Biography of King Wulfhere of Mercia 640-675
Paternal Family Tree: Iclingas
Around 640 King Wulfhere of Mercia was born to King Penda of Mercia.
On 15 Nov 655 King Oswiu of Northumbria (age 43) defeated the Mercian army (probably) at Cock Beck during the Battle of the Winwaed ending the period of Mercian dominance. The battle is believed to have ended Anglo-Saxon paganism.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. 656. This year was [his brother] Peada slain; and Wulfhere (age 16), son of Penda, succeeded to the kingdom of the Mercians. In his time waxed the abbey of Medhamsted [Map] very rich, which his brother had begun. The king (age 16) loved it much, for the love of his brother Peada, and for the love of his wed-brother Oswy (age 44), and for the love of Saxulf the abbot. He said, therefore, that he would dignify and honour it by the counsel of his brothers, [his brother] Ethelred and [his brother] Merwal; and by the counsel of his sisters, [his brother] Kyneburga and [his brother] Kyneswitha; and by the counsel of the archbishop, who was called Deus-dedit; and by the counsel of all his peers, learned and lewd, that in his kingdom were. And he so did. Then sent the king after the abbot, that he should immediately come to him. And he so did. Then said the king to the abbot: "Beloved Saxulf, I have sent after thee for the good of my soul; and I will plainly tell thee for why. My brother Peada and my beloved friend Oswy (age 44) began a minster, for the love of Christ and St. Peter: but my brother, as Christ willed, is departed from this life; I will therefore intreat thee, beloved friend, that they earnestly proceed on their work; and I will find thee thereto gold and silver, land and possessions, and all that thereto behoveth." Then went the abbot home, and began to work. So he sped, as Christ permitted him; so that in a few years was that minster ready. Then, when the king (age 16) heard say that, he was very glad; and bade men send through all the nation, after all his thanes; after the archbishop, and after bishops: and after his earls; and after all those that loved God; that they should come to him. And he fixed the day when men should hallow the minster. And when they were hallowing the minster, there was the king, Wulfere (age 16), and his brother Ethelred, and his sisters, Kyneburga and Kyneswitha. And the minster was hallowed by Archbishop Deusdedit of Canterbury; and the Bishop of Rochester, Ithamar; and the Bishop of London, who was called Wina; and the Bishop of the Mercians, whose name was Jeruman; and Bishop Tuda. And there was Wilfrid, priest, that after was bishop; and there were all his thanes that were in his kingdom. When the minster [Map] was hallowed, in the name of St. Peter, and St. Paul, and St. Andrew, then stood up the king before all his thanes, and said with a loud voice: "Thanks be to the high almighty God for this worship that here is done; and I will this day glorify Christ and St. Peter, and I will that you all confirm my words.-I Wulfere give to-day to St. Peter, and the Abbot Saxulf, and the monks of the minster, these lands, and these waters, and meres, and fens, and weirs, and all the lands that thereabout lye, that are of my kingdom, freely, so that no man have there any ingress, but the abbot and the monks. This is the gift. From Medhamsted to Northborough; and so to the place that is called Foleys; and so all the fen, right to Ashdike; and from Ashdike to the place called Fethermouth; and so in a right line ten miles long to Ugdike; and so to Ragwell; and from Ragwell five miles to the main river that goeth to Elm and to Wisbeach; and so about three miles to Trokenholt; and from Trokenholt right through all the fen to Derworth; that is twenty miles long; and so to Great Cross; and from Great Cross through a clear water called Bradney; and thence six miles to Paxlade; and so forth through all the meres and fens that lye toward Huntingdon-port; and the meres and lakes Shelfermere and Wittlesey mere, and all the others that thereabout lye; with land and with houses that are on the east side of Shelfermere; thence all the fens to Medhamsted; from Medhamsted all to Welmsford; from Welmsford to Clive; thence to Easton; from Easton to Stamford [Map]; from Stamford as the water runneth to the aforesaid Northborough." - These are the lands and the fens that the king gave unto St. Peter's minster.