Books on Early Medieval Britons

Sally Wilde mentioned on her blog this week that it is hard to find information on early medieval Wales. There is no doubt that this is true. It would help to search for Britons rather than Welsh, since Wales didn’t come into existence until after the early medieval period. So I went through the bibliography I had on my old early medieval resources website. I haven’t updated it in several years now but hopefully this will give anyone interested in the British / Welsh a head start. Leave more suggestions in the comments!

The Heroic Age issues on Britons and Anglo-Saxons:

Issue 4 Anglo-Celtic Relation in the Early Middle Ages

Issue 9 Oswald, King and Saint: His Britain and Beyond (has several articles with Britons)

Tim Clarkson, The Men of the North: Britons in Southern Scotland, 2011

Christopher Snyder, An Age of Tyrants: Britain and the Britons, 300-600 AD (1998)

Christopher Synder, The Britons, Blackwell’s People of Europe Series, 2003.

Kenneth Dark, Civitas to Kingdom: British Political Continuity, 300-800 AD (1999)

Higham, NJ An English Empire: Bede and the early Anglo-Saxon Kings MUP, 1995, 269pp

Higham, NJ The Convert Kings: power and religious affiliation in early Anglo-Saxon England MUP 1997, 293pp

Higham, NJ ‘Dynasty and Cult: the utility of Christian mission to Northumbrian kings between 642 and 654′, in Northumbria’s Golden Age ed. J. Hawkes and S. Mills, Sutton 1999, 95-104

Higham, NJ. ‘King Edwin of the Deiri: rhetoric and the reality of power in early England’, in Early Deira: Archaeological studies of the East Riding in the fourth to ninth centuries ed. H. Geake & J. Kenny, Oxbow 2000, 41-50

Higham, NJ ‘Medieval “Overkingship” in Wales: the earliest evidence’ Welsh History Review 16, 1992, 145-59

Higham, NJ. ‘King Cearl, the battle of Chester and the origins of the Mercian “overkingship”‘, Midland History, 17, 1992, 1-15

These Higham books and papers focus on the Anglo-Saxons but have a lot of information on the Britons as well.

External Contacts and the Economy of Late Roman Britain and Post-Roman Britain. K.R. Dark Editor. Boydell Press. (1996) (Collected study by multiple authors)

Dark, Kenneth R. (1992) ‘A Sub-Roman Re-Defense of Hadrian’s Wall?’Britannia  23:111-120.

Cessford, C. (1993) ‘Calvery in Early Bernicia: A Reply’ Northern History 29: 185-87.

- (1994) ‘The Death of Aethelfrith of Lloegr’ Northern History 30: 179-183.

- (1996) “Exogamous Marriages between Anlgo-Saxons and Britons in Seventh Century North Britain” Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 9: 49-52.

- (1999) “Relations between Britons of Southern Scotland and Anglo-Saxon Northumbria” p. 150-160 in  Northumbria’s Golden Age  Jane Hawkes and Susan Mills, Editors. Sutton Publishing.

Davies, Wendy (1982) Wales in the Early Middle Ages. Leicester University Press.

Davies, Sioned and Jones, Nerys Ann  (1997) The Horse in Celtic Culture: Medieval Welsh Perspectives.  Cardiff: University of Wales

Gruffydd, R. Geraint. (1989/90) ‘From Gododdin to Gwynedd: reflections on the story of Cunedda’. Studia Celtica Vol XXIV/XXV : 1-14.

- (1994)’In Search of Elmet’ Studia Celtica XXVIII:63-79.

Kirby, DP (1977) ‘Welsh bards and the border’, p. 31-42; In: Mercian Studies Ed. Ann Dornier, Leicaster University Press.

Knight, J.K. (1984) ‘Glamorgan AD 400-1100′, p. 315-364; In: Early Glamorgan: Prehistory and Early History Series: Glamorgan Country History, 2. H.N. Savory, Editor. Published by Glamorgan County Trust, Ltd. and distributed by University of Wales Press.

Pearce, Susan M. (1971) ‘The Traditions of the Royal King-List of Dumnonia’ Transactions of the Honorable Society of Cymmrodorionp. 128-39. [Cornwall and Devon]

Rahtz, P.A. (1982) ‘Celtic Society in Somerset AD 400-700′Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies  30: 176-200.

