PW: Rhun ap Urien of Rheged

Rhun (Rum) ap Urien figures prominently in the Historia Brittonum, where he is mentioned three times. This suggests that he or his court may have supplied a source text for the Historia Brittonum. If Rheged was successfully integrated into Northumbria with its British aristocrasy or at least clerics largely intact, it is possible that Rheged played a role in the transmission of the primary Northumbrian document to Gwynedd.

Rhun’s mentions in the Historia Brittonum include:

  • Rhun is mentioned in the preface of the Historia Brittonum in some (but not all versions) versions as a source of some of the information.
  • Rhun is claimed to be the bishop who baptized Edwin of Deira. It essentially replaces the name of Bishop Paulinus with that of Rhun.

“Edwin, son of Alla, reigned seventeen years, seized on Elmete, and expelled Cerdic, its king…. The following Easter Edwin himself received baptism, and twelve thousand of his subjects with him. If any one wishes to know who baptized them, it was Rum Map Urbgen: he was engaged forty days in baptizing all classes of the Saxons, and by his preaching many believed on Christ.”(HB 63)

  • Oswiu of Northumbria’s first wife is listed as Rheinmellt daughter of Royth son of Rhun. This Rhun is usually assumed to be Rhun ap Urien. “But Oswy had two wives, Riemmelth, the daughter of Royth, son of Rum; and Eanfled, the daughter of Edwin, son of Alla.” (HB 57)

Caitlin Corning published an interesting paper years ago suggesting that Rhun’s baptism of Edwin, repeated specifically also in the Annals Cambriae, came from a confused record of Rhun standing as Edwin’s godfather. She noted that contemporary records of godfathers used very similar language to claims of baptizers. The question of godfathers and Edwin’s relationship with the the Britons is an interesting one. Who else but a British king could have stood as Edwin’s godfather? Bede makes no claim for another English king or even for Bishop Paulinus himself and its questionable if Paulinus can be both baptizer and godfather. It is interesting that the baptism of Edwin of Deira by Rhun ap Urien is the only mention of a figure from Rheged in the Annals Cambriae. Otherwise, Urien of Rheged’s enemies are featured in the Annales Cambriae.

There have been suggestions over the years that Rheged and Deira were allied against Bernicia. Æthelfrith had so devistated the Britons that they may have been willing to negotiate with Edwin. Edwin and the Britons had one thing in common; both of their peoples may have evolved out of the former Roman provice. The Britons were descendants of British tribes and perhaps Romano-British military families, while the Deiran dynasty may have ties to English federate troops in the Vale of York. On the other hand, the Bernicians were settled outside the former Roman province and may have been seen by Britons and southern English alike as more barbarian.

Rhun’s grandaughter Rheinmellt’s marriage to Oswiu would have been part of the dynasty’s realignment after the fall of Cadwallon. We should remember that the new Bernician king Oswald was not only Christian, but part of an Irish church that was in commonion with the British church. It is interesting that Rheinmellt’s probable son Alchfrith was King of Deria and an 8th century cross in the Carlisle area bears the name of Alchfrith’s wife. If they had children, then the line of Rhun of Rheged may have continued among the Northumbrian nobles. According to legend, the child saint St Rumwold was the son of Cyneburgh and a Northumbrian prince, undoubably Alchfrith son of Oswiu, her husband. This child Rumwold was born after the death of his father, but it is not unlikely that after over ten years of marriage they had other children.


3 thoughts on “PW: Rhun ap Urien of Rheged

  1. Bore Da!

    I’m convinved that it can’t be said that just because Rhiainfelt married Oswy, that Rheged became part of Northumbria – the converse, that the High King of Northumbria became the King of Rheged in his own right, would be my understanding.

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