csawlogo.jpg

Home
Reference Abbreviations
Guidance Articles for Researchers
Single Family Analysis
Families of Mixed Origin
Family Pedigrees
Mis-identified Same-Named People in Wales
Battles and Historical Events
Ancient Welsh Territories
The Men of the North
Legendary History Prior to 1st Century BC
Beli Mawr and Llyr Llediath in Welsh Pedigrees
Papers Related to Maxen Wledig
Bartrum's "Pedigrees of the Welsh Tribal Patriarchs"
Britain's Royal Roman Family
The Royal Family of Powys
2nd Powys Royal Dynasty
The Royal Family of Gwynedd
Men Descended from Tudwal Gloff
Royal Family of Gwent/ Glamorgan
The 5 Plebian Tribes of Wales
Glast and the Glastening
Rulers of Brycheiniog - The Unanswered Questions
The Men of Collwyn ap Tangno of Lleyn
Edwin of Tegeingl and his Family
Ednowain Bendew in Welsh pedigrees
Ithel of Bryn in Powys
Idnerth Benfras of Maesbrook
The Clan of Tudor Trevor
Trahaearn ap Caradog of Arwystli
The Family of Trahaearn ap Caradog
Cadafael Ynfyd of Cydewain
Maredudd ap Owain, King of Deheubarth
Eunydd son of Gwenllian
Sandde Hardd of Mortyn
The Floruit of Einion ap Seisyllt
The 5 Dafydd Llwyds of Llanwrin Parish
Cowryd ap Cadfan of Dyffryn Clwyd
Marchweithian, Lord of Is Aled, Rhufoniog
Osbwrn Wyddel of Cors Gedol
Bradwen of Llys Bradwen in Meirionydd
Ednowain ap Bradwen
Who Was Sir Robert Pounderling?
Eidio Wyllt - What Was His Birthname?
Parents and Children of the Lord Rhys

                       BERNICIA - FROM DOORMAT TO DOMINANT IN NORTH BRITAIN
                                            Research by Dr. J. White-Phillip
                                            Narrative by Darrell Wolcott
PREFACE:
           
            If you are wondering how a paper on the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia has anything to do with the Study of Ancient Wales, we have simply used its creation and rise to highlight the Cymric 'Men of the North' in the 6th century, often called the Age of the Heroes by later Welshmen.  That their "time in the sun" was drawing to a close by the year 600, can be seen in the pedigree manuscripts.  Only 3 sixth-century northern families (those descended from Llywarch Hen, Cynfelyn ap Athrwys and Llawdden Llydog) have extant male-only pedigrees extending past the 7th century.
 
OUR STORY BEGINS:
 
            About the year 490, an Angle named Oesa [1] joined a group of his fellow Angles on the upper north coastal area of Britain. That group had come some 45 years earlier, invited by Britain's overking to protect the area against Picts, much as a colony of Jutes had been invited to settle in Kent.  Oesa was the father of a newborn son, Eoppa, and was related to the various tribes on the western coast of continental Europe who all claim descent from Woden.
 
            The lands called Bryneich consisted of a narrow coastal strip which Gododdin had traditionally owned but had permitted the Angles to occupy when invited as feoderati.  While it lay north of Hadrian's wall, it had been governed by a son of Coel Hen to effect a legal separation from the remainder of Gododdin.  There is no detailed history of events occurring in Bryneich prior to the reign of Aethelfrith (593-616) so we must posit a scenario which will logically tie together the scattered facts which are recorded. The following is our effort.
 
            By the time this new family arrived in Bryneich, the Pict threat had been sharply reduced by the rising Brithonic Celt kingdoms of Strathclyde and Lothian, which lay between the Anglian population centers along the coast of Britain and the Caledonian Picts above the Firth of Forth.  A great-grandson of Coel Hen, Bran Hen ap Dyfnwal, was ruling the kingdom of Bryneich.  Lower England was battling the Saxons who'd been settled in Kent, but no strife was yet seen from the foederati living in Bryneich.  King Bran Hen was childless, but his brother Cyngar, had a first-born child about this same year (490), a son named Morgan or Morcant, who was to become the heir-apparent to the kingship.

 
            History has not been kind to the reputation of this Morcant (usually called Morcant Bwlch), but, we suggest, for the wrong reasons.  He seems to have intensified the unrest between the Anglian population and the native Celts in Bryneich, after he succeeded his uncle as king about the year 520. The Anglian people had long been denied permission to expand their settlement inland, but Morcant Bwlch became even more restrictive.  He ordered them to confine their residences to a few thousand acres around Bamburgh, forbade travel into Cymric areas and in many ways let them know they were "hired hands", not gentlemen of nobility.

