Terminology topics 5: Cumbria

To many people, the name ‘Cumbria’ means the English county created in 1974 from an amalgamation of Cumberland and Westmorland (plus a small part of Lancashire). From this we get the adjective ‘Cumbrian’ and the collective noun ‘Cumbrians’. It would be easy to think of these terms as relatively recent creations arising from common usage in the period after 1974. Cumbria, however, is a very ancient name whose origins lie in the distant past. It first appeared more than a thousand years ago, at a time when England and Scotland were beginning to emerge as the countries we know today.


Cumbria: the post-1974 county

Cumbria and Cumberland are names derived from Old English Cumber, a term used in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria to describe the native Britons. The latter, of course, were a Celtic people who had once inhabited the whole island of Britain. A large number of Britons in the far North were known as ‘Picts’ from the late 3rd century AD, if not before. Most of the rest, living south of a line drawn between modern Edinburgh and Glasgow, were (more or less) ruled by Rome until the early 5th century. After c.410, the population of what had once been Roman Britain was gradually conquered or assimilated by the Anglo-Saxons or ‘English’ whose ancestors had come from Germany. The so-called ‘Anglo-Saxon Conquest’ was drawn out over five hundred years but led eventually to the creation of England. By c.900, at the height of the Viking Age, only two regions of Britain still remained under native ‘British’ control. One of these was Wales, at that time a patchwork of small kingdoms. The other was a single realm located in what are now southwest Scotland and northwest England, with borders reaching from Loch Lomond in the north to Penrith in the south. To the Anglo-Saxons of neighbouring Northumbria this kingdom was ‘Cumber-land’ or ‘Cumbra-land’, a land inhabited by Britons. In Latinised form the name was ‘Cumbria’.

Cumber (plural: Cumbras) is a term coined by English-speakers from one used by the Britons of themselves. A variant of the original native word survives today in the Welsh name for Wales: Cymru (pronounced Cum-ri). Loosely translated, it means something like ‘compatriots’ or ‘fellow-countrymen’. In the period c.400 to c.1100, it is likely that any group of people living in Britain who identified as ‘Britons’ called themselves by a name similar to ‘Cum-ri’ regardless of whether they lived in Wales or on the banks of Loch Lomond. They were defined by a shared preference for the native British language rather than for English, Gaelic or Old Norse. Because this old language is the ancestral speech of Wales it is sometimes referred to as Welsh, but two regional forms or dialects can be distinguished in early medieval times: Old Welsh, the speech of Wales; and Cumbric, the northern speech of Cumbria or Cumberland.

In the mid-10th century, the Northumbrian English shared a very long border with the ‘Cumbrian’ Britons. It ran from the western edge of Lothian, down through what are now the Border Hills, across the upper valley of the River Tweed, then onto the North Pennines and southward as far as the River Eamont near Penrith. East of the Pennines lay a part of Northumbria that had fallen under Viking rule in the previous century. This area, the kingdom of York, reverted to the English after powerful West Saxon kings came up from the South to wrest it from Scandinavian control in the mid-900s.

The Kingdom of Strathclyde or Cumbria

Cumbria: the kingdom of the Clyde Britons, c.950

The core or heartland of the old Cumbrian kingdom was Clydesdale, the valley of the River Clyde. Other key districts were Lennox – the vale of the River Leven running south from Loch Lomond – and an area of fertile farmland around Carlisle. The importance of Clydesdale led to the entire kingdom being known by an alternative name: Strathclyde, the ‘strath’ or valley of the Clyde. In strict geographical terms this did not really apply south of the river’s source but it was most likely used by the Britons of 10th-century Wales to denote the kingdom as a whole. They regarded the extensive domain of the Clyde kings as the last bastion of their northern fellow-countrymen, even if they were not always on friendly terms with it. From Wales the name ‘Strathclyde’ seems to have passed into contemporary English usage. The West Saxons, who had close dealings with Wales, were already using the name when the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was being compiled. In the Chronicle we find both Cumberland and Straecled being used interchangably. The Welsh called the kingdom Strat Clut or Ystrad Clud in their own language, both forms no doubt being similar to whatever name was used by the Clyde Britons themselves.

