Æthelfrith († 616) was the king of Bernicia (from 592/593) and Deira, which merged into Northumbria. Æthelfrith was the son of Æthelric and the grandson of Ida, king of Bernicia. His rule is the true border between a historically unified Northumbria and proper England. He married Acha, the daughter of king Aella, who was succeeded by his father in 588 or 590, firstly deposing Aella’s son Edwin. In 603 Æthelfrith successfully repelled an attack of Áedán king of Dál Riata at Degsastan, where Áedán suffered heavy losses. The fact that Hering, a son of Æthelfrith’s predecessors, was in Áedán’s army gives us a clear implication that there was probably infighting in the royal family of Bernicia. He defeated the Welsh in the great battle of Chester later during his reign, probably in 614. He also massacred priest in Bangor abbey, who had gathered to support the Welsh. Æthelfrith started this war with the goal of catching Edwin, who was on the run, but also to separate northern Wales from the Britons in Strathclyde. Æthelfrith was defeated and killed on the east side of the River Idle by an army under Raedwald, king of East Anglia, who was called by Edwin to support him.
Edwin († 12.10.632, Hatfield Chase) was the Anglo-Saxon king of Northumbria from 616 to 632. He was the strongest English king in that period and the first Christian on the throne of Northumbria. He was the son of king Aella of Deira, one of the two original regions of the kingdom of Northumbria. Edwin was exiled when Æthelric, the king of Bernicia, conquered Deira in 588 or 590. In 616 king Raedwald of East Anglia defeated and killed Æthelric’s son Æthelfrith and proclaimed Edwin as the king of Northumbria. Edwin conquered a part of Wales and was acknowledged as the overlord by the other English kings, with the exception of the king of Kent. Edwin’s conversion to Christianity was the result of his marriage to the Christian princess Æthelburh of Kent. She brought the missionary Paulinus with her who converted Edwin and many of his subjects to Christianity between 627 and 632. The Celtish king Cadwallon of Gwynedd (northern Wales) attacked Northumbria with king Penda of Mercia. They defeated and killed Edwin. Paulinus and Æthelburh fled, and the Northumbrian church was disbanded for a time. Northumbria was ruled by Oswald, the son of Æthelfrith.
Saint Oswald (604 – † 642 Maserfield) was the Anglo-Saxon king of Northumbria from 633 to 642. He instituted Celtic Christianity and gave Celtic missionaries jurisdiction over a greater part of England. Oswald’s father, king Æthelfrith was the ruler of two ancient kingdoms, Bernicia and Deira, which merged into Northumbria. He was exiled from Northumbria by his uncle Edwin in 616 Oswald and his brother Oswiu fled to the Hebrides, to the kingdom of Dal Riata, where they eventually converted to Christianity. Edwin was killed in the battle with Cadwallon of Gwynedd and Penda of Mercia in 632, but Cadwallon was defeated and slain by Oswald in the following year in the vicinity of Hexham. The historian Bede Venerabilis claimed that Oswald ruled all of northern England after this. Nevertheless the pagan king Penda of Mercia was discontent. He attacked and defeated Oswald at Maserfield, which is believed to be in Oswestry in Shropshire. Oswald was slain in this battle. The slain king was proclaimed a saint by the Northumbrian church and it was believed that his remains cure diseases and bring wonders.
Oswiu (612 – † 15.02.670) was the Anglo-Saxon king of Northumbria from 655 to 670. Oswiu’s father was Æthelfrith, and his older brother was Saint Oswald. Northumbria was divided in 642 and Oswiu took control over Bernicia while Penda was ruling over Deira. Oswiu was a subject of king Penda of Mercia for thirteen years. In 655 Penda invaded Bernicia, but he was slain in the battle of Winwaed. Oswiu proceeded to unite Northumbria and to rule all of England. He annexed the northern part of Mercia and left the southern region to Penda’s son Peada. Peada was slain in 656, and Oswiu’s rule was overthrown in the rebellion of the aristocracy of Mercia in 657 Oswiu’s rule in the rest of England collapsed. Oswiu was a pious Christian; therefore he called the Synod in Whitby where he tried to overcome the differences between the Roman and Celtic churches. Oswiu was succeeded by Ecgfrith after his death.
Ecgfrith († 20.05.685) was the king of Northumbria from 670 to 685. He was unsuccessful in the wars which he led against Mercia to the south and against the Picts in the north. Ecgfrith was the son of king Oswiu and nephew of Saint Oswald. By 674 he defeated the south-English coalition which was led by Mercia and annexed the region of Leeds. Nevertheless he was defeated in 678 near the river Trent by king Æthelred of Mercia. He was killed during his invasion of Pictish territory in the battle of Dun Nechtain where his whole army was annihilated.
Eadberht († 768) was the king of Northumbria from 737 to 758. Eadberht succeeded after the abdication of his cousin Ceolwulf. He conquered the Briton region of Keele. In 756 he forced the Britons to surrender in the siege of the Strathclyde capital of Dumbarton with Pictish support, but he soon suffered defeat by the same Britons. Eadberth abdicated in 758 and became a priest in the cathedral of York, where his brother Ecgberht served as archbishop. His son Oswulf (758 – 760) who succeeded was soon murdered and the throne was seized by the aristocrat Æthelwald Moll. Eadberht’s grandson Ælfwald ruled from 779 to 788. Under Eadberht and his brother who served as bishop from 732 to 735 and later as archbishop the church in Northumbria was strenghtened and York became a clear center of Church education.
David Rollason, Northumbria, 500-1100: Creation and Destruction of a Kingdom, Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Robin Fleming, Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400 to 1070, Penguien UK, 2011.