The Heroic Age

A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe

Issue 9 (Oct 2006)

Oswald, King and Saint: His Britain and Beyond   |   Issue Editor: Michelle Ziegler

Founded 1998   |   ISSN 1526-1867

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The Exogamous Marriages of Oswiu of Northumbria

Martin Grimmer  
University of Tasmania

© 2006 by Martin Grimmer. All rights reserved. This edition copyright © 2006 by The Heroic Age. All rights reserved.

§1.  Alcock (1993, 12) has opined that the written sources for the early medieval period provide the impression that warfare was the major social activity of the various peoples of northern Britain, both between themselves and with their Anglo-Saxon or Celtic neighbours. Dumville (1989, 219) and Richter (1999, 90-1) have similarly noted that Anglo-Celtic hostility remains a continuing theme in the sources for the early Anglo-Saxon north. Such a bellicose state of affairs might be anticipated for a period during which the political and ethnic landscape was being regularly redefined (Evans 1997, 27). However, there does exist evidence of more amicable interaction and political contact: of Northumbrians finding refuge within Celtic kingdoms, of intermarriage, and of alliance. This should not be unexpected. Anglo-Saxon and Celtic societies, as exemplars of early medieval 'Barbarian' cultures, shared similar features of social organisation (Cessford 1999, 160; Charles-Edwards 1997, 171-210; Cramp 1995, 2; Wormald 1986, 151-83), and hostile relations between peoples does not necessarily mean cultural or linguistic ignorance (Dumville 1981, 114; Miller 1978, 61). Overlordship and the collection of tribute would have required some level of mutual intelligibility, and the taking of hostages between Anglo-Saxon and Celtic kingdoms would have necessitated bi- or even multi-lingualism, albeit largely restricted to members of the aristocracy. Intermarriage, one of the most common mechanisms proposed for integration between peoples (Banham 1994, 152; Wallace-Hadrill 1985, 26; Yorke 1990, 138-9), may also have occurred. Cramp (1995, 2) argues that intermarriage between Celtic and Northumbrian nobility might have acted as a means of cementing alliances and peace. Strategic marriages might have been used to back up military conquest and to facilitate the imposition of overlordship by the Northumbrian kings (Yorke 1990, 85).1 It is the purpose of this paper to examine an important strand in this evidence for exogamous, Anglo-Celtic marriage, that regarding the Northumbrian ætheling and later king, Oswiu (642-670), brother of Oswald (634-642) and son of Æthelfrith (c.592-616). Oswiu appears to have had two Celtic wives, in addition to his Anglo-Saxon wife Eanflæd, daughter of Edwin (616-633), who he married c.642-5 (HE 3.15). Before presenting the evidence for Oswiu's Celtic marriages, however, it is necessary to provide some contextual information by discussing his and his brothers' exile from Northumbria.

The Exile of the Sons of Æthelfrith

§2.  The background to Oswiu's exogamous marriages lies in the exile from Northumbria forced upon him and his brothers at the death of their father. Æthelfrith, king of Northumbria, was killed in battle with Edwin and Rædwald of East Anglia in 616 (HE 2.12), and his sons were consequently forced to flee. They found refuge not in an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, nor a British one, but amongst the kingdoms of the Scots and the Picts. The exile of Æthelfrith's offspring is the most celebrated instance of any Anglo-Saxons pursuing asylum within the Celtic world. According to Bede, 'During the whole of Edwin's reign [i.e. 616-633] the sons of King Æthelfrith his predecessor, together with many young nobles, were living in exile among the Scots and the Picts' (HE 3.1). Both the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Historia Brittonum include a list of Æthelfrith's sons—Eanfrith, Oswald, Oswiu (HB Osbiu, Osguid), Oslac, Oswudu (HB Osgudu), Oslaf (HB Oslaph) and Offa—with the Chronicle stating that they had been driven out by Edwin (ASC MS. E 617; HB 57). 2 Bede only mentioned the first three by name, that is, those sons who subsequently became kings of Northumbria, and he additionally stated that Oswald and Oswiu had spent their exile amongst the Scots of Dalriada (HE 3.3, 3.25).3 It is generally held that Eanfrith, however, spent at least part of his exile amongst the Picts.4

§3.  There were doubtless a number of factors which influenced the choice of a northern Celtic destination for exile. To begin with, there was unlikely to be any safety in the Anglo-Saxon south. Edwin, while in exile, had associated himself with both Mercia and East Anglia, two of the largest Anglo-Saxon kingdoms near Northumbria's southern border. He had married Cwenburh, daughter of the Mercian king Cearl, and had two children by her, Osfrith and Eadfrith (HE 2.14). Edwin was also given refuge by Rædwald of East Anglia, who supported him in his defeat of Æthelfrith. Hence, the nearest Anglo-Saxon kingdoms would most probably have been 'no-go' areas for the sons of Edwin's erstwhile enemy.5 As Edwin would have returned to Northumbria from the south, flight by Æthelfrith's family in the opposite direction may have been a safer option. Moreover, Æthelfrith's hostile activities towards the northern Britons would probably not have inclined them to look favourably at the plight of his children. Æthelfrith's death could have been viewed as an opportunity for any subject British polities to liberate themselves from Northumbrian domination, and in this vein they may have refused to harbour the sons of the new king's predecessor so as not to attract unwanted attention.

§4.  There are, therefore, several probable reasons why the sons of Æthelfrith avoided the Anglo-Saxon south, and avoided a British kingdom, when forced to flee in 616. However, their exile in the north may not simply have been a matter of pursuing the only available option, but rather could have been a deliberate choice. It appears that Northumbrians had been travelling to Dalriada since the late sixth century (Moisl 1983, 112; Yorke 1990, 83). There is a possibility that one Hering, son of Hussa, was a Northumbrian ætheling in exile in Dalriada around the time of the battle of Degsastan in 603 (ASC MSS. D & E 603; see Bannerman 1974, 87; Hunter Blair 1959, 156; Kirby 1991, 7). Evidence also comes from Adomnán's Life of Columba, in which two 'Saxons' are said to have been living on Iona during the lifetime of the Saint (d.597).6 One was Genereus Saxo (i.e. the Englishman), who was described as the baker and a very devout brother (VC 3.10). The other was Pilu Saxo, who was at Iona four years before Columba died (VC 3.22). Both these 'Saxons' are mentioned incidentally in the Life, and neither serves any hagiographic function that would suggest their presence to be the result of an invented interpolation.7 So, there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of Adomnán's account. What the presence of these monks indicates is that Anglo-Saxons did travel abroad at the time into Celtic, or more specifically Irish/Scottish regions, and that some Anglo-Saxons settled in these areas and adopted aspects of the local culture, in this case Christianity (Sharpe 1995, 364). It is probable that Genereus and Pilu came from Northumbria (perhaps even as exiles with Hering); this was, after all, the nearest Anglo-Saxon kingdom to Iona and Dalriada.8 If so, it would constitute evidence that discourse had occurred between Northumbria and Dalriada for at least two decades prior to 616, and that the sons of Æthelfrith had not necessarily fled into the unknown.

§5.  The Northumbrian æthelings may also have chosen exile into the north because the kingdoms of the Picts and the Scots offered the best protection from Edwin. These far-northern realms were, at the time, still buffered by the British kingdoms of Gododdin, Rheged and Strathclyde. Direct pressure from Northumbria, while not impossible, would have been unlikely. Additionally, while little is known about the rulers of the Picts and the Scots c.616, there is a slim possibility that the Dalriadan ruler, Eochaid Buide mac Aedán (c.606-629), exercised overlordship in the far north.9 In the Annals of Ulster under the year 629, he is called 'king of the Picts [rex Pictorum]'.10 If this is not just a gloss informed by his father Aedán's better evidenced interests in Pictland, Eochaid Buide was thus a king who possessed some military power.11 In any event, there is no direct evidence that Edwin ever assailed the Picts or the Scots. Thus, the sons of Æthelfrith appear to have been safe in their northern exile.

§6.  The exile of Æthelfrith's sons lasted seventeen years, during which they would have been exposed to the culture, beliefs and lifestyle of their hosts. While Eanfrith's age is unknown, in 616, Oswald was twelve years old and Oswiu four.12 Æthelfrith's children, and Oswiu in particular, grew up for the most part while in exile, and this would have had an enduring influence on them (Ziegler 1999). Bede says that both Oswald and Oswiu learned fluency in the Irish/Scottish tongue: Oswald 'had gained a perfect knowledge of Irish during the long period of his exile', and Oswiu was 'well versed in their language' (HE 3.3, 3.25). It could be safely presumed that the other exiles similarly became Irish speakers (Dumville 1981, 111).

