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by Kendrida, his queen, whom he afterwards shut up in a nunnery; but instead of abjuring this violation of the sacred laws of honour and hospitality, he immediately took means to profit by it, and, marching a numerous army into East Anglia, he seized upon that kingdom and united it to Mercia. Whether Offa experienced the anguish of conscientious remorse for this atrocious deed, may be doubted, notwithstanding his subsequent submission to the priesthood, his donations to the church, and his pilgrimage to Rome. The monasteries of that period always benefited by the crimes of princes. Offa obtained complete absolution from the papal see, and secured the praises of the Saxon monks by his donations. His liberalities at Rome were magnificent. He gave 365 mancas,* to be disposed of by the pope. Ina, the king of the West Saxons, had previously founded a college at Rome for the education of English youth, and had ordered a penny to be collected yearly of every family throughout his dominions. Offa extended this tax to Mercia and East Anglia. In the course of time it began to be called Romescot, or Peter's pence, and the popes pretending that it was a tribute paid by England to St. Peter and his successors, converted it to their own use, until it was abolished at the Reformation. But the piety of Offa did not diminish his ambition or his warlike activity. On his return from Rome he was surprised by a fresh irruption of the Welsh, who had demolished part of the rampart and filled up the ditch he had caused to be made on their boundaries. They penetrated as far as Hereford, but Offa speedily levied an army and repulsed the invaders. He followed them, and obtained a decisive victory over them, in which the king of North Wales was slain. After the battle, with a barbarity not unusual at that period, Offa put to death all his prisoners.t - About two years before the death of this powerful prince, the Danes made their first descent with considerable force upon the coast of Northumberland. They burnt Lindisfarn monastery, and encouraged by their success they returned the next year, and having pillaged the monastery of Tynemouth, they greatly extended their ravages. Ethelred requested the aid of Offa, his father-in-law, who sent his victorious troops into Northumbria. The Danish invaders were driven back to their ships, and many of them perished in a sudden and violent storm on the English coast.
Offa died in 796, after a reign of thirty-nine years, and was buried in a chapel near Bedford, which has since been destroyed by the inundation of the river Ouse. He left a son and three daughters. His eldest daughter, Eadburga, to the cruelty and resolution of her mother Kendrida, added dissoluteness of character. She poisoned her husband, Brithric, king of Wessex, and with the plunder of his treasury fled to France. She had been the accuser, the seducer and betrayer of worthy men. When in the presence of Charlemagne, that monarch said to her, " Take your choice, whom will you have, my son or me?" — She, amorously inclined, chose his son, because he was the younger, and thus lost the protection of both. The king, however, made her a present of a monastery, and there, under the hypocritical mask of sanctimonious apparel, she carried on a criminal intercourse with a vulgar fellow of her own country, who had been the companion of her flight. She was apprehended and ejected from the monastery by the command of the king; and afterwards wandered as a wretched outcast, begging bread along the highways and at the gates of castles, until she expired, destitute of every means of subsistence, in the streets of Pavia.g
— The second daughter of Offa was named Eldeda. She was married to the revengeful tyrant of Northumberland, Ethelred, who suffered for his atrocious abuses of power by the enmity of his subjects. - Etheldritha, after the murder of her lover, the youthful sovereign of East Anglia, assumed the veil at Croyland, and lived to an old age, in a state of penitence, which was greatly aggrandized by the calamities of her family.
Under the reign of Offa, the kingdom of Mercia attained its greatest extent. On the north it continued to be bounded by the Mersey and the Humber; while on the east it reached to the German ocean and the fens of Cambridgeshire. Its southern limits were the Thames and the Avon. On the west, the Dyke of Offa divided it from Wales. Within these limits were included
"A Manca is a coin, worth about six shillings. + The memory of this tragic event has been transmitted to the present time in an old Welsh melancholy air, called Morfa Rhuddlan, which may be found in E. Jones's collection of Welsh music. # Bonorum semper accusatrix, alteri paratum et datum porrexit. Chronica de Mailros.
