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Saxon Tamworth

Tamworth – The Ancient Capital of the Kingdom of Mercia

Helmet FrontThe Anglo-Saxons came to Staffordshire in the late 6th century, as groups of settlers or tribes.  mercia, or Mierce in Anglo-Saxon, means boundary and the area grew from a number of these seperate tribal settlements.

The Mercians gradually conquered most of the other Midland tribes to become a powerful kingdom stretching from the Humber to the Thames.  The rest of the country was ruled by the kingdoms of Northumbria and Wessex.

Tamworth was the heartland of the Mercian Kingdom which had a royal church at repton, a religious centre at Lichfield and the King’s main residence at Tamworth.

It is certain that the Mercian Kings spent more time at tamworth than anywhere else, and it is thought that there was a royal palace at Tamworth by the end of the 7th Century, situated on the site close to St editha’s Church.

originally, this palace would have been a timber hall with a chapel and somewhere for horses to be stabled.

Evidence from signed charters also show that the Mercian royal families were regularly in Tamworth during the festivals of Christmas and Easter, between 751 and 857 A.D.

The most well know Mercian Kings are Penda (625-655), Wulfhere (657-674), Aethelred (674-704), Aethelbald (716-757) and Offa (757-796).

Tamworth is also know to have been important within Mercia, as it had a water mill which ground grain for food for the settlement and its livestock.

IMG_6465The mill is believed to be the earliest post Roman water mill found in Britain.  It was powered by the River Anker and used mill stones traded to King offa from the French King Charlemagne, in exchange for English woollen cloaks.

The 8th century poem Beowulf describes a royal court as ‘lofty and high gabled’ stronlgy braced inside and out, its high roof gilded, its mead benches decked in gold, many scholars believe this was written for Offa’s court.  There would have probably been workshops for royal craftsman, in particular goldsmiths and other metal workers.

Sometime in the late 8th Century the Mercians dusg a defensive ditch with stakes on the inner face of the bank and possibly a palisade or timber wall were dug to defend the site.  This is the Kings Ditch, or Offa’s Dyke, the line of which still survives in places around Tamworth and is clearly marked on 19th Century maps.

At around 814 there was a permanent treasury at tamworth for the receipt of royal dues and the royal archives may have been kept here too.

829, King Egbert of Wessex conquers Mercia and having been given refreshments on his way back along the Roman Watling Street, founds a monastery at the village of Polesworth to give thanks for the water and to celebrate the signing of the charter declaring control of Mercia.  Editha became first Abbess.

In 871 Alfred the Great becomes King of Wessex and in 874 Tamworth is destroyed by the Vikings.  Alfred defeats the Vikings in 878 and in 886 Alfred takes London from the Vikings, uniting the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms.  He starts constructing a national network of fortified settlements (Burhs).

Aethelflead, Lady of the Mercians

In 913, Alfred’s daughter, Aethelflead, Lady of the Mercians, brings the Mercian army to Tamworth and drives out the Vikings and re-fortifies the Buhr.She is described as ‘our greatest woman-general’ one of the most effective leaders we ever had, who commanded troops for eight years and ruled a country as well.  She drove back the marauding Vikings and seized Watling Street, a strategical highway as the southern boundary of the Danelagh (the border between the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons).  To strengthen her line of communication across England she established a chain of fortified posts, and in the early summer of 913 AD, with her Mercians marched to Tamworth and here, at the junction of its two rivers established a fortification.

She died in 918 in Tamworth and her brother Edward, King of wessex occupies the town.  he deprives Aethelflaeds daughter, Aelfwyn of all authority among the Mercians and takes her away to wessex.

When Edward dies in 924, Aethelstan, son of Edward and nephew of Aethelflaed, brings his sister to Tamworth for her betrothal to Sihtric, Danish King of Northumbria to form a united England, he declares laws and is the first Anglo Saxon King to rule a united England.

A mint was set up in Tamworth and it was declared that only towns could mint money.  The first penny minted originated from Tamworth and was the only effective currency in England up to the 14th Century.

In the late 10th century the St Chad Gospels come to Lichfield Cathedral, these include some of the earliest known examples of written Welsh.

In 1042 Edward the Confessor is crowned the last Anglo-Saxon King of England.

Interesting Tamworth Facts

Tamworth which was the only town in the county of Staffordshire at the time of the Danish invasions which has two streets with Danish names.  Aldergate and Gungate.

A valuable item such as a sword, drinking cup or a piece of jewellery may also have an even greater symbolic value ‘maddum’.  This is the stored up history of the object which gives it its power, e.g. Excalibur.

The sword was the warriors most important and trusted weapon, they were sometimes asked to swear mighty oaths on their sword, they believed that if the oath was broken then so would the sword at the crucial moment.  Many of the Staffordshire Hoard pieces are believed to be from weapons of war, especially swords.

There is a Saxon tradition of a bride being given her wedding ring on a sword, which meant that the warrior was pledging his loyalty to his word.  Some swords have been found with small rings incorporated into the handle.  Oaths were sworn on these rings, and rings were given as gifts, a tradition which provided the infleunce for Lord of the Rings trilogy by J R Tolkien, who was a scholar of Anglo-Saxon.#

The Staffordshire Hoard

There is a permanent Anglo-Saxon display in Tamworth Castle and pieces of the Staffordshire Hoard can also be seen along with many beautiful replica items.  For more information on the Staffordshire Hoard, go to