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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Britain

 

Bernaccia (Bryneich / Berneich) (Romano-Britons)

FeatureWith the expulsion of Roman officials in AD 409 (see feature link), Britain again became independent of Rome and was not re-occupied. The fragmentation which had begun to emerge towards the end of the fourth century now appears to have accelerated, with minor princes, newly declared kings, and Roman-style magistrates all vying for power and influence while also facing the threat of extinction at the hands of the various barbarian tribes which were encroaching from all sides.

The Bernaccian Britons were the descendants of the southern Votadini tribes. The state is mentioned in Old Welsh poetry, in the writings of Nennius, and elsewhere under the name of Bryneich or Brynaich. It is not quite clear whether this is simply supposed to represent a Welsh version of the later Anglian Bernicia, or was the name of a preceding Brythonic kingdom.

However, as the name seems to derive from the Brythonic word Berniccā / 'berna', perhaps meaning 'gap' or 'land of mountain passes', the latter hypothesis would appear to be correct. It is possible that the name had its earliest origins in the Brigantes, although this is generally discounted.

FeatureCalling upon either Corstopitum, just south of Hadrian's Wall, or Cataractonium (later Catreath of the Mabinogion (see feature link) modern Catterick) as its capital, Bernaccia encompassed the land to the east of the Pennines, from the northern border of Ebrauc to the mass of the Lammermuir Hills which separated it from the northern Guotodin.

FeatureIts traditional northern border stretched between Gefron (Yeavering, bordering the Cheviot Hills) across to the sea to the Din Guardi of Nennius (section 61 - see the feature link for the Historia Brittonum text). This fortress, Din Guardi or Dynguayth, is equated with Bamburgh thanks to an entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, while it also serves as the probable site of the Arthurian Joyous Gard. It lies midway between the two Roman walls.

Considering the fact that the kings of Bernaccia were claimed as descendants of 'High King' Coel Hen, who was also known as the 'King of Northern Britain', it seems likely that the remaining few kilometres of territory would also be claimed by them. Ynys Metcaut / Innis Metcaud (Isle of Winds) was the Celtic name for Lindisfarne.

FeatureMuch is uncertain about all of the kingdoms of the north (see the feature link), and the line of kings shown here is only able to be tied to Bernaccia through the last of them, Morgan Bulc, who was a key player in the ultimately doomed 'Confederation of British Kings' in the late sixth century.

He is one of the 'Men of the North', but much of the north's traditions and tales were later transported to Wales, which is the only place in which they survived, and they were changed somewhat by the development of the Welsh tongue from the fifth century onwards. This explains why there are sometimes multiple versions of the same Bernaccian name, some Welsh (shown here first and known through the traditional Welsh sources) and some Romano-British (extrapolated or mentioned in isolation).

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from Roman Britain: A New History, Guy de la Bédoyère, from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, from the Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons), Nennius (J A Giles, Ed & Trans, 1841, published as part of Six Old English Chronicles (Henry G Bohn, London, 1848)), from A History of the English Church and People, The Venerable Bede (Leo Sherley-Price translation - revised by R E Latham), and from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Anne Savage (translator and collator, Guild Publishing, 1983).)

 

fl c.420 - ?

Germanianus / Garbanion ap Coel

Son of Coel Hen. 'King of Northern Britain'.

c.420

Bernaccia is divided from the kingdom of Northern Britain which is controlled from the former Roman capital of the north, Eboracum. The new kingdom is created for Germanianus, a younger son of Coel Hen (almost certainly more readily known by this Latinised name which is not used in the later Welsh annals). His territory had formerly been the southern part of the Votadini tribal lands.

Corstopitum
The ruins of Corstopitum (now Corbridge), a legionary fort which was probably an important part of Bernaccia's defence network in the fifth and sixth centuries AD, and also for the Votadini tribe prior to that

fl c.445

Dyfnwal Moelmud 'the Bald & Silent'

Son. Used by Nennius as High King Dunvallo Molmutius.

c.475

It seems to be Dyfnwal Moelmud who is remembered in myth as the pre-Roman conquest High King Dunvallo Molmutius. One of his sons, at least, also seems to be remembered as Brennius, and if the story regarding Brennius and his brother are based on real events then it seems likely that the two sons of Dyfnwal Moelmud inherit the kingdom, dividing it between them and perhaps coming into conflict.

Geoffrey of Monmouth even links Belinus and Brennius directly to 'Northumbria', the later kingdom which encompasses Bernaccian territory, suggesting that he knows the true origin of the story. As Bran Hen of the circa 490s is sometimes also linked to Guotodin, it would seem likely that he holds the northern part of Bernaccia in a post-Roman Britain.

Map of Britain AD 450-600
This map of Britain concentrates on British territories and kingdoms which were established during the fourth and fifth centuries AD, as the Saxons and Angles began their settlement of the east coast (click or tap on map to view full sized)

fl c.475

Cuncar / Cyngar ap Dyfnwal

Son.

c.490s - ?

Bran Hen 'the Old'

Brother. In conflict with Cuncar? Also king of Guotodin.

c.490

The apparent absence of Gawain of Guotodin - hero of the medieval tale Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - from his kingdom either allows Bran Hen to take control of it, or care of the kingdom is passed to him by Gawain.

c.500 - 540?

Morgan Bulc accedes to the kingship of a fully reunited Bernaccia, apparently at young age, when his childless uncle dies (or perhaps hands the kingdom to him from his own apparent base in Guotodin).

It seems plausible to assume that it is around this time that Germanic warriors are settled along the coast or on Hadrian's Wall as laeti in order to strengthen the territory's external defences. The same thing had already happened in the region of Deywr. Bernaccia's laeti later claim descent from Benoc's Folk in Angeln.

? - 547

Morgan Bulc 'Thunderbolt'

Son of Cuncar. High King? Dispossessed.

547

Like the region of Deywr to the south, Bernaccia has its own group of Angles who have previously been settled in its territory as laeti, mercenaries hired to help protect the territory who are offered land in important locations.

Malton
The remains of the defensive bank at Roman Derventio (modern Malton) are shown here, which formed the main military post in the region of Deywr

In this case, the Angles are led by Ida. They take control of the kingdom, forcing Morgan Bulc out of what becomes Bernicia. To the south, the kingdom of Ebrauc is still strong enough to lay claims to Catraeth.

Morgan Bulc continues to claim the rule of Bernaccia from outside the kingdom, and fights on for many years. He appears to shift his power base to Guotodin, where he is mentioned as ruling after Gawain absents the kingdom.

It is possible he also claims the title of High King. He is part of the 'Confederation of British Kings' in northern Britain which consists of Elmet, Alt Clut and North Rheged which, in 590, lays siege to Ynys Metcaut. He is also credited with arranging the assassination of Urien Rheged, and defeating his son, so fatally weakening that kingdom and the British cause in the north.

 
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