§7.  It is also known that the sons of Æthelfrith were converted from paganism to Irish/Scottish Christianity while abroad. As Bede states, they were 'instructed in the teachings of the Irish [Scottish] Church and received the grace of Baptism' (HE 3.1).13 Adomnán similarly noted how Oswald and his twelve companions had been baptised while in exile amongst the Scots (VC 1.1). Conversion was not something the exiles would have entered into on a whim. Admittedly, Eanfrith apostatised when he returned to the kingship of Bernicia in 633 (HE 3.1, 3.9). However, Miller (1978, 57) has suggested that Eanfrith's apostasy was, in a 'foreign relations' sense, more a declaration of independence from any obligation to his former Pictish or Scottish hosts. It was the conversion of the exiles which ultimately brought Irish/Scottish Christianity to Northumbria in 634, when Oswald gained the kingship and invited a mission under Bishop Aidán (HE 3.3). Having been educated in the Columban Church on Iona, Oswald clearly favoured this tradition for his kingdom and remained an advocate of this style of Christianity throughout his reign, even acting as Aidán's interpreter. As Bede states, 'It was indeed a beautiful sight ... to see the king acting as interpreter of the heavenly word for his ealdormen and thegns' (HE 3.3). Oswiu too was said by Bede to have 'considered that nothing was better than what they [i.e. the Columbans] had taught' (HE 3.25). Though he ruled in favour of the Roman side at Whitby in 664, Oswiu had spent most of his life as a Irish/Scottish Christian. Thus, their early education had a lasting effect on Oswald and Oswiu, and acted as a force for cultural change in Northumbria itself (Ziegler 1999).

§8.  It is also probable that the sons of Æthelfrith would have fought for Dalriada. Exile, particularly of youths, could be viewed as a form of fosterage (Crawford 1999, 123).14 Part of the expectation of fostered boys was that they would be taught the arts of warfare until they reached the age of fourteen or fifteen, when they would be given whatever arms were suitable to their status as they entered military service under their foster-lord (Evans 1997, 118-19; Härke 1997, 126-7).15 The giving of arms by the foster-lord was also, in Irish lands, an important ceremony for cementing a kinship bond (Charles-Edwards 1997, 179; Ziegler 2001). Not knowing Eanfrith's age it is difficult to speculate on whether he gained his arms in Dalriada. If he did not, this may help explain his apostasy. Oswald, at age twelve, though having received several years training in Northumbria prior to 616, would have continued to learn with the Dalriadan warband, and would have received his arms from King Eochaid Buide (whose death is recorded in the AU 629). Oswiu would have gained all his military training, and similarly his arms, while in exile. Thus, it should be expected that Oswald and Oswiu took up military service and fought for Dalriada, and the same might be expected of their brothers and others in their retinue.

§9.  Moisl (1983, 105-12) presents a range of evidence for Anglo-Saxon æthelings fighting in Ireland. Probably the most reliable of the accounts relates to the battle of Fid Eóin on the Irish mainland. As recorded in the Annals of Ulster under the year 629, Dalriada was defeated in the battle and the king Connad Cerr, son of Eochaid Buide, was killed.16 Of particular significance is the fact that several other recensions of the Irish chronicles add to the Annals of Ulster account that an Anglo-Saxon ætheling fought and died on the side of Dalriada, namely, one 'Oisiric mac Albruit, rigdomna Saxan'.17 Oisiric appears to be the Anglo-Saxon name Osric; Albruit might represent Ælfred, and rígdomna is a close equivalent of ætheling (Moisl 1983, 105-6).18 The account thus appears to record the death of the Anglo-Saxon ætheling Osric son of Ælfred while fighting for Dalriada in Ireland. Late and erroneous interpolation is possible, but the account is not out of place amongst the significant number of Anglo-Saxon-orientated entries to be found in the Irish chronicles for the period between c.580 and 740 (Moisl 1983, 107-8).19 This Osric is not explicitly stated to have been in exile in Dalriada with Æthelfrith's sons, and there is no other genealogical information surviving which links him with Æthelfrith's family. However, the context would favour the explanation that he was one of the young nobles who lived in Dalriada with Æthelfrith's sons, particularly given that the battle occurred during their exile (Bannerman 1974, 98-9).20 If one Anglo-Saxon ætheling was present at Fid Eóin, it would be reasonable to deduce that others may also have been. Oswald (twenty-five years old at the time), Oswiu (seventeen years old), and even Eanfrith, may have fought for Dalriada along with Osric.

§10.  Further evidence presented by Moisl for Anglo-Saxon involvement in Ireland derives from various Irish vernacular prose works collected in the so-called 'King Cycle'.21 Much of this material is legendary or mythological in nature and was subject to distortion for purposes of dynastic propaganda.22 Nevertheless, what is most significant about the 'King Cycle' tales is their demonstration of how the Anglo-Saxons had become a literary topos in Ireland. Specifically, all the relevant works contain some account of how an Irish king had brought Anglo-Saxons to Ireland as mercenaries in order to fight other Irishmen on his behalf. Moisl provides seven examples of tales from the Cycle which have Anglo-Saxons fighting in Ireland.23 In one of them—Togail Bruidne Da Derga—three Anglo-Saxon rígdomnai are named among the retinue of Conaire, a mythical king of Tara. They are Osalt (Oswald), Osbrit (Osfrith or Osbert) and Lindas (possibly Lindaesc). These names do not appear in the Fid Eóin entries in the various Irish chronicles, and thus seem to derive from an independent tradition of Anglo-Saxon involvement in Ireland. The significance of the name Oswald being used for one of the æthelings is obvious.24 These tales support the tradition that Anglo-Saxon æthelings fought in Ireland.

§11.  Additional evidence of secular Anglo-Saxon involvement in Ireland derives from the identification of possible Anglo-Saxon burials in Ireland. O'Brien (1993, 93-102) has drawn attention to a number of 'intrusive' male and female burials broadly datable to the sixth and seventh centuries that do not conform to normal mortuary practice within early medieval Ireland.25 These burials contain features which are consistent with pagan or very early Christian Anglo-Saxon practice.26 The distribution of the burials shows a grouping in the region of Brega, Co. Meath, and in the 'general area' around monasteries where the presence of Anglo-Saxon clerics is historically attested.27 O'Brien argues, however, that the burials were probably not of clerics for, apart from the presence of grave-goods, they are all found in cemeteries which are outside of the known ecclesiastical centres. Nor do they appear to have been of nobles as the grave goods are relatively poor. Rather, they are more likely to have been retainers who accompanied early Anglo-Saxon clerics or æthelings who had come to Ireland. O'Brien (1993, 93) also makes the point that contact between Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England is quite explicable in a period when travel by water was probably easier, and safer, than travel overland.28 Thus, the Irish Sea was not so much of barrier to interaction as might otherwise be supposed.

§12.  While there is no direct evidence that actually places Oswiu and his brothers in Ireland, there is enough circumstantial evidence for Anglo-Saxon involvement to render it quite probable that they did fight there for the king of Dalriada, whose domain included territory in the north of the country. The three known brothers would all have been of appropriate age to participate in the Dalriadan warband during their exile and would have been expected to do so by their foster-lord.29 In this regard, it is also not out of the question that they gained military aid from Dalriada after Edwin was killed by Cadwallon and Penda, and the way was thus opened for them to take control of Northumbria, first under Eanfrith in 633 and then Oswald in 634.

§13.  In terms of the long exile of Oswiu and the other sons of Æthelfrith, several issues concerning their activities while in Dalriada can, therefore, be considered as catalysts to potential exogamous marriages. These include their acquisition of fluency in Irish; their conversion to Irish/Scottish Christianity; their participation in the Dalriadan warband, and their probable involvement in battles on the Irish mainland.30 Oswiu would thus have had not only the opportunity to marry into a non-Anglo-Saxon dynasty, but also, as the youngest and arguably most 'Celtic' in his upbringing, a disposition towards the Celts quite different from other Anglo-Saxon æthelings who grew up in their home kingdoms. In addition, the exiled ætheling and his host would have had certain expectations of one another, one of which might have been to take a wife from within his host's kin so as to secure his refuge. This brings us to the evidence for Oswiu's exogamous marriages.

The Exogamous Marriages of Oswiu

§14.  As stated earlier, all the known sons of Æthelfrith would have approached marriageable age during their long exile.31 Oswiu, the youngest, would have been about twenty-one years old in 633, Oswald twenty-nine, and Eanfrith older again.32 Hence, it should be expected that marriage and the creation of heirs would have became an issue for the exiles while abroad, and the possibility of marriage with their hosts' kin must have been mooted. Intermarriage may also have secured the æthelings' position in their host kingdom(s) in the event that they never returned home, and indeed, they may never have expected to (Richter 1999, 92; Ziegler 1999). A kinship link would have been created between the exile and the host, with all its attendant obligations, and would have represented a formal statement of alliance (Charles-Edwards 1997, 179; Woolf 1998, 164). Intermarriage could, thus, have had advantages for both parties.

