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Offa

Offa (d. 796), king of Mercia (757–96), came to the throne after a disputed succession with Beornred following the murder of King Æthelbald. He continued the expansion of Mercia from its midland base. By the end of his reign Offa had added the provinces of the Hwicce, the South Saxons, and Kent and had expelled their royal houses or reduced them to the status of ealdormen. But he also had strong opposition. Although he had gained control in Kent in 764, the Kentishmen recovered their independence after the battle of Otford in 776 and retained it until 785. Cynewulf of Wessex fought Offa at Benson c.779 and although he lost some parts of northern Wessex to Offa, remained an independent ruler. Offa may have had more influence in Wessex during the reign of Beorhtric, who married his daughter Eadburh in 786. Æthelbert of the East Angles presumably offered resistance as well since in 794 Offa had him beheaded. Offa's Dike still stands as testimony to the seriousness of his campaigns against the Welsh and also to his ability to exact military services from his subjects.

Offa was considered sufficiently powerful by his contemporary Charles the Great to warrant bringing into his sphere of influence by the bestowal of gifts. The two kings corresponded on trade between their kingdoms, and marriage between their children appears to have been considered. Offa introduced the ‘penny’ coinage circulating in Francia and copied Frankish usage in including his portrait in the style of a Roman emperor. He may also have been influenced by Frankish example to attend to the moral and spiritual welfare of his people and drew praise from Charles's Northumbrian adviser Alcuin for encouraging ‘good, moderate and chaste customs’. But, as is often the case with early medieval rulers, his interest in the church had political connotations as well. His presidency of a synod of the southern church in 786 attended by two papal legates helped stress that he was the dominant king of southern England. His wooing of the pope resulted in a grant of archiepiscopal status for the Mercian see of Lichfield in 787 and the consecration there of Offa's son Ecgfrith as king of the Mercians later the same year. Archbishop Jaenbert of Canterbury, who was part of the Kentish opposition to Offa, seems to have refused to carry out the ceremony. It appears to have been opposed in Mercia as well. Alcuin was not surprised that Ecgfrith only survived his father by 141 days for it was a judgement on the blood Offa had shed to secure his succession; perhaps a reference to the culling of rival royal claimants.

Barbara Yorke

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Offa

Offa (ŏf´ə), d. 796, king of Mercia (757–96). He succeeded Æthelbald to the throne, but it was some years before he attained the power of his predecessor. Gradually he asserted his overlordship in Kent and then Sussex, and by 774 his charters styled him rex Anglorum [king of the English]. He restricted Cynewulf, king of Wessex, to the area S of the Thames and in 794 had Ethelbert, king of the East Angles, beheaded and thereafter ruled his kingdom. In time the rulers of Wessex and Northumbria became his sons-in-law. In 786 the pope sent two legates to him, and by 788 Offa had set up an independent archbishopric of Litchfield, thus wresting control of the churches in Mercia from the hostile archbishop of Canterbury. He introduced a new coinage in the form of the silver penny, which for centuries was to be the basis of the English currency. Offa had sufficient standing in Europe to negotiate with Charlemagne as an equal; and, although they quarreled over a proposed marriage of their children, they signed (796) a commercial treaty, the first recorded in English history. At some time between 784 and 796 the earthwork known as Offa's Dyke was built between Wales and Mercia. Offa's laws, now lost, were used by King Alfred in his codification. The Offa referred to in Beowulf and other Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry was not the king of Mercia, but a king of the Angles on the Continent, probably at the end of the 4th cent.

See F. M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (3d ed. 1971).

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Offa

Offa (d.796), king of Mercia 757–96. He organized the construction of Offa's Dyke. After seizing power in Mercia he expanded his territory to become overlord of most of England south of the Humber.
Offa's Dyke the name given to a series of earthworks marking the traditional boundary between England and Wales, running from near the mouth of the Wye to near the mouth of the Dee, originally constructed by Offa in the second half of the 8th century to mark the boundary established by his wars with the Welsh.

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Offa

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