King of Northumbria (737-758)
Eadberht, son of Eata, was the first cousin of Ceolwulf and appears to have been selected by Ceolwulf as his successor, when the latter made his decision to abdicate in 737, and retire to a monastery.
Perhaps wishing to emulate the achievements of the warrior kings of the previous century, he raised an army and moved north to invade Pictavia. Whatever success he achieved in this venture was overshadowed by events elsewhere for in the year 740, Mercia in the form of king Ethelbald took advantage of his absence and "cruelly and wrongfully wasted part of Northumbria"(1)
He also suffered from domestic troubles and in 750 had one Offa forcibly removed from sanctuary at Lindisfarne and murdered in order to forestall whatever threat, real or imagined, this son of the former king Aldfrith posed, and followed this up by imprisoning the Bishop of Lindisfarne, Cynewulf at Bamburgh as a co-conspirator.
He achieved some success as in 750 he "added the plain of Kyle (2) and other places to his dominions"(1). Then in a reversal of policy, in the year 756, rather than make war against the Picts, Eadberht decided to employ them as allies. He and Oengus combined forces to attack the kingdom of the Strathclyde Welsh, laid siege to the fortress of Alt Cluid and forced the defenders to accept terms.
Unfortunately Eadberht paid a high price for this success as the entire Northumbrian army was lost in the subsequent retreat from Strathclyde in rather mysterious and undocumented circumstances.
As the Historia Regum states;
In the year from the Lord's incarnation 756, king Eadberht, in the eighteenth year of his reign, and Unust, king of the Picts, led an army to the town of Alcith. And hence the Britons accepted terms there, on the first day of the month of August. But on the tenth day of the same month perished almost the entire army which he led from Ouania to Niwanbirig, that is, to the new city.
Now it is unlikely that this was due to natural causes; either the Strathclyde Welsh
, or the Picts
, or quite possibly both of them in league together, must have done the dirty on Eadberht, ambushed his army and wiped it out. One can only surmise that this loss was as brutal and catastrophic as that of Nechtansmere
seventy years before and seems to have precipitated Eadberht's decision to follow the example set by his predecessor and retire to the peace and tranquility of a monastery
Perhaps not the most successful of Northumbrian kings Eadberht's reign marked a point at which the destabilisation of the kingdom began to gather pace. Although later authors such as Alcuin, could hark back nostalgically and remark that "Those were happy times for the people of Northumbria". From the perspective of the last decade of the century Eadberht's reign must have seemed a comparative period of peace and prosperity.
(1) From the Continuation of Bede
(2) Kyle being roughly modern Ayrshire
(3) Ouania is probably a rendition of the Brythonic Gwovan or modern day Govan; Niwanbirig or the New City, would be Newbrough, just north of Hexham.