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in defence of their tonsure that it had descended to them
from St. Peter, and accused their adversaties of wearing
the distinctive mark of Simon Magus and his disciples.
The latter could not disprove the assertions of their
adyersaries, but contended that their method of shaving
th^ head, however impious in its origin, had been sanc-
tified by the virtues of those who had practised it. Each
party obstinately adhered to their own custom, and se-
verely condemned that of the other.

tf such questions could divide the missionaries, it
cannot be surprising that they should perplex their dis-
ciples. The restoration of concord was reserved for the
zeal and authority of Oswio. He, with the majority of
his subjects, had derived the knowledge of Christianity
from the Scots : his queen Eaufled, and his son Alch-
frid, had been educated by the disciples of the Romans.
Thus Oswio saw his own femily divided into fkctions ;
and the same solemnities ceietntited at different times
in his own palace. Desirous to procure uniformity, he
summoned the champions of the two parties to meet
at Whitby, and to discuss the merits of their respec-
A. D. tive customs. Wilfrid, afterwards bishop of York,
664. rested the cause of the Romans on the authority of St.
Peter, and the practice of the universal church, which
ought not to yield to the pretensions of a few obscure
congregations of Christians on the western shores of
Britain. Colman boasted of the sanctity of St. Columba,
the apostle of the norths and oontendad that notUiig


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A. D. 664.] YELLOW HIJUJUK. 1.0 1

should be changed, which, he. and hU 8|i«<ces8.or8 had
sanctioned with their approbation. Qswio ten»inate4
the debate by declaring that he should i^efex Uie^ insti-
tutions* of St Peter to those of St. Qolumba* The deci-
sion was applauded by the majority o^ the meeting ;^ and
of the Scottish monks, several conformed torthe practice
of their opponents., the others retired in silent ^scontent.
to the parent monastery in the isle ojTHii *.

In the same ye»r, tb© twenty-second of Oswio, th<t
beginning of the month of May was- rendered remark-
able by atotaliecUp^ of the sun. The ignorance of the
observer^ did not fail to predict the most ajarmihg disas.
.ters; and th» event seemed to jiistify their predictions.
The sammerwaSr extremely dry : the heavens, to.use tha
expression of an ancient chronicler, appeared to be on
fire; and^ a. pestilence of the n^ost i&tal description (it
was called tl^e yellcw plague) depopulated the island t.
It made its first appearance on the southern coasts, and
gradually advancing towards the north, had ravaged
before winter Deira and Bemicia, It reached' Ireland
in the beginning of August, The symptoms of thit
destructive disease have not been described t^ hi^riaus^
but it baffled the medical skill of the natives ; andmanjr
of the Bast-Saxons, imable to account for it:on natural'
grQund$, attributed it to the anger of the gods, and
reverted to their former idolatry. Frpm the instances
in Bede, it appears that many died' in the course of a.
single day, and that of those who caught the inf0ction9
hardly more than one in thirty recovered; Ihuing
twenty years it visited and revisited the difibrent pro-
evinces of Britain and Ireland. Bede does not attempt
to calculate the amount of its ravages, but is, content
with the vague terms of depopulated districts, and mulr
titudes of dead. In Ireland an ancient writer computes
its victims at two-thirds of the inhabitants $. The high-
lands of Caledonia were alone free from this dreadful

• Bed. ill 25. S& f Compare Bede (iii. zzviL) with Uw Ulster Annak.
(Usher. Ant Brit, pi 948.) ) Vit GeraL Sax. apod Ant Brit p. 1 164


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visitation. Hie natives piously ascribed the exemption
to the intercession of their patron St. Columba, and per-
suaded themselves that even in the infected countries
they were inaccessible to its attacks. Adamnan, the
abbot of Icolmkille, relates, with obvious emotions of
national pride, that twice during this period he visited
the king of Northumbria, and, though he lived in the
midst of the contagion, though numbers were daily
dying around him, neither he, nor any of his attendants,
took the infection *.

