This month’s lost kingdom is the British kingdom of Craven. It has been identified by placenames only and its existence as a distinct district in the Domesday Book. The district of Craven is to the north-west of Elmet reaching to the rivers Ribble, Wharfe, and Aire. Note that in the past, most of Craven has been referred to as southern Rheged. So, now we know that this was not part of Rheged.
Wood asserts that the name Craven is Old Welsh from crafu ‘to scratch or to scrap’, meaning scraped land. This fits the faults, the rock formations, of this mountainous region. A large portion of Craven was in the Pennine mountains.
Wood describes Craven as “a large district in Anglo-Saxon times, controlling the upper dales of the Wharfe, Ribble, and Aire, and containing two possible shires in the eleventh century.” It seems to fit what Bede and contemporary writers called “regions” within the “provinces” (kingdoms). Wood notes that these “regions”, where evidence exists, appear to have once been independent tribes, clans or kingdoms.
Places in the region of Craven are mentioned once in Anglo-Saxon literature. When church of Ripon is consecrated, Bishop Wilfrid reads out a list of lands given to him by Kings Ecgfrith and his brother King Ælfwine. These lands were “holy places in various parts of the country which the British clergy, fleeing from our own hostile sword, had deserted….They gave Wilfrid land round Ribble, Yeadon, Dent, and Catlow” (Farmer, p. 124). These lands all fall in the district of the proposed kingdom of Craven and therefore date its transfer to Northumbria, probably recently under Kings Ecgfrith and Ælfwine in the early 670s. Expanding ‘Northumbria’ east of the Pennines appears to be Ecgfrith’s primary areas of conquest, probably against relatively minor opposition (compared to Mercia south of Elmet or the Picts north of Lothian).
Most English kings prior to Ecgfrith appear to have been willing or compelled to be satisfied with hegemony over their British neighbors. It may be that they simply didn’t have enough English retainers to fill all the necessary administrative positions within an enlarged kingdom. Yet, the last significant British power within what we normally consider Northumbria fell with Cadwallon at the battle of Denisesburna against Oswald in 634. The Bernician dynasty was still too weak in 634 to occupy and expel the British aristocrats. There is reason to think that, like his father Æthelfrith, Oswald was willing to work with British kingdoms, as evidenced by the marriage of his brother Oswiu to Rheinmellt great granddaughter of Urien Rheged. Likewise, Oswiu seems to have been satisfied by exerting hegemony over most of the northern British kingdoms. Although Oswiu exerted hegemony over distant kingdoms (Pictland, Dalriada, Strathclyde, Lindsey, and elsewhere), Ecgfrith is the first credited with expanding direct control over more British territory. Gododdin, their nearest northern neighbor, is the only region that Oswald and Oswiu seem to have annexed directly into Bernicia. Likewise, Edwin is only credited with permanently annexing Elmet.
References and suggested reading:
PN Wood (1996) “On the Little British Kingdom of Craven” Northern History 32: 1-20.
CM Taylor (1992) “Elmet: boundaries and Celtic survival in the post-Roman period.” Medieval History 2: 111-129.
Farmer, David (ed and trans) (1988) “Eddius Stephanus: Life of Wilfrid” in The Age of Bede. Penguin.