Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wulfhere

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WULFHERE (d. 675), king of the Mercians, was the second of the five sons of Penda [q. v.] and his queen, Cyneswitha. After Penda had been slain by Oswy [q. v.] at the battle of Winwaedfield (15 Nov. 655), Wulfhere was kept in hiding by Mercian ealdormen loyal to the Mercian royal house. In 658 these ealdormen, Immin, Eafa, and Eadbert, rose against Oswy in favour of Wulfhere, and established him as king of Mercia (Bede, Hist. Eccl. bk. iii. ch. xxiv.) Wulfhere was already a Christian, having possibly received the faith in Kent, where he sought his wife Eormenhild, a Christian. He is described by the chroniclers as ‘the first of the Mercian kings to be baptised’ (Flor. Wig. in Mon. Hist. Brit. p. 637).

Wulfhere's first step as king was to take means for the completion of the conversion of Mercia, thus continuing the work of Oswy, and giving unity to Mercian history. Trumhere, abbot of Gilling, who was consecrated at Lindisfarne, was bishop of Mercia from 659 to 662, being succeeded by Jaruman, whose episcopal rule lasted from 662 to 667. Jaruman was Wulfhere's right hand in extending the Christian faith throughout Mercia and all those lands which were under Mercian rule, and the heathen reaction among the dependent East-Saxons was stayed by his preaching (Bede, Hist. Eccl. iii. 30). How complete Wulfhere's ascendency over Essex must have been is shown by his sale to Wini [q. v.] of the East-Saxon bishopric of London. The South-Saxons received the faith through Wulfhere, who was sponsor to their king Ethelwold at baptism. Wulfhere joined with Wilfrid in sending to Sussex Eoppa, the mass-priest, who first baptised the South-Saxons. Politically and ecclesiastically Wulfhere laid the foundations of the Mercian supremacy of the following century. Upon the death of Jaruman, Wulfhere tried to persuade St. Wilfrid [q. v.], then in retirement at Ripon, to accept the Mercian bishopric, but failed (Eddius, Vita Wilfridi, c. 14). Finally, St. Chad [q. v.] in 669 received the bishopric of the Mercians and Lindiswaras, together with the gift from Wulfhere of land for a monastery at ‘Ad Barvæ’ in Lindsey, usually identified with Barrow-on-Humber, Lincolnshire. Chad moved the see to Lichfield, where he died and was buried in 672. Winfrith [q. v.], Chad's successor, who opposed Theodore's general scheme of organisation of the church in England, and especially of his scheme of splitting up the great Mercian diocese into five independent sees, was deposed by Theodore in 675, the year of Wulfhere's death.

Politically, Wulfhere's establishment as king showed that there were limits to the Northumbrian overlordship. He remained, however, on good terms with Oswy, and accepted his direction. But Lindsey remained a stumbling-block between Mercia and Northumbria. In 657 Wulfhere regained it from Oswy, but before 675 Egfrith of Northumbria, Oswy's successor, reconquered it (Bede, Hist. Eccl. iv. 12). Apart, however, from these disturbances as to Lindsey, Wulfhere's attitude to Northumbria was on the whole friendly. The political history of the reign centres round Wulfhere's hostility to the rising power of Wessex, against which he established a counterpoise in an alliance with the petty states of the south-east. In 661 he defeated the king of Wessex, Coinwalch, at Posentesbyrig (? Pontesbury), in Shropshire, and laid the country waste as far as Ashdown. Then, crossing and wasting Wessex, he took the Isle of Wight and the land of the Meanwaras (Bede, iv. 13; ‘Anglo-Saxon Chron.’ in Mon. Hist. Brit. p. 317; Flor. Wig. in Mon. Hist. Brit. p. 431). He gave Wight and the land of the Meanwaras to his close ally, Ethelwold, king of the South-Saxons. In 675 hostilities were renewed, and a battle at Bidanheafda (Beadanhead?) was fought between Wulfhere and Wessex (Ethelwerd in Mon. Hist. Brit. p. 506; Flor. Wig. in Mon. Hist. Brit. p. 534). Wulfhere greatly enlarged the borders of Mercia; the land of the West-Hecanas was subject to him, and he placed his brother Merewald as sub-regulus over it (Flor. Wig., App. in Mon. Hist. Brit. p. 638).

The chroniclers glorify Wulfhere as the friend of the church, but he was not always a disinterested one. He saw the importance to the state of the church as the greatest civilising agent. Thus he planted Christianity wherever he conquered. He supported his bishops to his utmost, though he seems, like his last bishop, Winfrith, to have somewhat mistrusted the broad schemes of Theodore. In addition to his foundation at Barrow he, together with his brother Ethelred, founded a monastery for their sister Kineburga, who had married Alchfrith, king of the Northumbrians, but afterwards renounced the world. Wulfhere's other sister, Kineswitha, also entered the same monastery (Flor. Wig. in Mon. Hist. Brit. p. 637; cf. ib. Appendix to Flor. Wig. p. 622). This monastery, Bishop Stubbs conjectures, was at Caistor. The elaborate story of Wulfhere's connection with Medeshamstede (Peterborough) seems to be mainly the invention of the Peterborough chroniclers (‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ in Mon. Hist. Brit. pp. 313–16; cf. Hugo Candidus in Sparke, Historiæ Anglicanæ Scriptores, pp. 4–5, 6–7, and art. Saxulf). The one kernel of fact is that Wulfhere did help the abbey of Medeshamstede. More entirely legendary is the account of his connection with the abbey of St. Peter's at Gloucester (Hist. et Cartularium Monasterii Gloucestriæ, i. lxxii. 4); and another fabulous attribution to Wulfhere is the foundation about 670 of a college of secular canons at Stone in Staffordshire (Dugdale, Monasticon, vi. 226–30).

Wulfhere died in 675, and was succeeded by his brother Ethelred. He married Eormenhild, daughter of Erconbert of Kent, and of Sexburga (d. 699?) [q. v.], and had one son, Coinred, and one daughter, Werburga [q. v.]

[Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica, ed. Plummer, bk. iii. chaps. 7, 21, 24, 30; bk. iv. chaps. 3, 12, 13, 24; Anglo-Saxon Chron., Flor. Wig., Henry of Huntingdon, all in Monumenta Historica Britannica; Eddius's Vita Wilfridi in Historians of the Church of York (Rolls Series), vol. i.; Dugdale's Monasticon (Rolls Ser.), vols. i. and vi.; Kemble's Codex Diplomaticus, vol. v.; Hugo Candidus, pp. 1–8, 24, ed. Sparke; Dict. of Christian Biogr., articles ‘Wulfhere,’ ‘Saxulf,’ and ‘Peada;’ Green's Making of England, pp. 306–8.]

M. T.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.286
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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171 i 26-27 Wulfhere: for Barrow in Atwood read Barrow-on-Humber