Tuesday, 20 October 2009

King Offa

Offa, son of Thingfrith, was the King of Mercia from 757 until his death in July 796. He came to the throne after a period of civil war following the assassination of Æthelbald. In the 780s he extended his power over most of southern England, allying with Beorhtric of Wessex, who married Offa's daughter Eadburh, and regaining complete control of the southeast. He also became the overlord of East Anglia, and had King Æthelberht II of East Anglia beheaded in 794.

Many historians regard Offa as the most powerful Anglo-Saxon king before Alfred the Great. He was a Christian king and is best remembered for building Offa's Dyke - a massive linear earthwork, roughly following some of the current border between England and Wales. In places, it is up to 65 feet (20 m) wide (including its flanking ditch) and 8 feet (2.5 m) high. In the 8th century it formed some kind of delineation between the Anglian kingdom of Mercia and the Welsh kingdom of Powys. During the summer, Elizabeth of 'Welsh Hills Again' walked the whole length of the Offa's Dyke Path.

But there is actually a rather more lasting and constantly used memorial to King Offa that most people do not appreciate. He introduced the penny to English coinage. Many surviving coins from Offa's reign carry elegant depictions of him and the artistic quality of these images exceeds that of the contemporary Frankish coinage. Some of his coins carry images of his wife, Cynethryth—the only Anglo-Saxon queen ever depicted on a coin. He took as a model a coin first struck by Pippin, father of Charlemagne.

(A modern UK New Penny)



  1. Wonderful history lesson! Fascinating info!
    Thank you, CJ

  2. I love this kind of stuff. I will probably soon forget the details but still...! One of my favourite TV programs is the British Time Team who keep digging up all of Britain and getting excited by dirty little coins and tiny pieces of pottery every week. We get it on one of my cable channels, and I'm SO glad... :) Britain has a fascinating history.

  3. How fascinating. I always learn so many interesting things reading your posts. Thank you, Scriptor.
    Canadian Chickadee

  4. Hello, thank you for this post.

    The death of King Offa is a bit of a mystery; I was hoping to learn what your thoughts were on the subject.

    Tradition maintains that he was severely wounded in the Battle of Rhuddlan Marsh, and died as a result - possibly from an infection, or because the wound became septic. Other accounts have him dying at the scene of the battle itself, along with his opponent, the Welch King Caradoc.

    Unfortunately, the Welch Chronicles, always a dubious source of information, date the battle a full year after Offa's death in 797. This obviously means that King Offa could not possibly have fought in the Battle of Rhuddlan Marsh, preoccupied as he was with being dead for a year.

    Hopefully, you are aware of some information that could possibly serve as a tiebreaker of some sort - since these two unreliable sources won't agree.

  5. Thanks for the comment, Eric. I love the way it was phrased - my type of humour!
    Regrettably I can only share your uncertainty as to when he died. There are times when history is so frustrating!
    One of my greatest desires for decades has been that someone should come up with proof that Richard was innocent of the murder of the Princes in the tower. I'm sure it was Lancastrian propoganda but I guess there are some things we shall never know.


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