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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Britain


Cynwidion / Calchwynedd (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.

FeatureAlthough the British kingdoms of the north and west of the country were established by the end of the fifth century, the structure of the south and east is much less certain, and the area could have been ripe for territorial gains. Some of the descendants of Coel Hen of the 'Kingdom of Northern Britain' (see feature link) appear to have moved south into this potential vacuum and made their mark on the British Midlands.

In theory a southwards territorial grab could have taken place once British central administration in the south had collapsed or had at least begun to fade, seemingly towards the end of the fifth century and certainly in the sixth. Certainly by this stage the East Midlands was being picked apart by several groups, mainly Angle and Saxon in origin.

The youngest son of King Arthuis of the Pennines, Cynfelyn is claimed as one of these possible northerners who headed southwards. According to tradition, he controlled an area of the Midlands below Elmet, probably covering elements of what became eastern Pengwern and perhaps Cynwidion itself. His son, Cynwyd, found willing followers in the Chiltern Hills where he set up the eponymous kingdom, perhaps claiming territory which was still under some kind of central control in the later fifth century, however tenuously.

The personal appellation of 'Cynwidion' for the followers of Cynwyd later changed to the territorial one of Calchwynedd or Calchfynedd (meaning 'chalk hills') during his son's reign. Both of these surviving names for the kingdom are ninth century Welsh adaptations of a Northern British oral tradition which was itself cut off from the kingdom midway through the sixth century. For that reason, Cynwidion's later history is even less clear than usual for this period, even in traditional materials.

FeatureAlthough Cynwidion's precise borders are not known at all, the territory of this people certainly lay to the south of Paganes (which at the time also seems to have encompassed Pengwern and extended well into the Midlands). Available tradition ascribes to it the towns of Northampton and Dunstable (see feature link). It may well have occupied the heartland of the former tribe of the Catuvellauni, especially in its later days, when it appears to have been compressed towards the south by Angle migration into the East Midlands.

By this time it may well have been allied to the British enclave of Caer Mincip to the north of Londinium. Archaeological evidence indicates that the British held out here well into the seventh century, which seems highly likely as, not far to the north, Elmet also survived until 616-617, and Caer Celemion to the south lasted until circa 600-610.

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Mick Baker & Dave Hayward, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from Mercian Studies, Ann Dornier (Ed), Leicester University Press 1977, from The Oxford History of England: The English Settlements, J N L Meyers, 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 The Cambridge Historical Encyclopaedia of Great Britain and Ireland, Christopher Haigh (Ed), from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Anne Savage (translator and collator, Guild Publishing, 1983), from A History of the English Church and People, The Venerable Bede (Leo Sherley-Price translation - revised by R E Latham), and from External Links: Community Landscape Archaeology Survey Project, and St Catwg's Church, and Fabulous Pedigree, and Trowbridge Family Descent (Rootsweb), and Boddy Family.)


Archaeological investigation work undertaken by the CLASP group (see sources, above) between 2000-2012 on a site which lies immediately adjacent to Watling Street at Whitehall Farm in Nether Heyford reveals a small Anglo-Saxon cemetery. The earliest burial is dated to around this time (although the bulk of them date to the seventh century).

Chiltern Hills
The Chiltern Hills contain territory which was probably easy to defend for the warriors of the post-Roman kingdom of Cynwidion, at least initially and in part, but Angles and Saxons who formed the Ciltern Saetan cut them off to the west and eventually forced their collapse

Curiously the cemetery is located next to a Roman villa and farm. The villa is a sophisticated one, with its own bath house complex, and is the centre of an agricultural estate which extends over about four hectares. If this is still active at this time then the first Saxons to arrive may even be employed as farm workers.

The find which confirms that the bath house is fired for the last time around this period, in the middle of the fifth century, would suggest that the farm is indeed still active, if possibly in decline at the end of a very troubled half-century.

