We were fortunate to have the well-known archaeologist Max Adams to speak on Glendale in the seventh century.
As it is the 40th anniversary of the society’s inauguration, to learn more about the history of our area in its heyday, the ‘golden age’ of Northumbria, seemed appropriate. A large audience of appreciative members was there.
Max drew our attention to local archaeologist Roger Miket, who had long shared this area of enquiry and helped further our understanding.
An intellectual revolution had taken place in the seventh century when the district was heavily populated, with 10 times the numbers we have today.
There was good soil and good communication, partly due to the Roman roads. New research techniques show that the Roman occupation had extended more fully into the land North of the Wall.
In 547 Ida fortified his kingdom from his Bamburgh stronghold, creating an Anglo-Saxon kingdom on land that was easily cultivated, not too wet, including the coastal plain, and with all the resources needed to give him power.
By the end of the sixth century Northumbria was the most powerful kingdom in Britain.
Max quoted heavily from Bede, the paramount historian writing from the eighth century.
Ethelfrith, Ida’s grandson, was a successful warlord who united the states of Bernicia and Deira as Northumbria.
Later Edwin continued this development, ruling so skilfully that it was said that a woman could travel from one end of the kingdom to the other without harm.
As well as a winter palace at Bamburgh, Brian Hope-Taylor’s excavations have shown that there was a summer base at Yeavering – still with secrets to give up when further excavations take place – as well as at Maelmin and Gefrin, alternative residences of the court.
Max used maps to show the extent of Yeavering, including its famous ‘bandstand’.
In fact, 10 shires have been identified at which the retinue would spend 36 days, a tenth of the year. This was undoubtedly why, in 627, Paulinus spent 36 days baptising pagans at Gefrin when Ethelburgha had prevailed on her husband King Edwin to bring Christianity to the kingdom.
Edwin was killed by a pagan king and until his brother Oswald, who had been in exile and educated at Iona in the Celtic form of Christianity, beat Cadwallion at Heavonsfield in 635, Christianity, and thus the continuation of authority, was in abeyance.
Oswald, also educated at Iona, brought Aidan to Lindisfarne. His brother Oswii continued as ruler and large parcels of land were given to the church. Six monasteries were established and land was granted to members of the royal family, ensuring stability at the end of each reign.
By the time Maelmin was built in Oswii’s time, it was fenced as kings realised the benefits of security. There were weaving sheds, and pottery was produced. More excavating and geo-physics need to be done to discover further surprises.
Eventually so much land had been given away that there was too little to support the warriors needed to defend the kingdom. Bede wrote: “Who knows where this will lead?”