The kingdom of Cumberland or Cumbria, then, was a sort of ‘Greater Strathclyde’. It became one of the major powers of the 10th century but, in spite of its southward expansion, it had a fairly brief history. Cumbric-speaking kings had ruled on the Clyde since the 5th century but the lands around the Solway Firth – including Carlisle – had fallen under Northumbrian rule by c.750. Not until the late 9th century, after Viking warlords broke the power of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria, did the Clyde Britons see an opportunity to expand southward. By c.900 they had taken back large swathes of territory once ruled by their fellow-countrymen. The rapid reconquest, undoubtedly achieved by military force, saw the replacement of English-speaking lords by a Cumbric-speaking aristocracy. This was the true beginning of the ‘Cumbrian’ kingdom, a sort of mini-empire ruled from a core domain in the Clyde Valley. In the lands around Carlisle, and down as far as Penrith, many place-names coined in English were replaced by Cumbric ones. When, in 927, the West Saxon king Athelstan arranged a high-level meeting to discuss important political issues, he chose a site near Penrith as the venue. Here, on the south bank of the River Eamont, Athelstan met several powerful northern rulers. Among them was Owain of Strathclyde, ‘king of the Cumbrians’, whose southern border ran along the Eamont. A later namesake of this Owain, perhaps his great-grandson, fought with the Scots against the English at the great battle of Carham-on-Tweed in 1018. By then, the kingdom of Strathclyde or Cumbria was entering its twilight years. Under increasing pressure from English and Scottish kings, and from groups of ‘Gall Gaidhil’ (Gaelic-speaking Vikings) in Galloway and Ayrshire, the realm began to shrink back to its Clydesdale heartlands. It finally fell to the Scots, its former allies, sometime between 1030 and 1070. In the late 1060s, northern English scribes still regarded the area around Carlisle as part of ‘Cumberland’, but acknowledged that it now answered to a Scottish king. Other pockets of former ‘Cumbrian’ territory south of the Solway Firth were seized by English lords. In 1092, when Norman forces came north during the reign of William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, they seized Carlisle and made it part of the kingdom of England. The lands around the city, from the Scottish border to the River Eamont, subsequently became the new English county of Cumberland.

Cumberland and Westmorland

The pre-1974 counties of Cumberland and Westmorland

Before c.1150, the old Cumbric language of the Clyde Britons had probably died out in all the lands where it had once been spoken. Traces of it still remain, like fossils, in a scatter of place-names across southwest Scotland and in parts of modern Cumbria. Visitors to the Lake District might sometimes wonder why Welsh-sounding names like Penruddock and Blencathra appear on maps of the area. The apparent mystery is easily solved by a quick browse through the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. There, as well as being described as Cumbrenses (a Latinisation of Old English Cumbras), the inhabitants of 10th century Cumbria or ‘Greater Strathclyde’ are also called wealas, an Old English word meaning ‘strangers’, from which our modern term ‘Welsh’ derives.

Notes and references

* This blogpost deals with topics discussed in the final chapters of my book The Men of the North: the Britons of Southern Scotland (Edinburgh, 2010)

* Current academic opinion on the term ‘Cumbria’ in a 10th-century context is reflected in a number of publications that have appeared in recent years. Here are three examples:

Dauvit Broun, ‘The Welsh identity of the kingdom of Strathclyde, c.900-1200’ Innes Review 55 (2004), 111-80

Thomas Owen Clancy, ‘Ystrad Clud’, pp.1818-20 in John Koch (ed.) Celtic Culture: a Historical Encyclopedia. Volume 5 (Santa Barbara, 2006)

Alex Woolf, From Pictland to Alba, 789-1070 (Edinburgh, 2007) [has a sub-section The Problem of Strathclyde or Cumbria at pp.152-7]

* Two older theories need to be mentioned. One sees Cumbria/Cumberland and Strathclyde as separate kingdoms. The other sees Strathclyde as being under the rule of Scottish kings after c.870. Both are now regarded as obsolete.

* Folklore in modern Cumbria still remembers the old ‘kings of the Cumbrians’, as revealed in a fascinating blogpost by Diane McIlmoyle.