In the sixth century a wooden hall is built over the site of the Romano-British villa, suggesting the farm's continuation, but in whose hands is unclear - advancing Saxon settlers or as a border post for its Briton defenders.

fl c.480

Cynfelyn ap Arthwys

'King of Middle Britain'. Son of Arthuis of the Pennines.

c.480 - 500

The region comes under pressure from Saxons to the south who are infiltrating from the Thames Valley and settling as the Ciltern Saetan (Chiltern settlers). Separate Saxon groups from the advancing Middil Engle quickly push in the territory's northern borders, finding a way through the Vale of Aylesbury and compressing Cynwidion into the more defendable Chilterns and Buckinghamshire, still most likely with a direct connection to Caer Mincip.

Verulamium (St Albans)
With the south gate of Verulamium (Caer Mincip, just outside modern St Albans) probably remaining in use until about AD 600, the town was part of a working Romano-British settlement which was set up to defend itself from increasing Saxon encroachment, although it is unlikely that the Roman baths at nearby Welwyn would have lasted quite so long (click or tap on image to view full sized)

fl c.510

Cynwyd ap Cynfelyn

Son. 'King of Cynwidion'. Led the 'Cynwidion' group.


A comment by Wendy Davies at a conference on Mercia which is held in Leicester in 1975 is collated with others into a book called Mercian Studies. Amongst other comments, Davies mentions from the analysis of various early documents that there is an invasion from East Anglia into what becomes Mercia in the early sixth century - exactly at the time which is proposed here for the arrival of the Iclingas.

There is no indication of precisely where this migration takes place or how far it penetrates towards the west. Does it reach as far as Watling Street and also feed the creation of the Ciltern Saetan in Northamptonshire, on the borders of Cynwidion?

fl c.540

Cadrod / Cadrawd

Son. 'King of Calchwynedd'. Generally obscure.


The change of the kingdom's name under Cadrod suggests that territory to the north may already have been lost, probably to the Middil Engle. With the old name referring to the 'followers of Cynwyd', the new name could be a more realistic reflection of territory which has been retained to this point in time.

Welsh sources refer to Cadrod using the later (Welsh) form of his name, Cadrawd, and referring to him as one of the Gwyr y Gogledd or 'Men of the North', a reference to his family background (although some have taken it to mean a northern location for his kingdom).

Leicestershire countryside
Modern Leicestershire formed the heartland of the territory of the Middle Angles, which was populated by a mixture of Angles and Saxons, the latter probably a relic of Roman settled mercenary groups

Judging by the movements of the Middil Engle to the north-west of Calchwynedd, the Middel Seaxe to the south, the arrival and settlement of the first of the Ciltern Saetan to the west, and the perceived shrinkage of 'Middle Britain' to the Cynwidion people to Calchwynedd, the kingdom is probably now cut off and isolated. Its presumed separation from Caer Ceri to the west also leaves that territory exposed to possible attack.

fl c.550?

Yspwys / Esbwys ap Cadrod?

Son? An uncertain addition. Of Ercing?

fl c.570?

Yspwys Mwyntyrch ap Yspwys?

Son An uncertain addition. 'Lord of Ercing'.

The genealogies are somewhat confused (and confusing) where Yspwys Mwyntyrch ap Yspwys is concerned, as are modern descendant registers which may be based on them. He could be of Calchwynedd or he could just as easily be a noble of Ercing (in modern Herefordshire, but at this time a Brito-Welsh holding).

His father is Esbwys (Yspwys) ap Cadrod, which makes him the grandson of the Cadrod shown above, but then the title 'lord of Ercing' is added, which is nowhere near Calchwynedd. It is acknowledged, though, that the Cadrod in question could either be the son of Cynwyd (above) or one Enir Fardd who himself has debatable links to Ercing.

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)

It seems more likely that two individual figures with the name Yspwys have been confused and combined - with one in Ercing who may even have appeared a century before the one in Calchwynedd. Although the Welsh genealogies have only preserved a very Welsh version of the name, in Latin it would be Isbuius, and a Brythonic version of this is likely to be used in the Chilterns.


