I've been meaning to read Bede for quite a few years now but I've been shamefully putting it off. As I couldn't bring myself to read Thucydides for February's "Book I am dreading" (12 Month Classic Challenge) Bede was a very good second option. Happy I loved it!
And so I read Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum) by Venerable Bede (Bǣda), which was completed in 731 A.D. When Bede was writing there were seven kingdoms within England (the Heptarchy): East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria, Wessex, Essex, Kent, and Sussex. Bede was from Northumbria, the largest of the kingdoms, in Jarrow (which is now County Durham: the monastery there was at the time a renowned place of learning) and during his lifetime (672 or 673 - 26 May 735) there were seven kings of Northumbria: Ecgfrith, Aldfrith, Eadwulf, Osred I, Coenred, Osric, and Ceolwulf. Ecclesiastical History of the English People was dedicated to Ceolwulf (who, having been deposed then reimposed, abdicated to become a monk): in the preface Bede writes.
Some while ago, at Your Majesty's request, I gladly sent you the history of the English Church and People which I had recently completed, in order that you might read it and give it your approval. I now send it once again to be transcribed, so that Your Majesty may consider it at greater leisure. I warmly welcome the diligent zeal and sincerity with which you study the worlds of Holy Scripture and your eager desire to know something of the doings and sayings of men of the past, and of famous men of your own nation in particular. For if history records good things of good men, the thoughtful hearer is encouraged to imitate what is good: or if it records evil of wicked men, the devout, religious listener or reader is encouraged to avoid all that is sinful and perverse and to follow what he knows to be good and pleasing to God. Your Majesty is well aware of this; and since you feel so deeply responsible for the general good of those over whom divine Providence has set you, you wish that this history may be made better known both to yourself and to your people.
The book then divides into five parts in which Bede covers the history of England from the time of Julius Caesar's invasion in 55 B.C., including some information on the kingdoms within England, the kings and their sayings, before going on to describe how Christianity came to England with Augustine of Canterbury (the first Archbishop of Canterbury) and, some years earlier, the first British Christian martyr Saint Alban. From here he writes on the progression of Christianity thorughout England from Kent up to Northumbria, including the murder of the Christian Edwin of Northumbria (586 - 632 or 633) by Penda of Mercia, a pagan king of Mercia, and throughout the other kingdoms.
As ever, when one reads a book almost entirely full of new (to me) information it is hard to go on and write about it! There is so much to learn, but I did love reading this book and I would like to go on to read more about England in this period. There was, it is agreed, somewhat of a bias to Northumbria: I think whilst that should be kept in mind that doesn't make the book any less of a great work. I am from Northumberland, which is no doubt why I enjoyed the bias, but so often when it comes to history books there is a great bias to the south, particularly London. This was rather refreshing, and exciting too for a Northumbrian! Ecclesiastical History of the English People is a fascinating work, and it has inspired me to read more works from this period.
Before I end this post I think it would be remiss not to mention Bede's World. By sheer coincidence as I began to read Ecclesiastical History of the English People it was announced that Bede's World, a museum in Jarrow dedicated to Bede and his times, has closed. The Venerable Bede is a very important figure in Northumberland, he is the only Englishman to be made a Doctor of the Church, and he is regarded as the father of English history. This closure is yet another closure of a museum in the north of England, and to close a museum dedicated to Bede truly is a travesty. There is a petition to South Tyneside Council to save the museum, a crowd-funder page to raise funds to fund a re-opening, and a Twitter page to keep track of the progress of this campaign. Also, here's an interesting article from The Independent: Melvyn Bragg attacks North-South divide as Jarrow museum closes.