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

Issue Navigation

Issue Homepage

Holy Kingship

Locating Maserfelth

The King's Fragmented Body

Exogamous Marriages

Enemy's Eyes

St. Oswald's Martyrdom

Forum—Irish Hagiography

Forum—Refusing the Gaze

Electronic Medievalia

Continental Business


Heroes, Saints, and Martyrs: Holy Kingship from Bede to Aelfric

Kent G. Hare  
Northwestern State University of Louisiana

©2006 by Kent G. Hare. All rights reserved. This edition copyright © 2006 by The Heroic Age. All rights reserved.

§1.  Warfare was an essential function of kingship in the early Middle Ages. As warlord, the kings of Anglo-Saxon England led their warbands on expeditions of plunder and conquest and defended their peoples against similar efforts by their royal peers (Abels 1988, 11-12). With the coming of Christianity to England at the turn of the seventh century, a tension developed between the lure of Christian asceticism and a king's royal duty. Some kings followed their thanes into the cloister and undertook spiritual combat in a manner which, by then, was regarded as quite venerable. Other kings lived holy, even saintly lives, while remaining in this world and fighting its battles, some of which gained an aura of Christian significance. The great historian of the English conversion, the Venerable Bede, noticed both responses during the first century after the coming of Christianity. Writing in the next century, the eighth, Bede had definite ideas about which response was appropriate. He would rather that a king not abandon his state for the cloister. He recognized that the king's role as warchief was necessary, but it was a necessary evil. His Christian kings might be holy in their lives, but that holiness was despite their battles. Nonetheless, later English writers looking back to the events reported by Bede did not take such pains to dissociate those same kings' holiness from their martial activities. This article will briefly examine the early Christian kings of England as warriors and heroes, saints and martyrs for what they can tell us about warfare, religion, sanctity and kingship.

§2.  The first-mentioned course of royal sanctity may be addressed briefly. Clare Stancliffe devoted an important article to what she called the "Kings Who Opted Out" into monastic life (Stancliffe 1983). A doubtless incomplete list would total about a dozen English kings-turned-monks in the seventh and eighth centuries.1 As Stancliffe noted, this phenomenon of hale and hearty kings abdicating to the cloister is one largely unparalleled on the Continent (Stancliffe 1983, 158) and she argued compellingly for heavy Irish influence in the practice. Anglo-Saxon England was, of course, converted almost simultaneously from Ireland through Scotland in the north and from the Continent in the south. In Ireland, with its plethora of small tribal kingdoms, kings played little role in evangelization. A king was considered just another layman and was just as likely as his warriors to become a monk (Stancliffe 1983, 157-65, 172-4).2 English kings influenced by the Irish sometimes followed suit. On the other hand, the Roman missionaries sent to southern England by Pope Gregory in 597 considered the king to be central in the salvation of his people as had been the pattern in Continental Germanic kingdoms. As Stancliffe argues elsewhere, the differing views of kingship go far towards explaining the different pace and experience of conversion in Ireland and England (Stancliffe 1980).

§3.  The two Christian traditions collided, first in Northumbria in the early 600s, before spilling out to the rest of England, partly due to the dominant position commanded by Northumbria during this period, partly due to the energy of the Irish missions. The crisis came to an end at the Synod of Whitby in 664 where Roman practice on the dating of Easter and other issues was chosen over Celtic Christianity, but surviving Irish traditions helped to inspire the subsequent greatness of the "Northumbrian Renaissance" that marked the early eighth century. Among the elements of Irish tradition that seems to have endured was an Irish view of kingship. This is perhaps indicated by the fact that all but one of Stancliffe's "Kings Who Opted Out" did so after the Synod of Whitby. Curiously, Sigeberht of East Anglia was both very early and geographically unlikely to have been directly influenced by Irish Christianity through northern England at all, especially given his close relationship with the Burgundian bishop Felix. There had, however, already been considerable Irish influence in the part of Gaul where Felix was based, effected by the Irish missionary Columbanus (Stancliffe 1983, 169). The patterns and sources of influence in early English Christianity took unexpected turns.

§4.  Evidence of a clash between Irish and Roman views of kingship is provided by Bede. In the 730s, he wrote about and promoted the Roman tradition of Christianity. He took a dim view of kings forsaking their proper place at the helm of their kingdom, where they should maintain through law and war, if necessary, the order and peace of a stable society (Stancliffe 1983, 175; Hill 1975, 39-43). Bede might laud the Christian virtues of extraordinarily pious kings, including those abdicating to religious life, but those who fulfilled their royal calling received his even more fulsome praise in their kingly role. It was possible, even desirable, for a king to live a saintly life outside the cloister, remaining in the world and fighting its battles in service to Christian society. Bede's Ecclesiastical History, promoting the Roman view of royal responsibility, was an important contribution to the development of a positive assessment of the role of Christian kings as rulers, providing societal leadership that necessarily included waging war (Stancliffe 1983, 175).

§5.  Bede wrote of numerous warrior kings during the first century of Anglo-Saxon Christianity. Some he considered extraordinarily pious. Although Bede himself did not throw the term "sanctus" around wildly with regard to kings, some of those seventh-century kings were regarded by later Christian tradition as saints. Three in particular merit closer examination: Aethelberht of Kent, Edwin of Northumbria, and Oswald of Northumbria. Important in the varying formation of widespread and enduring cults of Christian sainthood around these and other kings is the way in which religion and warfare intersected in their careers and informed later views.

§6.  A tradition of military greatness seems to surround the name of Aethelberht (r. 580x93-616x18), the Kentish king who received the Roman missionaries in 597, gave them leave to preach in his realm, and "first of them all [among the kings of the English people] he entered the kingdom of heaven."3 Bede lauded him as "rex . . . potentissimus"4 and further listed him as one of seven kings wielding imperium in Britain, each of whom was later called bretwalda, "ruler of Britain", by the ninth-century Anglo-Saxon Chronicler (Bede EH 2.5; ASC s.a. 827 [mss. AE, recte 829]).5 Aethelberht may have turned a dominant political position to the good of the nascent Christian church in England (Bede EH 1.25-2.5).6 Such a course was enjoined upon him in a letter sent by Pope Gregory the Great (r. 590-604), who had dispatched the mission of 597: "And now let your Majesty hasten to instil the knowledge of the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, into the kings and nations subject to you."7 Although the practice of a royal overlord standing sponsor as godfather to a converted subject king is first noticed by Bede with regard to Oswald of Northumbria and Cynegils of Wessex c. 635 (Bede EH 3.7; Wallace-Hadrill 1988, 98), it seems possible that Aethelberht so sponsored Saeberht of Essex, his nephew as well as subject king, upon the conversion of that people in 604 (Bede EH 2.3).