§15.  The eventuality that Æthelfrith's oldest son Eanfrith married while in Pictland, and fathered a son, Talorcan, who became king of the Picts (c.653-657), is commonly accepted.33 There is no direct evidence regarding Oswald, though it is a possibility that he married and fathered children by the time of his return to Northumbria.34 There does exist, however, more certainty regarding Oswiu.

Oswiu and Fína of the Cenél nEogain

§16.  The evidence that Oswiu married, or had some form of relationship with, an Irish woman principally revolves around his son Aldfrith, who became king of Northumbria after Ecgfrith was defeated and killed at Dunnichen in 685 (HE 4.26). It is generally accepted in the secondary literature that Aldfrith was the son of an Irish woman of the Cenél nEogain branch of the Northern Uí Néill, and was raised and educated amongst the Irish, who knew him by the name Flann Fína.35 These conclusions derive from a combination of evidence provided in a number of different sources.

§17.  To begin with, it can be established that while Aldfrith was certainly Oswiu's son, he was not the offspring of Oswiu's Anglo-Saxon wife Eanflæd, who was the mother of Ecgfrith. There are several strands of evidence here. In the Annals of Ulster, Aldfrith is clearly identified as the son of Oswiu (AU 704).36 This is echoed in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where Aldfrith is referred to as Ecgfrith's brother (ASC MS. E 685). Both Lives of St Cuthbert also refer to Aldfrith's relationship with Ecgfrith, in the context of reporting a meeting in 684 between the saint and Abbess Ælfflæd of Whitby, Ecgfrith's sister (Richter 1999, 95). In the Anonymous Life, Cuthbert assures Ælfflæd who is concerned over the succession, that she will find Ecgfrith's successor 'to be a brother no less than the other one' (Anon. V. Cuthberti 3.6).37 Cuthbert then tells the puzzled Ælfflæd that this brother is 'on some island beyond this sea', at which point she realises that he is talking of Aldfrith 'who was then on the island which is called Iona' (Anon. V. Cuthberti 3.6). This indicates that Aldfrith was certainly a brother to Ecgfrith and Ælfflæd, but the implication is that he was an unlooked-for successor and thus there is some latent question as to his legitimacy.

§18.  In Bede's slightly later prose Life, the question of Aldfrith's legitimacy and the sense of astonishment at his succession is stronger. In this account of the meeting, Cuthbert also tells Ælfflæd of 'a successor whom you will embrace with as much sisterly affection as if he were Ecgfrith himself', who she eventually realises is Aldfrith (Bede V. Cuthberti 24).38 However, it is then stated that Aldfrith 'was said to be [qui ferebatur ... fuisse] the son of Ecgfrith's father, and was then in exile among the islands of the Irish [Scots], for the study of letters' (emphasis added) (Bede V. Cuthberti 24). Bede used an almost identical description of Aldfrith in the Historia Ecclesiastica, stating that he was 'a man most learned in the Scriptures, who was said to be [qui ... esse dicebatur] the brother of Ecgfrith and son of King Oswiu' (emphasis added) (HE 4.26). Thus, more explicit doubt is introduced as to Aldfrith's legitimacy, which is then amplified later in the same chapter of the Life, where Bede describes Aldfrith as Ecgfrith's 'frater nothus', 'his bastard brother ... who for some considerable time before this had been pursuing his studies in the regions of the Irish [Scots], suffering a self-imposed exile to gratify his love of wisdom' (Bede V. Cuthberti 24).39 Therefore, Bede was less restrained in his comments on Aldfrith's legitimacy than the anonymous author of the earlier Life, who was almost certainly writing during Aldfrith's lifetime.40 Bede was probably writing after the troubled reign of Aldfrith's son Osred, in the years when doubt as to Aldfrith's right to rule may have been in favour (Charles-Edwards 1997, 183; Richter 1999, 95).41

§19.  The evidence presented in the Lives of St Cuthbert, therefore, testifies to a near contemporary tradition that Aldfrith was an illegitimate son of Oswiu, who prior to his reign resided in either Dalriada or Ireland, or both. According to Clunies Ross (1985, 17), the term used by Bede, nothus, had a specific meaning as 'born out of wedlock, but of a known father', as compared to spurius, 'born of an unknown father'. Clunies Ross also notes a number of instances where the term nothus, as a description of Aldfrith, was glossed with Old English words denoting illegitimacy. In two tenth-century manuscripts of Bede's metrical Life of St Cuthbert, written between the other two Lives, nothus is glossed, respectively, with hornungbrothor, 'illegitimate brother', and the less common docinel, 'son of a concubine'.42 The late tenth-century homilist Ælfric also used the term cyfesborena brothor, 'brother born of a concubine', when talking of Aldfrith (Clunies Ross 1985, 18). These glosses attest to a later tradition that Aldfrith was not only illegitimate but also the son of a concubine, adding further weight to the conclusion that he was not born of Oswiu's Anglo-Saxon wife Eanflæd.43 The lateness of these references necessitates that their accuracy remains in question. However, this is an interesting possibility as it does imply that Aldfrith was in some sense an acknowledged son, which would have assisted in his ability to inherit the kingship, even if he was not uppermost in the minds of the Northumbrian nobility.44

§20.  To attempt to identify Aldfrith's mother, the relevant Irish evidence must be considered, as well as the equation of Aldfrith with the name Flann Fína. In all of the contemporary or near-contemporary sources, Aldfrith is referred to by his Anglo-Saxon name (Dumville 1990, 151-2; Ireland 1991, 68). Bede calls him Aldfrith (HE 4.26); Adomnán uses 'Aldfridum ... amicum' (VC 2.46); the Annals of Ulster record 'Aldfrith ... sapiens' (AU 704). In the later Annals of Tigernach, however, which derive at the earliest from a late tenth-century recension (Dumville 1990, 152; Hughes 1972, 105), Aldfrith's obit reads: 'Altfrith mac Ossa .i. Fland Fina la Gaedhelu, ecnaidh, rex Saxonum' (ATig 704).45 Here, Aldfrith is given the additional Irish name Flann Fína.46 In even later versions of Irish chronicles, the Anglo-Saxon name is dropped entirely. So, in the Annals of Inisfallen and Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, both of which derive from the eleventh century (Dumville 1990, 152), Aldfrith is referred to respectively as, 'Flann Fine mc. Gossa, rex Saxorum' (AI 704),47 and 'Flainn Fiona mc. Ossa, ri Saxan, an t-eagniad amhra dalta Ad[a]mnain' (FAI 165).48 It appears likely, then, that Aldfrith was given an Irish name, Flann Fína, and it is under this appellation that various Old Irish literary tracts are ascribed to him.49 Indeed, it is doubtful that Oswiu would have had yet another son who became a king of the 'Saxons', and who at the same time had a reputation for learning.50 The lateness of the references to Aldfrith by this name may suggest that it was applied anachronistically; however, this does not negate that Aldfrith, at some stage, become known as Flann Fína (Ireland 1991, 69-70).51

§21.  The fact that Aldfrith was given an Irish name shows that he was well-known in Ireland, or at least Dalriada. This should, in addition to his tenure in the 'regions of the Scots' and Iona specifically, favour a priori the conclusion that his parents were Oswiu and an Irish/Scottish woman, and that he was conceived while Oswiu was in exile. It is a matter of some significance, then, that Aldfrith actually appears in an Irish genealogy, under the name Flann Fína. In the genealogy Síl Cuind, collected in the early twelfth-century Corpus genealogiarum Hiberniae, Aldfrith's pedigree is reported as, 'Colman Rimid athair Fina, mathair iside Flaind Fina meic Ossu regis Saxonum' (Ireland 1991, 68; O'Brien 1962, 135). According to this account, Aldfrith was fathered by Oswiu and Fína, the daughter of Colmán Rímid, who was king of Tara through the Cenél nEogain branch of the Northern Uí Néill and whose obit is recorded in the Annals of Ulster under the year 604 (Ireland 1991, 68; Moisl 1983, 122; Sharpe 1995, 350). This a clear indication that Oswiu came to be associated in later sources with an Irish woman, Fína, and of Aldfrith's parentage.

§22.  There are, of course, problems with the use of this genealogical record. It has become almost axiomatic to assert that genealogies recorded in late manuscripts may have been manipulated for political ends or to enhance the lineage of a ruling dynasty (Dumville 1977, 72-104; Moisl 1981, 215-48). The centuries after Aldfrith's reign saw the rise to power and domination of the Ulster kingship by the Cenél nEogain (Charles-Edwards 2000, 140; Ireland 1991, 69). The prestige of this branch of the Uí Néill could conceivably have been inflated by an invented marriage link to an Anglo-Saxon king. On the other hand, it could be argued that as political interaction between the Irish/Scots and the Northumbrians appears to have ceased with Aldfrith's death, Irish genealogists working after this time would have had no reason to invent a connection between the two regions (Moisl 1983, 122). Thus, Aldfrith's pedigree probably derives from a genealogical record made in the seventh or early eighth century.

