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 Welcome to Mercia.  Press Control+B to Bookmark this site for later reference.
The Comprehensive Website for the Ancient English Kingdom of Mercia   
Mercia, sometimes spelled Mierce , was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy, in what is now England, in the Midlands region, with its heart in the Trent valley and its tributary streams. This site shows  places of Interest & Events in  Mercia 
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Background of The English
Kingdom of Mercia

Goodbye Rome, Hello England
The period of British history between the departure of the Roman legions and the Norman Conquest is often referred to as the 'Dark Ages'. It is called the Dark Ages for a number of reasons: the written and archaeological record for this period is scarce and the violence and lawlessness that came about from a withdrawal of formal government and administration added to its aura of bleakness.

In the years after the Roman departure the very identity of Britain changed as we became 'England'. The native Britons were either assimilated into this new identity, forced further west into Wales, Cornwall and Cumbria or migrated to other parts of Europe.

Roman rule had been gradually accepted in Britain and there were no rebellions or uprisings that caused the end of Roman Britain. Problems elsewhere in the empire had necessitated the movement of troops back eastwards and whilst many in Britain expected them to return this was not to be the case. In 410 AD Britain received confirmation that she was now on her own when they wrote to Rome asking for help against the invading Picts and were told in an edict of the Emperor Honorius to look to themselves for their defence.

Within 30 years Britain had severed nearly all her ties with Rome and the end of Roman life, particularly in the more rural areas, was quick and complete. Anglo-Saxons began to arrive and the taking of control was made easier for them as there was no administration, Roman or otherwise, to adapt or overthrow.

One important factor in the speedy collapse of Roman Britain would have been the removal of the Roman economy. The economy that came over with the Romans had been responsible for everything that signified Roman Britain. The market for goods had brought with it towns, housing, clothes and laws. Across the country pockets of organised society had begun to appear, in contrast to the self-sufficient nature that had represented Iron Age Britain. After the collapse of Roman Britain many people would have returned to the almost self-sufficient life that they had lived before the Romans.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle begins its history with the coming of the first Saxons, Hengist and Horsa, to Britain. They had been invited by King Vortigern to help him in his battles against the fearsome Picts and Scots who had begun to invade Britain after the departure of the Romans at the beginning of the 5th century AD. At first the Saxons helped the Britons to win victories against their enemy but soon they turned against those who had invited them in the quest to secure riches and land for themselves.

After victories over the Britons they were quick to send the message home telling of the 'worthlessness of the Britons and the excellence of their land' (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, AD 449). Soon many more began to invade Britain in the hope of a profitable return.

At first the British paid off the Saxon raiders with money called 'Danegeld' (raised by taxes) but the Saxons began to want more and the thought of easy money brought further invasions.

The Anglo-Saxons were from various tribes - Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Franks etc. They lived in the south of what is now Denmark and along the sandy coast of north-west Germany and Holland. Coming from such mountainous and wooded areas they were particularly interested in the fertile fields of Britain.

The English (as the invaders called themselves) defeated several British Kings, and set up their own independent kingdoms. In 585 they founded Mercia (the middle of England to the Welsh Border) and to the north the English kingdom of Northumbria stretched from coast to coast. Eastern Britain was now steadily becoming England.

The natives who refused to succumb to the new rulers were pushed into Wales, Cornwall and Scotland, killed or sold into slavery.

The Anglo-Saxons and Mercia

The name Mercia comes from the Old English word 'Mierce' which means boundary, hence Mercia means 'the land of the boundary people'. This name may be significant in that part of the Western border of Mercia formed the boundary between the Anglo-Saxon English and the unconquered Britons of Wales. Some scholars have suggested that the name may to refer to the boundaries the area shared with other kingdoms such as Northumbria.

It is thought that the first Anglo-Saxons in Mercia migrated across from East Anglia, travelling along river valleys. The date given for this is early in the 6th century.
 It was settled by Angles c.500, probably first along the Trent valley.With the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in the area many of the Britons would have moved westwards into more securely British territory. As the Anglo-Saxons moved west from East Anglia many would have settled in places along the route that provided good water, fertile soils and timber for house-building.

As a result the kingdom of Mercia would eventually stretch from Oundle and Northampton in the east and to Hereford and Shrewsbury in the west.
Within this area lie the Mercian episcopal centre of Lichfield (founded 669) and the important royal centres of Repton and Tamworth.This kingdom soon developed two main divisions; Central Mercia and Outer Mercia.

Central Mercia was made up of one tribal unit whereas Outer Mercia comprised a series of smaller tribes who would eventually owe allegiance to Central Mercia (Mercia - Sarah Zaluckyj, pg 17).

The tribes of Outer Mercia would often remain under the rule of their original king or leader who would govern on behalf of the King of Mercia, many of these smaller tribes would eventually be absorbed into the inner core of the kingdom. Outer Mercia included Herefordshire, Worcestershire,  Shropshire, Cheshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire,  and Lincolnshire,  Also parts of Oxfordshire and Berkshire.

The early annals apparently indicate that the Kingdom of Mercia began in 585 AD with a man called Crida or Creod(d)a as king (It is thought that Credenhill [the site of an Iron Age hillfort] was named after this king).

He was then succeeded by Wibba/Pipba who it is thought reigned between 593 and 597. The first Mercian king mentioned by Bede is Cearl who reigned for 10 years between 597-607. Cearl was succeeded by Penda, who was to become one of the most famous kings of Mercia.

