PW: Bishop Trumhere of Mercia, Middle Anglia & Lindsey

Trumhere is an interesting fellow and another glimpse into King Oswine’s church. Trumhere first appears on the scene in the days following Oswine’s death in August 651 when King Oswiu founds the monastery of Gilling to pray for both kings. Bede describes Trumhere as a close kinsman of King Oswine who was made abbot over the new monastery.

“The third bishop [of Mercia] was Trumhere, an Englishman but educated and consecrated by the Irish. He was abbot of the monastery called Gilling, the place where King Oswine was killed… Queen Eanflaed, his kinswoman, had asked King Oswiu to expiate Oswine’s unjust death by granting God’s servant Trumhere, also a near relative of the murdered king, a site at Gilling to build a monastery; in it prayer was continually to be said for the eternal welfare of both kings, for the one who planned the murder and for his victim.” (Bede, HE III.24; McClure and Collins, p. 152)

This makes the second of Oswine’s close kin (along with Hild) who entered the church under Aidan. Trumhere had clearly been in the church long enough to be suitable to found a monastery on his own. He is also only the second of Aidan’s students to be known to found a monastery; the other one being Eata at Melrose. We can expect that Gilling would have been founded within days or months of the deaths of Oswine and Aidan. It is even possible that it was arranged before the death of Aidan 12 days after Oswine.

In 658 the Mercians throw off the Northumbrian yoke and raise Penda’s young son Wulfhere to the throne. According to Bede, Trumhere of Gilling is his first bishop. It is unclear if Trumhere became bishop with the Mercian revolt or if he had become bishop very shortly before. His epsicopate in Mercia and Middle Anglia is tentatively dated from c. 658 to 662 when he is succeeded by Jaruman. There is no reason given for the succession of Jaruman so we are left to suppose that Trumhere had died. The Mercian bishops do have a surprisingly short episcopates: Diuma started in c. 653 and died in office; Ceollach left for Ireland; Trumhere began in c. 658 and had 4 years; Jaruman had about 5 years and died in office; vacancy of about 3 years; Chad had three years and died in office in 672; Wynfrith had about 3 years and was deposed before Wulfhere’s death in 675. Two bishops in only about 20 years were deposed or abdicated (Ceollach and Wynfrith).

As the first bishop of King Wulfhere, who had been in hiding until then, it is likely that Trumhere baptized Wulfhere. Unfortunately and unusually, there is no record of Wulfhere’s baptism. The only reference I can recall is in Kentish/East Anglian hagiography that states something to the effect that he wasn’t baptized until his Kentish queen arrived, but Kent doesn’t take credit for his baptism. Therefore it is most likely that it occurred after his queen arrived but was done by the local bishop. We do know that the Mercia church was under the hegemony of Lindisfarne until 664.

Trumhere’s successor at Gilling was Cynefrith, brother of Bede’s Abbot Ceolfrith. We know that he was abbot only for a short while before leaving his post to retire to Ireland where he died, probably during the plague of 664. He was succeeded by Tunberht who lead the community to join Ripon after the plague of 664 reduced their numbers. It also seems possible that King Oswiu no longer had the support such an embarrassing enterprise after he decided for Rome in 664. Tunberht later became Bishop of Hexham during Wilfrid’s exile as a concession to Wilfrid’s monasteries. At the time that Tunberht was elevated to the episcopate Archbishop Theodore consecrated a man named Trumwine as the first bishop of Abercorn for the Picts. The similarity of the names Trumhere, Tunberht and Trumwine makes me wonder if we don’t have a set of Oswine’s kinsmen who were promoted in within the church in part because they were from the Deiran royal family. Trumhere appears to have been fairly close to King Ecgfrith as he was the one person specifically named has going to Lindisfarne with Ecgfrith to convince Cuthbert to accept his election to the episcopate replacing the deposed Tunberht.

Everything we know of Trumhere comes from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

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