This post is part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde series:

Kingdom of Strathclyde


22 comments on “Terminology topics 5: Cumbria

  1. Here in the southern uplands at the source of the Clyde we have a massive (£17million) windfall in the shape of the Community Benefit Fund arising from the Clyde windfarm – the largest onland in Europe. We desperately need champions for our history which remains disgracefully neglected, although the upper Clyde valley is known to be rich in historic remains – because largely unbuilt on. Might you or any of your correspondents be interested in a project to shine a light on the area? Our local archaeologist, Tam Ward of Biggar Museum Trust is a man of extraordinary energy, enthusiasm, and knowledge but he is a volunteer still in full time work. I myself have a personal interest because I live overlooking the ‘Crooked Stane’ a megalithic monument that marks the start of the Clyde, where the Potrail Water and the Daer meet. Please contact me so that we can work on a proposal to accomplish this if you are interested at liz@crookedstane.com

  2. esmeraldamac says:

    It’s terrific to have all that hard-to-find information in one coherent whole, Tim. The period from 750-900 is particularly hard to make sense of, so I’m very glad you work on it!

    They say around here that the old sheep-counting rhymes (yan, tan tethera, methera, etc) are based on the Cumbric language. People have been saying since the 1930s that Cumbrian farmers still use it, and Cumbrian farmers have been saying since the 1930s that they don’t, so I suspect it disappeared into history a long time ago!

    Interesting that you define the southern edge of old Cumberland as the ancient border, too. The folklore of the Cumberland is quite different in character from old Westmorland, so my instincts would support this. It’s funny how little traces of very old peoples trickle down into everyday life hundreds of years later.

    Thanks, as ever, for the name check. You’re very generous 🙂

    • Tim says:

      The idea of a Cumbric origin for the sheep-counting rhymes always intrigued me – until the bubble was popped by an alternative theory which proposed that the ‘Welsh’ numbers arrived with Welsh shepherds who worked the Lake District hills in the 18th/19th centuries. I prefer the Cumbric theory myself – it’s much more interesting, even if it isn’t true.

      Regarding the southern border of ancient Cumberland, one of my pet theories is that we actually see the Eamont functioning as a boundary c.940, when King Dyfnwal (Dunmail) gave safe passage through his realm to the Scottish saint Cathroe. Dunmail or his henchmen brought Cathroe to a place called Loida where they passed responsibility for his safekeeping to an Anglo-Scandinavian lord. Loida is often identified as Leeds, but I think it was more likely to have been an estate on the River Lowther. The handover may have taken place at the old ford (now Eamont Bridge), west of the confluence of the two rivers.

      If the Lowther theory is correct, it’s yet another Cumbria* connection for Dunmail.

      *Just to confuse things, Diane, I mean the post-1974 county 😉

  3. esmeraldamac says:

    Hilarious about the possibility of actual Welsh people importing ‘yan, tan’! It would certainly explain why Cumbrian farmers just scratch their heads about it.

    Interesting about Lowther, on top of Eamont Bridge and the other stuff about the Lyvennet. A lot seems to have happened in those few square miles.

    Whenever the Eamont’s mentioned, I think about its tendency to flood profusely. This would have blocked the ford, and any settlements nearby. It can’t have been an easy border to manage – but then, I guess it could have moved a bit over the last 1400 years.

    • Tim says:

      I didn’t know the Eamont was prone to flooding. That’s something I must look into. It would, as you point out, have implications for the ford.

      Eamont … Lyvennet … Long Meg … Giant’s Grave … Brougham. A small area with a lot of ancient history. And plenty of good scenery too.

  4. An excellent overview on a problematic topic. I have to say that having spent a great deal of time pondering the 945 campaign and having read various interpretations including Tim, Woolf, Duncan and myself, I remain as perplexed as ever. There is some aspect here that escapes me. What caused a hard-pressed English king to mount such a campaign, probably with Welsh support, and why does the Alban king – firm ally of Strathclyde in 934 and 937 – at least acquiesce and possibly aid this attack on his erstwhile ally? Something is missing and no interpretation is fully satisfactory. Is it possible that if Owain of Strathclyde was killed at Brunanburh his successor adopted an anti-Alban stance, perhaps with Viking help? Aaagh! The frustrations of early medieval history – I should have taken up golf!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks as always for your input, Kevin.

