The location of Rheged

Pictish symbols Trustys Hill

Pictish symbols carved on a rock at Trusty’s Hill (from John Stuart’s Sculptured Stones of Scotland, 1857)

Back in May, in a blogpost about the hillfort on Trusty’s Hill in Galloway, I wrote the following:

‘Many historians think Galloway was part of a kingdom called Rheged which seems to have been a major political power in the late sixth century. The little we know about Rheged comes from a handful of texts preserved in the literature of medieval Wales. These suggest that the kingdom rose to prominence under Urien, a famous warlord whose deeds were celebrated by his court-bard Taliesin.’

Galloway is not the only area proposed as the heartland of Urien’s kingdom. The English county of Cumbria is another popular candidate, frequently appearing alongside Dumfries & Galloway as part of ‘Rheged’. This idea that Urien’s rule encompassed lands on both sides of the Solway Firth has recently received a boost from two different quarters. Cumbria’s claim is strongly endorsed by Professor Andrew Breeze in the published version of a 2011 lecture on place-names, while archaeological data from the Galloway Picts Project has prompted a suggestion that Trusty’s Hill may have been a key centre of power for Urien’s family.

I continue to regard Rheged as an elusive territory whose precise location is unknown. I’m not convinced we can even call it a ‘kingdom’. All we can say with confidence is that the poetry attributed to Taliesin associates a place called Rheged with a North British king called Urien. We have no evidence that Rheged was a large territory of greater extent than, say, a river valley of sufficient size to support one or more aristocratic estates. It may have been Urien’s core domain, to which he added other territories (such as the equally mysterious Goddeu and Llwyfenydd) as his power expanded.

Modern maps of sixth-century Britain often show Rheged as a huge realm straddling the Solway and parts of the Pennines. Sometimes it stretches down into Lancashire, prompting some mapmakers to divide it into sub-kingdoms called ‘North Rheged’ and ‘South Rheged’. This goes way beyond the information provided by Taliesin, and is as far away from serious historical scholarship as the maps in The Lord Of The Rings (which are at least consistent with textual evidence relating to the kingdoms of Middle Earth).

It’s actually quite rare to see the lack of certainty about Rheged’s location being acknowledged. One writer who has taken a cautious approach is Carla Nayland, whose blog includes many useful thoughts on historical subjects. Carla examines the geography of Rheged in a couple of recent posts, both of which I recommend to anyone who has an interest in this controversial topic. While voicing her own preference for a Solway location, Carla points out that nobody really knows for sure. This is an important point which can’t be brushed aside, regardless of how many people preface their theories with ‘Historians now accept that Rheged lay in the Eden Valley….’ [or in the Lake District or Galloway or wherever]. Carla summarises, in a few words, what we actually do know: ‘Rheged could have been anywhere on the western side of Britain from Strathclyde to Lancashire’.

Until we can be certain where Urien’s kingdom was situated in relation to other kingdoms (and we’re unlikely to ever know) a reconstruction of sixth-century political geography based on where we think he ruled won’t get us very far. We also need to keep in mind the sobering fact that many specialists in medieval Welsh literature have now moved away from the older view – held by Sir Ifor Williams and other Celtic scholars of his generation – that the Taliesin poems can be used as valid sources of North British history.

* * * * * * *

Carla Nayland’s blogposts:
Rheged: location
Location of Rheged: the poetry

Galloway Picts Project – New exhibition on the Trusty’s Hill excavation (an information board on ‘Rheged: the lost kingdom’ can be glimpsed in one of the photos)

Andrew Breeze: ‘The Names of Rheged’, Transactions of the Dumfriesshire & Galloway Natural History & Antiquarian Society, vol.86 (2012), pp.51-62. A summary of the lecture upon which the article is based can be found at the DGNHAS website.

P.S. As I’ve said in a comment at Carla’s blog, I’d be more than happy to locate Urien in the Solway area, mainly because he’d conveniently fill a gap in a part of Northern Britain where plenty of elite activity was going on in the sixth century. But other areas can’t be ruled out, and I believe a no-less-plausible case can be made for the upper valley of the River Tweed around Peebles (on which I hope to say more in a future blogpost). This won’t mean I think Rheged was centred on Peebles. It will merely demonstrate that the conventional theory is not the only one we can explore.

* * * * * * *

83 comments on “The location of Rheged

  1. diaspora52 says:

    Fascinating post but I’m a bit confused! Was there a Strathclyde kingdom which had its fortress on Dumbarton Rock? I’m assuming that the Rheged was a different group again? Next you’ll be telling me to read your book:)
    My interests generally fall much later in the 13th and 14th centuries.

    • Penny Traition says:

      You should really read that book, Sister! Even some of the things that are not certain can be thought about-especially when cross-referenced with other articles/books etc. Personally, I am not convinced, for example, that Rochdale (no desrepect to the place!) was any more the Southern border, rather certain coincidences-though it may have been part of Rheged! It has been suggested that the old Celtic Kingdom of Elmet, bordered by the Angles of Deira to the East and North East, and Saxons to the South in Mercia, was an “annexed” area of Rheged; Elmet WAS, however, the last Celtic area of England before the murder of King Cerdic (various spellings) by Edwin of Deira and invasion by the Mercians, led by Penda, leaving Cornwall and Cumberland the last Celtic area uninvaded for hundreds of years. I believe it is true that answers are written in the earth all round us; a book that tells us so (whilst saying much is conjecture-the conjecture is largely of some unknown, atavistic feeling/knowledge but seems to be the answer, somehow) to that is Alistair Moffat’s “Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms”. However, it was going to be claimed as being (South) Welsh at some point like everything! Seriously, whether or not Dunragit on the Rhinns of Galloway (though Fiachna was Irish) is concrete proof of anything, I do not know. As for “Men of the North”, please, get it. An essential book.

  2. Tim says:

    Thanks for visiting, Jeanette. The kingdom of the Clyde Britons, based at Dumbarton Rock (Alt Clut, ‘Rock of Clyde’) was indeed a separate entity. One of Taliesin’s poems mentions a battle fought by King Urien of Rheged at ‘Alt Clut Ford’, suggesting relations between the two kingdoms were sometimes hostile. Strictly speaking, the name Strathclyde only applies to the ‘reborn’ kingdom of the Clyde Britons, whose rulers made a new power centre further upstream (at Govan) after a Viking army destroyed Dumbarton in 870. You’re right – this is all explained in my book The Men Of The North 😉

    Btw I enjoyed reading your blog about the era of Wallace and Bruce.

  3. E says:

    It’s interesting to explore the if/then possibilities of trying to locate some of the more elusive yet historically important places, be it a fort or a kingdom. But you’re right that it’s frustrating when historians start taking something for granted that is in fact only a theory and not a terribly firm one at that. It’s important to keep track of which parts are “known,” which are at least quite firm assumptions, and which are in fact working maybes.

