Coenwulf of Mercia

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Coenwulf (or Cenwulf) (died 821) was King of Mercia from 796 to 821.

Coenwulf became king after the death of Ecgfrith, the son of Offa, in December 796; given the very brief duration of Ecgfrith's rule (five months), it is possible that he was killed by Coenwulf, who subsequently became king despite the fact that his only claim to the throne was his descent from Cenwalh, an obscure younger brother of the past kings Penda and Eowa, who had lived 150 years earlier.

Kent, which had been ruled as a Mercian territory since 785, rose in rebellion in 796. Coenwulf won the Church's backing for a reconquest of Kent, in large part due to its dissatisfaction with the exile of the pro-Mercian Archbishop of Canterbury, Aethelheard, who fled in the face of the rebellion. In 798, Coenwulf invaded Kent, deposed and captured the rebel king Eadbert Praen, and made his own brother Cuthred king of Kent. Cuthred reigned in Kent from 798 to 807; when he died, Coenwulf took control of Kent in name as well as fact.

Similar events took place in 796 in East Anglia (ruled directly by Mercia since 794), where Eadwald became king after a rebellion in the wake of Offa's death. However, Coenwulf regained control of East Anglia within a few years.

Throughout his reign, Coenwulf waged war against the Welsh of Powys and Gwynedd; in 798, the ruler of Gwynedd, Caradog ap Meirion was killed, probably in battle against the Mercians. Further campaigns against the Welsh are recorded in 816 and 818.

In 799, Coenwulf entered into a peace treaty with the West Saxons under Beorhtric, who had been installed as King of Wessex by Offa in 786; Beorhtric remained friendly to Mercian interests until his death in 802, when the less submissive Egbert became king. Coenwulf may have instigated the failed raid into Wessex of Ælthelmund, earl of the Hwicce, upon the accession of Egbert. However, the major conflict that established the supremacy of Wessex at the expense of Mercia would not occur until the 820s, after Coenwulf's death.

In 801, Mercia was invaded by Eardwulf of Northumbria, but peace was made between the two sides.

It was during Coenwulf's reign that the archbishopric of Lichfield was abolished, probably before 803, as the Hygeberht who signed as an abbot at the council of Cloveshoe in that year was presumably the former archbishop. Coenwulf appears from the charters to have quarrelled with Wulfred of Canterbury, who was consecrated in 806, and the dispute continued for several years. It was probably only settled at Cloveshoe in 825, when the lawsuit of the daughter and heiress of Coenwulf, Cwoenthryth, against Wulfred was terminated.

Coenwulf died in 821, and was succeeded by his brother Ceolwulf I.

See Earle and Plummer's edition of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 796, 819 (Oxford, 1892); W de G Birch, Cartularium Saxonicum, 378 (London, 18851893).


As of 2004, there was one known gold coin in existence bearing the name Coenwulf. This 1200-year-old penny was discovered in Bedfordshire, England, on a footpath beside the River Ivel. The coin was sold to American collector Allan Davisson for 230,000 pounds in October 2004, at an auction held by Spink auction house.

Preceded by:
King of East Anglia Succeeded by:
Ceolwulf I
Cuthred King of Kent
Ecgfrith King of Mercia

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