This is a kind of sequel to last year’s blogpost on the Galbraiths. At the end of that post, I scribbled three hasty notes, the first of which is pasted here:
‘Note 1: I have not yet seen Cynthia Neville’s book on the earldom of Lennox. It is however quite high on my ‘wish list’. I expect I may need to amend this post after reading her book.’
Well, I’m currently reading the Neville book, and finding it very interesting. Its full title is Native Lordship in Medieval Scotland: the Earldoms of Strathearn and Lennox, c.1140-1365. As the book deals with Lennox, a territory nestling between Loch Lomond and the River Clyde, I was hoping it might give me an insight into what was happening in the former lands of the Strathclyde Britons during the 12th-14th centuries. I was not disappointed. Much of the book is completely new to me, chiefly because it deals with a period outside my usual ‘comfort zone’ of pre-1100. As far as the Galbraiths are concerned, my prediction that ‘I may have to amend this post after reading Professor Neville’s book’ has changed to ‘an extra blogpost is now required’. And here it is.
Last year’s post discussed the possibility that Clan Galbraith, a kindred whose original stronghold lay on an island in Loch Lomond, was a relic of the old Strathclyde aristocracy. I mentioned then that the name Galbraith seems to mean, in Gaelic, ‘foreign Briton’ (or perhaps ‘British foreigner’). I also mentioned an alternative theory that this ‘Britishness’ derived from Wales rather than from the North. My current feeling is that the Galbraiths were indeed descended from a high-status family of Strathclyde Britons. To what extent they displayed or promoted this heritage is a different matter. Turning to the Neville book, here’s an interesting extract relating to the earldom of Lennox at the beginning of the 13th century:
‘Some important Lennox families still celebrated their British past. Such, for example, were the men who called themselves Galbraith, already in this period among the wealthiest and most important of the earl’s tenants. The representative of one generation invoked his distinctive past openly with the use of the personal name Arthur, another by referring to himself as Mac an Bhreatnaich, ‘son of the Britons’. (Neville 2005, p.211)
As Professor Neville points out, neither Arthur Galbraith nor the ‘son of the Britons’ had any tangible connection with pre-1070 Strathclyde. They lived more than a hundred years after the demise of the kingdom at a time when its ancient language, known to modern linguists as ‘Cumbric’, had long since died out. Cumbric was a close relative of Welsh, but the language spoken by the Galbraiths of Lennox in the 13th century was Gaelic. Arthur Galbraith, although a namesake of the great hero of the Britons and (in my opinion) a descendant of the old Strathclyde nobility, was certainly no latter-day Briton himself. I’m beginning to wonder if his name owed more to the widespread popularity of the Arthurian legend in his own time than to any romantic nod to his British ancestry.
I’m still curious about the Galbraiths, so this might not be
my last muttering on the topic.
Cynthia J. Neville, Native Lordship in Medieval Scotland: the Earldoms of Strathearn and Lennox, c.1140-1365 (Dublin: Four Courts, 2005)
*** The subject of Clan Galbraith origins is continued in Part 3.
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This post is part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde series: