History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Britain


Caer-Guendoleu / Carwinley (Solway) (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 north remained a military region though, with unity here initially much more solid for as long as the regional capital at Ebrauc remained defensible. When taking into account not-entirely-reliable documentation from later periods, it would appear that the former tribal area of the Selgovae, north of Hadrian's Wall, only crystallised as Caer-Guendoleu or Caer Guenddolou at the start of the sixth century AD.

This petty kingdom bore the same name as its chief stronghold, Caer Guendoleu. It was ruled by the king who was most closely associated with the area, Guenddolau, with the name having survived with a good deal of alteration as Carwinley. The kingdom was bordered by Bernaccia to the east, Rheged to the south, Galwyddel to the west, and Alt Clut to the north.

FeatureThe Selgovae appear to have been staunchly opposed to the Roman invasion, judging by the number of forts built in their territory, but the early battles may have knocked the heart out of their defiance. Instead, the focus for resistance seems to have moved north, to the Damnonii, and it is this people who can be found dominating much of the Selgovae territory by the end of the fourth century.

The southern remnant, near Hadrian's Wall, was part of 'High King' Coel Hen's 'Kingdom of Northern Britain' (see feature link). According to tradition, this territory gradually broke up during the course of the fifth and early sixth centuries, and Caer-Guendoleu emerged as one of its last, and smallest, divisions. As an independent territory, Caer-Guendoleu seems first to have been ruled by Ceidio, the son of Einion ap Mor, who was himself the first king of a reduced Ebrauc.

Upon Einion's death, his territory was divided between his sons, with Eliffer gaining Ebrauc itself, and Ceidio gaining the region north of the 'Salway' (the modern Solway). The new ruler's title, 'King North of the Salway', reflected a remnant of Coel Hen's grander title, although this is information that has only survived from several centuries after the event, making at least some of it rather suspect. Given the title, though, it is clear that the kingdom included at least part of the Solway Firth in its borders, probably the eastern opening of the firth.

The modern name of Carwinley is somewhat tricky to connect to its original form. It is clear that the first element is the British equivalent of the Welsh 'caer', meaning 'fortified place'. The second element has been suggested by Skene (Celtic Scotland i, 157), with '-winley' enduing a good deal of alteration from the name Guenddolau. Skene suggests that the name means 'Gwenddoleu's fort', with 'gwen' becoming 'win' and with later folk-etymologising of the last element as though it was '-hou' or 'how' from 'hōh', or 'lawe' or 'lowe' from 'hlāw'.

However, the Brythonic language has gone through five stages to reach modern Welsh: 'Primitive' (in the 500s-700s), Old Welsh (in the 800s-1000s), Middle Welsh (in the 1100s-1400s), 'Early Modern' (in the 1400s-1700s), and 'Late Modern' thereafter. Until the Middle Welsh period, the word 'caer' was actually 'cair', from the Brythonic 'cajr', meaning 'fort, fortified place'.

FeatureWhen Ceidio's son was killed in battle in 573 (see feature link), close relatives in the powerful kingdom of North Rheged absorbed the territory, with Urien's two brothers ruling it, probably as a sub-kingdom. Once North Rheged had been destroyed, its remnants, including whatever remained of Caer-Guendoleu, seem to have been taken over and held into the eleventh century by Alt Clut, although the situation regarding this is extremely sketchy. It may have fallen under Viking control from York for a time in the late ninth century.

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Trish Wilson, from The Landscape of King Arthur, Geoffrey Ashe, from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, from the Annales Cambriae, James Ingram (taken from the Harleian manuscript, the earliest surviving version, London, Everyman Press, 1912), from The Cambridge Historical Encyclopaedia of Great Britain and Ireland, Christopher Haigh (Ed), 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)), and from External Links: The Fall of Caer Guenddolou (The Merlin Trail), and Survey of English Place Names (The English Place-Name Society).)



Upon the death of Einion ap Mor, king of Ebrauc, his younger son, Ceido, inherits the western portion of the domain. This division of a decreasingly powerful single region means that Ceido gains the remnants of the former Selgovae tribal territory.

c.505 - c.550

Ceidio ap Einion

Son of Einion ap Mor of Ebrauc. 'King North of the Salway'.


