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Rædwald of East Anglia: The First King of England

Rædwald the High King’ by S.Goodsir

with Dr Sam Newton

in The Old Court, Sutton Hoo (map)
on Saturday, 21st January, 2012.

A reassessment of the question of who was the first king of England in response to the recent restatement by Professor Sarah Foot that it was Æthelstan of Wessex. We shall consider thus the history of early England in general and of Rædwald of East Anglia (died c.625) in particular.
Rædwald’s was one of the early English overlords listed by Bede in his eighth-century Historia Ecclesiastica. Prior to Rædwald’s day, these overlords seemed to have ruled only south of the Humber. Following his victory at the Battle of the River Idle near Bawtry in 617 or 617, Rædwald appears to have extended his overlordship over the North of England as well. Although Bede does not state this explicitly, this inference emerges when we unravel Bede’s narrative and reorder the events to which he refers in a chronological order. As such, Rædwald can be seen to have been the first king of a united kingdom of the English-speaking peoples.
Also of great interest is Rædwald’s reconciliation of the religious differences in a transitional age and the part he seems to have played in the establishment of Roman Christianity in England.

Provisional Programme
  10.00 Coffee on arrival  
  10.15 The Overlords of England  
  11.15 Coffee  
  11.45 Rædwald in the Historical Record  
  12.45 Lunch break (bring picnic or eat in NT restaurant)  
  14:00 Rædwald and the Temple of Two Altars  
  15:00 Tea break  
  15:15 Rædwald the First King of England  
  c.16:20 Close  

About Dr Sam Newton

Sam Newton was awarded his Ph.D at UEA in 1991 and is the author of The Origins of Beowulf and the pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia (1993) and The Reckoning of King Rædwald, (2003). He has lectured widely around the country as an independent scholar and has contributed to many radio and television programmes. He is also a Director of Wuffing Education, NADFAS lecturer, and Time Team historian.

Some suggestions for further reading
(useful but not essential)

Alexander, M., The First Poems in English (Penguin Classics 2008)
Bruce-Mitford, R., Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology (Gollancz 1974)
Chadwick, H.M., “The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial: Who Was He?”, Antiquity, 14 (1940), pp.76-87
Chaney, W.A., The Cult of Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England (Manchester 1970)
Evans, A., The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial (British Museum 1986)
Foot, S., Æthelstan: The First King of England (Yale 2011)
Heaney, Seamus (tr.) Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition, ed. J.Niles (Norton 2007)
Higham, N., An English Empire: Bede and the Early Anglo-Saxon Kings (Manchester 1995)
Higham, N., The Convert Kings: Power and Religious Affiliation in Early Anglo-Saxon England (Manchester 1997)
Hines, J. (ed.), The Anglo-Saxons from the Migration Period to the Eighth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective (Boydell 2003)
Keynes, S., “Rædwald the Bretwalda”, in Voyage to the Other World: The Legacy of Sutton Hoo, ed. C.Kendall & P.Wells (Minneapolis 1992), pp.103-123
Kirby, D.P., The Earliest English Kings (London 1991)
Mayr-Harting, H., The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford 1977)
McClure, J. & R.Collins, (eds.), Bede: the Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Oxford 1999)
Newton, S. The Origins of Beowulf and the pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia (Brewer 1993, 2004)
Newton, S., The Reckoning of King Rædwald: The Story of the King linked to the Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial (Redbird 2003)
Owen, G., Rites and Religions of the Anglo-Saxons (London, 1981)
Plunkett, S.J., Suffolk in Anglo-Saxon Times (Tempus 2005)
Scarfe, N., The Suffolk Landscape (Hodder & Stoughton 1972, Alastair 1986)
Scarfe, N., Suffolk in the Middle Ages (Boydell 1986)
Swanton, M., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Dent 1996; Phoenix 2000)
Warner, P., The Origins of Suffolk (Manchester 1996)
Webster, L., & J.Backhouse, The Making of England: Anglo-Saxon Art and Culture AD 600-900 (British Museum 1991)
Wilson, R., The Lost Literature of Medieval England (Methuen 1952, 1970)


Please phone or email to check the availability of places. Study Days are 38 per person, which includes a full day of lectures, access to the NT site, parking, coffee and tea throughout the day, and access to the NT exhibition. Once you have reserved your place please send a cheque to confirm the booking. For your first booking please complete the application form to ensure that we have recorded your contact details correctly.

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We have learnt of the fame of the Wuffing folk-lords of long ago, of how those wolf-kings held the ancestral land of East Anglia....
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