the counties of Chester, Derby, Lincoln, Leicester, Rutland, Huntingdon, Northampton, Warwick, Stafford, Hereford, Worcester, Shropshire, Bedford, the southern part of Nottingham, and the greater part of Middlesex and Hereford, were his original dominions. The higher parts of Nottingham, to which the princes of Northumbria pretended to have some claims, were conquered by Offa, who wrested from Wessex the counties of Oxford and Gloucester. From the Welsh he obtained part of Flint, Denbigh, Montgomery and Radnor. The kingdom of East Anglia, comprising Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge, he also united to Mercia. He thus possessed the absolute sovereignty over twenty-two counties, and the predominance over the whole Heptarchy. It has been already mentioned that Offa erected Lichfield into an archbishopric: he also framed or compiled a body of laws, denominated the laws of the Mercians, a great part of which were subsequently inserted in the laws of King Alfred. — The name of Offa was respected by foreign princes, and an intimate degree of friendship existed between the Mercian sovereign and Charlemagne of France. Some letters of these two monarchs to each other are still extant.
Egfrid, the only son of Offa, who had been associated with his father during many years, in the government, possessed the sole dominion of Mercia only five months. His latter days were passed in severe bodily sufferings, during which he enriched the monks and made great benefactions to the monastery of St. Albans.
Kenulph succeeded Egfrid, and possessed not only the Mercian crown but the paramount sovereignty of England. He was the fifth in descent from Kenwalch, the younger brother of the heroic Penda. In the second year of his reign he invaded Kent with a formidable army, and having laid waste the country, he took prisoner Edbert, surnamed Pren, the sovereign, whom he carried captive to Mercia. Kenulph caused the eyes of the Kentish prince to be put out, and declaring his kingdom tributary to Mercia, he placed on its throne his own natural brother Cuthred. As Canterbury was now become a part of his own dominions, Kenulph had little reluctance to restore to that archiepiscopal see, its former jurisdiction over the bishops of Mercia and East Anglia. He did this at the instigation of Athelard, a prelate of great address, who pointed out to the Mercian king that this would be the best means to reconcile the people of Kent to his sway. Kenulph wrote a letter to the pope, accompanied with a present of 120 mancas, which he sent by Athelard. Leo III. then pontiff
, was highly gratified by the application, and in his answer, he calls Kenulph his most dear, most excellent, and most sweet son, and assures him that the archbishop Athelard had sufficient sanctity to conduct the souls of his subjects from the lowest depths of hell to the happy ports of heaven. Athelard, on his return, summoned a council, which met at Canterbury in the year 803, and there the decree of the pope, restoring that see to all its ancient rights, was read with great solemnity. Two years previous to this occurrence, the Northumbrians invaded Mercia, under the command of their king Eardulph, but were quickly opposed by the Mercian monarch at the head of a large army. As the forces on both sides were preparing for battle, the thanes and prelates of each nation assembled in council, and by their persuasion the two sovereigns entered into a treaty of peace and amity.—Kenulph was a liberal benefactor to the church. He not only restored the ecclesiastical supremacy of the See of Canterbury, but he founded the monastery of Winchcomb, and made considerable donations to the bishopric of Worcester. A short time before his death, Kenulph entered Wales, and laid waste the kingdom of Powis. He reigned over Mercia twenty-four years. He died in 819, and was buried at Winchcomb in Gloucestershire.
Kenelm was the only son of Kenulph, and was seven years old at his father's death. He had two sisters, Quendrida and Burgelmida; the former, desirous of elevating her lover to the throne, resolved to put the young king, her brother, to death. For this purpose she engaged Ascobert, the tutor of Kenelm, to conduct the boy into a wood at the close of the day, and to murder him there. The place where this deed was committed is called Cowbach, and forms a part of the parish of Clent, in Staffordshire. The author of the Polycronicon says, the body was thrown into a well. Several old writers speak of the miraculous discovery of the body. The following legendary account is from William of Malmesbury: “ After the perpetration of this bloody deed, the inhuman sister seized upon the kingdom, and prohibited any enquiry after her lost brother. But this horrible fact, concealed in England, was made known at Rome by supernatural revelation ; for, on the altar of St. Peter there, a white dove let fall a paper, on which, in golden letters, was narrated the death of Kenelm, and the place of his burial.*. Upon this the Pope sent over an envoy to the English kings to inform them of the murder of Kenelm. The whole being thus miraculously revealed, the body was taken out of the hole where it had been hidden, and with great solemnity conveyed to Winchelcombe, in Gloucester.” Ingulphus says, “the body of this martyr was discovered by a ray of extraordinary brilliancy beaming over the spot during the whole of the night.”
