Offa an Anglo-Saxon prince, who flourished as king of MERCIA for about forty years, in the second half of the 8th century, is noted in ecclesiastical history for the dependent relation in which he placed his part of Britain to the papal see. He was a valiant soldier and ambitious ruler; and as he extended his possessions largely, his negotiations with Rome become of importance to every student of English ecclesiastical history. He compelled the king of Kent to acknowledge his authority, and at the instigation of Cynedrida, his wife, he put to death Ethelbert, king of East Anglia, and seized his states. Charlemagne called him the most powerful of the Christian kings of the West, and maintained friendly relations with him, except during a short period when traders in Offa's dominions committed depredations upon Frankish merchants. But though Offa was successful in his acquisition of temporal power, he lost much by ecclesiastical relations with Rome, upon the good-will of which he finally came to be very dependent. Anxious to establish the ecclesiastical independence of his kingdom from other British territory, he appealed to pope Adrian — the same pontiff who wrote in defense of image-worship — to send an archbishop's pall to Higbert, bishop of Lichfield, making the six other bishoprics between the Thames and Humber subject to him instead of archbishop Eanbert of Canterbury. It is no great credit to pope Adrian that he consented so easily to this project, for which there was no reason but the worldly ambition of Offa; and his honesty is somewhat impeached by it, inasmuch as Offa began a practice, which was long afterwards continued, of sending a yearly present in money, called "Peterpence," to Rome. The Saxon law speaks of this present as "the king's alms." It was not a tax paid to the pope, but to the king's officers; it led, however, afterwards to further encroachments of the bishop of Rome. A council of the English Church, held at Cliff's-hoe, A.D. 803, censured this royal act as surreptitious and deceitful. King Offa was also the first prince since the days of St. Augustine to receive a papal legate for the ordering of British ecclesiastical affairs. The legates came ostensibly to renew the faith and peace that had connected England with Rome ever since Augustine's mission. Their object was, however, to give public papal countenance to Offa's ecclesiastical departures. Offa died soon after his cruel slaughter of king Ethelbert, overcome with remorse. He was succeeded by his son Egferth, who reigned only a few months. Offa is commended by the learned Alcuin as a prince of engaging manners, and studious to promote good Christian morals among his people. At the same time the prelate does not disguise that these better qualities were tarnished by deeds of avarice and cruelty; and he mentions it as a probable mark of divine vengeance that his only son Egferth, whom he had made the sharer of his throne, died a few days after his father, in the flower of his age. Among the oppressive acts of Offa towards the Church, he seems to have usurped the property of bishops and abbots in the monasteries; not suppressing the religious houses, but giving them as preferments to his friends, particularly one at March, in Cambridgeshire, and the abbey at Bath, which he made bishop Heathored of Worcester surrender to him. To establish his power the more, he enriched the abbeys of Bredon and Evesham, founded by his grandfather, with lands taken from the same bishopric or its dependent monasteries. But at a late period of his life he was led, by remorse of conscience, to found the famous abbey of St. Alban's, which he endowed with large estates in Hertfordshire, and which became one of the most splendid of the old Benedictine houses in early Norman times. Offa compiled laws which are mostly included in the Anglo- Saxon code of Alfred the Great. See Churton, Early Engl. Ch. ch. x; Soames, Anglo-Saxon Ch. (Lond. 1856, 12mo), p. 101104; ejusd. Latin Ch. during Anglo-Saxon Times (ibid. 1848, 8vo), p. 146 sq.; Inett. Origines Anglicanoe (see Index in pt. ii of vol. ii).

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