I write about the Saxon kingdom of Mercia a lot. I thought it had been entirely unintentional until now. But has it?
I grew up in an area that would one have been in Mercia. From a seemingly young age, I knew Mercia had once been a kingdom in its own right. I knew I lived in the centre of what had once been a mighty kingdom. The local church’s name, St Chads, was a dedication to a priest who converted the Mercians to Christianity. Tamworth, the next city along, was also a capital of Mercia (and where much of the Son of Mercia is set). Repton, a little further afield, a Mercian royal mausoleum, so when I went to university and began to study the period, I was, of course, drawn to that kingdom, to Mercia and to all it could offer me.
The Early English kingdom of Mercia is unfortunate in having no extant records surviving from the height of its power and reach. Northumbria has the works of the Venerable Bede and his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Wessex has the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC) – a collection of nine extant ‘versions’ of the same chronicle but with some later regional bias. Mercia has none of these things – although one of the ASC’s maybe more Mercian in tone than others.
It’s believed that any Mercian records that existed were destroyed by the Raider Viking attacks that gained in intensity throughout the ninth century. This is highly possible. It means that we never truly ‘hear’ the story of Mercia. We hear a Northumbrian view of Mercia. And we hear a Wessex view on Mercia. What of Mercia itself?
Students of Early England are taught very much in a set chronological pattern of the Golden Age of Northumbria in the seventh century, the Supremacy of Mercia in the eighth and then the slow but seemingly unstoppable expansion of Wessex to claim all of England under one kingship so that by the time we reach 1066, England as we know it today, exists and is ruled by one king. This glosses over the fact that these kingdoms all existed simultaneously. They all fought and argued amongst one another. They all had ambitions to rule much more of modern England than their kingdom borders necessitated.
And, of course, the joy of redressing the balance a little is never far from my mind. Just as Mercia had no written record during the Early English period, I will make sure that people know of it and don’t just think of its growth, supremacy and decline, as though the kingdoms of Northumbria and Wessex were more to blame for what befell Mercia than its own kings and inhabitants.
And so Mercia? What of Mercia during the Golden Age of Northumbria? What of Mercia through the decline of its supremacy, through the Viking Raider attacks and the growth of Wessex? What indeed? It’s not a small task, but it’s one I’ve set myself. And so, the Son of Mercia begins the story of Mercia in AD826 – Mercia is a mess, Wessex is on the warpath and the Raiders? Well, the Raiders are coming.
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