§7.  Bede would thus appear to transmit a tradition of royal overlordship in southern Britain attached to the name of Aethelberht of Kent. Aethelberht's sway seems to have extended so broadly that he could arrange for representatives of British Christianity to meet with the Roman missionary Augustine at what came to be known as "Augustine's Oak, on the borders of the Hwicce and the West Saxons."8 Oddly enough, however, although such overlordship in an early medieval context strongly implies military dominance, Bede did not describe how Aethelberht's lordship was forged, nor did he mention any of that king's battles. This is just one among several mysteries surrounding this first Christian king of the English. One theory is that Aethelberht owed his exalted status within England to his marriage alliance with the powerful Merovingian kings of Francia. Aethelberht's wife since c. 580 had been the Christian Frankish princess Bertha, but any such association might have been a double-edged sword because the Merovingians seem in turn to have claimed some kind of lordship over Kent (Wallace-Hadrill 1988, 32; Wallace-Hadrill 1971, 29, 45; Wood 1983, 12-17). Perhaps this explains another curiosity, namely Aethelberht's seeming lack of interest in any efforts by Bertha's chaplain to convert him during almost two decades of marriage before the coming of the Roman missionaries. Although Aethelberht was evidently tolerant of Bertha's Christianity and of her chaplain, neither the Kentish king nor the Kentish people received baptism until the arrival of Augustine. Again, theories abound, but perhaps Aethelberht feared that the Merovingians would then claim spiritual dominion as well. Connections with the old imperial center of Rome may thus explain Aethelberht's ultimate acceptance of baptism from the Roman missionaries instead of from the Franks (Mayr-Harting 1991, 63; Wallace-Hadrill 1971, 29, 45; Wallace-Hadrill 1988, 33).9 It is probable nonetheless that the Merovingians exerted significant influence in the affairs of late sixth- to early seventh-century England (Wallace-Hadrill 1988, 59), a fact which would, however, have held little interest for Bede, especially as it detracted from the glory of his first Christian king in England. By assigning royal overlordship in southern Anglo-Saxondom to Aethelberht, with military dominance at least implicit, Bede was able to sustain that king's glorious image. Aethelberht played, in Bede's view, a special role in the salvation of the English people. Ultimately, however, although that role led to his being celebrated in some quarters as a saint,10 Aethelberht's warrior status is too ambiguous to be very enlightening vis-a-vis the intersection of warfare and Christianity in his kingship.

§8.  No such ambiguities surround the next king commanding Bede's attention. Warfare played a vital role in the career of Edwin of Northumbria. Bede accorded Edwin much attention (Bede EH 2.9-20). Edwin came to the throne through battle in 616, but was not a Christian at the time. Bede goes on to describe in detail the king's slow and considered conversion. The story paralleled in many respects those of the first Christian Emperor Constantine and the Frankish king Clovis in being tied to perceived divine intervention yielding military victory.11 And, once he was baptized in 627, Edwin "Christi regno militavit", "fought in the kingdom of Christ" (Bede EH 2.20, my translation). Bede employed the same martial imagery as was current for the spiritual warfare of the monastery12 to describe the secular warfare by which this Christian king maintained his lordship, establishing a royal peace throughout Britain in which it became proverbial that "a woman with a new-born child could walk throughout the island from sea to sea and take no harm."13 Cups provided beside springs for the convenience of travelers were unstolen because "[n]o one dared to lay hands on them except for their proper purpose because they feared the king greatly nor did they wish to, because they loved him dearly."14 Edwin inspired fear as well as affection, and became another of Bede's "imperial" kings (Bede EH 2.5). Finally, Bede described Edwin's lamented death in battle at Hatfield Chase in 633 at the hands of Penda, pagan king of Mercia, and Cadwallon, Christian king of the Britons: "one . . . a heathen and the other a barbarian who was even more cruel than the heathen."15 As a schismatic British Christian, Cadwallon was particularly despised by Bede, to whom the conflict between Celtic and Roman Christianity provided a major theme for his Ecclesiastical History.

§9.  The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great, written at Whitby in the early eighth century, provides evidence for an early cult of St. Edwin in that monastery, ruled by members of his own Deiran family (Life of Gregory 18, 19).16 In recounting the deeds of the pope who initiated the Roman Christian evangelization of England, the anonymous author gives extensive attention to Edwin (Life of Gregory 12-19 [of 32]), thus emphasizing the king's Roman connections. Edwin was converted by Paulinus, a member of the second Roman missionary band which arrived in Kent in 601. Paulinus accompanied Princess Aethelburh of Kent to Northumbria when she married Edwin in 625. When Paulinus baptized Edwin in 627, the king was accompanied by "all the nobles of his race and a vast number of the common people."17 Edwin stands as another example of the centrality of the king in evangelization efforts initiated by Rome.

§10.  The conversion of the Northumbrians that accompanied Edwin's baptism did not outlive the king's death. In the ravaging of Northumbria that followed, the kingdom fragmented into its constituent sub-kingdoms. Edwin's cousin Osric ruled Deira in the south while Eanfrith, heir to the Bernician line, claimed that northern kingdom. Both of these successors soon apostatized and earned Bede's disdain (Bede EH 3.1). They soon fell to Cadwallon, and Bede assigned their year-long reigns to his next king, whose holiness merited the historian's especial admiration.

§11.  Oswald of Northumbria, "a man beloved of God,"18 could well be termed Bede's "ideal Christian king" (Stancliffe 1995, 63 and elsewhere). Whereas Edwin was of Deiran stock, Oswald was a scion of the Bernician royal line. Upon the death of their pagan father Aethelfrith whence Edwin came to the Northumbrian throne in 616, Oswald and his siblings fled into exile among the Scots of Dalriada. There, in an essentially Irish cultural setting, the royal refugees themselves eventually became Christian. Upon Edwin's death in 633, Oswald's brother Eanfrith became king in Bernicia. When Eanfrith followed his Deiran counterpart Osric into apostasy and defeat, Oswald moved for the kingship of all Northumbria.

§12.  Bede's account of Oswald's victory at Heavenfield commands attention. Oswald arrived "with an army small in numbers but strengthened by their faith in Christ" to face Cadwallon's "immense force which he boasted was irresistible."19 Bede approvingly depicted Oswald's actions immediately before the clash of arms:

Oswald . . . set up the sign of the holy cross and, on bended knees, prayed God to send heavenly aid to His worshippers in their dire need. In fact it is related that when a cross had been hastily made and the hole dug in which it was to stand, he seized the cross himself in the ardour of his faith, placed it in the hole, and held it upright with both hands until the soldiers had heaped up the earth and fixed it in position. Thereupon he raised his voice and called out to the whole army, "Let us all kneel together and pray the almighty, everliving, and true God to defend us in His mercy from the proud and fierce enemy; for He knows that we fight a just war for the salvation of our people." They all did as he commanded, advanced against the enemy just as the dawn was breaking, and gained the victory that their faith merited.20

Bede's is not the only record of divine aid rendered at Heavenfield. Another account preceded his own by several decades, although he seems unfamiliar with it. In his Life of Saint Columba, compiled c.700 at Iona, Adomnan stressed Oswald's connections with that monastery situated on an island off Dalriada's western coast, which had been the pre-eminent center of Irish Christianity in Britain since its foundation by Columba in the sixth century. Adomnan recorded how Oswald benefited from Columba's prayers, and even from the saint's presence, encouragement and tactical advice, in a dream-vision before the victory at Heavenfield.21

