Michael Linton's Bayeux Tapestry: 1066 - A Medieval Mosaic and Puzzles
QUEENS OF ENGLAND
BEFORE THE NORMAN CONQUEST.
TAGGARD & THOMPSON,
This electronic edition
was prepared by
Michael A. Linton, 2007
QUEENS OF ALFRED, PENDA, AND PEADA.
The daughters of Penda—Penda's warlike propensities—Queen Keniswitha accepts the care of Oswy's son—Quenburga's marriage—Peada and Alfleda—Stipulations— Peada baptized at Carlisle—Penda's opinions—Influence of females in conversion—Quenburga's devotion—Court of Alfred a monastic school—Alfred's death—Quenburga returns to her father's dominions—Retires to Dormund Caistor—The three sisters all become nuns—Penda's death—Death of Peada—His wife, his mother, and his mistress suspected of his murder—Oswy seizes his dominions—Two young princesses take the veil.
"Keneburg in this our sainted front shall stand,
To Alfred the loved wife, King of Northumberland."
Drayton's Poly Olbion.
QUENBURGA and Quenswitha were sisters: their father Penda, King of Mercia, had a very numerous family by his Queen, who also bore the name of Quenswitha. Four princes, Peada, Wupher, Ethelred, and Merowald, became noted Kings of the Saxon Heptarchy. Mercelin, a fifth, was celebrated for piety, and has been entered on the saintly calendar; [Speed, Rapin, Malmesbury, Fabian, Butler.] while, besides the two daughters already named, whose honourable career has transmitted their names to posterity, may be mentioned their sisters Quendrida, Idaberge, and Walburga, the last of whom wore the crown-matrimonial of Sussex.
The father of this remarkable family maintained his power for thirty years, which he spent in continual wars with his neighbours. His adventurous spirit "hated peace worse than death." Five Kings of the Anglo-Saxons perished in contending against his arms, besides the renowned Edwin and Oswald. Penda, in his sister Saxburga's cause, turned his arms against Northumberland, and penetrated as far as the capital city of Bamborough, setting fire to every habitation in the line of his march. Oswy, the Northumbrian monarch, warned by the fate of his kingly predecessors, made every effort to conciliate his formidable enemy. He not only sent him the most valuable presents, but delivered over his second son, Egfrid, as a hostage into the care of Queen Keneswitha, wife of Penda. It was on this occasion that a match was proposed, which it was hoped would establish a lasting peace between the two hostile nations. This was the marriage of Alfred, eldest son of Oswy, by Enfleda, the Kentish princess, to Quenburga, daughter of the Mercian King. This tie, which took place shortly after, was very important in its consequences. On the occasion of Quenburga's coming to Northumberland, she was accompanied by her eldest brother Peada, who then beheld and fell in love with Alfleda, half-sister of Alfred, the King's illegitimate daughter, by a lady bearing the same name, and who was sister of Egfrid, and of another Alfred often mistaken for the son of Enfleda, who had married Quenburga. [The second Alfred, King of Northumberland, was brother of Egfrid, who succeeded Oswy, of whom they were illegitimate children. The first Alfred, who married Quenburga of Mercia, reigned over Deira, but at his death the people of that district revolted in favour of Egfrid. The youth of the second Alfred was passed in exile in Ireland, whence he was afterwards recalled to assume the crowns of Bernicia and Deira.]
Peada [Lingard, Biographia Britannica, Holinshed.] demanded Alfleda of Oswy for his bride, but Oswy refused to accede to the proposal of the Mercian prince, unless he would become a convert to the faith his daughter professed. The royal husband of his sister Quenburga was a firm believer in Christianity; she was mainly instrumental in persuading Peada to embrace its holy doctrines; and that he did this from a sincere conviction, appears from the answer he made when interrogated on the subject: he remarked, with much warmth, "that no consideration, not even the refusal of Alfleda, should provoke him to return to the worship of Wodin."
Peada was accordingly baptized prior to his union with Alfleda; the ceremony was performed by Bishop Finnan, and all his train received the sacred rite with him. This interesting event was witnessed at Carlisle. This city had arrived at great consequence under the Romans, and though afterwards ravaged by the Picts and Scots, was still, for its ancient splendour, accounted a city. When, in a later period, Egfrid, the brother of Alfleda, reigned in Northumberland, he gave the city to St. Cuthbert; and Bede paid a visit there in 686, at the time St. Cuthbert was bishop of Lindisfarne, and describes the walls, which the townspeople took him to see, and a fountain or well of admirable workmanship, which had been early constructed by the Romans. [Britton and Brayley, Holinshed, Rapin, Lingard.]
Before Peada quitted Mercia, in 653, he had been crowned by his father King of Leicester, so that Alfleda might be considered by her marriage Queen of that portion of the Heptarchy. At this period Mercia was divided into two parts, called North and South Mercia, the river Trent forming the boundary between them; the southern division, which belonged to Peada, was called also the Mediterranean, or Middle Angles, and contained 7000 households. The young Queen was conducted by her husband into his dominions, attended by his train, and by four Christian priests, Cidd, Betti, Adda, and Diuma, whom he engaged to instruct his subjects in the new faith. [The first three were Angles, the last an Irishman. —Bede, lib. iii. c. 21.] It had been expected that Penda would oppose his son's conversion, as he was a great enemy to Christianity; but either all religions were alike to him, or he treated the subject with complacency for the sake of a son much beloved; for not only did he suffer, and indeed promote, first the marriage of Quenburga to the pious Alfred, but afterwards the conversion of Peada, and the alliance stipulated as its result to take place with Alfleda. More than this, he admitted Christianity among the Mercians, but in doing so forbade that the Pagan rites should be intermixed with those of the Christians, as had occurred in Essex. This fierce King is said to have "especially hated and despised those who, after they had embraced Christianity, lived in a manner unbecoming their profession," as did Eadbald and other converted princes of the Heptarchy, whom he regarded as "despicable wretches who would not obey their God, in whom they believed." [Rapin, Roger of Wendover.]
