634 ᛦ

King Osric of Deira was one of the shortest-lived kings of any of the 7th century CE collection of kingdoms that made up what was later to be known as England. At the time, there were seven kingdoms, known as the Heptarchy. One of those kingdoms was Northumbria, which was originally divided into the two kingdoms of Bernicia in the north and Deira in the south. These two kingdoms would first be united during the reign of King Aethelfrith, who reigned from 593 to 616 CE. The two kingdoms were in a near constant state of war with each other for centuries, which led to great instability in the region. 

To tell King Osric’s story, we first have to tell the story of Edwin of Northumbria. Edwin was the son of Aella, the first known king of Deira. Upon Aella’s death, a certain Aethelric assumed power in Deira. Who Aethelric was is unclear, but he may have been the father of Aethelfrith, who is listed as the King of All Northumbria by the year 604. During the reign of Aethelfrith, and for reasons unknown, Edwin was sent into exile. He was fostered first in the kingdom of Gwynedd (modern day southern Wales), and then later turned up around the year 616 in East Anglia, under the protection of King Raedwald. That same year, Aethelfrith was defeated in battle by Raedwald, who installed Edwin as his client king in Northumbria. 

With the support of such a powerful overlord, Edwin would go on to unite Northumbria again, which put the kingdom under the control of a native of Deira for the first time, something considered “outside the normal tendency.” Edwin would go on to take over most of England with Raedwald for the next decade, until the death of Raedwald around 625. 

After Raedwald’s death, Edwin sought to secure even more power for himself through marriage, and sought the hand of Aethelburg, sister of Eadbald of Kent. Eadbald agreed on the condition that Edwin convert to Christianity, believing that doing so would convert the Northumbrians just as his parent’s marriage had converted Kent. Eadbald himself holds the dubious distinction of being the first Anglo-Saxon king to convert to Christianity. 

It should be noted that this time period in English history, in regards to faith and religion, was tumultuous. Christian monks of every stripe were working hard to convert the kings and other nobility, in their aim to have all kings bend the knee to their new master. Edwin himself was characterized as being unsure of conversion, and even after his marriage, he still sought the advice of his counselors about the matter. The account of this meeting by the “venerable” Bede is widely cited and includes the famous story of Coifi, a “pagan” priest, who, when asked what he thought of the new faith and its rules, stated that they “may be worthwhile, since no one has been more dedicated to the old gods, and he has gained no benefit from them.” Another counselor agrees, and Edwin makes his decision to convert. Coifi then asks to be the one to destroy the old pagan temple, since he now knows the “true god” has given him knowledge, and doing so will set a good example to the public. He asks for a horse and a spear, rides to the doorway of the temple and profanes it by casting the spear into it. We aren’t given any insight into why this profaned the temple, but there were associations made by historians to connect it with the spear that pierced Jesus. 

Edwin went on to become the most powerful king among the Anglo-Saxons, until the year 632, when a coalition of one of his foster-brothers from his time in Wales, Cadwallon, and the mighty pagan king, Penda of Mercia, defeated his forces and killed him at the Battle of Hatfield Chase. This battle took place sometime in the autumn of 632 or possibly 633, sources are unsure. What we do know is that shortly after his death, his vast kingdom was split up, with Northumbria once again divided. Bernicia would go to his nephew, Eanfrith, son of his sister, Acha. Deira would go to Osric, his cousin, son of his uncle, Aelfric. 

This brings us to the autumn of 633, with King Osric and King Eanfrith ruling their respective sub-kingdoms, having themselves superficially accepting the new faith. However, according to Bede and other historians, they promptly dropped the facade of being “good Christians,” and reverted back to their native faith. Their rule would not last a year, with Osric falling to the same Cadwallon that had helped to slay Edwin, after he attempted to besiege him in a fortified town.  According to Bede in his “Ecclesiastical History of the English People,” the year that Eanfrith and Osric ruled their sub-kingdoms was so abhorrent because of their return to paganism that their reigns were effectively erased and added to the reign of Oswald of Bernicia. Oswald was a staunch convert and was later made a Saint. 

While we don’t know much about the life and thoughts of Osric, we should still speak his name and remember him. At a time in our history when one’s faith could be and often was a matter of life and death, Osric chose to spend the brief time that he had in power to reinstate the Gods of his people to their proper place. 

So let us remember King Osric of Deira, a short-lived champion of his Gods, but a champion nonetheless!

Hail King Osric of Deira!
Hail the Honored Dead!
Hail the Folk!