Rowland, Jenny. (1990) Early Welsh Saga Poetry: A Study and Edition of the Englynion D.S. Brewer.

- (1995) ‘Warfare and Horses in the Gododdin and the Problem of Catraeth’ Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies. 30:13-40.

Sims-Williams, Patrick (1996) “The Death of Urien” Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies  32: 25-56.

Steane, Kate and Alan Vince (1993) ‘Post-Roman Lincoln: Archaeological Evidence for Activity in Lincoln from the 5th to the 9th centuries’, p. 71-79; In: Pre-Viking Lindsey Alan Vince Editor. Lincoln Archaeological Studies No. 1.

Taylor, C. M. (1992) ‘Elmet: boundaries and Celtic survival in the post-Roman period’ Medieval History  2:111-129.

Wood, Juliette. (1984) ‘Maelgwn Gwynedd: A Forgotten Welsh Hero’ Trivium 19:103-117.

I would also suggest looking at the early Welsh hagiography. Most of it was written c. 1100 but is probably the closest to narrative history. Many of these saints date to c. 550-750 and most have royal connections.

Henken, Elissa R. (1987) Traditions of the Welsh Saints  [Cambridge] D.S. Brewer

Caradoc of Llancarfan and a monk of Rhys Two Lives of Gildas Translated and notes by Hugh Williams. Reprinted by Llanerch Press. (online)

Taylor, Thomas (1991 reprint) The Life of St. Samson of Dol. Llanerch Publishers. (immigrated from Wales to Brittany in the late 6th century – the earliest life of a British saint?)

There are lives of David (Dewi), Cadoc (Cadog) Illtud, Gildas, Padarn, Ninnian (Uinnau), Beuno of Gwynedd. William of Malmesbury’s History of Glastonbury might also be useful.

There are a variety of books about Welsh saints that I haven’t included here also.



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7 comments on “Books on Early Medieval Britons

  1. Elizabeth says:

    This is fabulous & useful, thank you! I’m concentrating on a slightly earlier period, but some of these — the overkingship articles, especially — looks fascinating.

    (You might want to double-check your code, there seems to be a stray extra-small font-size attribute right before “External Contacts and the Economy of Late Roman Britain and Post-Roman Britain”.)

  2. Lisa Smith says:

    Wow! Me head is a-spinnin’! Thanks for all this, Michelle – good info here.

  3. Sally Wilde says:

    Hi Michelle
    Thank you for this. At least half of these references are new to me, so thank you, thank you.

  4. I find teaching early medieval Wales abominably difficult. There is arguably more primary material than for Scotland, but very little of it accessible (even if most of it translated) and since almost all the synthetic scholarship of any scale is Wendy Davies’s two books, the excellence of these nonetheless makes it very hard to set any kind of question to structure work other than “does Davies’s picture of early medieval Wales make sense?”, which, since it obviously does as far as it can given the sources, is essentially a secondary essay. Snyder and Dark do provide some alternatives but really, it is astonishing that an area so keen on its own identity has not somehow generated a replacement for Davies’s textbook you cite here, now thirty years old and going strong, not least for lack of any replacement.

    • What is really needed is something like Tim Clarkson’s Men of the North or Barbara Yorke’s Kings and Kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England but for Wales. These could be basic foundational texts to give the instructor a base to build off of.

      • I agree entirely. With Men of the North Tim has wandered into the Welsh lands, I wonder if there’s any chance of him continuing south? The weird thing is that there is such a book for Cornwall already, by Susan Pearce, albeit nearly as old as Wendy Davies’s Welsh ones…

        • Tim says:

          I too would like to have a clearer picture of early medieval Wales. Researching the topic for a Cambrian equivalent of ‘Men of the North’ seems a good way to tackle it, though whether I’m up for the challenge is doubtful. From where I’m standing it looks a daunting prospect. As soon as we venture beyond the work of Wendy Davies we’re out of the comfort zone. Plus, with quite a lot of the secondary literature published solely in Welsh, it would be difficult for a monolingual Sais such as myself to get to the heart of things.

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