Hen Ogledd (Welsh pronunciation: [ər ˌheːn ˈɔɡlɛð]),
in English the Old North, is the region of
Northern England and the
Scottish Lowlands inhabited by the
Celtic Britons of
Roman Britain in the Early Middle Ages. Its denizens spoke a
variety of the Brittonic language known as Cumbric. The
Hen Ogledd was
distinct from the parts of northern Britain inhabited by the Picts,
Scoti as well as from Wales, although the people of
Hen Ogledd were the same Brittonic stock as the Picts, Welsh and
Cornish, and the region loomed large in Welsh literature and tradition
for centuries after its kingdoms had disappeared.
The major kingdoms of the
Hen Ogledd were
Elmet in western Yorkshire;
Lothian and the Scottish Borders; Rheged, centred in
Galloway; and Kingdom of Strathclyde, situated around the Firth of
Clyde. Smaller kingdoms or districts included Aeron, Calchfynydd,
Eidyn, Lleuddiniawn, and Manaw Gododdin; the last three were evidently
parts of Gododdin. The Angle kingdoms of
Bernicia both had
Brittonic-derived names, suggesting they may have been Brittonic
kingdoms in origin. All the kingdoms of the Old North except
Strathclyde were conquered by
Picts by about 800;
Strathclyde was incorporated into the rising Middle Irish-speaking
Kingdom of Scotland
Kingdom of Scotland in the 11th century.
The legacy of the
Hen Ogledd remained strong in Wales. Welsh tradition
included genealogies of the Gwŷr y Gogledd, or Men of the North, and
several important Welsh dynasties traced their lineage to them. A
number of important early Welsh texts were attributed to the Men of
the North, such as Taliesin, Aneirin, Myrddin Wyllt, and the Cynfeirdd
poets. Heroes of the north such as Urien, Owain mab Urien, and Coel
Hen and his descendants feature in Welsh poetry and the Welsh Triads.
1.1 Historical context
1.2 Societal context
3 Welsh interest
4 Nature of the sources
4.1 Literary sources
4.2 Historical sources
4.3 Dubious and fraudulent sources
5 Kingdoms and regions
5.1 Major kingdoms
5.2 Minor kingdoms and other regions
5.3 Possible kingdoms
6 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Almost nothing is reliably known of Central Britain before
c. 550. There had never been a period of long-term, effective
Roman control north of the Tyne–Solway line, and south of that line
effective Roman control ended long before the traditionally given date
of departure of the
Roman military from
Roman Britain in 407. It was
noted in the writings of
Ammianus Marcellinus and others that there
was ever-decreasing Roman control from about AD 100 onward, and in the
years after 360 there was widespread disorder and the large-scale
permanent abandonment of territory by the Romans.
By 550, the region was controlled by native Brittonic-speaking peoples
except for the eastern coastal areas, which were controlled by the
Anglian peoples of
Bernicia and Deira. To the north were the Picts
(now also accepted as Brittonic speakers), themselves also called
Manau with the Gaelic kingdom of
Dál Riata to the northwest. All of
these peoples would play a role in the history of the Old North.
From a historical perspective, wars were frequently internecine, and
Britons were aggressors as well as defenders, as was also true of the
Angles, Picts, and Gaels. However, those Welsh
stories of the Old North that tell of Briton fighting Anglian have a
counterpart, told from the opposite side. The story of the demise of
the kingdoms of the Old North is the story of the rise of the Kingdom
Northumbria from two coastal kingdoms to become the premier power
in Britain north of the
Humber and south of the
Firth of Clyde
Firth of Clyde and the
Firth of Forth.
The interests of kingdoms of this era were not restricted to their
immediate vicinity. Alliances were not made only within the same
ethnic groups, nor were enmities restricted to nearby different ethnic
groups. An alliance of Britons fought against another alliance of
Britons at the Battle of Arfderydd.