    Out of curiosity, what’s the gist of the argument against the Taliesin poems as valid sources for Northern British history?

    • Tim says:

      Your question is an important one and I’m grateful to you for raising it.

      The gist of the argument is that the poetry contains no linguistic features than can definitely be assigned to the period before the ninth century. In other words, the simplest interpretation of the language suggests that all the verses were composed after c.800. Therefore the problem facing those of us who hope to use Taliesin as a source of sixth-century history is that no part of the poetry allegedly composed in the time of King Urien can be shown to originate at such an early date. The linguistic evidence is pretty insurmountable: the poems survive in the Welsh language of the tenth century onwards. If they had originally been composed in the language of the sixth century – which differed in significant ways – the rhyming and alliteration we see today would not exist. In fact, the entire structure of the verses would collapse – the lines wouldn’t rhyme. The obvious interpretation is that the poems were composed by someone who spoke the language of the post-900 period. Because of this, current thinking among many linguistic specialists is that the Taliesin poems and the Gododdin were created in tenth-century Wales.

      What this interpretation hasn’t adequately explained – as far as I can tell – is why anyone in tenth-century Wales decided to invent a whole bunch of poems about long-vanished North British kingdoms. One proposal is that the Welsh wanted to create a sort of faraway heroic age in which semi-legendary heroes battled Anglo-Saxon invaders, but this doesn’t sound credible to me. Until a better explanation is forthcoming, I intend to carry on using these poems as historical sources for the sixth-century North. Others will no doubt do the same. Even some Celtic language experts (e.g. John Koch) think we’re justified in doing so.

      What matters most, I think (and this echoes what you said in the first part of your comment) is that everyone needs to adopt a more cautious approach to the Taliesin poems and to the Gododdin. These are important examples of medieval Welsh literature but they can’t tell us where Rheged was or whether warriors from Edinburgh died in a battle at Catterick. At best, they may be able to give us a very rough idea of what might have been happening in some parts of North Britain in the late sixth century.

      • kevin halloran says:

        You go to the heart of the problem here – and this is a much wider problem than simply the identification of Rheged. When we say we cannot explain why someone at a later date might have ‘invented’ a history this is not to say they did not. Contemporary witnesses may be wrong; those of two hundred years later much more so. Erhman in his analysis of New Testament authors has shown that they were quite capable of altering ‘facts’ to accord with what they believed the original script must have really meant. Even if we could identify Rheged convincingly from these sources the best we could say is that the poet, writing much later, believed such to be the case or wanted to make his audience believe so.

        • kevin halloran says:

          If anyone doubts the impossibility of arriving at historical ‘truth’ from the evidence of even immediately involved eyewitnesses I can heartily recommend the four volume ‘Battles and Leaders of the Civil War’. This is a brilliant compilation of eyewitness testimony regarding the American Civil War. Choose almost any event and you will see diametrically opposed versions not only from people on different sides but from people on the same side, sometimes positioned in the same platoon, company or regiment who give accounts that cannot be reconciled at all. For the study of early history one of these versions might have survived, most probably filtered down through several hundred years of transmission: the idea of relying on it to define the historical reality is nonsense.

          • Tim says:

            The conflicting Civil War testimonies probably provide a useful analogy for our period, for which the reliability of alleged eyewitness testimonies has rightly been questioned. I’m trying to recall a specific reference to this – possibly David Kirby’s History and Tradition in the Early Middle Ages (1996). You’re absolutely right – we can’t take anything at face value. Adomnan in the Life of Columba was often keen to cite his sources (‘I heard it from X who heard it from Y who was with Z when it happened’) but all of these presumably had their own ways of telling the same story.

      • David Hillman says:

        Merfyn Frych was king of Gwynned from 825. His was a new dynasty (originating in Man). At a time when the Powys kindom (whose kings claimed descent from Vortigern) was being destroyed and the rest of Wales was under attack from Mercia and then Wessex, a claim to be the heirs of the heroic traditions of the men of the North was apposite. There is much in the Historia Brittonum, which also mentions Taliesin, Neurin, and other poets of the tradition, that would suit the propaganda needs of the kings of gwynned in Merfyn’s time. Could the verses have been composed as early as this? Or if the verse forms are later, is it too speculative to suppose they were formed from earlier poems?

        • Tim says:

          The jury is out on the ultimate origin of the poems so there’s still room for speculation. For the latest thinking, I strongly recommend the recent book Beyond the Gododdin.

  4. kevin halloran says:

    This is a fascinating topic and I believe AB has another piece on Rheged due out (Northern History?).
    I haven’t given any detailed thought to this question nor examined the sources but I would say a littoral kingdom on either side of the Solway looks better on a map than in reality. It would, I think, require a navy; it would be vulnerable to sea-borne raiders; it would be vulnerable to neighbouring kingdoms north and south and communications and troop movement would be difficult without a sizeable naval force. It would also in the absence of a strong centralised rule be prey to separatist tendencies developing north and south of the Solway.

    • Tim says:

      You’re right, Kevin: AB’s article (on the descendants of Urien) appears alongside your Anlaf piece in the September issue of Northern History.

      Good points about the ‘both sides of Solway’ idea, which requires from its supporters an explanation of how such a kingdom could be created, governed and maintained in the sixth century. I can think of two instances when Dumfriesshire and Carlisle were ruled together, but in both cases the ruler resided elsewhere and in an era when state-forming processes were sufficiently advanced to delegate regional government to local lords appointed by the king. I’m thinking here of David I of Scotland in the 1100s, and – if major lordships such as Nithsdale, Annandale and Liddel originated during the Cumbric revival of the tenth century – the kings of Strathclyde.

  5. Beth says:

    Tim, is it fairly easy for non-DGNHAS members to get hold of recent Transactions? I’d be interested to read what Professor Breeze has to say, especially about Cumbria – I’m a little confused about the inclusion of Derwenydd in a case for locating Rheged, for example, but it’s hard to judge without more detail.

    The problem with dismissing the poems as a valid source, of course, is that it might be a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, since they may incoporate earlier material and you’d never know for sure either way. It’s one of the reasons I stick largely to fiction where this kingdom is concerned! 😉

    • Tim says:

      Perhaps the easiest way of obtaining articles from Trans DGNHAS is via inter-library loan through your local library. An alternative – which I’m not sure about – is a direct request for a photocopy to any library that holds a backset, e.g. the main public library in Dumfries (the Ewart Library). The society’s website might be worth checking too.

      Andrew Breeze and a number of other scholars identify the Falls of Derwennydd as the Lodore Falls near Derwentwater in the Lake District. The identification is probably right: it’s a spectacular waterfall worthy of a mention in poetry. Rheged comes into the equation because Breeze thinks the Lake District may have been the core of Urien’s kingdom.

