Northumbria’s downfall

Northumbria’s downfall : AD 736 – 854

In the late eighth century, Northumbria was plagued by weak leadership and collapsed into a state of anarchy caused perhaps in part by dynastic rivalries between the royal houses of Deira and Bernicia. From 737AD to 806AD, Northumbria had ten kings: three were murdered, five were expelled and two retired to become monks. This instability may well have encouraged the first Viking raiders to attack the Northumbrian coast from 793AD.

Tees views from High Coniscliffe
View across the Tees vale from St Edwin’s churchyard at Coniscliffe © David Simpson 2018

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737 – Northumbrian king becomes a monk

King Ceolwulf of Northumbria becomes a monk on Lindisfarne. He is succeeded by Eadbert.

April 24, 741 – York Minster hit by fire

York Minster is damaged by fire. It will be rebuilt in 770.

York Minster
The present York Minster is a successor to earlier minsters built at York in Anglo-Saxon times © David Simpson 2021

746 – Rome writes to Jarrow

Bishop Boniface of Rome has written to Jarrow in Northumbria for editions of the works of Bede the most popular titles in Europe.

750 – Bishop plotted against the king

Cynewulf, Bishop of Lindisfarne, is imprisoned for plotting against King Eadbert.

758 – Another king becomes a monk

Eadbert of Northumbria has retired to become a monk at York. He is succeeded by his son Oswulf.

Aug 5, 759 – King murdered

Oswulf, King of Northumbria, is assassinated at Great Whittington near Corbridge and succeeded by a Deiran called Æthelwald Moll of Catterick who may be responsible for the assassination.

761 – Chieftain killed at Coniscliffe

Oswin, a Bernician noble is murdered at Coniscliffe (King’s Cliff) by Æthelwald Moll.

St Edwins Church, High Coniscliffe
Churcn dedicated to St Edwin who was king of Northumbria at High Consicliffe (the place-name means king’s cliff and it was an important Anglo-Saxon site) © David Simpson 2018

762 – Consecration at Elvet

Peothwine is consecrated Bishop of Whithorn at Aelfet Ee (Elvet). It is the first mention of Christian activity in the Durham City area.

St Oswald’s Church and Durham Cathedral
St Oswald’s Church, Durham Elvet, Durham Cathedral across the river to the left. © David Simpson 2021

Oct 30, 765 – Moll forced out

Following a meeting at Finchale, King Æthelwald Moll is forced from power and succeeded by Alhred.

774 – King driven out

King Alhred is driven out of Northumbria by Æthelred, son of Æthelwald Moll.

779 – Coniscliffe murders

Æthelred has been ousted by a Bernician called Alfwold. A number of royal nobles are murdered at Coniscliffe during the coup.

781 – Consecration at Sockburn

Higbald has been consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne at Sockburn.

Sockburn peninsula
Looking across to the Cleveland Hills from the Sockburn peninsula © David Simpson 2021

782 – Scholar leaves for Europe

Alcuin of York, who has built up a huge library at his school in the city, has left to study at the court of Charlemagne in France.

788 – Boy king flees

King Alfwold is murdered by his uncle Sicga at Chesters near Hadrian’s Wall and is buried at Hexham. He is succeeded by his nephew Osred II who flees to the Isle of Man. Æthelred begins a second period as King.

789 – Aycliffe meetings

A Synod has been held at Aycliffe regarding religious matters and discipline. It follows a similar meeting at Aycliffe in 782.

Aycliffe church.
Aycliffe church, is situated at an important Anglo-Saxon site. Photo © David Simpson 2018

792 – Æthelred kills rivals

King Æthelred drowns a rival prince in Windermere and beheads Osred II at Maryport on the Cumberland coast.

Sept 26, 792 – Royal marriage at Catterick

Æthelred of Northumbria marries the daughter of King Offa of Mercia at Catterick.

