Bernicia, kingdom of

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Bernicia, kingdom of. This kingdom may have had its origins in Anglo-Saxon settlements around the rivers Tyne and Wear, but it expanded rapidly in the late 6th and 7th cents. to control all the land between the Tees and the Forth, largely through absorption of British kingdoms, including Rheged and that of the Gododdin. The first recorded king was Ida (c.547–59). His grandson Æthelfryth (592–616) and great-grandsons Oswald (634–42) and Oswiu (642–70) were responsible for the aggressive military expansion which enabled Oswald and Oswiu to establish a wide-ranging overlordship over other Anglo-Saxon and Celtic kingdoms. The supremacy of the Bernician dynasty in northern England was only seriously challenged by Edwin of Deira (617–33) who ruled in both Bernicia and Deira, but by the end of the reign of Ecgfrith (670–85) the Deiran dynasty had been obliterated in the male line and Deira integrated with Bernicia to form the province of Northumbria. The disastrous defeat of Ecgfrith by the Picts at Nechtansmere put an end to further overlordship or conquest of the northern Celtic peoples.

In spite of some evangelization in the province by Bishop Paulinus of York, the main period of conversion for Bernicia was in the reign of Oswald, through a mission of Irish monks from Iona who were established at Lindisfarne. In Oswiu's reign problems became apparent because of variations in customs, including methods of calculating Easter followed by the Ionan church, and that of Deira which had been established by missionaries from Rome. At a synod at Whitby in 664 Oswiu decided that Deira's ‘Roman’ customs would prevail.

When much of Deira was overrun by Scandinavians after 867, Bernicia (or a substantial part of it) re-emerged in effect as a separate province in which the main powers were a dynasty known as ‘ealdormen of Bamburgh’ and the community of St Cuthbert from Lindisfarne, which eventually settled in Durham.

Barbara Yorke


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Bernicia an Anglian kingdom founded in the 6th century ad, extending from the Tyne to the Forth and eventually united with Deira to form Northumbria.