§13.  As king, Oswald drew upon his connections with Iona to effect the second, lasting conversion of northern England. He called to his side from Iona the holy man Aidan to be bishop of Lindisfarne, an island off the coast of Bernicia near the royal center of Bamburgh, which became a base for Irish Christianity in England. Bede testifies to Oswald's holiness during his short reign, pinpointing his humility, kindness, and generosity22 which made the king, "when the bishop was preaching the gospel," an "interpreter of the heavenly word for his ealdormen and thegns, for the bishop was not completely at home in the English tongue, while the king had gained a perfect knowledge of Irish during the long period of his exile."23

§14.  Bede's words of praise for Oswald, who was so heavily influenced by Irish Christianity, might seem odd at first, given that historian's general theme of the triumph of Roman Christianity, culminating in the Synod of Whitby in 664. It is clear that Bede had a great respect for the sanctity and spirituality of the Irish, but not for ecclesiastical practices such as their calculation of the date of Easter, their pattern of monastic tonsure, and so forth, as well as the previously-discussed tendency of Christian kings to "opt out" of their duty as secular rulers. In that respect, especially given that Oswald's reign fell before the decision at Whitby, it is not surprising that he became Bede's "ideal Christian king." In addition, some degree of Northumbrian pride on the part of Bede cannot be discounted.

§15.  Given the heavy Irish influence on Oswald of Northumbria as well as his evident personal piety, one might well wonder why this king did not "opt out" to the monastic life. Perhaps the answer is as simple as that he was cut down too soon. Oswald reigned for nine years after the victory at Heavenfield, until he was struck down in battle by Penda of Mercia at Maserfeld in 642. According to Bede, Oswald's last words became proverbial:

[For w]hen he was beset by the weapons of his enemies and saw that he was about to perish he prayed for the souls of his army. So the proverb runs, "May God have mercy on their souls, as Oswald said when he fell to the earth."24

§16.  Oswald of Northumbria is the only warrior-king whom Bede unambiguously called "saint"(Stancliffe 1995, 41; see also Damon 2003, 43ff., 165 n. 48).25 He is typically accounted a martyr as well, falling as he did in battle against the pagan scourge of seventh-century England, Penda of Mercia, whom later medieval writers explicitly called the pagan scourge of seventh-century England (Stancliffe 1995, 6-7).26 Bede, however, did not label Penda in this way (Wallace-Hadrill 1988, 103; Gunn 1993, 57-66; Stancliffe 1995, 41-2; most recently, Klaniczay 2002, 84-85). For all that Bede admitted a certain religious aura surrounding the victory by which Oswald won the kingship, his stress even there and especially in the rest of his account was rather on Oswald's holy life. He seems in fact to have been at pains to underplay the religious significance of Oswald's death at the hands of the pagan. My own close coupling of a bare notice of Oswald's death at Maserfeld with his proverbial last prayer masks a startling feature of Bede's own account—Bede separated the two details with three intervening chapters. The actual death of Bede's "ideal Christian king" received little more coverage than I gave it a moment ago:

Oswald was killed in a great battle by the same heathen people and the same heathen Mercian king as his predecessor Edwin in a place called in the English tongue Maserfelth, on 5 August in the thirty-eighth year of his age.

His great faith in God and his devotion of heart were also made clear after his death by certain miracles. Indeed in that place where he was slain by the heathen fighting for his fatherland, sick men and beasts are healed to this day. It has happened that people have often taken soil from the place where his body fell to the ground, have put it in water, and by its use have brought great relief to their sick.27

And so on. Bede seems more concerned with the extensive reports of miracles surrounding both the site of the death and the king's relics. Miracles are unambiguous evidence of sanctity, unlike a questionable martyrdom. The report of Oswald's last prayer appears three chapters later in a discussion of the efficacy of his intercession, which comes as no surprise to Bede since even in this world the king prayed almost unceasingly, as any pious man should (Bede EH 3.12). Nevertheless, later writers, most prominently Aelfric of Eynsham, who composed a new Life of King Oswald at the end of the tenth century, reunited the prayer with the event (lines 144-63).

§17.  Colin Chase regarded Bede's treatment of Oswald's death as part of a pattern by which the Northumbrian historian consciously de-emphasized aspects of the warrior culture of his own people which he saw as dangerous to their recently acquired faith, such as the idea that a religious battle had any place outside the spiritual confines of the cloister (Chase 1981, 161-71). Particularly disturbing was the ease with which both of the major battles of Oswald's reign could be placed into the context of a protracted blood-feud. At Heavenfield, Oswald killed the British king Cadwallon who had earlier slain his brother Eanfrith.28 Bede and Aelfric contrast even more strikingly in their respective treatments of Oswald's final battle. Chase pointed out that Bede omitted from his narrative the critical fact that Penda's earlier victim, King Edwin, despite representing a rival Northumbrian dynasty, was indeed Oswald's kinsman, his maternal uncle. Aelfric makes this fact plain (lines 150-52).29 Bede left unremarked the blood-feud aspect of Oswald's two major battles (Chase 1981, 164-6). Nevertheless, as the passage of time broke down the barriers between the respective cultures of monastery and mead-hall, there was less need to underplay the religious significance of St. Oswald's warrior life and death. Bede admitted that a prayer associated with Oswald's death had within a century become "proverbial." This fact, and even more so the unnatural separation he imposed on his narrative, would seem to indicate that popular tradition was at work handing down another, more heroic while still religiously oriented account. J. R. R. Tolkien speculated on the existence of an Old English heroic Oswald-poem (Tolkien 1936, 35); Frederick Klaeber indeed postulated linguistic evidence for alliterative verse underlying Oswald's dying words, noting in particular "the ease with which [Oswald's dying words] lend themselves to being turned into . . . alliterative verses:

Dryhtin, miltsa       duguða sawlum,
Cwæð Oswald cyning,       þa he on eorðan sag
(Klaeber 1937, 214).

There is little direct evidence for such a poem, although David Rollason noted that Reginald of Durham, writing in the mid-twelfth century, reported that York at that time possessed Old English verses on Oswald (Rollason 1995, 167).30 R. M. Wilson perceived lurking beneath the prose of the twelfth-century chronicler Henry of Huntingdon Old English alliterative verses celebrating not only Oswald but also Aethelfrith, Edwin, and Oswiu. Henry's "unde dicitur" passages dealing with these kings, "when turned into Old English, seem to fall naturally into alliterative verse" (Wilson 1952, 32).31 It is reasonable to speculate that Aelfric's account of King Oswald, based in large part upon Bede, may draw upon some such alternative account as well.

