LKM: Lindsey

[Updated 27 March 2008]

This month’s lost kingdom is Lindsey, which makes up most of what is considered Lincolnshire. The kingdom of Lindsey is a hypothetical kingdom because it never appears in the historical record as such. It is based on the Roman city of Lincoln and its environs. Lindsey apparently means Isle of Lincoln. Cut off by rivers and marshes, in the early medieval period, Lindsey was a large island or set of islands with the district of Hatfield to its northwest along with the Isle of Axholme.

A Conflict Zone

From the earliest period, Lindsey appears to be under the control of her neighbors. The highest ranking secular figure in Lindsey that Bede lists is a reeve. A series of battles were fought on Lindsey’s western flank with control over the Isle of Lindsey being the major prize.

This northwestern corner near Lindsey (but perhaps outside of it) was a conflict zone for 6th and 7th century kings. The first battle located in this area was on the east bank of the River Idle on the Mercian boder in 616 when Aethelfrith of Bernicia was slain by Redwald of East Anglia on behalf of Edwin of Deira. This was at a fork in the Roman road system on Lindsey’s western flank that may have marked a boundary between petty kingdoms and the extent of each kings hegemony over those petty kingdoms. Aethelfrith’s death there without his full army suggests that he felt comfortable traveling in this region with just his normal retinue/body guard. It is possible that Lindsey passed to Aethelfrith with his conquest of Deira, and that he felt secure there.

Edwin is the only northern king we see actually active in Lindsey. Bede tells us that Bishop Paulinus of York was particularly active in Lincoln. The reeve of Lincoln Blaecca and his family are converted (apparently he is the highest ranking man in Lindsey) and Paulinus builds a stone church there (HE II.16). Now this is strange as the stone church in York was still incomplete when Edwin died. It seems more likely that Paulinus refurbished a Roman building, perhaps a church. Bede says that in his time the roof has fallen in from neglect but that miracles still occur there so apparently the current Bishop of Lincoln did not use the same church. It was in this church in Lincoln rather than in York that Paulinus consecrated Archbishop Honorius of Canterbury in about 627. Bede goes on to relate a story told to him by Abbot Deda of Partney about Bishop Paulinus’ preaching in Littleborough (Tiowulfingacaestir) that unusally describes the appearance of Bishop Paulinus as “tall, with a slight stoop, black hair, a thin face, a slender aquiline nose, and at the same time he was both venerable and awe-inspiring in appearance”(HE II.16, McClure and Collins, p. 100). This account also apparently mentioned James the Deacon who survived up to the synod of Whitby in 664. Added on to this is Bede’s discussion of Edwin’s royal standard (tufa/thuf). I wonder if this addition was inspired by the place name Tiowulfingacaestir?

Lindsey also figures in the death of King Edwin of Deira whose death is located at Hatfield Chase just northwest of Lindsey on 12 October 633. His body was miraculously found there sometime after 679 and relocated to the church at Whitby.

When Queen Osthryth sent her uncle Oswald’s body to Bardney the monks initially tried to reject it because they said that he had once conquered them. This suggest that the men of Lindsey had met Oswald in battle and lost. The Irish record a southern uprising against Oswald in 637 [rec 641?] that appears to be independent of his last campaign against Penda. (The Annals of Tigernach give this as being one year before it records his death in 638 [rec 642], placing the siege of Edinburgh in between.) Given the importance of this conflict zone it is possible that the uprising was focused in the region of Lindsey and that Lindsey had sided with Oswald’s opponents. If so, it would appear that Oswald successfully put down this revolt. It makes me wonder if Oswald was chasing the ring leader of the revolt in 642 when he fell at Maserfelth. The sentiment that Lindsey may have preferred Mercian rule over Bernician could even go back to the apparent Deiran cooperation with Mercia against Bernicia seen in Edwin’s marriage in exile, and Oswine’s and even Oethelwald’s later cooperation with Mercia. This fits well into ideas I have been developing about the “Humbrian” region that I will have to save for another day.

The next the battlefield shifts slightly north to near Leeds, where Penda of Mercia is killed by Oswiu in 15 November 655. The location of Penda’s death is not specifically known. Somewhere in the marshy fenlands around the upper Humber River in the region of Loidis (Leeds). From the time of Penda’s death in 655, Lindsey appears to have passed securely into Northumbrian hands under King Oswiu.

