelfrith saw the monks of Bangor Yscoed, where there was a vast monastic settlement containing over two thousand brethren, standstanding some little way off engaged in prayer for the success of their countrymen. When he was told the reason of their coming, he said: ‘If they pray to their God against us they are our enemies, even though they do not bear arms, because they fight against us with their curses,’ and he bade his men fall on them first. It is said that about twelve hundred of them were slain, and their slaughter was held to be the fulfilment of the prophecy uttered by Augustine when the abbot Dinoth and his monks refused to assent to his demands. Two Welsh kings fell in this battle (Bæda, i. 2; Tighernac, sub an. 613). Æthelfrith was a heathen. He married Bebbe, from whom the town of Bamborough, the residence of the Bernician kings, is said to have taken its name, and Acha, the sister of Eadwine [q. v.], by whom he had seven sons and a daughter, Ebbe or Æbbe, founder and abbess of Coldingham. Three of his sons, Eanfrith, Oswald, and Oswin, became kings. Æthelfrith persecuted Eadwine, the representative of the royal house of Deira, and tried to persuade Rædwald, king of East Anglia, with whom he had taken refuge, to give him up. Rædwald refused, and marched against him in 617 before he had collected the whole strength of his kingdom. Æthelfrith met Rædwald's army by the river Idle, on the Mercian border, and was defeated and slain. He reigned twenty-four years, and was succeeded by Eadwine.

[Bædæ Hist. Eceles. i. c. 34, ii. c. 2, 12 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Anglo-Saxon Chron., sub ann. 603, 617; Florence of Worcester, i. 11, 268; Nennius, c. 63 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Ann. Tighernac, ed. O'Conor, ii. 182; Ann. Cambrenses, Mon. Hist. Brit. p. 832; Skene's Celtic Scotland, i. 160; Green's Making of England, pp. 198, 232, 249-251.]

W. H.