            The arrival of Oesa gave these men a glimmering of hope because he WAS descended from a tribe they considered  "nobility".  These hopes grew over the years, as first Eoppa and then his son, Ida, championed their cause.  They, however, lacked the strength to demand their voices be heard at the royal court of Morcant.  This changed abruptly in the year 545.  The plague of Justinian, called the "yellow plague", swept over Britain beginning in 544.  When news arrived in 547 that King Maelgwn of Gwynedd had died of "yellow fever",  Morgant took refuge at Tyne Gap in the Cheviot Hills near the wall. [2]  In his absence, Ida established a new court at Dyn-Guaroi (later called Bamburgh), named it "the kingdom of Bernicia", proclaimed himself king, and evicted all the Celts who resided there. He then sent messengers to advise Morcant of his actions, and promised widespread rebellion if he attempted to interfere in the new "kingdom".  Morcant sputtered in protest but ultimately did nothing to remove Ida. The kings of Lothian, Strathclyde, Rheged and Ebrauc also dismissed the event as trivial and agreed not to interfere so long as Ida's tiny new kingdom did not threaten their lands.  Morcant died shortly after, leaving the problem to his son and successor, Clydog.
 
            Morgan's son, Clydog, tried to persuade Urien of Rheged to aid him in recovering this territory, but Urien did not believe it in his own interest to take an army north of the wall.  Ida had made no attempt to expand inland and wasn't believed to be any threat to the peace which now existed among the Cymry of north Britain.
 
            Ida died about 560, was succeeded by his brother, Glappa, [3] who himself died within a year. Adda, the eldest son of Ida, succeeded to the kingship of the still small community of Angles. He tentatively began to extend his borders into Lothian lands to satisfy growing demands from his people for richer soil to plant their crops.  He then built an unauthorized defensive earthwork fortification extending about 12 miles across the countryside.  This act alarmed Serwan ap Llawdden, the king of Lothian.  When he found that none of the northern Cymric kings, including Clydog of Bryneich, believed Adda's tiny border expansion was any real problem, he invited young noblemen from as far away as Wales to join him, not for any political cause, but only for a glorious adventure.
 
             About 300 young princes accepted his invitation and were treated to a several months-long feast as the elders prepared a military campaign.  Sometime near 565,  this enthusiastic, but amateurish, band took the field in southern Lothian. [4] It was met by a huge mass of foot soldiers led by Bernicia's King Adda, his younger brothers, and various cousins. What began as an adventure quickly turned into a disaster....for the Cymry.  History calls this the Battle of Catraeth.
 
           A leading bard from the tribe of Pabo Post Prydian, Aneirin, was present to record the battle; his tribute to the various fallen princes is extant today as the classic poem "Y Gododdin". [5]
 
           Emboldened with his battlefield victory, Adda followed up with attacks against other northern kingdoms.  He soon found out there was a big difference when fighting well-trained warbands.  Both Rhydderch Hen of Strathclyde and Urien of Rheged easily swept him back to Bernicia.  Clydog of Bryneich had stopped every attempt Adda made to extend south. When Adda died in 569, his brother, Aethelric, was also unable to expand beyond his own borders when confronted by real armies.  When he died in 573, his brother, Theodoric, was finally able to score an occasional victory, although suffering enough losses to prevent any real gains of territory. [6]
 
            In fact, about 575, an army, which was commanded by the aging Urien Rheged, not only pressed the Bernicians back to their base in "Bernicia", but off-shore to Holy Island (later called Lindisfarne) which the Britons called Ynys Metcaut.  This was a tidal island consisting of about 1000 acres which, at low tide, was accessible by walking over a wet, mostly sandy, causeway.  We are told that the Bernicians were stranded there for 3 days and 3 nights. [7]  Since Urien did not pursue them, but merely isolated them for a bit, we assume the whole exercise was intended to send them a message, not to annihilate them. Indeed, there is no mention of a battle at all, merely a superior force causing the Angles of Bernicia to retreat until there was no further space behind them. 

            Elsewhere in north Britain, the Cymry were so unconcerned with Bernicia that they battled among themselves.  In 573 at the Battle of Arfderydd, the brothers Gwrgi and Peredur ap Eliffer defeated and killed their cousin Gwendoleu ap Ceido.  In 580, those brothers were killed at Caer Greu by one Eda Glinmawr. [8] We assume this "Adda great-knee" was a non-cited son of Gwendoleu.