§18.  Between Bede and Aelfric there is one major source recounting the tale of King Oswald. Sometime around 782, before joining the court of Charlemagne in Francia, Alcuin of York wrote a 1658-line poem in Latin taking as its subject the Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York. Approximately one-sixth of the poem is devoted to Oswald (lines 234-506), primarily to his death and subsequent miracles (lines 301-506). Except for the parts describing events of Alcuin's own lifetime, the poem overall derives mostly from Bede's Ecclesiastical History as well as from that same author's prose and verse lives of Saint Cuthbert (Godman 1982, xxxix). The lines on Oswald largely constitute a versification of Bede's prose, with little variation in order or emphasis. The most curious variation in light of my own observations above is that Alcuin does not make reference to Oswald's dying prayer at all. Two short sections derive from EH 3.12. First are lines 301-9, regarding the incorruptibility of Oswald's hand, which are presented as an immediate expansion on the tale of Bishop Aidan blessing that hand which had distributed food and alms to the poor in the preceding lines 291-300 (from EH 3.6). Overall, this provides Alcuin with a transition into Oswald's death and associated miracles. The specific part in lines 301-9 comes from the very end, the last quarter of EH 3.12. The other section is lines 380-87 on the boy stricken with a fever who is cured before the tomb of the saint, corresponding to the first half of EH 3.12. The third quarter of EH 3.12 recounts the holiness of Oswald's life, his constant prayers and thanksgivings, and could be seen as redundant in Alcuin except that in Bede it culminates at the end of Oswald's life with the famous prayer which became proverbial. Alcuin did not include it.

§19.  Just as interesting, however, is the fact that Alcuin does hint at the vendetta aspect of Oswald's confrontation with Cadwallon—"Omnipotent God did not allow this [the death of Edwin] to go unavenged"—and clearly identifies Oswald as Edwin's nephew in the next line—"but granted the kingdom to Oswald, nephew of Edwin"32—the fact omitted by Bede. Clearly, although his treatment of Oswald barely incorporates it, Alcuin knew at least some snippets of tradition about Oswald beyond the Ecclesiastical History. Just how extensive that independent information was, and its precise nature, are unknown.

§20.  Upon Oswald's demise Northumbria again divided into its constituent northern and southern kingdoms. Deira passed back to its native royal line, represented by Oswine (r. 644-51), a more pious son of Osric. A third son of Aethelfrith, Oswald's brother Oswiu (r. 642-70), succeeded in Bernicia. Bede praised Oswine of Deira for his exceptional humility which moved Aidan of Lindisfarne to tears, of sorrow as well as joy, for the holy bishop perceived that such a humble king was not long for this world (Bede EH 3.14). And Oswine did soon fall, though not in battle. His demise resulted from treachery: he was betrayed to his rival king Oswiu by a member of his own warband, and then murdered. Chase interpreted Bede's uncharacteristically emotional exclamation lamenting this deed—"Sed heu! pro dolor!"33—as a rare lapse betraying his personal sympathy for the social world of the warband, which by its very exceptionality supports the thesis that Bede consciously avoided such sympathy in his writings. Oswine did become the center of a cult and later, in the eleventh century, would find a biographer embracing the heroic code.34

§21.  Edwin and Oswald are the two pre-eminent early English Christian warrior kings around whom cults of sainthood formed. There were to be other holy or pious kings in subsequent generations, especially the scholar king Aldfrith (ruled 685-705). However, in the wake of the disastrous loss of Aldfrith's brother Ecgfrith (ruled 670-685), to the Picts at Nechtanesmere, the days of Northumbrian political dominance were waning, and Aldfrith, though a great patron of art and scholarship who managed to hold his kingdom, was no warrior. Aldfrith's father Oswiu, who presided over the glory days of Northumbria, is a more problematic case. Even Bede seems ambivalent about this king. He portrayed Oswiu as politically powerful, the last of his "imperial" kings (Bede EH 2.5). Oswiu seems also to have been personally pious, or at least properly submissive to Rome. He was the king under whom one of the great themes of Bede's History climaxed with the triumph of Roman Christianity at the Synod of Whitby in 664 (Bede EH 3.25; Eddius Life of Wilfrid 10). In fact, it was the king himself who made the final decision to "go Roman" so as not to offend St. Peter, and one would expect that fact alone to render Bede sympathetic to him as an exemplary proper use of royal power. Furthermore, Oswiu had by that time put an end to the pagan bane of Christian Anglo-Saxon kings, Penda of Mercia, at the Battle of Winwaed in 655. But the fact remains, unvarnished in Bede's account, that Oswiu also put an end to the holy Christian king Oswine! Bede judged this deed as one "detestanda omnibus," one "to be detested by all."35 By instigating the betrayal of Oswine, Oswiu violated both Christian ethics and the Germanic heroic code. Possibly because of this blot on his career, there is no evidence that Oswiu ever became the focus of any cult of sainthood. He is conspicuously absent from Farmer's thorough coverage of the saints of the British Isles in The Oxford Dictionary of Saints (1987). Possibly the closest that Oswiu ever came to such veneration was under the pen of Alcuin in his poem on The Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York, but Alcuin's portrayal of Oswiu as a Christian hero necessitated the excision of Oswine and his fate from the narrative (lines 507-74).

§22.  This essay has surveyed several kings in early England, highlighting instances of sanctity ascribed to them and the varying role that warfare played in that sanctity. Bede's Ecclesiastical History, with its greater enthusiasm for secular rulers who did not "opt out" to the cloister, would prove important in legitimizing martial activities by holy kings, perhaps setting the framework within which such writers as Asser, the biographer of Alfred the Great, could cast as religious warfare the Christian English resistance to the pagan Vikings in the late ninth century.36 Bede's History was, after all, one of those works considered "most necessary for all men to know"37 by King Alfred, prompting its translation from Latin into Old English during his reign. This was not, however, something foreseen by Bede, and had he been able to predict it he doubtless would not have favored the idea of "religious war." He took pains, in fact, to dissociate Saint Oswald from King Oswald's wars, especially from his death in battle. Bede recognized that leadership in war was a necessary function of the king for the good of the kingdom, even for the good of the Church in the kingdom. A Christian king fighting for the good of Christian society might merit divine assistance. But Bede resisted assigning religious significance to warfare itself. Regardless of Bede's ideas, popular tradition appears to have been more accepting of such a notion. Two centuries and more later, Aelfric of Eynsham provided us with a second account of Oswald that skillfully reorganized Bede's material to reassert elements of heroic tradition present in the saintly king's life and death. Although not explicit within his text, Aelfric probably shared a popular assessment of Oswald as martyr. In fact, the main surviving manuscript of Aelfric's Life of St. Oswald, dating from the beginning of the eleventh century and thus probably from within the author's lifetime (he died c. 1010),38 bears the title, "Natale Sancti Oswaldi Regis et Martyris."39

§23.  Why the shift over time? Bede wrote during the eighth century when the Anglo-Saxon evangelization was little more than a century underway. Moreover, his letter to Bishop Ecgberht reveals his concern near the end of his life with what he considered as too close a relationship between warband and monastery (ed. Plummer 1896, 1, 405-23). Nevertheless, as Patrick Wormald has argued masterfully, Bede's is indeed only one—albeit the dominant—view of the Christianity embraced by the English warrior nobility. The poem Beowulfand, by extension, the entire corpus of Old English Christian-heroic poetry, provides alternative evidence that the martial activities of thanes and their kings could be seen in a more positive light (Wormald 1978).40 Indeed, from the later scope of Anglo-Saxon history, it seems that Bede's view would not be the one to prevail as an everyday, "practical" ethos. By the time of Aelfric of Eynsham, when England again suffered assault from Scandinavia, such kings as Alfred the Great and Athelstan, and perhaps even such warriors as Byrhtnoth of Essex, had won praise as Christian warriors fighting in service to Christian society, celebrated in works verging on the hagiographic.41

Appendix I.

