Pending technological progress

Stained glass window, depicting Penda's death at the Battle of the Winwaed, Worcester Cathedral. (Wikipedia) So it says here that on November 15 Penda of Mercia was defeated by Oswiu of Northumbria. And evidently he was, since he died on that same day at the Battle of Winwaed or, if you’re Penda, Losewaed I suppose.

Now you may be tempted to dismiss this as a load of antiquarian dingoes’ kidneys since it happened in 655 AD, as part of the darkness that characterised the darker bits of the Dark Ages. Supposedly his victories laid the basis for Mercian supremacy in the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy which I’m sure was a great consolation as cold steel passed through his body at the Winwaed. And in any case Mercia ended up secondary to Wessex in the great events that did establish premodern England as a land of liberty nearly 250 years later. Penda, not so much.

For all that, and considerable obscurity about his antecedents, date of accession, and why he’s the only king called Penda which I’m sure was really puzzling you too, there is one interesting thing. He was evidently a fierce and enthusiastic fighter, cruel in victory and pagan in religion, the last great pagan Saxon warrior king. So he somehow became the focus of two BBC television productions in the 1970s. And it’s amusing to imagine how he would have reacted if he could somehow have seen himself depicted on television with cheap, theatrical sets and people with sideburns in a bleak, Labour-dominated, stagnant Britain.

He would, I suspect, have been surprised that people in those days looked down reflexively on the culture and attainments of his own time. And I expect the TV would have wound up, as his foes often did, in pieces each on its own spike.

It happened todayJohn Robson