I am going to digress a little from my normal subject matter of Iron Age and earlier local history, and take a moment to introduce to you an interesting theory from the Anglo-Saxon period.
Rainworth is the village I lived in from the ages of 3 to 17. During this time I got to know the local area pretty well, walking our dog all over the nearby woods and heath land. Especially the heath known locally as “the bogs”, with Rainworth Water River flowing along its western side. I now think it is very possible that in this location events occurred that sealed England’s fate and conversion to Christianity.
Born in 586 AD, Edwin was the son of the Pagan King Aelle of Deira. We do not know if Edwin was first in line to the throne, but it was Aethelfrith who assumed the kingship around 604 AD. By this time the kingdom had merged with another and had become Northumbria. Whether or not Edwin was first in line to the throne, for some reason Aethelfrith was intent on murdering Edwin, so he fled. First he fled to Gwynedd in Wales, then to Mercia. By the early 610s he was under the protection of the powerful Christian king Raedwald of East Anglia.
At first Aethelfrith tried to bribe and then threaten Raedwald into giving up Edwin, but Raedwald’s wife had a divine vision, and persuaded Raedwald that is was not honourable to give Edwin up in this way. Also, Ethelberga of Kent, Edwin’s intended bride was a Christian, and her father would only allow the marriage if Ethelberga could continue to practice her faith.
In defence of Edwin, Raedwald raised an army and slew Aethelfrith at the Battle of the River Idle in 616 AD (also known as the battle of Hatfield). Raedwald’s son Raegenhere died at the battle and Edwin became a surrogate son and immediately ascended to the throne of Northumbria initially under Raedwald’s patronage. Taking it from the Pagan Aethelfrith. Edwin eventually converted to Christianity in 627 after surviving an assassination attempt and a war with King Cuichelm of Wessex.
The pivotal moment then was the defeat of the pagan Aethelfrith, leading to the Christianisation of Northumbria, and thus ultimately the later England and eventually the entire British Isles. But where was this Battle? Well, we actually know very little about the Battle of Hatfield. There are a number of places named Hatfield including Hatfield Chase near Doncaster and High Hatfield near Cuckney, Nottinghamshire, and it is in these locations that people have searched for the site of the battle without much success. Hatfield however, is actually recorded as “Haethfelth” which simply means “Heath Field”.
The history of Rainworth goes back to Roman times. The Village originated from The Roman Way, a Roman road, which ran through Mansfield, Rainworth, Newark and on to the Garrison at Lincoln. A Roman Camp was set up by the River Idle there, which is now known as Rainworth Water. A part of the river here became known as “foul evil brook” because the Romans thought that the waters could cure an eye complaint that they knew as “foul evil”. Where the Idle crossed the Roman road, there was a ford (where the river now passes under the road in the centre of the village).
In 616 when Raedwald’s son Raegenhere died by the side of the Idle, Raedwald renamed the river in honour of his son, naming it Regnhere’s wath or Ford, now known as Rainworth Water. The immediate area also became known as Reynwath, Reynethwath, Water of Reynwath, Reynewath, Reynewathford, Raynswathe, Reinwarth Forthe, Rayngwath and finally became known as the Rainworth we have today.
So there you have it, the battle of the Idle (Rainworth Water) / Hatfield (Rainworth Heath) was the final nail in the coffin of Anglo-Saxon Paganism.
As a final aside, Edwin was also finally defeated somewhere local (possibly by the river Poulterer) and his fleeing forces managed to get his body to Edwinstowe (which is where it gets its name). Form there his head was taken to York.