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August 14, 2022

Mercia was one of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. It was located in the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries, today this area is referred to as the Midlands. The name of the kingdom comes from the Latin translation of the Old English Mierce, meaning people from the borderlands. Mercia bordered Northumbria, the Kingdom of Powys, the Kingdoms of South Wales, Wessex, Sussex, Essex and East Anglia.


Early History

The formation of Mercia after the Anglo-Saxon invasion is less clear than the formation of Northumbria, Kent or even Wessex. Archaeological excavations prove that the Angles settled the area north of the River Thames in the 6th century. It is traditionally said that the name Mercia derives from its location on the border between Wales and the territory ruled by the Anglo-Saxons. The earliest recorded ruler of Mercia is Creoda. He came to power in 585 and built a fortification at Tamworth, which became the seat of the kings of Mercia. He was succeeded by his son Pybba in 593. One of the other kings of Mercia mentioned unflatteringly by the Benedictine monk and scholar Beda Venerabilis was King Penda. This was due both to the fact that he was an enemy of Northumbria, where Bede came from, and to the fact that he was a heathen. Even so, Bede states that King Penda allowed Christian missionaries to enter Mercia and did not prevent them from spreading Christianity. Penda's army was defeated by the Northumbrian king Oswiu, and he himself was killed at the Battle of the River Winwaed in 655. This battle caused a temporary collapse of the government in Mercia. Penda was succeeded on the Mercian throne by his son Peada (he converted to Christianity in 653), but was killed in 656 by the Northumbrian king Oswiu, who thereby gained control of all of Mercia. After the rebellion of 658, another of Penda's sons, Wulfhere, took over the reign of Mercia for a short time and until his death in 675 he tried to restore the glory of Mercia. Another important king of Mercia was Æthelbald (reigned 716–757). In the initial period of his reign, he had to compete with strong neighboring kings - Wihtred of Kent and Ino of Wessex. When King Wihtred died in 725 and King Ine abdicated to become a monk in Rome, Æthelbald, as King of Mercia, took control of the territory south of the Humber. Although he was defeated by the West Saxons led by Cuthred in 752, he regained control of Wessex in 757.

King Offa

After Æthelbald's murder in 757 by one of his guards, civil war ensued, from which Offa emerged victorious. He had to regain control of the south of the country, which he not only succeeded in, but became the most famous and most powerful king of Mercia. He achieved victory in many battles, but he also tried to build a network of market cities in order to manage the conquered territories better. He minted one of the first large series of gold coins in Britain and accepted a role in the governance of the Catholic Church. He also had an embankment built to mark the border between Wales and Mercia (the so-called Offa's Wall). Offa tried to have his son Ecgfrith succeed him, but when he died in 796, the new king Ecgfrith only held onto the throne for a short time, and in December of that year his distant relative Coenwulf took control of the kingdom. Later, under the leadership of King Egbert, the power of Wessex began to grow, and in 825 he defeated the Mercian king Beornwulf at the Battle of Ellendun. This battle proved fatal for Mercia. Beornwulf was killed while suppressing a rebellion in East Anglia. Although in 830 King Wiglaf restored the independence of Mercia, the kingdom of Wessex was already the decisive force in Anglo-Saxon England.


In 852, Burgred ascended the throne and, together with Wessex, conquered North Wales. In 867 Viking raiders occupied Northumbria and in 874 drove the last independent king of Mercia, Burgred, from his kingdom. The same year