 
              Urien himself was assassinated c. 575, by a man hired by the envious Morgan ap Clydog, because "his military skill and generalship surpassed that of all the other kings". [9] While Morgan may have considered himself a great general, the loss of Urien (at age 65) was more a perceived blow to the Cymry than a real one.
 
            When Theodoric was slain in 580 (some say by Owain ap Urien [10]),  one must assume two things: (a) no younger brothers (sons of Ida) were still alive and fit for kingship, and (b) no grandsons of Ida were yet old enough for kingship.  We are told that Friduwald ruled Bernicia from 580-586, then Hussa from 586-593.  We think these were sons of Ida's brother, Glappa, and cousins of Theodoric.  During the whole period of the reigns of its first 6 kings (547-593), Bernicia had barely expanded beyond its original boundaries.  Over the preceding 46 years, those kings had expended hundreds of their men battling with the Cymric kingdoms, and had precious little to show for it.
 
            This brings us to King Aethelfrith, son of Aethelric and grandson of Ida.  To relate his story, we must first introduce the Anglian kingdom of Deira.
 
            At the same time the Angles were first settled in Bryneich (mid-5th century), a similar group of feoderati was settled on the coast of Britain just south of Ebrauc.  These lands were called Deywr or Deifr by the Brits, but the new inhabitants called it Deira.  From its origin, this Anglian territory was self-governing. Nothing is known of its history until about 580.  Aelle, son of Yffe, ruled until his death c. 599. [11] His eldest living son was barely a teenager, and his only brother, Aelfric, was already dead.  His uncle, Aethelric, was 64 years old, but was the only living member of the family eligible for kingship.  The elderly gentleman managed to survive for 5 more years as king, before dying in 604.  About a year earlier, Acha, the daughter of Aelle, married Aethelfrith of Bernicia. [12]
 
            By the year 593, many of the northern kingdoms ruled by the Cymry were in decline.  Their strong kings had died and been replaced by sons of lesser skills.  Aethelfrith moved out of his stronghold at Dyn-Guaroi, and with little effective resistance, absorbed the remaining territory of Bryneich, continued south to take Ebrauc and west to harass Rheged and the kingdoms of the Pennines.  Token resistance crumbled quickly, and soon none dared take the field against him.  When Aethelric of Deira died in 604,  Aethelfrith claimed its kingship as the husband of  Acha.  Her brother, Edwin, who may have been in line for that kingship [13] but was not yet 20 years old, fled his home and went into exile.  Thus, the kingdom later to be called Northumbria was born, with Aethelfrith the undisputed ruler.
 
             BERNICIA                                              DEIRA   
 
                                                                         Wyscfrea ?
                                                                     _______l___________
                                                                    l                                 l
             515  Ida                                 525  Yffe                 535  Aethelric, obit 604
                      l                                 ______l___________         
         545  Aethelric, 2nd son             l                                l         
                       l                      550  Aelle                555  Aelfric (father of Osric)          
                       l                      ______l___________               c  585-634
                       l                      l                              l
        570  Aethelfrith=====Acha  588          586  Edwin             
 
               One by one, the old kingdoms of Lothian, Rheged, the Pennines and Elmet paid homage to their new bretwalda.   Only Strathclyde remained independent, possibly because their rulers formed alliances with both the Dal Riata Scots and the Caledonian Picts, coupled with the fact that Aethelfrith's interests lay south of their area. 
 
            About the year 613, [14] Aethelfrith took his army south, passing through dozens of "unconquered" areas which simply declined to confront him. The Welsh kingdom of Powys did defend their borders against him, however, which resulted in the Battle at Bangor Orchard usually referred to as the Battle of Chester.  The Powys losses were heavy, and included Selyf ap Cynan Garwyn, their king.  After his decisive victory, Aethelfrith did not claim any Powys lands nor install any permanent cadre representing his interests.  He simply rode away back to Northumbria.   It was as though the entire exercise was merely a show of force, not really an invasion to conquer new territory.  Perhaps the moral of the story was "don't even think about messing with Northumbria".
 
            We shall leave our story of Bernicia at its "high water mark" about 613 and turn our attention to some of the incidents recited above which have been garbled by our later historians. For each general statement which heads a discussion below, we believe you should insert "NOT" after the word "WAS".
 
