The King Killers

The gravestone of the father of King Cadwallon.

Edwin met his end at the hands of what would seem like an unlikely alliance between Cadwallon, king of the Britonnic kingdom of Gwynedd and Penda, King of the Ango-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. A simplistic understanding of the time would think that Cadwallon and Penda should be enemies. But both wanted to bring down the over powerful Edwin. Although Penda was a pagan, his name could have derived from British Celtic (although the derivation is uncertain and the name unique).

The kingdom of Gwynedd was a stronghold of Romano-Britonnic civilisation. The gravestone of Cadwallon’s father, now set into the wall of the church of Llangadwaladr on the Isle of Anglesy, near the site of the court of the kings of Gwynedd, was written in good, if rather shaky, Latin: Catamanus rex sapientisimus opinatisimus omnium regum (King Cadfan, the wisest and most renowned of all kings).

 But in the brutal power politics of the 7th century, a mutual enemy outweighed any other considerations.

 When Bede, the proud Northumbrian, later recorded these events in his history he excoriated Cadwallon as a faithless Christian and destroyer of his fellow Christians, but evinced a muted admiration for Penda’s unrepentant paganism and sheer ability to kill other kings. Penda was the last of the great warlords, riding through the country leaving trails of vanquished kingdoms in his wake, like an insular version of Genghis Khan.


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