-Then quoth the king: "It is little-this gift- but I will that they hold it so royally and so freely, that there be taken there from neither gild nor gable, but for the monks alone. Thus I will free this minster; that it be not subject except to Rome alone; and hither I will that we seek St. Peter, all that to Rome cannot go." During these words the abbot desired that he would gant him his request. And the king granted it. "I have here (said he) some good monks that would lead their life in retirement, if they wist where. Now here is an island, that is called Ankerig; and I will request, that we may there build a minster to the honour of St. Mary; that they may dwell there who will lead their lives in peace and tranquillity." Then answered the king, and quoth thus: "Beloved Saxulf, not that only which thou desirest, but all things that I know thou desirest in our Lord's behalf, so I approve, and grant. And I bid thee, brother Ethelred, and my sisters, Kyneburga and Kyneswitha, for the release of your souls, that you be witnesses, and that you subscribe it with your fingers. And I pray all that come after me, be they my sons, be they my brethren, or kings that come after me, that our gift may stand; as they would be partakers of the life everlasting, and as they would avoid everlasting punishment. Whoso lesseneth our gift, or the gift of other good men, may the heavenly porter lessen him in the kingdom of heaven; and whoso advanceth it, may the heavenly porter advance him in the kingdom of heaven." These are the witnesses that were there, and that subscribed it with their fingers on the cross of Christ, and confirmed it with their tongues. That was, first the king, Wulfere, who confirmed it first with his word, and afterwards wrote with his finger on the cross of Christ, saying thus: "I Wulfere, king, in the presence of kings, and of earls, and of captains, and of thanes, the witnesses of my gift, before the Archbishop Deus-dedit, I confirm it with the cross of Christ." (+)-"And I Oswy, king of the Northumbrians, the friend of this minster, and o[oe] the Abbot Saxulf, commend it with the cross of Christ." (+)-"And I Sighere, king, ratify it with the cross of Christ." (+)-"And I Sibbi, king, subscribe it with the cross of Christ." (+)-"And I Ethelred, the king's brother, granted the same with the cross of Christ." (+)-"And we, the king's sisters, Kyneburga and Kyneswitha, approve it."-"And I Archbishop of Canterbury, Deus-dedit, ratify it."-Then confirmed it all the others that were there with the cross of Christ (+): namely, Ithamar, Bishop of Rochester; Wina, Bishop of London; Jeruman, Bishop of the Mercians; and Tuda, bishop; and Wilfrid, priest, who was afterwards bishop; and Eoppa, priest, whom the king, Wulfere, sent to preach christianity in the Isle of Wight; and Saxulf, abbot; and Immine, alderman, and Edbert, alderman, and Herefrith, alderman, and Wilbert, alderman, and Abo, alderman; Ethelbald, Brord, Wilbert, Elmund, Frethegis. These, and many others that were there, the king's most loyal subjects, confirmed it all. This charter was written after our Lord's Nativity 664-the seventh year of King Wulfere-the ninth year of Archbishop Deus-dedir. Then they laid God's curse, and the curse of all saints, and all christian folks, on whosoever undid anything that there was done. "So be it," saith all. "Amen."-When this thing was done, then sent the king to Rome to the Pope Vitalianus that then was, and desired, that he would ratify with his writ and with his blessing, all this aforesaid thing. And the pope then sent his writ, thus saying: "I Vitalianus, pope, grant thee, King Wulfere, and Deus-dedit, archbishop, and Abbot Saxulf, all the things that you desire. And I forbid, that any king, or any man, have any ingress, but the abbot alone; nor shall he be Subject to any man, except the Pope of Rome and the Archbishop of Canterbury. If any one breaketh anything of this, St. Peter with his sword destroy him. Whosoever holdeth it, St. Peter with heaven's key undo him the kingdom of heaven."-Thus was the minster of Medhamsted begun, that was afterwards called Peter-borough. Afterwards came another archbishop to Canterbury, who was called Theodorus (age 54); a very good man and wise; and held his synod with his bishops and with his clerk. There was Wilfrid, bishop of the Mercians, deprived of his bishopric; and Saxulf, abbot, was there chosen bishop; and Cuthbald, monk of the same minster, was chosen abbot. This synod was holden after our Lord's Nativity six hundred and seventy-three winters.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. 661. This year, at Easter, Kenwal fought at Pontesbury; and Wulfere (age 21), the son of Penda, pursued him as far as Ashdown. Cuthred, the son of Cwichelm, and [his father-in-law] King Kenbert, died in one year. Into the Isle of Wight [Map] also Wulfere (age 21), the son of Penda, penetrated, and transferred the inhabitants to Ethelwald, king of the South-Saxons, because Wulfere adopted him in baptism. And Eoppa, a mass-priest, by command of Wilfrid and King Wulfere, was the first of men who brought baptism to the people of the Isle of Wight [Map].
