- Solway Firth map showing Cumbria and Dumfries. Whithorn is located on the large promontory on the eastern side of Lace Bay. Across Wig Bay from Whithorn is Kirkcudbright (Church of St Cuthbert) named by the Norse.
There are hints that the area around Carlisle was an important region in the late antique/early medieval period. It has been hypothesized for some time that St Patrick came from a settlement around Birdoswald fort near Carlisle. From there his primary area of work in Ulster Ireland is not far away, and explain his familiarity with Coroticus of Alt Clut (Dumbarton) and know of the apostate Picts that Coroticus did business with. Patrick’s possible origins here and the early importance of Whithorn suggests that Galloway was an important early Christian area, which fits with Christian artifacts found along Hadrian’s Wall, especially at Birdoswald
British tribes of Galloway during Roman era according to Ptolomy. Whithorn is in the Lena estuary. Alt Clut (Dumbarton) is named for the River Clyde. Regigonius bay is literally ‘very royal bay’ and Dun regit is located there, possibly indicating the location of Rheged. The Novantae are mentioned in Y Gododdin.
Roman Cumbria and Galloway – Province of Valentia?
Cumbria and Galloway were an important area in late Roman Britain. It anchored the western end of Hadrian’s wall and its ports brought supplies to its northern troops. Some believe that the unlocated Roman province of Valentia, organized by Count Theodosius in c. 369, out of land he recovered from the enemy straddled the western end of the wall. Given that the troops of the Dux Britanniarum command were divided into two portions in the Notitia Dignitatum and that north of Hardian’s wall is the most likely area to be recovered in the late fourth century, Valentia is may have been in Cumbria and perhaps extending into Galloway and the Border Country.
Carlisle was an important Roman site, anchoring the western end of Hadrian’s Wall. We know that many of the Roman buildings and at least a fountain existed as late as the early 780s when Bishop Cuthbert visited Carlisle.
Ravenglass (Glannaventa) was Major Roman naval base whose remains partially survive fairly far down the cost of Cumbria (south of St Bee’s head). It was the main supply point for the western end of Hadrian’s wall. It was occupied by the Romans for ever 300 years. Although the port was quite far south and Cumbria’s Lake District is very mountainous, it was well-connected to Carlisle and the rest of the wall by good Roman roads. In general good Roman roads connected many coastal sites with Carlisle.
Post-Roman Cumbria and Galloway
The region of Cumbria and Galloway was the active zone for the ‘Men of the North’, famous in British poetry. Many of the ‘Men of the North’ appear to have been located in old Roman ruins along Hadrian’s Wall. All of the ‘Men of the North’, including the dynasty of Rheged, are claimed to be descendents of Coel Hen (the Old), although this is almost certainly a pseudo-geneaology. Coel may be the namesake of Colchester, a major city that may have controlled Hadrian’s Wall.
||The battle of Arfderydd (Arthuret) ‡between the sons of Eliffer and Gwenddolau son of Ceidio; in which battle Gwenddolau fell; Merlin went mad.‡ (573, Annals Cambriae)
The famous Battle of Arthuret is generally located near a Roman fortlet on the River Liddel north of Hadrian’s Wall. The battle was fought between Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio, and Gwrgi and Peredur sons of Eliffer of York and Dunod ap Pabo. Dunod is listed in the Welsh Triads and poetry as an ally of the sons of Eliffer. It was famed when Gwenddoleu’s men fought on for a fortnight after his death until they were also massacred. The battle of Arthuret was famous for its furousity and because Gwenddoleu’s warrior bard was Mryddin Wyllt (the wild), who went mad after watching his kin die. We can only imagine the carnage that followed when Gwenddoleu’s men failed to surrender after the death of their lord as was expected. It is possible that Mryddin was allowed to leave as a bard’s privilege? Needless to say Mad Merlin reappears in British lore as the inspiration for Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Merlin. Read Geoffrey’s Vita Merlini sometime, for quite a different view of Merlin than you are used to as Arthur’s mentor. The Vita Merlini is Geoffrey’s attempt to merge his Merlin with Mryddin Wyllt of British lore. Geoffrey wanted to claim Mryddin the prophet as his inspiration for Arthur’s Merlin (who is really Geoffrey’s creation). Geoffrey’s innovative use of British lore in his History of the Kings of Britain is a fascinating topic for another day.
The death of Columba. The death of king Dunod +son of Pabo+. Augustine and Mellitus converted the English to Christ. (595, Annals Cambriae)
Dunod ap Pabo Prydain is the last recorded Cumbrian king. He died in c. 595, during the time of Æthelfrith of Bernicia. We know that Molly Miller suggested that Papcastle in Cumbria might be linked with Dunod’s father Pabo Post Pyrdain (‘pillar of Britain’). Of the kings featured in the ‘Men of the North’ poetry Dunod is the last survivor but we don’t know how he died. Poetry suggests that he was active in fighting British kings at Arthuret and later in pursuing Urien’s sons after his death in the 570s. The sons of Eliffer fell in 580 according to the Annals Cambriae, against Bernicia according to the Welsh traids. Papcastle or Ravenglass would have been a good location for a major British king in this period and he may have dominated the last quarter of the sixth century. The coastal area of the Lake District would have been far enough from the English to have not been directly impacted until at least the time of Æthelfrith and even then, there is no evidence of English settlement moving into the area until at least the time of Oswiu or Ecgfrith. With the Cumbrian kings being oriented toward the sea, it is quite likely that he would have been in touch with Aedan mac Gabran of Dalriada, the major regional king of the northern Irish sea in that period. In 596, months after the death of St Columba mentioned on the same line as Dunod’s death in the AC, Aedan mac Gabran lost his sons Bran and Domangart in battle. Adomnan of Iona wrote in his Life of Columba that Domangart mac Aedan died fighting the English. If Aedan fought a major battle against Æthelfrith in c. 595/6 it is quite possible that Dunod ap Pabo fell there.
