Edwin, New High King of Britain

Newly installed on the throne of Northumbria following the Battle of the River Idle, Edwin needed to bolster his position. To do so, Edwin entered into a marriage contract with Eadbald, King of Kent, to marry his sister. Kent, however, was the Anglo-Saxon kingdom with the strongest contacts to Europe and in particular to Francia (as shown archaeologically by goods traded from Francia and the isotopic analysis of a relatively high proportion of bodies having their origin in Francia). Kent was also where Augustine had landed with his mission in 597, and it was where he had established his archbishopric in Canterbury.

The sister of the King of Kent, Æthelburh, was a Christian and a condition of the marriage contract was that the pagan Edwin would allow her to continue to practise her religion through bringing with her a priest who could continue to administer the sacraments to her and her party.

Much of the early advance of Christianity among the pagan kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxons was through marriage diplomacy: princesses dispatched by newly-Christian Anglo-Saxon kings to their pagan peers in the expectation of royal alliance and possible conversion.

Edwin was the first. Æthelburh arrived in Northumbria with an entourage that included a priest, Paulinus, an Italian and one of the second wave of religious that had arrived in AD 601 as reinforcements for Augustine and his original party of missionaries.


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