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Anglo-Saxon Britain (410-1066)
The Battle of Nechtansmere : King Ecgfrith of Northumbria dismissed repeated warnings about his imperial ambitions.
The Battle of Nechtansmere

Based on ‘History of the English Church and People’ IV.26, by St Bede of Jarrow (?673-635).

The location of ‘Nechtansmere’, the Old English name for a crucial battle in 685 between Northumbria and the Picts of Scotland, is uncertain, though it appears to have taken place in mountainous country north of the Tay. Its result, however, could not be more clear: Northumbria would now begin its slow decline.

WHEN Ecgfrith became King of Northumbria in 670, his realm had never been stronger. The ambitious pagan King Penda of Mercia had fallen at the Battle of the Winwaed in 655, and though Penda’s Christian heir Ethelred rebuffed Ecgfrith’s advance southwards in 679, lands to the north looked promising.

The Picts in eastern Scotland were soon subdued, and Ecgfrith heralded the coming of Northumbrian civilisation with a cathedral at Abercorn on the Firth of Forth in 681. But the Church’s blessing was not so cheaply bought. After Ecgfrith scorned advice and went ahead with an unprovoked raid on the Irish kingdom of Brega in 684, Cuthbert, appointed Bishop of Lindisfarne early the following year, warned that the next such campaign would be Ecgfrith’s last.

Ecgfrith laughed off Cuthbert’s forebodings, determined to add to his Scottish possessions. But the Picts rebelled, and on May 20th, 685, their warrior-king Bridei mac Bili, Ecgfrith’s cousin, slew him and routed his army at Nechtansmere, somewhere north of the Tay.

Based on ‘History of the English Church and People’ IV.26, by St Bede of Jarrow (?673-635).

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Anglo-Saxon History (44) Mediaeval History (62) St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (13) Northumberland (26) History (406)

Picture: © Astrid H, Geograph. Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0. View original
Loch Insh in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland, midway between Inverness to the north and Dundee to the south. Although the location of the place Northumbrians called ‘Nechtansmere’ is not known, we do know that the battle took place in the land of the Picts, close to a mere, and amid mountains. One possibility is Dunachton (i.e. ‘Nechtan’s fort’) on the northern shore of Loch Insh. Nechtan was Bridei mac Bili’s grandfather.

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