Did Raedwald death mark the final passing of England’s Pagan heritage?
Raedwald was a king of East Anglia, descendant of Tyttla. He was 4th of the great Bretwalda. Raedwald was the king of the East Anglian people from 599-615AD. Raedwald lived in either Sutton Hoo or Rendlesham. At this period of time in Britain, Paganism was the main religion. It was brought over by tribes after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Before this, Britain was mainly Christian and even during the pagan years there were many strong Christian believers. In this essay I will be looking at the evidence for whether Raedwald death marked the final passing of England’s Pagan heritage
King Raedwald was believed to be buried at a Pagan burial site called Sutton Hoo. The burial site housed many different mounds, two of them boat burials. As Raedwald was buried in Sutton Hoo you can safely say that he had a Pagan burial, this can be proved by the fact he was buried in a boat and many objects such as a bucket made from yew; (a poisonous wood, which was also very expensive – the yew bucket is a symbol of high status and importance) and several swords and helmets. These would have been placed in the burial boat for the afterlife, which is a firm Pagan belief.
Saying this when the archaeologists uncovered the mound they found two Christian spoons inscribed with the names ‘Paulos’ and ‘Saulos.’ These would have been given to Raedwald as a Christening gift, proving that at some point in his life Raedwald would have converted to Christianity.
The time of Raedwald reign was a period of Transition between the two religions of Paganism and Christianity. For instance Raedwald claimed he was a descendent from Wooden, the Pagan god of war. But at the same time he stated that he was also descended from Caesar, one of the great Emperors of the Roman Empire who was definitely Christian. Raedwald therefore it would seem was trying to please everyone, by showing his Pagan and Christian roots.
At the same time Raedwald was building not only Pagan alter sites, but Christian ones as well. Whilst this may be to do with the fact of keeping his people happy it had more to do with Political gain; Christianity was not only a spiritual movement, but had a powerful political appeal. For instance the neighbouring states in Europe were Christian, including our close neighbours; the Franks. An example of Political gain was when King Ethelbert married a Frankish Princess; he consequently converted to Christianity – therefore keeping the Franks sweet and on the right side. It was all about Politics and trade.
Kent had been a Christian Kingdom since 597, and we know that Raedwald got baptised here. Again this has to do with Political gain, Raedwald getting
Baptised proved the fact he was Christian. Thus the tribe of Kent would not see Raedwald as a threat. Another example is the King of Northumbria (617-633) He converted to Christianity when he married a Kentish Princess.
Therefore despite the evidence of Sutton Hoo it seems as though England was already in a state of transition before Raedwald death. It would seem that Paganism would have been dying out after all the evidence of Kings converting to Christianity, but this was not the case. Raedwalds sons ‘Eorpwald’ and ‘Sigebert’ were actually Christian kings after the death of Raedwald.
“King Eorpwald was persuaded to abandon his worship of idols and accept the faith of Christ…”
“King Sigbert was a Christian… He gave up his kingdom and went into a monastery.”
Raedwalds sons were later killed by Pagans, showing that even though Raedwald was passed away Paganism was still going strong. But there is evidence of Christians setting an example; Sand bodies were found at the Sutton Hoo site. These were Pagan men who had been executed; they were a point for Christians and Pagans alike. By the Norman Conquest Britain had become largely Christian
So whilst Christianity was one the up and Paganism was going downhill there were still Pagans about, the religion had not died out even though Raedwald, the last of the great kings, had passed away.
Even today there is evidence to show that Paganism has not gone away. For instance – The days of the week are all named after Pagan Gods. Famous ‘Christian’ Festivals such as ‘Christmas’ and ‘Easter’ are on the same dates as Pagan festivals would have been. This helps prove the fact that Paganism did not die out once Raedwald had died, there are still remnants of the religion even today.
So, did Raedwald death mark the final passing of Paganism? The answer is no. Even before Raedwald had died the country was in transition between the two religions, including Raedwald. It was all about Political gain and Trade, not necessarily about what and who they believed in. The fact that even today Christian festivals are celebrated on Pagan days shows that there are still links with Paganism. This helps prove that even after the death of Raedwald Christians used familiar dates for the Pagan religion for their own Celebratory times – showing that there were Pagans still around. Rather like the way when the Roman Empire collapsed and Paganism took over as the main religion;
Christianity still stayed in the background. There is no right/wrong, yes/no answer to this question, some people may say that because Paganism was not the main religion after Raedwald died that it had in fact disappeared, whilst other people could argue and say that because there are still links with Paganism it never did die out. All in all the evidence does suggest that Paganism did not die out, but just slipped into the background as Christianity was the more favourable religion for Political Gain and Trade.