Merlin, Myrddin Wyllt, & the ‘Men of the North’


Tim Clarkson, Scotland’s Merlin: A Medieval Legend and Its Dark Age Origins, John Donald, 2016. Amazon US $22 PB, $8 Kindle.

Tim Clarkson’s new book, Scotland’s Merlin, was a lovely break from my usual plague reading. Merlin is one of the few Arthurian characters who can stand alone from the Arthurian corpus as the Welsh figure Myrddin. This is not totally surprising because he was constructed from several long free-standing figures of British history and legend.

My friend Tim strongly states that Arthur’s Merlin is a figment of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s creative process (and I agree). Geoffrey drew on three legends to craft his Merlin Ambrosius (Emrys): the Dinas Emrys origin story, the Carmarthen origin story, and the prophetic wild man of the north legend. He named him well because the Merlin in Geoffrey’s History of the King of Britain is primarily a fusion of Ambrosius (Emrys) from the Historia Brittonum and a lost legend of Merlin from Carmarthen. Merlin’s interaction with Vortigern and the dragons completely comes from the Dinas Emrys story in the Historia Brittonum. The wild man Myrddin Wyllt primarily comes to the fore in Geoffrey’s last work the Vita Merlini (Life of Merlin).


The young Emrys and King Vortigern, with the dragons below the floor, originally from the Historia Brittonum

Now, I suspect that the Carmarthen origin story may have been as well developed as the Dinas Emrys legend so it may have contributed a little more than Tim credits, but what that is, is complete conjecture. It must mean something though that Geoffrey is so consistent in localizing Merlin’s hereditary lands in Carmarthen/South Wales.  Geoffrey’s first work, the Prophecies of Merlin, makes up a significant portion of Merlin material in this History of the Kings. We often forget that Geoffrey restricts Merlin’s role in Arthur’s life to his conception. Geoffrey claims that fans wanted more on Merlin so he produced his last work the Life of Merlin (Vita Merlini) that now begins to draw much more explicitly on the prophetic northern wild man of the woods motif. If this northern wild man, Myrddin Wyllt (the wild), is the only source of Merlin as a prophet, then he is indeed the primary source for the figure. Although Geoffrey’s Life of Merlin did not circulate nearly as much as his History, it never the less contributed to Merlin’s later development as a character, albeit without many direct textual references.

It is the northern figure, known as Myrddin Wyllt in medieval Welsh literature, that Tim traces to his origins in the Caledonian woods of southern Scotland. The name Myrddin comes from the Old Welsh word for Carmarthen, which was caer-fyrddin, a softened form of Caer-Myrddin.  The modern Carmarthen is the anglicized version of Caer-Fyrddin.screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-1-51-08-am Although linked to a place name that would usually support it being a person’s name, that is not true in this case. Caer-Fyrddin (Caer-Myrddin) is more likely derived from the Roman Moridunum, possibly meaning sea fortress, itself derived from the pre-Roman Brittonic name. Type Caerfyrddin into google translate and listen to its pronunciation. Looking at the map here we can see that Carmarthen is placed on a river leading to a wide three-pronged fork (trident?) shaped estuary. Although not on the coast today, it is possible that it was located at the safest area in an estuary wetland.  It has been the capital of the pre-Roman Demetae tribe, so indeed before the Roman period it is likely that a prince or ruler was seated at Mordunum or ‘the Sea Fortress’. Clarkson places the origins of the name as early as Caermyrddin as early as the sixth century when the Romans had been gone long enough for new placenames and origin stories to develop. Indeed, this may be a similar date and process to the Dinas Emrys story preserved first in the Historia Brittonum.

[On a side note, Merlin’s association with a ‘sea fortress’ may be the source of tales that Merlin has a glass house or glass isle (perhaps invisible house/fortress). Coupled with Mryddin Wyllt’s apple tree, it’s not a great fictional leap to associate Merlin with Avalon, the isle of apples.]

At some point before the ninth century the name Myrddin was transferred, or rather replaced, the name of a northern British mad prophet named Lailoken in tales told in Wales. Some of the texts of Lailoken’s northern exploits even mention that he is known to some as Myrddin. However, his name has mutated through storytelling there is a good reason to believe that a real man, Lailoken, is the historical nugget at the core of Myrddin Wyllt. Lailoken is the focus of the rest of Clarkson’s book.

