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Osthryth (died 697) was the daughter of Oswiu of Northumbria and the wife of King Æthelred of Mercia. She was murdered by the nobles of Merciamarker. She is referred to by Bede as Queen Ostritha.

By a complex chain of reasoning, we can deduce that Osthryth's first husband was Eanhere, King of the Hwicce and that they had sons named Osric, Oswald and Oshere. That would explain why Osric and Oswald are described as Æthelred's nepotes - usually translated as nephews or grandsons, but here probably meaning stepsons.

Æthelred certainly seems to have gained overlordship of the Hwicce, treating Osric as a sub-king.[63123] If Osthryth's sons were young at the time of their father's death, then Æthelred could have taken them into his household and ruled on their behalf.

Osthryth was not the first of her family to become a Mercian queen. Her sister Alhflæd had married Peada, King of South Mercia 654-656. After Peada's death in battle, it seems that Alhflæd retreated to Fladburymarker in Worcestershire, to judge from the place-name, which means "stronghold of Flæde", and its subsequent history. Sometime in the 690s Æthelred granted Fladbury to Oftfor, Bishop of Worcester, to re-establish monastic life there. S76 However this grant was later contested. Æthelheard, son of Oshere, maintained that Æthelred had no right to give Fladbury away, as it had been the property of Osthryth. Æthelheard claimed it as her kinsman and heir. Here we have the crucial evidence that Osthryth was related to Oshere and his descendants.

Æthelred and Osthryth loved and favoured the abbey of Bardneymarker in Lincolnshiremarker. Osthryth placed there the bones of her uncle Oswald of Northumbria, who was venerated as a saint. It is clear from this story that Osthryth played a part in promoting the cult of St Oswald. Many years later she persuaded Oswald's widow Cyneburh to take the veil.

Osthryth had to contend with major conflicts of loyalty. In 679 her brother Ecgfrith of Northumbria fought a battle against Æthelred, in which Ecgfrith's brother Ælfwine was killed. Bede tells us that he was "a young man of about eighteen years of age and much beloved in both kingdoms, for King Æthelred had married his sister."

The murder of Osthryth in 697 by Mercian nobles is unexplained in the sources that mention it.Given the politics of the time, she may have been seen as some kind of threat to Mercian security. Finberg speculates that she and her son Oshere were suspected of trying to detach the kingdom of the Hwicce from Mercian overlordship.

Notes

  1. John Leland, Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 240.
  2. Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (1994), 144.
  3. Hooke, in The Anglo-Saxon Landscape: The Kingdom of the Hwicce (1985), p. 11, argues that Fladbury could have belonged to another sister of Osthryth, Ælflæda, Abbess of Whitby, but she had no known connection with Mercia and died in 713, after Osthryth, so Osthryth could not have inherited Fladbury from her.
  4. H.P.R.Finberg, The Early Charters of the West Midlands (Leicester 1961), p.170.
  5. Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People ed. J. McClure and R. Collins (1994), 126.
  6. H.P.R.Finberg, The Early Charters of the West Midlands (Leicester 1961), p.165.
  7. Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People ed. J. McClure and R. Collins (1994), 207.
  8. Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People ed. J. McClure and R. Collins (1994), 292; Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
  9. H.P.R.Finberg, The Early Charters of the West Midlands (Leicester 1961), pp.176-7.



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