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Oswald
Oswald
322

of England, p. 291). As he is said to have had a kingdom with the same limits as that of Eadwine (Bæda, ii. c. 5), he must have had authority over the Trent valley, and was certainly supreme in Lindsey, where he was regarded by the people with hostile feelings (ib. iii. c. 11; Green). Though it is perhaps going too far to assert that Penda murdered a son of Eadwine, who lived at his court, ‘at the pressure of Oswald’ (Green), it seems probable that this crime, which was, as Bede significantly notes, committed during Oswald's reign, was caused by the Mercian king's wish to please him. In Kent, Eadbald [q. v.] was so far under his influence as to compel his sister Æthelburh, Eadwine's widow, to send her children into Gaul (Bæda, ii. c. 20). His supremacy was evidently acknowledged by the West-Saxon king Cynegils [q. v.]; he stood sponsor for Cynegils when he was baptised at Dorchester, now in Oxfordshire, in 635, and joined him in giving that city to Birinus [q. v.] for his episcopal see (ib. iii. c. 7). Bæda, who styles him ‘rex christianissmus,’ reckons him as the sixth Bretwalda (ib. ii. c. 5), and Adamnan calls him ‘emperor of the whole of Britain.’ In 642 there was war between him and Penda, king of Mercia, and on 5 Aug. he was defeated and slain by Penda in a fierce battle, and, according to one account, by stratagem (Nennius, c. 65) or by surprise (Reginald, c. 14), at Maserfelth, supposed to be Oswestry or Oswald's Tree in Shropshire. When he saw himself surrounded by his foes, and knew that his end was come, he prayed for the souls of his soldiers, and the words ‘“May the Lord have mercy on the souls,” said Oswald as he fell to earth,’ became a proverbial saying in the north (Bæda, iii. c. 11). He died in his thirty-eighth year (ib. c. 9). His wife was the daughter of Cynegils, king of Wessex, whose name is said to have been Kyneburga (Cyneburh); by her he had a son named Æthelwald or Oidilvald [see art. Oswy]. After her husband's death Cyneburh is said to have taken the veil (Reginald, c. 3). Reginald, writing in the twelfth century from an account given him by a certain brother of the hospital at York, who said that he found the particulars in an old English book, describes Oswald as tall, with blue eyes, yellow hair, a long face, and thin beard; his lips were rather small, and wore a kindly smile; his hands and arms were long, and showed strength (c. 50). In Nennius he is called ‘Lamnguin,’ which is said to mean ‘white hand’ or ‘free hand,’ probably in reference to the alleged incorruptibility of the hand blessed by Aidan.

After the battle at Maserfelth, which, according to Reginald, took place at Whitchurch in Shropshire (c. 12), Penda caused the head and hands and arms of Oswald to be cut off and stuck on stakes. The place where he fell and the dust of the ground worked miracles (Bæda,, iii. cc. 9, 10). His body was several years later given by his niece, Ostrith or Osthryth (d. 697), the daughter of his brother Oswy and the wife of Æthelred, king of the Mercians, to the monastery at Bardney in Lindsey. The monks were at first unwilling to receive it, for, though they acknowledged the king's holiness, they remembered him with dislike as a stranger to their own people, who had held sovereignty over them. A miracle induced them to take the body into their church, where they laid it in a tomb with a cross at each end, and with the king's banner, which was of purple and gold, hung above it (ib. c. 11; Reginald, c. 43). Subsequently miracles were worked there. Offa, king of the Mercians, adorned the tomb with gold, silver, and precious stones (Carmen de Pontiff. 1. 380 seq.). By Reginald's time only three of the king's bones remained at Bardney. The relics had been kept carelessly, and had disappeared during the Danish invasions, being carried off by devout persons. Of these the chief were Ethelfleda or Æthelflæd [q. v.], the ‘lady of the Mercians,’ and her husband Æthelred, who founded a monastery at Gloucester in honour of St. Oswald about 909, and translated his bones thither (Will. Malm. Gesta Pontiff. p. 293). They were translated to a more honourable shrine by Thomas II, archbishop of York in the reign of Henry I, Reginald, the biographer of Oswald, being present at the function (Reginald, c. 44). Oswald's head and hands were removed from the stakes on which they had been stuck, his hands being carried to Bamborough, where they were placed, being free from corruption, in a silver shrine in the church of St. Peter, and were an object of veneration (Bæda, iii. 6). Symeon of Durham declares that in his time the king's right hand was, according to Aidan's prayer, preserved incorrupt; that a monk of Durham named Swartebrand had often seen it, and that it was wrapped in a pall (Hist. Dunelm. Eccl. i. c. 2; Hist. Regum, an. 774). The king's relics were in time treated with neglect at Bamborough, and a monk of Peterborough stole the right arm and carried it to his own monastery, which was enriched in consequence by many offerings (Reginald, c. 48). Oswald's head was buried at Lindisfarne (Bæda, iii. c. 12), and a light was said to have been shed from heaven on the spot. Hearing this, his kinsmen removed the head to Bamborough, where for some time it was