St. Etheldreda, Abbess of Ely

Etheldreda – or, more properly, Ethelthrith – was the third and most celebrated of the saintly daughters of King Anna of East Anglia, by his wife, Saewara. Anna was of the family of the Uffingas, descendants of the Norse God, Odin. He was a Christian who did much for the conversion of his own kingdom, and that of Wessex, his chief enemy being the savage Penda, heathen King of Mercia. Etheldreda was born at Exning in Suffolk, around AD 636, and was brought up in an atmosphere of piety. It was her ambition to be a nun like her sisters, but she was destined not to attain this goal until she had been twice married. In AD 652, she was given, against her will to, Tondbert, King of South Gyrwe, an East Anglian subkingdom in the Fens. As part of their marriage settlement, Tondbert gave his wife an estate then called Elge, and afterwards Ely. Tondbert, either respecting and sympathising with her monastic vocation or regarding her with indifference, allowed Etheldreda to live as a nun during the three years of their marriage. During that time, her father, King Anna, was defeated and killed by Penda of Mercia (AD 654), and was succeeded by his brother, Aethelhere. After the deaths of her husband and father, Etheldreda settled on her personal estate at Ely, intending to spend the rest of her life in religious retirement. However, in AD 660, for family reasons – probably to secure an alliance for the house of the Uffingas with the powerful Kingdom of Northumbria against the aggressive Mercians – she married Egfrith, the second son of Oswiu, King of Northumbria.

EBK: St. Etheldreda, Abbess of Ely

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