Bishoprics and Battlefields: East Anglia during the 7th Century
with Dr Sam Newton (Independent Scholar)
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 12th March, 2016.

Went Hill

On the feast day of St Gregory, the pope who sent St Augustine’s mission to the English-speaking peoples in 597, we shall reassess the coming of Roman Christianity to East Anglia after the reign of the great king Rædwald (died c.625). We shall also attempt to chart the heroic history of the Wuffing kingdom up to and including the Battle the River Winwæd (15th Nov. 655), one of the great battles of Anglo-Saxon history, which seems to seal the success of the Gregorian mission.

Our main source for the period, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, tells us that the short reign of Rædwald’s son Eorpwald ended in assassination, but with the succession of Sigeberht, Rædwald’s step-son, c.631, the kingdom was stable enough for the establishment of Felix as the first bishop of the Eastern Angles at Dommoc and of the Irish abbot Fursey at Cnobheresburh. We shall consider the possible site of these major ecclesiastical sites.

Sigeberht appears to have been the first English king to abdicate to become a monk, but was killed in battle c.640 by Penda of Mercia, perhaps near Devil’s Dyke. Sigeberht’s successor Anna (or Onna), father of saints, was also killed by Penda c.654 near Blythburgh, perhaps at Bulcamp, and subsequently buried at Blythburgh. Anna’s successor, his brother Æthelhere, was killed fighting alongside Penda at the Battle of the River Winwæd a year later (c.655). We shall attempt to locate the sites of these events and to elucidate something of the drama behind them.

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:          Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:          Rædwald’s Sons – Eorpwald & Sigeberht

11.15 – 11.40:          Coffee break

11.40 – 12.45:          St Fursey & St Felix

12.45 – 14.00:          Lunch break

14.00 – 14.50:          Rædwald’s Nephews – Good King Ánna

14.50 – 15.10:         Tea break

15.10 – 16.00:          The Battle of the River Winwæd

c.16.00:                   Thanks and Close

About Dr Sam Newton

Sam Newton was awarded his Ph.D at UEA in 1991 and is the author of The Origins of Beowulf and the pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia (1993) and The Reckoning of King Rædwald (2003). He has lectured widely around the country as an independent scholar and has contributed to many radio and television programmes, especially Time Team. He is a Director of Wuffing Education, NADFAS lecturer, and tutor for Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education.

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

Bruce-Mitford, R., Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology (Gollancz 1974)

Colgrave, B., & R.A.B. Mynors (ed. & tr.), Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford 1969).

Farmer, D.H., The Oxford Dictionary of Saints (Oxford 1978)

Gallyon, M., The Early Church in Eastern England (Lavenham 1973)

Higham, N., An English Empire: Bede and the Early Anglo-Saxon Kings (Manchester 1995)

Higham, N., The Convert Kings: Power and Religious Affiliation in Early Anglo-Saxon England (Manchester 1997)

Hoggett, R., The Archaeology of the East Anglian Conversion (Boydell 2010).

Kirby, D.P., The Earliest English Kings (London 1991)

Mayr-Harting, H., The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England (London 1972).

Newton, S., The Reckoning of King Rædwald (Redbird 2003)

Plunkett, S., Suffolk in Anglo-Saxon Times (Stroud 2005)

Scarfe, N., The Suffolk Landscape (Hodder & Stoughton 1972, Alastair 1986)

Warner, P., The Origins of Suffolk (Manchester 1996)

Whitelock, D., “The Pre-Viking Age Church in East Anglia”, Anglo-Saxon England, I (1972), pp. 1-22.