The battle of Arfderydd, dated to 573 in the Annales Cambriae (AC), was one of the favorite topics of early Welsh bards. It has left its mark in the ninth century (?) Myrddin poetry, the Welsh triads (bardic memetic devices), Rhydderch Hael lore and St Kentigern legends.  It was mentioned in the oldest ninth century version of the Annals Cambriae listing the British leaders on both sides. A much later recension adds that “Myrddin went mad” to the entry. All sources claim that it was an especially ferocious battle even by Dark Age standards; no quarter was given, nor apparently expected. Lailoken/Myrddin is reputed to have been a sole survivor of the losing side who goes mad from the horror of battle becoming a recluse in the Caledonian woods. He is essentially suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome or shell shock. He retreats to the woods living with a pet pig and uttering prophecies or omens from the branches of an apple tree. One of the oldest sources for Lailoken (in his own name) is in his interactions with St Kentigern in hagiography.

Perhaps the most important contribution this book makes to early British history, beyond the evolution of Merlin, is Clarkson’s analysis of the sources for the battle of Arfderydd. I agree with him that there is enough to believe that the battle took place and probably it’s location, but practically nothing else is historically credible. It became a magnet to collect the heroes of the North, generally on the winning side (of course). There is nothing that we can draw about who was actually involved, beyond the brothers Peredur and Gwrgi who defeated Gwenddolau (listed in the AC). All of the other figures were drawn to the lore of this battle like moths to a flame. Geoffrey’s Vita Merlini even has Lailoken/ Myrddin/ Merlin change sides in the battle so he can side with the winners! (contra to all other sources)

Early Modern Antiquarians attempts to reconstruct the battle from clues primarily in the Welsh triads and Myrddin poetry jumped to the conclusion that it was a battle between pagans and Christians (for no reason whatsoever). Primarily based on this assumption, Merlin was rebranded a druid. Clarkson has a whole chapter on this that should be read by anyone who wants to claim that he was a druid! “Merlin’s underpants!” — Merlin’s reputed role as a druid or magician is based on a desire by fans of Celtic mythology and those who want to ‘enhance’ or reputedly make Arthurian lore more realistic. There is no medieval basis for any of this. Both Lailoken/Myrddin and Arthur are nothing but Christian in the medieval material.

From here Clarkson takes on a variety of topics related to the evolution of Merlin and Arthuriana particularly in northern Britain. It was all very interesting and is good material for novelists who want to use medieval lore. I really enjoyed the book and I think anyone who likes Merlin, Arthuriana, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s process,  or medieval lore will enjoy it, so I heartily recommend it.

Merlin and the details of the battle of Arfderydd are now firmly in the realm of literature. As fiction, authors are free to embellish and borrow from wherever they want. I suspect that any real Dark Age figures behind these figures would be just fine with becoming mythic heroes. They knew well that this was their best bet at gaining lasting fame and the details no longer mattered in the realpolitik of their land within just a few generations after their time. Our instance to know ‘what really happened’ would have been largely lost on them. They well understood Achilles’ choice to opt for fame over being grounded in the real world with a long mortal life but soon forgotten.



Heavenfield Round-up 7: June Links

I’m not sure where June went. I wish I had been more productive, but luckily some of my fellow bloggers have been  much busier.

Bamburgh Research Project has been out in the field for most of June. Various updates have been posted on their blog.

Curt Emanuel, the Medieval History Geek, has posts on late antique panegyrics and mixed feelings on studying human tragedies.

Guy Halsall, the Historian on the Edge, has posted a recent conference paper Feud, Vengeance, Politics and History in Early Medieval Europe.

Kristina Killgrove of Powered by Osteons has put her presentation from the Moving Romans conference in Holland on her blog: Etched in Bone: Uncovering information about immigrants to Rome.

Magistra et Mater writes about why medievalists write cultural history.

Jonathan Jarrett of A Corner of Tenth Century Europe wrote on medieval gender studies and Vandals and archaeology.

Tim Clarkson of Senchus wrote about the Aberlady Cross and Medieval Archaeology goes online. At Heart of the Kingdom, Tim provides some background for a short story on a queen of Strathclyde.

Diane McIlmoyle of Esmeralda’s Cumbrian History and Folklore writes about the 9th century Kingmoor Ring.

Carl Pyrdum of Got Medieval finds reason to call fundamentalists medieval, dragging poor Nessie and St Columba into the fray.