Áedán mac Gabráin
Áedán mac Gabráin of Dál Riata
appears in the Bonedd Gwŷr y Gogledd, a genealogy among the pedigrees
of the Men of the North. The
Historia Brittonum states that Oswiu,
king of Northumbria, married a Briton who may have had some Pictish
ancestry. A marriage between the Northumbrian and Pictish royal
families would produce the Pictish king Talorgan I. Áedán mac
Gabráin fought as an ally of the Britons against the Northumbrians.
Cadwallon ap Cadfan
Cadwallon ap Cadfan of the
Kingdom of Gwynedd
Kingdom of Gwynedd allied with Penda of
Mercia to defeat Edwin of Northumbria.
Conquest and defeat did not necessarily mean the extirpation of one
culture and its replacement by another. The Brittonic region of
northwestern England was absorbed by Anglian
Northumbria in the 7th
century, yet it would re-emerge 300 years later as South Cumbria,
joined with North
Cumbria (Strathclyde) into a single state.
The organisation of the Men of the North was tribal,[note 1] based on
kinship groups of extended families, owing allegiance to a dominant
"royal" family, sometimes indirectly through client relationships, and
receiving protection in return. For Celtic peoples, this organisation
was still in effect hundreds of years later, as shown in the Irish
Brehon law, the Welsh Laws of Hywel Dda, and the Scottish Laws of the
Brets and Scots. The Germanic
Anglo-Saxon law had culturally different
origins, but with many similarities to Celtic law. Like Celtic law, it
was based on cultural tradition, without any perceivable debt to the
Roman occupation of Britain.[note 2]
A primary royal court (Welsh: llys) would be maintained as a
"capital", but it was not the bureaucratic administrative centre of
modern society, nor the settlement or civitas of Roman rule. As the
ruler and protector of his kingdom, the king would maintain multiple
courts throughout his territory, travelling among them to exercise his
authority and to address the needs of his clients, such as in the
dispensing of justice. This ancient method of dispensing justice
survived throughout England as a part of royal procedure until the
reforms of Henry II (reigned 1154–1189) modernised the
administration of law.
Main article: Cumbric
Modern scholarship uses the term "Cumbric" for the Brittonic language
spoken in the Hen Ogledd. It appears to have been very closely related
to Old Welsh, with some local variances, and more distantly related to
Cornish, Breton and Pictish. There are no surviving texts written in
the dialect; evidence for it comes from placenames, proper names in a
few early inscriptions and later non-
Cumbric sources, two terms in the
Leges inter Brettos et Scottos, and the corpus of poetry by the
cynfeirdd, the "early poets", nearly all of which deals with the
The cynfeirdd poetry is the largest source of information, and it is
generally accepted that some part of the corpus was first composed in
the Old North. However, it survives entirely in later manuscripts
created in Wales, and it is unknown how faithful they are to the
originals. Still, the texts do contain discernible variances that
distinguish the speech from contemporary Welsh. In particular, these
texts contain a number of archaisms – features that appear to have
once been common in all Brittonic varieties, but which later vanished
from Welsh and the Southwestern Brittonic languages. In general,
however, the differences appear to be slight, and the distinction
Old Welsh is largely geographical rather than
Cumbric gradually disappeared as the area was conquered by the
Anglo-Saxons, and later the Scots and Norse, though it survived in the
Kingdom of Strathclyde, centred at
Alt Clut in what is now Dumbarton
Kenneth H. Jackson suggested that it re-emerged in
Cumbria in the 10th century, as Strathclyde established hegemony over
that area. It is unknown when
Cumbric finally became extinct, but the
series of counting systems of Celtic origin recorded in Northern
England since the 18th century have been proposed as evidence of a
survival of elements of Cumbric; though the view has been largely
rejected on linguistic grounds, with evidence pointing to the fact
that it was imported to England after the
Old English era.
