19 August, 2009

Cearl, King of the Mercians

Mercia was an early medieval kingdom in what is now the Midland region of England. In the mid-seventh century under King Penda and again in the eighth under King Offa, it was among the most powerful kingdoms in Britain. Cearl is the first king of Mercia recorded in the surviving sources. What can we say about him?

Evidence

Bede

Among these were Osfrid and Eadfrid, sons of King Edwin, who were both born to him in exile of Coenburg, daughter of Cearl, King of the Mercians
--Bede, Ecclesiastical History, Book II Ch. 14]

Inferences

The line quoted above is the sole mention of Cearl in any historical source, which is not a lot to go on, even by the standards of early medieval history. However, a few things can be inferred.

Date
Cearl had a daughter, Coenburh, who had borne two sons before 617 AD. Even if Coenburh was married young, say at age 15, and conceived her first child straight away, she can hardly have been born much after 600 AD and a few years before is more likely. By extension, her father Cearl cannot have been born much after 580, and some years before is more likely.

Lineage
Or, possibly, lack thereof. Cearl is not mentioned in the genealogy of the Mercian kings in the Anglian Collection or Historia Brittonum Ch 60. Either he was not in the direct line of ancestry of the later kings, perhaps belonging to a different branch of the royal family, or he belonged to a different dynasty altogether. There is a group of three C- names in the Anglian Collection genealogy (Creoda, Cynewald, Cnebba), placed in the generations immediately before Penda’s father Pybba. Alliteration was popular, though by no means universal, in Old English naming conventions, so these may indicate that Cearl belonged to a branch of the dynasty that claimed descent from one or other of these figures. But this is essentially speculation.

Political influence and power
Cearl married his daughter to a political exile from Deira who was on the run from Aethelferth of Bernicia/Northumbria at the time. Aethelferth’s military power is well documented. Bede describes him as very powerful and ambitious and credits him with military success over much Brittonic territory (Ecclesiastical History Book I Ch. 34). Aethelferth had won a major victory over the Irish of Dal Riada (roughly modern Argyll) in 603, and would win another over King Selyf of Powys at the Battle of Chester in 613/617, both kingdoms well removed from his core territory of Bernicia (approximate location map for Bernicia, Dal Riada and Powys on my website). Evidently Aethelferth was well capable of projecting his military power over considerable distances, with disastrous consequences for those on the receiving end. And Cearl of Mercia chose to form a marriage alliance with Aethelferth’s sworn enemy. Assuming he did it knowingly and was not stupid, this implies the following things to me:

  • Cearl was presumably confident of his power and his ability to withstand Aethelferth in battle. Either he had delusions of grandeur, or he presumably controlled considerable military resources of his own, as ruler of a substantial kingdom and/or as part of a powerful group of allies and/or client kings

  • Cearl could hardly have thought Aethelferth would not find out, so presumably he was prepared to challenge Aethelferth. Perhaps Aethelferth’s power was on the wane (or Cearl thought it was), and Cearl’s purpose with the marriage alliance was to pick a fight and claim Aethelferth’s dominions, or some of them, for himself. (A sort of early medieval equivalent of, “Come on, punk, make my day”).



If correct, this further implies that Cearl was ambitious, that he fancied expanding his power to the north (at least into Eadwine’s ancestral territory of Deira, and perhaps beyond that into Aethelferth’s own kingdom), and that he thought he had the means to do so.

Date of death
Cearl’s reign was certainly over by 633 AD, when Penda son of Pybba was ruling Mercia (Bede Book II Ch. 20). The date and circumstances of the end of Cearl’s reign are not known.

It is known that Cearl’s son-in-law Eadwine had changed his place of exile to the court of Raedwald of East Anglia before 617 (Bede, Book II Ch. 12). This may indicate that Cearl had simply changed his mind, perhaps having been threatened by Aethelferth (as we know Raedwald was) and decided that discretion was the better part of valour, or perhaps having decided that Eadwine was no longer a good bet or having taken a dislike to him.

Or it may indicate that Cearl had died or been deposed before 617, and his successor no longer wanted Eadwine in Mercia. The next king of the Mercians mentioned by Bede is Penda son of Pybba, who was ruling in Mercia by 633 AD. If the change of initial letter in the names of the Mercian kings from C- to P- is indicative of a change of dynasty, and if Eadwine’s departure indicates a change of political policy (very likely, since it is clear from Bede’s account that Penda and Eadwine were enemies), it is possible that Cearl was deposed as King of the Mercians by Penda or Penda’s predecessor at some time before 617.