The pestilence no sooner appeared, than it proved
fatal to several of the most distinguished characters in
the island. Catgualet, king of Gwynez, Ercombert of
Kent, Ethelwald of Sussex, Deusdedit archbishop of
Canterbury, the bishops of London and Lindisfarne,
Boisil, the celebrated abbot of Mailros, and Ethelburga,
the royal abbess of Berking, were among the first oflts
victims. The death of the metropolitan afforded Oswio
an opportunity of promoting his favourite system of reli-
gious uniformity. He consulted with Egbert, the new
king of Kent ; and by their concurrence, the presbyter
Wighard, who had been chosen to succeed to the archi-
episcopal dignity, was sent to Rome to ask the advice of
the Apostolic see. But in that city the new prelate fell
a victim to the pestilence which he had escaped in his
own country : and his death was announced in a letter
to Oswio from pope Vitalian. The pontiff, however,
assured the king that he would gratify his wishes by
selecting for the church of Canterbury a person equal
to so exalted a station ; and after some delay Theodore, _
a monk of Tarsus, whose virtue and erudition had been
honoured with general applause, landed in Kent, with
the title of archbishop of Britain. His authority was
immediately acknowledged by all the Saxon prelates:
new bishoprics were established ; synods were held ; and
uniformity of discipline was every where observed.

• Ailamn. Vit. St. Co-umb. ii. c xlvil. p. 153.


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A.D.670.3 DKATH OF OSWIO. 103

Oswio died in 670. With him expired both the title
and authority of Bretwalda. The power of Northumbria
had for some years been on the decline ; while the neigh-
bouring state of Mercia, created by the genius of Penda.
had gradually matured its strength, and the southern
kingdom of Wessex had, i^ith a slow but steady progress^
constantly advanced in the subjugation of the Britons.
These three rival nations will, in the following chapter,
solicit the attention of the reader : the feeble kingdoms
of Essex, Kent, East-AngUa, and Sussex, sometimes the
allies, but generally the vassals of their more powerful
neighbours, cannot awaken suf&dent interest to deserve
a more detailed and separate narratioiL


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Kinxp of NortbumbtUr-of MvrcU— Ethelbald— Off*— CeBul^-of Wei
' —X^adwaila—tna — Cynewulf— Egbert— Etholwulf—Ethelbald—


From Oswio the Northumbrian scepire was trani^ferred
to the hands of Egfrid, the elder of his surviving sons'*.
The Picts, despising the youth of the new monarch, as-
^o. sembled under their prince Bernherth, and asserted
670. their independence. But Egfrid, with a vigour which
surprised and dismayed them, put himself at the head
of a body of horse, entered their territory, defeated them
in a bloody battle, and compelled them to submit again
to the superior power of the Northumbrians. With
equal expedition he anticipated and defeated the designs
of Wulphere, king of Mercia, who numbered among his
vassals most of the southern chieftains. The victory
broke for a while the power of the Mercians. Wulphere
died soon after : and his kingdom was at first seized by
the Northumbrian, but restored to Ethelred, who had
married Osthryda, the sister of Egfridt.
Religious prejudice has conferred an adventitious

* Malmsbury (20, 8l).aDd Bereral later writera say that Alehfrid the
rider son was still alive, but rejected on aceount of illeeitimaey : and that
he ascended the throne after the death of Egfrid. From a diligent exami-
nation of Bede it appears to me that they have confounded Alehfrid,
and Aldfrid, and made the two but one iierson. AldfKd was illegitimate,
and thoufjkt to be the son of Oswio. He lived in spontaneous exile among
the Scots through his desire of kno^'Iedge, and was called to the throne
after the decease of the leititiroaio oflrmpring of Oswia See Bede, Tp. 1S9.
133. 178. 206, 807. 234. 247. 293. Also the poem De Abbat. Liadis. in
Act SS. Bened. p. 305.

t Edd. Vit Wilt xix. XX. 61, 62. BeiL iv. 12.