§23.  Though it must be allowed that even a contemporary or near contemporary record may have been invented, the information otherwise known about Oswiu and Aldfrith is consistent with what is found in the genealogy (Ireland 1991, 76; Moisl 1983, 122-3). As has been shown, Oswiu grew up in Dalriada and probably fought in their warband on mainland Ireland. There is, in addition, at least one instance of an alliance between Dalriada and the Cenél nEogain, recorded in the Annals of Ulster under the year 637, and this may be representative of other associations.52 Aldfrith, as has also been shown, spent time in the 'regions/islands of the Scots', and Iona. Indeed, if it is accepted that Aldfrith was the author of several works in Old Irish, it would be most likely that he underwent a considerable period studying with Irish speakers and was most probably more fluent and accomplished in that language than in Old English (Smyth 1984, 129). The writings of Aldhelm, abbot of Malmesbury and bishop of Sherborne, also attest to Aldfrith's Irish provenance. In Aldhelm's grammatical treatise Epistola ad Acircium,53 Aldfrith is referred to with the phrase: 'Acircio Aquilonaris imperii sceptra gubernanti'. Wright (1995, 19-24) has translated this as, 'the man from the north-western wind who rules the kingdom of the north-eastern', and argues that a vernacular rendering would be: 'the man from Ireland [or Dalriada], wielding the sceptre of the Northumbrian kingdom'.54 Wright maintains that Aldhelm was alluding to Aldfrith's Irish/Scottish education and upbringing. Further, Irish customary practice, as revealed in surviving law tracts thought to have first been written in the eighth century (Hughes 1972, 43-6), dictates that the children of an Irish woman and a foreigner were to be fostered amongst the mother's kin (Charles-Edwards 1993, 310-13; Hughes 1972, 48; Ireland 1991, 76). These children, referred to as glasfine, 'grey kin', became the responsibility of the mother's family and may also have been entitled to the rights of their mother's patrilineage (Charles-Edwards 1993, 311-12).55 Oswiu would certainly have qualified as a foreigner—a c glas, 'grey dog'—in Irish society, and if he did father Aldfrith with an Irish woman, Aldfrith would, therefore, have been raised and educated amongst the Irish. Given Oswiu's upbringing, it is likely that he would have acceded to Irish custom in this matter (Ireland 1991, 77). Whatever weight is placed upon the Irish genealogy, the evidence does support the conclusion that Aldfrith's mother was Irish.

§24.  The other problem which needs to be addressed regarding Aldfrith's Irish genealogy is a chronological one. The account of Bede suggests that Oswiu was born c.612 (HE 4.5). However, if Colmán Rímid died c.604, as is recorded in the Annals of Ulster, then his daughter Fína must have been born by c.605 at the latest.56 If this date for Colmán Rímid's obit is authentic, and this is by no means certain, Fína was, therefore, at least seven to eight years older then Oswiu. This age difference does not make a liaison between Oswiu and Fína impossible, particularly when it is considered that Irish society at the time recognised a range of different sexual relationships and marriage types—including concubinage—which were not necessarily permanent (Charles-Edwards 1993, 23-33; Clunies Ross 1985, 15; Ireland 1991, 75; Woolf 1998, 156). The age difference may even suggest a political arrangement rather than an affair of the heart.57 Nevertheless, the question arises as to when this relationship would have occurred.

§25.  The likely context for a relationship between Oswiu and an Irish woman would of course have been during his exile, which ended in 633. But the relationship may have occurred after this. Though it is often assumed that Oswiu returned to Northumbria with his brothers after Edwin's death (e.g. Kirby 1991, 143; Miller 1978, 61; Richter 1999, 96), there is no direct evidence attesting to this. He gained the kingship in 642, and within the next few years married Eanflæd, daughter of Edwin (HE 3.15); but his exact whereabouts before this time are unknown.58 Thus, Oswiu may have remained in Dalriada or Ireland, or at least continued to travel there, until he became king. Aldfrith may then have been born at any time up to 642, when Oswiu would have been about thirty and Fína in her late thirties. The possibility that Aldfrith was born of a concubine might allow an even later date, though this would reduce the likelihood that Fína was the mother.59 Unfortunately, there is no clear evidence as to when Aldfrith was born. He died in 705, and had fathered a son, Osred, who was born c.697 (HE 5.18). If Aldfrith was born in the 630s, he would have been approximately sixty years of age when Osred was born, which would have been uncommon, though not out of the question. There is some evidence that Aldhelm regarded Aldfrith to be a contemporary, referring in his Epistola ad Acircium to 'the era of our young manhood [tempore pubertatis nostrae]' (Lapidge and Herren 1979, 34).60 It is often asserted that Aldhelm was born c.640, but his year of birth is uncertain.61 In all probability, the chronological context for Oswiu's relationship, and the date of Aldfrith's birth, are issues which will never be resolved. But these problems do not negate the weight of evidence which suggests that Oswiu did indeed have a relationship with an Irish woman, probably Fína of the Cenél nEogain, and that Aldfrith was the result of this union.

§26.  Given that there is little reason to doubt Aldfrith was raised and educated amongst the Irish or the Scots of Dalriada, what is perhaps most remarkable about him is that he became king of Northumbria at all. To all intents and purposes, Aldfrith's career prior to 685, such as it is known, points to him being trained as a clerical scholar (Richter 1999, 96). Bede clearly states that Aldfrith was in 'self-imposed' exile for the purposes of study, and this is a common motif used by Bede to describe English peregrini in Ireland (HE 3.27; see also Ireland 1991, 67; Moisl 1983, 120; Plummer 1896, 2.196-7). In addition, it has been shown that Aldfrith was regarded as an unlooked-for successor to Ecgfrith; if he was indeed born in the 630s, a fifty year old heir would have been most unexpected. The fact that he became king reveals something of the prestige of his dynasty, which, apart from the reign of Edwin, ruled in Northumbria for most of the seventh century (Kirby 1991, 144). The evidence presented regarding Aldfrith's origins and upbringing also militates against any conclusion that he was in exile for political reasons or as a result of the displeasure of his brother Ecgfrith. There is no evidence that Ecgfrith regarded Aldfrith as a threat or, as William of Malmesbury stated in his Gesta regum Anglorum, that Aldfrith went into exile because he was passed over in the succession after Oswiu's death in 670.62 In this regard, there is unlikely to be much validity in Moisl's (1983, 123) argument that the raid sponsored by Ecgfrith on the Irish mainland in 684 was a 'pre-emptive strike' against the Uí Néill for harbouring Aldfrith (see also Fraser 2002, 38-9; O'Brien 1993, 95; Smyth 1984, 26, 129; Yorke 1990, 85). It is more likely that Ecgfrith was either concerned about securing his western seaboard, or acting out of the same expansionist pretensions that saw him at war in Pictland, or even seeking to extend the reach of Roman episcopal control (Charles-Edwards 2000, 144; Cramp 1986, 186; Higham 1993, 140; Ireland 1991, 67; Kirby 1991, 159; Sharpe 1995, 350-1). Hence, there is no clear indication of the role of the Uí Néill or the Scots of Dalriada in Aldfrith's assumption of the Northumbrian kingship, though it can be argued that they would have been supportive.63

§27.  It might also be presumed that Aldfrith maintained friendly relations with the Irish and the Dalriadan Scots once he became king. He would certainly have been more Irish/Scottish than Northumbrian in his identity and in his language, and thus more comfortable within an Irish cultural milieu. It is interesting that Bede makes no comment regarding Aldfrith's style of Christianity; if the new king had been educated on Iona, he would probably have followed the Columban Easter observance, which was not changed until 716 (HE 5.22, 5.24).64 Whether Aldfrith adopted Roman practice when he became king is not known, but it does seem likely. There is evidence that Adomnán, abbot of Iona 679-704, visited Aldfrith at least twice after he gained the kingship in 685. In his Life of Columba, Adomnán says, 'I visited my friend King Aldfrith ... my first visit after Ecgfrith's battle [i.e. Dunnichen in 685] ... my second two years later' (VC 2.46). The fact that he called Aldfrith a friend (amicus) reinforces Aldfrith's previous acquaintance with the abbot of Iona and demonstrates that, at least early in his reign, Aldfrith remained in contact with his former colleagues.65 Adomnán does not reveal the purpose of either visit. Bede, who talks of one of Adomnán's sojourns, suggests that he was on a fact-finding mission from his 'nation' regarding canonical practice and the Easter question, and that during his stay he attended the monastery of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow (HE 5.15, 5.21). As this was Bede's monastery, he may even have met Adomnán. The Annals of Ulster provide a more secular motivation, at least for one of the visits: that Adomnán came to secure the release of sixty Irish hostages, who were probably taken in Ecgfrith's raid on Brega in 684 (AU 687; see also Moisl 1983, 122; Picard 1984, 61; Sharpe 1995, 352). Adomnán, therefore, appears to have acted in a diplomatic fashion, and the release of the hostages reveals something of Aldfrith's new style of rulership and his willingness to treat with his Irish/Scottish neighbours.66 After Aldfrith's death, there is no certain evidence of political contact between Northumbria and Dalriada, though ecclesiastical interaction may have continued.67

