The Anglo-Saxon Kingdom and the See of Lindsey

Historical Background: The Establishment of England: 

The presence of a large number of tribal leaders in the early years of the settlement resulted in the establishment in England of numerous royal dynasties. The relations between those dynasties was more often bloody than friendly but there is good reason to believe that the new settlers regarded themselves more as Anglo-Saxons than as members of their own particular kingdom. The late sixth and seventh centuries are often lumped together by historians under the heading ‘the period of the heptarchy’. There were, however, more than the seven kingdoms implied in this title existing at one period or another. These were Northumbria (occasionally divided into two kingdoms – Bernicia, between the Tees and the Forth, and Deira, between the Humber and the Tees), Lindsey (roughly Lincolnshire and East Anglia), Mercia (roughly the present-day Midlands), Essex, Middlesex, Kent, Sussex and Wessex, which were all at one time or another kingdoms, with kings who traced their ancestry from Woden or another Germanic god, Seaxneat. The history of the period from 600 to the Conquest in 1066 tells of the gradual movement of the main centre of power from north to south, from Northumbria to Wessex. It is also the story of the reduction of the power of those kingdoms and their ultimate unification.

One of the most important influences of the period was that provided by the Church. The mission of St. Augustine, which began in 597, and the consequent conversion of the country were to bring literacy to the Anglo-Saxons and organization to the central government. However, the Church was more a hindrance than a help to the unity of the country. For example, the establishment in 734 of the Archbishopric of York split the ecclesiastical and, to some extent, the secular government of the country, into two. Northumbria was throughout the middle period of Anglo-Saxon history regarded as a distinctly separate part of the country.

In the early years of Anglo-Saxon Christianity, Northumbria was the most important kingdom in England. In the seventh century the Northumbrian kings, Edwin, Oswald and Oswiu, came very close to establishing a permanent rule over the whole of England. In 658, however, this hope of unity was ended by the revolt of the Mercians, when Wulfhere took the throne of Mercia. Although we have a clear picture of the kings of Northumbria from Bede, himself a Northumbrian, the northern kingdom never again achieved the power it had under Edwin and Oswald.

Meanwhile, Mercia had absorbed the kingdoms of Essex, East Anglia and Lindsey, the rulers of these areas becoming subject to their Mercian overlords. By c.670, London, the great mercantile centre of England, had come under Mercian control. During Wulfhere’s reign, Wessex, Sussex and the Isle of Wight became subject to Mercia (661). Wulfhere was defeated by Ecgfrith of Northumbria in 674 and lost the kingdom of Lindsey. This was but a temporary set back for Mercia. Within five years Aethelred (674-716) had recovered Lindsey (679) and his successor, Aethelbald, was left to complete the task of building up Mercian supremacy over the whole of England. It was Aethelbald’s cousin, Offa (757-96) who was to be the strongest Mercian king, describing himself, rex totius Anglorum patriae (King of the whole of England). Under, Cenwulf (796-821) Mercian supremacy remained firm and established. After the death of Cenwulf, however, Egbert, king of Wessex, following a series of campaigns in Mercian territory, received the submission of all the lands formerly ruled by Offa. The fortunes of the royal house of Wessex were now to control the Anglo-Saxon kingdom.


The Conversion of the English Peoples: 

In 625 the Church secured a remarkable success in the temporary conversion of Northumbria and Lindsey. Edwin, king of the Northumbrians, married Aethelberg, daughter of Aethelberht of Kent. Edwin promised that his wife’s Christian religion should be respected, and that he would consider the question of changing his own beliefs. Accordingly a certain Paulinus, who had come to England with the mission of 601, was consecrated a bishop and sent north with Aethelberg. On the eve of Easter, 627, Edwin was baptized at York in a wooden church, dedicated to St. Peter, which he had built for the occasion.