It is not clear whether Penda was Cearl’s direct successor, or if there were one or more kings in between. Bede describes Penda in 633 as “a warrior of the Mercian royal house” and says that “from this time on” he ruled the Mercians, which would suggest that Penda became king in or around 633. If this is the case, it suggests that if Cearl was deposed before 617, it was by Penda’s predecessor(s) rather than by Penda himself.

Even if Cearl was deposed by a rival, his family may not have vanished entirely from Mercian history. A later king of the Mercians, Coenred, who reigned in 704-709 (Bede Book V Ch. 24), had the same first name element as Cearl’s daughter Coenburh. This may be pure coincidence, or it may indicate a connection with Cearl’s family.

References
Full-text sources available online are linked in the text.
Bede, Ecclesiastical history of the English people. Translated by Leo Sherley-Price. Penguin Classics, 1968, ISBN 0-14-044565-X.

26 comments:

Gabriele C. said...

No wonder you get plotbunnies from your research. That's all really intriguing and with a lot of wiggle room for a fiction writer. :)

Anonymous said...

Being "confident of his power and his ability to withstand Aethelferth in battle" is not mutually exclusive with being stupid. Old King Cearl could easily have overestimated himself.

You're right though, even by the standards of the time one line isn't much. Although there may be more references hidden in plain sight. The early medieval chroniclers had a habit of referring to people by position or title rather than name. Are there any unnamed warlords or tribal kings that might match up with Cearl?

I suspect this habit created much of the confusion behind the 'historical Arthur' debate. There are are least three candidates with the right biography and from the right era to be the root of Arthur, all of them referred to by a combination of title, name, position, geographic/tribal references...

Ian_M

Carla said...

Gabriele - good stuff, isn't it? Blessings be upon Bede :-)

Ian_M - indeed, which is why I mentioned the possibility of "delusions of grandeur" :-) (Or even delusions of adequacy). He wouldn't have been the first or the last to wildly overestimate his own ability or underestimate the opposition, or both.

Bede usually refers to people by name rather than just by title or position, so I don't think there's much in the way of anonymous references. The "son of Pyd" in the Cynddylan poetry could be anybody, but as Cynddylan is said to have fought at Maes Cogwy he was evidently a contemporary of Penda, a generation later than Cearl. Very little is known about early Mercia before the time of Penda. Whatever sagas and origin legends it (or its components) had haven't been preserved. East Anglia is the same.

For what it's worth, I think the historical Arthur debate suffers mainly from the fact that Gildas didn't name him, and therefore Bede (who was copying Gildas almost verbatim in this bit) didn't either. Had either of them mentioned the name 'Arthur', even once in passing, there would be no trouble identifying him as a historical figure who formed the basis for later story - like Maximus turning into Macsen Wledig. But, alas, neither did, so the debate goes on. There are lots of candidates, with varying degrees of plausibility, and they could all have contributed bits and pieces to the legend so they aren't mutually exclusive. I don't think there's any reason why the legendary Arthur couldn't have had several roots.

Anonymous said...

Delusions of adequacy may not be as spectacular as delusions of grandeur, but they are a lot more common (Three of my coworkers were just laid off today. Only they were surprised). I'd guess the 'adequacy' variety has done far more damage just based on frequency (Guess who gets to audit their work).

I asked about the anonymous references because you're closer to the source. I'm always amazed by what shows up in local sources, and that no one thought to include that material in the broader histories. Sometimes it's because the material is considered an unimportant point, but other times it's left out because it doesn't fit the official narrative or agenda. I wonder if that's what happened with Gildas and Arthur.

Ian_M

Rick said...

Do we have any other early mention of Mercia itself, or is this also our first note of it as a kingdom? If Cearl created it as an entity, he may have been more a warlord than a dynastic king, and on his death (or deposition) it might have passed to lieutenants, especially if he had no son of age, or at any rate capable of asserting himself.

But whatever happened, Mercia evidently held together as an entity.

Hi, Ian!

nicola said...

Early source-wise, Mercia seems, to me, to be a moving target, a bit of a fuzzy apparition, until Penda appears and nails it to reality in the first half of the 7th C.

