Penda the Pagan: Royal sacrifice and a Mercian king
Mercian Mysteries, No.16 (1993)
Penda, a seventh-century king of Mercia, was a noted regicide. Indeed, his other achievements – his military campaigns and a crafty and unlikely alliance with the British king Cadwallon were instrumental in carving out Mercia as an independent kingdom and establishing it as a power to be reckoned with – were almost completely overshadowed by his
reputation as a slayer of kings. As Penda was a pagan, and his alleged victims all Christian, it comes as no surprise to find that medieval chroniclers, mostly monks or Christian nobles, viewed his reign and deeds with horror and denigrated him at every opportunity. The reputation of his ally Cadwallon, himself a Christian, suffered by association: in his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, written in the early eighth century, Bede of Jarrow describes him as ‘a barbarian more savage than any pagan’ with ‘no respect for the newly established religion of Christ’ . Bede’s invective was not tempered by the fact that Cadwallon was a Celt.