Britons in the area of Biedcanford (possibly Bedford, near Luton) are defeated by Cuthwulf of the West Seaxe. Four towns - Lygeanburg (Limbury), Ægelesburg (Aylesbury), Benesington (Benson), and Egonesham (Eynsham) - are captured. The valleys of the Thame and Cherwell are ruled by the West Seaxe, as is the upper valley of the Ouse. Cuthwulf dies in the same year.

This campaign has long puzzled historians, seemingly relating as it does to a much earlier situation when the Thames Valley Saxons are still establishing themselves in the area, and are only just starting to encroach on the southern borders of Calchwynedd, with more Angles or Saxons advancing southwards from the Midlands.

Saxon cremation urns from the area around London
By the mid-sixth century, Saxons were settling around Londinium, and using pots such as these for their cremation burials, while the seax blade is generally more Frankish than Saxon, but the city itself remained overgrown and in ruins for another half a century

It has been proposed that its inclusion in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles should be in the region of 441-471. The entry could be the sole survivor from a preface to the Ceawlin saga explaining how his ancestor, Cuthwulf, comes to establish his rule in the Thames Valley.

Alternatively, the campaign may be more or less correctly dated, in which case it is possibly one which is launched to regain territory which had been lost to the Britons after Mons Badonicus in the late fifth century. If it is indeed local Britons who have recaptured the plain beneath the Chilterns then it is likely that they belong to the kingdom of Calchwynedd.

c.575 - 600

FeatureCaer Mincip (Roman Verulamium, modern St Albans) may be a southern outpost of Calchwynedd's territory by this date. Following the general abandonment of Caer Lundein (see feature link), the town may have become increasingly isolated from the south and east, before becoming attached to its northern neighbour, Calchwynedd. It survives until the end of the sixth century.


Tradition (in the form of the 'Lives' of the saints) states that Catocus, king of Gwynllg & Penychen and also a leading light of the British Church, is elected abbot of a large body of monks in what is traditionally known as Beneventum (Bannaventa) in Calchwynedd.

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)

The king and saint is run through with a spear, killed during a raid, presumably by the Ciltern Saetan or Middil Engle. It is one of the few more accurately datable events in the kingdom (if indeed it can be placed here - most sources state that the murder takes place 'near Weedon', which is only 7.5 kilometres from the then-ruins of Beneventum).

The 'Lives' also state that Catocus had been living amongst Saxons in the area in order 'to console the native Christians (Britons) who had survived the massacres of the pagan invaders'.

Beneventum has traditionally been identified with Bannaventa (modern Weedon), but this has been fully rejected by modern scholars. Instead the site has been positively located some five kilometres farther north, between the villages of Norton and Whilton, straddling Watling Street.

This is the site of a Romano-British town which appears to have originated as an Iron Age lowland settlement. As a Roman town it appears originally to have be undefended but, after a structured shrinkage, defences had been erected in the later third century. This would make it a useful location, and one which could still well be within Calchwynedd's borders.

Marston St Lawrence
The finds from a site at Marston St Lawrence in Northamptonshire which were examined by Sir Henry Dryden in 1884 seemed to point to a large number of burials of women and younger people rather than warriors, and could have been Ciltern Saetan who were integrating with local Romano-Britons

fl c.600?

Mynan ap Yspwys?

Possible last king, lost to history when kingdom extinguished.

c.610 - 630

All of the arguments and doubts about placing Yspwys ap Mwyntyrch ap Yspwys in the list above also apply to his son, Mynan. It may never be known whether he is a prince of Ercing or the ruler of Calchwynedd during its twilight years when the borders of its territory are closing in around it.

Pressure from the Ciltern Saetan to the south and the Middil Engle to the north forces the kingdom into collapse around this time, along with Caer Mincip. The territory is subjugated by the rapidly growing power of the kingdom of Mercia, which in this period often shows signs of being partially British itself, either in its early ancestry in Britain or in its choice of allies and the people who probably form a good percentage of its population.

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