One of the traditional stories relating to the creation of
derived from the arrival in
Cunedda and his sons as "Men of
Cunedda himself is held to be the progenitor of the royal
dynasty of the Kingdom of Gwynedd, one of the largest and most
powerful of the medieval Welsh kingdoms, and an ongoing participant in
the history of the Old North. Cunedda, incidentally, is represented as
a descendant of one of Maximus' generals, Paternus, who Maximus
appointed as commander at Alt Clut. However, the relationship between
Wales and the Old North is more substantial than this one event,
amounting to a self-perception that the Welsh and the Men of the North
are one people. The modern Welsh term for themselves, Cymry, derives
from this ancient relationship. It is not originally an ethnic or
cultural term, and in the modern sense refers only to the Welsh of
Wales and the Brittonic-speaking Men of the North. However,
it is the reflex of old kombrogoi, which meant simply
"fellow-countrymen, Celts", and it is worth noting in passing that its
Breton counterpart kenvroiz still has this original meaning
"compatriots". The word began to be used as an endonym by the northern
Britons during the early
7th century (and possibly earlier), and
was used throughout the
Middle Ages to describe both the Kingdom of
Strathclyde (the successor state to Ystrad Clud, known as North
Cumbria, which flourished c. 900–1100) and western England north of
the Ribble Estuary (South Cumbria). Before this, and for some
centuries after, the traditional as well as the more literary term was
Brythoniaid, recaIling the still older time when all
Celts in the
island remained a unity. Cymry survives today in the native name for
Wales (Cymru, land of the Cymry), and in the English county name
Cumbria, both meaning "homeland", "mother country".
Many of the traditional sources of information about the Old North are
believed to have come to
Wales from the Old North, and bards such as
Aneirin (the reputed author of Y Gododdin) are thought to have been
court poets in the Old North. These stories and bards are held to be
no less Welsh than the stories and bards who were actually from Wales.
Nature of the sources
A listing of passages from the literary and historical sources,
particularly relevant to the Old North, can be found in Anwyl's
Wales and the Britons of the North. A somewhat dated
introduction to the study of old Welsh poetry can be found in his 1904
article Prolegomena to the Study of
Old Welsh Poetry.
The bardic poetry attributed to Taliesin, Aneirin, and Llywarch Hen.
The genealogical tracts of the Harleian genealogies, the Bonedd Gwŷr
y Gogledd, and the genealogies of Jesus College MS 20.
The Triads of the Island of Britain (note that most of the triads
published in the notorious third volume of The Myvyrian Archaiology of
Wales are known to be the forgeries of Iolo Morganwg, and are not
considered valid sources of historical information). The standard
scholarly edition is Trioedd Ynys Prydein by Rachel Bromwich.
The other elegies (Welsh: marwnadau) and songs of praise (Welsh: canu
mawl), as well as certain mythological stories, that have been
Stories praising a patron and the construction of flattering
genealogies are neither unbiased nor reliable sources of historically
accurate information. However, while they may exaggerate and make
apocryphal assertions, they do not falsify or change the historical
facts that were known to the bards' listeners, as that would bring
ridicule and disrepute to both the bards and their patrons. In
addition, the existence of stories of defeat and tragedy, as well as
stories of victory, lends additional credibility to their value as
sources of history. Within that context, the stories contain useful
information, much of it incidental, about an era of British history
where very little is reliably known.
Historia Brittonum attributed to Nennius
The Annales Cambriae
Ecclesiastical History of the English People
Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede
The Annals of Tigernach
These sources are not without deficiencies. Both the authors and their
later transcribers sometimes displayed a partisanship that promoted
their own interests, portraying their own agendas in a positive light,
always on the side of justice and moral rectitude. Facts in opposition
to those agendas are sometimes omitted, and apocryphal entries are
Bede was a Northumbrian partisan and spoke with prejudice
against the native Britons, his Ecclesiastical History of the English
People is highly regarded for its effort towards an accurate telling
of history, and for its use of reliable sources. When passing along
"traditional" information that lacks a historical foundation, Bede
takes care to note it as such.
