The English invasion of Strathclyde

Edmund of Wessex

A thirteenth-century depiction of Edmund, king of Wessex (939-946)

In 945, the English king Edmund – a grandson of Alfred the Great – launched a devastating raid on the territory of the Strathclyde Britons. Contemporary annalists noted the event in their chronicle entries and some of these brief reports have survived (more or less) in later texts. Last month I wrote a short article on Edmund’s campaign for the website of History Scotland magazine. This is now online and can be accessed via the link below:

History ScotlandThe English invasion of Strathclyde

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This post is part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde series:

Kingdom of Strathclyde

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6 comments on “The English invasion of Strathclyde

  1. Stan says:

    Mr. Clarkson, I’ve just finished your recent book on Strathclyde and found it very good as your work always is. However, you made a claim in your conclusion that I have questions about. You claim that the people of Strathclyde were essentially entirely overwhelmed culturally. I’m not sure if you also meant to imply that they were entirely displaced by other peoples. However, I have studied that region quite a lot, and have found the existence of names with curiously welsh patrynoms. Names such as ‘AShennan’ and ‘ASloan’ are common until at least the 16th century. Would that not tend to suggest that there was at least some amount of survival of the people and their ancestral traditions? That at least some of them remembered who they had been?

  2. Tim says:

    Many thanks for reading the book, Stan. In answer to your question, I hold the view that the Strathclyde Britons became ‘Scots’ in a cultural sense (including language) but that the majority of them remained in situ. I wasn’t aware of the surnames you mentioned, so I looked them up and found an interesting reference in the 1945-46 volume of TDGNHAS, in an article on the pre-Reformation clergy of Kirkmahoe (Dumfriesshire). The article refers at one point to a 14th-century priest called Eliseus Adougan who ‘bore one of these typical Galloway surnames which, like Ahannay, Asloan, Ashennan, has since shed the prefix A corresponding to Welsh Ap (son of).’
    The current consensus sees the disappearance of Cumbric as a language of everyday discourse by c.1200, i.e. before family surnames became the norm, so I’m quite puzzled by these A-prefix names. I’d like to find out if any recent research has been done on this topic, and if modern philologists still interpret A as a residual Ap.

    • Stan says:

      Thanks, Tim. I had not seen that source before. I have two other sources that are interesting.

      First, there is a very ancient document found here in google books “Registrum honoris de Morton: a series of ancient charters of the …, Volume 1”:

      In case you are unable to get to that site, this is what it has:

      “DUO KNOKIS”

      “Afledantur Willelmo M Moryne, Dungallo M Alayne, Gilqwhongill Aschenane et Filio Moricio clerici ad terminum vnius anni pro iiii iiii li d s iii plegio alter alterius”

      It is written in Latin, but under the place name ‘Duo Knokis’ it lists a person named Gilqwhongill Aschenane. This was apparently recorded in 1375 or so. This is generally considered to be the first known recorded instance of the name ‘Ashennan’. I’ve never been able to locate any place called ‘Duo Knokis’, but if you look up to the previous page these all appear to be locations in the ‘Barony of Butille’ which must refer to Buittle Parish which I believe is in the Dumfriesshire or Kircudbrightshire area. This is quite significant because it means this family has been in that same area for at least 700 years, and probably must longer.

      Another source is “History of the Lands and Their Owners in Galloway: With Historical …, Volume 1” which includes this observation in a discussion of the origin of the name of Shennanton: “… It is probable … that the name was taken from one of the Shennans, a family also found as A’Shennan or Aschennane. The A is the abbreviation for the Cymric ap, a son. Those of the name will be found in the parishes of Anwoth and Kirkmabreck in connection with land owned there and were of Kirkbride in the latter parish.”

      • Tim says:

        For any obscure place names in this area I’d probably recommend a check through Sir Herbert Maxwell’s book The Place Names of Galloway. I don’t have this to hand, but it’s possibly online somewhere. The strange name Duo Knokis looks to me like a Latinisation based on Gaelic cnoc (hill) i.e. ‘Two Hills’. It’s now Meikle Knox, to the east of Castle Douglas. I found a website showing the evolution of this name.

        • Stan says:

          Thank you! I will check that source, but can I also cite your interpretation? That little revelation is actually quite fascinating. I am currently corresponding with a lady in Scotland who’s mother was a Shennan from the very same Castle Douglas. I actually think there is quite an interesting story trying to be told here. There is so much nonsense floating around the internet about this Gilqwhongill Aschenane fellow being a ‘Highland Chieftain’ of some sort (kind of like Mel Gibson’s portrayal of Wallace, who also was no Highlander – the very name Wallace practically translates to ‘Welshman’ from what I understand) . Thanks again.

          • Tim says:

            Feel free to cite my guess – even if it turns out to be wrong. Strange to hear of the erroneous ‘Highlander’ label being applied to someone from Galloway. You’re right about the name ‘Wallace’ meaning ‘Welsh’ – although whether this means Wales or Strathclyde is a matter of debate.

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