This month’s lost kingdom is Gododdin in southern Scotland (early medieval northern Northumbria). This post just gets longer and longer and still seems incomplete, so hopefully it will do to give you a flavor of this lost kingdom.
Gododdin is the one British kingdom that appears to have been conquered and annexed into Bernicia/Northumbria under King Oswald and his brother/successor King Oswiu. The Annals of Ulster records a siege of Edinburgh in 638, the middle of Oswald’s reign. It doesn’t record who won or if anyone was killed. Edinburgh would have been an impressive fortress and submission may have been as good as it got. Within months of Oswald’s death on 5 August 642, another battle was fought at Strathcarron east of Edinburgh between King Owain of Strathclyde and King Domhnall Brecc of Dalriada. The poem Y Gododdin records a victory stanza for Owain singing of Domhnall’s death.
“I saw a war-band, they came from Pentir [in Dalriada], and splendidly they bore themselves around the beacon. I saw a second, they came down from their homestead: They had risen at the word of Nwython’s grandson [Owain ap Beli ap Nwython]. I saw stalwart men, they came at dawn, and crows picked at the head of Dyfnwal Frych [Domhnall Brecc]” (B text, Y Gododdin, Clancy, p. 114)
The Annals of Ulster then record a batte between Oswiu of Bernicia and the Britons immediately afterwards. Given the breath of Bernician battles we don’t know where these Britons were, but I believe this was a battle between Bernicia and Strathclyde over control of Gododdin. I think Oswald’s death set off a contest between all the major northern powers — Bernicia, Dalriada, and Strathclyde — over the prime territory of Gododdin controlling the entire southern shore of the Firth of Forth. There is no evidence that Gododdin itself was involved in deciding its own fate, suggesting that the native dynasty of Gododdin ceased to be under Oswald or earlier. It is possible that Gododdin was already the territorial possession of another kingdom, possibly the Britons of Strathclyde/Dumbarton. Dalriada is also a possibility as Aedan mac Gabran was credited with a victory over Manau Gododdin, the northern region of Gododdin, around Stirling.
If Penda’s last seige of King Oswiu is correctly placed at Stirling (Urbs Iudeu), then the Gododdin would have been fully under Oswiu’s control by 655. Iudeu is the British name for the Firth of Forth. It is interesting to note that in Koch’s translation of Y Gododdin, he does find Oswiu’s name (Oswyd) in one of the elegies.
“The man dispatched to Catraeth with the day drank a mead feast at midnight. The lamentation of the assembled hosts was sorrowful for the mission compelled up the firey hero who died. None attacked Catraeth whose preparing for battle [while carousing] over mead drinking had been so mighty. None so completely drove off [?]Oswiu from the stronghold of Eidyn [Edinburgh]. Tudfwlch, [while he remained] for a long time away from his land and his settlements used to slay Saxons every seventh day. His maniliness will endure as a legacy through the memory of him amongst his splendid comrades. Wherever Tudfwlch — strength of the tribesmen — arrived, the place of spear shafts would be a bloody enclosure– Cilydd’s son [? or son of the Caledonian]” (Y Gododdin, A.13; Koch, p. 65)
It should be noted that Catraeth is also mentioned in a poetic elegy of Cadwallon of Gywnedd, who was slain by Oswald in 634. Makes me wonder if we have the dating of Catraeth so completely wrong. Needless to say if this is a reference to some action at Catterick that Cadwallon took part in c. 633-634, it is possible the same hero defended Edyn in 638. It is also possible that Oswiu was a major participant in the battle of 638 under his brother and his name is remembered as the final conqueror of Gododdin in his own reign.
From Oswiu’s reign it appears to be securely under Bernicia’s control. The Anglican diocese of Abercorn was in northern Gododdin to serve Pictland, so probably the edge of secure English territory in the early 680s. It seems likely that the majority of the former kingdom of Gododdin was securely in the diocese of Lindisfarne and the monastery of Coldingham was securely in Gododdin territory. Many of the battles with the Picts in the late seventh century were probably to protect Gododdin, now fully incorporated into Bernicia from Pictish encroachment.
In Roman times this region, which may have also extended into what we now call Bernicia, was heavily settled. It was always a frontier region of the Roman empire and only under direct Roman control when the empire was extended to the Antonine Wall. There are numerous hill forts and major settlements throughout the region. Traprain Law was one of the longest occupied hill forts and from it was found the Traprain Law hoard, mostly Roman silver. It is thought that the British of the Gododdin were alternatively employed by the Romans and raiders of Roman territory as suited the times. Most of the great silver neck chains with Pictish symbols discovered have been found in the territory of the Gododdin. It is thought that these neck chains may have been inspired by Roman uniforms. Other hillforts that may have been within the area considered to be Gododdin include hill forts at the modern places of Edinburgh, Dunbar, Coldingham, Bamburgh, Yeavering (and Yeavering Bell). There are also Pictish symbol stones in the Gododdin territory, although these may have come in the post-Roman times.
In some interpretations, Roman and immediately post-Roman Gododdin was a huge coastal kingdom that incorporated three territories: Manau (sometimes called Manau Gododdin, near Stirling), Lleuddinyawn (Lothian, Lleu’s territory), and Berneich (Bernicia). By this theory, Berneich/Bernicia was an area with some Anglican federates/mercenaries who settled just north of Hadrian’s Wall, eventually taking over that territory (perhaps in Ida’s time). Then by Oswiu’s time the territory of old Gododdin had been reunited into an expanded territory of Bernicia/Northumbria.
