On the seizure of Deira by Æthelfrith of Bernicia, his brother-in-law, (probably 605), Edwin was expelled and is said to have taken refuge with Cadfan, king of Gwynedd. After the battle of Chester, in which Æthelfrith defeated the Welsh, Edwin fled to Raedwald, king of East Anglia, who after some wavering supported his cause and defeated and killed Ælthelfrith at the river Idle in 617.
Edwin then succeeded to the Northumbrian throne, driving out the sons of Æthelfrith. We have little evidence of Edwin's activity outside of Northumbria before 625. It is probable that the conquest of the Celtic kingdom of Elmet, located in the neighbourhood of the modern Leeds, ruled over by a king named Cerdic fell within this period, and this may have led to the later quarrel with Cadwallon, king of Gwynedd.
Edwin seems also to have annexed Lindsey to his kingdom by 625. In this year he entered negotiations with Eadbald of Kent to marry his sister Ælthelberg. It was a condition that Christianity should be tolerated in Northumbria, and accordingly Paulinus was consecrated bishop by Justus in 625, and was sent to Northumbria with Æthelberg.
According to Bede, Edwin was favourably disposed towards Christianity owing to a vision he had seen at the court of Raedwald, and in 626 he allowed Eanfled, his daughter by Æthelberg, to be baptized. On the day of the birth of his daughter, an attempt was made on the king's life by Eomer, an emissary of Cwichelm, king of Wessex. Saved by the devotion of his thegn Lilla, Edwin vowed to become a Christian if victorious over his treacherous enemy. He was successful in the ensuing campaign, and gave up worshipping his traditional gods.
A letter of Pope Boniface helped him decide, and, after consulting his friends and counsellors, of whom the priest Coifi afterwards took a prominent part in destroying the temple at Goodmanham, he was baptized with his people and nobles at York, on Easter 627. In this town he granted Paulinus a see, built a wooden church and began one of stone. Besides York, Yeavering and Maelmin in Bernicia, and Catterick in Deira, were the chief scenes of the work of Paulinus.
It was the influence of Edwin which led to the conversion of Eorpwald of East Anglia. Bede notices the peaceful state of Britain at this time, and says that Edwin used a standard like that carried before the Roman emperors. In 633 Cadwallon of Gwynedd and his ally Penda of Mercia rose against Edwin and killed him at Hatfield near Doncaster. His kinsman Osric of Deira succeeded in Deira, and Eanfrith the son of Æthelfrith in Bernicia. Edwins body was hidden in the church of Edwinstowe.
Bede tells us that Edwin had subdued the islands of Anglesey and Man, and the Annales Cambriae record that he besieged Cadwallon (perhaps in 632) in the island of Glannauc (Puffin Island). He was definitely recognized as overlord by all the other Anglo-Saxon kings of his day except Eadbald of Kent, and thus considered Bretwalda.
See Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica (ed. Plummer, Oxford, 1896), ii. 5, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 18, 20; Nennius (ed. San Marte, 1844), § 63; Vita S Oswaldi, ix. Simeon of Durham (ed. Arnold, London, I 882—1885, vol. i.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Since Penda was a pagan, and Cadwallon "Christian only in name", Edwin was considered a martyr and Pope Gregory XIII allowed him to be depicted in the English College church at Rome.
Raedwald of East Anglia
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Oswald of Bernicia