Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Aldfrith

ALDFRITH, EALDFRITH, or EAHFRITH (d. 705), king of the Northumbrians, was an illegitimate son of Oswiu. During the reign of his brother Ecgfrith, he took refuge with the Irish of the western isles, and on the death of Ecgfrith in 685 at the battle of Nectansmere succeeded him as king. He was in some measure successful in restoring prosperity to his kingdom, which had suffered severely from the wars of the last reign. Aldfrith was taught in his exile by Irish monks, and was famed for his piety and learning in the Scriptures. On his return Bishop Aldhelm wrote him a letter of congratulation, in which he speaks of the report he had heard concerning the learning of Aldfrith. This learning was not confined to sacred things, for Aldhelm dedicated to him his treatise entitled ‘Liber de Septenario et de Metris,’ or ‘Epistola ad Acircium.’ Adamnan, abbot of Hii (Iona), came to his old pupil Aldfrith to procure the liberation of some Irish captives, stayed for some time at his court, and was there converted to the Roman usages. When Adamnan finished his book ‘De Locis Sacris,’ he presented it to Aldfrith. The king caused it to be copied for the use of his people, and richly rewarded the writer. Aldfrith took great delight in listening to a monk named Hæmgils, who used to tell him the experiences of one Drycthelm, who was said to have risen from the dead. He married Cuthburh, sister of Ine, king of the West Saxons, but after some years separated from her by mutual consent from religious motives. When Aldfrith came to the throne, Bishop Wilfrith was in exile. Archbishop Theodore, however, was now reconciled to Wilfrith, and by his advice the king recalled him. Aldfrith did not upset the new bishoprics which Theodore had created, and Wilfrith was confined to the bishopric of the Deirans, the see of York. His Celtic education made the king disapprove the system of church organisation upheld by the Roman party which was headed by Wilfrith. And he determined fully to carry out the reconstruction of the church in his kingdom by placing a bishop's see in Ripon. At the synod of Onestrefeld, 702, Wilfrith violently refused to consent to this arrangement, and went to Rome to lay his case before the pope. Although John VI upheld the bishop and commanded that he should be restored to his see, Aldfrith refused the mandate with some contempt, declaring that no such writing should make him change one word of what he and his witan had decreed. His sister Ælfleda, abbess of Whitby, who was on the side of Wilfrith, declared that Aldfrith, when on his deathbed, repented of his conduct towards the bishop. Aldfrith died in 705, and was buried at Driffield.

[Bæda, Hist. Eccles. lib. iv. v.; Eddius, in Hist. of the Church of York, ed. Raine, Rolls Ser.; Florence of Worcester; Will. of Malmesbury, Vitæ Pontif. lib. iii.; Haddan and Stubbs, Councils and Eccl. Documents, iii.]

W. H.