The History of Cheshire: The Mercian Kingdom

The History of Cheshire: The Mercian Kingdom

Cheshire has a rich and largely undiscovered history that has been pivotal in the formation of the United Kingdom as we know it today. The Roman Empire fell in the 5th century and a number of petty kingdoms were established by the Romano-British in its place. Cheshire was at the boundary of Northumbria, Mercia and Northern Wales – this led to turbulent times.  In 616, the Northumbrian armies defeated those from the kingdoms of Powys and Gwynedd at the Battle of Chester and established Anglo-Saxon position in the area from then on. 

The Formation of Mercia

Later on in the 7th century, Cheshire became part of the kingdom of Mercia. Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. The name is a Latinisation of the Old English word Mierce or Myrce, or Merce in the Mercian dialect itself, meaning ‘border people’. Mercia dominated what is now England for three centuries. Cheshire experienced increased invasions from Danes, which led to the extension and strengthening of the walls of Chester for protection.

Danish Invasions of Mercia

Despite the Mercian efforts of protecting Chester, the Danes took Chester until finally King Alfred, of Wessex and eventually Mercia, drove them out in 894-895. A peace treaty was also signed that granted Danes settlements in the Wirral. This can still be today by their Danish place names, such as Thingwall.

Christianity in Mercia

By the mid-seventh century, Christianity had become widespread around the world. One of the earliest churches was actually at Eccleston. Eccleston shows signs of Christian burials in Cheshire as easy as 390 AD – these are the earliest known Christian burials in Cheshire. Later, towards the end of the 7th century, Saint Werburgh had founded a religious institution on the current site of Chester’s St John’s Church. This later became the first cathedral in Cheshire.