Luckily I've been able to avoid having to think too hard about it so far (except to kill off Cwenburh in childbirth, poor thing) but I expect I'll have to tackle it at some point. Thanks for laying out the info. Hopefully I'll be able to reciprocate on something or other down the line.

BTW, it's interesting to see your name/spelling choices e.g. Eadwine. (Did you do use D.P. Kirby in early research?) I'm using different conventions, though I couldn't point to where/why/how...

Carla said...

Ian_M - I'm sure we've all encountered people like that. Takes all sorts :-)

There are very few local sources this early in the seventh century. People just didn't write down things like charters and tax records, they announced them orally before witnesses. Which no doubt worked very well, but it's an irritant to the historian :-)

There are lots of theories about why Gildas didn't name Arthur, ranging (as is usual with Arthur) from the plausible to the mad. Gildas names no British leader before the five contemporary kings who get lined up for a ticking off. (Aurelianus Ambrosius is pointedly described as "the last of the Romans"). So in a way one wouldn't necessarily expect Gildas to name Arthur, and the fact that he doesn't may have no particular significance either way.

Rick - as far as I know, this is the first mention of Mercia, or strictly speaking of "the Mercians". The genealogy of the Mercian kings goes back much further, but of course that doesn't tell you anything about the political unit (even if the names are real and not fictional). It's quite possible that Cearl was essentially a warlord, perhaps one among several, who made himself top dog for a while and when he died or was killed the top job was taken over by whoever happened to be powerful enough to grab it at the time. It's notable that Bede's list of over-kings south of the Humber (called Bretwaldas in the ASC) doesn't include a single father to son succession. There's only one (Oswald to his brother Oswy) that could even conceivably be a transfer within the family, and as Oswy and Penda of Mercia were slugging it out in battle for years before Oswy finally won, I don't think it can really be considered an inheritance. That indicates to me that that over-kingship didn't pass through dynastic inheritance. If kingdoms like Mercia arose by a process of amalgamating lots of smaller units into an alliance (voluntary or otherwise), their top job may have originally not been subject to dynastic inheritance either. Which is a roundabout way of saying that it's entirely plausible that Cearl's son wouldn't automatically have become king after him, even if Cearl had a son and even if the son was of age.

Nicola - Yes, I agree. It's with Penda that Mercia becomes visible as a solid entity, although that may be in part related to the timing. Bede has a lot to say about Penda and his wars with the Northumbrian kings (and just about everybody else), in part because most of the others were Christian and Penda wasn't, so it fits into his church history narrative, but he doesn't have much to say about the Midlands area prior to that. So Mercia might have been well established well before Penda's day and it's just that no surviving source exists to tell us about it. Or it may be that what-would-become-Mercia was still a fuzzy nebula of little bits and pieces (like all those tiny units in the Tribal Hidage) and only coalesced into anything resembling a kingdom under Cearl or Penda. I think you could call it either way.

Death in childbirth is quite a likely fate for Coenburh/ Cwenburh. Having a baby without modern medicine was a dangerous business. Whether you'll have to deal with Mercia in any detail probably depends on your view of the political situation between Penda and Eadwine/Edwin and how important a component of your book it is.

Re spelling choices, that gets a mention in the historical note at the back of the book. A few Old English names survived into modern use, but most didn't. I didn't want some names that were recognisable as modern names and some that weren't, so 'Eadwine' seemed to me to fit in better with the rest of the names than 'Edwin'. I spell all the Aethel- names with an initial Ae purely to avoid confusion with the girl's name Ethel. Apart from that, it's a matter of just picking a spelling I feel comfortable with. There are usually several to choose from :-)

Rick said...

The Mercian royal genealogy could easily be a later retcon!

In the case of Bretwald, it seems never to have become a heritable title, more an assertion by particular rulers. Perhaps it would have become a heritable title if any of the early Bretwalds had so firmly established his status as such that it could be handed on like a kingship.

Anonymous said...

"Gildas names no British leader before the five contemporary kings who get lined up for a ticking off. (Aurelianus Ambrosius is pointedly described as "the last of the Romans")."

Interesting. Early medieval Britain isn't my field at all, and Gildas is largely just a name to me. I went and looked up his biograph(y/ies) and tracked down translations of his work. I'm re-reading Augustine's City of God, and Gildas is dealing with a lot of similar problems as Augustine - The transition of authority from Roman to 'barbarian', the transformation of life from Imperial/globalised to local, and the reconciliation of ancient law and morality with contemporary need. Gildas is a lot crankier than Augustine, but that's to be expected given that his ethnic group was losing influence.