Andy Gaunt of Archaeology and History of Sherwood Forest has posts on the Sherwood Forest Nature Reserve and Bothamsall Castle.

Clas Merdin has a series of posts this month on the foundation legends of London as New Troy, London as Mallory’s Winchester, and the London Stone. A little background for the coming Olympics in London in July.

Karen Jolly of Revealing Words has been scouting her sites for her novel around Oakley and interpreting what a note about an Anglo-Saxon tent means.

Sally Wilde has posts on her research on the importance of male heirs, early Welsh research, on landscape research.

Here at Heavenfield, I have posts on secondary sources for the Britons and a review of Disney/Pixar’s Brave. also reviewed my Kalamazoo talk Famine and Pestilence in the Irish Sea Region, 500-800 AD.  On Contagions, I also have a post on plague at the siege of Caffa in 1346 that is reported to have started the Black Death in Europe.

Heavenfield Round-up 5: Signs of Power and Piety

The find of the week was the grave of a medieval abbot of Furness Abbey in Cumbria. Past Horizons has the best write up of the discovery at the abbey, which is just southwest of the Lake District. They have also had good features on reinterpreting the mass grave of Vikings found in Oxford, and possible remnants of the first Anglo-Saxon church at York.

Antiquarian’s Attic also has featured the finds at Furness abbey, and the purchase of the St Cuthbert Gospel by the British Library.

Karen Jolly of Revealing Words is investigating the design of the church at Chester-le-Street for her novel, and refining her design here.

Tim Clarkson of Senchus reviews People of Early Scotland, and on his blog Heart of the Kingdom looks at the hogbacks of Govan and Penrith.

Esmeralda’s Cumbrian Folklore and History brings us a picture of Cumbria’s oldest cat from St Cuthbert’s church, Penrith.

Jonathan Jarrett of A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe reviews James Fraser’s From Caledonia to Pictland (and hits the nail right on the head),  his digital work, on Alex Woolf’s vision of early medieval Scotland, and writes about Anglo-Saxon moneyers (or lack of them) and coin distribution.

Curt Emanual, the Medieval History Geek, takes up the defense of Quintus Aurelius Symmachus this week.

Magistra et Mater writes about the complicated history of Justinian’s code and its use in later Italy.

Nicola Griffith of Gemæcca writes about her vision of York and its church during King Edwin’s time.

Historian Sally Wilde has a new blog to write about her crime novel project on the murder of Hereric, father of St Hild. She has several posts up in the last week.

Clas Merdin has posts on Arthur’s Stone and on the Oxford mass Viking grave.

Geoffrey Chaucer hath a Blog and he also hath a new post up.

Mak Wilson of Badonicus posts about his plans for his Arthurian project.

Viqueen of Norse and Viking Ramblings writes about a fieldtrip to the Isle of Man to study runes.

Bamburgh Research Project blog has a new video up of excavations in the west ward of the castle and a post on Bamburgh village.

From the Professor Awesome’s Unlocked Wordhoard: The Battle of Maldon

Kingship in Early Northern Britain

When we write about 5-7th century kings we have this misplaced need to assign them a kingdom. We forget that when their contemporaries in neighboring kingdoms referred to them, they were usually referred to as King of Britons, King of Picts, King of Saxons. Within their people, they do refer to kings of tribes, or kingdoms. Bede refers to English kings by their kingdom, but their neighbors are kings of the Irish/Scots, Picts or Britons. He never gives those kings a region or kingdom. The Irish refer to a dizzying array of kings and their realms, sometimes by kindred, sometimes by place. Kindreds only really seem to apply to the Irish because only they seem to have settlements based on kinship with enough longevity to generate a big enough population to be politically significant. All of the other peoples of Britain likely had large royal kindreds, but they were still a small proportion of the total population they rule over. Among the Saxons, Britons and Picts, it is more likely that kings would be identified by their core region or primary fortress. I think the kings of Alt Clut and potentially Eten (Edinburgh)  are a primary examples of this.