Oswiu and Rhianmellt of Rheged

§28.  Oswiu's relationship with an Irish woman, Fína, and Aldfrith's Irish upbringing and education are, therefore, well-supported by the available evidence. What also needs to be considered alongside this evidence is the possibility that Oswiu may, in addition to his Irish paramour and his Anglo-Saxon wife, have had a British wife. This prospect is based principally on a statement to be found in the Historia Brittonum, namely, that 'Oswiu had two wives, one of whom was called Rhianmellt, daughter of Royth, son of Rhun, and the other was called Eanfeld [i.e. Eanflæd], daughter of Edwin, son of Ælle' (HB 57). As Rhun is elsewhere in the Historia Brittonum identified as a son of Urien (HB Preface, 63), it is generally argued that Rhianmellt belonged to the line of Rheged and that this record attests to a marriage alliance between the kingdoms.68 There is no explicit verification of a marriage between Oswiu and Rhianmellt in any other source; however, corroboration can be found in the Durham Liber Vitae.69 In this document, a register is provided of 'queens and abbesses' of Northumbria ('nomina reginarum at abbatissarum') in which a lady called 'Raegnmaeld' is listed first, followed by Oswiu's Anglo-Saxon wife Eanflæd.70 It seems likely that this name is meant to be an Anglo-Saxon rendering of Rhianmellt, and if so it constitutes an independent record of an association between Rhianmellt and Northumbria that supports what is found in the Historia Brittonum. Based on the data provided in the Liber Vitae, it is also probable that the original core of the document, including the nomina reginarum at abbatissarum, was compiled from earlier lists sometime during Aldfrith's reign (685-705) (Briggs 2004, 65-8). Thus, the record is either contemporaneous, or near contemporaneous. Assuming that Rhianmellt's lineage is correctly stated in the Historia Brittonum,71 it appears that Oswiu did indeed marry into the dynasty later associated with Rheged.

§29.  Oswiu's marriage to Rhianmellt must have taken place before his marriage to the Anglo-Saxon Eanflæd, c.642-5 (HE 3.15). Eanflæd was alive long after Oswiu's death in 670, so he could not have been widowed (HE 4.26), and there is no evidence that they separated during the period of his kingship (Briggs 2004, 66). The implication is, therefore, that he married before he became king. In addition, Oswiu's exile lasted until at least 633, and while it is possible that the marriage was brokered directly from Dalriada or Ireland, it is more likely that it occurred after his brother Oswald became king in 634 (Corning 2000, 11; Jackson 1963a, 42; Miller 1978, 61; Phythian-Adams 1996, 58). The chronological context for the marriage, therefore, appears to be c.634-42/5, and the fact that he subsequently married Eanflæd suggests that Rhianmellt had died by that time, or perhaps had entered a convent. Given her inclusion in the list of queens and abbesses in the Durham Liber Vitae, if she died rather than retired to a convent, then she must have been queen at some stage from when Oswiu became king in 642. Time must also be allowed for Oswiu's liaison with Fína. Though usually also placed in the 630s, the possibility that she was a concubine means that these relationships could have overlapped. It is now commonly suggested that at least two of Oswiu's children were the result of his marriage with Rhianmellt.72 According to Bede, both Oswiu's son Alhfrith and daughter Alhflæd were old enough to be married in the early 650s, which renders it improbable that their mother was Eanflæd (HE 3.21).73 There is no evidence that either of these offspring were illegitimate, as there is for Aldfrith, nor anything which associates them with Ireland or Dalriada, so they are not likely to have been born of an Irish mother. It is interesting, in this regard, that the Bewcastle Cross in Cumbria has been associated with Alhfrith (Orton 1999, 216-26; Smyth 1984, 27).74 If it does indeed bear the name of his wife, Cyneburh, perhaps this represents some recognition of his Cumbrian or Rhegedian maternal association.

§30.  If it is accepted that Oswiu did marry Rhianmellt of Rheged, then the political implications of such a relationship need to be considered. Corning (2000, 12) has suggested that a marriage alliance between Rheged and Northumbria would have been beneficial in the 630s; that it was an unsettled time during which the assistance or at least neutrality of Rheged would have been welcome.75 It has also been argued that the marriage may have been arranged by Oswald to secure his initially vulnerable rule in Northumbria (Ziegler 2001). If this is the case, then it is the only known instance of such a strategy being used with a British Celtic neighbour in seventh- or eighth-century Britain. In addition, if this motivation for the marriage has any validity, it must be concluded that Rheged was not a spent force at the time, but that it was an important kingdom as yet unconquered (Chadwick 1963a, 158; Jackson 1963a, 42). But therein lies one of the major problems in understanding the implications of the marriage, namely, the almost complete lack of knowledge regarding the welfare, geographical extent, and even existence of Rheged in the first half of the seventh century. The sources for Rheged survive only from the ninth century at the earliest. It is certainly remembered in the poetry attributed to Taliesin as being associated with the figure of King Urien.76 Urien is also mentioned in the Historia Brittonum, fighting the Anglian kings of Bernicia, and his son Rhun, ironically, as baptising Edwin of Deira (HB 63). There does, therefore, appear to have been a dynasty which was later associated with the kingdom (Alcock 1983, 1-6; Miller 1974-6, 265-8; Phythian-Adams 1996, 56-60). However, no source provides sufficient information for Rheged to be located with any certainty, despite the regularity with which it is placed in the region of Cumbria on historical maps (Clarkson 1999, 3; Cramp 1995, 6; Jackson 1963b, 68; McCarthy 1982, 250; McCarthy 2002, 357). It is also often supposed that Rheged extended beyond Cumbria, north of the Solway into Dumfries and Galloway (Alcock 1983, 4; Dark 1994, 72-4; McCarthy 1982, 250; Smyth 1984, 27; Williams 1951), and McCarthy (2002, 357-81) has recently plumped for a nucleus as far west as the Rhinns of Galloway. However, the identification of Galloway as part of Rheged has been strongly rejected by MacQueen (1990, 60-7).77 Dumville (1989, 217) is not, therefore, unjustified in his reference to 'mysterious Rheged'.

§31.  Notwithstanding our lack of information regarding the state of Rheged at the time, it does not follow that the marriage reveals it as a broken kingdom, as is often assumed (e.g. Brooke 1991, 300; Faull 1977, 3; Higham 1986, 272-3; Phythian-Adams 1996, 58, 103-4). Certainly, Oswiu may have been marrying the last known heir of the dynasty of Urien, but there would doubtless have been other rival lines ready to intervene (Smyth 1984, 23). As Dumville (1989, 220) cautions, it is a very great leap to assume that the marriage between Oswiu and Rhianmellt allowed Northumbria to 'absorb' Rheged.78 It is also a leap to suggest, as does Higham (2001, 18), that Oswiu was attempting to create a regional fiefdom for himself by marrying into a once-princely, still-wealthy family. All that the evidence for this marriage indicates is some form of alliance between the kingdoms. Smyth (1984, 23) goes as far as to argue that the marriage may not even represent friendship; he states that in Ireland, intermarriage could occur between traditional enemies as a matter of kingly protocol.79 While Smyth's parallel might not strictly be authoritative, it is worth remembering that Alhfrith fought against Penda, alongside his father Oswiu, at the battle of Winwaed in 655, even though he had married Penda's daughter Cyneburh (HE 3.24). Clearly, dynastic intermarriage did not preclude fighting one another. We are left with the perhaps unsatisfying summation that, even accepting a marriage between Oswiu and Rhianmellt, the kingdom of Rheged ended as obscurely as it emerged.


§32.  The evidence discussed in this paper reveals that exogamous marriage in some form did occur between the Northumbrian ætheling and later king, Oswiu, and Fína of the Cenél nEogain of Ireland and Rhianmellt of Rheged, and it can be reasonably concluded that these marriages were a direct result of his and his brothers' long exile and eventual return to Northumbria. It would be tempting to see the web of alliances created—between Northumbria and the Scots of Dalriada and the Britons of Rheged—as part of a deliberate strategy on the part of the exiles to consolidate their position in the north, both before and after their return (Cessford 1996, 23). However, it must also be allowed that Oswiu's marriage to Fína, at least, may have been more a matter of him making the most of a poor situation. There was no guarantee that the sons of Æthelfrith would have been able to return to Northumbria; the successful assault of Cadwallon and Penda in 633 could not have been predicted. Any marriages that occurred between the sons of Æthelfrith and the Dalriadans or the Irish or the Picts, in that regard, may have been a necessary part of exile arrangements made with their host kings in order to absorb the refugees more fully into the political and cultural life of their new homes (Charles-Edwards 1997, 179; Woolf 1998,164). The marriage between Oswiu and Rhianmellt, therefore, is the only one which is likely to have been truly strategic in the sense that it occurred between dynasties which were currently ruling their respective kingdoms. Thus, while the notion that strategic intermarriage may have been used as an alternative to military conquest is attractive (York 1990, 85), the marriage of Oswiu to Rhianmellt is the only known case where this may have occurred, and even then it should not be assumed that the marriage allowed the absorption of Rheged into Northumbria. That said, it is likely that the exogamous marriages of Oswiu acted as a model of appropriate behaviour, and it can be reasonably speculated that some amongst the lower classes would have followed their example (Cessford 1996, 49; Charles-Edwards 1997, 182; Faull 1977, 22). During the early stages of Northumbrian territorial expansion, such intermarriages may therefore have acted as a mechanism for integration between the Northumbrians and Celts of the north.


