Raedwald of East Anglia

Rædwald (died c. 625) was King of East Anglia from about 599 until his death. He was the son of Tytila and grandson of Wuffa.[1] During Raedwald's reign, East Anglia reached the height of its power, and he is recorded by Bede as holding imperium over other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. In the late 9th century he was recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as being a bretwalda.

The exiled prince Edwin of Deira took refuge in East Anglia around the year 615, seeking protection from his rival, the Bernician king Æthelfrith, who had taken control of Edwin's native Deira years earlier. Æthelfrith sent messengers to offer Raedwald "a great sum of money" to have Edwin killed; Bede says that his first message had no effect, but he repeatedly sent messengers and threatened war if Raedwald did not comply. Eventually Raedwald decided to kill Edwin or hand him over to Æthelfrith's messengers, either because of fear or because he wanted the bribe. However, Raedwald changed his mind after he was admonished by his wife that it would be dishonorable to murder a guest.[2] It may be that this conflict actually was not solely about the issue of Edwin, but involved questions of power and territory between the two rulers;[3] Æthelfrith and Raedwald were the most powerful rulers of the northern and southern Anglo-Saxons respectively. In any case, Raedwald assembled an army and marched against Æthelfrith, and a battle was fought on the east side of the river Idle. Æthelfrith's army was, according to Bede, the smaller force, because Raedwald's attack had not allowed him enough time to assemble all his forces. Although Raedwald's son Raegenhere was killed, the battle was a great East Anglian victory, Æthelfrith was killed, and Edwin became king of Northumbria.[2] It was from this point that Raedwald was considered Bretwalda.

Edwin's ability to establish his rule not only in his native Deira but also in Bernicia—Æthelfrith's sons went into exile in the north, among the Scots and Picts—may have been due to Raedwald's support, and the relationship between Raedwald and Edwin may have been characterized by the latter's dependent status in the early part of his reign.[4]

Raedwald converted to Christianity while in Kent, but he is thought to have vacillated between the new religion and the traditional pagan beliefs. According to Bede, after he returned home following his conversion "he was seduced by his wife and certain perverse teachers, and turned back from the sincerity of the faith; and thus his latter state was worse than the former; so that, like the ancient Samaritans, he seemed at the same time to serve Christ and the gods whom he had served before". Furthermore, Bede says that he had both a Christian altar and a pagan altar in the same temple.[1] This juxtaposition was not an uncommon occurrence during the early years of Christianity in the British Isles.

Raedwald may have had the seat of his power at Rendlesham, which is mentioned by Bede.[5]

He is considered a likely candidate to be the principal of the Sutton Hoo ship burial, although no bodily remains were ever retrieved from this site. Care is needed, however, not to automatically assume that just because Raedwald is listed in a written source that he is therefore the only person who could have received such a burial, a point discussed by James Campbell (see "Further reading" below).

There are 263 boat burials known in Europe of which 3 are in England. 2 at Sutton Hoo and one at Snape. These are both within 20km of each other. Raedwald is the most likely candidate (of four) to have been buried in the ship of Mound 1.


  1. ^ a b Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, Book II, chapter 15.
  2. ^ a b Bede, H. E., Book II, chapter 12.
  3. ^ D. P. Kirby, The Earliest English Kings, pages 52 and 61.
  4. ^ Kirby, pages 61–62.
  5. ^ Bede, H. E., Book III, chapter 22.

Further reading

  • Campbell, James, "The Impact of the Sutton Hoo Discovery" in The Anglo-Saxon State. Hambledon & London, London, 2000. ISBN 1-85285-176-7
  • Higham, N.J., "Raedwald" in M. Lapidge et al (eds), The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Blackwell, London, 1999. ISBN 0-631-22492-0

Preceded by:
King of East Anglia
593 – 617
Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
Ethelbert of Kent
Bretwalda Succeeded by:
Edwin of Northumbria

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