Royal Lines of Northumbria

Appendix II.

Other Dates of Interest

(See also Appendix I "Royal Lines")

597 Roman mission to Kent

616 Battle of the River Idle; death of Aethelberht of Kent

627 Baptism of Edwin of Northumbria

633 Battle of Hatfield Chase

634 Battle of Heavenfield

c. 634(?) Sigeberht of East Anglia abdicates to an English monastery

642 Battle of Maserfeld

655 Battle of Winwaed

664 Synod of Whitby

685 Battle of Nechtanesmere

685 Centwine of Wessex abdicates to an English monastery

688 Caedwalla of Wessex abdicates, makes pilgrimage to Rome, enters Roman monastery to die within days

c. 694 Sebbi of Essex abdicates to an English monastery

c. 704 Aethelred of Mercia abdicates to an English monastery

709 Coenred of Mercia and Offa of Essex abdicate, make pilgrimage to Rome, enter Roman monastery

726 Ine of Wessex abdicates, makes a pilgrimage to Rome, enters Roman monastery

731 Bede completes Ecclesiastical History of the English People

734 Bede writes letter to Bishop Ecgberht of York

737 Ceolwulf of Northumbria abdicates to an English monastery

758 Eadberht of Northumbria abdicates to an English monastery

c. 782 Alcuin writes The Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York

c. 798 Sigeric of Essex abdicates, makes pilgrimage to Rome, enters Roman monastery

892 Asser writes Life of King Alfred

990s Aelfric of Eynsham writes Lives of Saints

c. 1010 death of Aelfric of Eynsham

Appendix III.

Map of England


1.   Within England: Sigeberht the Learned of East Anglia, c. 634 (Bede E[cclesiastical] H[istory of the English People] 2.15, 3.18); Centwine of Wessex, 685 (Aldhelm Carmen Ecclesiastica 3); Aethelred of Mercia, c. 704 (Bede EH 4.12, 5.19, 5.24; Eddius [Stephanus] Life of [Bishop] Wilfrid 15); Sebbi of Essex, c. 694 (Bede EH 4.11); Ceolwulf of Northumbria, 737 (Symeon [of Durham], H[istoria] R[egum] s.a. 737, 764); Eadberht of Northumbria, 758 (Baedae Continuatio s.a. 758; Symeon HR s.a. 758, 768). Kings entering Roman monasteries after pilgrimage: Caedwalla of Wessex, 688 (Bede EH 5.7); Coenred of Mercia and Offa of Essex, 709 (Bede EH 5.19); Ine of Wessex, 726 (Bede EH 5.7); Sigeric of Essex, c. 798 (A[nglo-]S[axon] C[hronicle] s.a. 798 [ms. F]). Others had the intention but were prevented by opposition or death. Nor do the above lists include a number of "involuntary tonsures" of kings forced to abdicate by rivals. See Stancliffe 1983, 154-7, 166 f., whence these lists are derived.   [Back]

2.   Kings might indeed have sound dynastic reasons for abdicating into a monastery—for instance, to allow a designated relative to succeed at an opportune time—see Higham 1993, 145. Higham 1997, 215 discusses just such a political context for Sigeberht of East Anglia's abdication in favor of his kinsman Ecgric. Sigeberht is most famous as the former king whose people subsequently dragged him out of the monastery and tried to force him to lead them in battle against Penda of Mercia, with disastrous results (Bede EH 3.18).  [Back]

3.   "primus omnium [sc. in regibus gentis Anglorum] caeli regna conscendit," Bede EH 2.5, my translation. The dates for Aethelberht derived from Bede, traditionally held that he ruled Kent from 560-616. These dates have recently been revised, primarily by Brooks 1989, 65-67, with support from Wood 1994, 10-11. The new consensus, incorporating information from the Aethelberht's contemporary Gregory of Tours, is as follows: "born 560x2, married Bertha c. 580, succeeded to the Kentish kingdom c. 580x93, became overlord c. 593x7, received the Augustinian mission 597, died 616x18" (Brooks 1989, 67).  [Back]

4.   "a very powerful monarch," Bede EH 1.25.  [Back]

5.   Questions surround the mysterious "office" of bretwalda, with major doubts as to whether such a paramount overlordship was ever acknowledged by kings for whom an incessant competition for military dominance was the normal state of affairs. The historicity of the rank of bretwald is considered a doubtful proposition in most recent estimations—see esp. Fanning 1991, 1-26; Wallace-Hadrill 1988, 59. Higham 1995 sees an office of English overlordship even in the early period as a survival of a late Roman British ideal; Rollason 2003, 38 is specifically dismissive of this notion. The main importance of the idea seems to lie in its promotion as an ideal of political unity to foster a sense of religious unity by the church of Canterbury (see Wormald 1982, 99-100; Wormald 1983, 99-129), and even more so in how the Alfredian circle seized upon it as precedent for West Saxon aspirations to overlordship in late-ninth to tenth-century England. It is uniquely in ASC, a product of that Alfredian circle, that such putative overlordship is given the title, "bretwalda." No other Anglo-Saxon writer ever betrayed knowledge of any special term for the list of seven kings whom Bede cited as ruling "imperially," supplemented in ASC with an eighth, Ecgberht of Wessex, by the Chronicler.  [Back]

6.   See also Higham 1997, chap. 2.  [Back]

7.   "Et nunc itaque uestra gloria cognitionem unius Dei, Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, regibus ac populis sibimet subiectis festinet infundere," Bede EH 1.32.  [Back]

8.   "Augustinaes ác, id est Robur Augustini, in confinio Huicciorum et Occidentalium Saxonum," Bede, EH 2.2, ed. and trans. Colgrave and Mynors 1969, 134-5, with note 2: "The site is unknown, but the kingdom of the Hwicce included Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, and the western half of Warwickshire."  [Back]

9.   Mayr-Harting 1994 also addressed the politics of medieval Christianization, issues which continue to inspire debate. Higham 1997 argues that Aethelberht's actions and his "delay" in converting has more to do with Aethelberht's "playing" off one faction against another in internal Frankish politics. Forsman 2002, 138-43 addresses the role of Bertha in the kingship of Aethelberht in the context of the larger role of the Franks in the conversion of the English. She raises the possibility that it may have been Bertha's Christianity more than a tenuous relationship with the Merovingian ruling lines that made her an attractive bride to Aethelberht. Even by c. 580, Bertha's father, King Charibert I, was long dead and Frankish kingship resided in rival lines of the Merovingian family. Bertha's Christianity, however, with demonstrable personal ties to Tours in western Francia and the cult of St. Martin, might have helped Aethelberht to forge relations with what archaeology suggests was a significant population of native British Christians under Kentish rule.  [Back]

