History

Mercia History

Introduction

The Kingdom of Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. The name is a Latinisation of the Old English Mierce or Myrce, meaning “border people” (see March). The kingdom was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries, in the region now known as the English Midlands. The kingdom’s “capital” was the town of Tamworth, which was the seat of the Mercian Kings from at least around AD 584, when King Creoda built a fortress at the town. For 300 years (between AD 600 and 900), having annexed or gained submissions from five of the other six kingdoms of the Heptarchy (East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Wessex), Mercia dominated England south of the River Humber: this period is known as The Mercian Supremacy. The reign of King Offa, who is best remembered for his Dyke which designated the boundary between Mercia and the Welsh kingdoms, is sometimes known as the “Golden Age of Mercia”. Nicholas Brooks noted that “the Mercians stand out as by far the most successful of the various early Anglo-Saxon peoples until the later ninth century”, and some historians, such as Sir Frank Stenton, believe the unification of England south of the Humber estuary was achieved during the reign of Offa. Mercia was originally a pagan kingdom, but King Peada converted to Christianity around 656, with Christianity firmly established in the kingdom by the late 7th century. The Diocese of Mercia was founded in 656, with the first bishop, Diuma, based at Repton. After only 13 years at Repton, in 669 the fifth bishop, Saint Chad, moved the bishopric to Lichfield, where it has been based ever since. In 691 the Diocese of Mercia became the Diocese of Lichfield. For a brief period between 787 to 799 the diocese was an Archbishopric, although it was officially dissolved in 803. The current bishop, Jonathan Gledhill, is the 98th since the diocese was established. At the end of the 9th century, following the invasions of The Vikings and their Great Heathen Army, much of the former Mercian territory was absorbed into the Danelaw. At its height the Danelaw included London, all of East Anglia and most of the North of England. The final Mercian king, Ceolwulf II, died in 879; the kingdom appears to have thereby lost its political independence. Initially it was ruled by a Lord or Earldorman under the overlordship of Alfred The Great, who styled himself “King of the Anglo-Saxons”. The kingdom had a brief period of independence in the mid-10th century, and in 1016 it became part of the Kingdom of England ruled by King Canute (Cnut the Great).

Rulers

Mercian Rule Creoda c.585-593 Pybba 593-606 Ceorl 606-626 Penda 626-655 Northumbrian Rule 655-658 with Mercian sub-king of Middle Anglia Peada 655-656 Mercian Rule Wulfhere 658-675 Aethelred I 675-704 Coenred 704-709 Coelred 709-716 Coelwald 716 Aethelbald 716-757 Beornred 757 Offa 757-796 Egfrith 796 Coenwulf 796-821 Cenelm (St.) 821 Ceolwulf I 821-823 Beornwulf 823-825 Ludecan 825-827 Wiglaf 827-828 Under Wessex Rule 828-830 Mercian Rule Wiglaf (again) 830-840 Wistan (St.) 840 Beorhtwulf 840-852 Burghred 852-874 Sub-Kings under Norse Rule Ceolwulf II 874-879 Mercian Rule Aethelred II 879-884 Lord/Ladies of the Mercians under Wessex Overlordship Aethelred II 884-911 (still) (joint) Aethelflaed c.888- 918 (joint) Aelfwin 918-919 Mercia merged with the Kingdom of Wessex in 919.

Region Covered

The founder of the kingdom was the warlord Cryda (Cridda), the mightiest of several Anglic noblemen, who first moved into the Midland area sometime during the year A.D.586. Cridda called his newly-formed kingdom Mercia, which is a Saxon compound name from the words Merc ‘a mark or boundary line’, and -ric ‘a rule or kingdom’; Mercria then, was ‘The Kingdom at the Borders’. While its earliest boundaries will never be known, there is general agreement that the territory that was called “the first of the Mercians” in the Tribal Hidage covered much of south Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire and northern Warwickshire.