De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae
De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae by
Gildas (c. 516–570)
is occasionally relevant in that it mentions early people and places
also mentioned in the literary and historical sources. The work was
intended to preach Christianity to Gildas' contemporaries and was not
meant to be a history. It is one of the few contemporary accounts of
his era to have survived.
Dubious and fraudulent sources
Historia Regum Britanniae
Historia Regum Britanniae of
Geoffrey of Monmouth is disparaged as
pseudohistory, though it looms large as a source for the largely
fictional chivalric romance stories known collectively as the Matter
of Britain. The lack of historical value attributed to the Historia
lies only partly in the fact that it contains so many fictions and
falsifications of history;[note 3] the fact that historical accuracy
clearly was not a consideration in its creation makes any references
to actual people and places no more than a literary convenience.
The Iolo Manuscripts are a collection of manuscripts presented in the
early 19th century by Edward Williams, who is better known as Iolo
Morganwg. Containing various tales, anecdotal material and elaborate
genealogies that connect virtually everyone of note with everyone else
of note (and with many connections to Arthur and Iolo's native region
of Morgannwg), they were at first accepted as genuine, but have since
been shown to be an assortment of forged or doctored manuscripts,
transcriptions, and fantasies, mainly invented by Iolo himself. A list
of works tainted by their reliance on the material presented by Iolo
(sometimes without attribution) would be quite long.
Kingdoms and regions
Places in the Old North that are mentioned as kingdoms in the literary
and historical sources include:
Alt Clut or Ystrad Clud – a kingdom centred at what is now Dumbarton
in Scotland. Later known as the Kingdom of Strathclyde, it was one of
the best attested of the northern British kingdoms. It was also the
last surviving, as it operated as an independent realm into the 11th
century before it was finally absorbed by the Kingdom of Scotland.
Elmet – centred in western
Yorkshire in northern England. It was
located south of the other northern British kingdoms, and well east of
present-day Wales, but managed to survive into the early 7th
Gododdin – a kingdom in what is now southeastern
northeastern England, the area previously noted as the territory of
the Votadini. They are the subjects of the poem Y Gododdin, which
memorialises a disastrous raid by an army raised by the
Angles of Bernicia.
Rheged – a major kingdom that evidently included parts of
present-day Cumbria, though its full extent is unknown. It may have
covered a vast area at one point, as it is very closely associated
with its king Urien, whose name is tied to places all over
Minor kingdoms and other regions
Several regions are mentioned in the sources, assumed to be notable
regions within one of the kingdoms if not separate kingdoms
Aeron – a minor kingdom mentioned in sources such as Y Gododdin, its
location is uncertain, but several scholars have suggested that it was
Ayrshire region of southwest Scotland. It is
frequently associated with
Urien Rheged, and may have been part of his
Calchfynydd ("Chalkmountain") – almost nothing is known about this
area, though it was likely somewhere in the Hen Ogledd, as an evident
ruler, Cadrawd Calchfynydd, is listed in the Bonedd Gwŷr y Gogledd.
William Forbes Skene
William Forbes Skene suggested an identification with Kelso (formerly
Calchow) in the Scottish Borders.
Eidyn – this was the area around the modern city of Edinburgh, then
known as Din
Eidyn (Fort of Eidyn). It was closely associated with the
Kenneth H. Jackson argued strongly that Eidyn
referred exclusively to Edinburgh, but other scholars have taken
it as a designation for the wider area. The name may survive
today in toponyms such as Edinburgh, Dunedin, and
Carriden (from Caer
Eidyn), located fifteen miles to the west. Din
Eidyn was besieged
Angles in 638 and was under their control for most of the next
Gododdin – the coastal area south of the Firth of Forth, and
part of the territory of the Gododdin. The name survives in
Slamannan Moor and the village of Slamannan, in Stirlingshire.
