The last king of Strathclyde

Earl Siward

From the front cover of History Scotland magazine, Nov/Dec 2013. The illustration of Earl Siward and his children is from a painting by James Smetham (1821-89).


‘The last king of Strathclyde’ is the title of my article in the current issue of History Scotland. It’s a discussion of the final phase of the kingdom of the Clyde Britons, from the Battle of Carham (1018) to the eventual takeover by the Scots (sometime before 1070). I consider several possible candidates for the label ‘last king of Strathclyde’ during a time of political upheaval involving famous figures such as Earl Siward of Northumbria, the English king Edward the Confessor and the Scottish king Macbethad (Macbeth). In the end, I acknowledge that we cannot be certain who ruled the last remaining kingdom of the Cumbri on the eve of its demise, for the information presented by the written record is incomplete. We can only note that the last king named in the sources is Eugenius Calvus (‘Owain the Bald’) who, in alliance with the king of Scots, achieved a memorable victory over the English at Carham.

History Scotland
Here’s the full reference for my article:
Tim Clarkson, ‘The last king of Strathclyde’ History Scotland vol.13 no.6, Nov/Dec 2013, pp.24-7

- and here’s a link to the History Scotland website (issues are available in print and digital formats)

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11 comments on “The last king of Strathclyde

  1. kevin halloran says:

    A very interesting and informative piece, Tim. I don’t know much about the relationship of Strathclyde and Alba but have a few questions. How do you explain the close cooperation of the kingdoms over such a prolonged period; perhaps a response to a shared threat from the Vikings and English? Do the events of 945 suggest the possibility of periods of antagonism? Was the ‘takeover’ by the Scots a dynastic affair or did it involved elements of conquest and displacement? Why do we not see the kind of cultural resistance that we see between the Welsh and the English? Is the absence of a literate tradition in Strathclyde compared to the very rich one in Wales simply down to non-survival of documents or something deeper?

    • Tim says:

      Very useful questions, Kevin. I’ll try to answer them briefly here, and more fully in my next book…

      How do you explain the close cooperation of the kingdoms over such a prolonged period; perhaps a response to a shared threat from the Vikings and English?
      Yes, though I suspect the English were perceived as the greater threat most of the time.

      Do the events of 945 suggest the possibility of periods of antagonism?
      Definitely: we have references to conflict later in the century, with the slaying of King Cuilen of Alba by a Strathclyde prince, and the rout of the Scots at the battle of Moin Vacornar (or Uacoruar).

      Was the ‘takeover’ by the Scots a dynastic affair or did it involve elements of conquest and displacement?
      According to Historia Regum, Strathclyde (‘Cumbreland’) was taken over by the Scots ‘not through just possession, but through violent subjugation’, sometime before 1070.

      Why do we not see the kind of cultural resistance that we see between the Welsh and the English?
      A hard question to answer, but I’m guessing the Clyde Britons were more receptive to Gaelicisation than the Welsh were to Anglicisation. I suspect parts of Strathclyde were under Gaelic influence from Scottish and Gall-Gaidhil neighbours by c.1000.

      Is the absence of a literate tradition in Strathclyde compared to the very rich one in Wales simply down to non-survival of documents or something deeper?
      Another difficult question. The most drastic view would envisage deliberate destruction of records on the orders of King David and the bishops of Glasgow in the first half of the 12th century, What eventually emerges from Strathclyde is the pro-Scottish Kentigern hagiography commissioned by the bishops. Something was evidently going on at a very high level, but I’m not yet sure what it was.

      • kevin halloran says:

        Tim, much obliged for the very helpful answers. The HR’s reference to ‘violent subjugation’ is interesting indeed and I had not been aware of the other examples of conflict you mention.

  2. esmeraldamac says:

    That sounds interesting, Tim. It’s so tricky to try to explain to everyday folks that we just don’t have any answers for much of this! And of course, you’ve just mentioned *another* Owain for people to get confused with the other candidates for Penrith’s ‘giant’s grave’… ;)

  3. Steve says:

    yes , them Hogbacks are too late for Rhegeds royalty , which i suspect they may be buried at Dacore as the Monastery stretches back to presumable royal patronage of this era. Castle Hewin may refer to either but also probably the young protege of Strathclyde.

  4. Steve says:

    or a later hewin , i mean i went to school with two Ewens in High hesket .

  5. Chris Pickles says:

    I’ve just been reading the Sept/Oct issue of History Scotland – these things are always late arriving here in Australia – and I notice in the next issue section it includes “News: The Norrie’s Law Hoard fakes” and a teaser about a National Museums of Scotland report on the ‘curious case’ of the Pictish silver hoard that is not what it seemed.

    So is the Norrie’s Law hoard fake? Sorry if this is old news, but it is the first I have read of it.

    • Tim says:

      Apparently, one of the lozenge-shaped plaques and a couple of silver pins are fakes made in the 1830s. The rest of the hoard is genuine and Pictish.

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