The iniquity of Quendrida was not long successful. The Mercians, indignant at her conduct, placed on the throne Ceolwulph, her uncle. The state was then divided into factions, and in the second year of his reign Ceolwulph was deposed, and a wealthy thane, named Bernulph, who was in no degree connected with the royal family of Mercia, was elevated to the sovereignty, in the year 821. He was a brave warrior, but the dissensions of the preceding reigns had weakened the kingdom. The East Anglians and the people of Kent, though reduced by Offa and Kenulph to the condition of tributaries, were always ready to join the sovereigns of Wessex in their attacks on Mercia. At this time the crown of Wessex was possessed by the illustrious Egbert, who, from the moment of his ascending the throne, had formed the project of uniting the kingdoms of the Heptarchy under the dominion of his own sceptre. Egbert fermented the troubles of Mercia and its dependencies; but Bernulph resolved not to await the attack which he perceived was preparing to be made.
He marched at the head of a large army into the territories of his foe, and engaged the king of Wessex at Ellandanum (now Wiltont) near Salisbury. The battle was fierce and sanguinary, and the victory was on the side of Egbert. Bernulph retired into Mercia, where he remained, unable to bring another army into the field, while the troops of Egbert wrested the kingdom of Kent from the power of Mercia. At the same time, the East Anglians seized this opportunity to throw off the Mercian yoke, and gave ear to the emissaries of Egbert, who offered to protect their independence. They took up arms and placed themselves under the command of one of the thanes, but Bernulph marched into their country and engaged them with great impetuosity. He was, however, defeated and slain.
The Mercians elected for their king, Ludican, a near relation of Bernulph. He continued the war with the East Anglians, and endeavoured, without success, to reduce them to their former subjection. After a reign of two years, he was defeated and slain in an engagement with the insurgents.
During the usurpation of Bernulph and his relative Ludican, Mercia continued to be a prey to
* Shenstone commemorates this event in his 23rd Elegy.
“ Born near the scene for Kenelm's fate renown'd, But soon the bosom's pleasing calm is flown; I take my plaintive reed, and range the grove,
Love fires her breast, the sultry passions rise; And raise my lay, and bid the rocks resound,
A favour'd lover seeks the Mercian throne, The savage force of empire and of love.
And views her Kenelm with a rival's eyes. Fast by the centre of yon various wild,
How kind were Fortune! ah! how just were Fate ! Where spreading oaks embower a gothic fane,
Would Fate or Fortune Mercia's heir remove ! Kendrida's arts a brother's youth beguil'd ;
How sweet to revel on the couch of state ! There nature urg'd her tenderest pleas in vain.
To crown at once her lover and her love! Soft o'er his birth, and o'er his infant hours,
See garnished for the chase, the fraudsul maid, The ambitious maid could every care employ;
To these lone hills direct his devious way ; Then, with assiduous fondness, cropt the flowers,
The youth, all prone, the sister-guide obey'd ; To deck the cradle of the princely boy.
Ill fated youth, himself the destin'd prey !” Erdswick gives this old Latin translation of a Saxon couplet : “In Clent sub spinâ jacet in convalle Bovinâ
“ In Clent, in Cowbach, under a thorn, Vertrice privatus Kenelmus rege creatus."
Lyeth King Kenelm, his head off-shorne.”