      I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote ‘something is missing’ from what we know of the 945 campaign. Since reading your comment I’ve been trying to work out what the missing link might be. In the end I just went round in a circle so I adopted a different tack by putting the various scraps of information into a chronological sequence. This is how it looked:

      939 – Death of Athelstan. Accession of Edmund.
      c.941 – Constantin of Alba and Dyfnwal (Dunmail) of Strathclyde assist St Cathroe’s journey of pilgrimage, as do the rulers of Northumbria and Wessex.
      941 – Death of Anlaf Gothfrithsson of York. Accession of Anlaf Cuaran.
      942 – Edmund conquers Scandinavian Mercia.
      c.943 – Retirement of Constantin. Accession of Mael Coluim.
      943 – Edmund receives submission and baptism of Anlaf Cuaran. Northumbrians depose Anlaf and install Ragnall Gothfrithsson at York. Ragnall also submits to Edmund and is baptised. Anlaf Cuaran remains in Northumbria(?). The Northumbrians, with Mercian help, later depose Ragnall.
      944 – Edmund expels both Ragnall and Anlaf and seizes Northumbria for himself.
      945 – Anlaf Cuaran seizes the kingship of Dublin from Blacaire Gothfrithsson. With Welsh assistance Edmund ravages Strathclyde. Two sons of King Dyfnwal are blinded. Edmund ‘lets’ Strathclyde to Mael Coluim, his ‘together-worker’, whom he charges with defending northern England ‘against raiders by land and sea’.
      946 – Death of Edmund. Accession of Eadred.
      947 – Edmund receives submission of Northumbrians, who then elect Erik as king at York.
      948 – Eadred invades Northumbria but is defeated. He threatens another invasion and receives submission of Northumbrians. Anlaf Cuaran expelled from Dublin by Blacaire Gothfrithsson.
      949 – Anlaf returns to Northumbria and is restored as king at York.
      c.950 – Mael Coluim raids Northumbria as far as the Tees.

      Certain aspects of the period 939-950 seem to stand out:

      * Mael Coluim suffers no military defeats along his southern border
      * Anlaf Cuaran continually disrupts West Saxon policy in the North
      * Dyfnwal of Strathclyde retains his kingship after 945
      * No evidence that any northern ruler acknowledges Eadred as overlord in 950

      Looking specifically at Strathclyde, and weighing all the data, I’m inclined to agree with Alex Woolf that Edmund’s ‘letting’ of Strathclyde to Mael Coluim in 945 represents a realisation by the West Saxons that they had little hope of controlling the Clyde kingdom themselves. It was too far north, so Edmund was happy for Mael Coluim to keep it on a tight leash. Dyfnwal presumably submitted to Mael Coluim and remained his vassal until Mael Coluim’s death in 954.

      The blinding of Dyfnwal’s sons in 945 looks like an act of ritualistic vengeance, a punishment for oath-breaking. One possibility is that Dyfnwal reneged on an oath of fealty sworn to Edmund. The crucial year might be 943, when Anlaf Cuaran and Ragnall Gothfrithsson (separately) submitted to Edmund. Dyfnwal, although his presence is unrecorded, may have sworn his own oath at one or other of these two ceremonies. I’m wondering if he and Anlaf swore fealty to Edmund together, both of them breaking it the following year when Anlaf was expelled from Northumbria by Edmund. Did Anlaf, fleeing from Edmund, receive sanctuary in Strathclyde, and material support for his return to Dublin a year later? If so, Edmund would have regarded Dyfnwal’s actions as betrayal of the most serious kind.

      • Tim says:

        By way of a minor afterthought, I could have begun the above sequence of dates with:

        937×941 – Death of Owain of Strathclyde. Accession of Dyfnwal.

        If Owain didn’t fall at Brunanburh he may have died in the same year as Athelstan, in which case both Edmund and Dyfnwal may have succeeded to kingship roughly simultaneously.

  5. Buannan says:

    Old sheep-counting rhymes, seemingly, are not confined to modern Cumbria and the Pennines. As the ancient kingdom spanned the modern border, so too the counting games, it seems.

    Last year whilst listening to a radio scotland phone in show, where childhood games were being discussed, very many similar sounding variations on the sheep-counting rhymes were being recited and fondly remembered by the callers. Glasgow and lanarkshire seemed to be the area where these systems were used (possibly still in use) by the local kids. Usually coined in skipping and other repetitive games where a count is kept. These counting systems struck me as being rather similar to those more often associated with Cumbria and the Pennines.

