Penda

(d. 654)
   Mercian king (r. 632/633-654) who transformed his kingdom into a significant power during his lifetime. Penda was a mighty king, who extended his overlordship over much of southern England. Although not a Christian himself, Penda allowed his son, Paeda, to introduce Christianity into the kingdom.
   Penda is first mentioned in a passage from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the year 628 after the Battle of Cirencester. The passage notes that he made an agreement with the West Saxons in which the Mercians annexed territory along the river Severn. At that time Penda was most likely not yet king but a powerful noble of royal lineage. He assumed the kingship after the defeat and death of Edwin, king of Northumbria, in 632. In an alliance with Cadwallon of Gwynedd, a native Briton, Penda invaded Deira, devastated the countryside, and slew Edwin, who had extended his authority over Mercia and other regions. Although now king, Penda was forced to recognize the authority of the new Northumbrian king, Oswald of Bernicia, in 633. For the next eight years Penda was not strong enough to challenge Oswald, but in 641 he rose up against the Northumbrian king and defeated and killed him at the Battle of Maserfelth. Oswald himself was almost immediately recognized as a saint and martyr because of his death at the hands of the pagan Penda.
   Following the victory over Oswald, Penda was the greatest king of the English, but he did not attempt to establish himself as overlord of the other kingdoms. He did, however, drive the West Saxon king into exile in 645, following the Saxon king's repudiation of his wife, Penda's sister. He also subjugated the kingdom of East Anglia, and made his son subking of Middle Anglia in 653. And he was recognized as a great power by the other kings, some of whom served in his army. His sole rival was the king of Northumbria, Oswy, though even he respected the power of Penda. Oswy, despite being deemed a personal enemy by Penda, married one of his daughters to Penda's son Paeda and sent a son as a hostage to Penda's court. Despite cordial diplomatic arrangements and the marriage tie, Penda and Oswy did eventually go to war. The cause and course of the war remains unclear, but it was likely the result of border struggles between the two kings. According to Bede, Penda marched against Oswy with some thirty legions in an effort to destroy him. In the army, as a testimony of Penda's power, were soldiers and kings of Mercia's neighboring kingdoms. It is likely that Penda enjoyed some success against Oswy, besieging him in a castle and nearly destroying the king and his army. Penda himself demanded and received a significant amount of treasure from Oswy. But at the Battle of Winwaed, near Leeds, on November of 654, Penda was defeated and killed by Oswy, who, according to Bede, had promised God before the battle that if he were victorious, he would consecrate his daughter to the religious life and build monasteries on twelve estates. Following Penda's death, Mercia was subjugated by Oswy, who remained overlord until Penda's son Wulfhere retook the throne.
   Penda's reign was important in the history of early Anglo-Saxon England. He established Mercia as a significant power and extended his influence throughout southern England. Although Mercia succumbed to Northumbria after his death, Penda's kingdom remained an important power in the coming generations. Although not a Christian himself, he did allow the introduction of Christianity into kingdoms under his control.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Blair, Peter Hunter. The World of Bede. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
 ♦ Randers-Pehrson, Justine Davis. Barbarians and Romans: The Birth Struggle of Europe, a.d. 400-700. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983.
 ♦ Stenton, Frank M. Anglo-Saxon England. 3d ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.
 ♦ Whitelock, Dorothy, ed. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1986.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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