THERE WAS A GREAT NORTHERN ALLIANCE
 
            By misreading a passage in Nennius, a number of modern historians claim there once existed a "grand alliance" of the northern Cymric kingdoms, opposing the emergence of Bernicia.  The passage begins with a listing of Bernician kings and the length of their reign, ending with "Hussa reigned 7 years".  Next, the Latin text reads as follows:
 
            "Contra illum quattuor reges: Urbgen, et Riderchhen, et Guallauc, et Morcant, dimicaverunt."
 
            A literal English translation says "Against him four kings (those men are then named), fought".
 
            This statement has been interpreted by many to say that the four named kings fought together against Hussa, at a single battle or a series of battles.  If that were true, then all four men would have been of fighting age between 586 and 593 (Hussa's reign). It will be necessary to identify the "4 kings" in order to date them to determine if they could have fought Hussa.
 
           1.  "Urbgen" is clearly Urien ap Cynfarch Oer, king of Rheged, who was born c. 510 and was killed c. 575.
           2.  "Riderchhen"  was Rhydderch Hen, the king of Strathclyde, son of Tudwal ap Clinoch, who was born c. 540.  He is often confused with Rhydderch Hael, a son of Tudwal Tudclyd ap Cedic, a non-king resident of Gododdin who was born c. 450.
          3.  "Guallauc" is usually identified as Gwallog ap Llynnog ap Mar, king of Elmet, who was born c. 485
          4.  "Morcant" is usually identified as Morcant Bwlch, king of Bryneich, who was born c. 490.
 
            Since we reject the idea that men past age 70 (or dead men) were swinging swords on the battlefield in this era, at least three of the men (as generally identified) could NOT have fought against Hussa .  In addition, we will assume that like us, you have already decided the Rhydderch in this list could NOT be Rhydderch Hael , a man long dead before ANY of the Bernician kings ruled.
 
            If those "4 kings" could not have fought against "illum" meaning "him", perhaps Nennius (or a later copyist) used the wrong form of the Latin pronoun "illis" meaning "them".  Is it possible these four Cymric kings, each in his own time, fought against one or more of the 5 Bernician kings, whose list ended with Hussa?  Certainly not the four kings as they are "generally" identified; two of those men were too old to have fought against the earliest Bernician listed,  Adda son of Ida, who reigned 561-569.
                                                 
            In the poems of Llywarch Hen, the bard writes of a "Wallawc marchawc trin" battling with the sons of Urien.  Urien's sons could not have been warriors earlier than c. 560, when the identified "Guallauc" would be 75 years old.  Clearly, the man called Marchog Trin was born much later.  It is also known that a Ceredig ap Gwylog was king of Elmet when he was ousted by Edwin of Deira in 617. [15] We suggest the Elmet family actually looked like this chart, and we would identify the "Guallauc" mentioned by Nennius as the man called Marchog Trin and born c. 545:

                                                     340  Coel Hen
                                                                   l
                                                       380  Ceneu
                                                                   l
                                                        415  Mar
                                                                   l
                                                       450  Llynnog
                                                                   l
                                                      485  Gwylog                     Pabo Post Prydain  480
                                               __________l__________                    l
                                               l                                    l                    l               
                                  515  Llynnog                   520  Dwywei====Donawt  510
                                               l                                                l
                         545  Gwylog Marchog Trin                           Aneirin, the bard  535
                                               l
                                 580  Ceredig  lv 617

             We would also identify the Morcant in the "4 kings" list as Morgan ap Clydog ap Morcant Bwlch, a man born c. 550, and further identify him as the "Morcant" who hired an assassin to kill Urien Rheged c. 575.  Each of those "4 kings" could have individually battled against one or more of the 5 Bernician kings.  Based upon our view of that kingdom between 560 and 593, we doubt it would have been necessary for any two or three of the Cymric kings to have joined together for such a battle.
 
           The only other evidence to suggest any "grand alliance" of the kings of north Britain is found in the citation which tells us that whenever they were united, "the Cynfarchion, the Cynwydian and the Coeling" would never fail. [16]  These were three tribes descended from Coel Hen, led in the 6th century by Urien of Rheged (followed by his son, Owain), Gwylog Marchog Trin of Elmet and Morgan ap Clydog of Byrneich.  The statement implies that they sometimes joined together for a battle or other mischief, but mostly against other Cymric tribes.  There weren't really any "foreign" armies threatening their lands in their era. 
 