The fate of Lindsey from the revolt against Oswiu in Mercia that placed Wulfhere on the throne in 658 is unknown. We know that Wulfhere granted land to Chad before 672 and that Chad’s deposed successor Wynfrith retired there. Yet, Oswiu died in 670 so it is still possible that Northumbria/Bernicia retained control of Lindsey until the death of Oswiu and it wasn’t disputed until the time of Ecgfrith (670-685). We know that Wulfhere attacked Northumbria in 674 but was defeated. Lindsey was the usual conflict zone between these kingdoms but the exact time and location of this battle is lost. The Life of Wilfrid suggests that Lindsey passed back to the Northumbrians after this defeat. But it Wulfhere was attacking Northumbria, how did he loose Lindsey? How did Northumbria on the defense gain Lindsey for their victory?

Again in 679 a battle is fought due west of Lindsey again on the River Trent when King Æthelred of Mercia invaded Northumbria. King Ælfwine of Deira was slain in the battle. It is significant to know that the River Trent was considered an invasion of Northumbria. This last battle seems to be specifically over control of Lindsey. After Ælfwine’s death the border skirmishes threatened to turn into a blood feud until Archbishop Theodore stepped in and mediated a settlement that allowed Mercia to keep Lindsey but pay weregeld for Ælfwine’s death.

Monastic Networks

The primary means of controlling the region of Lindsey appears to have rested in its monastic network. The kings of Mercia in particular invested heavily in monasteries that controlled key fords or bridges over the main rivers that provided access to Lindsey.

The monasteries of Bardney and Partney both fall into this category and were at one time, along with a convent, controlled by one family who also provided Lindsey with an early bishop, Aethelwine Bishop of Lindsey 680-692. His brother was Abbot Eadlwine of Partney and their sister was Abbess Aethelhild, whose monastery was somewhere near Partney. Although the early monks of Bardney may have favored Merican rule, this family does seem to have been well entrenched with the church of Lindisfarne. Another brother of this family, Aethelhun, died in Ireland with Egbert in about 664 and another monk of Lindsey, Higebald, later visited Egbert in Ireland.

We know that Bardney was heavily invested in by King Aethelred of Mercia, who became its abbot after his abdication. It was at Bardney that Aethelred and his queen Osthryth established the shrine of her uncle King Oswald and where both were later themselves buried. His burial of Queen Osthryth there after her murder (also by Mercian rebels), which when placed next to her martyred uncle, must have further enhanced the prestige of the site. St Oswald’s shrine at Bardney seems to have been the most major shrine in Lindsey during the Anglo-Saxon period, although St Guthlac’s Croyland and St Audrey’s Ely, and Peterborough (Medeshampstead) where not that far away in the fen lands bordering Lindsey.

It is interesting to note that unlike in other regions, Lindsey’s monasteries are along inland waterways, but I don’t know of any on the seaward side. This suggests that their placement was to control internal trade and travel, but not to be part of a port as we find near Whitby, Jarrow, Whithorn, St David’s Menevia and other monasteries.

Lindsey’s Pseudo-Royal Family

Only one instance of a royal genealogy for Lindsey has survived. It is in an Anglican Collection of genealogies that are believed to have come from Offa’s Mercia. By this time Lindsey was securely under Mercian control and probably had been for all of living memory. We know that King Offa gave the shrine of St Oswald at Bardney expensive gifts, as mentioned in Alcuin’s poem on the Bishops, Kings and Saints of York.

The Lindsey genealogy is obviously non-royal. It is probably a noble who is being particularly honored by Offa, perhaps one who rose to sub-king, but not from a royal family. Just as Offa killed off his son’s rivals, he would have boosted those who he expected to help his son. Offa may have considered this sub-king/ealdorman to have been important in helping secure the succession of his son Ecgfrith. This lineage disappears after its single mention in Offa’s genealogical collection, so it is possible that this family fell from power with the death of Offa’s son. Its last member Aldfrith is a witness to one charter in Offa’s time. However, given that it isn’t that long before the arrival of the Danes it is not surprising that the fate of this family is a mystery.

