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(d. in or after 597?)
  • Rosemary Cramp

Ælla (d. in or after 597?), king of Deira, was the son of Iffa. His existence is firmly documented, although the dates of his floruit are disputed. There is archaeological evidence for the settlement of Germanic people in what is now eastern Yorkshire by the late fifth century, and, according to the Historia Brittonum, Ælla's ancestor Soemil (fl. c.450) first separated Deira from Bernicia, thus suggesting that the kingdom of the Anglian Deirans came into being at about that time. But Deira's rulers before Ælla are ciphers and he may be the first of a new line. The common text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Ælla 'succeeded to the Northumbrian throne' in 560 (s.a. 560) and that he died in 588. The northern recension of the chronicle adds that he reigned for thirty years. But the validity of the chronicle's Deiran dates has been questioned; its evidence contradicts Bede's statement that Ælla was one of the kings reigning at the time of Augustine's arrival in England in 597, so that alternative regnal dates from the late 560s to about the end of the century are possible.

According to a picturesque tradition, Pope Gregory the Great was moved to send Augustine as a missionary to the Anglo-Saxons by the sight of Anglian slave boys in Rome. Enquiring of their origin he was told they were from Deira and punned on the Latin meaning, saying that they must therefore be delivered from wrath (de ira), and, on learning that the name of their king was Ælla, added 'Alleluia should be sung in that land' (Bede, Hist. eccl., 2.1). It was left to Ælla's son, Eadwine, to introduce Christianity to Northumbria. After Ælla's death the Bernician Æthelric reigned in Deira and Eadwine and his other children fled into exile. If this was in 588, Eadwine would have been only three years old. Ælla's daughter Acha married the Bernician king Æthelfrith, and under one of her sons, Oswald, the two Northumbrian kingdoms were united.


  • B. Colgrave, ed. and trans., The earliest life of Gregory the Great … by an anonymous monk of Whitby (1968)
  • ASC, s.a. 560, 588 [texts A, C]
  • D. N. Dumville, ‘The Anglian collection of royal genealogies and regnal lists’, Anglo-Saxon England, 5 (1976), 23–50
  • M. Miller, ‘The dates of Deira’, Anglo-Saxon England, 8 (1979), 35–61
  • D. P. Kirby, The earliest English kings (1991)
Bede, ed. and trans. B. Colgrave & R. A. B. Mynors, OMT (1969); repr. (1991)
D. Whitelock, D. C. Douglas, & S. I. Tucker, eds. and trans., (1961)