      Btw, Beth, I tend to agree with your second paragraph. See my response to E’s comment above.

  6. Penny Traition says:

    Re: “Men of the North”, and “the mysterious Rheged”, I would really liked to see Tony Robinson, as you mentioned, excavate around the place (photographed in “Men Of The North”), asking if it could have been the location of the great battle of Arfderydd, 573 C.E. out of which, (and the theory that Merlin Wyllt/Lailoken/Myrddin Sylvestrus, the existence of whom holds strong evidence, but if mentioned people simply will not take it seriously; I do not mean the Geoffrey of Monmouth type fables, but the man that such as N.Tolstoy and A.Moffat refer to) fled to the “Woods Of Ceddylon”, then Mungo, Christianity and ‘Urien Rheged’-rising from the flames of everything, but what?, as seems to be part of current theorising. (Urien having the Angles on the Island prison of Metcaud, Lindisfarne-Holy Island? and his slaughter after it was decided Din Guayroi/Bamburgh should go to the Irish and Fiachna…) Much more needs doing, though. Certainly excavations round the Eastern “Gododdin” area, too; Traprain Law, Eildon Hill North etc. That such a hugely important time and such possibilities are overlooked is disgraceful.
    Re: Alt Clud, this too needs extensive work. I am so pleased there are photos too of Penrith, a fabulous place full of archaeology, history and undiscovered truths included. (I have relatives from there too as well as to the North…). However, I do love Alt Clud and as a lover of the “old ways”…oh the book puts so much reality behind the myth, accessible to all. I really believe this book should be in school History curriculums. Once again, thank you for this gem.

    • Tim says:

      Thank you Penny for your generous praise of The Men Of The North. You’re right about this bit of history getting overlooked. Although there’s currently quite a lot of academic interest, the public awareness is minimal. This is where a project like the Trusty’s Hill excavation really helps, especially now that the results are displayed in an exhibition. Another project is looking at Dark Age sites in the Manor Valley near Peebles and will raise the profile of this mysterious period in that area too. More projects of this kind will be needed, but they’ll have to get funding from somewhere. As we’ve said before, something high-profile like a Time Team dig would be ideal. Tourists would be happy to visit places like Arthuret if someone famous like Tony Robinson told them about the Merlin connection.

      I was at Dumbarton Rock last month. It’s always good to see the information boards highlighting the early history and the ‘Fortress of the Britons’, and the carved stones from the later kingdom of Strathclyde.

  7. Dan Elsworth says:

    While I think Cumbria has a strong case for being a large part or the core of Rheged, what is frustrating is the lack of suitable archaeological evidence – the key sites, I think, are hillforts, as is the case in Scotland during this period, but there has been virtually no excavation of hillforts in Cumbria in the last 50 years. Ken Dark suggests that there basically is no tradition of hillforts being occupied in this period, but there is simply no evidence on which to base this claim. One, Shoulthwaite near Thirlmere, has a 6th-7th radio carbon date from deposits in cores taken across one of the ditches but this is not widely published. Another, Castle Head near Grange-over-Sands, had a weird collection finds made during building work in the 18th century, including Roman, ‘British’ and Anglian coins, moulds for jewellery, and other material – this is all now lost but it sounds remarkably like the finds from places like Dunadd and the Mote of Mark. Incidentally Castle Head was also known as Atterpile and I wonder if that derives from a Welsh-style British name in the vein of Arthur. It is also situated close to the River Winster, a suggested location of the site of Urien’s battle of Gwen Ystrath. The number of ‘caer’ names in Cumbria too is worth investigation – again some have been excavated, but typically in the 1920s or earlier, hence no carbon dates or real understanding of them. (It dawned on me yesterday that Cargo near Carlisle, where there is a multi-vallate hillfort, is presumably a ‘caer’ name, although not according to the place-names of Cumberland, perhaps caer-gawr – the grey fort?) Basically, the hillforts are critical!

    In The Men of the North you are doubtful about the settlements at Crosby Ravensworth being connect to Urien’s court/seat/whatever at Llwyfenydd but this site too suffers from only ever having been excavated once, over 100 years ago so the evidence there is very sketchy, although these curious later ‘church-like’ structures have been identified on that site and similar ones. Again, these sites need looking at.

    I was also looking at the Whithorn publication and note that in on of the earliest phases (6th century) they were importing lime, haematite, and possibly millstones. The nearest source for the first two of these – the west coast of Cumbria. To me this suggests that the monks at Whithorn were in contact with an organised society in Cumbria, who presumably were also quite wealthy on account of the mineral reserves they controlled – iron on the west coast, copper in the middle, and lead and silver in the north-east, again something that has been overlooked.

    Anyway, these are just my recent musings on the subject, hurriedly jotted down; I’m hoping to put something more concrete together for an article but I’m now desperate to see Andrew Breeze’s two most recent papers on this!

    • Tim says:

      I agree that the hillforts are probably significant in any search for Early Historic political geography. Shoulthwaite and Castle Head are off my radar but both sound very interesting (as does the place-name Atterpile). Cargo does look like it should be a caer name, originally applied to the hillfort which I imagine was in a good position strategically and economically. Also I think your idea of trading contacts between Whithorn and West Cumbria sounds feasible, with lime and haematite being likely commodities from the Cumbrian side. Forty years ago, Molly Miller suggested that the sixth-century rulers of West Cumbria might have been the family of Pabo ‘Pillar of Britain’ and, even though she was only speculating, I’m sure the basic idea of a fully-fledged kingdom in this area is perfectly reasonable.

      Good point about the lack of any modern archaeological work in the Crosby Ravensworth area. Many years ago, when I first encountered Hogg’s 1946 article on Llwyfenydd, I felt sure he must be right to identify it with Ewe Close or Cow Green or one of the other Lyvennet sites. Even now, after developing a much more sceptical view of ‘sounds like etymology’, I still look at the OS map and wonder about the concentration of ancient settlements in the vicinity. The area would make a lot of sense as the core territory of a powerful sixth-century king and I wouldn’t be surprised if a modern excavation found evidence of high-status occupation in this period. The problem, as we see at Trusty’s Hill, would be linking the evidence to a particular kingdom mentioned in poetry.

      Btw Dan I’ll be interested to hear what you think of AB’s Rheged articles.

      • Steve says:

        J Jackson Archeologist from Cumbria Heritage is currently excavating Ewe Close and he is fully convinced this is a Royal Enclosure for Urien on the Lyvennet :”The Native settlement of Ewe Close near Crosby Ravensworth origins go back to the Bronze Age. It was occupied during the first 4 centuries AD. At some time during the late fourth century or early fifth century a new large enclosure was added to the settlement on its northern edge between the old settlement and the Roman road. ” (Tim it was also he who suggested to me the location of Brunnanburgh which i have expanded on).
        could anyone be so bold as to give us an Ancient name for Ewe close?
        incidently last May i did a day trip through Cumbria with him and it was the by far my best research day for my book “Arthur of Cumbria”

        • Beth says:

          Very interesting, Steve! Is there anything about the excavations online? Tempting as it is to see the Ewe as related to Ewen (Owain), I suspect it has more to do with the keeping of sheep in the area in later times – the only ‘Celtic’ name I can think of in the immediate vicinity is Lyvennet.

          • Tim says:

            Steve – it’s interesting to hear Joseph Jackson is investigating Ewe Close. If post-Roman occupation can be pushed into the sixth century, it will certainly add weight to the Lyvennet=Llwyfenydd theory. Even if no Rheged connection can be proved, the site begins to look more interesting from an early medieval viewpoint.

            Btw, I think Brougham and its environs are quite plausible as the site of Brunanburh, being close to the southern frontier of Strathclyde and on the northern extremity of what might be thought of as ‘England’ in 937. However, I see a possible difficulty in reconciling this inland area with the easy sea-access implied by the Brunanburh poem. It isn’t an insurmountable difficulty, but I’d be inclined to look further west.

            Beth – I am sure you’re right about Ewe Close meaning ‘sheepfold’. I’d be surprised if many Celtic names have survived in this area.

            • Steve says:

              i see what you mean about the emphasis on the Sea borne troops at Brunanburgh , however if we never knew where “Stamford Bridge” was then the battle of 1066 wouldve been equally probably close to Harold Hardradas ships near the coast ..

        • Dan Elsworth says:

          It would certainly be useful to find out more about this as I hadn’t heard anything. I’d certainly be unsurprised if it was the case but it would be good to know how he is able to date the new addition to the late 4th/early 5th century. I had harboured a suspicion that Ewe Close was from Urien although I don’t think any really early forms are recorded, and it’s not the only place-name in the county that has that connection. I’ve not come across ‘Arthur of Cumbria’ and would be interested to know more.

  8. Beth says:

    Thanks for the suggestions Tim; I’ll look into some of those. 🙂

    Indeed – you can’t help but wonder, if the Taliesin poems don’t contain older material, what the later Welsh poets might have been doing composing this stuff from scratch. If they were creating a ‘heroic age’, it’s quite different to the one we see in poems like the Llywarch Hen cycle, which is linked with Wales and very nostalgic-cum-elegaic. Like you, I’m not really convinced by the suggestion.

    Thanks for explaining re Derwenydd. I’d thought that it was part of the argument for placing Rheged in the Lakes (as opposed to being in Rheged, because Rheged incorporated the Lakes) and wondered how that could be so – bit slow of me. 😉 It is an amazing waterfall – though sadly there were no fish in it when I visited. (Maybe Dinogad’s dad made off with them all…)

  9. Tim says:

    Yes, the Llywarch Hen poetry has a very different flavour. I once tried to get my head around it (via Jenny Rowland’s Early Welsh Saga Poetry) but now tend to leave it out of the equation.

    On the Dinogad poem, I really like Diane McIlmoyle’s blogpost from last year. I know you’ve seen it, Beth, but here’s the link for anyone who hasn’t – Dinogad’s Smock: a 6th century Cumbrian lullaby.

  10. Beth says:

    One day I’ll have to get hold of EWSP through inter-library loan, as I’m curious to see what Rowland’s conclusions are. Despite the incorporation of ‘traditional’ material which seems to show the Llywarch Hen poet was taking some notice of other sources, obviously there are many more elements which don’t have any analogies in alternative texts, so remain unverifiable in any way. Leaving the poems out of the equation is, I suppose, probably safest.

    Yes, Diane’s post was great, and her suggestion about Castle Crag in Borrowdale fascinating, especially as the 6th/7th century date at Shoulthwaite shows that people were occupying hillforts in the Lakes at the (supposed) time of the poem. (Shoulthwaite, of course, is also not a huge distance from Lodore, although you do have fells to navigate.)

  11. Beth says:

    I should add that I’m not saying that the reappearance of certain elements in the Llywarch Hen poems (e.g. Urien’s assassination, some names) makes said elements any more verifiable, only that for me these links tend to point up the parts of the Cycle with no analogy in (extant) ‘tradition’ (i.e. information found in alternative texts such as HB), which makes these particular poems even more difficult to assess as a source.

    • Tim says:

      I must confess to a certain reluctance to let go of the Llywarch Hen poetry. Its North British allusions are quite tempting and I’ve used them in the past, sometimes in highly speculative attempts to ‘connect the dots’. These days I’m more wary, but I’m inclined to agree with what you say.

      • Beth says:

        Yes, I’ve also used them (in fiction) to fill in the gaps; in fact I’d not realised quite how much until now. Whilst we’ll never know whether or not they do incorporate original, factual material, I certainly like to consider it as a possibility.

  12. Steve says:

    I think we can safely say that wherever Regeds boundaries may have formerly lain it is now formerly rooted next to the M6 at Penrith …..

  13. badonicus says:

    With regards to the dating issue of the Taliesin poetry, Tim, there’s something that struck me whilst researching my Arthurian ebook: in the poem ‘Reged Arise’ there is a battle said to have been borrowed by ‘Nennius’ for the Arthurian battle list: ‘cells of Brewyn’. Regardless of whether this is the case or not (or who was doing the borrowing!) I find it interesting that in the supposed 6th century poem it is spelled in the later form of ‘Brewyn’, yet in the Arthurian battle list (in the Vatican recension) it is spelled in the earlier form of ‘Breguion’ (variant Bregion). By most arguments, it should be the other way around.

    • Steve says:

      Well Taliesins Lyvenet is on a lofty height in the North and Urien is not really mentioned in the Battle of Arthuret so i feel he probably took over after the battle in the power vacuum after so many had fallen (Carlisle) ,therefore i doubt Reged had any land North of the wall , dont forget Catterick which is not so far from the Shap region and not far of the river Ure and near Ewe close and Crosby Ravensworth , Brewyn is Broon (Brougham) or ninekirks or wherever the Cells are .i think i hope we are on the right track . not forgetting that Merchion the lean was perhaps Arthurs cousin on the Paternal line Cynfarch and Lywarch and all them .
      its complicated

    • Tim says:

      The answer to the puzzle raised by Mak lies in the date of the manuscripts containing the Taliesin poems. They were written in Wales hundreds of years after the disappearance of Rheged, so the language in which the verses survive is not the language of the sixth century. Brewyn and most other place-names are rendered into the Welsh language of scribes who lived after c.1100, hence the spellings are sometimes more ‘modern’ than those in other sources such as Historia Brittonum (compiled c.830). Many historians cling to the hope that archaic, North British forms of these names once existed in original versions of the poems, supposedly composed c.550-600. We feel encouraged when a renowned Celticist such as John Koch presents us with the full text of the Gododdin as it might have appeared in the language of the seventh century. Unfortunately, this kind of speculative exercise doesn’t turn our hope into reality, and we’re left wondering if any of these poems can be used for valid historical speculation. The harsh reality is that detailed analysis by specialists in medieval Welsh literature has shown conclusively that not a single line of poetry attributed to Taliesin or Aneirin can be dated before c.900.

