Offa’s Dyke

? In 780 AD, King Offa of Mercia was at the height of his authority.  Prior to his rule, in 750 AD, King Eliseg (immortalized by Eliseg’s Pillar near Llangollen) had swept the Saxons out of the plains of Powys.  Offa, in turn, attacked Powys in 778 and 784, and tradition states that he built the dyke, sometime (or throughout) his reign.  Prior to this, Aelthelbald, King of Mercia, had built ‘Wat’s Dyke’, which extends from the Severn Valley northwards towards the estuary of the Dee (A History of Wales, John Davies p. 62). There is a quote from George Borrow, from Wild Wales, that “it was customary for the English to cut off the ears of every Welshman who was found to the east of the dyke, and for the Welsh to hang every Englishman whom they found to Read more…

King Offa of Mercia

Offa of Mercia ruled much of England from 757 AD to 29 July 796.  He was known primarily to history as the man who built–or organized the building of–‘Offa’s Dyke’ the earthenwork wall that stretches the length of the border between England and Wales. Unfortunately, though we know the dates of his rule, some of what happened before and after, and the wars we fought, we know little of Offa as a man. The date that he ruled is very exact for that time period because of the wall and the history surrounding it. He was buried in Bedford and succeeded by his son, Ecgfrith, whom Offa had consecrated as his heir before his death. “According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Ecgfrith died after a reign of only 141 days. A letter written by Alcuin in 797 to a Mercian ealdorman Read more…

The Kingdoms of Wales

Wales as a country evolved over a period of time after the Saxons completed their conquest of the rest of Britain. To recap, the Romans left Britain in 410 AD, leaving the ‘Britons’ to fend for themselves against succeeding waves of raiders from the north and east. These includes the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. Historians are not in agreement as to exactly how this worked, but the Britons as a culture and society were driven further and further west until they reached their last bastions in Wales. Regardless of the actual timeline, by 800 AD, the Saxons were well established right up to the border of what is now Wales.  Offa’s Dyke, an earthen wall built in the 8th century, delineated the border for much of the early Middle Ages. “Offa was King of Mercia from 757 to 796 AD. Read more…

The Kingdom of Mercia

After 500 AD, the Kingdom of Mercia became one of largest and strongest Saxon kingdoms in England, and only faded with the transcendency of the Kingdom of Wessex under Alfred the Great (ruled 871-899). The first Mercian king to truly dominate England was Penda, ruling from 626-655 AD.  Both Bede and Nennius describe the swath he cut across Britain, sometimes in alliance with others (Cadwallon and Cadfael of Gwynedd to name two) and sometime on his own reconnaissance. His paganism was a particular sore point:  “In his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, written in the early eighth century, Bede of Jarrow describes him as ‘a barbarian more savage than any pagan’ with ‘no respect for the newly established religion of Christ’” and “In the ninth-century Historia Brittonum, Nennius describes Penda as ‘victorious through the arts of the Devil, for he was not baptised, and never believed in Read more…