Eanflæd, Princess of Kent and Queen of Northumbria

Eanflæd was born in Northumbria at Easter 626 and followed her mother Æthelburh into exile in Kent when her father King Edwin was killed at the Battle of Hatfield Chase in 633 (or 634). It seems highly probable, therefore, that for a period of time, Eanflæd lived with her mother in Lyminge.

Between 642 and 644, King Eorcenberht of Kent, Eanflæd’s cousin, negotiated a marriage alliance with Oswiu King of Northumbria. At that time, Northumbria was not a truly united kingdom, and many people still considered themselves to come either from Bernicia (roughly Northumberland and County Durham) or Deira (roughly Yorkshire). Oswiu was from the royal house of Bernicia. Eanflæd, through her father Edwin, was from the royal house of Deira. Their marriage united the two houses in a perfect alliance.

Oswiu had succeeded to the throne on the death in battle of his brother Oswald in 642, fighting the same King Penda of Mercia who had killed King Edwin. Oswald had grown up on the holy island of Iona on the west coast of Scotland, and during his lifetime had established a great reputation for piety. Very soon after his death, miracles began to be attributed to him and in the years that followed, he became one of the foremost saints of northern England. But his popularity was distinctly northern. It is therefore very curious that the only ancient dedication of a church to St Oswald in southern England should be at Paddlesworth, a church that has been associated with Lyminge since before the Norman Conquest. It would have been fitting for Eanflæd, before her marriage to Oswiu, to found a church and dedicate it to her martyred future brother-in-law. Whether this can ever be proved, and whether we will ever discover the remains of a 7th Century church in or around the present church (which dates to shortly after the Norman Conquest) remains to be seen.

Eanflæd had a significant influence on King Oswiu who reigned until 670. From the point of view of the conversion of the Early Medieval English kingdoms to Christianity, one of the most significant events was brought about by Eanflæd, or at least she had a significant impact on its outcome. This was the Synod of Whitby in 664, where it was debated whether the church should follow the “Celtic” traditions of Iona and Ireland, or the Roman traditions brought over by St Augustine when he came to convert the Kingdom of Kent in 597. A very tangible (but not the only) difference between the two traditions was the date of Easter. This frequently meant that Queen Eanflæd, who followed the Roman rite, was still in Lent when her husband, who followed the Celtic rite, was celebrating Easter. After lengthy and sometimes difficult debate, the King eventually decided in favour of adopting the Roman rite, contrary to his whole upbringing and practice up to that point. Though the historical account is silent on the matter, one can’t help feeling that Eanflæd may have had a lot to do with this.

Eanflæd’s influence extended further than Whitby and for a period she was patron to St Wilfrid, one of the great movers and shakers of the church in the second half of the 7th Century. Wilfrid was one of the primary proponents of the Roman rite at the Synod of Whitby. He was immensely influential but also was heavily involved in the politics of the period and didn’t always come out on top. He subsequently went on to convert the South Saxons and founded their first cathedral at Selsey, near Chichester.

Following Oswiu’s death, Eanflæd retired to the Abbey of Whitby where she succeeded St Hild as abbess, sharing the position jointly with her daughter Ælfflæd. She died at some point between 685 and 704.

St Oswald PaddlesworthThe tiny church of St Oswald, Paddlesworth, a little over 2 miles walk from Lyminge.  Though the interior fittings are very different, the scale of this church is quite similar to that of the church built by Eanflæd's mother Æthelburh in Lyminge and gives some idea of what the first English churches built in the 7th Century were like (© Rob Baldwin)

Ruins of the later medieval Whitby Abbey, built over St Hild's abbey where the Synod of Whitby met in 664 (© Wikimedia Commons)

This page is managed by the Lyminge Parish Council Historic Environment Working Group