      • Chris Pickles says:

        Given the late date of the poems as they currently exist, is there actually any validity in trying to construct history around them? I was thinking about Urien recently – is there any reason at all to think of him as a historical figure? Welsh poetry and ‘Nennius’ is all we have, in fact there seems to be less information available about Urien than there is about Arthur, and Arthur is not a figure found in respectable histories nowadays.

        Rheged does not have to have been a real place at all, just a part of some imaginary land of lost content, part of a long ago golden age that never really was.

        • badonicus says:

          There is far more information on Urien via Taliesin than there ever was on the Arthur who could be considered ‘historical’. Ivor Williams identified 12 of the many poems as being by the ‘original’ Taliesin and Dumville took that down to 11. It is a case of whether we think that these poems did (or could have) come down through oral tradition first from a real Taliesin (as many scholars do) or merely a later invention nearer the time they were written; or, rather, nearer the time of the surviving copies of the manuscripts that have come down to us.

          If they were from an actual 6th century bard (who ‘Nennius’ mentions) then he wrote for four different patrons, with Urien being one of them. If these are just from another kind of pseudo-Taliesin, as many of the poems subscribed to him are said to be, then are these other three ruler also suspect?

          • Chris Pickles says:

            Well I guess the bottom line is that they all are suspect, unless they have some more contemporary source which confirms them in some way or other.

            Who would you consider historical from this era? The five tyrants denounced by Gildas I’d say, but who else?

            The gaps in the history seem huge. Dutigirn/Outigirn is an interesting character who rarely seems to rate a mention. There he is fighting bravely against Ida, but he has no poems, no place in the genealogies, just the one line in Nennius, yet he must (if he was real) have been a person of major significance.

            How many more mighty men of valour have been totally forgotten, and how many perhaps in reality minor figures have been given exaggerated importance because their poet’s work chanced to survive.

            • badonicus says:

              My question about the four kings wasn’t a rhetorical one, but an actual one. Was their appearance in the later genealogies simply because a Taliesin (be that a real one or pseudo) wrote about them, whether hey were real or not?

              Of course, poems in the guise of others are well known for this period, such as the ‘Llywarch Hen’ or ‘Helydd’ poems; all told from the perspective of someone other than the bard who wrote them. The former used to be thought of as written by Llywarch Hen himself (who also wrote about bringing Urien’s head back after his murder) but now they are dated to the 9th century. The same could have happened to Taliesin, although it is interesting that the other two are in the guise of nobles and Taliesin, if the poems we have aren’t by him, are in the guise of a bard. We know this must have happened later because of the pseudo-Taliesin poems, which are written in a very different style and cover very different subjects.

              The saga englynion are argued to be a kind of historical fiction, based on earlier stories, which themselves must have varied in their accuracy. This doesn’t mean the events in general didn’t happen or that some, if not all, of characters involved weren’t real but that the detail was added. This could have been the case with an early fraudulent Taliesin, if that’s what he was.

              I also find it an interesting notion that, if Gildas had not mentioned Ambrosius and he only appeared in his magical guise in the HB, we’d think him made up too.

              • Steve says:

                I cannot see anybody who plainly did not exist In the HB , except perhaps Woden and that includes Taliesin , Arthur , Christ , St Patrick , Ambrosius Vortigern , Edwin ,Penda and St Germanus and Martin (ok im sure someone will spot another couple of Mythical beings) but you get my meaning .

        • Steve says:

          Arthur seems to have slowly slipped into the realms of mythology over the last few hundred years , i think the main clue which can help resurrect him is the simple statement that part of it (Chartres recension HB) was compiled by filius Urbagen , which presumably is Rhun . If one THEN tries to place Arthurs activities in the North , ie Rheged , Cumbria and Lancashire then it all seems to fit .
          for example .. Bregouin (Brougham) Glein (Croglin) Celidon Caer Ochren (Gelt ,Castle Carrock) Cross Fell (Mons Badonicus) Camlan (Camboglanna) Avalon (Aballava or Appleby) Tribruit (Ribble).Llongborth (Longtown) etc and so on , look i know all or some of these ideas can be struck down , but together im sure they start to say something , which is much more than any other place . I am not saying Arthur Or Urien did not have connections or perhaps even come from any other place like Northumbria or Scotland or Wales or Cornwall or the South or Brittany or Ireland . however the Cumbrian connection remains the strongest .I may be one of them typical male fanatics who try and place Arthur in their own backyard , and yes at first it seemed rather fanciful , but the more i looked into it the more it seemed to fit , and i am not the only one who thinks or has thought so either .If one believes in St Patrick or Urien then i dont see why one should dismiss Arthur just because his greatness has led to many more wild tales.
          This is why i place Rheged in Cumbria and surrounds , simply because Arthur was a Cumbrian and Rhun knew it as he was one as well.

          • Tim says:

            As you say, Steve, you’re not the only person to think Arthur was a historical figure in Dark Age Cumbria. Nobody can prove he wasn’t. Anyone who claims to have discovered the ‘real’ Arthur in another part of Britain is simply adding a new theory to the mystery (or re-hashing an old one).

  14. Tim says:

    The sceptical view adopted by Chris is the one I’m inclined to lean towards at the moment. I do, however, believe Urien was a historical figure of the sixth-century North, and a king of various territories (one of which was called Rheged). Chris mentions Outigirn, a shadowy figure who may have played a more important role than some of his eulogised contemporaries. Outigirn is a good example of how little we really know about what was going on in this period, and how little the Historia Brittonum tells us.

    The stance taken by Chris is similar to that taken by several specialists in Celtic languages and literature, who argue that we cannot assume that the ‘North British Heroic Age’ existed outside the imagination of later poets in Wales.

    Mak is right to be wary of the Llywarch Hen poems, and Steve is right that many of the people mentioned in HB are historically secure.

    Anyone with a keen interest in the historical value of the poems attributed to Taliesin and Aneirin should grab a copy of the recently published book Beyond the Gododdin, which sets out the current opinions of the specialists. It’s a real eye-opener and will (or should) change the way we use the poems in our own fields of research.