1.   Æthelfrith of Bernicia, for example, married Acha, the sister of his adversary Edwin, and thereby stabilised his rule over Deira (HE 3.6). All references to Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (HE) will be cited by book and chapter number from the edition by Colgrave and Mynors (1969), with text from Plummer (1896).  [Back]

2.   All references to the Historia Brittonum (HB) will be cited by chapter from Morris (1980). All references to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC) will be cited by year from Swanton (2000), with text from Earle and Plummer (1892-9). Richter (1999, 91) erroneously adds to this list of exiles the Osric who was briefly king of Deira after Edwin's death in 633. Bede states quite clearly that Osric was the son of Ælfric (HE 3.1), and there is no evidence that he fled to Dalriada with the sons of Æthelfrith.  [Back]

3.   Adomnán affirms the exile of Oswald amongst the Scots in his Vita Sancti ColumbaeLife of Columba—stating that he was accompanied by twelve companions (VC 1.1). All references to the Vita Sancti Columbae (VC) will be cited by book and chapter from Sharpe (1995), with text from Anderson and Anderson (1991).  [Back]

4.   Though Bede makes no explicit statement to that effect, Eanfrith is credited with fathering a son, Talorcan, who subsequently became king of the Picts, c.653-657. See Anderson (1973, 170); Anderson (1987, 10); Cessford (1996, 49); Hunter Blair (1959, 49); Kirby (1976, 289); Kirby (1991, 87); Miller (1978, 47-66); Moisl (1983, 116); Sharpe (1995, 251); Smyth (1984, 61); Woolf, (1998,158-9); Yorke (1990, 84-5); Ziegler (1999).  [Back]

5.   Higham (1992a, 9) and Ziegler (1999) argue that before his death, Æthelfrith deposed Cearl of Mercia and replaced him with a king from a rival dynasty, either Pybba or Eowa (respectively, the father and brother of Penda). If this was so, in 616, Mercia should have been inclined to accept Æthelfrith's sons. However, there is no evidence whatsoever to support this claim; the origins of the Mercian kingship are completely obscure, and the fate of Cearl, as well as his relation to the house of Penda, remains unknown. See Yorke (1990, 101-2).  [Back]

6.   According to Moisl (1983, 114), 'Saxon' was Adomnán's term for any Anglo-Saxon.  [Back]

7.   Moisl (1983, 114) also argues that their names are too 'genuinely Germanic to have been taken out of thin air' by a hagiographer. He suggests that Pil- is a well-attested Anglo-Saxon name element, and that Genereus represents Genhere, of the same pattern as Wulfhere.  [Back]

8.   Michelle Ziegler (pers. comm., 7 February 2001) has suggested to me that Genereus and Pilu may have been slaves, perhaps captured during a battle against the Northumbrians, who had been bought and freed by the abbot of Iona.  [Back]

9.   According to Adomnán, Eochaid Buide was prophesised by St. Columba to succeed his father Aedán, over his three elder brothers (VC 1.9). See Bannerman (1974, 95-6) for a summary of the evidence for Eochaid Buide.  [Back]

10.   All references to the Annals of Ulster (AU) will be cited by corrected year from Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill (1983).  [Back]

11.   Anderson (1973, 142, 151-2) also discusses a gloss on a genealogy of the Dalriadan kings in the Senchus Fer nAlban, which apparently calls the descendants of Eochaid Buide the 'men of Fife [fir Ibe]'. This gloss, however, only belongs to fourteenth-century MSS. of the Senchus, and even if it is authentic, it is impossible to judge whether it was meant to be interpreted that the fir Ibe had settled in Fife during the Pictish period, or later.  [Back]

12.   Bede says that when Oswald died in 642 he was thirty-eight years old (HE 3.9), and when Oswiu died in 670 he was fifty-eight years (HE 4.5).  [Back]

13.   Note also HE 3.3, in which Oswald was said to have sent for assistance to the Ionan elders 'among whom he and his thegns had received the sacrament of Baptism when he was in exile', and HE 3.25, in which Oswiu was said to have been 'instructed and baptised by the Irish [Scots]'.  [Back]

14.   Fosterage appears to have occurred around the age of seven, when weapons training for boys would begin. This age threshold is consistent across much of north-west Europe. See Härke (1997, 126, 163), and Crawford (1999, 21-7, 125) for a discussion of the difficulties in identifying age thresholds in Anglo-Saxon England.  [Back]

15.   Crawford (1999, 53, 156-66) argues that the age threshold for Anglo-Saxon boys becoming adults may have been earlier, namely, ten to twelve years.  [Back]

16.   AU 629, 'The battle of Fid Eóin in which Mael Caich son of Scannal, king of the Cruithin, was victor. The Dal Riata fell. Connid Cerr, king of Dal Riata, fell'. This battle has been examined in detail by Dumville (1996, 114-27).  [Back]

17.   These include the Annals of Tigernach, the Chronicum Scottorum and the Annals of Clonmacnoise. The Annals of Tigernach accretion reads, 'Osric son of Albruit/Ælfred, ætheling of the Saxons, with very great devastation to his men [Oisiric mac Albruit, rigdomna Saxan, cum strage maxima suorum]' (sourced from Moisl 1983, 105). The textual history of these recensions is discussed by Dumville (1996, 114-17) and Hughes (1972, 99-107).  [Back]

18.   The possibility that Albruit is meant to have been the name Ælfric was considered but discounted by Moisl ( 1983, 109) on linguistic grounds. Osric son of Ælfric ruled Deira for a year after Edwin's death, at the same time that Eanfrith ruled Bernicia, before also being slain by Cadwallon in 634 (HE 3.1; see note 2 and note 20). This Deiran Osric cannot, therefore, have been the one who died at Fid Eóin. And in any case, he was a cousin of Edwin, and unlikely to have been exiled to, or fight for, Dalriada. See also Dumville (1996, 122-3).  [Back]

19.   The different chronicles do not begin to diverge substantially until the early tenth century, thus suggesting a common source up to that point. The common source for pre-c.740 entries was the now-lost 'Iona Chronicle'. See Bannerman (1974, 25-6); Hughes (1972, 99, 116); Moisl (1983, 106); Ó Cróinín (1983, 84).  [Back]

20.   For what it is worth, Bannerman (1974, 98-9) also observed that the name Osric is consistent with the 'o' alliteration of the names of the sons of Æthelfrith included in the HB and the ASC MS. E and that in one instance in the HB 57, Æthelfrith is called Aelfret. It is possible, he reasoned, that Albruit was thus meant to refer to Æthelfrith and that Osric was also one of his sons. See also Ziegler (2001).  [Back]

21.   The 'King Cycle' collection contains works that date, for the most part, from the Old and Middle Irish periods, c.700-c.1200. See Moisl (1983, 109-112).  [Back]

22.   This is a criticism that could be applied, to a greater or lesser extent, to much of the evidence for the early middle ages. The 'King Cycle' of tales appears to have been specifically designed to supply the historical context for the genealogies of the current ruling dynasties so as to provide legitimisation of their rule. See also Moisl (1981, 215-48) for a discussion of dynastic propaganda in the early medieval Germanic world.  [Back]

23.   These are: Gein Branduib meic Echach, Scéla Cano meic Gartnáin, Fled Din na nGéd, Cath Maige Rath, Caithreim Conghail Clairinghigh, Cath Maige Mucrama, and Togail Bruidne Da Derga.  [Back]

24.   It should be acknowledged that, according to Bede, miracle stories regarding Oswald's relics were current in Ireland in the second half of the seventh century (HE 3.13). Bede relates that stories of the king's holiness were current in Ireland when Willibrord (658-739) was a priest there, 'living a pilgrim's life'. Willibrord lived amongst the Anglo-Saxon community at Mag Melsigi (Clonmelsh, Co. Carlow) in Ireland, before being sent to Frisia in 690. The name Oswald may, therefore, have been known due to its promulgation by Anglo-Irish clerics rather than because Oswald was known to have fought in Ireland. See also Moisl (1983, 112); Sharpe (1995, 250-1).  [Back]