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interest on the reign of Egfiid; and his quarrel with
Wilfrid, the celebrated bishop of York, occupies a dis-
tinguished but disproportionate space in our modem
histories. Wilfrid was a noble Northumbrian, who had
travelled for improvement; and after his return from
Italy, had been selected as the instructor and confidant
of Alchfrid, the son of Oswio. When Tuda died, Wil-
firid was chosen to succeed him in the bishopric of York,
and was sent by the two princes into Gaul to be conse-
crated by his friend Agilberct, bishop of Paris. Whe-
ther it was that during his absence the quarrel arose
between Oswio and his son, or that the party of the
Scottish missionaries had acquired the ascendency, as
is intimated by Eddius, Wilfrid, at his return, found
Ceadda in possession of the episcopal dignity, and re-
tired peacefully to his monastery at Rippon. But Theo-
dore of Canterbury restored Wilfiid, and translated
Ceadda to Lichfield. Oswio acquiesced in the decision
of the metropolitan, and the bishop enjoyed for several
years his friendship, and that of his successor Egfrid*.

Egfrid's first wife was Edilthryda, the daughter of
Anna king of the East-Angles, and widow of Tondberct,
ealdorman of the Giivii. A t an early period in life she had
bound herself by a vow of virginity, which was respected
by the piety or indifference of her husband. At his
death she was demanded by Oswio for his son Egfrid, a
youth of only fourteen years : and in spite of her re-
monstrances was conducted by her relations to the court
of NOTthumbria. She persisted in her former resolu-
tion; and Egfrid, when he ascended the throne, re-
ferred the matter to the decision of Wilfrid, having pre-
viously offered him a valuable present if he could prevail
on Edilthryda to renounce her early vow. The prelate
however disappointed his hopes : the princess took the
veil at Coldingham ; and the friendship between Wilfrid
and Egfrid was considerably impaired. The king now

• Kda. l-xv. B«h!. hi 88; l». 8; v. 19.


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married Ennenburga, a princess, the violence of whose
character excited the discontent of the people, and the
remonstrances of the bishop. The freedom of his
admonitions mortified her pride, and she found in her
husband the willing minister of her vengeance *.

In the exercise of his authority archbishop Theodore,
was , always severe, occasionally despotic. He had al-
ready deposed three of the Saxon prelates ; and Wilfrid
A,D. was destined to experience the same fate. At the so-
678. licita^ion of Egfrid and Ermenbui:ga, he came to North-
umbrian divided the ample diocese of York into three
portions ; and consecrated three new prelates, one for
Bemicia, a second for Deira, and a third for the Lindisr-
waras. But Wilfrid did not submit in silence. He
complained that he had been deprived without notice
■ ' the advice of his episcopal
ie equity of the sovereign pon-
nitted. The injured prelate
ysenwald, a monk, appeared as
e. After a patient hearing,
Wilfrid should be restored to
t that he should select three
is own clergy, should ordain
among them the more distant

ra had made several fruitless

1 prelate on his journey: at,

A,n. lim into prison, and during

680. . by the alternate employment

omis^ and threats, to extort a
rescript had been procured by
contrivance^ Wearied at last
larassed by the importunities
consented to his enlargement,
he should bind himself by an
oa^h never more to set his foot within the dominions of

• Bed, iv. 19. sad. xxir. f Edd. xxW— xxxt B«i W. IS ; ▼. 19l


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$gihd. Wilfrid retired into Mercia. From Mercia he
was driven by the intrigues of his persecutors into Wes-
sex ; and from Wessex was compelled to seek an asylum
among the pagans of Sussex. Edilwalch their king
took him under his protection ; and the exile repaid the
benefit by diffusing among his subjects the doolrines of
the gospel. The South-Saxons were the last people of
the octarchy who embraced Christianity *

