Anarchy, murder and mayhem : 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.
737 – Northumbrian king now 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.
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 – Eadbert defeats Strathclyde
Eadbert, King of Northumbria defeats the Britons of Strathclyde and seizes Kyle and Ayrshire.
750 – Bishop plotted against king
Cynewulf, Bishop of Lindisfarne, is imprisoned for plotting against King Eadbert.
756 – Dumbarton captured
Dumbarton, the capital of Strathclyde (its name means ‘fort of the Britons’) is captured by the Northumbrians under King Eadbert. King Eadbert had formed an alliance with the Picts against the Strathclyde Britons. At this time there were four main groups of people in what is now Scotland. These were the Northumbrian speaking Angles (Anglo-Saxons) in the south east to the south of the Forth with the Picts across the River Forth to the north. In the south west as far north as the Clyde were the Britons who spoke a language similar to Welsh and in the north west beyond the Clyde and into the neighbouring islands were the Gaelic speaking Scots who speak a language akin to that spoken in Ireland.
757 – Mercian king murdered
The murder of Ethelbald, King of the Mercians brings an end to a period of Mercian dominance in southern England. He is succeeded to the midland kingdom by Offa following a civil war there. Offa will also rise to prominence.
758 – Another king becomes a monk
Eadbert, King 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 – Noble killed at Coniscliffe
Oswin, a Bernician noble is murdered at Coniscliffe (King’s Cliff) by Æthelwald Moll.
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.
Oct 30, 765 – Moll forced out
Following a meeting at Finchale, King Æthelwald Moll is forced from power and succeeded by Alhred.#
767 – Alcuin of York
A man of learning called Alcuin becomes the head of St Peter’s School in York.
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
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 the Frankish Emperor Charlemagne at Aachen in Frankia where he becomes master of Charlemagne’s palace school.
786 – Papal legate
Representatives of the Pope (a papal legate) visit the Kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria.
786 – Viking raid in the south
A party of Vikings raid Portland in Dorset.
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.
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.”
793 – “Raids God’s punishment” : Alcuin
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. That year a Viking raid also took place in Orkney. Iona and Skye were subsequently attacked by Viking raiders and further raids on Lindisfarne and Jarrow occurred this year.
May 26, 796 – Murderous king’s short reign
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.
800 – Vikings raid Hartlepool and Tynemouth
During 796 Viking raids were recorded in Ireland. This year Vikings raided the monasteries at Whitby, Hartlepool and Tynemouth. Northumbria now seems increasingly weak and vulnerable to outside attacks.
801 – Monastery at Gainford
A monastery is established at Gainford where a chieftain called Ida is said to be buried.
801 – Failed invasion
The Northumbrians launch an unsuccessful invasion of Mercia.
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.
804 – Vikings burn Iona
Vikings attack and burn the Scottish monastery of Iona, murdering the monks.
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.
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 – Wessex conquers Mercia
King Egbert of Wessex conquers Mercia, his supremacy amongst the Anglo-Saxon kings is acknowledged by the Northumbrians.
829 – Powers meet at Northumbria’s ‘door’
Egbert, King of Wessex and Mercia, and Eanred, King 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 Northumbria-Mercia border near a Pennine pass or ‘doorway’ linking Northumbria to 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.
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. Other ports are established by these Vikings along the Irish coast.
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.
851 – Danes attack Norwegian Irish
The Danes attack Norse ports in Ireland.
854 – Lindisfarne Bishop
Eardwulf is appointed as the last Bishop of Lindisfarne.
860 – Vikings dominate Scottish islands
Shetland, Orkney and the Hebrides are now well-established centres of Viking colonisation.
866 – Danes invade
Osbert, the King of Northumbria, is overthrown by his people, meanwhile, the Danes will mount a major invasion of England.