Bede. 02 Mar 672. Ceadda died on the 2nd of March, and was first buried by St. Mary's Church [Map], but afterwards, when the church [Map] of the most holy prince of the apostles, Peter, was built, his bones were translated into it. In both which places, as a testimony of his virtue, frequent miraculous cures are wont to be wrought. And of late, a certain distracted person, who had been wandering about everywhere, arrived there in the evening, unknown or unregarded by the keepers of the place, and having rested there all the night, went out in his perfect senses the next morning, to the surprise and delight of all; thus showing that a cure had been performed on him through the goodness of God. The place of the sepulchre is a wooden monument, made like a little house, covered, having a hole in the wall, through which those that go thither for devotion usually put in their hand and take out some of the dust, which they put into water and give to sick cattle or men to drink, upon which they are presently eased of their infirmity, and restored to health. In his place, Theodore (age 70) ordained Winfrid, a good and modest man, to preside, as his predecessors had done, over the bishoprics of the Mercians, the Midland Angles, and the Lindisfarnes, of all which, Wulfhere (age 32), who was still living, was king. Winfrid was one of the clergy of the prelate he had succeeded, and had for a considerable time filled the office of deacon under him.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. 675. This year Wulfere (age 35), the son of Penda, and Escwin, the son of Cenfus, fought at Bedwin. The same year died Wulfere (age 35), and [his brother] Ethelred succeeded to the government. In his time sent he to Rome Bishop Wilfrid to the pope that then was, called Agatho, and told him by word and by letter, how his brothers [his brother] Peada and Wulfere (age 35), and the Abbot Saxulf, had wrought a minster, called Medhamsted; and that they had freed it, against king and against bishop, from every service; and he besought him that he would confirm it with his writ and with his blessing. And the pope sent then his writ to England, thus saying: "I Agatho, Pope of Rome, greet well the worthy Ethelred, king of the Mercians, and the Archbishop Theodorus of Canterbury (age 73), and Saxulf, the bishop of the Mercians, who before was abbot, and all the abbots that are in England; God's greeting and my blessing. I have heard the petition of King Ethelred, and of the Archbishop Theodorus (age 73), and of the Bishop Saxulf, and of the Abbot Cuthbald; and I will it, that it in all wise be as you have spoken it. And I ordain, in behalf of God, and of St. Peter, and of all saints, and of every hooded head, that neither king, nor bishop, nor earl, nor any man whatever, have any claim, or gable, or gild, or levy, or take any service of any kind, from the abbey of Medhamsted. I command also, that no shire-bishop be so bold as to hold an ordination or consecration within this abbacy, except the abbot intreat him, nor have there any claim to proxies, or synodals, or anything whatever of any kind. And I will, that the abbot be holden for legate of Rome over all that island; and whatever abbot is there chosen by the monks that he be consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. I will and decree, that, whatever man may have made a vow to go to Rome, and cannot perform it, either from infirmity, or for his lord's need, or from poverty, or from any other necessity of any kind whatever, whereby he cannot come thither, be he of England, or of whatever other island he be, he may come to that minster of Medhamsted, and have the same forgiveness of Christ and St. Peter, and of the abbot, and of the monks, that he should have if he went to Rome. Now bid I thee, brother Theodorus (age 73), that thou let it be proclaimed through all England, that a synod be gathered, and this writ be read and observed. Also I tell thee, Bishop Saxulf, that, as thou desirest it, that the minster be free, so I forbid thee, and all the bishops that after thee come, from Christ and from all his saints, that ye have no demand from that