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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Who was King Raedwald?

King Raedwald is thought to be the king buried in the Sutton Hoo longship in Suffolk. 

His name (spelled Rædwald) means 'power in counsel'. Raedwald was King of the East Angles, and one of the most powerful figures of the Anglo-saxon period. The famous Sutton Hoo helmet that was discovered amongst other treasures at the burial site is now synonymous with Raedwald.

King Raedwald was a member of the Wuffinga dynasty. The family name came from his grandfather, Wuffa (which means 'wolf' in Old English). Few details remain about Raedwald's reign, as the 9th Century Viking invasions destroyed the East Anglian monasteries. However, historians have managed to gather enough evidence over the years to create a remarkably clear picture of the powerful and charismatic ruler.

Raedwald of the East Angles:
  • ruled from circa: 593 A.D. to 624/625 A.D
  • lost his son, Raegenhere, during the the Battle of the River Idle against Æthelfrith of Northumbria - Raedwald went on to win the battle and, with Æthelfrith dead, he installed Æthelfrith's exiled brother, Edwin (who was loyal to Raedwald), as the new king of Northumbria
  • had a second son, Eorpwald, who went on to succeed him
  • also had a stepson, Sigeberht, a son from his wife's first marriage. Raedwald eventually exiled Sigeberht to Gaul in order to protect the Wuffinga bloodline. However, after Raedwald and Eorpwald's deaths, Sigeberht returned from exiled and claimed the East Anglian throne for his own
  • was married to a pagan princess, possibly from Essex. Little is known about his wife, although historical accounts from Bede reveal that she was devoutly pagan, strong-willed and forthright
  • was the first king to convert to Christianity - although he remained loyal to the pagan gods as well - probably due to his wife's influence
  • is thought to have had his royal residence in Rendlesham - this was likely to have been a great timbered hall with a straw thatched roof.

During Raedwald's reign, Gipeswic (today, Ipswich) grew into an important important trade centre, due to its location on the upper reaches of the River Deben. Some historians believe that Raedwald's kingdom was the inspiration behind Beowulf, and that many of the characters and locations in the epic poem, including the famed 'Golden Hall' are actually from Raedwald's reign.

Raedwald was a warrior king, who would have died as he had lived. With this in mind, he was my inspiration for Dark Under the Cover of Night. I set this historical romance in 624-25, during the last year of Raedwald's life. The story, although fiction, culminates in Raedwald's burial on the banks of the River Deben.

Books about Raedwald:

Newton, Sam, Dr: The Origins of Beowulf and the pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia, 1993, ISBN 0 85991 472 0.
 Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Translated by Leo Sherley-Price, Penguin, 1990, ISBN 0-14-044565-X.
Carver, M. Sutton Hoo: Burial Ground of Kings? British Museum Press, 1998, ISBN 0-7141-0591-0.
Laing L, Laing J. The Picts and the Scots. Sutton, 2001, ISBN 0-7509-2873-5.

Inspiration: this cover image from Dr Sam Newton's book "The Reckoning of King Raedwald", inspired me to write a tale of vengeance, honour and love.