Though itiQ royal £wiilies of Northumbrian and Mercia
were alUed by miarriage, their union had been broken
by the ambition of E^id. The hostile. armies met on a.d.
the Trent; their valour was waited in. a dubious con- 679.
flict ; and peace was restored by the paternal exhorta*
tions of Theodore. iElfwin, the brother of K^Vid, had
fallen in the battle ; and, as the hpnourof the king com-
piled him to demand compensation^ ^Q was persuaded
to accept the legal u?^^ instead of pr^onging hostilities,
for the imcertain p^urpose of vengeance t. Afteruards»
in the year preceding his death, he despatched. Beorht»,
a warUke and sanguinary chiellain» to ravage the coast
(^Ireland. Qf the motives foi thift. expedition we are.
i\ot inf<^*m^. Bede assures us that. the Irish were &.
harness. and friendly people. To them many of the:
Angles had been . accustomed to resort in search of .
knowledge, and on aU occasions had been received
kindly, and supported gratuitously. Beorht requited
their hospitality by ravaging their countiy, and burning
their towns, churches, and monasteries. The natives^
unable to repel the invader by force, implored on the
author of their wrongs the vei^eance of heaven ; and '
their imprecations were believed to be fulfilled in the ^^ „^
following year by the unfortunate death of Egfrid. 685*
Against the advice of his coundd the king led an army
into the territory of the Picts, Brude, the Pictish
king, prudently retired before a saperior enemy, till
his pursuers had.entui^ed themselves in the defiles

EddxzxHi-xL Bfd.iT.a9(T.l9. f Bdd.xziil. Bedb.Sl.


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of the mountains. At Drumnechtan was fought a
battle, which proved most fatal to the Northumbrians :
few escaped from the slaughter; Egfrid himself was
found on the field by the conquerors, and honourably
interred in the royal cemetery in the isle of HiL The
Picts and Scots, and some tribes of the Britons, took
advantage of this opportunity to recover their independ-
ence : Trumwin, whom Egfrid had appointed bishop at
Abercom, fled with his clerpy into the south ; ond of
the Saxon settlers all, who had not the good fortune to
make a precipitate escape, were put to the sword, or
consigned to perpetual slavery *.

E^rid had left no issue by Ermenburga; and the
Northumbrian thanes offered the crown to Aldfrid, the
reputed but illegitimate son of Oswio. During the last
reign he had retired to the western isles, and had de-
voted the time of his exile to study under the instruc-
tion of the Scottish monks. His proficiency obtained
for him from his contemporaries the title of the learned
king. Though his pacific disposition, and diminished
power, did not permit him to assume the superiority
which had been possessed by several of his predecessors,
he reigned respected by his neighbours, beloved by his
subjects, and praised by the learned whom he patronized.
If he conducted in person any military expedition, it has
escaped the notice of historians: but the celebrated
Beorht, by his order or with His permission, attempted
to obliterate the disgrace, which the late defeat had
brought on the Northumbrian arms ; and, like the un-
fortunate Egfrid, lost in the attempt both his life and
his army t.

In the second year of his reign, Aldfrid, at the recom-
mendation of archbishop Theodore, had restored Wilfrid
to his bishopric and possessions. The reconciliation was
not lasting. The prelates who had been expelled by
the restoration of Wilfrid, acquired the confidence of

• Bed. ill S7 ; iv. S«. Bdd.xUiL Chron. Saz.4& Sim. Dun. Hiat eoe.
Dnn. p. 48. f B«d. t. U,


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the king ; Brihtwald, fhe successor of Theodore, ^ras
induced to favour their cause; and the persecuted
bishop was compelled to appeal a second time to the
justice of Rome. He returned with a papal testimonial
of his innocence : but Aldfrid refused to receive ' him,
and he sheltered himself under the protection of Coen-
red of Mercia. Aldfrid died in 705 ; and m his last
moments regretted his treatment of Wilfrid, and be-
queathed to his successor the charge of doing justice to
the injured prelate. A compromise, satis^tory to all
parlies, was effected in the course of the same year*.

