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King of East Anglia

(Died AD 617/25)

For one of the great Bretwaldas, King Redwald of East Anglia is surprisingly badly documented. He was the son of King Tytila and is thought to have ascended the throne AD 593 and some time in the next fifteen years, he adopted Christianity, apparently being baptized in Kent. He had difficulty in persuading his people to follow his adoption of the new religion and perhaps he himself was a little half-hearted, for Bede records that Redwald maintained a temple with altars to both pagan and Christian gods. His informant was Eldwulf of East Anglia who remembered seeing it as a boy. Around AD 614, Redwald took the exiled Prince Edwin of Deira under his wing. The latter had already spent years hiding from his enemy, King Aethelfrith of Northumbria, at the Royal Court of Gwynedd in North Wales; but, after the Battles of Chester and Bangor-on-Dee, Edwin thought it safer in Redwald's growing power-base. Aethelfrith tried to threaten Redwald into releasing the lad and later bribes were almost successful. But the East Anglian Queen reminded her husband of his obligations to his guest and he chose honour over pecuniary gain. In AD 617, Redwald even raised a huge army on Edwin's behalf and they marched north to meet the Northumbrians at the Battle of the River Idle. Here the two allies were victorious and Edwin became King of Northumbria at last.

Redwald's date of death is uncertain and it is possible that he fell at the Idle. Other sources suggest, however, that he lived until about AD 625, gaining his reputation as Bretwalda in the intervening years. Whatever the exact date, Redwald evidently had a last lapse into paganism before his death, for he appears to have been the monarch interred in the great Sutton Hoo ship burial, discovered near his Royal Court at Rendlesham in 1939. Only the impression of the wooden vessel remained, but the treasure buried with the King was fabulous: a stunning helmet and shield, silver platters, drinking vessels, musical instruments. They can now be seen in the British Museum. Redwald may have been succeeded briefly by his brother, Eni, although, it is generally accepted that his successor was his youngest son, Erpwald.


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