URIEN'S ASSASSINATION WAS A TURNING POINT:
 
            A number of contemporary historians claim that this act of treachery totally stalled the efforts of the Cymry, who had, until then, kept the Angles at bay. For this observation to be correct, two things would be required: (a) That Urien was an unstoppable fighting machine, and (b) that the Bernicians began to dominate the north immediately after he was killed.  Neither is true.  No matter how great a general Urien was, he was now 65 years old and had about zero expected life term remaining.  His skills would soon be lost to the Cymry even if Morgan had not hired the assassin.  Secondly, Bernicia did NOT make any substantial advances in their position for another 18 years, when Aethelfrith came on the scene.
 
THE BATTLE OF CHESTER WAS A WATERSHED EVENT:
 
            Many historians claim that with this battle loss, the Cymry in Wales were cut off from their allies and kinfolks in North Britain, and that it was no longer possible to travel overland from Wales to Strathclyde.  But the victor had neither claimed nor taken possession of any land, nor had he erected any barriers at this so-called "choke point".  Presumably, anyone who was friendly with the people of Rheged could freely pass through their lands to visit the north. Whether Rheged was, in 613, "independent" or subservient to Northumbria is immaterial to normal travel. We suggest that the only "travel" that would have been met with hostility would be the taking of an army on a march to the north.
 
 
NOTES:    
 [1]  Oesa was the first of his family to emigrate to Britain, according to David Dumville's article "A new chronicle fragment of early British history" published in English History Review, vol 88 (1973), pp 312-440         
[2] It is only our suggestion that Morcant took refuge from the Yellow plague at Tyne Gap, but it might explain why his nickname was "Bwlch" which means "gap" 
[3] There are no sources which cite an ancestry for Glappa.  It is only our belief that he was a younger brother of Ida, who took rule when Ida's eldest son was not yet age 21
[4]  There is no scholastic consensus as to the location of this battle.  We think it took place somewhere between Adda's seat at the town later called Bamburgh, and the host's manor at Edinburgh, but closer to the former.
[5] For more about this battle, see our paper "Elidyr Contests Rhun - Unanswered Questions" at the link below:
http://www.ancientwalesstudies.org/id277.html
[6] Nennius, 63 says "During this time, sometimes the enemy, sometimes the Cymry were victorious"
[7] cited by Nennius, 63
[8]  Rachel Bromwich "Trioedd Ynys Prydein", triad #30.  Some would identify him with Adda, son of Ida, king of Bernicia, but that Adda died 11 years before Gwrgi and Peredur were slain. Others identify him with Aetan, whose pedigree given by Nennius places him in the 4th generation after Ida.  Based upon what is known of the sons of this Aetan, he could not be born earlier than 675, or 95 years after the brothers were slain.
[9] Our italicized quote is taken from Nennius, 63 as it appears in Manuscript H.  His work now survives in 35 manuscripts, in Latin.  While they all tell the same story, the exact wording and the spelling of names varies from one version to another.  Manuscript H was selected for use in the Phillimore series "History from the Sources", volume 8
[10]  This claim is made in a poem by Llywarch Hen, but appears in no known annals
[11]  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records his death in 588, but this cannot be the correct date.  The Chronicle also says that in 596, Pope Gregory sent Augustine to Britain.  Bede, Book I, chapter 25, says Augustine landed in Kent and was permitted to preach to the Angles who lived there.  N.J. Higham, in his 2006 work "Re-reading Bede: The Ecclesiastical History in Context" adds (citing Bede's "Greater Chronicle") "However, the people of the Angles north of the River Humber, under kings Aelle and Aethelfrith, did not at this time hear the Word of life". This certainly implies that Aelle was still alive and ruling in 596.  Fixing his obit at 599 and adding the 5 years his elderly uncle reigned, brings us to 604, when Aethelfrith of Bernicia took the kingship of Deira
[12]  Bede, "Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation:, Book III, chapter 6
[13]  It is not known if there was a member of the Deiran royal family, alive in 604, with a better claim than Edwin, but it was Edwin who, in 616, returned from exile and received the kingship after his protector, King Raedwald of East Anglia, killed Aethelfrith in battle
[14]  The date of this battle is somewhat uncertain.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle dates it to 605. The Welsh Annals and the Irish Annals of Ulster date it 613, but other scholars place it as late as 616. We reject the 605 dating, but do not think it occurred the same year that Aethelfrith was slain.
[15] op. cit. Bede, Book IV, chapter 23.  Also see N J  Higham, Kingdom of Northumbria, pp. 84–87 & 116
[16] For further discussion of this trio, see our paper "The Foundations of the Men of the North - Part 2" at the following link: