History of Northumberland and the Borders, United Kingdom
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Northumbria was originally composed of the union of two independent kingdoms, Bernicia and Deira. Bernicia covered lands north of the Tees, whilst Deira corresponded roughly to modern-day Yorkshire. Bernicia and Deira were first united by Aethelfrith, a king of Bernicia who conquered Deira around the year 604. He was defeated and killed around the year 616 in battle at the River Idle by Raedwald of East Anglia, who installed Edwin, the son of Aella, a former king of Deira, as king.
Edwin, who accepted Christianity in 627, soon grew to become the most powerful king in England: he was recognized as Bretwalda and conquered the Isle of Man and Gwynedd in northern Wales. He was, however, himself defeated by an alliance of the exiled king of Gwynedd, Cadwallon ap Cadfan and Penda, king of Mercia, at the Battle of Hatfield Chase in 633.
After Edwin's death, Northumbria was split between Bernicia, where Eanfrith, a son of Aethelfrith, took power, and Deira, where a cousin of Edwin, Osric, became king. Both of these rulers were killed during the year that followed, as Cadwallon continued his devastating invasion of Northumbria. After the murder of Eanfrith, his brother, Oswald, backed by a force of Scots sent by Domnal of Dalriada, defeated and killed Cadwallon at the Battle of Heavenfield in 634.
King Oswald re-introduced Christianity to the Kingdom, but this time, by appointing St Aidan, an Irish monk from the Scottish island of Iona to convert his people. This led to the introduction of Celtic Christianity, as opposed to Roman Catholicism. A monastery was established on Lindisfarne, probably as an echo of the island monastery of Iona.
War with Mercia continued, however. In 642, Oswald was killed by the Mercians under Penda at the Battle of Maserfield. In 655, Penda launched a massive invasion of Northumbria, aided by the sub-king of Deira, Aethelwald, but suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of an inferior force under Oswiu, Oswald's successor, at the Battle of Winwaed. This battle marked a major turning point in Northumbrian fortunes: Penda died in the battle, and Oswiu gained supremacy over Mercia, making himself the most powerful king in England.
Religious union and the loss of Mercia
In the year 664 a great synod was held at Whitby to discuss the controversy regarding the timing of the Easter festival. Much dispute had arisen between the practices of the Celtic church in Northumbria and the beliefs of the Roman church. Eventually, Northumbria was persuaded to move to the Roman faith, the Celtic Bishop Colman of Lindisfarne returned to Iona.
Northumbria lost control of Mercia in the late 650s, after a successful revolt under Penda's son Wulfhere, but it retained its dominant position until it suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Picts at the Battle of Nechtansmere in 685; Northumbria's king, Ecgfrith (son of Oswiu), was killed, and its power in the north was gravely weakened. The peaceful reign of Aldfrith, Ecgfrith's half-brother and successor, did something to limit the damage done, but it is from this point that Northumbria's power began to decline, and chronic instability followed Aldfrith's death in 704.
The kingdom's rise and fall
The kingdom was famed as a centre of religious learning and arts. Initially the Northumbria was Christianised by monks from the Celtic Church, and this led to a flowering of monastic life, with a unique style of religious art that combined Anglo-Saxon and Celtic. After the Synod of Whitby in 664 the Celtic and Catholic Churches united. However the unique style was preserved, with its most famous example being the Lindisfarne Gospels.
Viking and Scots invasions further reduced Northumbria to an earldom stretching from the Tees to the Tweed, and Northumbria was for a long time in territory where sovereinty was disputed between the emerging nation states of England and Scotland. The Earls of Northumbria maintained a degree of independence from both, but there were lengthy periods of fighting over control of the earldom.
Norman invasion and partition of the earldom
William the Conqueror became king of England in 1066. He soon realised he needed to control Northumbria, which had remained virtually independent of the Kings of England, to protect his kingdom from Scottish invasion. To acknowledge the remote independence of Northumbria and ensure England was properly defended from the Scots William gained the allegiance of both the Bishop of Durham and the Earl and confirmed their powers and privileges. However, anti-Norman rebellions followed. William therefore attempted to install Robert Comine, a Norman noble, as the Earl of Northumbria, but before Comine could take up office, he and his 700 men were massacred in the City of Durham. In revenge, the Conqueror led his army in a bloody raid into Northumbria, an event that became known as the Harrying of the North. Aethelwine, the Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Durham, tried to flee Northumbria at the time of the raid, with Northumbrian treasures. The bishop was caught, imprisoned, and later died in confinement; his see was left vacant.
Rebellions continued, and William's son William Rufus decided to partition Northumbria. William St Carileph was made Bishop of Durham, and was also given the powers of Earl for the region south of the Rivers Tyne and Derwent, which became the County Palatinate of Durham. The remainder, to the north of the rivers, became Northumberland, where the political powers of the Bishops of Durham were limited to only certain districts, and the earls continued to rule as clients of the English throne.
The city of Newcastle was founded by the Normans in 1080 to control the region by holding the strategically important crossing point of the river Tyne.
The region continued to have history of revolt and rebellion against the government, as seen in the Rising of the North in Tudor times. A major reason was the strength of Catholicism in the area after the Reformation. In later times this led to strong Jacobite feelings after the Restoration. The region became a sort of wild county, where outlaws and border reivers hid from the law, as it was largely rural and unpopulated. However, after the union of the crowns of Scotland and England under King James VI and I peace was largely restored.
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