This is derived from Sliabh Manann, the 'Moor of Manann'. It also
appears in the name of Dalmeny, some 5 miles northwest of
Edinburgh, and formerly known as Dumanyn, assumed to be derived from
Dun Manann. The name also survives north of the Forth in Pictish
Manaw as the name of the burgh of
Clackmannan and the eponymous county
of Clackmannanshire, derived from Clach Manann, the 'stone of
Manann', referring to a monument stone located there.
Novant – a kingdom mentioned in Y Gododdin, presumably related to
the Iron Age
Novantae tribe of southwestern Scotland.
Regio Dunutinga – a minor kingdom or region in North Yorkshire
mentioned in the Life of Wilfrid. It was evidently named for a ruler
named Dunaut, perhaps the
Dunaut ap Pabo known from the
genealogies. Its name may survive in the modern town of Dent,
Kingdoms that were not part of the Old North but are part of its
Dál Riata – Though this was a Gaelic kingdom, the family of Áedán
mac Gabráin of
Dál Riata appears in the Bonedd Gwŷr y Gogledd
Northumbria and its predecessor states,
Bernicia and Deira
The following names appear in historical and literary sources, but it
is unknown whether or not they refer to British kingdoms and regions
of the Hen Ogledd.
Bryneich – this is the British name for the
Anglo-Saxon kingdom of
Bernicia. There was probably a pre-Saxon British kingdom in this area,
but this is uncertain.
Deifr or Dewr – this was the British name for
Anglo-Saxon Deira, a
region between the
River Tees and the Humber. The name is of British
origin, but as with Bryneich it is unknown if it represented an
earlier British kingdom.
Wales in the Early Middle Ages
Scotland in the Early Middle Ages
England in the Middle Ages
Kingdom of Gwynedd
Historical basis for King Arthur
^ The tribal domains were called kingdoms and were led by a king, but
were not organised nation-states in the modern (or ancient Roman)
sense of the word. The kingdoms might grow and shrink based on the
transitory fortunes of the leading tribe and royal family, with
regional alliances and enmities playing a part in the resulting
organisation. This organisation was applicable to southern
the post-Roman era, where the royal inter-relationships of the
kingdoms of Glywysing, Gwent, and
Ergyng are so completely
inter-twined that it is not possible to construct an independent
history for any of them. When contention (i.e., war) occurred, it was
between high-ranking individuals and their respective clients, in the
manner of the contending
House of Lancaster
House of Lancaster and
House of York
House of York during
Wars of the Roses
Wars of the Roses in the 15th century.
Anglo-Saxon law" is a modern neologism for the Saxon Law of Wessex,
the Anglian Law of Mercia, and the Danelaw, all of which were
sufficiently similar to merit inclusion within this umbrella term. The
laws of Anglian
Northumbria were supplanted by the Danelaw, but were
certainly similar to these. The origins of
English law have been much
studied. For example, the 12th century Tractatus de legibus et
consuetudinibus regni Angliae (Treatise on the laws and customs of the
Kingdom of England) is the book of authority on English common law,
and scholars have held that it owes a debt to
Norman law and to
Germanic law, and not to Roman law.
^ Scholarly works by reputable authors, such as Lloyd's 1911 A History
Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest, contain
numerous citations of Geoffrey's fabrications of history, never citing
him as a source of legitimate historical information. More recent
works of history tend to spend less energy on Geoffrey's Historia,
merely ignoring him in passing. In Davies's 1990 A History of Wales,
the first paragraph of page 1 discusses Geoffrey's prominence, after
which he is occasionally mentioned as the source of historical
inaccuracies and not as a source of legitimate historical
information. Earlier works might devote a few paragraphs detailing
the proof that Geoffrey was the inventor of fictitious information,
such as in James Parker's The Early History of Oxford, where persons
such as Eldad, Eldod, Abbot Ambrius, and others are noted to be the
result of Geoffrey's own imagination.
