Last week we saw how Rædwald, possible the individual buried at Sutton Hoo, and the subject of Netflix’s recent drama film, The Dig had possibly ascended to become the ruler over the southern Kings of what was to become England, a role that in later times was recorded as “Bretwalda” (a sort of high king). We’re now over halfway through our series and join him in his palace, which may have been in Rendlesham, Suffolk.
The day-to-day life of Rædwald is lost to us, though we do get a small glimpse into his relationships with some of the other kingdoms in the Heptarchy – the seven different kingdoms that would in time form England. We have limited records on the relationships between these kingdoms and there was most likely a complex murky world with dominance and subservience. It is possible that Rædwald’s palace was a busy place with messengers from the other kingdoms who he may have entertained at the occasional banquet from time to time.
We learn from Bede that Rædwald’s power and influence extended over the River Humber into the Kingdom of Northumbria, which would have a longer impact and in time may have gone some way to forming the notion and reality of a nation – England. As Bede was from Northumbria it’s not unsurprising that there is a heightened focus on this particular Kingdom and there is more comparatively written about Edwin King of Northumbria than Rædwald. Thankfully this gives us a small glimpse into events in East Anglia when a young man, Edwin, is an exile in East Anglia. Edwin was the son of Ælla, King of Deira and was forced into exile by Æthelfrith, king of Bernicia. During Æthelfrith’s reign he ruled over both Deira and Bernicia, which together became the Kingdom of Northumbria. During his time running from Æthelfrith, Edwin turned to Rædwald for protection. Bede tells us in Book 2, Chapter 12:
“He (Edwin) wandered secretly as a fugitive for many years through many places and kingdoms, until at last he came to Rædwald and asked him for protection against the plots of his powerful persecutor (Æthelfrith). Rædwald received him gladly, promising to do what he asked.”
Unsurprisingly Æthelfrith is not willing to forget the exiled heir to Deira and tries to bribe Rædwald to kill him or hand him over, at first he is unsuccessful. However, as Bede goes on and tells us:
“The king, being either weakened by his threats or corrupted by bribes, yielded to his request and promised either to slay Edwin or to give him up to the messengers.”
What the bribes consisted of us is kept from us, did it include particularly valuable swords, gold fittings or coins such as those found at Sutton Hoo? Whatever those brides consisted of and where they ended up the fate of Edwin was not sealed with this second change of mind from Rædwald and he reverts back to his first decision to protect Edwin albeit after persuasion from his Mrs Rædwald who must have been some woman! Sadly, we don’t know her name - the impression painted by Bede is that she had significant influence on Rædwald having convinced him to keep with his old faith and not to betray Edwin. The matter of Edwins future did not end there though and we will pick up the unravelling of his story in our next blog – Game of Thrones eat your heart out!
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on early Anglo-Saxon England. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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