To the east, the British kingdom of Bernaccia is seized by the Angles who have been serving as laeti and the ruling king, Morgan Bulc is forced out. He takes refuge with the Guotodin, shifting his power base there, but the loss leaves Caer-Guendoleu's border exposed to the invaders. Fortunately they remain relatively weak for some decades to come.

Map of Britain AD 550-600
At the start of this period, the Angle and Saxon kingdoms on the east and south coasts were firmly established. Many of the rapidly-formed Romano-British territories in those areas had been swept away in the late fifth century (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Galwyddel is invaded by Rheged and is annexed to the kingdom. How Rheged may have managed an invasion when it seemingly doesn't share a land border with Galwyddel is a simple matter to answer.

Caer-Guendoleu apparently stretches down to the head of the Solway Firth, blocking Rheged's land access to Galwyddel, but Guendoleu and Rheged are allies (they do not fight each other in the battle of AD 573), so there is no reason to suppose that Rheged's warband would not be permitted to pass through Guendoleu's territory to reach Galwyddel. Records are so lacking in detail, though, that Guendoleu's warband could ride with them and it will never be known.

c.560 - 573

Guenddolau / Gwenddolew ap Ceidio

King of Caer-Guendoleu. Died at Battle of Arfderydd.


One of the most pointless and destructive disputes of the period arises over the stronghold of Caerlaverock (the 'Fort of the Lark'), which is located on the northern side of the Solway Firth, immediately to the south of Dumfries. This is very likely to be in Caer-Guendoleu's territory, where it abuts Galwyddel.

Trusty's Hill Fort
Excavation work discovered that Trusty's Hill Fort at Gatehouse of Fleet in Galloway was the seat of a royal court, probably that of the region's chieftains both before and after the occupation by Rheged

Although the spot is tranquil today, traces of fortification can still be seen nearer Liddel Water. Not far away is Arfderydd (Arderydd, Armterid, or even Atterith, and today known as Arthuret, near Longtown in Cumbria). The principle leader of the side which opposes Guenddolau is Rhiderch Hael of Alt Clut, most probably for territorial reasons.

FeatureGuenddolau dies in the battle at Arfderydd against Alt Clut, Ebrauc, and Dunoting, with Rhiderch being backed up by Guenddolau's own brother and cousin respectively. The early source of information for this event comes from the Annales Cambriae, which also records that 'Merlin went mad'.

This would be Myrddin Wyllt, Guenddolau's court bard who ranks with Taliesin in seniority and who seems to be confused with a possible Merlin of the mid-fifth century in the eyes of later tradition (most especially by Geoffrey of Monmouth in The History of the Kings of Britain).

This is one of many internecine wars which all serve to weaken the British defences in this century and, with the king having no heir, Caer-Guendoleu passes into the hands of another cousin, Urien Rheged of North Rheged, and is ruled by his two brothers. With this acquisition, Rheged would now be able to access its earlier conquest of Galwyddel by land if Caer-Guendoleu does indeed hold the entrance to the Solway Firth.

Solway Firth
The incredibly scenic Solway Firth, one of the very few modern links back to the Selgovae, although a highly debatable one

573 - c.616

Llew ap Cynfarch

'King in the North'. Brother of Urien Rheged.

573 - c.616

Arawn ap Cynfarch

'King North of the Salway'. May have ruled alone 616-c.630.

c.616 - 632

The remnants of North Rheged fall to Edwin of Bernicia and Caer-Guendoleu is apparently absorbed into Alt Clut, to be amassed into one complete southern territory known as Cumbria (after the British 'people of the same land', the Cymri). It perhaps exists as a pocket enclave until about 630, and is perhaps ruled by Arawn ap Cynfarch during that period, but the situation in this phase is even more obscure than for the rest of the kingdom's existence.

For a time during the late ninth century Cumbria (including Caer-Guendoleu) may be controlled by the Vikings of York, and for periods afterwards it is either a short-lived independent kingdom of Cumbria or a sub-territory of Strathclyde, before being claimed permanently in the mid-eleventh century by the English crown.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.