Rædwald the Great, First King of England
with Dr Sam Newton (Wuffing Education)
at the School of Music, Woodbridge School, Burkitt Road, Woodbridge IP12 4JH,
on Saturday 19th January 2019.

Rædwald is listed by Bede in his early eighth-century Historia Ecclesiastica as one of the English overlords. Prior to Rædwald’s day, these overlords seemed to have had power only in southern England.  Following his victory at the Battle of the River Idle in 617, when he defeated the powerful Northumbrian king Æthelfrith, Rædwald was able to extend his overlordship into the North as well.  Although Bede does not state it explicitly, when we rearrange the events to which he refers in a chronological order, the unavoidable inference emerges that Rædwald was the first king of England. 

Rædwald’s triumph at the River Idle in 617 is also the first recorded instance of a baptised English king gaining victory in battle.  This may have been a significant factor in the re-establishment of Christianity in England after the crisis that followed the death of King Æthelbert of Kent in 616.  We shall thus see that Rædwald was a very great king indeed, which in turn strengthens the possibility that he was the one who lay in state aboard the magnificent Sutton Hoo ship-burial.

Provisional Programme

10.00 – 10.30:      Coffee on arrival

10.30 – 11.30:      Rædwald in the Historical Record

11.30 – 12.00:      Coffee break

12.00 – 13.00:      Rædwald and the Temple of Two Altars

13.00 – 14.00:      Lunch break

14.00 – 14.45:       Rædwald and the Battle of the River Idle

14.45 – 15.15:      Tea break

15.15 – 16.00:      Rædwald the Great

16.00:                     Thanks and Close


About Dr Sam Newton

Sam Newton was awarded his Ph.D at UEA in 1991.  He published his first book, The Origins of Beowulf and the pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia, in 1993, and his second, The Reckoning of King Rædwald, in 2003.  He has published several papers, some of which are available on Academia – https://independent.academia.edu/SamNewton.  He has lectured widely around the country and contributed to many radio and television programmes, especially Time Team, for whom he worked for seven series.  He is a tutor for Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education, an accredited Arts’ Society lecturer, and a Director of the Wuffing Education Study-Day Partnership.


At a previous Study Day by Sam, when asked ‘What was best about the day?‘ people said:


  • I feel as if I know Raedwald like a close member of my family! Excellent and diverse discussion throughout the day
  • New information. Analysis of Bede’s writings
  • Pulling stuff together round a strong theme
  • Sam has a very friendly enthusiastic manner and connects well with his audiences. Slides very well researched.
  • An opportunity to grasp the convoluted political and social structures of the period
  • I always enjoy listening to Sam.
  • Very Lively, applied and interesting. Particularly good responses to questions as well. Thank you
  • Clear informative narrative, and pictures to set some of the events


Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading:

  • Bruce-Mitford, R., Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology (Gollancz 1974)
  • Evans, A., The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial (British Museum 1986).
  • 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).
  • Keynes, S., “Rædwald the Bretwalda”, in Voyage to the Other World: The Legacy of Sutton Hoo, ed. C. Kendall & P. Wells (Minneapolis 1992), pp. 103-123.
  • Kirby, D.P., The Earliest English Kings (London 1991).
  • Newton, S., The Reckoning of King Rædwald: The Story of the King linked to the Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial (Redbird 2003).
  • Plunkett, S. J., Suffolk in Anglo-Saxon Times (Tempus 2005).
  • Scarfe, N., The Suffolk Landscape (Hodder & Stoughton 1972, Alastair 1986).
  • Scarfe, N., Suffolk in the Middle Ages (Boydell 1986).
  • Webster, L., & J. Backhouse, The Making of England: Anglo-Saxon Art and Culture AD 600-900 (British Museum 1991).