Fraser points out that we actually don’t know that Eugein (Owain) ap Beli, King of Britons, who defeated and slew Domnall Brecc of Dalriada (Cenel nGabran) in the battle of Strathcarron in 642 was actually king of Alt Clut. (Notably Owain is the next and only king of Britons recorded after Rhydderch of Alt Clut before the late 7th century.) This is especially true because his reputed brother is Bridei ap Beli, King of Picts who killed his cousin Ecgfrith of Northumbria in 685. Fraser wonders if this family didn’t originate as kings of the Miathi. Could the Miathi have produced kings that could be either British or Pictish? Possibly, there was no people more on the frontier than them. The Maithi were considered a major Pictish tribe by the Romans but had their lands incorporated within the British civitas of the Damnonii, the same civitas as Alt Clut. After the time of Oswiu of Bernicia, the Britons were reduced to a small enough area around Alt Clut that one king may indeed have formed a kingdom later called Strathclyde. Prior to the consolidation of Northumbria and its extended hegemony, fixed kingdoms may simply not have existed. There were many kings who ruled form a primary fortress and the power of these local dynasties bobbed up and down with the success of individual kings. Only when one dynasty retained control of a large region with significant hegemony over its neighbors did something like a kingdom begin to form. Now, Eugein/Owain’s dynasty did manage to retain control of the remaining northern Britons, based from Alt Clut at least part of the time, from the mid-7th century until it finally fell to a combined Scottish and Norse siege. Such a dynasty is what was needed for Strathclyde to form into an actual kingdom. The only king who can’t be linked into Owain’s progeny is Guret who died in 658, but as the Welsh triads call him base born and this is the height of Oswiu of Northumbria’s power, it is possible that he was imposed upon them by Oswiu. It is noticable that Owain’s two sons who reputedly succeed him were named Elphin (Ælfwine) and Domnagual (Domnall) suggesting that Owain’s family had intermarried extensively with both the Scots and English. Recall that Owain’s brother Bridei ap Beli is said to be the cousin of Ecgfrith of Northumbria in the Historia Brittonum.

As for kings of this kindred moving into Alt Clut, I think this is perfectly natural for any major British dynasty that grew up in this area to take Alt Clut (Dumbarton). First of all, its possibly the best fortress in the area and further away from the English. I think the most important reason for Alt Clut being so important though is its position on the Irish Sea. Sitting at the mouth of the Firth of the Clyde, it is ideally placed for Irish Sea trade. Even Stirling, if there was a fortress there in the 7th century, was largely inaccessible to trade because the English and the Niuduari Picts controlled the entrance to the Firth of Forth.

Kingship in southern Britain among both the Britons and English may have been a little different in that it may have been based on Roman administrative districts at least initially. The Romano-Britons would have been conditioned to Roman-style administration. Although post-Roman political systems could not recreate the Roman system, it is likely that they retained some Roman territorial boundaries. Many of the kingdoms of southern Britain seem to be at least initially loosely based on Roman civitas.

Northern British Bibliography

This is a bibliography for Strathclyde,  Gododdin (Lothian),  Isle of Man, and Cumbria — ‘the Men of the North’, Gwyr y Gogledd.

Alcock, Leslie(1979) ‘ The north Britons, the Picts and the Scots’, p. 134-42; In: The End of Roman Britain: Papers Arising from a Conference, Durham 1978 Edited by P.J. Casey. BAR British Series 71.

  • (1983)’Gwyr Y Gogledd: An Archaeological Appraisal’ Archaeological Cambrensis. 132: 1-18.
  • and Elizabeth Alock, and Sally M Foster(1986) “Reconnaissance excavations on Early Historic fortifications and other royal sites in Scotland, 1974-84: 1, Excavations at St. Abb’s Head, Berwickshire, 1980” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquarians of Scotland 116: 255-79.
  • (Jarrow Lecture 1988) “Bede, Eddis, and the Forts of the North Britons” pp. 775-806 in Bede and his World: Volume II The Jarrow Lectures 1979-1993 Aldershot, Variorum.
  • and Elizabeth Alcock(1990) “Reconnaissance excavations on Early Historic fortifications and other royal sites in Scotland, 1974-84: 4, Excavations at Alt Clut, Clyde Rock, Strathclyde, 1974-1975” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 120: 95-149.
  • (1993) “Image and Icon in Pictish Sculpture” p. 230-236 in The Age of Migrating Ideas: Early Medieval Art in Northern Britain and Ireland Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Insular Art held in the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh, 3-6 January 1991. R. Michael Spearman and John Higgett, editors. Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland and Stroud: Alan Sutton Publishing.

Anderson, A.O. (1922) Early Sources in Scottish History Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd.

Anderson, Marjorie, O. (1980) Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland. Edinburgh and London: Scottish Academic Press.

Aneirin, Y Gododdin

  • Translation and notes by Kenneth Jackson. In: The Gododdin: the Oldest Scottish Poem (1969) Endinburgh Univeristy Press.
  • Translation, introduction and notes by A.O.H. Jarman Aneirin: Y Gododdin Britian’s Oldest Heroic Poem (1990) Gomer Press
  • Translation, Introduction and Notes by John Koch In: The Gododdin of Aneirin: Text and Context from Dark Age North Britain. (1997)

Annales Cambriae In: Nennius, British History and the Welsh Annals. Edited and translated by John Morris. (1980) History from the Sources Series.

Bede Ecclesiatical History of the English People. (1994) Edited by Judith McClure and Roger Collins. Oxford University Press.

Brooke, Daphne (1991) “The Northumbrian settlements in Galloway and Carrick: an historical assessment” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 121:295-327.

  • (1994) Wild Men and Holy Places: St. Ninian, Whithorn, and the Medieval Realm of Galloway Edinburgh: Canongate Press.

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

Carey, John and John Koch. 2000. The Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland and Wales. Celtic Studies Publications (anthology)

Cessford, Craig (1994) “Pictish Raiders at Trusty’s Hill?” Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquity Society 69: 81-88.

  • (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) “Yorkshire and the Gododdin Poem” Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 68: 241-243.
  • (1996) “Exogamous Marriages between Anglo-Saxons and Britons in Seventh Century Northern Britain” Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 9: 49-52.
  • (1999)”Relations Between hte Britons in Southern Scotland and the Anglo-Saxon Northumbria” pp. 150-160 in Northumbria’s Golden Age. Edited by Jane Hawkes and Susan Mills. Sutton Publishing.

Chadwick, H.M. (1959) ‘Vortigern’, p. 21-33; ‘The Foundation of the Early British Kingdoms’, p. 47-56; In: Studies in Early British History Nora Chadwick, Ed. (1959) Cambridge University Press.

Chadwick, N. (1953) ‘The Lost Literature of Celtic Scotland: Caw of Pritdin and Arthur of Britain’ Scottish Gaelic Studies. 7: 115-183.

  • (1959) ‘A Note on the Name Vortigern’, p. 34-46; ‘A Note on Constantine Prince of Devon’, p. 56-60; ‘A Note on Faustus and Riocatus’, p. 254-363; In: Studies in Early British History Nora Chadwick, Ed. (1959) Cambridge University Press.
  • (1963) ‘The Conversion of Northumbria: a comparison of sources’ ; ‘The Battle of Chester: A study of Sources’; ‘Bede, St. Colman, and the Irish Abbey of Mayo’, p. 186-205 (1963) In: Nora Chadwick, Eds. Celt and Saxon: Studies in the Early Border
  • (1969) Early Brittany.  Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
  • (1976) The British Heroic Age: The Welsh and the Men of the North. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Charles-Edwards, Thomas (1978) ‘The Authenticity of the Gododdin: An Historians View’, p. 44-71; In: Astudiaethau ar yr Hengerdd (Studies in Old Welsh Poetry) Ed. Rachel Bromwich and R. Brinley Jones. University of Wales Press.

Clancy, Thomas Owen and Gilbert Markus. (1999) The Triumph Tree: Scotland’s Earliest Poetry AD 550-1350. Canongate Scottish Classics. (anthology)

Clarkson, T. J. (1993) “Richmond and Catraeth” Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 26: 15-20.

  • (1999) “The Gododdin Revisited” The Heroic Age Issue 1
  • (2006) “Locating Maserfelth” The Heroic Age Issue 9
  • (2008) The Picts: A History.

Cubbon, A. M. (1982) ‘The Early Church on the Isle of Man’, p. 257-282 In: The Early Church in Western Britain and Ireland Susan Pearce Editor, BAR British Series 102

Clancy, Thomas Owen (2000) “Scotland, the ‘Nennian’ recension of the Historia Brittonum, and the Lebor Bretnach” p. 87-107 in Kings, Clerics, and Chronicles in Scotland 500-1297: Essays in honour of Marjorie Ogilvie Anderson on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday Simon Taylor, Editor. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

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

  • ( 1993) ‘St. Patrick’s uillula and the fifth-century occupation of Romano-British villa’, p. 19-24 ; In: St. Patrick, AD. 493-1993. David Dumville, Editor. Woodbridge Publishers
  • (1994) Civitas to Kingdom: British Political Continuity 400-800. St. Martin’s Press.
  • (1996) ‘Proto-industrialisation and the end of the Roman economy’, p. 1-22; ‘Pottery and local production at the end of Roman Britain’, p. 53-66; In: External Contacts and the Economy of Late Roman Britain and Post-Roman Britain. K.R. Dark Editor. Boydell Press.
  • (1998) ‘Centuries of Roman Survival in the West’ British Archaeology 32 (March)
  • (2002) Britain and the End of the Roman Empire. Tempus.