One question regarding dynastic matters and the Bretwalda - It was common in early 'Canada' for French settlers to marry into the Native tribes and take on Native names, and later it became common for Natives to take on French or Scottish identities (A lot of modern Ontario Scots are what we used to call Black Scots or Countryborn, and a DNA test wouldn't find much Celt in there). So even if they had Anglo-Saxon names, is there any idea how many of these early dynasties were ethnically Celtic? It's my understanding (And I could be badly off here) that the Celts transferred power along clan lines rather than through direct inheritance. That could be part of the reason for the lack of direct dynastic inheritance for the early over-kings. Although from what you said about the record-keeping of the era, it's probably impossible to tell at this point.

Very inconsiderate of them not to write things down for later generations.

Ian_M

Carla said...

Rick - Perhaps; and that then raises the question of why not? Why no British Clovis or Theodoric, as we've discussed here before? I can think of two broad classes of answer: (a) none of the individuals concerned were of sufficient calibre to establish a heritable power over a united post-Roman Britain; (b) post-Roman Britain was sufficiently politically fragmented that it was effectively impossible to unite by anybody, even if the name 'bretwalda' and Bede's list preserves some sort of idea that it had been once and even that it ought to be. Give us unity, but not yet :-) - at any rate, not until I, as Mr Local Warlord, have finished grabbing as much as I possibly can from my neighbours.

I lean to the the latter, myself, as the prevailing model until enough of the local warlords had found out the hard way that a free-for-all was miserable for the losers (see all the elegiac poetry) and that there were more losers than winners. It's consistent with the legend of Camlann, and with the documented behaviour of British princes in the Late Pre-Roman Iron Age and in medieval Wales. Though as usual, these aren't mutually exclusive - one can imagine a situation which was not quite ungovernable but which would have required an exceptional leader to govern it.

Ian_M - yes, if there was a prize for crankiness, Gildas would surely have been the all-time favourite to win it. His attitude may not necessarily reflect ethnicity; he has little good to say of any ethnic group. I wonder if he was part of the privileged senatorial class that had been on the top of Roman society and felt threatened (with good reason) by the social shift towards royal government as well as by foreigners and immigrants.

There are 'Celtic' names in the Wessex royal genealogy (the founder Cerdic is a form of the Brittonic name Ceretic) and in the Lindsey (modern Lincolnshire) royal genealogy, where the Brittonic name 'Caedbaed' appears. We also know of a documented royal marriage between an Anglian king (Oswy) and a Brittonic princess (Rhianmellt of Rheged) in about the 630s in Northumbria, and Oswy's father King Aethelferth of Bernicia had a wife with the Brittonic name of Bebba, after whom Bamburgh (Bebbanburgh) was named. There is a debate over whether Bebba was Oswy's mother; if she was, Oswy himself would have been half-Brittonic. One of the Brittonic warriors in Y Gododdin (poem recounting a disastrous battle for a warband or army based somewhere near Edinburgh) has a name that looks like a variant spelling of the Anglian name Wulfstan or something similar. There is also a tradition - which I haven't got round to checking back to source - that Penda of Mercia married a sister of the Brittonic king Cadwallon of Gwynedd, with whom he had a long-standing military alliance. Not to mention the legend that Brittonic king Vortigern married Hengest's daughter. So I would say that there is a pretty reasonable case to be made for inter-ethnic elite marriage - as one would expect, dynastic marriage being a standard item in the political toolbox in most ages.

Whether some people with Anglian names were 'genetically' Brittonic and vice versa is impossible to tell at this distance. I would expect that the situation you describe in Canada would have been extremely common in post-Roman Britain, but there's not really the evidence to test it either way. Fashions in names certainly changed after the Norman conquest, when Norman-French names like Richard and William and Robert became popular and the Old English names dropped out of use, and it's unlikely that all the farmers and cottars with such names were of Norman descent. Something similar would be likely in the early medieval period too, with people giving their children the names associated with whichever group was in power. But, no birth certificate records, so no way to test it. As you say, very inconsiderate.

Rick said...