minster, except so much as the abbot will. Now will I say in a word, that, whoso holdeth this writ and this decree, then be he ever dwelling with God Almighty in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso breaketh it, then be he excommunicated, and thrust down with Judas, and with all the devils in hell, except he come to repentance. Amen!" This writ sent the Pope Agatho, and a hundred and twenty-five bishops, by Wilfrid, Archbishop of York, to England. This was done after our Lord's Nativity 680, the sixth year of King Ethelred. Then the king commanded the Archbishop Theodorus (age 73), that he should appoint a general Wittenmoot at the place called Hatfield. When they were there collected, then he allowed the letter to be read that the pope sent thither; and all ratified and confirmed it. Then said the king: "All things that my brother Peada, and my brother Wulfere (age 35), and my sisters, [his brother] Kyneburga and [his brother] Kyneswitha, gave and granted to St. Peter and the abbot, these I will may stand; and I will in my day increase it, for their souls and for my soul. Now give I St. Peter to-day into his minster, Medhamsted, these lands, and all that thereto lyeth; that is, Bredon, Repings, Cadney, Swineshead, Hanbury, Lodeshall, Scuffanhall, Cosford, Stratford, Wattleburn, Lushgard, Ethelhun-island, Bardney [Map]. These lands I give St. Peter just as freely as I possessed them myself; and so, that none of my successors take anything therefrom. Whoso doeth it, have he the curse of the Pope of Rome, and the curse of all bishops, and of all those that are witnesses here. And this I confirm with the token of Christ." (+) "I Theodorus (age 73), Archbishop of Canterbury, am witness to this charter of Medhamsted; and I ratify it with my hand, and I excommunicate all that break anything thereof; and I bless all that hold it." (+) "I Wilfrid, Archbishop of York, am witness to this charter; and I ratify this same curse." (+) "I Saxulf, who was first abbot, and now am bishop, I give my curse, and that of all my successors, to those who break this."-"I Ostritha, Ethelred's queen, confirm it."-"I Adrian, legate, ratify it."-"I Putta, Bishop of Rochester, subscribe it."-"I Waldhere, Bishop of London, confirm it."-"I Cuthbald, abbot, ratify it; so that, whoso breaketh it, have he the cursing of all bishops and of all christian folk. Amen."
Bede. 678. In the year of our Lord's incarnation 678, which is the eighth of the reign of Egfrid (age 33), in the month of August, appeared a star, called a comet, which continued for three months, rising in the morning, and darting out, as it were, a pillar of radiant flame. The same year a dissension broke out between King Egfrid (age 33) and the most reverend prelate, Wilfrid, who was driven from his see, and two bishops substituted in his stead, to preside over the nation of the Northumbrians, namely, Bosa, to preside over the nation of the Deiri; and Eata over that of the Bernicians; the latter having his see in the city of York [Map], the former in the church of Hagulstad [Map], or else Lindisfarne [Map]; both of them promoted to the episcopal dignity from a society of monks. With them also was Edhed ordained bishop in the province of Lindsey, which King Egfrid (age 33) had but newly subdued, having overcome and vanquished Wulfhere; and this was the first bishop of its own which tliat province had; the second was Ethelwin; the third Eadgar; the fourth Cynebert, who is there at present. Before Edhed, Sexwulf was bishop as well of that province, as of the Mercians and Midland Angles; so that when expelled from Lindsey, he continued in the government of those provinces. Edhed, Bosa, and Eata, were ordained at York [Map] by Archbishop Theodore (age 76); who also, three years after the departure of Wilfrid, added two bishops to their number; Trumbert, in the church of Hagulstad [Map], Eata still continuing in that of Lindisfarne; and Trumwine in the province of the Picts, which at that time was subject to the English. Edhed returning from Lindsey, because [his brother] Ethelred had recovered that province, was placed by him over the church of Ripon.