Dark, S. P.(Petra) (1996) ‘Palaeoecological evidence for landscape continuity and change in Britain ca AD 400-800’, p. 23-53; In: External Contacts and the Economy of Late Roman Britain and Post-Roman Britain. K.R. Dark Editor. Boydell Press.

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

Fraser, James E. (2002) The Battle of Dunnichen, 685. Tempus.

Foster, I. (1969) ‘Presidential Address: Wales and North Britain’. Archaeologigia Cambrensis. CXVII: 1 16.

Gardner, Rex (1999) “Kentigern, Columba, and Oswald: The Ripon Connexion” Northern History 35:1-26.

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.

Hanson, W.S. and Campbell, D.B. (1986) ‘The Brigantes: From Clientage to Conquest’ Britannia 17:73-89.

Harke, Heinrich (December 1995) ‘Finding Britons in Anglo-Saxon Graves  British Archaeology 10

Hartley, B. R. and Fitts, R.L. (1988) The Brigantes. Alan Sutton Publisher.

Haycock, Marged (1983-84) ‘Preiddeu Annwn and the Figure of Taliesin’ Studia Celtica 18/19: 52-78

Henken, E. Traditions of the Welsh Saints. (1987) Cambridge England: D.S. Brewer.

Higham, N. (1992a) ‘Medieval Overkingship in Wales: the Earliest Evidence’ Welsh History Review  p.145-159.

Hughes, Kathleen. (Jarrow Lecture 1970) “Early Christianity in Pictland” pp. 268-284 in Bede and his World: Volume I Jarrow Lectures 1958-1978 Aldershot: Variorum , 1994.

Hughes, Kathleen. (1980) Edited by David Dumville. Celtic Britain in the Early Middle Ages: Studies in Scottish and Welsh Sources. Studies in Celtic History Vol. II. Boydell Press.

Hughson, Irene (1997) “Horses in the Early Historic Period: Evidence from the Pictish Sculptured Stones” p. 23-42 in The Horse in Celtic Culture: Medieval Welsh Perspectives Edited by Sioned Davies adn Nerys Ann Jones. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Jackson, Kenneth. (1953-8) ‘The site of Mount Badon’ Journal of Celtic Studies 2: 152-5.p

  • (1955) ‘The Britons in Southern Scotland’ Antiquity 29: 77-88.
  • (1959) “Edinburgh and the Occupation of Lothian” p. 35-42 in The Anglo-Saxons: Studies in some Aspects of their History and Culture presented to Bruce Dickens Peter Clemoes, Ed. London: Barnes and Bowes.
  • (1963) ‘On the Northern British Section in Nennius’, p. 20-62 In: Celt and Saxon: Studies in the Early British Border. ed. N. Chadwick. Cambridge University Press.
  • (1980) ‘Brigomaglos and St. Briog’ Archaeologia Aeliana Fifth Series, Volume X. The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Jobey, George ‘The Settlement at Doublestead and Romano-British Settlement on the Coastal Plain between the Tyne and the Forth’ (1982) Archaeologia Aeliana Fifth Series Volume X: 1-23.

Johnson, ‘Dual Personality of Gildas’ (1948) Antiquity. 22: 38-40

Jones, Glyn E. (1976) ‘Early Prose: The Mabinogi’ p.189-202, In: A Guide to Welsh Literature  Volume I, Edited by A.O.H. Jarman and Gwilym Rees Hughes. Swansea: Christopher Davies Publisher.

Jones, G.R.J. (1975) ‘Early Territorial Orgainization in Gwynedd and Elmet’ Northern History. 10:30-41.

Jones, Gwyn and Jones, Thomas, translators (1993) The Mabinogion Everyman Publishers

Jones, Michael E. (1979) ‘Climate, nutrition, and disease: an hypothesis of Romano-British population’, p. 231-51; In: The End of Roman Britain: Papers Arising from a Conference, Durham 1978 Edited by P.J. Casey. BAR British Series 71.