Your case b) seems quite likely. What stands out, once the curtain goes back up in the 7th century, is that Britain is really fragmented, like Italy or Germany in the later Middle Ages. Bretwald, like Holy Roman Emperor, would be an empty title without the force to back it up.

So it would be more productive for a warlord to use the forces he had to more securely dominate or absorb immediate neighbors and add their territories to his 'tax base.' (Meaning, in practice, individual warriors who could be somewhat counted on to show up for muster.)

The question is why fragmentation went so far in the first place, especially in the southeast where there aren't so many natural barriers. But for whatever reason, no one until the much later Wessex kings was able to secure a large enough power base for secure predominance.

Rick said...

Your case b) seems quite likely. What stands out, once the curtain goes back up in the 7th century, is that Britain is really fragmented, like Italy or Germany in the later Middle Ages. Bretwald, like Holy Roman Emperor, would be an empty title without the force to back it up.

So it would be more productive for a warlord to use the forces he had to more securely dominate or absorb immediate neighbors and add their territories to his 'tax base.' (Meaning, in practice, individual warriors who could be somewhat counted on to show up for muster.)

The question is why fragmentation went so far in the first place, especially in the southeast where there aren't so many natural barriers. But for whatever reason, no one until the much later Wessex kings was able to secure a large enough power base for secure predominance.

Carla said...

Rick - one possibility is that the fragmentation never really went away during the period of Roman government, and Roman Britain was effectively a series of more or less self-governing civitates, derived from the pre-Roman polities, with a provincial government sitting on top. Honorius' letter of 410 would be consistent with (but does not prove) this model. The number of recognisable independent kingdoms visible in the south and east in say, 600, is of broadly the same order of magnitude as the number of tribal polities before the Romans showed up. (I should stress that I'm not arguing for one-to-one correspondence, although there might be a case for it some instances, just that the 'standard' political unit seemed to be about the same sort of size in both periods, possibly reflecting natural constraints like communication and transport, e.g. the distance a mounted warband could conveniently travel). If Roman Britain operated on local self-government with a top layer of provincial government, then fragmentation is roughly what one would expect to see after the top layer was removed.

Anonymous said...

Roughly speaking, that would be comparable to the decolonization of Africa following the Second World War. The administrative bodies are left in place but are quickly co-opted by local tribes, and the provinces-turned-states are found to have borders that conflict with local ideas of who should live where. The main difference was the lack of any successor-state to the Roman Empire. When the old colonial powers left Africa, the US (And later Europe, and now China) stepped in with 'development and aid' money to prop up the shaky new states. When the Roman Empire abandoned its British holdings, the Romanized British class was left to hold things together on their own.

Ian_M

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, if you think there are too few sources for 7th century England, try 1st century AD Germany. No Germanic sources at all, and the Roman ones biased, mis-informed and more than incomplete.

I wish Arminius had kept a blog. :)

Carla said...

Ian_M - Interesting analogy. It's possible the Byzantine Empire had a go at fishing in post-colonial troubled waters, if the sixth-century Byzantine luxury goods found at various high-status sites up and down the west of Britain represent diplomatic presents as well as (or instead of) luxury trade.

Gabriele - indeed, or a diary, or even a literate bard who decided to write down some of the sagas and poetry that no doubt were composed about him :-)

Lady D. said...

Wow, great reasearch - especially as there wasn't much to go on in the first case. I live in 'Mercia' but, I must admit, I'd not heard of Cearl before so thankyou for bringing him back into the limelight, as it were ;-)

Rick said...

The Byzantines probably did have a go - Justinian, the Gothic War, Belisarius and Narses, and all that. Procopius, IIRC, has a wonderfully ill-informed bit about 'Brittia,' so Britain probably didn't loom large in his circle, but given Justinian's intent to restore imperial rule in the west, someone was probably paying attention to Britain.

Carla said...

Lady D - thank you. It's not surprising you hadn't heard of Cearl; not much is know about him.

Rick - I admit, I do wonder if the Frankish delegation took Procopius down the pub and spent a happy evening spinning him shaggy dog stories ("Bet you he'll never believe the one about.....").
But nevertheless he does confirm the evidence of the pottery that there was contact between Britain and the Eastern Med, and as you say, Justinian probably did have a go.

Gabriele C. said...

Carla, there is a thesis or two that try to establish parallells between the Song of the Niblungs and Arminius' career, making him the foil for Siegfrid. Though those ideas are not really accepted and I have my share of problems with them, too.

