History Files


Post-Roman Britain

Descent of the Kingdoms of Northern Britain

Compiled by Peter Kessler, 1 April 1999



Cerneu was Coel Hen's oldest son, and his main inheritor. His name in Welsh is Cenyw, Latin Ceneus and English Kenneth.

His kingdom comprised most of the north and midlands or Britain, and he continued to claim the title King of Northern Britain. He must have been very Romanised in his operations, upholding Roman Christian beliefs in the face of intense pressure from invading Picts and Scotti from the north and Angles on the east coast, all of them pagan in their beliefs.

For this, he appears to have been canonised.

In the south, High King Vortigern's policy of employing Saxon laeti (mercenaries in the Roman tradition) to defeat British enemies meant that, for most of his reign, Ceneu was obliged to accept the help of the Saxons, Octha (grandson of Hengist, and later King of Kent) and Ebissa (who could be the same person as Cissa, possible King of the South Saxons), in pushing back invading Picts from his kingdom.

The perceived interference of the foederati was widely resented and it was not until after the large scale rebellion of the mercenaries based in Kent under Hengist and Horsa that they were finally brought under control. Magnanimous in victory, Ceneu apparently allowed the Saxons to settle in Deywr (later Deira in the East Yorkshire/Humberside region). Upon his death, Ceneu's kingdom was divided between his two sons, Gwrgant and Mor.

Gwrgant took the western lands stretching from below the Salway to the Mersey, Rheged.

Mor inherited the central kingdom around the capital of the North, Ebrauc, and land to the north of the Salway.

Following generations sub-divided the kingdoms still further until the North consisted of a plethora of small kingdoms in four distinct areas:

Ebrauc (the British Kingdom of York), centred on that city and covered most of North Yorkshire including Deywr (Humberside).

The Pennines covered an area that became divided as two kingdoms (names uncertain). One is listed here as Dunoting, centred on Dent in West Yorkshire, while the other was probably based on the Southern Pennines, in the Peak District (northern Derbyshire).

Elmet, a West Yorkshire-based Kingdom which was centred on Campodunom (Leeds), and survives today as a suffix to places in the area, such as Sherburne-in-Elmet.

Rheged comprised of North Rheged (modern Cumbria) based around Caer-Ligualid (Carlisle), and South Rheged (Lancashire & Manchester) based around Ribchester or Lancaster. It also gained the North Salway kingdom of Caer-Guendoleu in later years.

All of this is better illustrated in the table below, showing the break-up of a single kingdom into the patchwork that was conquered piecemeal by the Angles.



under Coel, based at Ebrauc


Branch1.gif (1513 bytes)

Branch2.gif (1503 bytes)
under Cerneu, based at Ebrauc
under Garbanion
Branch4.gif (1545 bytes)

Branch1.gif (1513 bytes)

Branch2.gif (1503 bytes)
under Gwrast
under Mor, based at Ebrauc

Branch1.gif (1513 bytes)

Branch2.gif (1503 bytes)

Branch1.gif (1513 bytes)

Branch2.gif (1503 bytes) Branch2.gif (1503 bytes)
under Merchion
under Masgwid
under Enion
under Arthwys
under Dynod
Branch4.gif (1545 bytes) Branch4.gif (1545 bytes) Branch4.gif (1545 bytes)

Branch1.gif (1513 bytes)

Branch2.gif (1503 bytes)

Branch1.gif (1513 bytes)

Branch2.gif (1503 bytes)
under Cynfarch
under Elidyr
under Peredyr
under Ceidio


The details of Coel's reign, and the circumstances leading to the break-up of his Northern British Kingdom can be found in the first part of this feature.

One region not mentioned here is the territory of the Votadini. By the fifth century they had evolved into the Guotodin. This northern tribe governed much of what was later Northern Britain and were made up of several sub-tribes.

Manaw Gododdin was based in the north, and is listed alongside the main Guotodin rulers. The southern Votodini emerged into independence as the Bernaccians. It seems likely that Coel included the Guotodin under his own rule, and that their later kings were descended from or linked to him.

Evidence for this is sketchy, but then so is much of the early post-Roman history of Northern Britain.



Text copyright P L Kessler. An original feature for the History Files.