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Saturday, 4 July 2015

The Battle of Winwaed - the defeat of Penda

On 15 November 655 A.D., Penda of Mercia met a grisly end. 

I'm a bit sad about that as Penda has been my favorite 'bad guy' over the past four books. He's cold and ruthless, and a warmonger, but I'd become fond of him. But, since my novels are following actual historical figures and events, I cannot avoid his death.

The Battle of Winwaed took place on the 15th day of blod monath, or Blood Month - the month we now recognize as November. It was the date that marked a shift in power between Mercia and Northumbria. After decades of tension and battles between the two kingdoms - Northumbria finally prevailed.

Penda had been attacking the northern borders that autumn, and had refused to accept treasure from the Northumbrian king, Oswiu, as a bribe in order to leave them in peace. After his campaign, Penda had headed for home. Unfortunately, he had left it too late, for winter was approaching and the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Instead of heading across the marshes, which had flooded due to heavy rains, Penda was forced to take his army east on higher ground - and that's where it all started to unravel...

Things went pear-shaped when he reached the River Winwaed.

Historians aren't really sure where this river actually was, although many think it was a tributary of the Humber, possibly somewhere near Leeds. Penda had been planning to cross the river, but found it a raging torrent, and impassable.

King Oswiu of Northumbria had been waiting for this moment.

Unbeknown to Penda, the Northumbrians had been tracking his army south, biding its time. With the river at their backs and the higher ground before them, the Mercians were in a terrible position, strategically.

They had a significantly bigger army. Penda had a fyrd (a king's army) of 30 warlords, but the Mercians had some significant desertions upon the eve of battle: Gwynedd, a welsh ruler who would be hence-forth known as the 'battle-shirker;, and King Oswiu's nephew, Aethelwald, who had sided with the Mercians but then pulled out of the battle at the last moment. It's thought that Penda's own son - Paeda - also sided with the Northumbrians - the ultimate betrayal.

On the morning of battle, it was pouring with rain, and the two armies would have fought in mud and soft clay. The Northumbrians pushed the Mercians back into the river, where many of them drowned.

Why is the Battle of Winwaed important in my novel?

This battle is vital to DARKEST BEFORE DAWN because it signifies the agreement that Oswiu of Northumbria makes with Paeda of Mercia. He agrees to allow Paeda rule over southern Mercia, and also agrees to led him wed his daughter Alchflaed - the heroine of our story.

The hero of this novel, Maric, is a Mercian warrior who survives the Battle of Winwaed but is forced to follow Penda's treacherous son. Paeda instructs him to travel north to collect Alchflaed from Bebbanburg (now Bamburgh Castle) and escort his bride-to-be home to Tamworth.

Hence, this battle sets in the entire plot of DARKEST BEFORE DAWN in motion!

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