    The idea of any Cumbric language survival down to the modern era is always going to be controversial, once we start to looking beyond place and feature names. But I rather fancy if one were to look beyond modern english (which after all is relatively recent in it’s wide spread use) towards regional colloquial accents then the preservation of older terms in common usage is in my (rather unqualified) opinion a little more tangible. The sheep-counting system is a good example of a possible survival, despite the bemusement of the hill farmers who were meant to have preserved it and it’s possible parallel in the street game counting rhymes of west central scotland.

    Of these counting systems the number that leaps out at me is the use of the term “Yan” (1, one). A few of the recorded variations on this number from the north of england include: Yen & Yin.

    Now in the Scots dialect of practically all of the south of scotland, from the forth and clyde to the border (but also including parts of fife, angus and aberdeenshire), is the use of the term “Yin”. Not commonly used as a figure in counting but often used in conversation to express a singular tense. “Al hey yin”, “the big yin”, “Dae yi want yin”, etc.

    It’s interesting that the geographical area this term is used, still in use in everyday speech in the colloquial accent of the area, roughly corresponds to lands occupied by people termed “britons” into early historical times.

    Coincidence or an echo, who knows? But worth considering perhaps.

    • Tim says:

      It’s an interesting thought, Buannan. I tend to think of ‘Yin’ in relation to Billy Connolly (‘The Big Yin’). Maybe its appearance in Scotland might be due to common usage across several Celtic-speaking areas. Could it derive from Scottish Gaelic? But then, as you point out, it turns up in northern England as well, so maybe there’s a Norse connection in some areas, or just a particular kind of English regional dialect.

  6. Your suggestion that Eamont may have been the border c.940 accords with my own views. The meeting between Athelstan and the northern kings at Eamont in 927 certainly supports the view in my opinion. Welsh kings are mentioned as being present ( I don’t have the ASC ref. to hand just now ) and there has been some debate as to how this meeting relates to the testimony of Wm of Malmesbury of a meeting at Dacre but also a meeting between Athelstan and the Welsh at Hereford in the same year. The meetings at Dacre and Eamont are surely one and the same but why are the Welsh up there as well as at Hereford?
    I believe that either a) the ASC ref. is a conflation of the two meetings at Eamont/Dacre and Hereford (I think it is only in 1 version of the ASC), or b) that the Welsh kings (who began to appear at Athelstan’s court as subreguli from Easter 928) had previously (at Hereford) submitted to Athelstan’s overlordship and were present at the meeting with the northern kings as Athelstan’s allies/vassals, 927 thus prefiguiring the Welsh political and military involvement in the 934 invasion of Scotland and the 945 attack on Strathclyde.

    • Tim says:

      I think your option (b) seems the more plausible of the two. One clue might be the dates, if William of Malmesbury gives a precise date for the Hereford meeting. I don’t have his text at hand, unfortunately, so I can’t check without looking it up online. If no date is given, but if we accept his testimony nonetheless, then we might tentatively place Hereford in the spring or early summer of 927. ASC has the Eamont meeting at 12 July. Also in the ASC entry we find Hywel, ‘king of the West Welsh’, and Owain, ‘king of Gwent’, who is usually re-identified as Owain of Strathclyde. I think it very likely that Athelstan would have demanded a good turnout from all his top-tier clients for such an important event. Hywel Dda evidently attended and other Welsh kings may have joined him in the West Saxon entourage.

      • I checked the ASC and the Eamont reference is only in the Worcester manuscript, D. The positioning of “Owain, king of Gwent” between Constantine and Ealdred of Bamburgh suggests strongly that this was, as you state, more likely the king of Strathclyde.
        Therefore, the only Welsh king mentioned as being at Eamont is Hywel, king of Dyfed.
        In Wm of M only the northern kings are mentioned and, again, I take this as some support that Hywel was in association with Athelstan at the Dacre/Eamont meeting.
        The “Welsh” who submit to Athelstan at Hereford are unnamed. it is also notable in my view that in all these references Idwal Foel of Gwynedd is missing.
        It may therefore be possible that Athelstan and Hywel were already in some sort of association and that it was some other Welsh kings who were brought to submission at Hereford, perhaps Idwal.
        It may, or may not, be significant that while kings of west Wales – Hywel, Idwal and Gwriad of Ceredigion (see “Welsh kings”) – appear at the English court from easter 928, kings of south-east Wales – Morgan, Owain of Gwent (his father) and Tewdwr of Brycheiniog, only attend from 931. Perhaps the situation was more complex than we have imagined and we have all simply assumed that all the Welsh submitted to the English in 927?