    • Chris Pickles says:

      I guess it is time for me to say where I think Rheged was, assuming of course that it and its king were real and not mythical.

      If we go back to 550 AD Bernicia is brand new as an Anglian kingdom, and is restricted to a small area around Bamburgh. Deira meanwhile seems to be confined to the East Riding of Yorkshire. There is a great tract of country in between which is as we might say unallocated at this point in history, at least so far as we know from the sources.

      Clearly there are centres of population in this zone, the Tyne Valley and the Wall forts, Weardale including the Roman fort of Binchester, which seems to have continued in use into our period, the Tees valley including Piercebridge, the area of North Yorkshire around Catterick and Boroughbridge etc.

      In 550AD, none of these areas are in either Bernicia nor Deira. But jump forward to around 600AD when Aethelfrith unites Bernicia and Deira, and they all are.

      So from 550 to 600 AD the main focus of Northumbrian – whether Bernician or Deiran – expansion seems to have been in this eastern zone of South Northumberland, Co. Durham and North Yorkshire. Since this also seems to have been a period when the Rheged was the greatest adversary of Anglian expansion it seems to me that we should look for Rheged somewhere along the Eastern side of the Pennines, and not on the Western.

      • Tim says:

        Thanks for sharing your theory here, Chris. It shows the wide range of possibilities for Rheged’s location and is just as plausible as any of the usual west-of-Pennines theories. In some ways an eastern location makes a lot of sense, especially if Catraeth really is Catterick and Urien really was its ruler. A good case can be made for an eastern Rheged – and it’s impossible to disprove.

        • Chris Pickles says:

          There is also the well known claim in Nennius that Rhun map Urien baptised King Edwin. OK it was Paulinus who did the deed, but Rhun could quite well have been there in some capacity, maybe as Edwin’s sub king.

          It would make more sense if the baptism took place somewhere close to Rhun’s territory, or former territory, than have him come all the way across from Galloway or somewhere else in the West for the occasion.

          • Steve says:

            I think it was in York , and Rhun was a diplomat , according to the British Sources Rhun Baptised Edwin . In the ASC it was Paulinus , so perhaps it was both , i think they may have been “friends” Paulinus later christened Cross fell probably with Rhun present and that is Mons Badonicus “in which Arthur carried the cross for 3 days ..” as it LOOKS like a Roman baths (icus means like a) then it became Fiends fell , when the ghosts of the slaughtered stalked the field in order to exact revenge. Its also on the maiden way .Rhun wrote the Battle list and he knew where most of them occurred as he was also a Cumbrian (Urbgen filiale). Celidon was the Gelt and the Alternative name of CaerOchren was at Castle Carrock .im Quite covinced Rheged was in the Ragged Uplands from The Lakes to the Pennines and Urien also scored Carlisle after Arthuret. After Arthuret , Myrrdin ran away to the GELT to hide from Rhydderch . so it was Certainly not controlled by Urien at this stage and was probably in the Debatable lands to the North of Uriens Lyvenet .Penrith was probably originally at the border of the lands that was allocated to Urien after the division of Arthurs Lands.

  15. badonicus says:

    I’m usually impressed by Alex Woolf’s work, so I will be buying myself a copy of that. Thanks Tim.

  16. Dan Elsworth says:

    Is there a contents list online for Beyond the Gododdin, or any of the other books in the same series? They look like good value for money but it would be nice to see what they contain

    • Tim says:

      The most recent publications from the Committee for Dark Age Studies at St Andrews can be found via this link. Older items are probably kicking around on Amazon. I’ve got two from the 1990s: Scotland in Dark Age Britain and Scotland in Dark Age Europe, both edited by Barbara Crawford. I couldn’t see a contents list for Beyond the Gododdin at the St Andrews site, so here’s a list from my own copy:

      Beyond the Gododdin: Dark Age Scotland in Medieval Wales. Edited by Alex Woolf (St Andrews, 2013).
      1 – Marged Haycock ‘Early Welsh poets look north’
      2 – Nerys Ann Jones ‘Hengerdd in the age of the poets of the princes’
      3 – Philip Dunshea ‘The meaning of Catraeth: a revised early context for Y Gododdin
      4 – Oliver Padel ‘Aneirin & Taliesin: sceptical speculations’
      5 – Thomas Owen Clancy ‘The kingdoms of the North: poetry, places, politics’
      6 – John Koch ‘Waiting for Gododdin: thoughts on Taliesin & Iudic-Hael, Catraeth & unripe times in Celtic studies’

  17. […] The location of Rheged ( […]

  18. Steve says:

    Rheged as far as i know only occurs thrice in written history
    Catterick , Lyvenet and Birdoswald
    this was all within its realm.

  19. Steve says:

    It May be a long shot , but whats the thoughts on Mallorys reference to Urien of Gore ?
    Could it just possibly be that Octha who was Stationed near the Wall then came south not to Kent as in Canterbury but to “Cantia” Kent of Kendal that was ruled by Guoyrancgon (HB) (Gore) .Is the name Kendal and the Kent river much older than what we presume and that it made up a large and important part of the kingdom of Rheged?

  20. Steve says:

    One famous Coeling son of Owain Map Urien that is St Kentigern (Cyndern Mungo etc), if Kendall and the river Kent is named after him , maybe he had inherited this land from his father ? i know he was more associated with Glasgow , but there maybe a clue here in the location of at a least Southern Rheged .

  21. Chris Pickles says:

    The problem we have here is that, firstly, Urien and Rydderch were two of the four kings who according to Historia Brittonum fought against the Bernicians, and secondly St Kentigern was active in Glasgow at the same time as Rydderch, as per Jocelyn’s life of Kentigern.

    So Urien and Kentigern are approximately contemporary, this makes it difficult for Kentigern to be Urien’s grandson.unless one of the other sides of the triangle is wrong.

    • carla says:

      It may not be too difficult, depending on the relative ages and lifespans of Rhydderch and Urien. Robert Bruce fought battles against Edward I and negotiated a treaty with Edward I’s grandson Edward III. So it could be said that Edward I and Edward III were both contemporary with Robert Bruce, and yet they were also grandfather and grandson. Similarly, Llewellyn Fawr and his grandson Llewellyn the Last in Wales both fought against Henry III. If Rhydderch had a long reign, he could have been contemporary with Urien at one end and with a grandson of Urien at the other.

  22. steve says:

    The Name Rheged or Reget in itself does not particularly give any clues to its location , if it was called Rhegeden then that would be rather simple ! If we Decide the Reg aspect denotes royalty as in Latin then the “ed” may simply mean “place” like Gwyned or Elmet . Re Roi Stone perhaps an ancient border for this land ?

    • Chris Pickles says:

      I got hold of a copy of ‘Beyond the Gododdin’ which I was very pleased with, of course it asks more questions than it answers, which is probably a good thing.

