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Alberht of East Anglia

Alberht of East Anglia

The basics
Quick Facts
A.K.A. Æthelberht I of East Anglia, AEthelberht I of East Anglia, Alberht of east anglia
Gender male
Alberht of East Anglia
The details

Alberht (also Ethælbert, Albert or Æthelberht I; ruled 749  – about 760) was an eighth century king of East Anglia. He shared the kingdom with Beonna and he is believed to have also shared rule with a supposed ruler named Hun. He may still have been king in around 760.

Historians have accepted that Alberht was a real historical figure who was possibly an heir of Ælfwald of East Anglia. At Ælfwald's death in 749, the kingdom was divided between Alberht and Beonna, who was perhaps a Mercian and who took the lead in issuing regnal coinage and maintaining a military alliance with Æthelbald. East Anglia was probably drawn into the affairs of 757, when Beornred ruled in Mercia, but after Offa seized power, Beonna was still ruling in East Anglia. The evidence of Alberht's single discovered coin indicates that he had sufficient authority to issue his own coinage, a degree of independence that was soon eclipsed by the rapid growth of Offa's power in East Anglia.


The lineage of Ælfwald from the Anglian collection

Alberht's predecessor Ælfwald died in 749 after ruling his small kingdom for thirty-six years. During Ælfwald's rule, East Anglia enjoyed sustained growth and stability, albeit under the senior authority of the Mercian king Æthelbald, who ruled his kingdom from 716 until he was murdered by his own men in 757. Ælfwald was the last of the Wuffingas dynasty, who ruled East Anglia since the 6th century. The East Anglian pedigree in the Anglian collection, which was probably compiled for Ælfwald, lists his descendants.

Joint rule with Beonna

Alberht was so obscure that for many centuries he was known only from a single statement in a late compilation of material. A reference derived from tradition can be found in the annal for 749 in the Historia Regum, a mediaeval work possibly produced in part by Byrhtferth of Ramsey. In the annal, it is stated that "Hunbeanna and Alberht divided the kingdom of the East Angles between themselves". Until about thirty years ago, this record stood alone and unverifiable, with the exception of a single coin attributed to Beonna and two other brief mentions of him. Since then, well over a hundred coins attributed to Beonna have been found, many in archaeologically secure contexts, so that it is now clear that a ruler named Beonna did rule in East Anglia at that time. The historian Steven Plunkett has suggested that the 'Hun' element in the annal was at some time joined with the 'Beonna' element in error by a scribe.

Scholars have since realized that these exceedingly sparse references were in fact accurate, and that East Anglia was indeed ruled jointly after 749. As a result, Alberht has become a more substantial reality. The identity of these two rulers (or possibly three, if Hun is included) and the reason for this division of power remain unknown. The historian Barbara Yorke suggests the possibility that the kings each ruled a separate part of the kingdom at this time, but acknowledges that the political landscape of 749 is not well understood. D. P. Kirby gives an alternative view of the events that may have occurred following the death of Ælfwald. He connects Alberht with Æthelberht II of East Anglia and states that Alberht was still ruling in 794, which would imply that he reigned for around forty-five years.

Beonna is not a typical East Anglian Wuffingas name, but might be connected with a powerful Mercian family. The name Alberht alliterates suitably with several Wuffingas names and could be accepted as a shortened form of the name Æthelberht. It is therefore possible that when Ælfwald died, Alberht continued the dynastic line, being a direct descendant or from a cadet line, and accepted a division of power with a Mercian royal representative in order to continue the rule of the Wuffingas.

Beonna's seniority in this arrangement is suggested by the large number of coins bearing his name and by the co-operation between the East Anglians and the Mercians in the Battle of Burford Bridge against Cuthred of Wessex in 752. Beonna may also be connected with Beornred, who for a few months ruled Mercia after Æthelbald's assassination in 757.


Coin of Alberht

The minting of coins in East Anglia probably began during the reign of Beonna. A mint probably operated from Suffolk: coins continued to be produced through a period of Mercian hegenomy and East Anglian independence, until the invasion by the Vikings in the second half of the 9th century.

The confirmation of Alberht as a historical figure emerges from the discovery by controlled excavation of a single coin that can be attributed to him. The authenticity and date-horizon of the coin is not doubt. The coin was discovered by Valerie Fenwick at Burrow Hill, at Butley, Suffolk, in a stratified deposit which also contained several varieties of late sceattas of a runic type and coins that were minted by Beonna. It was found in a defensible estuary island site in a strategic position near Rendlesham, a known seat of Wuffingas power.

The runes on the sceatta depicting the moneyer's name read 'Tiælred' (which is perhaps a version of the name Coeldred) and the obverse reads simply 'Ethælbert'. The coin, of about 42% silver, was struck on a module comparable to the larger planchet which characterises the later strikes of Beonna's most prolific moneyer, Efe. The formula resembles the moneyed for Beonna by Wilred, but the confident lettering and beading more resembles the work of Efe. Stylistically, therefore, the coin is closely connected to Beonna.

The coin was presented to the British Museum in 1992.

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Background Joint rule with Beonna Coinage
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