Penda: Mercia's First King

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One of the most famous kings of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia was Penda, who lived in the 7th Century and had a reputation as a fierce warrior.

Penda's name pops up repeatedly in accounts of the struggles between Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and Penda is usually on the winning side of those battles. He is said to have seized the throne from his cousin, King Ceorl, in the 620s.

One of his early victories was the defeat of a small kingdom of people known as the Hwicce at the Battle of Cirencester in 628; Mercia then absorbed the Hwicce subkingdom, which at one time had also been absorbed by neighboring Wessex.

Two of most significant victories were both over leaders of Northumbria. In 633, he led a combined force (swelled by an alliance with King Cadwallon of Gwynedd) that defeated the powerful King Edwin of Northumbria, at the Battle of Hadfield Chase; Edwin himself died at that battle. Then, nine years after that, Penda defeated Edwin's successor, Oswald, at the Battle of Maserfield, again killing the king.

As a result, Penda and his Kingdom of Mercia were supreme among the Anglo-Saxons, having already defeated the other kingdoms. He also had an influence over the Kingdom of Wessex in that his sister was the wife of the Wessex king, Cenwealh.

Penda's luck ran out at the Battle of Winwaed, in 655; his allies deserted him, and Penda was killed. A century later, the powerful Offa would take up the Mercian mantle of supremacy.

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David White