Feast Day 12th October

Edwin was the first Christian king of Northumbria and became the most powerful ruler in England - the fifth Bretwalda recorded in the ‘Chronicle’. Initially a pagan, he lived at a time when the country was converting to Christianity in two very diverse ways - Celtic from the influence of Columba in Ireland and the north and Roman following the Augustine mission from Rome to Kent.

Born in 584, he was a prince of the dynasty of Deira (modern-day Yorkshire). Forced from his homeland early in his life by Ethelfrith, who ruled the rival tribe of Bernicia, Edwin found himself exiled in Wales and East Anglia. While in exile he married Cwenburg of Mercia, who bore him two sons.

King Redwald of East Anglia proved to be a staunch ally and helped Edwin become king of Northumbria when they defeated and killed Ethelfrith at the battle of the River Idle. Ethelfrith’s sons Oswald and Oswiu fled to the Hebrides for Edwin’s reign and were educated by the Celtic monks at Iona where they were converted to the Celtic Christian faith.

What became of Cwenburg is not clear, but once king, Edwin proposed marriage to Aethelburgh, a Roman Christian princess from Kent. Aethelburgh only agreed to marriage after Edwin agreed to her demands to continue to practice her Roman religion and bring her chaplain Paulinus, one of the original Augustine mission sent by Pope Gregory to Kent.

Around 625 Paulinus was consecrated bishop of York and was instrumental in converting the Northern lands to Roman Christianity. Edwin took some years before he and much of his court embraced Christianity. Three events decided Edwin to convert, the first was an unsuccessful assassination attempt by the West Saxons, secondly when the pagan high priest Coifi gave up his practices and joined the Church and finally when Paulinus reminded him of a mysterious event that happened to him while in exile. Edwin was baptised at Easter, in 627, after the birth of his daughter Eanfled. Many lords and their subjects in both Yorkshire and Lincolnshire followed his example.

Edwin continued to extend his territory at the expense of the Picts to the north, the Cumbrians to the west and the Welsh from whom he captured Anglesey and Man, he also absorbed the British enclave of Elmet, near modern day Leeds. He became the first Northumbrian to be overlord of the southern kingdoms and the first Christian king of Northumbria. But his expansion brought him mortal enemies, Penda, the powerful pagan king of Mercia allied himself with the Christian Welsh king Cadwallon and they eventually defeated and killed Edwin at the battle of Hatfield Chase in 633.

Aethelburgh, her daughter Eanfled and Paulinus fled south to the safety of Kent and thus halted the Roman Christian advances in the north.

Oswald acceded to the throne the following year and brought with him the Celtic faith that was to prosper in the north.

Edwin’s daughter Eanfled, herself a Roman Christian, was to return to Northumbria to marry Oswiu on Oswald’s death and this led to a court which was part Roman on her side and Celtic on the side of her husband. It was Eanfled who was the sponsor and driving influence behind Wilfrid which led to the Synod of Whitby in 664 and a return to Roman ways.

It is extraordinary that in St. Wilfrid’s Lady Chapel there is a window for Edwin’s Queen Aethelburgh but none for Edwin’s daughter Queen Eanfled who was a pivotal figure in our Wilfrid story. (PG based on JH’s original)




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