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The name "Mercia" is Old English for "boundary folk" (see Welsh Marches), and the traditional interpretation is that the kingdom originated along the frontier between the native Welsh and the Anglo-Saxon invaders. Hunter Blair argued an alternative interpretation: that they emerged along the frontier between Northumbria and the inhabitants of the Trent river valley. Cearl, a kinsman of Creoda, followed Pybba in 606; in 615, Cearl gave his daughter Cwenburga in marriage to Edwin, king of Deira, whom he had sheltered while he was an exiled prince.
While its earliest boundaries will never be known, there is general agreement that the territory that was called "the first of the Mercians" in the Tribal Hidage covered much of south Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Staffordshire and northern Warwickshire. The next Mercian king, Penda, ruled from about 626 or 633 until 655.
In 633 Penda and his ally Cadwallon of Gwynedd defeated and killed Edwin, who had become not only ruler of the newly unified Northumbria, but bretwalda, or high king, over the southern kingdoms.
When another Northumbrian king, Oswald, arose and again claimed overlordship of the south, he also suffered defeat and death at the hands of Penda and his allies – in 642 at the Battle of Maserfield.
In 655, after a period of confusion in Northumbria, Penda brought 30 sub-kings to fight the new Northumbrian king Oswiu at the Battle of Winwaed, in which Penda in turn lost the battle and his life.
A Mercian revolt in 658 threw off Northumbrian domination and resulted in the appearance of another son of Penda, Wulfhere, who ruled Mercia as an independent kingdom (though he apparently continued to render tribute to Northumbria for a while) until his death in 675.
Wulfhere initially succeeded in restoring the power of Mercia, but the end of his reign saw a serious defeat by Northumbria.