Saint Edwin, King

October 12

Today is the feast day of Saint Edwin.  King of Northumbria. Ora pro nobis.

Edwin, born in 584, was a prince of the Royal family of Deira in England. His father, King Aelle, was deposed, and Edwin was forced to flee and was raised in exile.

Once, Edwin, a pagan, met a stranger who predicted the restoration of his kingdom if he would promise to do whatever would be taught him regarding his own salvation. Edwin promised and the stranger, laying his hand upon his head, bade him remember that sign. Shortly after that incident, due to diverse political and military circumstances Edwin recovered the Kingdom of Deira, and afterward became King of all Northumbria, one of the seven parts into which England was divided at that time.

It was supposedly during this conquest period that he came into contact with the Royal House of North Rheged and was baptized into the Christian faith by Prince Rhun . However, he must have lapsed back into paganism soon afterward for, in AD 625, Edwin married – traditionally on the site of St. Gregory’s Church, Kirknewton – the Princess Ethelburga, sister of King Edbald of Kent and, though he welcomed her personal chaplain,  St Paulinus, as Archbishop of York.  Edwin himself was a still pagan.

It seems that Edwin’s Mercian wife had been put aside for no other reason than political expediency. This, no doubt, led to much bad-feeling in Mercia and the lady’s cousin, King Penda, seems to have allied himself with the kingdom of Wessex around this time. In AD 626, Prince Cwichelm of Wessex sent an assassin north to murder Edwin. He was, however, saved from being stabbed by the timely intervention of one of his thanes. By co-incidence, Edwin’s daughter, Enflaed, was born that same night and it is said that the King promised to give her  to St. Paulinus for baptism, if he was victorious over the assassin’s paymaster.

Discovering Cwichelm’s treachery, Edwin marched on Wessex. Prince Cwichelm and his father, King Cynegils of Wessex, marched north to meet the Northumbrians at the Battle of Win Hill & Lose Hill (Derbys), probably with the aid of King Penda. Despite their army’s superior numbers, the Wessex duo were defeated and fled south once more. Edwin, of course, kept his promise to St. Paulinus.

Edwin then began to consolidate his position. At the Royal Court in Yeavering, he allowed Paulinus to convert him to Christianity once more. The King then travelled to York for baptism in Paulinus’ proto-Cathedral and persuaded all his nobles, as well as sub-Kings (such as King Eorpwald of East Anglia) to follow suit: thus ensuring unity within the country. It was a prestigious move which brought letters and gifts from the Pope in Rome. Edwin also set about re-fortifying York.

Though this city might be considered Edwin’s capital, he held a number of important administrative centres and resided in them on a circuit basis. Venerable Bede describes how Edwin would travel around, preceded by a standard bearer “as he rode among his cities, estates and kingdoms with his thegns. Further, when he walked anywhere along the roads, there used to be carried before him the type of standard which the Romans call a tufa and the English call a thuf.”

Such peaceful times were not to last however. Trouble was brewing. King Cadwallon of Gwynedd soon returned from the Continent looking for revenge. In AD 633, he marched a great British army into the North and clashed with the Northumbrians at Hatfield Chase. King Edwin was killed in the fighting at Edwinstowe (Notts) on October 12, 633.  The victorious Cadwallon went on to decimate his country. Edwin’s supporters managed to take his body for burial in the Royal Abbey of Whitby.  He was later revered as a saint, and his head was translated to York Minster. The King’s family, however, fled to Kent and the kingdom was nominally divided between Enfrith of Bernicia and Osric of Deira.

Image: Saint King Edwin of Northumbria, St Mary, Sledmere, East Riding of Yorkshire, England. (4)

Research by REGINA Staff


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