10.   Farmer 1987, 146-7, s.v. "Ethelbert (I)": "There seems to have been an unofficial cult at Canterbury from early times, but his feast is found in calendars only from the 13th century . . . ." Damon 2003, 32 n. 19 notes the ephemeral nature of the evidence for an early cult of Aethelberht of Kent.  [Back]

11.   Bede EH 2.9: Having been attacked by an assassin sent by Cwichelm of Wessex, Edwin "promisit se abrenuntiatis idolis Christo seruiturum, si uitam sibi et uictoriam donaret pugnanti aduersus regem, a quo homicida ille, qui eum uulverauerat, missus est," "promised that if God would grant him life, and victory over the king who had sent the assassin who wounded him, he would renounce his idols and serve Christ." See Wallace-Hadrill 1988, 66. Regarding Clovis: Gregory of Tours H[istory of the] F[ranks] 2.29-31. [Back]

12.   There is a great deal of background to this, going back to Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, through the early desert fathers and early monasticism. Some examples from the dominant monastic rule in the West, that of St. Benedict: "Service (servire) as spiritual combat: (militare)"
under Christ as King (rex), Prologue 3, 40;
. . . servitus, 2.20; 61.10;
. . . indutiae, Prologue 36;
under Rule and abbot, 1.2; 58.10
. . . pugnare, 1.5;
. . . against the devil (diabolus), 1.4;
. . . against vices (vitium), 1.5;
with weapons of obedience (arma), Prologue 3;
within fraternal army (acies), 1.5;
. . . (militia), 2.20.
Note also the following usages of milito, militare, "to be a soldier, do military service," elsewhere in Benedict's Rule 58.10 "Ecce lex sub qua militare vis," "Behold the law under which you wish to fight" (my trans.); 61.10 "et quia in omni loco unio Domino servitur, uni regi militatur," "because wherever we may be, we are in the service of the same Lord and doing battle for the same King." Hare 1997, 34-75 examines the spiritual warfare of the monastery in Anglo-Saxon England in more detail.  [Back]

13.   "etiam si mulier una cum recens nato paruulo uellet totam perambulare insulam a mari ad mare, nullo se ledente ualeret," Bede EH 2.16.  [Back]

14.   "neque hos quisquam, nisi ad usum necessarium, contingere prae magnitudine uel timoris eius auderet uel amoris uellet," Bede EH 2.16.  [Back]

15.   "unus . . . paganus, alter quia barbarus erat pagano saeuior," Bede EH 2.20. The traditional identification of "Caedualla rex Brettonum" as "of Gwynedd" has been questioned of late by Woolf 2004.  [Back]

16.   See Colgrave 1968, 42, 46-7, 51.  [Back]

17.   "cunctis gentis suae nobilibus ac plebe purplurima," Bede EH 2.14.  [Back]

18.   Bede EH 3.1: "Oswaldi viri Deo dilecti."  [Back]

19.   "cum paruo exercitu, sed fide Christi munito, infandus Brettonum dux cum immensis illis copiis, quibus nihil resistere posse iactabat," Bede EH 3.1.  [Back]

20.   " . . .Osuald signum sanctae crucis erexit, ac flexis genibus Deum deprecatus est, ut in tanta rerum necessitate suis cultoribus caelesti succurreret auxilio. Denique fertur quia facta citato opere cruce, ac fouea praeparata in qua statui deberet, ipse fide feruens hanc arripuerit ac foueae inposuerit atque utraque manu erectam tenuerit, donec adgesto a militibus puluere terrae figeretur; et hoc facto, elata in altum uoce cuncto exercitui proclamauerit: 'Flectamus omnes genua, et Deum omnipotentem uiuum ac uerum in commune deprecemur, ut nos ab hoste superbo ac feroce sua miseratione defendat; scit enim ipse quia iusta pro salute gentis nostrae bella suscepimus.' Fecerunt omnes ut iusserat, et sic incipiente diluculo in hostem progressi, iuxta meritum suae fidei uictoria potiti sunt." Bede EH 3.2.

In the trans. I replace Colgrave's trans. of "iusta pro salute gentis nostrae bella suscepimus," "we are fighting in a just cause for the preservation of our whole race" (pp. 214-15) with Wallace-Hadrill's more correct proposal, "we fight a just war for the salvation of our people" (1988-89). N.B.: Although I use Wallace-Hadrill's trans., a literal rendering would result in the more general statement, "we undertake just wars for the salvation of our people."  [Back]

21.   "Nam cum idem Ossualdus rex esset in procinctu belli castarmetatus quadam die in sua papillione supra puluillum dormiens sanctum Columbam in uisu uidet forma coruscantem angelica cuius alta proceritas uertice nubes tangere uidebatur. Qui scilicet uir beatus suum regi proprium reuelans nomen in medio castrorum stans eadem castra, excepta quadam parua extremitate, sui protegebat fulgida ueste. Et haec confiratoria contulit uerba, eadem scilicet quae dominus ad Iesue bén Nun ante transitum Iordanis mortuo Moyse proloqutus est, dicens: `Confortare et age uiriliter. Ecce ero tecum', et cetera. Sanctus itaque Columba haec ad regem in uisu loquens uice mihi dominus donauit ut hostes in fugam uertantur tui, et tuus Catlon inimicus in manus tradatur tuas, et post bellum uictor reuertaris et feliciter reges." "One day when king Oswald was encamped in readiness for battle, sleeping on his pillow in his tent he saw in a vision Saint Columba, radiant in angelic form, whose lofty height seemed with its head to touch the clouds. The blessed man revealed his own name to the king, and standing in the midst of the camp he covered it with his shining raiment, all but a small remote part; and gave him these words of encouragement, the same that the Lord spoke to Joshua ben Nun before the crossing of the Jordan, after the death of Moses, saying, 'Be strong, and act manfully; behold I will be with you', and so on. Thus in the vision Saint Columba spoke to the king, and added: 'This coming night, go forth from the camp to battle; for the Lord has granted to me that at this time your enemies shall be turned to flight, and your adversary Catlon [= Cadwallon] shall be delivered into your hands. And after the battle you shall return victorious and reign happily.'" Adomnán, Life of Columba 1.1.  [Back]

22.   Bede EH 3.6: "humilis benignus et largus."  [Back]

23.   "Vbi pulcherrimo saepe spectaculo contigit, ut euangelizante antistite, qui Anglorum linguam perfecte non nouerat, ipse rex suis ducibus ac ministris interpres uerbi existeret caelestis, quia nimirum tam longo exilii sui tempore linguam Scottorum iam plene didicerat." Bede EH 3.3; see also 3.6.  [Back]

