Aldfrith of Northumbria

Aldfrith (died December 14, 704) was a King of Northumbria (685–704). He was the son of Oswiu of Northumbria and Fina, a Cenél nEógan princess, daughter of Colmán Rímid (d. 604). Aldfrith is said to have had the Irish name Flann Fina Maic Ossu (Flann Finn Son of Oswiu), and to have written an extensive wisdom tract in the language. He was married to St Cuthberga.

When Aldfrith's half-brother, Ecgfrith of Northumbria, died at the Battle of Nechtansmere on May 20, 685, he left behind no heirs. Bede tells a story of Ecgfrith's sister, Elfleda, asking Saint Cuthbert who could possibly take over the kingdom after her brother's death, only to be reminded of the existence of Aldfrith, a scholar who had previously lived a quiet life of study in Ireland and on the island of Iona. Aldfrith subsequently became king. Some say the Irish had a role in Aldfrith's rise to power because Ireland had sheltered him from Ecgfrith's men in the past decade. Aldfrith's presence in Ireland was perceived as a threat to Ecgfrith's throne, and that is probably why Ecgfrith sent his men to ravage Meath in 684 AD.

Although the power of Northumbria had been seriously weakened by the destruction of its army by the Picts at Nechtansmere, Aldfrith is credited with mitigating the damage and stabilizing the kingdom. During his reign, Northumbria enjoyed a degree of peace it had rarely seen in the preceding generations, and under the scholarly Aldfrith (to whom St. Adamnan presented his tract De Locis Sanctis), it seems that literature flourished. His reign was not entirely without war, however; in 698, a Northumbrian ealdorman named Berhtred was killed fighting against the Picts.

The issue of Aldfrith's reign that is best known is his dispute with the bishop Wilfrid. Shortly after becoming king, he invited Wilfrid to return from exile, but a few years later, Wilfrid again went into exile in Mercia. There remained tension between them, perhaps over the role of the Roman church, of which Wilfrid was a stubborn advocate, but it is also suggested that the great wealth and power of the bishop attracted the ire of the king. The dispute lasted until Aldfrith's death, despite an unsuccessful attempt at reconciliation.

He died at Driffield. He left at least two sons, Osred (killed in 716), who was restored to the throne after Eadwulf's short-lived usurpation, and Osric (d. 729).

Further reading

  • Briathra Flainn Fhina Maic Ossu, translated as "Old Irish Wisdom Attributed to Aldfrith of Northumbria"
Preceded by:
King of Northumbria Succeeded by:

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