The kings of Mercia were itinerant people moving from one royal district to another expecting the local nobility to feed and take care of them. This in itself was no small feat and it has been estimated that in the 7th century '10 vats of honey, 300 loaves, 12 ambers (casks) of Welsh ale, 30 of clear ale, 2 full grown cows, or 10 wethers (castrated sheep), 10 geese, 20 hens 10 cheeses an "amber" full of butter, 5 salmon, 20 pounds of fodder and 100 eels' were required to feed and water the king and his men for one night. *1

By travelling around the different communities of the large kingdom the king could demonstrate his power and influence and hopefully discourage uprisings or rebellions. He could also listen to criminal cases and complaints and so keep a role in the leadership of his kingdom.

Eventually the smaller Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England became absorbed by the larger kingdoms until the majority of the country was under the control of 7 different main kingdoms. These were Mercia, Northumbria, Wessex, East Anglia, Sussex. Kent and Essex.

By the 8th century Mercia had come into her own and was considered one of the three most powerful kingdoms along with Northumbria and Wessex. By this time her territory stretched from Kent in the south-east, through London and the Midlands and as far north as the Derbyshire Peak District.

This area included rich, fertile soils for crop and arable farming and in the west there were large areas of woodland such as the Forest of Dean for timber. There were quarries for stone and lead and salt works at Droitwich and Cheshire. All these would have combined to create a profitable industry for Mercia and with wealth her power would have grown.

The Kings & Queens of Mercia

The first dynasty of the Mercians was called Iclingas after Icel, father of Cynewald, grandfather of Cnebba, and great-grandfather of Creoda of Mercia.
Reign Incumbent
c.585 to 593Creoda
593 to c.606Pybba
606 to 626Ceorl
626 to 655Penda
655 to 656Peada
Northumbrian Dynasty
direct rule 656 to 659Oswiu
Mercian Dynasty
659 to 675Wulfhere
675 to 704Aethelred
704 to 709Cenred
709 to 716Ceolred
716 to 757Ethelbald
757 to 796Offa
787 to 14/17 December 796Ecgfrith
December 796 to 821Cenwulf
821 to 823Ceolwulf I
823 to 825Beornwulf
826 to 827Ludeca
827 to 829Wiglaf
Wessex Dynasty
829 to 830Egbert of Wessex
Mercian Dynasty
830 to 840Wiglaf
840? to 840?Wigstan
840 to 852Beorhtwulf
852 to 874
873 to 879Ceolwulf II
879 to 911Aethelred
911 to 918Ethelfleda
918 to 919Aelfwynn
Offa (r. 757-796)
King Offa
Perhaps the most important of all Mercian Kings was Offa. Offa, King of Mercia seized the throne after a civil war, and established supremacy over many lesser kings.

He consolidated his position by marrying his daughters to the kings of Wessex and Northumbria, and was the first ruler to be called 'king of the English'. Offa ruthlessly overcame strong opposition in southern England. By the end of his reign, Offa was master of all England south of the Humber. He had a frontier barrier (Offa's Dyke) built; this continuous ditch and bank ran 149 miles along the boundary between the Mercian and Welsh kingdoms 'from sea to sea'. Offa had dealings with the emperor Charlemagne (a proposed dynastic marriage between their children came to nothing), and he visited Rome in 792 to strengthen his links with the papacy.
The English penny (silver currency) was introduced during Offa's reign.
In the first recorded coronation in England, Offa's son Ecgfrith was consecrated in 787 in Offa's lifetime in an attempt to secure the succession. However, Ecgfrith died childless, months after Offa. Offa's success in building a strong unified kingdom caused resistance in other kingdoms.
The Mercians' defeat at the hands of Egbert of Wessex at the battle of Ellendun in 825 meant that supremacy passed to Wessex.
Three places claim to be the capital of Mercia. They are Lichfield, Repton and Tamworth. Below we list what is known of these places in the dark ages.

Lichfield - Mercia's Ecclesiastical Centre
Lichfield Cathedral
In 669, according to the Venerable Bede, Chad moved his bishopric to a place called 'Licidfelth'.

The burial in the cathedral of individual kings of Mercia, such as Celred in 716, further increased the prestige of Lichfield. In 786, Pope Adrian I raised it at the request of Offa, King of Mercia, to the dignity of an archbishopric, but in 803 the primacy was restored to Canterbury. St. Chade, the Patron Saint of Mercia was buried here and many pilgrims visited his Shrine.

The first church probably stood on the site of the present cathedral, and the settlement quickly grew as the ecclesiastical centre of the Kingdom of Mercia

Repton - The Birthplace of Christianity in Mercia
The village dates back to Anglo-Saxon times and was the place where Christianity was first preached in the Midlands.  In the crypt of the church there are still well preserved remains of Saxon architecture. Repton church was the burial place of Mercian Kings. It dates from around 750 AD and contains the tombs of King Ethelbald of Mercia(ad757), King Wiglaf in AD840 and his grandson St Wystan who was brutally murdered. The crypt became a place of pilgramage.

A monastery had been founded following the arrival of Christianity in Mercia around AD653. It was sacked by the Danes, lay in ruins for 200 years and never rebuilt, but the crypt survived and a church was built on the old site. Its 212 ft spire is a land mark for miles around.
 Repton is known and sign posted as the capital of Mercia.
Tamworth - The Site of The Royal Palace
Tamworth Castle
When Offa came to the throne of Mercia in 757 AD, he made Tamworth his chief residence and built a palace there

Offa's palace was likely a large, thatched, wooden building and as such it's location is not known, but it might have been north-east of Bolebridge Street in Tamworth following excavations in 1968, although other possible locations include the area of the churchyard north of St. Editha's church or in the Castle Grounds near the castle gatehouse.

Tamworth   was sacked by Danes in the 9th century. Defences in the form of a castle were constructed against Danish invaders by Ethelfleda Queen of the kingdom of Mercia.
*1 (Nicholas Brooks : 'Formation of the Mercian kingdom', in 'The Origins of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, 1989).

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