Æthelred of Mercia

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Æthelred (pronounced /ˈæθəlrɛd/; died after 704) was King of Mercia from 675 until 704. He was the son of Penda of Mercia and came to the throne in 675, when his brother, Wulfhere of Mercia, died. Within a year of his accession he invaded Kent, where his armies destroyed the city of Rochester. In 679 he defeated his brother-in-law, Ecgfrith of Northumbria, at the Battle of the Trent: the battle was a major setback for the Northumbrians, and effectively ended their military involvement in English affairs south of the Humber. It also permanently returned the kingdom of Lindsey to Mercia's possession. However, Æthelred was unable to re-establish his predecessors' domination of southern Britain.

He was known as a pious and religious king, and made many grants of land to the church. It was during his reign that Theodore, the Archbishop of Canterbury, reorganized the church's diocesan structure, creating several new sees in Mercia and Northumbria. Æthelred befriended Bishop Wilfrid of York when Wilfrid was expelled from his see in Northumbria; Æthelred made Wilfrid Bishop of the Middle Angles during his exile, and supported him at the synod of Austerfield in about 702, when Wilfrid argued his case for the return of the ecclesiastical lands he had been deprived of in Northumbria.

Æthelred's wife, Osthryth, was a daughter of King Oswiu, one of the dominant 7th-century Northumbrian kings. Osthryth was murdered in unknown circumstances in 697, and in 704 Æthelred abdicated, leaving the throne to Wulfhere's son Coenred. Æthelred became a monk at Bardney, a monastery which he had founded with his wife, and was buried there. Ceolred, who was Æthelred's son (though apparently not by Osthryth), became king after Coenred; it is also possible that Æthelred had another son named Ceolwald who was briefly king before Ceolred.


Mercia in the seventh century

By the 7th-century, England was almost entirely divided into kingdoms ruled by the Anglo-Saxons who had come to Britain two hundred years before. The kingdom of Mercia occupied what is now the English midlands; the origin of the kingdom is not recorded, but royal genealogies preserved in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Anglian collection agree that the royal houses were descended from a founder named Icel. The Mercian royal house is hence known as the Iclingas.[1] The earliest Mercian king about whom definite historical information has survived is Penda of Mercia, Æthelred's father.[2] The larger neighbouring kingdoms included Northumbria to the north, recently united from its constituent kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira, East Anglia to the east, and Wessex, the kingdom of the West Saxons, to the south.

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