25.   O'Brien (1993, 96) states that burial rites in Ireland are characterised by a fair degree of uniformity. From about the fourth century up to almost the present day, burial is represented by an 'extended supine inhumation, oriented west-east, with no grave goods, either in an unprotected dug grave, or in a grave outlined with stones, or lined with slabs, with or without covering stones'. She also states that there is seldom evidence for the use of coffins.  [Back]

26.   For example: burial with grave goods, a knife or shears or burnt grain; with the body placed in a crouched position; with the presence of stones used to support the skull, or within a penannular enclosure.  [Back]

27.   The cemeteries identified by O'Brien are as follows: Colp (Co. Meath), Betaghstown (Co. Meath), Westreave (Co. Dublin), Kilshane (Co. Dublin), Carbury Hill (Co. Kildare), Green Hills Kilcullen (Co. Kildare), Levitstown (Co. Kildare), Killaree (Co. Kilkenny), Sheastown (Co. Kilkenny), Raheenamadra (Co. Limerick), Aghalahard (near Cong, Co. Mayo), and Dooey (Co. Donegal).  [Back]

28.   Taking to the Irish Sea in a curragh would not, however, have been without its perils!  [Back]

29.   Ziegler (1999) states that this was a likely means by which these subsequent kings of Northumbria gained battle experience prior to their return.  [Back]

30.   Miller (1979, 60) notes that the exiles must also have had an 'Anglian' training regarding their homeland.  [Back]

31.   Härke (1997, 126-30) presents a variety of evidence for an age threshold of about twelve years in pagan Anglo-Saxon graves, with burials from this age being characterised by an increase in the number and variety of objects: full dress kit for girls, swords and shields for boys. About fourteen to fifteen years is the age of adulthood for boys suggested in documentary sources, with the giving of arms for a noble.  [Back]

32.   Their sister Æbbe, if she too fled to Dalriada, which is not known, would have matured in exile no matter what her age in 616. There is a late source (the unprinted Life of Æbbe, later attributed to Reginald of Durham, the author of the c.1165 Life of St. Oswald) which claims that had Æbbe not been dedicated to Christ, Oswald would have given her in marriage to the Dalriadan king Domnall Brecc (this Life of Æbbe is contained in a fourteenth-century manuscript, Bodleian Fairfax 6). It is possible, however, that in affirming Æbbe's virginity, the author was merely adopting a hagiographical convention in order to inflate the sanctity of his subject.  [Back]

33.   See note 4.  [Back]

34.   Oswald married an unnamed daughter of Cynegils of Wessex in 635 (at the earliest) (HE 3.7), and his only known progeny was a son Œthelwald, who later became sub-king of Deira, c.651-5 (HE 3.23, III.24). If Œthelwald was the child of Oswald and his West Saxon wife, then he could not have been older than sixteen when he began to rule Deira. Ziegler (1999, 2001) has argued that a youth of that age would not have been placed in so delicate a role—that is, as sub-king of the realm bordering Mercia. Therefore, she proposes that Œthelwald was in fact some years older and so was born of a Dalriadan mother. It is not clear, however, whether Œthelwald was installed by Oswiu, or against him; certainly Bede states that they were antagonists, and that Œthelwald sided with Penda in 655 (HE 3.14, 3.24). Bede does state that Oswiu had executed Oswine, a previous king of Deira in 651, which implies that he had control of the sub-kingdom at the time. However, this control was not necessarily stable. Nor did Œthelwald necessarily become sub-king in 651; he may have assumed the role closer to 655. It could simply be that the youthful Œthelwald was elected as a rival candidate to Oswiu and was supported in this position by Penda (Yorke 1990, 79-80). Hence, there is no compulsion to suppose that Œthelwald had to have been born before Oswald married his West Saxon bride in 635. And indeed, there is no evidence whatsoever linking Oswald with an Irish wife.  [Back]

35.   For example, Byrne (1973, 104, 111); Campbell (1987, 336-7); Cessford (1996, 49); Hughes (1971, 50); Ireland (1991, 64-78); Kirby (1991, 143); Moisl (1983, 122); O'Brien (1993, 93); Picard (1984, 61); Plummer (1896, 2.263-4); Richter (1999, 95); Sharpe (1995, 350-1); Smyth (1984, 129); Yorke (1990, 85).  [Back]

36.   AU 704, 'Aldfrith m. Ossu sapiens, rex Saxonum, moritur'. Ossu is the Irish form of Oswiu, as can be verified by a comparison of relevant events in the AU and the HE (Ireland 1991, 122). Variations on mac Ossu are also found in later recensions of the Irish Annals where Aldfrith is referred to under his Irish name, as will be seen.  [Back]

37.   All references to the Vita Sancti Cuthberti auctore anonymo (Anon. V. Cuthberti) will be cited by book and chapter from Colgrave (1940).  [Back]

38.   All references to the Vita Sancti Cuthberti auctore Beda (Bede V. Cuthberti) will be cited by book and chapter from Colgrave (1940).  [Back]

39.   In Æthelwulf's De abbatibus, ii (Campbell 1967, 4-5), of the early ninth century, Aldfrith is also termed nothus.  [Back]

40.   The anonymous Life was written by a monk of Lindisfarne between 698 and 705; see Thacker (1999, 132).  [Back]

41.   Bede's prose Life was written c.720; see Thacker (1999, 132). Osric, who was king 718-729, may have been a son of Aldfrith; equally, he may have been a son of Aldfrith's half-brother Alhfrith. Thus, there is still reason to allow for Aldfrith's legitimacy having been a matter of dispute. On Osric, see the discussion by Kirby (1991, 123).  [Back]

42.   Horningbrothor is found in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge MS. 183. Docinel, diminutive of doc, is found in British Library Harley MS. 526, fo. 15v.  [Back]

43.   Clunies Ross (1985, 13-18) discusses the prevalence of concubinage in early medieval Germanic and Irish societies, concluding that it was relatively widespread, specifically amongst the upper classes, until condemnation from the church resulted in its eventual abandonment around the time of the Norman Conquest.  [Back]

44.   Charles-Edwards (1997, 183) suggests that Oswiu may not have formerly acknowledged paternity of Aldfrith to the Northumbrian nobility. However, it is equally as likely that the later questioning of Aldfrith's right to rule was due to his not being born of a legal wife, rather then Oswiu's lack of acknowledgment. In fact, it is highly unlikely that Aldfrith would have been able to succeed without Oswiu having acknowledged him. See Clunies Ross (1985, 15-16), where she presents evidence for the necessity of paternal recognition in the ability of an illegitimate child to gain an inheritance.  [Back]

45.   The epithet ecnaidh mirrors the sapiens of the AU. All entries from the various Irish chronicles reported here, apart from the AU, have been sourced from Dumville's (1990) article.  [Back]

46.   Ireland (1991, 70-4), presents an in-depth examination of the derivation of the name Flann Fína. He states that the name Flann is the colour-word 'red', in particular 'blood-red', and was commonly used as an Irish personal name. The second element of the name—Fína—presents more difficulty. It is often assumed to be derived from his mother's name (discussed below), but it may also mean 'wine' or even 'vine'. A literal translation of the whole name might then be 'Blood of Wine', an epithet which may signify virtue or nobility. Fína as a proper name is not otherwise attested until after the Middle Irish period.  [Back]

47.   According to Ireland (1991, 68), the use of 'Gossa' instead of 'Ossu' for Oswiu is a common development in later Irish sources.  [Back]

48.   The adjectival phrase translates as 'the wondrous sage, Adomnán's pupil', another variation on sapiens, with additional information.  [Back]

49.   For example, the Old Irish list of social maxims Briathra (or Roscada) Flainn Fína maic Ossu. This has recently been published by Ireland (1999).  [Back]

50.   Aldfrith is often described with the epithet sapiens, 'wise', or some variation. Indeed, Bede referred to his learning several times, calling him 'a man most learned in the Scriptures [vir in scripturis doctissimus]' (HE 4.26), and 'a most learned man in all respects [vir undecumque doctissimus]' (HE 5.12). Bede also says, in his Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, ch. 15 (Plummer 1896, 1.379-80), that Aldfrith exchanged eight hides of land for a 'magnificently worked copy' of a manuscript on cosmography brought by Benedict Biscop from Rome. Adomnán also presented a manuscript of his work on the Holy Places, De Locis Sanctis, to Aldfrith when he visited Northumbria, which the king had copied and distributed (HE 5.15). Even Stephen of Ripon, who was not generally favourable to Aldfrith (Richter 1999, 96), referred to him in the Life of Wilfrid, ch. 44, as a 'most wise king [rex sapientissimus]' (Colgrave 1927).  [Back]