  • (1996) The End of Roman Britain Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Jones, Michael E. and Casey, John (1988)’The Gallic Chronicle Restored: A Chronology for the Anglo-Saxon Invasions and the End of Roman Britain” Britannia XIX: 367-98.

Jones, Thomas. (1967) ‘The Black Book of Caermarthen , Stanzas of the Graves’ Proceedings of the British Acandemy. p. 97-137.

Kent, J. P. C. (1979) ‘The end of Roman Britain: the literary and numismatic evidence reviewed’, p. 15 27; In: The End of Roman Britain: Papers Arising from a Conference, Durham 1978 Edited by P.J. Casey. BAR British Series 71.

Kirby, D. P. (1962) ‘Strathclyde and Cumbria: a survey of historical development to 1092’ Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society  lxii : 77-94.

  • (1968) ‘Vortigern’ Bulletin Board of Celtic Studies  23:37-59.
  • (1976-8) ‘British Dynastic History in the Pre-Viking Period’ Bulletin Board of Celtic Studies  27: 81-133.
  • (1977) ‘Welsh bards and the border’, p. 31-42; In: Mercian Studies Ed. Ann Dornier, Leicaster University Press.

Klar, Kathryn (1988) ‘What are the Gwarchanau?’, p. 57-96; In: Early Welsh Poetry: Studies in the Book of Aneirin, Brynley F. Roberts Editor. Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales.

Laing, Lloyd and Jennifer(1997) Celtic Britain and Ireland: the Myth of the Dark Ages. Barnes and Noble Books

Levison, William (1940) ‘An Eighth-century Poem on St. Ninian’ Antiquity xvi: 280-91.

Lovecy, Ian. (1976) ‘The End of Celtic Britain: A Sixth-Century Battle near Lindisfarne’ Archaeologia Aeliana 5(IV): 31-45.

Mann, J. C. (1979) ‘Hadrian’s Wall: the last phases’, p. 144-51; In: The End of Roman Britain: Papers Arising from a Conference, Durham 1978 Edited by P.J. Casey. BAR British Series 71.

MacQuarrie, Alan (1986) ‘The Career of Saint Kentigern of Glasgow: Vitae, Lectiones,  and Glimpses of Fact’ Innes Review 37(1): 3-24.

  • (1993) ‘The Kings of Strathclyde, c400-1018’, p1-19; In: Medieval Scotland : Crown, Lordship and Community Eds. Alexander Grant and Keith Stringer. Edinburgh University Press.

MacQueen, John. (1954) ‘Maponus in Medieval Tradtion’ Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society 31: 43-57.

  • (1956) ‘Yvain, Ewen, and Owein ap Urien’ Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society P. 107-131
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The Long Seventh Century

There seems to be a new trend to name certain transitional centuries as “long centuries” because the important events that happened tend to wrap over both century marks. Its not surprising that real life doesn’t match our numbering system. I’ve heard of the long 19th century* – from the American Revolution to World War I – a transition from the kingdoms of the European colonial powers to the beginning of the modern era with the development of modren democracies and communism. As pivotal as the 20th century was, its main events really run from World War I to I suppose to the collapse of the Soviet Union. I really wonder when historians will see the current era beginning. And will it be globalism (led by the internet) or terrorism that characterizes this era? Not really a topic for Heavenfield. I saw an call for papers today for Kazoo that evokes “the long 11th century”. I suppose for Anglo-Saxons it has to be the long 11th century because they are no longer in control of their destiny by the 12th century. I wonder though if it should be the long 12th century from Edward the Confessor (1060s) to Magna Carta under John in 1215. This is not really a topic for Heavenfield either.

I would like to consider here that the seventh century is such a transitional century. A long seventh century makes sense even if only because it is the period primarily covered by Bede’s History. It is an important century for many reasons not least of which are that most people in the British Isles were converted to Christianity in this long century and there was a transition from tribal rule to recognizable medieval kingdoms. So how would we define a long 7th century?

570s to c. 720?

