Traditional region of England. It consists of the historic counties of Norfolk and Suffolk and parts of Cambridgeshire and Essex, and its traditional centre is the city of Norwich. The easternmost area in England, it has been settled for thousands of years. Colchester, the oldest recorded town in England, was important in pre-Roman and Roman times. East Anglia was one of the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England, and it was ruled by Danes in the 9th century. During the medieval period it was known for its woolen products, but the region's modern economy is predominantly agricultural. Along the coast are many important fishing ports and holiday resorts.
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North of the River Humber the two kingdoms of Deira (centred on York) and the more northerly Bernicia (centred on Bamburgh) had rival dynasties. Ælla of Deira ruled until his death in 588, leaving a daughter Acha and son Edwin and another sibling. The Bernician dynasty (allied by kinship to Wessex) was gaining ascendancy, and Edwin grew up in exile in the court of Cadfan ap Iago of Gwynedd. In various wars the Bernician Æthelfrith consolidated the Northumbrian state, and in c 604 brought Deira under his own dominion.
The name ‘Sigeberht’ is unlike any other Wuffing name, but typical of the East Saxon dynasty. Sledda of Essex (ruled c 587-604) married Ricula, sister of Æthelbert of Kent. Æthelberht supported the succession of his nephew Saebert, their son, in Essex, and both kings became Christian soon afterwards. It is suggested that Rædwald's wife had previously been married to a member of that family and that Sigeberht was (as William of Malmesbury reports) Rædwald's stepson. Sigeberht (who grew up in a pagan household) earned the enmity of Rædwald, who drove him into exile in Gaul possibly to protect his own bloodline.
Rædwald also received the Christian sacraments in Kent, presumably at the invitation of Æthelberht who may have been his baptismal sponsor. The date of this initiation is not exactly known, but since it is claimed that Saint Augustine himself (d. c 605) dedicated a church near Ely, it may have followed Saebert's conversion fairly swiftly. In this way Rædwald became aligned with Æthelberht's system of authority. Bede states that even during Æthelbert's lifetime Rædwald was building up the leadership of the southern English for his own nation of East Angles.
In East Anglia Rædwald's conversion was not universally acceptable to his household, nor to his wife. She and her pagan teachers probably persuaded him to default in part from his commitment to it. In his temple, therefore, there were two altars, one dedicated to Christ, and one for dedications to the Anglo-Saxon gods.
Rædwald received him willingly and promised to protect him, and Edwin lived on familiar terms with the king and among his royal companions. When news of this reached Æthelfrith he sent messengers offering much money to Rædwald for Edwin's death, but to no avail. He sent a second and a third time, offering greater gifts of silver, and promising war if they were not accepted. This was a direct confrontation of territorial influence. Rædwald was weakened and promised either to kill Edwin or hand him over to ambassadors.
These offers would have been empty if Rædwald was not contemplating war, and had not foreseen the future power of Northumbria. Rædwald's pagan queen admonished him that a king ought not to betray his trust, more precious than any ornament, for the sake of money, nor sell his imperilled friend for gold. Paulinus had Edwin's assurance that he would accept his religious teaching if he survived and came into such power. Once the ambassadors had gone, Rædwald resolved on war.
A separate account of the battle given by Henry of Huntingdon states that Rædwald's army was (like a legion) in three formations, led by Rædwald, Rægenhere and Edwin. With more experienced fighters, Æthelfrith attacked in loose formation. At the sight of Rægenhere (quasi praeda inventa – perhaps thinking he was Edwin) they cut their way through to him and slew him. Rædwald then furiously breached his lines and killed Æthelfrith amid a great slaughter of the Northumbrians.
Through his action Rædwald's authority became sufficiently universal for Bede to recognise him as the successor to the imperium of Ceawlin and Æthelberht. He also calls him Rex Anglorum (King of the Angles). By Edwin's debt of allegiance to him, Rædwald became the first to hold direct influence in Northumbria, and he probably supported Edwin's subjection of Bernicia. His authority in Kent is specified, for Bede notes that this was not afterwards obtained by Edwin. As foreseen before the battle, Edwin gained imperium after Rædwald's death, fulfilled his promise to become Christian, and married the sister of Eadbald of Kent.
With the exception of one furnished grave probably of a Rhineland visitor, the excavated grave-goods and rituals of its cemetery (including burials under small barrows) are not particularly wealthy or elaborate, and lack the strong characterization of the neighbouring late 6th century cemetery at a higher crossing of the river (Hadleigh Road).
The identification of the Sutton Hoo Mound 1 ship-burial with Rædwald cannot be proved. However the magnificence of the ritual and possessions, the far-reaching connections which they demonstrate, and the inclusion of objects denoting the personal authority of the individual buried there, definitely point to a person of very exceptional status. Rædwald is the most likely candidate, though others have been suggested.
The date-horizon shows that this person lived in the time of Rædwald. The gold and garnet body-equipment was produced for a patron employing a goldsmith the equal or better than any in Europe, and was designed to project an image of imperial power. The Mediterranean silverware in the grave is a unique assemblage for its period in Europe, and the inclusion of bowls and spoons which have been interpreted as baptismal gifts does not conflict with the story of Rædwald's conversion.
The ship-burial ritual itself, and the strong connections of the armour with the Vendel-age productions of eastern Sweden, suggest genealogical associations of the kind described in the poem Beowulf. Within thirty years of the date of the burial, it is certain that the neighbourhood of Sutton Hoo (in particular, Rendlesham was a focus of patronage of Rædwald's family heirs.
The interpretation of Rædwald's kingdom and authority through the burial and artefacts requires a personal identification which cannot absolutely be made. Even so, the assemblage illustrates beyond doubt the spectacular riches, contacts and personal culture of the foremost East Anglian patron of his age. No comparable testimony survives in any other English context of this period.