William Sterling

England’s Earliest Kings 2: Offa and the Mercian Supremacy

This course was run as the second part in a series of five short courses on the Anglo-Saxon Kings.  It was an online course for the City Lit on 20 and 27 November 2021.

In the mid-C7th Mercia rose to challenge Northumbria for supremacy but after a brief set back became the dominant kingdom in England for about a century from the early C8th to the early C9th under three remarkable kings, Ethelbald, Offa and Coenwulf.  Offa is still well known today and nearly succeeded in making England a Mercian kingdom.

Mercia was established later than most of the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms but found a war leader to be feared in Penda, the last great pagan king of the early kings in England. Although he was ultimately defeated his sons helped to rebuild Mercian power leaving an important legacy for two of the longest reigning Anglo-Saxon kings Ethelbald and Offa. Ethelbald’s long reign enabled him to leave a powerful kingdom to his cousin. Unlike Ethelbald, Offa married and has a large family.  He also raised the status of his queen, Cynethryth so that she was the first queen to appear on our coins. His dyke forming the border with Wales is still visible today.  He also made the penny the main coinage of England.  By conquest and marriage he nearly succeeded in becoming ruler of the whole of England but his plans failed to materialise.  His successor Coenwulf came close to emulating him but Mercia was challenged for supremacy both by the growing power of Wessex and the Vikings.

During the course I showed the students a family tree of my own devising and some transcripts of Mercian charters along with one from the C11th which still referred back to Offa.

Mercia tree

Mercia genealogy comb

Ismere Diploma rev

S106 Offa

S111 Offa

1186a Coenwulf

S1503 Athelstan Atheling Will

These are the slides used in the course

Early Kings Part 2 Mercia lecture 1 PDF

Early Kings Part 2 Mercia lecture 2 PDF