Bede. 681. Being expelled from his bishopric, and having travelled in several parts, Wilfrid went to Rome. He afterwards returned to Britain; and though he could not, by reason of the enmity of the aforesaid king, be received into his own country or diocese, yet he could not be restrained from preaching the Gospel; for taking his way into the province of the South Saxons, which extends from Kent on the west and south, as far as the West Saxons, and contains land of 7000 families, who at that time were still pagans, he administered to them the word of faith, and the baptism of salvation. Ethelwalch, king of that nation, had been, not long before, baptized in the province of the Mercians, by the persuasion of King Wulfhere, who was present, and was also his godfather, and as such gave liim two provinces, viz. the Isle of Wight [Map], and the province of Meanwara, in the nation of the West Saxons. The bishop, therefore, with the king's consent, or rather to his great satisfaction, baptized the principal generals and soldiers of that country; and the priests, Eappa, and Padda, and Burghelm, and Eadda, either then, or afterwards, baptized the rest of the people. The queen, whose name was Ebba, had been christened in her own island, the province of the Wiccii. She was the daughter of Eanfrid, the brother of Eanher, who were both Christians, as were their people; but all the province of the South Saxons were strangers to the name and faith of God. There was among them a certain monk of the Scottish nation, whose name was Dicul, who had a very small monastery, at the place called Bosanham, encompassed with the sea and woods, and in it five or six brothers, who served our Lord in poverty and humility; but none of the natives cared either to follow their course of life, or hear their preaching.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. 963. This year died Wulfstan, the deacon, on Childermass-day;42 and afterwards died Gyric, the mass-priest. In the same year took Abbot Athelwold (age 59) to the bishopric of Winchester; and he was consecrated on the vigil of St. Andrew, which happened on a Sunday. On the second year after he was consecrated, he made many minsters; and drove out the clerks43 from the bishopric, because they would hold no rule, and set monks therein. He made there two abbacies; one of monks, another of nuns. That was all within Winchester. Then came he afterwards to King Edgar (age 20), and requested that he would give him all the minsters that heathen men had before destroyed; for that he would renew them. This the king cheerfully granted; and the bishop came then first to Ely [Map], where St. Etheldritha lies, and ordered the minster to be repaired; which he gave to a monk of his, whose name was Britnoth, whom he consecrated abbot: and there he set monks to serve God, where formerly were nuns. He then bought many villages of the king, and made it very rich. Afterwards came Bishop Athelwold (age 59) to the minster called Medhamsted, which was formerly ruined by heathen folk; but he found there nothing but old walls, and wild woods. In the old walls at length he found hid writings which Abbot Hedda (age 59) had formerly written;-how King Wulfhere and [his brother] Ethelred his brother had wrought it, and how they freed it against king and against bishop, and against all worldly service; and how Pope Agatho confirmed it with his writ, as also Archbishop Deusdedit. He then ordered the minster to be rebuilt; and set there an abbot, who was called Aldulf; and made monks, where before was nothing. He then came to the king, and let him look at the writings which before were found; and the king then answered and said: "I Edgar grant and give to-day, before God and before Archbishop Dunstan (age 54), freedom to St. Peter's minster at Medhamsted, from king and from bishop; and all the thorps that thereto lie; that is, Eastfield, and Dodthorp, and Eye, and Paston. And so I free it, that no bishop have any jurisdiction there, but the abbot of the minster alone. And I give the town called Oundle, Northamptonshire [Map], with all that thereto lieth, called Eyot-hundred, with market and toll; so freely, that neither king, nor bishop, nor earl, nor sheriff, have there any jurisdiction; nor any man but the abbot alone, and whom he may set thereto. And I give to Christ and St. Peter, and that too with the advice of Bishop Athelwold (age 59), these lands;-that is, Barrow, Warmington, Ashton, Kettering, Castor, Eylesworth, Walton, Witherington, Eye, Thorp, and a minster at Stamford. These