+ The castle of Wilton had seven towers, and stood on the south side of the town. The battle (says Camden) was so bloody on both sides that the river (the Willey) was stained with the blood of near relatives.
dissension. The people were oppressed, and the army which Kenulph had left numerous, wellappointed and victorious, had nearly perished in the ill-conducted wars of the two last monarchs. On the death of Ludican, the thanes and people of Mercia unanimously elected Wichtlaf to the sovereignty. This powerful thane is called Dux Wicciorum* by Ingulphus, and his son Wigmund had espoused Elfleda, the daughter of Ceolwulph, who was the lastt of the Mercian sovereigns descended from Crida and Wibba. But soon after Wichtlaf ascended the throne, and before he could collect together the scattered forces of the kingdom, he was compelled by the generals of Egbert, who invaded Mercia at various points, to seek refuge in concealment. He fled to the abbey of Croyland, in Lincolnshire, and during four months he was hidden from the eager search of his pursuers in the cell of Etheldritha, daughter of Offa, who had been betrothed to the unhappy Ethelbert, the youthful king of East Anglia. While Wichtlaf remained in this retirement, the abbot Siward negotiated with Egbert, and obtained from that monarch the restoration of Wichtlaf to the throne of Mercia, on condition of an annual tribute. From that period the history of Mercia and its provinces belong to the general history of England, and therefore any regular connexion of incidents will not be expected.
The reign of Wichtlaf was not marked with any recorded occurrences. He seems to have been a peaceable tributary to Egbert, and we find him at a great council or parliament held at London by the command of that monarch, to consult upon the measures to be taken against the Danish pirates, who then infested the coasts of the kingdom. Wichtlaf retained a grateful recollection of the safety he had found in the monastery of Croyland, until the day of his death ; and annually visited it, with much penitence, on the festival of St. Guthlac, when he never failed to present some valuable gift at the shrine. In the eighth year of his reign he confirmed the charter of Croyland, with many new privileges and donations. As some of these gifts serve to illustrate the manners of the period, the following translation of a paragraph in the charter will not be uninteresting “I present to the secretary of the said monastery, for the service of the most holy altar, the crimson mantle, which I wore at my coronation, to be made into a cape or hood; and for an ornament of the most holy church, I give my golden curtain, in which is worked the destruction of Troy, to be suspended (if so it seems good to him) against the walls, on the anniversary of my birth. I present also to the steward of the said monastery, for the daily use of the person presiding in the refectory, my golden bowl, on the whole outside of which are carved fierce vine-dressers contending with dragons, and which I am accustomed to call my Crucibolum, because the sign of the cross is indented within by the transverse diameters of the bowl, with a similar form projecting without in the four corners : and I likewise give the drinking horn belonging to my table, that the elders of the moriastery may drink out of it on festival days, and that, in their benedictions, they may sometimes be mindful of the soul of the donor, Wichtlaf.” In the conclusion of the same deed, he says, that he would promise to this holy monastery his body at his death, but that he had already made a vow that he should be buried at Repton. His gratitude and respect for the princess Edeldritha, in whose cell he had been concealed, was deep and lasting. As soon as he heard of her death (says Ingulphus) he was so overwhelmed with grief, that for a long time, as he lay upon a couch, he appeared to his attendants to be in the agonies of death. At length, by the favour of God, being somewhat recovered, he went to her tomb, and there fainted in the very ecstasy of sorrow, shedding, as his breathing returned, a flood
• The Wiccii were the inhabitants of the east banks of the Severne. The word is derived from the Saxon expres. sion, meaning brooks ; and the title of Wichtlaf was probably the same in import as that of the Count of the Marches which divided Mercia from Wales.
+ Wichtlaf appears to have been related to the royal Mercian family, not merely by the marriage of his son with Elfeda, but in blood, for in his grant to the monastery of Croyland, speaking of Etheldritha, he says, “ Carne quidem cognatæ meæ, sed, quod magis est, in Christo carissime sorori.”