        • Tim says:

          One possible inference from the charters is that the kings of southeast Wales submitted to Athelstan at an otherwise unrecorded ceremony between 928 and 931. If Hywel, Idwal and Gwriad began attending Athelstan’s court from early 928 they presumably submitted the previous year, perhaps all together at Hereford (if Hywel didn’t submit earlier). At Eamont in July 927 Hywel appears at the head of the list, an indication of his status as Athelstan’s most important vassal. He is followed by Constantin of Alba, then Owain of Strathclyde, these two appearing in the same order as when they later attend the English court. Constantin is therefore the senior northern vassal, though of lesser importance than Hywel. Owain is the second most important northerner, with Ealdred of Bamburgh in third place.

          From this I envisage Hywel occupying the first slot in any listing of Athelstan’s vassals, regardless of location or occasion, whether at submission ceremonies in Wales or the North, or witnessing land-grants in southern England.

          Here’s another bit of idle musing, though I don’t have the necessary sources at hand to check just how idle it may be:
          Is the northern trio of vassals (Constantin, Owain, Ealdred, in order of importance) mirrored in West Wales by Hywel, Idwal and Gwriad (likewise listed as a hierarchy) and maybe in southeast Wales by Morgan, Owain (of Gwent) and Tewdwr?

          • I examine 927 in a bit more detail in a paper that is with the SHR for consideration. In outline my argument is:-
            – if Hywel Dda is the first Welsh king to associate with Athelstan then geography suggests that the king of Dyfed may not have been acting under a threat of military coercion but rather perceived an alliance with the West Saxons as mutually beneficial.
            – the northern rulers met Athelstan and Hywel at a border location (Eamont/Dacre) in 927 to resolve issues of mutual concern following Athelstan’s annexation of Northumbria. They did not submit in any sense and Athelstan lacked the capacity (and at this stage perhaps the desire) to enforce any such submission.
            – Subsequent to this settlement Athelstan turned his attention to the Welsh and Cornish Britons. Hereford suggests to me that it was the king of Gwynedd/Powis (Idwal) who submitted here.
            – By Easter 928 Idwal (and Gwriad of Ceredigion) were attending the English court with Hywel.
            – Between 928 and 931 Athelstan brought the kings of south-east Wales by unknown means into the subreguli system.
            – In 933 (see Woolf) Athelstan eliminated internal opposition. In the same year he adopted the style ‘Rex totius Brittaniae’ which has rather threatening implications for the northern kings.
            – in 934, confident of Welsh support Athelstan attacks Scotland
            – 934/935 sees the first submission of Causantin and Owain to the English king (see breeze for the symbolic significance of the attack on Caithness)
            = in 936 the northern kings reject Athelstan’s overlordship. That year Anlaf Guthfrithson begins plundering churches in Ireland but the attack on Lough Ree by the Limerick Vikings at Christmas 936 delays the commencement of the Brunanburh campaign until after Anlaf’s victory over them on Lammas (August 1) 937.
            – 936, the northern kings

  7. Tim says:

    To see how the above blogpost might look if I ever move Senchus to one of the brighter, more colourful formats available at WordPress, hop over to Cumbrian History & Folklore where Diane has done a very neat re-posting job.

  8. Tim,
    I’ve had a closer look at your very useful ‘tale of years’ (above) and have a few minor observations. I suggested in a recent article that from Brunanburh to the death of Hywel Dda the Welsh and English had close political and military ties, exemplified in the 945 Strathclyde campaign. It might therefore be useful to include a couple of the most important Welsh events, notably, 941 Idwal Foel ‘killed by the Saxons’ and annexation of Gwynnedd by Hywel Dda; 950, death of Hywel Dda.
    A couple of other points. I hadn’t given much thought to Anlaf Cuaran in 943 and note you tentatively suggest he remained in Northumbria – I’ll look into this. In 945 I would replace ‘Welsh assistance’ with ‘support of Hywel Dda’. In 948 I think to suggest Eadred was ‘defeated’ is too strong and I prefer to say that the English rearguard was destroyed at Castleford as Eadred returned to Mercia. In 946 I’d replace ‘death’ with ‘murder’ as this is a topic I intend to cover in the near future.
    I hope I’m not being presumptious in these observations.

