History Files
 

Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Britain

 

Cynwidion / Calchwynedd (Romano-Britons)

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' appear to have moved south into this potential vacuum and made their mark on the British Midlands. This could have taken place once British central administration in the south had collapsed or had at least begun to collapse, seemingly towards the end of the fifth century and certainly in the sixth.

The youngest son of King Arthuis of the Pennines, Cynfelyn is claimed as one of these possible northerners who headed southwards. He apparently 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 that was still under some kind of central control, however tenuously. The appellation later changed to Calchwynedd / Calchfynedd ('chalk hills') during his son's reign. These surviving names for the kingdom are ninth century Welsh adaptations of a Northern British oral tradition that was itself cut off from the kingdom midway through the sixth century.

FeatureThough the exact borders of Cynwidion are not known at all, the territory certainly lay to the south of Powys (which at the time also encompassed Pengwern and extended well into the Midlands), and tradition ascribes to it the towns of Northampton and Dunstable. 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 invaders. 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 and Dave Hayward, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from Mercian Studies, Ann Dornier (Ed), Leicester University Press 1977, 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.)

c.450

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

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 that extends over about ten acres. If this is still active at this time then the first Saxons to arrive may even be employed as farm workers. The find that that bath house is fired for the last time around this period would suggest that the farm is indeed still active, if possibly in decline. 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 of the British.

Chiltern Hills
The Chiltern Hills contain territory that 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

fl c.480

Cynfelyn ap Arthwys

King of Middle Britain. Son of the king 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.

fl c.510

Cynwyd ap Cynfelyn

King of Cynwidion.

c.510s?

A comment by Wendy Davies at a conference on Mercia which had been held in Leicester in 1975 is collated with others in a book called Mercian Studies. Amongst other comments, Ms 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 proposed here for the Iclingas. There is no indication of precisely where this invasion takes place or how far it penetrates to 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

King of Calchwynedd.

c.540

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. The new name could be a more realistic reflection of the territory retained. Welsh sources refer to Cadrod using the later form of his name, Cadrawd, and calling him 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, 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 Cynwidion 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.570?

Yspwys Mwyntyrch ap Yspwys?

Name uncertain.

The genealogies are somewhat confused (and confusing) where Yspwys Mwyntyrch ap Yspwys is concerned, as are modern descendant registers that 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.

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 have been Isbuius, and a Brythonic version of this is likely to have been used in the Chilterns.

571

The Britons in the area of Biedcanford (possibly Bedford, near Luton) are defeated by Cuthwulf of the West Seaxe. Four towns - Lygeanburg (Limbury), Ęgelesburg (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.

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

This campaign has long puzzled historians, seemingly relating as it does to a much earlier situation when the Thames Valley Saxons were still establishing themselves in the area, and were only just starting to encroach on the southern borders of Cynwidion, which borders the area, with more Angles or Saxons advancing southwards from the Midlands. It has been proposed that its inclusion in the A-S Chron 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 came 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 that is launched to regain territory lost to the Britons after the Germanic defeat at Mons Badonicus. If it is local Britons who have recaptured the plain beneath the Chilterns then it is likely that they belong to the kingdom of Cynwidion.

c.575 - 600

FeatureCaer Mincip (Roman Verulamium, modern St Albans) may be a southern outpost of Cynwidion's territory by this date. After the fall of Caer Lundein, the town may later have been divided from possible new masters at Caer Colun, before becoming attached to its northern neighbour, Calchwynedd. Projecting deep into the kingdom of the Middel Seaxe, it could represent the last gasp of Trinovantes independence. It survives until the end of the sixth century.

580

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. The king and saint is run through with a spear and 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 who had survived the massacres of the pagan invaders'.

Beneventum has traditionally been identified with Bannaventa (modern Weedon), but this has been completed rejected by modern scholars. Instead the site has been positively located some five kilometres further north, between the villages of Norton and Whilton, straddling Watling Street. This is the site of a Romano-British town that 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

c.590

It seems likely that the names at least two kings have been lost. If Cadrod truly does flourish in the middle of the century, it is unlikely that he lives a long and peaceful reign, so perhaps a son takes over, descending with the kingdom into darkness as contact with relatives in the north is lost and the noose of Angle and Saxon pressure continues to tighten.

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. 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 the population.