PENDA (577?–655), king of the Mercians, called Pantha by Nennius, son of Wibba, or Pybba, with a descent traced from Woden, came to the throne in 626, being then in his fiftieth year (A.-S. Chron. an. 626; Flor. Wig. an. 627). Until the end of the sixth century the Mercian people had no existence separate from other Anglian tribes, and the beginning of their rise may perhaps be dated from the reign of Crida, probably the father and predecessor of Wibba, who is supposed to have been the first king, and whose death is placed in 593 (Henry of Huntingdon, ii. cc. 26, 27, 31). It seems probable that this Crida, or Creoda, was the same as Cearl, and that he was the father of Coenburh, or Quenburga, the wife of Edwin or Eadwine [q. v.], king of the Northumbrians, though Henry of Huntingdon makes Cearl succeed Wibba, and thus reign to the prejudice of Penda, his kinsman (comp. ib. c. 27, followed by Green, Making of England, pp. 265–6, with Flor. Wig., Genealogies, and A.-S. Chron. u.s.). Whatever Crida may have accomplished, however, it is certain that the Mercians owed their rise from a mere tribe to a powerful people to the work of Penda, who is therefore described by Welsh tradition as having separated their kingdom from the kingdom of the Northumbrians (Nennius, p. 55), and whose vigour earned him a popular epithet, translated by the Latin ‘strenuus.’ It is probable that the conversion of Eadwine helped him in his plans for shaking off the Northumbrian supremacy over his people, and establishing a rival power south of the Humber, and that it fixed the character of his policy. He became the champion of heathenism against Christianity, and used the strife of religions to forward his political designs. The nucleus of his power lay about the Trent; it extended southwards probably to Watling Street, was on the west bounded indefinitely by the Welsh, and was closed in on the south-west by the forest of Arden. It was in this last direction that he seems to have made his first attempt at extension. In 628 he invaded the dominions of the West-Saxon kings Cynegils [q. v.] and his son Cwichelm [q. v.] Enfeebled by domestic feuds and by the late invasion of Eadwine of Northumbria, the West-Saxons were unable to stand against him. He defeated them at Cirencester in the land of the Hwiccas, and there made a peace with them, by which it is probable that all the Hwiccan territory from the forest of Arden to the river Avon became part of the Mercian realm (Green); and then, too, it may be that Cenwalh [q. v.], a son of Cynegils, married Penda's sister (Stubbs). Having thus vastly increased his power, he determined to strike at Northumbria, and, not being strong enough to attack Eadwine single-handed, made alliance with Cædwalla (d. 634) [q. v.], king of Gwynedd, who had his own quarrel with Eadwine to avenge. In 633 he and his Welsh ally invaded Northumbria, and on 12 Oct. defeated and slew Eadwine at Heathfield, probably Hatfield Chase [see under Edwin]. He does not seem to have followed up this victory, leaving his ally to overrun Deira, and he gave shelter to Eadfrith, one of Eadwine's sons by his own kinswoman Coenburh (Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, ii. c. 20).
The greatness of Oswald [q. v.], king of Northumbria, evidently curtailed his power; he probably in some way owned Oswald's supremacy (ib. ii. c. 5, iii. c. 6), and, in order to please him, perjured himself by slaying his guest Eadfrith, who might have laid claim to the Northumbrian kingship. About this time he was pressing on the East-Angles, and is said, perhaps untruly (Stubbs), to have caused the death of their king, Earpwald (Henry of Huntingdon, ii. c. 31), who was actually slain by a heathen warrior named Ricbert. This may have been at Penda's suggestion, especially as Earpwald's death caused the lapse of East-Anglia into heathenism (Bede, u.s. ii. c. 15); but there is not sufficient authority for certainly ascribing the deed to him. He utterly routed the East-Saxons, slew their kings Sigebert and Ecgric in battle, and reduced their land to dependence, their next king, Anna, Sigebert's brother, reigning as his under-king. Oswald must have seen with displeasure this extension of Penda's power, and was perhaps the first to begin the war of 642. Penda defeated and slew him on 5 Aug. in a battle at a place called Maserfelth by Bede, and by the continuator of Nennius Cocboy, and believed to be Oswestry in Shropshire [see under Oswald]. This defeat brought Northumbria very low, and it is possible that Penda may have caused the temporary division of the kingdom by forcing Oswy or Oswiu [q. v.] to allow Oswin [q. v.] to reign in Deira (Stubbs). Soon after this Cenwalh, who had become king of the West-Saxons, put away Penda's sister and took another wife. Penda therefore went to war with him, and in 645 drove him from his kingdom and forced him to take refuge at the court of Anna. Nor did he cease from his hostility to Northumbria, which he laid waste far and wide, penetrating at one time as far as Bamborough. He was unable to take the city, and endeavoured to destroy it by fire. It was on this occasion that Aidan [q. v.] appealed to God against the ill that Penda was doing, and the city was delivered. Some years later, after Aidan's death, he again wasted Bernicia with fire and sword, burning the village where the bishop had died, with its church, not far from Bamborough (Bede, u.s. iii. cc. 16, 17). In 653 he made his eldest son, Peada [q. v.], ealdorman or under-king of the Middle-Angles, and when Peada became a Christian and brought missionaries into his kingdom, the old king, whose opposition to Christianity was apparently rather a matter of policy than of religious zeal, did not prevent them from preaching in his dominions; for the people he specially hated were Christians who were unfaithful to their profession, and he declared that they who thought scorn of obeying their God were despicable wretches (ib. c. 21). Probably in 654 Anna attempted to shake off the Mercian yoke, and was slain and his army utterly defeated, so that scarcely one of his men was left (Henry of Huntingdon, ii. c. 33). This war with the East-Angles probably caused a renewal of strife with Northumbria. Oswy in vain tried to buy off Penda, who seems again to have formed an alliance with the Welsh. Penda again invaded his land, and, wearied with the ever-increasing demands of the enemy, Oswy at last dared to meet him in battle near the river Winwaed, and there defeated and slew him on 15 Nov. 655 [see under Oswy]. Henry of Huntingdon, who preserves in the form of Latin hexameters some popular lines telling how, on the insurrection of Anna, Penda came upon East-Anglia like a wolf on the fold, also records a literal translation of an old verse saying that ‘in the river Winwaed is avenged the slaughter of Anna, the slaughter of the kings Sigebert and Ecgric, the slaughter of the kings Oswald and Edwin’ (ib. c. 34).
Penda's queen was Cynwise or Cyneswitha, by whom he had five sons—Peada [q. v.], Wulfhere [q. v.], Æthelred, Merewald [see under St. Milburg and St. Mildred], and Mercelm—and two daughters, Cyneburh or Ciniburga, who married Alchfrith or Alchfrid [q. v.], son of Oswy; and Cyneswitha. Penda is also credited with a daughter Wiliburh or Wilburga, wife of an under-king named Frithewald, said to have been the father of St. Osyth [q. v.], besides a bastard son named Osward.[Bede's Eccl. Hist.; Flor. Wig. (both Engl. Hist. Soc.); A.-S. Chron.; Henry of Huntingdon; William of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum (all in Rolls Ser.); Green's Making of England; Skene's Celtic Scotland, vol. i.; Dict. Chr. Biogr. vol. iv., by Bishop Stubbs.]