If we are bold enough not to strictly use Bede’s History and also look at the others peoples of the British Isles, then I think it starts to take shape around the 560s to 720s. Ironically its not English dates that I would bracket the era with…. c. 570 sees the rise of the partnership between St. Columba and King Aedan mac Gabran (c. 574). Aedan was the dominant power in the northern half of Britain until the battle of Degsastan in 603. Bede was so concerned about the coincidence that Augustine of Canterbury arrived in the same year that St Columba died that he gave Augustine a double entry in 596 and 597 in his chronological summary so he can show that Augustine was sent to Britain in 596 before the death of Columba (but he chickened out and had to be sent again and didn’t arrive until 597). For that matter, the way Bede writes about the battle of Degsastan, multiple dating methods, and “from that time no Irish king in Britain has dared to make war on the English race to his day” shows how powerful the Irish of Aedan’s day were. For Bede the battle of Degsastan was pivotal. Among the English, the royal dynasties begin to become visible in the last quarter of the 6th century so that beginning the “long 7th century” then works for them. Among the Britons, the 570s they are still dominant in almost half of southern Britain (south of Hadrian’s wall) with the ‘Men of the North’ in their prime and in Wales, Powys is strong in the western midlands with kings Cynan Garwen and his son Selyf. In 570, the British still control a contiguous western flank of Britain from Strathclyde to Cornwall. In some ways we could say that in 570 Celtic peoples are dominant overall.

Going to the other end of the spectrum, I would end the long 7th century around 720.  There is no need to end it with Bede’s death since he tells us little about recent history. Ending in c. 720 coincides with the acceptance of Roman rites by Iona, the expulsion of Columban clergy from Pictland, the reign of influential King Necthan mac Derilei in Pictland, the end of the Ætehlfrithings in Northumbria and the rise of Æthelbald in Mercia. The British have been broken. Strathclyde is a small island of Britons in the far north. Wales is a collection of feuding kingdoms obsessed with what went wrong and Dumnonia/Cornwall have been separated off from other Britons (and perhaps interacting with Brittany as much as Wales). Ireland is not as easy to fit into this but the long 7th century still fits for them at least in the evolution of their monastic system and its conversion to Roman rites and eventually organization.

So how would you define the long 7th century?


*There is an important German history book that looks at the long 19th century that first brought the concept to my attention. For North America and Europe, this definition seems to make sense, but perhaps not for other continents.

Apostate Picts

I was thinking about early references to baptisms in the British Isles which led me to Patrick’s Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. As far as I can recall, Patrick’s letter is the earliest reference to baptism (yes / no?). Patrick’s letter is written to a Christian society in Britain, and he further claims that Coroticus is an ally of the Scots and apostate Picts. Keeping in mind that Patrick is writing in the second half of the 5th century, say c. 475 this  is very interesting. Oddly Patrick doesn’t actually make a statement about whether or not the Scots are Christian, although grouping them with apostate Picts may suggest pagan. Scots here probably means Dalriada and they are apparently an ally of Coroticus, who is believed to be a king of Strathclyde. According to Patrick, Coroticus is also an ally of the “apostate Picts”. What does this mean in c. 475? At the very least it means that Patrick is aware of the ebb and flow of evangelism among the southern Picts.

The main Christian center in northern Britain seems to be around Whithorn in the Rhinns of Galloway  north west of Carlisle around the bay (quite close to Ireland across the bay). There are archaeological remains of a large Christian center that go back to the 5th century. More information about Whithorn can be found here. This Saturday, September 13th will be the annual Whithorn lecture, more information can be found here, and its sounds very interesting.

It was not the only Christian center in the region. Remains of Christian churches have been found along Hadrian’s Wall. Patrick’s knowledge of Coroticus and his allies has suggested that he knew the area and may have lived in this area.

Getting back to what apostate Picts means in c. 475… the southern Picts are usually said to have been converted by St Ninian. Traditionally Ninian is dated to right after Martin of Tours based on Bede’s account of his life, placing him it c. 400.  Modern historians tend to push Ninian forward in time to match that of St Finian of Moville, after Patrick in the first half of the 6th century. It is quite possible that earlier evangelism had occurred and ultimately not lasted. It is also possible that Ninian was credited with evangelism that occurred before his time, but clearly Patrick knows about some evangelism that has gone on presumably before he came to Ireland. Does Patrick’s knowledge of missionary work among the Picts support an early Ninian? I don’t know, probably not.

Who the Picts are is another question. I think we could probably say the southern Picts, in part because they are assocaited with the Scots. Given the early Dalriadans are associated with the area along the Firth of Forth, I would guess Picts living near Britons and Scots on the northern shore of the Firth of Forth.

So what do you make of Patrick’s claim that Coroticus’ allies are apostate Picts?