No, I'm afraid poetry about Arimnius will forever be lost to us.

Carla said...

Gabriele - is there an attempt to find a 'real Siegfried', like the various Real King Arthur candidates?

Gabriele C. said...

Yes, there are, and equally successful. *grin*

Doug said...

Excellent deduction from next to no evidence!
I wonder whether a king with delusions of grandeur would have been in a position to go beyond his powers at that time. Risking a fight with Aethelferth might have been just the thing to stir the other leaders into action.
I have seen something to the effect that Deira initially dominated the area which became Mercia, which was then a collection of tribes similar to those we find later as the Middle Angles. (This could explain why Penda felt he had the right to interfere in the affairs of Deira.) Aethelferth's conquest of Deira would then allow a local leader to gather the local tribes into a unit, so Cearl may have been king from 604 or thereabouts. Nick Higham thinks he fell after Chester, which would have been the time Eadwine moved on.
I would think Coenburh was of marriageable age quite a bit before 617 since at the time of Eadwine's death one of her sons (Osfrith?)had his own child. Her death in childbirth is unfortunately all too plausible a fate, and would be consistent with their only having two children and her apparent absence from the events in East Anglia - she may not have had a need to leave Mercia.
Doug

Carla said...

Doug - thank you. When you say 'stirring the other leaders into action', are you thinking of a scenario in which Cearl picks a fight knowing that his neighbours will have to rally round and support him or they'll be next? Or have I misunderstood?

604 or thereabouts is a plausible date for Cearl's rise to power. It fits in reasonably well with his likely date range. If Penda was 50 when he was killed at Winwaed, he would have been born about then and would therefore have grown up in a Mercia or proto-Mercia that was starting to come together (voluntarily or otherwise) under Cearl.

I wonder how Elmet fits into all this. Given Elmet's location, it had an obvious interest in events in Deira and in Mercia. I wonder if it was Ceretic (or his predecessor) who was occupied elsewhere after 604. Elmet now had a powerful and aggressive neighbour to deal with in Aethelferth, and one imagines they had to apply themsleves to make sure they weren't next. In which case they wouldn't have been able to interfere in Mercian affairs and that might have left a clear field for someone like Cearl to have a go at consolidating his power. Only a thought.

I'm not sure that I buy the theory that Deira and Mercia were originally part of some sort of 'Humberside' (!) coalition. It's hard to reconcile that with Bede's apparently firm distinction between south of the Humber and north of it. Okay, Bede could have just made that up wholesale (and there is an argument that he wouldn't have had to explain 'Northumbria' as 'north of the Humber' so often if the term was in common use), but conversely if the Humber wasn't already recognised as some sort of boundary, why not pick a different boundary line for his list of the kings who were overlords of the south?

What I do buy, though, is that Deira and Mercia were each keen to extend their power, and once Elmet had disappeared as a sort of buffer state they would be rivals for regional dominance. Which is more or less what we see in the historical record - they always seem to be at each other's throats. Penda and Eadwine may have had some sort of personal animosity arising from Eadwine's time in exile there and his marriage to Coenburh - anything from a rival love interest (!) to a dynastic quarrel between a Cearl-Coenburh dynasty and a Pybba-Penda dynasty. Given the imperative of the blood-feud in Germanic society, one insult or injury (real or imagined) could have initiated a cycle of vengeance that could have taken years to break.

Yes, I agree that Coenburh is likely to have been of marriageable age rather before then. Both sons were born before 617, and there may have been other children who didn't survive and/or weren't recorded. Bede doesn't mention Eadwine's sons in his account of the East Anglian story either, so either Eadwine's family weren't important enough to the action to mention (quite likely) or they weren't there with him. I wonder if he could have left them in a place of safety somewhere, especially if he knew he was taking a gamble by going to Raedwald (after all, it nearly cost his life) - although it's hard to think where could have been safe.

Doug said...

Thanks for your reply.
No, when I referred to "stirring the other leaders into action" I was thinking of the Mercian leaders who were below Cearl - if he appeared to be risking a fight with somebody of Aethelferth's notoriety they might agree he wasn't fit to be king and overthrow him!
Doug

Carla said...

Doug - Indeed, that makes sense! The prospect of being dragged into a fight with Aethelferth might well provoke potential rivals to decide that a change of leader would be in order.