Hitherto the actions and abilities of the Northum-
brian princes have demanded a more ample space; a
few pages may suffice for the history of their successors,
which will present nothing to the reader but one conti-
nued scene of perfidy, treason, and murder. At the
death of Aldfrid, his son Osred was eight years old. The a. a.
ealdorman Eadulf usurped the sceptre, and besieged the 701.
royal infant in Bamborough : but the people espoused
the cause of Osred, and the usurper, after a tumultuous
reign of two months, paid the forfeit of his trea-
son. Berctfrid assumed the guardianship of the king,
and chastised the incursions of the Picts in a bloody
battle fought near the wall. But Osred soon emanci-
pated himself from the restraint of his tutor ; and the
ungovernable youth was slain in his nineteenth year on
the banks of Winandermere, in an attempt to suppress
a dangerous insurrection headed by his kinsmen, the a. d.
two brothers Csenred and Osric. Csenred possessed ^^6-
the throne two years, Osric eleven, at whose death it
descended to Ceolwulf the brother of his predecessor.
The learning and piety of Ceolwulf are attested by
venerable Bede : but he possessed neither the vigour a. d.
nor the authority requisite for his station. In the 731.
second year of his reign, he was seized, shorn, and *
shut up in a monastery. From this confinement he
escaped, re-ascended the throne, and learned amid the

• B#»i V. 19. KcW. xia— Wfll


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splendid car#9 of rayalty to regret the tranquillity;
which he hadi reluctantly possessed in the doisier.
After a reign of eight years, he voluntarily resigned the
sceptre., and, embraced the monastic professiop at Lin-
disfiume *^ He was succeeded by his; cousin £adbert«
who duriijig a reign, of one-and-twenty yearii enl^M^ged:
the territory, ai^ revived for a while the ancient ^ory,
of the. Northumbrians. The Picts and Mercians , felt
thet8^peri(»ity of his aons : and with the assistance of
A. D. Ouengus, the Pictish king, he took Dunbarton from
756. the Britons, and added Cyil to his domimons. In his
QJI4 age l^e imitated his predecessor, and received the
A,,), tonsure among the clergy of the church of York, of
758. whkh his brother Hgbert was the archbishop. His
ref^efkt by some writers, is attributed to compulsion;
others {assign it to the impression made on his mind, by
ooympairing th^ violent deaths of two contemporary
prioQes with the peaceful exit of Ceolwulft. C^wuli;
the; son pf : Eadbert, was slain by a conspiracy of his
thaA^s. S9pn alter his accession ; and the sceptre by the
suffrfLge of the people was placed in the hands of Edil-
wold^ a noble Northumbrian. But the descendants of
Ida» who claimed it a3 the right of their family, consi-
dered hifxx an usurper. The death of Oswin, his prin-
A.]>. <^P^l o^;)oneut, who fell in a battle which lasted throe
761. days iu the vicinity of Melrose (Aug. 6), seemed to
coj^ton him, op, the throne: but after a troublesome
• reign oi six years he resigned, in an assembly of the
witan at Finchley, in favour of Alchred, a prince of the
. line of Ida}. Ilie inconstancy of the Northumbrian
thanes was fatal to the ambition of their monarchs.
Alchred, abandoned by those who had placed him on
the throne, lied for protection to Kennet king of the
A.]». Picts, and was succeeded by Ethelred, the son of Edil-
774r wold, of whom we know only, that in the fifth year
of his reign, his army was twice defeated by two rebel
ealdormen Ethelwald and Heardbert, and that the loss

•• Maflrotase. Sim. Dud. 10a

i Auet. Bed. p. 9S4 Sim. Dan. 103. Hnnt. 19&

t Sim. Dnn. |>. 10^ • -\nct Bed. 224.


