St Aidan Story: King Oswald's Death
It saddened [Aidan] that the summer months were often the most violent. Summer is a time when troops can move more easily and so there were more raids and more battles. Oswald had decided to drive Penda [a powerful king who fought the Northumbrians for decades] back from his southern borders and if possible to conquer him once and for all. . .
The next weeks were anxious ones; there was no news of the troops. The last that was heard was that they had gone further west and were deep into Penda’s kingdom. Then more news came. Oswald had been victorious and had forced Penda to retreat into Wales. Oswald was camping after his triumph and was soon to come north. Soon the king would be home. That was the last of the good news. At home they were hopeful but they knew that winning a battle was not winning the war.
Meanwhile, Penda had persuaded the Welsh that Oswald would threaten them next. He amassed a new and powerful army from the Welsh of the borders. Oswald, still resting after his victory, was almost caught unawares. Wisdom would have counselled him to flee and fight another day. But Oswald had defeated larger armies before, and he could do so again. It was not in the nature of the Anglo-Saxon kings to flee from the battlefield. Oswald had lived heroically and if necessary would die a hero. . .
|The last Pagan English King. The Great King Penda of Mercia kills another English King. The White Dragon of the English flies over Penda. Artist: Mark Taylor|
The battle was one of great fury, and many good men lost their lives. It soon became apparent that it was going against Oswald and his warriors. One after another of the men around Oswald were cut down. Soon there was only a small band protecting their king. They surrounded him and made a human shield to defend him. These were mighty warriors. But they were being felled one by one. Oswald knew he would soon die for the cause he had lived for, the kingdom of Northumbria and the kingdom of God. Shields clashed, swords vibrated loudly. The foes were closing in fast, Oswald knew he was about to be slain. Amidst the clanging of metal, he uttered his final prayer to God as a great sword struck his head. He prayed for his men in their last battle, ‘God have mercy on their souls.’ It was the 5th of August in the year 642. Oswald had reigned for 9 years and helped to maintain a fragile peace. Now, at thirty-eight years old, he was sent to his Maker.
This extract is taken from 'Flame of the Heart' by David Adam and is reproduced by kind permission of SPCK. You can find the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Flame-Heart-St-Aidan-Today/dp/0281050333.