The Rise and Fall of the Northumbrian Kingdom, 600 -1100

08 Hiberno-Norse cross

On 17th March 2017 Dr Fiona Edmonds gave a well received talk to 38 members and guests.

She made the point that, at its fullest extent, the kingdom of Northumbria covered a huge area from the Humber and the Mersey to the south up to Edinburgh and most of southern Scotland.

Archaeology shows that after the Roman army officially left Britain many sites continued to be occupied, probably by ex-auxiliaries, a classic example being the timber hall at Birdoswald.

Literary sources are predominantly from the northeast viz: Bede and the Durham chronicles. However, sculpture gives us strong clues as to key locations. e.g. St Oswald’s Winwick, St Patrick’s Heysham and the battle stone at Nechten’s Mere. Recent excavations have also highlighted the importance of strongholds such as the Mote of Mark and Trusty’s Hill, and the Northumbrian royal site at Yeavering.

Current thinking is that post Roman warlords created fiefdoms which subsequently coalesced into the kingdom of Northumbria, which was then able to give support to Christianity. In the ninth century there was fragmentation and shifting control of power. The Vikings took York, but did not have control north of the Tyne or in Strathclyde. The coin hoards which have been found in northwest England suggest the Irish Vikings were trying to move into a power vacuum.

Dr Edmonds made the point that we should not confuse Northumbria with Northumberland – Northumbria included the whole of what is now Lancashire and Cumbria – and she ended by suggesting there were three local sites we should all visit – or revisit.  Whalley, where King Eardwulf of Northumbria defeated a conspiracy of rebels in 798, and where the church has three very fine Northumbrian crosses in the church-yard:  Heysham, with its ruined Northumbrian chapel dedicated to St Patrick – and its Viking hogback tombstone in the parish church:  and the little known church at Winwick, dedicated to the Northumbrian King Oswald, which has another fine Northumbrian cross.

Posted by Andrea Rollins

Photo of Whalley Cross by Bill Shannon






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