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of Ills three principal captains induced him to fly, anc^
leave the sceptre to Alfwold the son of Oswulf ♦. Alf-
wold*s reign was as tumultuous as those of his predeces-
sors. Beom his principal minister was humt to death
in Silton hy a party of thanes, whose enmity he had a. d.
incurred by the equity of his administration ; and ^80
the king himself, whose virtue was not a match for the
ferocity of his subjects, was slain by the ealdorman Si-
gan. The murderer, five years later, perished by his
own sword t. Osred, the son of Alchred, attempted to
seize the crown : but the thanes- recalled the exiled
Ethelred, and the late claimant, to save his life, enrolled
himself among the clergy of York, and afterwards, for
greater security fled to the isle of Man. Ethelred re- a^j,,
turned with the thirst of revenge. He ordered Ear- 790-
dulf, one of his most powerful opponents, to be slain a. d.
at the door of the chiurch of Rippon. l*he monks 792.
carried the body into the choir. During the funeral
service it was observed to breathe, proper remedies were^
applied to the wounds, and the future king of Nor-<
thumbria was carefully concealed in the monastery.
The fate of Elf and Elwin, the two sons of Alfwold, wa^
more deplorable. They had fled to the sanctuary aji
York ; were drawn by deceitful promises from their
asylum ; and paid with their lives the price of their cre-
dulity. Osred now returned from the isle of Man^ and .
braved his rival to battle, but he was deserted by h\s
followers, and added another to the victims of Ethel-
red's ambition. That prince, however, was hastening to
the close of his bloody career. In his third year the
total fiiilure of the harvest had reduced the inhabitants
to the extremity of distress ; and to famine were soon
added the ravages of pestilence. At that moment, to
complete their misfortunes, an army of Danes landing
on the coast, pillaged the country, and destroyed the a. d.
venerable church of Lindis^ne, the former residence 793«
of the apostle of the Northumbrians. Both the Ofi-

• Chron. Sax. 6S. Sim. Dan. 107. 108. Manro«.ia&
4 rhron. Sax. 63. 64. Nanrot, 1391 - i -


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landties of nature, and the cruelties of this unknown
enemy, were attributed to the imprudence or the bad

^^ fortune of Ethelred ; and he fell in a fruitless attempt
• to quell the rising discontent of his subjects *. The
sceptre stained with the blood of so many princes
was next grasped by Osbald : but it dropped from his
hands at the end of twenty-seven days, and EardulfV
whose life had been saved by the monk^ of Rlppon,
ascended the throne. Osbald prudently to the
cloister, where he enjo>od a tranquillity unknown to his
more successful competitor. Eardulf was compelled to
fight against the murderers of Ethelred, and defeated
them in a sanguinary conflict at Bilhnghow near Whal- *

A.D. ley (April 2). They found a powerful protector in Ce-

798. nult Idng of Mercia. The two kings advanced against
each other at the head of their respective armies : but a
reconcihation was effecled by the interposition of the
prelates; and they swore eternal friendship to each
other. Yet Eardulf was afterwards surprised by his

A. IX enemies, and put into close custody. These nume?

^^» rous and bloody revolutions had excited the notice of
foreign nations. Charlemagne pronounced the North-
umbrians more perfidious than the very pagans t ; and
by a special messenger sought and obtained the libera-
tion of the captive from the hands of his sanguinary
subjects. There is reason to think that the opponents
of Eardulf had consented to commit the decision of their
quarrel to the equity of the pontiff Leo HI. J The king
himself, after paying a visit to the emperor at Noyon,
repaired to Rome, where a messenger from Eanbald,
archbishop of York, had already arrived. That prelate,
the ealdorman Wado, and Cenulf of Mercia, were be-

Online LibraryJohn LingardA history of England, Volume 1 → online text (page 11 of 34)