Cynethryth, wife of Offa, Penny, c.787-792Cynethryth was the wife of the powerful Mercian king Offa. Offa’s coinage is noted for its excellent artistic qualities that far exceed the work seen on the coinage of his contemporaries and successors. This artistic endeavor is clearly inspired by the Romans, Offa is depicted in the style of an emperor on a number of his coins and a great deal of realism and high relief portraiture is also achieved. The Roman practice of having an emperor’s wife on his coinage is also extended to Offa’s reign on this rare coinage of his wife Cynethryth, a unique concept to the period.

Little is known of Cynethryth’s early years or marriage to Offa but her offspring and documented influence during Offa’s reign give a clear understanding of her significance on the early Anglo-Saxon period. Cynethryth was mother to at least five children including Ecgfrith who was Offa’s successor as king of Mercia, Eadburh, Queen of Wessex and Ælfflaed Queen of Northumbria. Aside from presiding over a future royal family Cynethryth was actively involved in political decisions and developments in the Mercian kingdom and was often addressed in correspondence alongside her husband.

Another rare coinage of the period is that of Æthelbert II of East Anglia. Æthelbert’s coinage was curtailed by Offa, this was a clear indication that East Anglia was perceived as a developing threat to Mercia. Cynethryth was believed to have had a greater distrust of Æthelbert than her husband and is described in later chronicles as a jealous and evil Queen who persuaded Offa to murder Æthelbert at the royal vill at Sutton Walls.