24.   "[N]amque cum armis et hostibus circumseptus iamiamque uideret se esse perimendum, orauit pro animabus exercitus sui. Vnde dicunt in prouerbio: 'Deus miserere animabus, dixit Osuald cadens in terram.'" Bede EH 3.12.  [Back]

25.   See Bede EH 3.11 "sanctum," 3.7 "sanctissimum."  [Back]

26.   Oswald is called "martyr": in 10th-c. English calendars (Thacker 1995, 124-5); very likely by Aelfric of Eynsham c. 995, see below; in late 10th-c. Germany and mid 11th-c. Flanders by Hrotswitha of Gandersheim and Drogo of Bergues respectively (Ó Riain-Raedel 1995, 213-14); in late 11th-c. Germany by Manegold of Lautenbach, a papal partisan in the Investitures Conflict, Erdmann 1977, 236). By the 12th c. Oswald was firmly established as a martyr. For Oswald's cult on the Continent, see also Clemoes 1994, 3-24.  [Back]

27.   "... occisus est, commisso graui proelio, ab eadem pagana gente paganaque rege Merciorum, a quo et prodecessor eius Eduini peremtus fuerat, in loco qui lingua Anglorum nuncupatur Maserfelth, anno aetatis suae XXXVIII, die quinto mensis Augusti. Cuius quanta fides in Deum, quae deuotio mentis fuerit, etiam post mortem uirtutum miraculis claruit. Namque in loco ubi pro patria dimicans a paganis interfectus est, usque hodie sanitates infirmorum et hominum et pecorum celebrari non desinunt. Vnde contigit et puluerem ipsum, ubi corpus eius in terram conruit, multi auferentes et in aquam mittentes suis per haec infirmis multum commodi adferrent." Bede EH 3.9.  [Back]

28.   Aelfric does not pick up on this fact, however. Instead, he identifies Cadwallon as the slayer of "Eadwine his eam," "Edwin [Oswald's] uncle" (Aelfric Oswald line 7).  [Back]

29.   See Appendix I, "The Royal Lines of Northumbria."  [Back]

30.   On the date of Reginald, see Tudor 1995, 183.  [Back]

31.   In private communication as well as in her 2004 Kalamazoo paper, Michelle Ziegler argues that the heroic epithets given not just to Oswald but to Aethelfrith, Oswiu, and other Northumbrian kings implies some such poetic cycle known by the compiler of the Historia Brittonum working in Gwynedd c. 830.  [Back]

32.   "Hoc tamen Omnipotens fieri non passus inultum est / sed dedit Osuualdum Regis regnare nepotem," Alcuin Bishops, Kings, and Saints lines 234-5.  [Back]

33.   Bede EH 3.14.  [Back]

34.   Chase 1985, 37-48. Chase focussed here on the untrans. and neglected anonymous Life of Oswine in British Library ms. Cotton Julius A.x. ff. 10-43, ed. James Raine, Miscellanea Biographica, Publications of the Surtees Society 8 (1838), pp. 1-59. Like Aelfric with King Oswald, Oswine's anonymous author reshaped Bede's story by reinstilling heroic elements missing in EH.  [Back]

35.   Bede EH 3.14; the translation is Whitelock 1955, 1:631. See also Hill 1975, 40  [Back]

36.   Asser, Life of [King] Alfred, cast the conflict in stark religious terms, as one of pagani versus Christiani; in those passages he derived from the ASC the biographer even sharpened the opposition. On this, see Keynes and Lapidge 1983, 41 and 23, and p. 231 n. 12 where they explain their decision to translate pagani as "Vikings" throughout the Life. A good example of Asser's sharpening the dichotomy may be seen by comparing two passages concerning King Edmund of East Anglia, martyred by the Vikings in late 869, from the ASC s.a. 870 and Asser, Life of Alfred chaps. 31-2. There are many more.  [Back]

37.   "niedbeđearfosta . . . eallum monnum to wiotonne," from the Prose Preface to Alfred's translation of Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care, trans. Keynes and Lapidge 1983, 126.  [Back]

38.   Ker 1957, xvii dates ms. British Library Cotton Julius E.vii, which Skeat used as the basis for his ed., as "s. xi. in."  [Back]

39.   The significance is discussed by Thacker 1995, 124-5.  [Back]

40.   Hare 2004 surveys the corpus of Old English poetry from this perspective.  [Back]

41.   On the long-standing debate surrounding the characterization of Byrhtnoth, the fallen hero of The Battle of Maldon in 991, as saint and martyr, see Bradley 1982, 518-19; Hare 1997, 269-70; Hare 2004, as well as Damon 2002, 185, 191-4, et passim; Damon 2003.  [Back]

Works Cited

Abels, Richard P. 1988. Lordship and military obligation in Anglo-Saxon England. Berkeley: University of California Press.  [Back]

Aelfric. 1881-1900. Aelfric's Lives of Saints. Edited and translated by Walter W. Skeat. Vols. 76, 82, 94, 114, Early English Text Society (Original Series). London: Trübner.  [Back]

Alcuin. 1982. Alcuin: The bishops, kings, and saints of York. Edited and Translated by Peter Godman. Oxford: Clarendon Press.  [Back]

Aldhelm. 1913-1919. Aldhelmi opera. Edited by R. Ehwald. Vol. 15, Monumenta Germania historiae, auctores antiquissimi. Berlin.  [Back]

Adomnán. 1991. Adomnán's Life of Columba. Edited and translated by Alan Orr Anderson and Marjorie Ogilvie Anderson. Oxford: Clarendon Press.  [Back]

Bede. 1969. Bede's ecclesiastical history of the English People. Edited and Translated by Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors. Oxford: Clarendon Press.  [Back]

Benedict of Nursia. 1981. RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with notes. Edited by Timothy Fry, et al. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.  [Back]

Bradley, S. A. J. 1982. Anglo-Saxon poetry. London: J. M. Dent—Everyman's Library.  [Back]

Brooks, Nicholas P. 1989. The creation and early structure of the kingdom of Kent. In The origins of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, ed. Steven Bassett, pp. 55-74. London: Leicester University Press.  [Back]

Chase, Colin. 1981. Saints' lives, royal lives, and the date of Beowulf. In The dating of Beowulf, ed. idem, 161-71. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.  [Back]

———. 1985. Beowulf, Bede, and St. Oswine: The hero's pride in Old English hagiography. In The Anglo-Saxons: Synthesis and achievement, ed. J. Douglas Woods and David A. E. Pelteret, 37-48. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.  [Back]

Clemoes, Peter. 1983. The cult of St Oswald on the Continent. Jarrow Lecture. Repr. 1994. In Bede and his world: The Jarrow Lectures, Vol. 2, 1979-1993, pp. 3-24. Aldershot, England, and Brookfield, VT: Variorum.  [Back]

Colgrave, Bertram, ed. and trans. 1968. The earliest Life of Gregory the Great by an anonymous monk of Whitby. Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press.  [Back]