A rapid, if superficial, extension of Christianity followed in the north. Paulinus received a seat for his bishopric in York, where Edwin began to build a church for him, which was still unfinished when the northern mission was interrupted in 632. Early in his northern mission Paulinus turned aside to attempt the conversion of Lindsey, then under Edwin’s overlordship. His first convert was a certain Blaecca, who is described as praefectus, (king’s reeve), of Lincoln. By 627 a church had been built in Lincoln. Nothing is known about Lindsey for the next half-century, and it is possible that the work of Paulinus may have been more permanent there than in Northumbria.

Lindsey was formed into a diocese by Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 678, but the succession of its bishops was ended by the Danish invasions of the ninth century, and the site of their cathedral is unknown. After the Danish occupation of eastern Mercia, Dorchester on Thames, Oxon, the first seat of the West Saxon bishopric, became the seat of Episcopal authority for the whole region between the middle Thames and the Humber. On at least one occasion in the tenth century a bishop was appointed to the special charge of Lindsey. However, the ancient see was never re-established, and at the date of the Norman Conquest, the bishop of Dorchester on Thames was ruling a diocese, which comprised Lindsey and nearly all the eastern midlands. In relation to its vast extent, it was by no means lavishly endowed. In the Danelaw, apart from Stow in Lindsey, none of the ancient possessions of the see was of outstanding importance. With grants received after the Norman Conquest, the bishop’s seat was transferred from Dorchester on Thames to Lincoln.


 Extracts from: Bede: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (AD 731): 

“As to the kingdom of Lindsey, I learned of the growth of their faith in Christ and of the succession of bishops, either through a letter from the reverend Bishop Cyneberht or from the lips of other trustworthy men” (Preface).

“Now Paulinus (d. 644) also preached the word in the kingdom of Lindsey, the first land on the south bank of the river Humber, bordering on the sea” (Book II, Chap. 16).

“There is a famous monastery in the kingdom of Lindsey called Bardney, which was greatly loved, venerated, and enriched by the queen (Osthryth) and her husband Aethelred and in which she wished to place her uncle’s (St. Oswald) honoured bones…. The bones were…laid in a shrine constructed for the purpose, and placed in the church with fitting honours…. When Queen Osthryth was staying in the monastery… abbess…Aethelhild… came to visit her. The abbess was the sister of two holy men, Aethelwine and Ealdwine, the former of whom was bishop of Lindsey, while the other was abbot in the monastery known as Partney” (Book III, Chap. 11).

“The first bishop in the kingdom of Mercia, of Lindsey, and the Middle Angles was Diuma…. The second bishop was Ceollach… both he and Diuma were Irish. The third bishop was Trumhere, an Englishman educated and consecrated by the Irish” (Book III, Chap.24).

“Aethelwine, a man… beloved of God… went to Ireland to study; when he had been well grounded he returned to his native land and was made bishop in the kingdom of Lindsey, over which he ruled for a long time with great distinction” (Book III, Chap. 27).

“At this time King Wulfhere was ruling over the kingdom of Mercia and… he asked Theodore (Archbishop of Canterbury from 668-690) to provide him and his people with a bishop for them, he asked King Oswiu to give them Bishop Chad, who was then living in retirement in his own monastery of Lastingham. Wilfrid was administering the see of the church at York and of all the Northumbrians and Picts, as far as Oswiu’s power extended…. Chad accepted the position of bishop of the Mercian race and of the people of Lindsey and… he administered the diocese in great holiness of life. King Wulfhere gave him… land to build a monastery… at the Grove (Barrow), in the province of Lindsey, where up to the present day traces of the monastic Rule which he established still survive…. Chad died on 2nd March (d. 672)…. In Chad’s place Theodore consecrated Winfrith, a good and discreet man, who… presided as bishop over the kingdoms of Mercia, the Middle Angles, and Lindsey, over all which King Wulfhere… held sway. Winfrith was one of the clergy of the bishop (Chad) and had been his deacon for some considerable time” (Book IV, Chap. 3).