51.   Dumville (1981, 114; 1990, 151-2) is the only author I am aware of who maintains some reserve about the equation of Aldfrith with Flann Fína. The fact that Aldfrith was referred to solely by his Anglo-Saxon name in the VC and the AU, which were begun on Iona, suggests that he was not known as Flann Fína in Dalriada.  [Back]

52.   AU 637, 'Conal Cael son of Mael Cobo of the Cenél nEogain, an adherent of Domnall [Brecc of Dalriada], was victor in the battle of Sailtir'. This is usually taken to have occurred in Kintyre or at sea near Kintyre (Anderson 1973, 152). This battle was said to have been fought in the same day as the battle of Mag Rath.  [Back]

53.   This work is also known as De metris. See Lapidge and Herren (1979, 31-50); Wright (1995, 19).  [Back]

54.   The name Acircius is conventionally identified as Aldfrith, with Wright offering the more exact translation of 'man from the north-western wind', as compared with Lapidge and Herren's (1979, 188) 'man from the north'.  [Back]

55.   This would also explain Aldfrith's place in the Irish genealogy as a son of Fína.  [Back]

56.   According to Chadwick (1963b, 167-85), the seventh-century AU entries may be antedated by up to three years (based on calculations from a number of more securely dated seventh-century events). So Colmán Rímid's death might have occurred up to c.607.  [Back]

57.   Ecgfrith, who followed Oswiu in the kingship of Northumbria in 670, had married Æthelthryth, daughter of Anna of East Anglia, in 660. She was up to a decade his senior. Æthelthryth entered a convent soon after Ecgfrith became king (HE 4.19, 4.20; ASC 673).  [Back]

58.   Miller (1978, 43) reckoned that Oswiu married Eanflæd between 643 and 645. Time must also be allowed for his marriage to Rhianmellt of Rheged, which was probably in the 630s, as will be discussed.  [Back]

59.   Ireland (1991, 77) raised the possibility that Fína was in fact Aldfrith's foster-mother, which would ameliorate some of the chronological difficulties here. Ireland (74) also notes the very tentative proposition that Bishop Fínán of Lindisfarne (651-661), was a son of Colmán Rímid. Oswiu may thus have had an affair with the bishop's sister. Kirby (1991, 143), on the other hand, suggested that Fína may have been Colmán Rímid's granddaughter rather than daughter, which would also reduce some of the incompatibility in the dates. While these are interesting hypotheses, there is no way of assessing their validity.  [Back]

60.   It is on the basis of this letter that it is often presumed that Aldfrith had studied with Aldhelm, though this can only ever be a tentative conclusion. See Richter (1999, 97); Sharpe (1995, 350).  [Back]

61.   The date of c.640 for Aldhelm's birth is based on a statement by William of Malmesbury in his Gesta pontificum Anglorum, 5.188 (Hamilton 1870).  [Back]

62.   William makes a statement to this effect in the Gesta regum Anglorum, 52.1 (Mynors, Thomson & Winterbottom 1998). See also Sharpe (1995, 350).  [Back]

63.   Moisl (1983, 120-24) also posited a Picto-Scottish alliance at Dunnichen in 685 in order to remove Ecgfrith and reinstate Aldfrith. However, it is much more likely that Ecgfrith was drawn into Pictland by a desire to suppress the growing power of Bridei son of Bile (Cruickshank 2000, 71-2; Fraser 2002, 33-42; Sharpe 1995, 351). Bullough 1982, 92) notes with irony the later account of Symeon of Durham, in his twelfth-century History of the Church of Durham (Historia Dunelmensis ecclesie 1.9; Rollason 2000), that Ecgfrith was buried on Iona. He offers that Ecgfrith's body may have been brought there by the victorious Picts—suggesting their involvement in Adlfrith's succession—or by Aldfrith himself.  [Back]

64.   Richter (1999, 96-7) comments on how 'tight-lipped' Bede remained regarding Aldfrith, particularly given his reputation for scholarship. Richter puts this down to Bede's disapproval of Aldfrith's Ionan education. See also Sharpe (1995, 48) about Aldfrith's Easter observance.  [Back]

65.   As Adomnán was a member of the Northern Uí Néill through the Cenél Conaill branch, he may also have been a related to Aldfrith, albeit distantly (Picard 1984, 61). Note also that the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland 165, referred to earlier, have Aldfrith as Adomnán's pupil, 'dalta Ad[a]mnain'.  [Back]

66.   Warfare did occur between the Northumbrians and the Picts during Aldfrith's reign, but there is no evidence of enmity between the Northumbrians and the Dalriadans.  [Back]

67.   There is a slim possibility that King Ceolwulf of Northumbria (729-737), Bede's royal patron, had travelled to, or was known in, Dalriada. In the AU s.a. 731, he seems to have been known by the Irish name Eochaid, which implies some level of familiarity. The annal reads: 'Eochaid's [entry into] clerical life / Cuthwine's son, king of the Saxons, is imprisoned [Clericatus Echdach / Filius Cuidini, rex Saxan constringitur]'. This refers to the temporary deposition and tonsuring of Ceolwulf in 731. Ceolwulf certainly appears to have been literate, and he may have gained this skill in a sojourn on Iona, though it is equally as likely that his literacy was acquired in the context of his tonsuring. He did retire to the formerly Columban house of Lindisfarne when he abdicated in 737 (Kirby 1979-80, 169, 172-3).  [Back]

68.   For example, Brooke (1991, 300); Cessford (1999, 153); Corning (2000, 11-12); Dumville (1989, 220); Higham (1997, 224); Higham (2001, 18); Jackson (1963a, 41-2); Kirby (1991, 90); Miller (1978, 61); Phythian-Adams (1996, 58); Yorke (1990, 85). Jackson (1963a, 41) offers a translation of the name Rhianmellt as 'Queen of Lightning'.  [Back]

69.   The edition to be used here is Thompson (1923). The original core of the Liber Vitae is traditionally thought to have been written at Lindisfarne in the ninth century, and continued into the twelfth century and beyond at Durham (Jackson 1963a, 41). However, there is some debate surrounding Lindisfarne as the place of origin. For more information, see the competing arguments presented in a recent volume on the Durham Liber Vitae. In one essay in the volume, Gerchow (2004, 45-61) plumps for Wearmouth and Jarrow as the more probable place of origin. In another, Briggs (2004, 63-85) presents an argument for Lindisfarne being the most likely location after all.  [Back]

70.   Liber Vitae Ecclesiae Dunelmensis: Raegnmaeld (Thompson 1923, 3, fol. 13).  [Back]

71.   Dumville (1989, 220) recommends this caveat as to Rhianmellt's lineage. Nevertheless, if she was the great granddaughter of Urien, who died c.570-90, then her age would not be incompatible with Oswiu's (Jackson 1963a, 42).  [Back]

72.   See, for example, Abels (1983, 7); Corning (2000, 13); Faull (1977, 22); Higham (2001, 18); Kirby (1991, 90); Phythian-Adams (1996, 60).  [Back]

73.   Alhflæd married Peada, son of Penda and king of the Middle Angles in 653, and Alhfrith married Cyneburh, daughter of Penda of Mercia, at some point before this. See also ASC MS. A 653, MS. E. 652, which records the conversion of Peada, which was a condition of his marriage to Alhflæd.  [Back]

74.   The Bewcastle cross may bear the name of Cyneburh, the wife of Oswiu's son Alhfrith. This identification is not certain, however, and Cramp (1995, 13) has favoured Aldfrith's reign (685-705) as the most likely context for both the Bewcastle and Ruthwell crosses. See also Bailey (1999, 64), who suggests c.725-50 for the Bewcastle Cross, and Ó Carragáin (1999, 403), who suggests c.730-50 for the Ruthwell Cross.  [Back]

75.   Rowland (1990, 131) made a similar suggestion regarding the importance of Rhegedian neutrality in the face of the Welsh alliances of Penda.  [Back]

76.   On this issue, see Dark (1994, 72); Higham (1986, 253); Higham (1992b, 90); Knight (1989, 4); Lovecy (1976, 37); Rowland (1990, 75-119).  [Back]

77.   MacQueen (1990) is also sceptical regarding the association of Carlisle with the putative kingdom. Carlisle is not remembered as having been the court of Urien of Rheged. Rather, in the poems of Taliesin, Urien is located at Llwyfenydd. This name may survive as the Lyvennet, a tributary stream of the Eden, which runs through Crosby Ravensworth south from Carlisle in Cumbria proper. See also Dark (1994, 72); Higham (1993, 82); McCarthy (1982, 252); Phythian-Adams (1996, 49).  [Back]

78.   Also see the discussion by Woolf (1998) regarding the acceptability or otherwise of matrilineal succession amongst British kingdoms in the early medieval north.  [Back]

79.   Charles-Edwards (1997, 181-2), in reference to marriages between the children of Oswiu and of Penda, draws comparison with the Zulu proverb, 'They are our enemies: we marry them'.  [Back]

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