Monday, 6 December 2010

The Mysterious King Ida of Bamburgh

After the collapse of the post-Roman state, Northumberland became part of the Kingdom of Kynelyn. Then, in 547, disaster struck. The mighty Roman fortress of Bamburgh fell into the hands of an Anglian warlord named Ida. This Ida is a mystery. An early genealogy composed perhaps 50 years after he died lists his ancestors and makes him the great great great great grandson of Woden, the leader of the pagan German gods. A divine ancestry is unlikely - though you never know. In any case, no document says where he came from, and it seems that within 50 years of his death nobody knew. He may have come from the Anglian homelands in northern Germany, or he may have already been employed as a mercenary somewhere in Britain. We simply don’t know.

Nor is it clear what he was doing in Bamburgh. The oldest source states simply that he arrived in Bamburgh in 547, founded the royal dynasty of the Northumbrians and ruled for 12 years. It is not clear if he had founded a kingdom, or was a bandit based in an impregnable stronghold. He may even have been a mercenary hired by the kings of Kynelyn whose importance was exaggerated by his more powerful descendants.

If Ida of Bamburgh remains a mystery, his son Athelric is even more so. Nothing is known of him except his name and the fact that he too lived at Bamburgh. Things become a little clearer with his alleged grandson Athelferth. This King Athelferth is said to have become king in Bamburgh in 593, so perhaps he was Ida’s great grandson given the average lifespan at the time. It was Athelferth who formed an alliance with the English of Deira, what is now southern Yorkshire. Together they conquered York, breaking the power of one of the three British kingdoms in the north. Progress was then rapid and within a generation the English ruled all of Northumberland, as well as most of the territory from the Humber to the Forth. The kingdom of Northumbria had been founded.

This is an extract from Mysterious Northumberland by Rupert Matthews

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