Collapse, Reconfiguration or Renegotiation? The Strange End of the Mercian Kingdom, 850-924
By Charles Insley
Reti Medievali Rivista, Vol.17:2 (2016)
Abstract: The Kingdom of Mercians is generally assumed to have come to an end, largely as a result of Viking incursions, in the late ninth century; from the 880s its rulers seem to have been under the authority of Alfred the Great, king of the West Saxons. This essay argues that we should not see the end of the Mercian kingdom simply in terms of collapse, but also in terms of renegotiation, as the Mercian political elite sought, in the first few decades of the tenth century, to place themselves at the heart of a new political entity, the kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons, later the kingdom of the English.
Introduction: The “C” manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has the following entry for the year 1007:
In this year also Eadric was appointed ealdorman over all the Mercian kingdom (geond eall myrcena rice).
This is quite striking phrasing, given that the Mercian kingdom had not existed as an independent political entity since – by some accounts – the 880s, some one hundred and twenty years earlier. One might be tempted to dismiss this phrase as antiquarianism on behalf of the compiler of the “C” manuscript, probably writing in East Anglia in around 1016 or 1017, except for the fact that the Mercians and the Mercian kingdom appear elsewhere long after its supposed demise at the end of the ninth century.
Top Image: The Kingdom of Mercia (thick line) and the kingdom’s extent during the Mercian Supremacy (green shading). Image by Rushton2010 / Wikimedia Commons