Damon, John Edward. 2002. Sanctifying Anglo-Saxon ealdormen: Lay sainthood and the rise of the crusading ideal. In "Via Crucis": Essays on early medieval sources and ideas in memory of J. E. Cross, eds. Thomas N. Hall, et al., 185-209. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.  [Back]

———. 2003. Soldier saints and holy warriors: Warfare and sanctity in the literature of early England. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.  [Back]

Earle, J., ed. 1865. Two of the Saxon chronicles parallel with supplementary extracts from the others. Oxford: Clarendon Press.  [Back]

Erdmann, Carl. 1977. The origin of the idea of crusade. Trans. Marshall W. Baldwin and Walter Goffart from Die Entstehung des Kreuzzugsgedankens (1935). Princeton: Princeton University Press.  [Back]

Fanning, Stephen. 1991. Bede, Imperium, and the bretwaldas. Speculum 66:1-26.  [Back]

Farmer, David Hugh. 1987. The Oxford dictionary of saints. 2nd ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.  [Back]

Forsman, Deanna Dawn. 2002. England and northern Frankia, fifth-seventh centuries: Implications of cross-Channel contact. Unpublished Ph. D. dissertation. University of California, Los Angeles.  [Back]

Gregory of Tours. 1974. Gregory of Tours: History of the Franks. Edited and translated by Lewis Thorpe. London: Penguin.  [Back]

Gunn, Victoria A. 1993. Bede and the martyrdom of St Oswald. In Martyrs and martyrologies, ed. Diana Wood, pp. 57-66. Vol. 30, Studies in Church History. Oxford: Basil Blackwell for the Ecclesiastical History Society.  [Back]

Hare, Kent G. 1997. Christian heroism and holy war in Anglo-Saxon England. Unpublished Ph. D. dissertation. Louisiana State University.  [Back]

———. 2004. Christian heroism and the West Saxon achievement: The Old English poetic evidence. Medieval Forum 4 (  [Back]

Higham, N. J. 1993. The kingdom of Northumbria, AD 350-1100. Dover, NH: Alan Sutton.  [Back]

———. 1995. An English empire: Bede and the early Anglo-Saxon kings. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.  [Back]

———. 1997. The convert kings: Power and religious affiliation in early Anglo-Saxon England. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.  [Back]

Hill, Rosalind M. T. 1975. Holy kings—the bane of seventh-century society." In Church society and politics, ed. Derek Baker, pp. 39-43. Vol. 12, Studies in Church History. Oxford: Basil Blackwell for the Ecclesiastical History Society.  [Back]

Ker, Niel R. 1957. Catalogue of manuscripts containing Anglo-Saxon. Oxford: Clarendon Press.  [Back]

Keynes, Simon, and Michael Lapidge, trans. and eds. 1983. Alfred the great: Asser's Life of King Alfred and other contemporary sources. London: Penguin.  [Back]

Klaeber, Frederick. 1937. King Oswald's death in Old English alliterative verse. Philological Quarterly 16:214.  [Back]

Klaniczay, Gábor. 2002. Holy rulers and blessed princesses. Translated by Éva Pálmai. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  [Back]

Mayr-Harting, Henry. 1991. The coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. 3rd ed. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.  [Back]

———. 1994. Two conversions to Christianity: The Bulgarians and the Anglo-Saxons. Reading, Berkshire: University of Reading.  [Back]

Ó Riain-Raedel, Dagmar. 1995. Edith, Judith, and Matilda: The role of royal ladies in the propagation of the continental cult. In Oswald: Northumbrian King to European Saint, edited by Clare Stancliffe and Eric Cambridge. Stamford: Paul Watkins.  [Back]

Plummer, Charles, ed. 1896. Venerabilis Baedae opera historica. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press.  [Back]

Rollason, David. 1995. St Oswald in post-conquest England. In Oswald: Northumbrian King to European Saint, edited by Clare Stancliffe and Eric Cambridge. Stamford: Paul Watkins.  [Back]

———. 2003. Northumbria, 500-1100: Creation and destruction of a kingdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  [Back]

Stancliffe, Clare. 1980. Kings and conversion: Some comparisons between the Roman mission to England and Patrick's to Ireland. Frühmittelalterliche Studien 14:59-94.  [Back]

———. 1983. Kings who opted out. In Ideal and reality in Frankish and Anglo-Saxon society: Studies presented to J.M. Wallace-Hadrill, ed. Patrick Wormald, et al.,. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.  [Back]

———. 1995. Oswald, 'Most holy and most victorious king of the Northumbrians.' In Oswald: Northumbrian King to European Saint, edited by Clare Stancliffe and Eric Cambridge. Stamford: Paul Watkins.  [Back]

Stephanus, Eddius. 1927. The Life of Bishop Wilfrid by Eddius Stephanus. Edited and translated by Bertram Colgrave. Repr. 1985. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  [Back]

Symeon of Durham. 1882-1885. Symeonis Monachi Opera Omnia. Edited by Thomas Arnold. Vol. 72, Rolls Series. London: Longman.  [Back]

Thacker, Alan. 1995. Membra disjecta: The division of the body and the diffusion of the cult. In Oswald: Northumbrian King to European Saint, edited by Clare Stancliffe and Eric Cambridge. Stamford: Paul Watkins.  [Back]

Tolkien, J. R. R. 1936. Beowulf: The monsters and the critics. Repr. 1991. In Interpretations of Beowulf: A critical anthology, ed. R. D. Fulk. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.  [Back]

Tudor, Virginia. 1995. Reginald's Life of St Oswald. In Oswald: Northumbrian King to European Saint, edited by Clare Stancliffe and Eric Cambridge. Stamford: Paul Watkins.  [Back]

Wallace-Hadrill, J.M. 1971. Early Germanic kingship in England and on the Continent. Oxford: Clarendon Press.  [Back]

———. 1988. Bede's 'Ecclesiastical History of the English People': A historical Commentary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.  [Back]

Whitelock, Dorothy, trans. and ed. 1955. English historical documents, c. 500-1042. New York: Oxford University Press.  [Back]

Wilson, R. M. 1952. The lost literature of medieval England. London: Methuen.  [Back]

Wood, Ian N. 1983. The Merovingian North Sea. Alingsås, Sweden: Viktoria.  [Back]

———. 1994. The mission of Augustine of Canterbury to the English. Speculum 69:1-17.  [Back]

Woolf, Alex. 2004. Caedualla rex Brettonum and the passing of the old north. Northern History 41:5-24.  [Back]

Wormald, Patrick. 1978. Bede, 'Beowulf,' and the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy." In Bede and Anglo Saxon England, ed. Robert T. Farrell. British Archaeological Reports 46:32-95.  [Back]

———. 1982. The age of Bede and Aethelbald. In The Anglo-Saxons, ed. James Campbell. London: Penguin.  [Back]

———. 1983. Bede, the Bretwaldas and the origins of the gens Anglorum. In Ideal and reality in Frankish and Anglo-Saxon society: Studies presented to J. M. Wallace-Hadrill, ed. Patrick Wormald, et al. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.  [Back]