“In… 678… there arose a dissension between King Ecgfrith (son of Oswiu) and the most reverend bishop Wilfrid with the result that the bishop was driven from his see…. Eadhaed was consecrated bishop of the kingdom of Lindsey, which King Ecgfrith had recently won by conquering Wulfhere and putting him to flight. This was the first bishop of its own which the kingdom had had, the second one being Aethelwine, the third Edgar, and the fourth Cyneberht, the present bishop. Before Eadhaed, Seaxwulf was its bishop, being at the same time bishop of the Mercians and the Middle Angles; when he was driven out of Lindsey he continued to administer these provinces. Eadhaed… was consecrated at York by Archbishop Theodore…. When Aethelred had recovered the kingdom of Lindsey (in 679), Eadhaed returned and was placed by Theodore over the church at Ripon” (Book IV, Chap. 12).

“In the year of our Lord 731… Cyneberht, is bishop of the kingdom of Lindsey” (Book V, Chap. 23).

 Explanatory Notes: 

  1. Lindsey: this ‘kingdom’ (Bede uses provincia) in the north of the later county of Lincoln once had its own ruling dynasty but was conquered by the Northumbrians prior to these events. It became an area of dispute between the Northumbrians and the Mercians in the later seventh century.
  1. Lindsey: was conquered by Ecgfrith c.673/5 and regained by Mercia in 679. The Northumbrian         conquest led to the creation of the new diocese. After the Mercian re-conquest the Northumbrian appointee Eadhaed fled and was replaced by Aethelwine (680-92).

 Extracts from: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (late 9th – mid 12th centuries):    

“627. In this year king Edwin was baptized by Paulinus; and this same Paulinus also preached Christianity in Lindsey, where the first to be converted was a certain powerful man called Blecca with all his chief men” (The Laud Chronicle [E]).

“678. Eadhed was consecrated bishop to the people of Lindsey: he was the first of the bishops of Lindsey” (The Laud Chronicle [E]).

“838. The same year, again in Lindsey and in East Anglia and in Kent, many men were slain by the host (Danes)” (The Parker Chronicle [A]).

“873 [872]. In this year went the host into Northumbria. And it took winter-Quarters at Torksey in Lindsey, and then the Mercians made peace with the host” (The Parker Chronicle [A] and the Laud Chronicle [E]).

 “993. Afterwards the host came to the mouth of the Humber and did much damage there, both in Lindsey and in Northumbria” (The Laud Chronicle [E]).

“1013. In the same year came king Swein with his fleet…went round East Anglia into the mouth of the Humber…. Then earl Uhtred and all Northumbria straightway submitted to him, and all the people of Lindsey” (The Laud Chronicle [E]).

“1014. Now, after Swein’s death… an agreement was made between him (Cnut) and the people of Lindsey to supply him with horses and then set out together and harry. Then king Aethelred came with levies at full strength into Lindsey before they were prepared, and they made raids and burned and slew every human being they could find. Cnut put to sea with his fleet, and the unhappy people were thus left in the lurch by him” (The Laud Chronicle [E]).

 “1066. When Tostig learnt that king Harold was on his way to Sandwich, he… sailed north into [the Humber], and there harried in Lindsey, slaying many good men there. When earl Edwin and earl Morcar perceived this, they marched thither and drove him out from the land” (The Parker Chronicle [A]).

 Explanatory Note:

 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the main source for the events and chronology of the English peoples from the 5th to the 11th centuries. The Chronicle is, in fact, a compilation of factual year-by-year entries, first brought together in the late 9th century during the reign of Alfred the Great (849-99), and continued thereafter in various interdependent versions written at different monasteries. One version of the Chronicle was continued at Peterborough Abbey until 1154.



Bartholomew: The Heptarchy, according to: A Literary and Historical Atlas of Europe, 1914.

Bede the Venerable: Bede: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, OUP, 1999.

Eagles, B.: ‘Lindsey’ in Bassett, S. R., (ed.): The Origins of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, Leicester UP, 1989.

Garmonsway, G. N., (translated): The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Dent, 1977.

Hindley, G.: The Anglo-Saxons, Robinson, 2006.

Stenton, F.: Anglo-Saxon England, OUP, 1971.

Vince, A., (ed.): Pre-Viking Lindsey, Lincoln, 1993.

Wilson, D.: The Anglo-Saxons, Penguin, 1971.

The Rev’d. Geoffrey E. Andow

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