If we look at the genealogy in detail there is just enough alliteration and common naming patterns to believe that it could be real back to Winta, the last man before Woden. Winta may reflect the placename Winteringham (homestead of Winta’s people) (Wikipedia). His son Cretta looks like a reasonable name for a son of Winta so they may come from local Lindsey lore. Note that most of the kingdoms are founded by duos, father and son (Ida and Eoppa), or brothers (Hengest and Horsa). It does not follow any other pattern to show linkage between royal houses, but neither does Mercia. (For example, Wessex and Bernicia claim to be descended from the same son of Woden.) The genealogy is noticeably shorter than the others in the collection (ie. it reaches Woden sooner) and then unlike the others extends beyond Woden to Geot (Geat) to make it as long as the others in the collection. This all adds up to suggest it is probably a fairly recent act of creative writing.

Medieval Legends

In early medieval legends, Lindsey/Lincoln is often mentioned in Arthurian stories. The earliest mention is the Historia Brittonum where Arthur fights three of his twelve battles over the ‘district of Linnis’, usually interpreted as Lindsey. This section of the Historia Brittonum (written in c. 825) is widely accepted to be a battle listing poem that has been incorporated as a bridge in the historical narrative. Whether or not the poet originally intended Linnis to be Lindsey, it is likely that by 825 the author of the Historia Brittonum would have been thinking of Lindsey when he compiled that work. Even in legend, Lindsey is an area of conflict.

Modern Legends

As far as I can tell the early antiquarian guess that the name and people of Lindisfarne are somehow linked to Lindsey is just that, a guess based on the name. I don’t think there is any real connection between the two place names.


I owe my knowledge of conflict zones to the PhD thesis of Tim Clarkson and many conversations over the years.

Clarkson, Tim. 2001. Warfare in early historic northern Britain. Unpublished PhD dissertation. Manchester: University of Manchester.

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People

“The Kingdom of Lindsey” at Wikipedia.

10 thoughts on “LKM: Lindsey

  1. What do you think of the theory that the Lindsey ‘royal’ genealogy contains names that suggest ancestry from the British? I’ve seen this used with the suggestion of a surviving Christian church in the city to argue for a sub-Roman royal lineage emerging, perhaps with the help of Saxon or Angle soldiery, and succeeding to the point where they are `taken’ as one of the Heptarchy even though their political origins are more native. I think this must be in Bruce Eagles, “Lindsey” in The Origins of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, ed. Steven Bassett (London 1989), pp. 202-212, but it’s a long time since I read that. You seem to have more up-to-date work behind you so I wondered where that theory now stands.

  2. I didn’t reread all my references before I did this one. I know I’ve read that one and others on Lindsey. I think the whole thing is based on only one name – Caedbaed, reflecting the British Cad- name element found in names like Cadwallon/Caedwalla. Given that the genealogy is Caedbaed father of Bubba father of Beda I don’t think it is necessarily British. Obviously some British name elements will get picked up by the English without making them British. -wealh names have been seen in the same way as indicating British ancestry. Yet there are many -wealh names.

    I think many of them have native origins and intermarriage — particularly the border kingdoms Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria. Native British lines coming in on the distaff….

  3. In the tribal hidage of Anglo-Saxon times Lincolnshire is called Lindesfarona, so it is not surprising a link has been suggested between Lincolnshire and Lindisfarne. It is also notable that a tribe called the Gywre – the marsh dwellers – lived near the Wash to the south of Lincolnshire. Gywre was the ancient tribal name for Jarrow where the River Don enters the River Tyne near the marshes of Jarrow Slake. The survival of a tribal name in a modern place-name is rare. Bede occasionally referred to Jarrow as Donmouth.

  4. This also suggests that names like Gwyre and Lindisfarona are the types descriptive geographical names like Elmet (woods of Elm). Presumably -farona means something about an island, given that we also have the Faroes isles. Lindis- may well refer to the types of trees found there, or to the largest island of a group, as both Lindsey and Lindisfarne (in Northumbria) were the largest islands of their respective groups. A modern version of descriptive geographical names would be something like Springfield.

    Where does Bede refer to Jarrow as Donmouth?

  5. I thought, just as in Faroes and Fair Isle, the ‘farne’ of Lindisfarne was connected to the Norse for ‘sheep’, and presumed that the name of Linnuis/Lindsey was connected to the water-logged land or fens around The Wash – the modern Welsh ‘llyn’ means ‘pool/lake’.

  6. Nice article Michelle. Have you read Thomas Green’s article on Lindsey? Very interesting.

    ‘The British Kingdom of Lindsey’, Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 56 (2008), 1–43]


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