King Offa was the most powerful ruler of Mercia from 757-796. He is best known for the vast defensive earthwork, Offa’s Dyke, which was built along the Welsh/English border. Self-proclaimed King of the English (Englisc), he defeated Kent, the East and West Saxons and the Welsh to become overlord of southern England.
Facts about King Offa
- Born. 730.
- Parents. Thingfrith son of Eanwulf (Father).
- Married. Cynethryth.
- Children. 4, Ecgfrith, Eadburh, Aethelburh, Aelfflaed.
- Acceded. 757.
- Crowned. 757.
- Reign. 39 years.
- Died. 29 July 796, aged c.66.
- Successor. Ecgfrith, who reigned for just 6 months.
10 things you may not know about King Offa
- Unification. Offa brought Southern England to near unification, more so than any predecessor.
- Mercia. Offa maintained Mercian power by ruthlessly wiping out local pockets of resistance, creating a vastly powerful kingdom in central England.
- Charlemagne. Offa initially formed a trade alliance with Charlemagne. But their relationship came to an end when Offa proposed (unsuccessfully) the marriage of his son, Ecgfrith to one of Charlemagne’s daughters. Offa believed he was an equal to Charlemagne, but that was not reciprocated.
- Archbishopric. Offa was allied with Pope Adrian I, and managed to get permission to create his own Archbishopric in Lichfield, much to the dismay and outrage of the established Archbishopric of Canterbury. Kent, after all, was an enemy of Mercia.
- Offa’s Dyke. The vast earthwork, which runs along 150 miles along the English/Welesh border, was created by Offa to hold back Welsh raiders, and was a success.
- Coin. Offa created new coinage, bearing his name, which could be used for trade locally and abroad.
- Overlord. Offa brought Kent, Sussex and Essex under his control, displacing the local kings.
- Royal Murder. On the orders of Offa, the East Anglian King, Aethelbert, was beheaded at Sutton Walls near Hereford. This execution of a vassal king by a fellow sovereign, was the only one in Anglo-Saxon history.
- Crowned Heir. In an unprecedented move, Offa crowned his son, Ecgfrith as co-ruler of Mercia, which had never happened in a king’s lifetime before.
- Longevity. Offa’s reign was the second longest in Mercian history. He lived to around 66 years old.
Battles and Skirmishes
- Skirmish at Hereford. 760. Defeat for Mercia against the Welsh raiders.
- Skirmish at Kent. 764. Victory for Mercia as they conquer Kent.
- Battle of Otford. 776. Probable defeat for Mercia against the Kent rebels.
- Battle of Bensington. 779. Victory for Mercia over King Cynewulf of Wessex.
Timeline for King Offa
– 730 –
Offa is born to Thingfrith.
– 757 –
Offa siezes the Mercian throne during a civil war, following the murder of his cousin, Aethelbald.
Offa drives out Beornred.
– 760 –
Offa is defeated at Hereford by Welsh raiders.
– 764 –
Offa invades Kent and removes Sigered from power.
– 776 –
Offa probably loses the Battle of Otford against Kent rebels, as the rebel king survives for years after.
– 779 –
Offa defeats King Cynewulf of Wessex at the Battle of Bensington.
– 786 –
Offa oversees the placement of Beorhtric to the throne of Wessex, and becomes overlord. He banishes Egbert to Frankia.
– 787 –
The Archbishop of Lichfield is created, with the blessing of Pope Adrian I, to the outrage of the existing Archbishopric of Canterbury.
Offer crowns his son, Ecgfrith, as co-ruler of Mercia.
– 789 –
Offa’s daughter, Eadburh, marries Beohtric of Wessex.
– 793 –
St Albans Abbey is founded by King Offa.
– 794 –
King Aethelbert of East Anglia is beheaded by fellow king Offa at Sutton Walls, near Hereford.
– 796 –
Offa dies, and is succeeded by his son Ecgfrith, who would go on to reign for just 5 months.
Offa’s Dyke is completed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who was King Offa? He was the Anglo-Saxon King of Mercia from 757-796, and self-proclaimed ‘King of the Englisc’. He was one of the most powerful Anglo-Saxon kings.
How old was King Offa when he died? Around 66 years old.
When was King Offa born? 730.
Where is King Offa buried? He seems to have died in Offley, Hertfordshire. Then possibly buried near Bedford by the banks of the river Ouse at a chapel, which today could be St Paul’s church. Unfortunately, we do not know for sure.
Where did King Offa live? His principal residence is Tamworth, Mercia.
Where was King Offa born? In Mercia, although the exact location is unknown.