Aldfrith (Flann F’na mac Ossu, c. 633-704) the illegitimate scion of Oswy and Fin, became king following the catastrophe of Ecgberht’s ill-advised strike into Pictland at Nechtansmere. He had been educated in the Irish tradition, away from the Mercian threat, at Malmesbury (with Aldhelm) and at Canterbury by Theodore and Hadrian. He visited Ireland in the early 680s, possibly being there at the time of Ecgfrith’s vicious attack. Aldfrith gained a reputation as a scholar and sage, he may well have been at Iona in 685 under the tutelage of Adamnan. His elevation to the throne was supported by Cuthbert, possibly a relation. He restored the Northumbrian fortunes in a largely peaceful reign disturbed only by the ‘turbulent priest’, Wilfrid. Bede lauded him.
Aldfrith reigned during the Golden Age of Northumbrian insular art and the production of illuminated manuscripts including the Lindisfarne, Durham and Echternach Gospels and the Codex Amiatinus. This was the period when the great Northumbrian monasteries were established, each by a prominent figure: Wilfrid at Ripon and Hexham, Cuthbert at Lindisfarne, Benedict Biscop at Jarrow and Monkwearmouth, Hild at Whitby. Such a propinquity of talent often generates, by collaboration or competition, outstanding achievement. The Hexham, Hoddom and closely-linked Bewcastle and Ruthwell crosses are possibly a little later, but several famous jewels (the Ripon jewel and St. Cuthbert’s pectoral cross) date from this time as does the ‘Franks’ (Auzon) casket.
Northumbrian missionaries travelled widely and worked assiduously on the Continent - the main source of acculturation. Significant libraries were assembled at York and Iona. The first silver sceattas were introduced bearing Irish uncial lettering. Aldfrith died in 704 at Driffield, assumed to be a royal palace, and is regarded as one of the most learned of all English monarchs.
From the Spink Abramson sale catalogue pt II, # 21050.
To the thirty-three-year gap between Aldfrith and Eadberht (704-737), can be allotted the wide variety of Southumbrian and Continental types found in Northumbria, allowing the possibility that some types (e.g. some varieties of Series J and arguably the ‘fledgling’ type) may have been minted locally and that others were imitated contemporaneously. What may also contribute to the replacement of local issues by imported currency during this period - the Golden Age of Northumbria - is, arguably, a favourable balance of payments. This probably now consisted mainly of sheep or wool as slave trading is more likely to be associated with the expansionism of the seventh century.
Aldfrith’s one weakness was his succession. His marriage to the ascetic Cuthburg, sister of Ine of Wessex, resulted in the birth of Osred in 696, before Cuthburg entered the monastery of Winburn.
After Aldfrith’s death, Berhtfrith, a patricus and warrior thane (of the dynasty of BeornhÊth and Berhtred) undertook the guardianship of Osred and immediately faced a challenge from a rival thane Eadwulf, who usurped the throne for two months until Wilfrid pronounced in favour of Osred. Eadwulf’s usurpation was a decisive watershed in Northumbrian succession for now ostensibly legitimate scions could be challenged by warrior thanes. Future monarchs could not achieve the greatness of their illustrious predecessors and Northumbria would never regain its pre-eminence. Seventh-century Northumbrian monarchs typically died in battle; their eighth-century successors usually perished as the result of internecine strife, though this friction may also have been a driving force under the unifying influence of the archiepiscopacy. Despite this, the Golden Age, at least in some artistic and literary fields, was to continue until the catastrophe of 867, when York fell to the Viking Great Army.
In 711, Berhtfrith inflicted a defeat on the Picts but unfortunately by 716, Osred proved to be incompetent and dissolute, and was eventually lured by his kinsfolk, Coenred and Osric, to a bloody demise, probably on the Mercian border. Coenred acceded for two years but was little better than Osred. In 718, the obscure Osric succeeded for a period of 11 years. He adopted Ceolwulf, Coenred’s brother, as his successor in 729.
Ceolwulf proved an ineffectual, monkish, king. In 731, he was kidnapped by rebellious thanes and forcibly tonsured. Having made substantial endowments to Lindisfarne, he abdicated there in 737 and survived a further 27 years. He nominated his cousin Eadberht as his successor.
From the Spink catalogue (#21050) for the second part of the Abramson Collection sale.
Eadberht (reigned 737-758, d. 768), son of Eata, faced internal rivalry and slew Eardwine (son of the usurper Eadwulf and grandfather of King Eardwulf) in 740, and Offa, son of Aldfrith, in 750. He was supported by his brother Archbishop Ecgberht of York and they issued joint coinage, Eadberht having re-introduced the Northumbrian sceat. In 740, Eadberht campaigned in the north but this gave an opportunity for Aethelbald of Mercia to attack, possibly in retaliation for Eardwine’s murder. Eadberht campaigned more successfully in 750, capturing the plain of Kyle. He retired to a monastic life in York and was buried alongside Ecgberht who predeceased him by two years. Eadberht restored the fantastic beast reverse, producing a superior design to that of Aldfrith.
From Spink auction catalogue #21050, Abramson Collection, pt II.