# Ingulphus.- This horn and crucibolum of king Wichtlaf were well taken care of, and made use of, by the holy fathers of Croyland. When that monastery was burnt down in 1091, these were preserved, because, says Ingulphus, “ in petrinis scriniis custodiebantur.” And in the regulations after the conflagration, it was resolved that the monks, when refreshed from the horn of king Wichtlaf, should sing in chorus, in giving thanks after dinner, these verses to his memory - Dispersit, dedit pauperibus, with this addition, Cornu eius exaltabitur.
of tears upon the tomb, as though he had lost his wife, his son, and his whole family by some sudden misfortune. There he continued until the abbot Siward, whom he ever affectionately venerated as his father, reproving him severely, led him, still reluctant and holding back, from the sepulchre to his chamber. Nor was it long afterwards, when Wymund, his only son, having died of a dysentery, Wichtlaf caused him to be buried at the right side of the corpse of Etheldritha; and on the decease also of his wife Celfrida, in the course of the following year, he had her interred, with regal pomp and deep lamentation, on the left side of the same virgin. Wichtlaf himself expired in the thirteenth year of his reign, and was buried, according to his vow, in the monastery of Repton. *
Wichtlaf was succeeded by his brother Bertulph, who likewise reigned thirteen years, a tributary to Ethelwulph, sovereign of the West Saxons. The Danes, who had carried their devastations far beyond the coasts of the kingdom, invaded Mercia during the reign of Bertulph, who, in order to maintain his armies and satisfy the avarice of these plunderers, seized much of the wealth of the monasteries. London and Canterbury had suffered greatly from the Danes, and Bertulph, who, probably by the command of Ethelwulph, had marched at the head of his forces against the Danes, was defeated and put to flight. The victorious invaders then entered Mercia, which they entirely laid waste, and they would probably have accomplished the subjection of the whole kingdom, had not Ethelwulph attacked their main encampment at Oakley, in Surrey, where, after a sanguinary contest, he obtained so complete a victory, that very few of the Danes escaped. The Welsh made several successful predatory incursions into Mercia, during the first years of Bertulph's reign, but in the year 843, they were defeated by the Mercian king, who seems to have been intrusted by Ethelwulph with the command of the forces of the kingdom on this occasion. The Welsh sovereign, Mervyn, was slain in this battle. Bertulph enjoyed the favour and friendship of Ethelwulph, and his son Boerred was married to Ethelwulph's daughter: but there existed a person who had hereditary claims to the crown of Mercia, and who was daily acquiring the affection of the priesthood and the people, still desirous of an opportunity to assert the independence of the Mercian state. This was Winstan, the son of Wymund and Alfeda ; who by his mother was descended from the royal branch which had given Mercia her most illustrious kings. On the eve of the feast of Pentecost, in the year 850, one of the sons of Bertulph, with the consent (says Ingulphus) of his father, slew this young prince, and thus extinguished the race of Crida. The body was buried at Repton, near that of Wichtlaf, but it was afterwards removed to Evesham. Bertulph resided chiefly at Repton, but sometimes kept his court at Tamworth, at which place he granted several charters to religious houses. The following passage, translated from Ingulphus, exhibits in a striking manner the craft, the ignorance, and the blind devotion of that period. “In this council,+ God performed a celebrated miracle in honour of that most holy confessor Guthlac, by which the devotion of the whole earth for making pilgrimages to Croyland, which had become more lukewarm than usual, might abound and revive daily along all the roads from all the provinces. That year the whole of England was afflicted with a disease which resembled the palsy ; the nerves of men, women and children being struck with sudden and extreme coldness, like that of a sharp frost, in spite of the thickest clothing ; particularly the arms and hands of men being rendered lifeless and totally withered; while intolerable pain seizing upon the sickening members, was the most certain indication of the approaching disease. It happened that at this council there were many among both the high and the low who were suffering under this affliction. When the affairs of the realm were proposed for discussion, Ceolnothus, the lord archbishop of Canterbury, who was troubled with this disorder, openly recommended that sacred affairs should be first debated, so that, by the vivifying grace of Christ, human matters might have a prosperous conclusion. To this proposition the council unanimously assented, and Siward, the lord abbot of Croyland, was called for, because for many years previ. ously he had been distinguished, in councils and synods, by his great eloquence and piety, as the divine interpreter and most esteemed expositor and promoter of the numberless concerns of the
+ Held at Kingsbury, on the Friday of Easter week, 851.