lands and al the others that belong to the minster I bequeath clear; that is, with sack and sock, toll and team, and infangthief; these privileges and all others bequeath I clear to Christ and St. Peter. And I give the two parts of Whittlesey-mere, with waters and with wears and fens; and so through Meerlade along to the water that is called Nen; and so eastward to Kingsdelf. And I will that there be a market in the town itself, and that no other be betwixt Stamford and Huntingdon. And I will that thus be given the toll;-first, from Whittlesey-mere to the king's toll of Norman-cross hundred; then backward again from Whittlesey-mere through Meerlade along to the Nen, and as that river runs to Crowland; and from Crowland to Must, and from Must to Kingsdelf and to Whittlesey-mere. And I will that all the freedom, and all the privileges, that my predecessors gave, should remain; and I write and confirm this with the rood-token of Christ." (+)-Then answered Dunstan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and said: "I grant, that all the things that here are given and spoken, and all the things that thy predecessors and mine have given, shall remain firm; and whosoever breaketh it, then give I him God's curse, and that of all saints, and of all hooded heads, and mine, unless he come to repentance. And I give expressly to St. Peter my mass-hackle, and my stole, and my reef, to serve Christ." "I Oswald, Archbishop of York, confirm all these words through the holy rood on which Christ was crucified." (+) "I Bishop Athelwold (age 59) bless all that maintain this, and I excommunicate all that break it, unless they come to repentance."-Here was Bishop Ellstan, Bishop Athulf, and Abbot Eskwy, and Abbot Osgar, and Abbot Ethelgar, and Alderman Elfere; Alderman Ethelwin, Britnoth and Oslac aldermen, and many other rich men; and all confirmed it and subscribed it with the cross of Christ. (+) This was done in the year after our Lord's Nativity 972, the sixteenth year of this king. Then bought the Abbot Aldulf lands rich and many, and much endowed the minster withal; and was there until Oswald, Archbishop of York, was dead; and then he was chosen to be archbishop. Soon after another abbot was chosen of the same monastery, whose name was Kenulf, who was afterwards Bishop of Winchester. He first made the wall about the minster, and gave it then the name of Peterborough, which before was Medhamsted. He was there till he was appointed Bishop of Winchester, when another abbot was chosen of the same monastery, whose name was Elfsy, who continued abbot fifty winters afterwards. It was he who took up St. Kyneburga and St. Kyneswitha, that lay at Castor, and St. Tibba, that lay at Ryhall; and brought them to Peterborough, and offered them all to St. Peter in one day, and preserved them all the while he was there.
i.e. the secular clergy, who observed no rule; opposed to the regulars, or monks.
Note 42. i.e. the feast of the Holy Innocents; a festival of great antiquity.
Note 43. i.e. the secular clergy, who observed no rule; opposed to the regulars, or monks.
Bede. HOW CEADDA, ABOVE-MENTIONED, WAS MADE BISHOP OF THE MERCIANS. OF HIS LIFE, DEATH, AND BURIAL.
At that time, the Mercians were governed by King Wulfhere, who, on the death of Jaruman, desired of Theodore to supply him and his people with a bishop; but Theodore would not obtain a new one for them, but requested of King Oswy that Ceadda might be their bishop. He then lived retired at his monastery, which is at Lestingau, Wilfrid filling the bishopric of York, and of all the Northumbrians, and likewise of the Picts, as far as the dominions of King Oswy extended. And, seeing that it was the custom of that most reverend prelate to go about the work of the Gospel to several places rather on foot than on horseback, Theodore commanded him to ride whenever he had a long journey to undertake, and finding him very unwilling to omit his former pious labour, he himself, with his hands, lifted him on the horse; for he thought him a holy man, and therefore obliged him to ride wherever lie had need to go. Ceadda having received the bishopric of the Mercians and Lindisfarne, took care to administer the same with great rectitude of life, according to the example of the ancients. King Wulfhere also gave him land of fifty families, to build a monastery, at the place called Barvc, or "The Wood," in the province of Lindsey, wherein marks of the regular life instituted by him continue to this day.
[his son] King Coenred of Mercia was born to King Wulfhere of Mercia.