The Politics of Exile in Early Northumbria
The Heroic Age: Issue 2, Autumn/Winter (1999)
The politics of exile in early Bernicia and Deira between c. 592 and 635 can tell us a great deal about the political environment and orientation of their kingdoms in the early seventh century.
Æthelfrith’s family and career provide a rare opportunity to study the political dynamics of exile which must have been common in all the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the period, if not in the Celtic kingdoms as well. Æthelfrith spent a significant part of his reign combating æthelings (“princes”)whose exile he had caused in both Bernicia and Deira. Further, like many great kings of his time, his success made mortal enemies for his family. His fall in battle among the southern Angles brought a near total revolution in the politics of what is now northern England. His children and their loyal retainers were sent fleeing for their lives from Edwin, the successor to the southern region of his domain, and the northern kingdoms were freed from Anglian overlordship.
The very nature of the northernmost overkingship and the complex politics that supported it is reinforced by Edwin’s succession only to the southern region of Æthelfrith’s domain, primarily the Humbrian overkingdom plus Bernicia. Instead of fleeing to other Anglian courts, Æthelfrith’s children fled north to the Celtic kingdoms of Eochaid Bude of Dalriada and Nechtan of Pictland, two kingdoms that had each produced a recent northern overking. The nature of exile of the æthelings of Bernicia and Deira also provides a significant insight into the political orientation of each kingdom in the early seventh century.