Eardwulf of Northumbria - King


Eardwulf became king on 14 May 796. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that he was consecrated by Eanbald I, Archbishop of York, and Bishops Æthelberht, Beadwulf, and Hygebald, at York Minster on 26 May 796.

Eardwulf was evidently married before he became king as Alcuin reproached him for abandoning his wife for a concubine soon after his coronation. This strained relations with the new Archbishop Eanbald II—Eanbald I had died in the year of Eardwulf's coronation. Alcuin, while condemning secular oppression of the church, affected surprise that the Archbishop Eanbald was accompanied by a large retinue, including soldiers, while travelling, and that he received and protected the king's enemies. Eanbald was presumably in conflict with Eardwulf over property, but it is likely that he also supported rivals for Eardwulf's throne.

Although Æthelred had been Eardwulf's enemy, Æthelred's killers proved to be equally hostile to Eardwulf. In 798 a dux named Wada, who was one of those who had killed King Æthelred, fought with Eardwulf on Billington Moor, near Whalley, Lancashire. Wada was put to flight and may have gone into exile in Mercia. Wada may have hoped to restore Osbald to the throne. The evidence for Osbald's continued ambition is a letter Alcuin wrote to him, probably in 798, in which Alcuin attempts to dissuade Osbald from further interventions in Northumbrian affairs. Alcuin's arguments appear to have succeeded, since Osbald is known to have become an abbot by 799 (when his death is recorded), implying that he had given up his ambitions.

Two further challenges to Eardwulf are recorded within the next two years, both apparently from among the noble lines that had been fighting for the throne over the previous decades. In 799, a dux named Moll was killed by Eardwulf's "urgent command". Moll's name has suggested that he was a kinsman of the late King Æthelred, whose father was Æthelwald Moll. The following year, Ealhmund, "the son of King Alhred, as some say", was killed by Eardwulf's men. Ealhmund was remembered at Derby, in the neighbouring kingdom of Mercia, as a saint.

King Coenwulf of Mercia may have supported the unfortunate Ealhmund, and Symeon of Durham writes that in 801:

Eardwulf, king of the Northumbrians, led an army against Coenwulf, king of Mercians, because he had given asylum to his enemies. He also, collecting an army, obtained very many auxiliaries from other provinces, having made a long expedition among them. At length, with the advice of the bishops and chiefs of the Angles on either side, they made peace through the kindness of the king of the Angles.

This settlement ended open warfare, but Eardwulf was deposed in 806, in unknown circumstances. Letters between Charlemagne and Pope Leo III suggest that Coenwulf had a hand in Eardwulf's removal. According to the thirteenth-century chronicler Roger of Wendover, Eardwulf was replaced by King Ælfwald II, about whom nothing else is known from the written sources, although coins issued in his reign have survived.

As the case of Ælfwald shows, while the written sources for later Northumbria are few and often written down centuries after the events they describe, archaeological evidence from coinage is independent of the surviving annals. Coins in the Anglo-Saxon period usually name the king on whose orders they were issued, and may name the mint where they were struck—Northumbrian coinage names York as the place of issue—and the moneyer who produced them. Their weight and silver content can be compared with other reigns, providing a hint of the prevailing economic conditions, and the style and size may also throw light on cultural influences when the coins are compared with those of neighbouring kingdoms and with other forms of art. The evidence of Northumbrian coinage is particularly valuable in the ninth century when contemporary written evidence all but disappears.

From the 740s until the end of the Northumbrian kingdom, coins were issued by most kings, although in variable quantities. Until recently no coins from Eardwulf's reign were known, which suggested that it may have been a time of instability, or perhaps that the kingdom was impoverished by the payment of tribute to the Mercian kings Offa and Coenwulf. It is now known that the issue of new coins did not stop during Eardwulf's reign as two of his coins were identified in the 1990s. However, issues of new currency appear to have been limited under Eardwulf and significant numbers of Northumbrian coins are not again attested until the reign of Eardwulf's son Eanred.

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