Votandini -> Gododdin -> Lothian
The kingdom of Gododdin does survive today in the regional name Lothian. Linguists seem to accept the continuous development of the Roman era name Votandini to Gododdin and eventually to Lothian. Given that ‘dd’ in Welsh is the ‘th’ sound its really only shortened with the V-> G-> L transition.
Y Gododdin elegies
Y Gododdin is a collection of about 300 elegies that claim to be all by one person named Aneirin. It reads like a collection of elegies remembering the recently fallen. The overall frame claims that the elegies are all from the battle of Catraeth (probably Catterick) sometime in the 5-6th century. However, linguists are sure that it has at least three phases of elegies — an original level from Gododdin, second level from its transmission to Strathclyde/Dumbarton (where the Domnall Brecc death notice is added), and finally to Gwynedd where it was finally preserved in the Book of Aneirin. Even the original layer from Gododdin probably includes elegies from a wider period of time beyond just one battle at Catraeth. I’ll give you a few of these elegies here from Koch’s translation to give you a feel for them.
“The rock of Lleu’s tribe, the folk of Lleu’s mountain stronghold at Gododdin’s frontier; the frontier was held. Counsel was taken, storm gathering; the vessel from over the Firth of a warband from over the Firth. [A man] who nurtures warbands came to us out of Din Dywyd to be an obstruction to the king’s warband. The shield of Grugyn before the bull of battle had a broken boss. [B2.24=B1.3=A.48, p. 3]
It was usual for him to be mounted upon a high-spirited horse defending Gododdin at the forefront of the men eager for fighting. It was usual for him to be fleet like a deer. It was usual for him to attack Deira’s retinue. It was usual for Wolstan’s son — though his father was no sovereign lord — that what he said was heeded. It was usual for the sake of the mountain court that sheilds be broken through [and] reddened before Yrfai Lord of Eidyn. [B2.28, p. 9]
More than three hundred of the finest were slain. He struck down at both the middle and the extremities. The most generous man was splendid before the host. From the herd, he used to distribute horses in winter. [Gorddur] used to bring black crows down in front of the wall of the fortified town — though he was not Arthur— among men mighty in feats in the front of the barrier of alder wood — Gorddur. [B2.38, p. 23]
Wearing an ornament of rank, in the front line’s array, armed in battle’s uproar, before the day[of his fatal battle] he was a hero in deeds, a centurion counterthrusting against armies. Five fifties would fall before his blades [there fell of men of Deira and Bernicia] twenty hundred laid waste at one time. Rather than to a wedding rite, his flesh went to wolves, rather than to an altar, his victory spoils to the crow, rather than a proper funeral, his blood flowed the ground, [all] in exchange for mead in the pre-eminent seat with the assembled hosts. For as long as there are singers, Hyfaidd will be praised. [A.5, A.1, p. 57]”
Legends of Gododdin
The Gododdin takes its place in early British lore in several enduring legends. It is traditionally considered the home of King Lot of Lothian in Arthuriana. His original name was Lleuddun Luyddog of Dinas Eidyn and is said to have been buried at the ancient hill fort of Dunpelder Law. The main ancient fortress of Traprain Law is also said to be his seat. The name Lothian is said to derive from his name Leudonia, but of course as a mythical/legendary figure it was the other way around. He is also connected with the Welsh god Lleu.
Like many early welsh figures, he is said to be the maternal grandfather of several saints. According to the Bonedd y Sant, his grandsons include:
- St Kentigern (Mungo) by his daughter Denw/Thaney and Owain son of Urien Rheged
- St Lleuddad and others by his daughter Tenoi, wife of Dingad
- St Beuno by his daughter Peren, wife of Bugi
He is mentioned in a the oldest fragmentary life of St Kentigern as a half-pagan king who is killed by a swineherd. Jocelin’s Life of Kentigern claims that when Thaney was found to be pregnant with Kentigern, his maternal grandfather tries to kill his daughter by throwing her from the cliff of Dunpelder. When she survives this she is set adrift in the Forth of Firth/sea where she landed at Culenros where St. Sevanus was living. She gave birth and St. Sevanus baptized them both. St Sevanus raised and educated Kentigern until he moved to Glasgow, where he founded a monastery and later became bishop. Kentigern is the patron saint of Glasgow.
After Geoffrey of Monmouth, as Lot of Lothian he is variously King Arthur’s uncle or brother-in-law. Exploring the development of the character Lot of Lothian is beyond this post, but here are his origins…
Other various legends of Gododdin include the origins of Cunedda, founder of the first dynasty of Gwynedd, is said to have come from Manau Gododdin, a northern section that wraps around the head of the Firth of Forth, to North Wales (Gwynedd). This claim is first made in the Historia Brittonum from c. 825. It seems likely that this whole legend has been greatly influenced by the origins of King Merfyn, founder of the second dynasty of Gwynedd, on the Isle of Man (Manau). As the Historia Brittonum was written in his time, placing the founder of the first dynasty of Gwynedd in another Manau could have helped justify his conquest. If it unclear if the Scottish region of Manau (where Aedan mac Gabran wins a battle) was ever really part of Gododdin or if this is a later creation of Gwynedd.
Thomas Owen Clancy, ed. The Triumph Tree: Scotland’s Earliest Poetry AD 550-1350. Canongate, 1998.
Peter C Bartrum. A Welsh Classical Dictionary: People in History and Legend up to about AD 1000. National Library of Wales, 1993.
John T Koch, ed and trans. The Gododdin of Aneirin: Text and Context from Dark-Age North Britain. University of Wales Press, 1997.