The Northumbrian missionaries were successful in propagating their belief. The Queen herself employed her influence over the heart of her husband in behalf of the Christian faith, and in seconding its apostles in their work among his subjects. Thus it is a most remarkable fact, that Mercia, as well as Kent and Northumberland, the three most considerable kingdoms of the Heptarchy, were indebted for conversion to the influence of the female sex. [Hume, Rapin.] Alfleda had only to recall to her mind the bright examples of Bertha and Ethelburga to receive encouragement in the glorious task. Peada, her amiable consort, the first Christian King of Mercia, was a prince of superior understanding, worthy of his exalted dignity, and possessed of talents which commanded the esteem and admiration of all who knew him.
The heart of Quenburga, Queen of Deira, like that of Alfleda, was more set upon the kingdom of heaven than on any earthly diadem. She was singularly devout and pious, and her exhortations prevailed with her husband, King Alfred, that they should live together as brother and sister, rather than as husband and wife: in those times such instances of devotion were esteemed the most exalted proof of religion.
Through the influence of the Queen of Deira, the court of Alfred became converted into a kind of monastic school, of regular discipline and Christian perfection, according to the prevalent notion.
Alfred, however, having died during his father's life-time, [Brit. Sancta.] Quenburga returned to the dominions of Penda, her father. She had resolved to pass the residue of her days in religious seclusion, and selected for her retreat from the world, a town in the confines of Huntingdon and Northampton, called Dormund Caistor. That spot suited her inclination for retirement, but was not the most healthy, being in a moist and fenny situation. Some say that a monastery had already been built there by Prince Wulpher, her brother; but the general opinion is, that Quenburga herself founded the establishment for Christian virgins, over whom she presided as Abbess; [Dugdale, vol. vi., p. 1621.] and this seems most likely, as the town, since called Caistor only, was changed, at that date, from the name of Dormund Caistor to Kunneburg-ceaster, or the town of Quenburga. Into this holy retreat, the three sisters of the widowed Queen retired, the Princesses Keneswitha, Quendrida, and Idaburga, who were all consecrated at Godmanchester. [Butler.]
Great changes, meanwhile, befell the Christian abbess, Quenburga. Her husband was dead, and she had devoted herself to God. She had now to mourn in solitude for the warfare and loss of her father Penda, his foe being her father-in-law, King Oswy. The particulars of this battle have already been related. Penda died as he had lived, a Pagan, and his death was that of a hero, on the battle-field. Thirty captains were slain fighting on the Mercian side on that eventful day, and those who did escape, of their party, were drowned in their flight, in the river Winwid. [Winwidfield, near Leeds.] Among the prisoners taken on the field of strife were the widowed Queen of Penda, Keneswitha, and Egfrid, her hostage, brother to Queen Alfleda.
These were painful tidings for the ears of the royal sisters of Mercia, to Peada and his consort, and the three sons of the deceased king. They were followed by a yet more tragical event, the sudden and mysterious death of Peada. [Holinshed, Rapin, Robert de Swapham, Speed.] The catastrophe of his murder occurred during the festival of Easter, but the true author of the deed is unknown. Three persons stand charged with the crime. The amiable Alfleda, his consort, whose irreproachable life renders such a deed most improbable. Oswy's mistress, who was a Pagan, of whom Robert de Swapham, quoted by Speed, remarks, "this blot is taken from the Christian lady, Alfleda, and brands the face of her that most deserveth it."
The third party accused of Peada's death, is his own mother, the captive Queen Keneswitha. This charge is so unlikely to be true, as to need no refutation. Of the three accused parties, Oswy's mistress seems most likely to have been guilty, and perhaps her daughter was made the tool of her intrigues on this occasion: this opinion derives strength from the fact, that on Peada's death, Oswy seized his dominions, and held them, with the rest of Mercia, till driven thence by Wulphere, brother of the deceased monarch. After the death of Peada, the name of Alfleda, his consort, disappears from the Chronicles.
It is worthy of remark, that the children of Penda, so notorious an opponent of Christianity, were all distinguished for their extraordinary piety. All his four sons, who in succession ruled over Mercia, actively supported the new doctrine, and their sisters became famous in the calendar of saints. [Ingulphus.]
St. Keneswitha was very young when she lost her father, and having resolved to consecrate herself to God, she took the veil in the Monastery of Dormund Caistor, over which her sister, the foundress, presided as first Abbess. Her elder sister, Quendrida, assumed the religious habit with her. These two young votaries are described by historians, as being "eminent for holiness." [Palgrave.] As for their royal protectress and sister, Quenburga, she was "a mirror of sanctity, so that many virgins of all ranks and degrees resorted to her monastery, to be instructed in the rules and exercises of a religious life; and while the daughters of princes reverenced her as a mistress, the poor were admitted to regard her as a companion, and both the one and the other honoured her as a parent."