Oswald of Northumbria

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St. Oswald in Stained glass from Gloucester Cathedral

Oswald (c. 605–642) was a King of Northumbria and the first Christian monarch of that kingdom. Oswald brought St. Aidan from Iona to start a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne. Oswald was also venerated as a saint.


Early career[change | edit source]

Oswald was born c. 605, the son of King Athelfrith of Bernicia and his second wife Acha of Deira.[1] At age twelve his father was killed in battle by Edwin who became King of Northumbria.[2] Along with his brothers Eanfrith and Oswiu and their sister Aebbe, he found safety with the Scots in Dál Riata.[2] The monks of Iona baptized the children and raised them in the Celtic Christian faith.[3] For all of Edwin's reign Oswald remained in Exile.[4] Cadwallon ap Cadfan, the Christian king of Gwynedd, along with the pagan Penda of Mercia, attacked Northumbria in 632.[5] In 633 the two invading armies met Edwin at the Battle of Hatfield Chase.[6] Edwin was killed and his army was destroyed.[6] For the next year Cadwallon destroyed everything he could in Northumbria.[7] At the same time Oswald was gathering a small army among the Scots and Picts.[8] He attacked Cadwallon's larger army at a place called Hefenfelth ("heavenly field"). Cadwallon was killed and his army defeated.[9]

King of Northumbria[change | edit source]

Oswald claimed the crowns of both Bernicia and Deira. By doing this he reunited Northumbria to a single kingdom.[a][1] Oswald was the first king of Northumbria to come to the throne already a Christian.[b][8] As one of his first acts Oswald set up what would become the holy island of Lindisfarne. He asked for a bishop to come to Northumbria to convert his people to the Christian faith.[12] They sent Bishop Aidan.[c][12] Adan built a monastery and created a Christian colony on the island of Lindisfarne off the coast of Bamburgh.[8] Oswald, at least at first, had to translate for Aidan who did not speak English fluently.[8] Oswald was considered a bretwalda by Bede, the fourth such overlord over the other Anglo-Saxon kings.[14] In 635, Oswald married Cyneburh, the daughter of King Cynegils of Wessex.[15] Oswald also became the godfather of Cynegils when he was baptized c. 639–40.[8] Oswald created several similar alliances in an effort to contain Penda of Mercia.[8] About 638 he won a battle against Owen Map Bili, the king of Strathclyde near Edinburgh.[8] In 640 Oswald tried to recover Lindsey from Penda. The two armies met again in 642 at the Battle of Maserfield (probably in Shropshire).[16] Oswald was killed in the battle.[17] For a year after the battle his head and hands were fastened to stakes.[17] His brother Oswiu finally recovered Oswald's relics.[8] Oswiu succeeded Oswald as king of Northumbria.[18]

Family[change | edit source]

Oswald married Cyneburh of Wessex. Their son, "the only son he possessed on earth", was:[19]

Notes[change | edit source]

  1. In 605 Athelfrith (Oswald's father) united the two kingdoms, Bernicia and Deira, into a single kingdom called Northumbria.[10] At Athelfrith's death Edwin took Northumbria. At his death it was reduced back to the kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira, at which point Oswald began to rule them as one kingdom.
  2. Edwin did convert to Christianity but he often acted more like his pagan ancestors.[11]
  3. From about the age of ten Bede was raised at the Monkwearmouth–Jarrow Abbeys in Northumbria.[13] This was a Benedictine order, a part of the Roman church. Bede was critical of Aidan because he was a member of the Irish church that kept different Easter customs.[12]
  4. Athelwald (or Oethelwald) was remembered in Northumbrian history for committing treason. He was the King of Deira under his uncle and overlord Oswiu.[20] He turned on his uncle when he guided Penda in his raids north of the River Humber against Northumbria. When Oswy attacked Penda at the Battle of the Winwaed, Athelwald deserted Penda's forces and waited nearby to see who won the battle. Penda and many of his allies were killed including Athelwald.[21]

References[change | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Rudolf Abraham, St Oswald's Way and St Cuthbert's Way (Milnthorpe, Cumbria: Cicerone, 2013), p. 26
  2. 2.0 2.1 John Marsden, Northanhymbre Saga; the History of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of Northumbria (London: Kyle Cathie Limited, 1992), p. 108
  3. Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1999), p. 279
  4. Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 118
  5. Peter Hunter Blair, Roman Britain and Early England; 55 B.C.–A.D. 871 (New York; London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1966), p. 194
  6. 6.0 6.1 John Marsden, Northanhymbre Saga; the History of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of Northumbria (London: Kyle Cathie Limited, 1992), p. 101
  7. N. J. Higham, The Kingdom of Northumbria AD 350–1100 (Dover, NH: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1993), p. 125
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1999), p. 280
  9. Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans. Leo Sherley Price, revsd. R. E. Latham (London; New York: Penguin, 1990), p. 144
  10. C. W. Previté-Orton, Outlines of Medieval History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 95
  11. John Marsden, Northanhymbre Saga; the History of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of Northumbria (London: Kyle Cathie Limited, 1992), pp. 81–82
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans. Leo Sherley Price, revsd. R. E. Latham (London; New York: Penguin, 1990), p. 146
  13. John Marsden, Northanhymbre Saga; The History of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of Northumbria (London: Kyle Cathie Limited, 1992), p. 179
  14. Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 34
  15. Detlev Schwennicke, Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten, Neue Folge, Band II (Marburg, Germany: J. A. Stargardt, 1984), Tafel 77
  16. Peter Hume Brown, History of Scotland: to the present time, Volume 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 17
  17. 17.0 17.1 John Marsden, Northanhymbre Saga; the History of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of Northumbria (London: Kyle Cathie Limited, 1992), p. 130
  18. Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1999), p. 281
  19. 19.0 19.1 John Marsden, Northanhymbre Saga; the History of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of Northumbria (London: Kyle Cathie Limited, 1992), p. 126
  20. John Marsden, Northanhymbre Saga; the History of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of Northumbria (London: Kyle Cathie Limited, 1992), p. 146
  21. Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1999), p. 282

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