St Ninian and the White House
Christianity was already well established in Cumbria and Galloway when the English arrived. It had been so since the mid-Roman period and as far as we know had never died out. Christian Latin inscriptions exist near Whithorn from the late fifth century.
St Ninian's Chapel, Whithorn
It is Bede who places St Ninian at the turn of the fifth century, at the time of St Martin. According to Bede, Ninian journeyed to Rome and on his return trip stopped in Tours where he learned of St Martin’s new monasticism and picked up masons to build his stone church (white house) dedicated to St Martin. Now it is extremely unlikely that Ninian dedicated a church to St Martin so soon after Martin’s death. Although there is some reason to believe that Ninian or Uianiau as he was known in Brythonic traveled, but not necessarily all the way to Rome. A more likely hypothesis is that Ninian is the same person as Uianiau, a correspondent of Gildas, whose manifesto is dated to c. 540s. Uianiau was a missionary in Ireland at the time, but was clearly a fellow Briton and if he was from the Whithorn area, he would be a fellow north Briton with Gildas, who was reputed to be the son of Caw of Pictland. Uianiau is known in Ireland as Finian of Moville, a teacher of St Columba. The dates for Uiniau/Finian make much more sense for Ninian of Whithorn. Uiniau’s dates would place him at his maturity in the 550s-560s, an elder of St Columba and by the 550s, a church could indeed have been decimated to St Martin in Galloway. Uiniau and Gildas were both Britons who were very dedicated to Martin-style monasticism.
People who supported St Ninian’s cult at Whithorn had every reason to claim that he was loyal to Rome and known personally to St Martin, because this made them orthodox for the English to support. The typical way to show support for Rome is to give him a pilgrimage to Rome itself and by making him known to St Martin, it makes him predate the British schism with Rome (politically and ecclesiastically). Bede could be enthusiastic for St Ninian for three reasons: 1) his reputed mission to the Picts predates St Columba, 2) he is a Roman saint, and 3) he was connected to St Martin, an exemplar of monasticism. Ninian being a Roman saint in some ways makes him a rival of the cult of St Alban and St Sixtus in Canterbury as Roman saints. Indeed had Bede known that Uiniau/Finian/Ninian was reputed to be a teacher of Columba he might have omitted him entirely. As I hope to write about someday, I think Bede had quite the grudge against Columba. (Btw, Uiniau would be written as Winin today and there are place names in the region incorporating Winin or Finian.)
Whithorn in Galloway
English Cumbria and Galloway
By the time of King Ecgfrith, Cumbria was incorporated into Bernicia in particular. Bishop Cuthbert was known to have traveled to the area regularly, placing it within the diocese of Lindisfarne. Bede reported that Cuthbert made an annual visit to his friend Herbert of Derwentwater, a hermit, in Cumbria. Bede also reports that Queen Iremenberg was visiting her sister in a convent in Carlisle when Ecgfrith is killed in May of 685. Iremenburg is later said to be an abbess by Stephen of Ripon in his Life of Bishop Wilfrid. It is quite likely that she entered her sister’s convent at Carlisle and eventually became abbess there.
The Rim of the Solway also came into English hands at about this time. In the early 8th century, Whithorn became the seat of a Northumbrian bishop. We know that Pechthelm, the first English bishop of Whithorn or Candida Casa (White House), was a friend of Bede’s and Bishop Acca’s. He had been a deacon for Bishop Aldhelm of Sherbourne and his advice was sought by St Boniface from Germany. Boniface would have met Petchthelm in Wessex. He died before 735/6. Bede claims that Pechthelm was bishop when he finished the Historia in 731. Pechthelm’s successor was Frithuwald, Bishop of Whithorn form c. 735-764. He was succeeded by Pechtwine until 776/777. He was succeeded by two more English bishops before the English lost Cumbria to Scots and Picts. Galloway was eventually settled by the Norse-Gaels (Gall-Gaidel) from whom it took the name Galloway. Both Whithorn and Kirkcudbright reflect Norse naming traditions.
Fergus of Galloway
In much later medieval times a Norse-Gael named Fergus became Lord of Galloway. He is best known as the protagonist of a French Arthurian Romance written by a Norman Guillaume de Clerc (William). Fergus is portrayed as a heroic Perceval-like figure. The woods of Galloway have figured into various Arthurian legends.
Picts of Galloway
The Picts of Galloway are a myth. The origins of the myth probably originate with Bede’s claim that St Ninian was a missionary among the Picts. There is also a Pictish symbol stone in Galloway at Trusty’s Hill. A Pictish symbol stone means that there was a Pict there but not necessarily that there were many Picts living in the area. Clarkson’s The Picts: A History tells me that the legend of the Picts of Galloway didn’t begin until Norman times when the mixed British-Scottish-Norse ancestry warriors from the hills of Galloway were the fiercest men in the army of Scotland, the most barbarian, and therefore obviously the relics of the Picts.
Trusty’s Hill has been associated with the Tristain legend, as Tristain’s original name was Trustan/Drustan, a Pictish name. (Drust is a very common Pictish royal name.) The area of Trusty’s Hill is also associated with a King March ap Meirchion. King March/Mark and his sister’s son Trustan/Drustan bring up the possibility of fosterage in the area which could account for a stray Pictish symbol. Such a symbol could also come from an exile and his warband being given refuge in the area. Indeed an exiled warband being given Trusty’s Hill could account for the Pictish name and stone. We don’t need to appeal to stray raiders when mercenaries, exiles, and fostered nobles will all do.