Last week we looked at the famous Sutton Hoo site and mound 1, where it is thought Rædwald of East Anglia may have been buried in a ship. The items in the burial indicate a man of wealth, who was a warrior, with connections across Europe and indications of varying religious beliefs. These items point towards a King and is why it is general thought he was Rædwald, who was King of East Anglia.
So who was Rædwald? Well, this is a hard question to answer - there are few historical writings on him with the earliest being by the monk, Bede, in his book Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People), which he completed in 731. However, it is commonly believed, based on the few historical writings, that Rædwald died in around 624, at least 100 years before Bede’s book. It’s possible that there were more contemporary records, however due to the Viking raids in East Anglia during the 9th century, the monasteries where these would have been kept were destroyed.
What we do know is that Rædwald was a member of the Wuffingas dynasty, named after his grandfather Wuffa, who were the first kings of the East Angles, in the days before England was a nation. His father was Tytila, who even less is know about.
As King of the East Angles, Rædwald would have been one of seven kings in England, an arrangement now known as the Anglo-Saxon Hepratchy. The Heptarchy is conventionally said to have lasted from the end of the Roman period in the fifth century until most of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms came under the overlordship of Egbert of Wessex in 829.
The kingdoms of the Heptarchy were Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex, and Wessex, however it should be noted that the term Heptarchy is largely one of convenience and does not imply the existence of a clear-cut or stable group of seven kingdoms. The number of kingdoms and sub-kingdoms fluctuated rapidly as kings contended for supremacy. Furthermore, there would have been times when one King would have gained overlordship of some or all of the other Kings, that King having the title Bretwalda.
Early on in Rædwald’s reign, his overlord or Bretwalda Æthelberht of Kent converted to Christianity and it is believed led Rædwald to convert too (we’ve started some builds around Æthelberht which we hope to share soon). It’s not known when this took place, though it is thought to have happened after the Gregorian mission that took place in 597. It’s also unknown where and how the baptism took place. It's considered by some that full immersion, as carried out by John the Baptist, continued in the Western church at least into the Middle Ages a view we have taken and placed Rædwald’s immersion in the Great Stour which runs through Canterbury, believed to be the seat of Æthelberht.
Following his conversion, Rædwald took his first Christian communion and along with his retinue would have returned to East Anglia where we will pick up his story in our next blog. In the meantime you can check out what possessions of Rædwald’s ended up in his burial. (Note to history buffs – this is contextual and there is no written evidence to support our explorative depiction and connection with the items in mound 1, Sutton Hoo).
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