(d. 651) king of Deira

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(d. 651),

king of Deira in Northumbria 644–51 and venerated as a martyr. When Oswin's father Osric, king of Deira (i.e. roughly the territory of the former county of Yorkshire), was killed by the pagan king Cadwalla in 634, Oswin went to the kingdom of Wessex (in southern England) for safety. After the death in battle in 634 of his cousin Oswald(1), who had united the two parts of Northumbria (Bernicia and Deira) into a single kingdom, Oswin returned to the North to be king of Deira, while his cousin Oswiu, who could not live peacefully with him, became king of Bernicia. Oswin's short reign and premature death were due to treachery and dynastic struggles; he was in fact the last king of Deira. All that we know of his life comes from Bede. Greatly loved by all, he ruled his province most successfully. But Oswiu, wishing to regain the land and power held by Oswald, quarrelled with Oswin and they raised armies against each other. Instead of adding one more battle to the long tale of violence in 7th-century Northumbria, Oswin, realizing that he was outnumbered, disbanded his army to avoid bloodshed, hoping to make good his claim at some future date. Accompanied by a single trusted soldier, he hid in the house of his best friend Hunwald. This earl, however, treacherously betrayed him to Oswiu, who ordered Oswin and his soldier to be put to death. This was on 20 August 651. Oswin was a devoted friend of Aidan, apostle of Northumbria, who died only twelve days after him. Bede described him as ‘a man of handsome appearance and great stature, pleasant in speech and courteous in manner. He was generous to high and low alike and soon won the affection of all by his kingly qualities of mind and body so that even men of very high birth came from nearly every province to his service.’

In expiation for his crime, Oswiu built a monastery at Gilling, where Oswin was killed. But he was buried at Tynemouth. Later this church was vulnerable to Viking raiders; the tomb was largely forgotten until its rediscovery in 1065, when the relics were translated. Tynemouth became a cell of St Albans; Durham tried hard but unsuccessfully to recover it in the 12th century. Like some other Anglo-Saxon kings such as Kenelm and Ethelbert who met a violent death, Oswin was culted as a martyr, because he died, ‘if not for the faith of Christ, at least for the justice of Christ’, as a 12th-century homilist explained. Feast: 20 August; translation, 11 March (kept at Durham, St Albans, and Tynemouth).

Bede, H.E., iii. 14 (with Plummer's notes); N.L.A., ii. 268–72; J. Raine (ed.), Miscellanea Biographica (S.S., 1850); B.L.S., viii. 202.

Subjects: Christianity.

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