Life in the time of
King Aldfrith of Northumbria…
By Jayne Castel
My Historical Romance novel LORD OF THE NORTH WIND (release date 10 October 2018) is centered around the real historical figure Aldfrith of Northumbria. He ruled Northumbria from 685–704/705 AD and was known as ‘The Philosopher King’.
Who was Aldfrith?
Aldfrith (whose Irish name was Flann Fína mac Oswiu) was Ecgfrith of Northumbria’s half-brother and King Oswiu’s bastard son. As a young man, Oswiu was exiled to Ireland, where he was said to have fallen in love with an Irish princess. However, when things settled down at home, Oswiu left her to return to Northumbria and take up the crown, and he presently married. Oswiu actually married twice and fathered seven children in total. He was succeeded by his son, Ecgfrith.
Aldfrith grew up far from Northumbria and lived a hermit’s life upon the island of Iona until, with Ecgfrith’s death against the Picts at the Battle of Dun Nechtain in 685 AD, he was called back to rule. His was supposed to have been a peaceful reign, marred only by a tempestuous relationship with Bishop Wilfrid—a religious figure who had already been exiled previously by Ecgfrith. Aldfrith married Princess Cuthburh of Wessex, who eventually left him to take up the veil.
Aldfrith also had contact with Prior Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. Cuthbert played a pivotal role in Northumbria’s history, having tried to dissuade Aldfrith’s brother Ecgfrith from going to war against the Picts. Cuthbert, who became one England’s most famous saints after his death in 687 AD, lived upon the Farne Islands as a hermit. Many miracles were attributed to him.
Aldfrith was not just a king but a poet. He is described by early writers such as Bede, Alcuin and Stephen of Ripon as a man of great learning. He wrote a number of maxims, and some of his works and letters survive today.
Aldfrith’s reign was relatively peaceful. He ruled during what has been called Northumbria’s ‘golden age’, which began toward the end of the 7th Century. Previously the Kingdom of the East Angles, and then the Kingdom of Mercia, had held dominance in Britannia.
Bernicia and Deira made up Aldfrith’s kingdom. He ruled as far north as the Anglo-Scottish border, while his kingdom’s southern border with Mercia ran across England, from the Humber in the east, following the River Ouse and the River Don, to the Mersey in the west. In Aldfrith’s time Lindisfarne, Hexham, Bamburgh, Yeavering, York, Catterick, Ripon, and Whitby being important religious and royal centres.
|Bishoprics (underlined), monasteries (italicised) and other locations in the north central British Isles in the time of Aldfrith.|
Merging fact and fiction
Despite that Aldfrith’s reign was relatively well documented, there are still many gaps in history, and so I have let my imagination fill them in! Historians don’t actually know who he actually remarried after his first wife left him to become a nun, although there are records of children (his son succeeded him).
As such, I introduced Aldfrith to Osana—an ealdorman’s widow and his perfect match. History is also similarly foggy about what actually caused him to fall out with Bishop Wilfrid in the end and to exile the bishop to Mercia. There were rumors that Wilfrid’s constant attempts to expand his interests and dominance and his disdain for the northern, Celtic, style of Christianity may have caused a rift between them. In my novel, I give their relationship a twist of my own.
Aldfrith is a little different to my other heroes. He’s not a warrior but a philosopher, although others learn that they underestimate him at their peril. I saw him as a complex, passionate man who had spent far too long hiding from his true nature. In order to break from his past he needs Osana—a woman of quiet indomitable strength.
History remembers Aldfrith of Northumbria as a fair-minded ruler and a man of culture and learning. I’d like to think my story honours his memory while bringing the man himself to life.
Lord of the North Wind
(Book #3: The Kingdom of the Northumbria)
A king who has forsaken passion for reason—and the widow who tempts him.
Aldfrith never wanted to be king. The bastard son of King Oswiu of Northumbria, he lives as a scholar upon the remote island of Iona. But his life changes forever the day he discovers his half-brother is dead. Aldfrith is next in line for the throne. Back at the royal fort of Bebbanburg, he begins his new life as ruler of Northumbria. And that includes wedding a suitable queen.
Osana, the wife of one of Aldfrith’s ealdormen, meets the new king at his wedding. Unhappily married, she fights her instant attraction to him. Likewise, Aldfrith is disarmed by Osana's warmth and directness—so unlike his cold bride. A union between Aldfrith and Osana is impossible … yet fate has much in store for them both. When Aldfrith’s marriage fails two years later, and Osana is widowed, they meet once more.
The attraction between them is even stronger than ever, but love and passion are the last things on Aldfrith’s mind. He’s determined never to let lust override good sense and moral judgement … yet with every day he spends with Osana he fights a losing battle. This alluring widow could very well be his undoing.
Award-winning author Jayne Castel writes Historical Romance set in Dark Ages Britain and Scotland, and Epic Fantasy Romance. Her vibrant characters, richly researched historical settings, and action-packed adventure romance transport readers to forgotten times and imaginary worlds.
Jayne lives in New Zealand's South Island, although you can frequently find her in Europe and the UK researching her books! When she’s not writing, Jayne is reading (and re-reading) her favorite authors, learning French, cooking Italian, and taking her dog, Juno, for walks.