      Anyway, I often find the footnotes the most interesting parts of a book and this is no exception. In particular footnote 24 on page 170….

      “I [Thomas Owen Clancy] owe this insight to Alex Woolf, who has argued persuasively (though not yet in print) that the medieval deanery of Richmond may be the long term footprint of Rheged”

      Actually I wonder if he actually meant the Archdeaconry rather than the Deanery of Richmond. It (the archdeaconry) makes a fascinating shape on the map.

      • Tim says:

        It will be interesting to see if Alex Woolf publishes his ideas about Richmond, which is also one of the sites suggested for Urien Rheged’s domain of Catraeth.

        • Chris Pickles says:

          I’ve been giving a bit more thought to the location of Rheged, and approched the matter from a couple of oblique angles…

          Firstly I’ve been looking at a database of Anglo-Saxon churches which is in this website: – there are over 400 of them – and plotting them on a google map. I’ve only done the north so far but it makes an interesting picture. East of the Pennines they are plentiful, on the West however there are very few. None in Cumberland, four in Westmorland, of which two are late and two ‘doubtful’, two in Lancs (both at Heysham), none in Cheshire and one in Staffs. Back to this later.

          We know more about Elmet than we know about Rheged. In particular we know where it was located if not the extent of it. After being incorporated into Northumbria it remained a significant area, with Edwin having a Royal Vill there. Presumably it remained an area of some significance throughout the first millenium AD as there are a number of Anglo Saxon churches there. Indeed the database only gives churches with stonework surviving above ground, so it does not include places like Otley, Ilkley, Bradford, Dewsbury, where there are significant quantities of Saxon stone carving. So Elmet continued on as a region of some importance.

          Rheged should be more so – it seems to have been a more powerful kingdom than Elmet. If we can believe the Historia Brittonum (yes I know that is a big if) then there were close connections between Rheged and Northumbrian royalty, with Run assisting at Edwin’s baptism, and Rienmelth (sp) marrying into Bernician royalty. So Rheged, even after its absorbtion into Northumbria, should have continued on as an area of importance. We should expect to find abundant Anglo Saxon church buildings in its former territory.

          So if it was West of the Pennines, where was it? The area may have come under Northumbrian rule (or may not) but doesn’t seem to have had any great importance, or been developed as part of the kingdom much or at all. The whole of the area west of the Pennines seems to have been pretty much a no mans land.

          So I’d place Rheged in the East, to include one or both of Ripon and Hexham. That would be a suitable continuation for it.

          • Tim says:

            An eastern location for Rheged is certainly as plausible as any of the usual western guesses. Elmet is a rather useful analogy here, because it lasted into the 7th century in an area close to the Anglo-Saxon heartlands of Yorkshire. Rheged could have been similar: an eastern kingdom which managed to resist takeover by an English-speaking elite well into the 600s, maybe as late as c.650, possibly through a mixture of military prowess and skilful diplomacy. Chronologically, both Ripon and Hexham could fit a scenario where Urien’s dynasty relinquished power to Bernicia around the middle of the 7th century. Nothing in the Historia Brittonum or the Taliesin poetry precludes either of these places being major ecclesiastical centres in Rheged.

          • Mammoth says:

            Does this not point to a west of Pennines Rheged keeping some degree of independence? No longer a powerful kingdom but not culturally dominated by Northumbria either.

  23. Peter says:

    Whatever about the location or perhaps better, the extent of Rheged, perhaps we could throw a 2nd glance at Dunragit in Galloway in the context of the origins of Rheged. It is after all the the closest placename fit that we’ve got with Rheged and Occam wise it scrapes a qualification. The name indicates it is the location of the fort of Ragit or in a broader sense the household of Ragit, this could be a personal name, or indeed might have a connotation such as the “royal”or “kingly” fort. This is all kind of “so what”, but their is a further factor associated with this site which may be indicative of a royal connection. Excavation at the site revealed that the large earth mound at the site was exactly that, a large earth mound, without frills, i.e. not a defensive structure or burial mound. As such, an unvarnished mound, it would qualify by analogy with well attested similar Irish monuments as an inauguration site of a local king or perhaps more accurately, of a local clan chieftain. ( see for an Irish example, in this case Magh Adair the inauguration mound of the kings of Thomond, which would have included Brian Boru who altho’ he became High King of Ireland would have sprung from fairly insignificant ancestry ) perhaps likewise at Dunragit we have a hint at the origins of the the kingdom of Rheged?

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for this, Peter. I hadn’t thought of Dunragit as a royal inauguration site but, from the evidence you quote, it does sound like a possibility. If it wasn’t connected with Rheged, maybe it was used by the Norse kings of Galloway (‘Gall-Gaidhil’) in the 9th-11th centuries.

  24. Fiona Mulgrew says:

    Hello Tim, I was very encouraged by the analysis in your book ‘The Men of the North’ concerning the location of Rheged as from my research I have deduced that this mysterious kingdom lay within present day Fife. It is to be noted that Fife is a region of Scotland that has the Rivers Leven and Eden flowing through it and inhabitants who call their home ‘kingdom’. I have made my case for a part of Fife being Rheged in my book ‘The Immortal Bear of the North. Stone memories of Arthur’ which from the title is mainly concerned with an Arthurian narrative most closely contemporaneous with Arthur’s lifetime and which I suggest was communicating the real story of the Prince of Three Lands.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for visiting, Fiona. I haven’t heard of Fife as a candidate for Rheged but it’s an interesting theory to drop into the debate. I’ve made a note of your Arthur book.

  25. Fiona Mulgrew says:

    Thanks for that Tim. Although most of my book is about an Arthurian narrative as portrayed by the craftsmen of Dark Age Scotland, it is inevitable that events from the past provide context for the areas of influence and conflict in later times and I devote some script to how this may have happened in the lands linked to Arthur and the Men of the North. With regard to Rheged, guided by what the Britons of the North chose to record pictorially about the life and death of Arthur, I have found a variety of sources from the ‘literate’ world which seem to provide corroboration for locating this mysterious kingdom in Fife. For example (pp102-106), in Taliesin’s ‘In Praise of Rheged’, there is a reference to a battle at/near ‘Mathreu’ (1998, J.P.Clancy (translator) in ‘The Triumph Tree’ p85), which I think was referred to in archival records from the North Berwick Priory as ‘Monthryve’ and was part of church lands in the ‘sheriffdom of Fife’ 1587/1588 (GD110/20,NAS). Watson(1926,pp402-403) discussed the development of this place-name and argued that it was not linked like other ‘monts’ to the Gaelic for ‘hill’. It was ‘Mathriue’ before 1228 and ‘Matheryue’ before 1177. Called Montrave today this place lies 6 kilometres north of the town of Leven. Leven is on the other side of the Largo Bay from the shortest crossing between Fife and East Lothian- territory of the Uotadini/Gododdin. It is to be noted too that the lands of ‘Monthryve’ were listed together with that of ‘Athernis’
    I have found many other linkages between Arthur, Fife and Rheged. I hope this of interest Tim.

