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The Saxon Heptarchy - the Kingdom of Mercia (Mittel Angeln)

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The shield of the history, philosophy and spirituality faculty of the h2g2 University.The Saxon Heptarchy - Overview
Kingdom of Mercia (Mittel Angeln) | Kingdom of Wessex | Kingdom of East Anglia (Ost Angeln) | Kingdom of Northumbria (Nord Angeln)
Kingdom of Sussex | Kingdom of Kent | Kingdom of Essex (East Seaxe)

To see how the kingdom of Mercia (Mittel Angeln) related to the other kingdoms of the Heptarchy, please read the introduction to the Saxon Heptarchy.

Principal Towns and Boundaries

The principal towns in the kingdom were:

  • Tamworth
  • Worcester
  • Oxford
  • Lincoln

Starting in the 6th Century and ending in the 9th, Mercia expanded so that at the height of its power it had grown to include the following counties:

  • Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire - home of the Middle Angles
  • Hertfordshire and Worcestershire - sub-kingdom of the Magonsaites or Magonsets, original rulers of the area and conquered by the Mercians
  • Cheshire - home of the Pecset
  • Shropshire - home of the Wrocenset
  • Gloucestershire - home of the Chiltern Saetans
  • Oxfordshire - home of the Thames Valley Saxons
  • Buckinghamshire - home of the Rodingas and Gegingas
  • Bedfordshire - home of the Herstingas
  • Cambridgeshire - home of the Elge
  • Middlesex - home of the Middle Seaxe
  • Lincolnshire - sub-kingdom of the Lindsey or Lindisware people

Other British peoples that were part of the Mercian kingdom included the Hwiccas, Gainas, Lindisfaras, Middle Angles, South Angles and Mercians.

The kingdom covered the county of Sussex and was bounded:

  • To the north by the kingdom of Northumbria
  • To the south by the kingdoms of Wessex and Kent
  • To the east by the kingdom of East Anglia
  • To the west by Wales, the coast and the Irish Sea

A Brief History

After the Romans withdrew from Britain, the lands between the river Aire in the north and river Avon in the south were originally settled by peoples known as the Angles. The area developed, and by 488 the last migration led by the Angle king Icel arrived in the area. King Icel founded a kingdom of the boundary people, or Mercians in Old English. The birthplace of Mercia is thought to be on the border area between England and Wales.

There were two kings after Icel - Cnebba and Cynewald - who ruled a fragmented kingdom (501 - 584) but laid the foundation for a stable one.

The first true king of the Mercians was Créoda (584 - 593), who ruled a united kingdom.

King Penda (626 - 655) introduced Christian missionaries into Mercia. Missionaries from Lindisfarne were allowed free access to convert the pagan population to Christianity. King Penda was killed by the Northumbrian king Oswiu at the Battle of Winwaed in 655. This allowed Oswiu to take over a weakened Mercia in 656. In 658, King Wulfhere of Mercia led a revolt and restored Mercian power.

Mercia was stable until 716, when King Athelbald had to hold the kingdom against King Ine of Wessex. Later, King Wihtred of Kent attacked Mercia. In 757, King Athelbald was murdered for the throne by Beornred. He was in turn defeated soon after by King Offa, and fled after the battle.

Offa the Mighty (757 - 796) was the next king. He was a dynamic military leader and had a defensive work, Offa's Dyke, created to mark the border between Wales and Mercia. During this period the kingdom of Wessex started to expand and become a threat to Mercia, and to other kingdoms that bordered its lands.

King Guthrum of the Danes took Mercia from the last Mercian king, Burgred, in 874. King Alfred the Great of Wessex fought a long campaign against Danish expansion, and in 886 agreed a treaty, known as the Danelaw, that ended this conflict. As part of the settlement, the eastern part of Mercia was given to the Danes. The reminder became part of the kingdom of Wessex.

The Danes were eventually driven out of Mercia by Edward the Elder (900 - 924), who added the kingdom to Wessex.

Kings of Mercia

The House of Icel

  • Icel (488 - 501) - The last king of the Angles in Europe who led a migration to England.
  • Cnebba (501 - 566) - He reigned until his death.
  • Cynewald (566 - 584) - He reigned until his death.
  • Créoda (584 - 593) - He is credited with founding Tamworth, a royal stronghold.
  • Pybba (593 - 606) - He extended Mercian rule west into the Midlands.
  • Céorl (606 - 626) - He reigned until his death.
  • Penda (626 - 655) and Éowa (635 - 642) - Penda defeated Edwin of Northumbria at the Battle of Hatfield Chase in 633, and Oswald of Northumbria at the Battle of Maserfield in 642, in which Éowa was killed. In 655, Oswiu of Northumbria defeated Penda at the Battle of the Winwaed; Penda died in battle.
  • Péada (653 - 656) - He was made king of southern Mercia by his father, Penda, but was murdered in 656.

Northumbrian rule (656 - 658)

  • Wulfhere (658 - 675) - He ended the Northumbrian rule of Mercia, and the kingdom prospered under him. He died of an illness in 675.
  • Athelred (675 - 704) - He finally drove out King Ecgfrith of Northumbria, at a decisive battle by the river Trent in 679. He gave up the throne to become a monk at Bardnet, and died in 716.
  • Coenred (704 - 709) - He also left the throne to become a monk, and he was ordained in Rome by Pope Constantine.
  • Céolred (709 - 716) - He was poisoned at a banquet.
  • Céolwald (716) - He reigned until his death.
  • Athelbald (716 - 757) - He was murdered for the throne by Beornred.
  • Beornred (757) - He was defeated in battle by Offa and fled.

The House of Offa

  • Offa the Mighty (757 - 796) - He ordered the building of Offa's Dyke and was the most powerful of the Saxon kings of his era.
  • Egfrip (787 - 796) - He co-ruled with his father, Offa. Four months after Offa died, he also suddenly died.

House of Coenwulf

  • Coenwulf - (796 - 821) - He was also king of East Anglia (798 - 821), and king of Kent (807 - 821). Coenwulf presided over a major expansion of Mercia.
  • Cynehelm (St Kenelm) (812 - 821) - He was murdered while a child king.
  • Céolwulf (821 - 823) - He was deposed by Beornwulf, the first of the elected kings.

Kings Elected by the Mercian Witenagemot (the Meeting of Wise Men)

  • Beornwulf (823 - 826) - During his reign, the power of Mercia in the Heptarchy diminished. He was killed in battle against East Anglian rebels.
  • Ludeca (826 - 827) - He was killed in battle against the same East Anglian rebels that had defeated and killed Beornwulf.
  • Wigláf (first reign) (827 - 829)

West Saxon rule 829 - 830; Mercia was held by King Egbert of Wessex.

  • Wigláf (second reign) (830 - 840) - He was buried at Repton.
  • Wigmund (840)
  • Wigstan (840, died 849) - He was buried at Repton with King Wiglaf.
  • Béorhtwulf (840 - 852)
  • Burgred (852 - 874) - He left for Rome and died in the city.
  • Céolwulf the Foolish (874 - 883)
  • Athelred Mucil (883 - 911) - The last king of Mercia was killed in battle against the Vikings at Tettenhall, near Bridgenorth. He left his kingdom in the hands of his wife, Lady Aethelflaed (daughter of Alfred the Great). Mercia then came under the domination of Wessex.

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