(EUROPE: 501 to 1000 CE – continued)
An Anglo-Saxon called Ethelbert (Aethelbert or Aethelberht), son of the warlord Eormenric, took power in 560 in a kingdom in southern England called Kent – one of the older if not oldest Anglo-Saxon settlements in England, dating from the mid-400s or a couple of decades earlier. Contacts between the Anglo Saxons and the people on the continent had been maintained, and the young Ethelbert married the Catholic daughter of the king of Paris, Charibert, a descendant of Clovis. Ethelbert allowed his bride, Berta, to bring to Kent a Frankish bishop as her chaplain.
More than thirty years later, Pope Gregory I was hoping to make England Christian again, and he sent a group of monks to Kent to evangelize. The aging Ethelbert overcame his fear that the leading monk of the group, Augustine, would do witchcraft against him. He welcomed Augustine, who converted him. Within a year, several thousand of Ethelbert's subjects asked to be baptized.
Augustine persuaded Ethelbert to create a code of laws based on Roman law. These laws had punishments that differed according to class. Killing a nobleman brought a fine of 300 shillings, a commoner 100 shillings, a freedman from 40 to 80 shillings, and the fine for killing a slave might be 50 shillings. The fine for copulating with a maiden belonging to the king was fifty shillings, with a nobleman's serving woman twenty shillings, with an earl's serving woman six shillings. If a freeman stole from another freeman he paid a fine three times the value of what he stole and a fine to the king. Under Ethelbert, family members were considered responsible for one another, and members of an extended family might be required to help pay the fine of any family member.
Augustine died in 604, and Ethelbert, after fifty-six years of rule, died in 616. Many of Ethelbert's subject who had converted to Christianity relapsed, leaving little gained but the town of Canterbury as England's center of Christianity. Edwin, the Anglo-Saxon king of Northumbria from around 616 married a princess from Kent – Aethelberg, the daughter of Ethelbert – who was Catholic. He promised to respect her faith, and in 625 she brought with her to Edwin's capital, York, one of the Roman missionaries, Paulinus, who had arrived with Augustine from Rome twenty-four years before. Edwin and Aethelberg had a daughter, and Edwin agreed to his daughter being baptized a Christian and promised that if Christianity gave him a victory in a coming war that he too would convert to Christianity. Edwin returned from war triumphant, but he continued to hesitate. Finally in 627 he accepted Christianity for himself and his subjects, who apparently had little say in the matter.
As a result of his victory in various wars, Edwin the Christian was the most powerful king in England. Resenting Edwin's power was the king of Mercia, Penda, a pagan. King Penda allied himself with his neighbor to the west, North Wales, a kingdom of Celts under a Christian king named Cadwallon. Together, In 632, they defeated Edwin, and Edwin's head was put on display in York.
Edwin's successor in Northumbria was a Christian named Oswald, under whom Northumbria, in 633, rallied and defeated Cadwallon of North Wales – a Christian king against another Christian king, and the last of the great battles between Celts and Anglo-Saxons. Then Oswald warred against King Penda, and in 641 Oswald met the same fate as had Edwin: death and decapitation. But a few years later Oswald's younger brother, Oswui, rallied Northumbria again and defeated Penda, and Northumbria remained the greatest power in England.
In the mid 600s Christian missionaries from Ireland began evangelizing across England. Catholicism had won prestige with the victory of Northumbria, and monotheism suited monarchy better than did a religion with many gods and numerous local shrines. The kings in England were inclined to welcome a religion whose scriptures described and supported monarchy. The king of Essex, Sigebert, influenced by Northumbria, converted to Christianity in 653, and Christianity spread into Mercia. Much of England was on its way to learning from the missionaries a sense of organization, and, within the Church, order was enhanced in 669 with the appointment of Theodore of Tarsus as archbishop over the whole of England.
But unity was not achieved. Civilization continued much as before – divided among kingdoms with no solid agreement as to who should rule where. Each of the Anglo-Saxon kings believed that his rule had origins in the god of his ancestors and that he, therefore, should not to be subordinate to any another king.
Wars continued through the 700s and into the 800s. The kingdom of Mercia emerged as the dominant power in England. And with more warring, in 825 supremacy passed to the kingdom of Wessex, at Winchester.
More than a century after the monk Cosmas, around the year 700 in England, an Anglo-Saxon named Bede (pronounced Beda) was developing into a scholar. He was educated in monasteries and ordained as a priest in 703. He devoted his life to teaching theology, Hebrew, Greek and Latin and to writing. He wrote forty works – in Latin. These were biblical commentaries, homilies, treatises on grammar, math, science and theology. The most important of these was the Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, completed in 731. He specified his sources, sought firsthand evidence, and quoted pertinent and available documents. "I would not," he wrote, "that my children should read a lie."
Bede wrote commentaries on the Book of Acts, on the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke. He wrote a work titled On The Reckoning of Time, which would be influential throughout the Middle Ages. It held to an ancient view of the cosmos and a view of the Earth as a sphere. Bede explained daylight in relation to the shape of Earth. He explained the changing appearance of the moon and tides in relation to the daily motion of the moon. Bede's influence extended to a new system of dating. It was Bede who started dating from Jesus Christ rather than from the times that kings ruled.
Copyright © 2009-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.