5th August 641/2. What was the Capital of Mercia?
There are two contenders: Repton (Derbys) which proudly announces the fact at its boundary, and Tamworth (Staffs).
An abbey, later Augustinian Priory, was built at Repton, by the Trent, where Christianity obtained a foot-hold and set to become the religious centre of Mercia which it shared with Lichfield.
King Offa by 757 had made Tamworth his chief residence, building a wooden castle, in what was to become the heartland of Mercia (Mierce a boundary) of territory from the Humber to the Thames, bordering Northumbria and Wessex.
Charters of the time show the Mercian royal family residing at Tamworth for Christmas and Easter between 751-857.
The period came to life in 1779 when a workman fell through the chancel floor of Repton church revealing an unknown 8thc Saxon crypt constituting ‘one of the most precious survivals of Anglo-Saxon architecture in England’ (Pevsner). It had originally held the remains of Ethelbald (c718-57) grandson of King Eowa and King Wiglaf in 840.(1)
It was Today in 642 that Mercian King Eowa, son of Pybba and brother of King Penda (625-55), according to the Historia Brittonum (c828), was killed at the Battle of Maserfield (Cogwy).(2)
The two kings were probably co-rulers, with Eowa ruling the north of Mercia whilst Penda his brother controlled the south.
Two centuries later after the reign of Offa (757-96) came disaster in the winter of 873/4 when the Vikings landed boats at Hreopedune (Repton), according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. There they built a ‘D shape’ dry, riverside enclosure c3.5 acres, between the abbey and the river and left, as excavations have shown, a warrior with his sword.
In 1979 the carved ‘Repton Stone’-now in Derby Museum-portrays a broken cross-shaft showing a kilted warrior on horseback, supposedly representing Ethelbald (718-57) constituting the earliest pictorial representation of an English king.
Now the Trent which brought the Vikings has moved away from Repton, but the Saxon crypt still lies under the present church of St Wystan.
Tamworth’s Saxon presence being of wood has long gone and only the Norman stone castle reminds us of its royal past.
(1a) Ethelbald (c718-57) was the grandson of Eowa who proclaimed himself King of Britain but was murdered by his bodyguards.
(1b) Wiglaf’s grandson, Wystan (Wygstan), later sanctified, was murdered by his uncle.
(2) In Chapter 65 of the Historia, ‘Penda fought the Battle of Cogwy in which fell Eowa, his brother, King of Mercia and Oswald, King of the North-Men and he gained the victory by diabolical agency’. Penda became according to Prof.Stenton the most formidable king in England.
Google Images/Pic of Crypt.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
Chronicles: Historia Brittonum and Annales Cambriae.
Frank Stenton: Anglo-Saxon England 1943 et al (pp 81-3).