    • Tim says:

      Many thanks for your observations, all of which usefully refine my ‘tale of years’. I’m now toying with the idea of running a revised version as a separate blogpost, in which case the sequence will include your suggested Welsh entries at 941 and 950, plus Hywel specified as Edmund’s ally in 945, and Edmund’s stabbing by Leofa the following year. You are of course right about Castleford 948 which, as the ASC makes clear, was an attack on a detachment of Eadred’s army rather than a defeat of the king himself.
      The possibility that Anlaf Cuaran remained in Northumbria after being deposed in 943 is based on an inference from ASC 944 (when he and Ragnall were booted out by Edmund). The other theory I subscribe to sees Anlaf seeking refuge with Dyfnwal of Strathclyde between his expulsion from Northumbria and his return to Dublin the next year.

  9. Tim says:

    Regarding your comment on the Eamont meeting, in which you mention the article sent to SHR, a couple of points stand out for me. First, your idea about dating the first submission of the northern kings to 934/5 seems to work, if the entry in ASC ‘D’ is simply a West Saxon propagandist view of 927. Second, Athelstan’s claiming to be Rex totius Britanniae must represent, as you say, a clear threat to the northerners (and to everyone else). As well as spreading a sense of panic through the Celtic/Scandiavian courts the timing suggests this lofty claim may have been a major contributing factor in the sequence of events leading up to 937. Third, both your new article and the one recently published in WHR will (hopefully) remind all who have an interest in the Brunanburh campaign to examine the widest possible context in their analyses. I think you’ve made it abundantly clear that the internal politics of regions such as Wales need to be considered alongside the narrower topic of Athelstan’s military ambitions.

    And now a correction to an earlier comment in which I said: ‘I envisage Hywel occupying the first slot in any listing of Athelstan’s vassals’. I had forgotten Cirencester (935) where Hywel is listed in third place after Constantin and Owain. This might however be the only time he got knocked off the top spot.

  10. Ed Watson says:

    Fascinating post Tim. Have you any thoughts on why the name ‘Cumbria’ or ‘Cumberland’ has persisted into modern English whereas the native name of Wales, ‘Cymru’, has not and is only really used today by speakers of Welsh.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for visiting, Ed. You raise an interesting question which I’ve not encountered before. I’m wondering if the answer might be found in the very different histories of Wales and Cumbria in the 10th-11th centuries. The area that became the English county of Cumberland was a portion or province of one kingdom (Strathclyde/Cumbria) whereas Wales was a patchwork of separate kingdoms. I wonder if contemporary English-speakers and even the Welsh of Wales themselves had no clear concept of ‘Cymru’ as a single entity, and therefore neither group used this name in a territorial sense at that time. The Welsh regarded themselves as belonging to a people called Cymry but seem to have placed more importance on identities based on individual kingdoms like Dyfed, Gwynedd, Gwent, etc. The southern English, in Mercia and Wessex, had dealings with each kingdom but had no need to think of all the wealas as living in a country called Cymru. The northern English, on the other hand, had a clear notion of ‘Cumberland’, the realm of the Cumbrians, as a single territorial entity stretching from Penrith to Glasgow. When the southern part of this realm fell under Anglo-Norman rule in the late 11th century, it was probably easier to just carry on calling it ‘Cumberland’, even though the kingdom of Strathclyde was now defunct, and also in the next century when the inhabitants had ceased to speak the Cumbric language. At some point, the Welsh or Cymry developed the idea of a country called ‘Cymru’. Their English neighbours did likewise, but chose their own name wealas, ‘Wales’, instead of the native one. The question of which of these names arrived first may be significant to the issue you raise.

      These are just my initial musings. I would be interested to hear other views as it’s an important topic that I’ve overlooked hitherto.

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