June 8, 793 – Vikings raid Lindisfarne

In an unprecedented attack which shocks Europe, a raiding party of Vikings from Norway attack Lindisfarne. Monks flee in fear and many are slaughtered. Bishop Higbald seeks refuge on the mainland. A Chronicler records: “On the 8th June, the harrying of the heathen miserably destroyed God’s church by rapine and slaughter.”

Lindisfarne Castle
Lindisfarne Castle : Photo © 2015 David Simpson

793 – Scholar says raids are punishment from God

In a letter from Charlemagne’s court in France, Alcuin, the former head of York School, blames the recent Viking attack on a fall in moral standards in Northumbria. He sees the raid as punishment

796 – Viking raids continue

In 794 Vikings attacked the famous monastery at Jarrow but the Northumbrians were prepared for this attack and manage to surprise and utterly destroy the Vikings. Further Viking raids on Lindisfarne and Jarrow continue throughout the year.

May 26, 796 – Short reign for murderous king

King Æthelred of Northumbria who became king on April 18 is murdered at Corbridge and succeeded by Osbald who plotted the murder. Osbald is then forced out by Eardwulf.

The bridge Corbridge
The Tyne at Corbridge Photo © David Simpson 2018

800 – Vikings raid Hartlepool and Tynemouth

Vikings raid the monasteries at WhitbyHartlepool and Tynemouth. Northumbria now seems increasingly weak and vulnerable to outside attacks.

Beach at Tynemouth
The coast at Tynemouth. Photo: David Simpson 2015

801 – Monastery at Gainford

A monastery is established at Gainford where a chieftain called Ida is said to be buried.

Ginford church
Ginford church on the site of an Anglo-Saxon monastery. Photo © David Simpson 2018

804 – Alcuin dies

Alcuin of York has died at Charlemagne’s court in France. He was one of the most highly respected men of learning in Europe.

808 – King Eardwulf restored

In 806, King Eardwulf was driven out and succeeded by Alfwold II but Eardwulf is restored following Alfwold’s death.

810 – Synods at Finchale

A synod has been held at Finchale on the River Wear to discuss Northumbrian church matters and discipline. Similar meetings took place at Finchale in 792 and 798AD.

Finchale Priory
Finchale Priory by the Wear was built in much later times © John Simpson

811 – Eardwulf ousted again

Eardwulf is deposed as King of Northumbria. He is succeeded by King Eanred.

821 – Bishoprics merge

The Bishopric of Hexham has been absorbed by Lindisfarne. The new bishopric extends from Tweed to Tees.

829 – Powers meet at Northumbria’s ‘door’

Egbert, King of Wessex and Mercia, and Eanred of Northumbria meet at Dore. Their aim is to ensure peace. Eanred accepts Wessex supremacy and recognises Egbert as ‘over king’ of England. Dore near Sheffield is situated on the border near a Pennine pass or ‘doorway’ between Northumbria and the south.

830 – Cuthbert monks flee Lindisfarne

The monks of Lindisfarne leave the island with St Cuthbert’s body to escape further raids. They settle inland at Norham on Tweed where a church is built for the saint’s shrine.

St Cuthbert's coffin
The carriers of St Cuthbert’s coffin depicted in a painting in Chester-le-Street church.

840 – King Eanred dies

Eanred, King of Northumbria, dies. He is succeeded by his son Æthelred II.

841 – Dublin Vikings

Vikings from Norway establish Dublin as their chief coastal stronghold in the British Isles.

844 – King killed by Vikings

King Æthelred II is temporarily expelled and hastily replaced by King Raedwulf who is killed fighting the Vikings. The location of Raedwulf’s death is recorded as a place called Alutehelia which has been identified with both Elvet and Bishop Auckland in Durham. Æthelred II is restored as king.

848 – King Osbert

Æthelred II is killed and succeeded by King Osbert.

854 – Lindisfarne Bishop

Eardwulf is appointed as the last Bishop of Lindisfarne.

Budle Bay
View of Lindisfarne from Budle Bay © David Simpson 2015

866 – Danes invade

Osbert, the King of Northumbria, is overthrown by his people, meanwhile, the Danes mount a major invasion of England.

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