^ Bromwich 2006, pp. 256–257
Nennius (800), "Genealogies of the Saxon kings of Northumbria", in
Stevenson, Joseph, Nennii Historia Britonum, London: English
Historical Society (published 1838), p. 50
^ Nicholson, E. W. B. (1912), "The 'Annales Cambriae' and their
so-called 'Exordium'", in Meyer, Kuno, Zeitschrift für Celtische
Philologie, VIII, Halle: Max Niemeyer, p. 145
^ a b c Koch 2006, p. 516.
^ a b Koch 2006, p. 517.
^ A Dictionary of English Folklore, Jacqueline Simpson, Stephen Roud,
Oxford University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-19-210019-X, 9780192100191,
Shepeherd's score, pp. 271
^ Margaret L. Faull, Local Historian 15:1 (1982), 21–3
^ Lloyd 1911, pp. 191–192.
^ Lloyd, John Edward (1912). A History of
Wales from the Earliest
Times to the Edwardian Conquest. Longmans, Green. p. 191.
^ Phillimore, Egerton (1888), "Review of "A History of Ancient Tenures
of Land in the Marches of North Wales"", in Phillimore, Egerton, Y
Cymmrodor, IX, London: Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion,
^ Phillimore, Egerton (1891), "Note (a) to The Settlement of
Brittany", in Phillimore, Egerton, Y Cymmrodor, XI, London: Honourable
Society of Cymmrodorion (published 1892), pp. 97–101
^ Anwyl, Edward (July 1907 – April 1908), "
Wales and the Britons of
the North", The Celtic Review, IV, Edinburgh: Norman Macleod
(published 1908), pp. 125–152; 249–273
^ Anwyl, Edward (1904), "Prolegomena to the Study of Old Welsh
Poetry", Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion
(Session 1903–1904), London: Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion
(published 1905), pp. 59–83
^ Lloyd 1911:122–123, Notes on the Historical Triads, in The History
Rachel Bromwich (ed.), Trioedd Ynys Prydein (University of Wales
Press, revised edition 1991) ISBN 0-7083-0690-X.
^ For a recent view of Bede's treatment of Britons in his work, see W.
Trent Foley and N.J. Higham, "
Bede on the Britons." Early Medieval
Europe 17.2 (2009): pp. 154–85.
^ Lloyd 1911, A History of Wales
^ Davies 1990:1, A History of Wales
^ Parker, James (1885), "Description of Oxford in Domesday Survey",
The Early History of Oxford 727–1100, Oxford: Oxford Historical
Society, p. 291
^ Koch 2006, p. 1819.
^ Koch 2006, pp. 670–671.
^ a b Koch 2006, pp. 823–826.
^ Koch 2006, pp. 1498–1499.
^ Koch 2006, pp. 354–355; 904.
^ Bromwich 1978, pp. 12–13; 157.
^ Morris-Jones, pp. 75–77.
^ Williams 1968, p. xlvii.
^ Koch 2006, p. 1499.
^ Bromwich 2006, p. 325.
^ a b Koch 2006, pp. 623–625.
^ Jackson 1969, pp. 77–78
^ Williams 1972, p. 64.
^ Chadwick, p. 107.
^ Dumville, p. 297.
^ Rhys, John (1904), "The
Picts and Scots", Celtic Britain (3rd ed.),
London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, p. 155
^ a b c Rhys, John (1901), "Place-Name Stories", Celtic Folklore:
Welsh and Manx, II, Oxford: Oxford University, p. 550
^ Rhys 1904:155, Celtic Britain, The
Picts and the Scots.
^ Koch 2006, pp. 824–825.
^ Koch 1997, pp. lxxxii–lxxxiii.
^ Koch 2006, p. 458.
^ Koch 2006, p. 904.
^ Koch 2006, pp. 302–304.
^ Koch 2006, pp. 584–585.
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Minor kingdoms and subregions
Elffin ap Gwyddno
Gwallog ap Llaennog
Owain mab Urien