    Clancy, T.O. (1998) ‘The Triumph Tree. Scotland’s earliest poetry AD 550-1350’ Canongate Classics, Edinburgh
    National Archives of Scotland GD110/20
    Watson, W. (1926), (2011 Introduction by Simon Taylor), ‘The Celtic Place-Names of Scotland’ Birlinn,, Edinburgh.

    • Tim says:

      These are interesting thoughts on place-names, Fiona. The old name of Montrave certainly looks similar to Taliesin’s Mathreu. If Rheged was in Fife, we would however need to consider Urien’s relationship with the kings of Gododdin, whose land he would need to traverse to attack the Bernicians on Lindisfarne. The Fife theory also begs the question of whether Urien’s dynasty was in some sense ‘Pictish’ rather than ‘British’ – although these cultural labels were probably a lot more fluid in the sixth century than historians once believed.

  26. Fiona Mulgrew says:

    Hello Tim, From my stone observations Fife a generation before Urien was apparently a territory with a number of reguli, most of which were Brittonnic during Arthur’s time. However there seems to have been a portrayal that some of these kingships were under threat from the Picts on the southern coastline and from the heights of the Ochills. What was also communicated I think was that some, perhaps strategic, marriages took place including Arthur’s which presumably forestalled aggression from Pictish neighbours. Cultural labelling was very important as the mode of record was pictorial. There had to be specific identifiers of who was who particularly in sculptured battle scenes. From what I have found ties of blood were also pictorially detailed using tribal/cultural/communal identifiers. On one stone Arthur’s lineage was presented as reaching back to the earliest peoples.

    • Tim says:

      Hello Fiona – which stone is the one supposedly showing Arthur’s lineage? I’m familiar with the Guinevere/Vanora legend at Meigle but this one isn’t ringing any bells.

  27. Glad I found this blog and links to your blogs. I’m a poet and polytheist based in Lancashire with an interest in the Old North, particularly in relation to Gwyn ap Nudd’s neglected connections with the North and the fact there are barely any records that help us piece together the history of my area at this time. As you say, the notion that Rheged had anything to do with Lancashire really can’t be improved and seems unlikely. Off to buy ‘The Men of the North.’ I may be returning to regale you with questions!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for visiting, Lorna. I hope you find a few useful bits and pieces in The Men of the North. Feel free to come back with questions. It’s good to know I’m not the only person who isn’t convinced by the idea of Lancashire as ‘Southern Rheged’.

      • Have read The Men of the North. Would agree with your suspicions about the genealogies of the Old North being at least in part a later Welsh construction. Also of interest you place Catraeth on the borders of Gododdin and cast doubt on Peredur son of Eliffer’s associations with York. Thus even the Yorkshire connections disappear and the Men become much more Northern! If this is the case… do we know anything about the history of Lancashire and (particularly southern) Yorkshire in the 6th and 7th centuries. Lancashire seems to be a black hole!

        • Tim says:

          Thanks for reading the book, Lorna. As far as Yorkshire is concerned, I think we can be fairly confident that the British kingdom of Elmet was centred on the Leeds area, and that the kingdom survived into the early seventh century. I am not convinced, however, that the kings of Elmet saw themselves as part of the northern political/military scene in which the kings of Rheged, Gododdin and Alt Clut operated. As I mention in my book, a warrior called Madog from ‘Elvet’ appears in the Gododdin poetry and is usually associated with the Yorkshire Elmet. If the association is correct, I would regard Madog as a lone adventurer seeking his fortune with the Britons of Lothian, rather than as evidence of close contact between the kings of Elmet and the Men of the North.

          By c.600, the southern borders of Elmet faced Anglo-Saxon elites in north-east Mercia and Lindsey (Lincolnshire). What is now South Yorkshire became a contested zone between Mercian and Northumbrian ambitions throughout the seventh century, as witnessed by several major battles. Lindsey seems to have been an independent British kingdom in the fifth century.

          You’re absolutely right about Lancashire being a black hole. Its history in this period has simply not survived. How long it remained in native British hands before being taken over by Anglo-Saxons is unknown. Attempts have been made to place a sixth-century ‘Arthurian’ battle on the River Douglas near Wigan but this doesn’t really get us anywhere. All we can do is look at archaeology and place-names and make guesses in the dark.

  28. Colin Henshaw says:

    I have seen some of these modern maps showing Rheged extending as far south as Cheshire, including Chester. Where was the evidence to suggest this was the case in the light of your Lord of the Rings comparison, if there is no support from traditional Welsh poetry? Probably little, if any. I read somewhere that initially Elmet was part of Rheged, which is the only suggestion I have seen that it could have extended further south. What justification do the authors of these maps have to say that it did extend further south?

  29. Tim says:

    The short answer, Colin, is that they have no justification whatsoever. You’re absolutely right that they aren’t basing their maps on good evidence. Any map showing the name ‘Rheged’ without a question mark next to it is, quite frankly, presenting a fake picture of Dark Age political geography. The stark truth is that we haven’t a clue where Rheged should be placed on a map. It was somewhere in North Britain, in an area that lay under native British rule c.550 AD, but this is the limit of our knowledge. All those maps showing Rheged as a huge kingdom stretching from the Solway Firth to the River Mersey might as well call it Gondor or Rohan. They’re just perpetuating a fantasy. I would hazard a guess that Rheged, wherever it was, didn’t extend as far south as Elmet and the southern Pennines. In fact, I’d be surprised if it extended south of Hadrian’s Wall, or if indeed it was even of any great size. The Historia Brittonum describes Urien fighting near Lindisfarne. The Taliesin poems claim that Urien fought near Dumbarton (battle of ‘Alt Clut Ford’) and in Stirlingshire (battle of ‘Manau’) and that he defended Aeron (presumably Ayrshire). If these are not simply places plucked at random by a later Welsh poet (passing himself off as the real Taliesin) we may be seeing a king whose main territorial interests lay roughly between the two Roman walls. I don’t see any strong hint of campaigns or interests further south, whether in Cumbria or Yorkshire. To me, Urien seems to be primarily a ‘northern’ king, in the sense of ‘north of Hadrian’s Wall’. Needless to say, I completely ignore Catterick, Carlisle, Rochdale and the River Lyvennet because they’re all examples of the clutching-at-straws game that characterises the Rheged debate. As I’ve mentioned before, the only certain geographical fact about Rheged is that it is an utterly lost kingdom.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s