Ecgfrith (c. 645 – 20 May 685) was the King of
Deira from 664 until
670, and then
King of Northumbria
King of Northumbria from 670 until his death in 685. He
ruled over Northumbria when it was at the height of its power, but his
reign ended with a disastrous defeat at the
Battle of Nechtansmere
Battle of Nechtansmere in
which he lost his life.
1 Early life
2 King of Northumbria
6 Further reading
7 External links
Ecgfrith was born in 645 to king
Eanflæd his queen. At
about the age of 10 Ecgfrith was held as a hostage at the court of
Queen Cynewise after her husband king
Penda of Mercia
Penda of Mercia invaded
Northumbria in 655. Penda was eventually defeated and killed in the
Battle of the Winwaed
Battle of the Winwaed by
Oswiu a victory which greatly enhanced
Northumbrian power. To secure his hegemony over other English kingdoms
Oswiu arranged a marriage between Ecgfrith and Æthelthryth, a
daughter of Anna of East Anglia, he was possibly as young as 15 at the
time. Ecgfrith was then made king of
Deira in 664 after his
half-brother Alhfrith had rebelled against
Oswiu earlier that year.
King of Northumbria
In 671, at the Battle of Two Rivers, Ecgfrith put down an
opportunistic rebellion by the Picts, which resulted in the
Northumbrians taking control of the land between the Firth of Forth
and the Tweed for the next fourteen years. Around the same time,
Æthelthryth wished to leave Ecgfrith to become a nun. Eventually, in
Æthelthryth persuaded Ecgfrith to allow her to become a
nun, and she entered the monastery of the Abbess Æbbe, who was aunt
to King Ecgfrith, at Coldingham. A year later
founding abbess of Ely.
In 674, Ecgfrith repelled the Mercian king Wulfhere, which enabled him
to seize Lindsey. In 679, he fought the Mercians again, now under
Wulfhere's brother Æthelred who was married to Ecgfrith's sister
Osthryth, at the Battle of the Trent. Ecgfrith's own brother Ælfwine
was killed in the battle and following intervention by Theodore, the
Archbishop of Canterbury, Lindsey was returned to the Mercians.
In June 684, Ecgfrith sent a raiding party to Brega in Ireland
under his general Berht, which resulted in the seizing of a large
number of slaves and the sacking of many churches and monasteries. The
reasons for this raid are unclear, though it is known that Ecgfrith
acted against the warnings of
Ecgberht of Ripon and that the raid was
Bede and other churchmen.
Pictish symbol stone depicting what has been generally accepted to be
the battle of Dun Nechtain.
In 685, against the advice of
Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, Ecgfrith led a
force against the
Picts of Fortriu, who were led by his cousin Bridei
mac Bili. On 20 May, Ecgfrith along with most of his men was slain at
the age of 40. He was lured by a feigned flight in the mountains and
slain at what is now called the Battle of Nechtansmere, located at
Dunnichen in Angus or
Dunachton in Badenoch. This defeat
severely weakened Northumbrian power in the north and
Bede dates the
beginning of the decline of the kingdom of Northumbria from Ecgfrith's
death and wrote that following Ecgfrith's death, "the hopes and
strengths of the English realm began 'to waver and to slip backward
ever lower". The Northumbrians never regained the dominance of
central Britain lost in 679; nor of northern Britain lost in 685.
Nevertheless, Northumbria remained one of the most powerful states of
Ireland well into the Viking Age. Ecgfrith was buried
Iona and succeeded by his illegitimate half-brother, Aldfrith.
Ecgfrith appears to have been the earliest Northumbrian king, and
perhaps the earliest of the Anglo-Saxon rulers, to have issued the
silver penny, which became the mainstay of English coinage for
centuries afterwards. Coins had been produced by the Anglo-Saxons
since the late 6th century, modelled on the coins being produced by
the Merovingians in Francia, but these were rare, the most common
being gold scillingas (shillings) or thrymsas. Ecgfrith's pennies,
also known as sceattas, were thick and cast in moulds, and were issued
on a large scale.
^ Koch, John T., Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1
(ABC-CLIO, 2006). ISBN 978-1-8510-9440-0
^ Bede, Ecclesiastical History, Book IV, Chapter 26.
^ Campbell, pp. 88ff; Kirby, pp. 142–143.
Stephen of Ripon, Vita Wilfridi (James Raine, Historians of Church of
York, Rolls Series, London, 1879–1894), 19, 20, 24, 34, 39, 44
Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum
Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (edited by Charles
Plummer, Oxford, 1896), iii. 24; iv. 5, 12, 13, 15, 19, 21, 26.
Historiam ecclesiasticam gentis anglorum, Vol 1, Bede, ed. Charles
Plummer, 1896, (Clarendon Press, Oxford): 4 mentions of "Egfrid"
Historiam ecclesiasticam gentis anglorum, Vol. 2. Bede, ed. Charles
Plummer, 1896, (Clarendon Press, Oxford): 71 mentions of "Egfrid"
Higham, N. J. (2015). Ecgfrith: King of the Northumbrians, High-King
of Britain. Paul Watkins Publishing. ISBN 978-1907730467.
Ecgfrith 4 at Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England
Monarchs of Northumbria
Deira and Bernicia
Kings of Northumbria
Kings of Viking Northumbria
Sitric I Caech
Olaf I Guthfrithson
Olaf II Cuaran
Ragnall II Guthfrit