The Rise and Fall of the Kingdom of Mercia


Around 731 AD, the Northumbrian monk, Bede, writing one of the most important texts in Anglo-Saxon history, the Ecclesiastical History of the English Church and People, noted the reach of Mercian power.

After listing the bishops of England’s southern provinces, he observed: ‘all these provinces, together with others south of the river Humber and their kings, are subject to Æthelbald, king of the Mercians’.

These words effectively convey the pre-eminence that Æthelbald had secured within England during his forty-one year reign (716-757), one of the longest recorded in Anglo-Saxon history. This observation leads the historian to ask how Mercia achieved such eminence, what enabled it to survive and why it declined?

If there is one document that ‘captures’ this sense of supremacy it is Æthelbald’s ‘Ismere Diploma’ of 736, by which the king granted to his ‘venerable companion’ Cyneberht, ten hides of land by the River Stour in the neighbourhood of Morfe and Kinver (Staffordshire) for the construction of a monastery. In this charter Æthelbald was described not only as ‘rex Merciorum’ and ‘rex sutanglorum’ (king of Mercia and king of the South English), but he also took the title of ‘rex Britanniae ’, king of Britain, while in death he was perhaps commemorated as the triumphant warrior-king of the Repton cross-shaft.

KEYWORDS: Anglo Saxons, Mercia, Kings, Warriors, Penda, Offa, John Hunt, Books

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Anglo Saxons