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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Britain


Deywr / Deifr (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.

FeatureDuring this period, and for a century and-a-half afterwards, Deywr formed part of a territory which came to be known as the 'Kingdom of Northern Britain' (see feature link). In effect this was the Late Roman province of Britannia Secunda, which encompassed all the land to the north of the Humber and south of Hadrian's Wall. Tradition, perhaps a little unreliably, says that it was governed by Coel Hen in the last days of the Roman period of the Diocese of the Britains and the first decade of independent British administration. After that it became an hereditary possession, and in the Celtic tradition it was slowly divided and sub-divided.

The region known as Deywr remained part of the kingdom of Ebrauc (it was apparently never a kingdom in its own right), Eboracum to the Romans (modern York). Deywr's original territorial boundaries are probably mirrored in the modern county boundaries of East Yorkshire. It is likely that the region regarded Petuaria (modern Brough, possibly the tribal centre of the Parisi prior to Roman rule) as its local capital, until this lost its importance in the mid-fourth century, perhaps because the harbour had silted up. Thereafter, the region's main military post moved to Malton.

The origin of the name Deywr is obscure, with perhaps the simplest explanation being the Celtic word for 'oak', which was 'deru' or 'derwa'. The region was always known as a wooded region so this would make sense. A reasonable (if not strong) alternative case can be made with the transformation of the Brythonic 'p'. The tribe of the Cantii in modern Kent seem to have spawned a colony which bore the name Decanti, meaning 'of or from the Cantii'. So also, it seems, a colony of the Parisi may have called themselves Deparis (or Deparisi with the Roman suffix attached).

Given the universal Celtic habit of dropping sounds out of words, a transition from Deparis to Debar to Dever to Deywr is certainly plausible. A movement from 'p' to 'b' is known in northern Britain (mountains in Scotland are known as 'ben', not the Welsh 'pen', both meaning 'head'. This usage of 'ben' must be part of the lost Pictish language rather than Scots Gaelic, because a 'head' in Gaelic is 'ken', not 'ben'). Once a 'b' is present, a softening of the 'b' sound through 'v' to 'w' is almost automatic. So Deywr may have been a fifth century naming for a pre-Roman Parisi colony away from the central body of the tribe.

From at least the early fifth century laeti were hired and settled locally in order to protect the north eastern shoreline of Britain. These people were Angles, probably part of the general wave of barbarian 'Saxon' seaborne raiders who caused so much trouble in the fourth century around Britain's coastal waters. This particular group claimed descent from Waegdaeg's Folk (according to their later traditional pedigree). They were probably settled on the coast under their own leaders on lands which were allotted to them by their British paymasters at Ebrauc, and such settlement often took place within the structure of existing estates.

In one version of the Anglian pedigree there is a note against the name of one Soemil to the effect that 'he first separated Deira from Bernicia'. A direct ancestor of King Edwin (612-632), Soemil could have been a prominent figure amongst the Yorkshire laeti in the fifth century. It looks as if he was remembered for the leading part he played in making his people independent (at least nominally) from the regional British authority.

In 559 or 560, the long-lived king of Ebrauc died, and the Angles under their leader, Ælle, seem to have taken total control of Deywr with very little fuss. In their northern Teutonic tongue, they pronounced Deywr as Deira, and a new, and hostile, kingdom was formed on Britain's east coast.

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, 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 Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from The Anglo-Saxon Age c.400-1042, D J V Fisher, from The Ethnology of Germany Part 3: The Migration of the Saxons, Henry H Howorth (Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol 7, 1878), from Ulwencreutz's The Royal Families in Europe V, Lars Ulwencreutz, from the Textus de Ecclesia Roffensi per Ernulphum Episcopum (The Story of the Church of Rochester up to Bishop Ernulf, known as the Textus Roffensis or Annals of Rochester), 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), and from A History of the English Church and People, The Venerable Bede (Leo Sherley-Price translation - revised by R E Latham).)


c.420 - 559

Deywr is part of territory which is being administered by the 'Kingdom of Northern Britain' which is governed from the former Roman city of Eboracum. Around this time, perhaps a decade or two after the expulsion of Roman administration from Britain, Anglian laeti are settled along the coast to serve in the defence of that same coastline against raiders, a standard practice throughout the late empire and in independent Britain subsequently.

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

The leader of these laeti is possibly one Saebald, son of Sigegeat of Waegdaeg's Folk in Angeln, and ancestor of the later first Anglian king of Deira. The approximate date is calculated backwards from the first Deiran king, using the traditional pedigree.

fl c.420

Saebald / Sibald

Leader of Anglian laeti when they first arrived from Angeln?

fl c.440

Saefugul / Segulf / Saefugel



While it is unknown just how the change progresses from British 'Deywr' to Anglian 'Deira', Soemel is noted by the later royal pedigree as someone who 'separated Deira from Bernicia'. This clearly refers to Ebrauc rather than Bernaccia (still in British hands at this time), as it is only considerably later that Bernicia is Deira's main rival in the region.

fl c.460

Soemel / Soemil / Saefugel (II)

Son. Assumed semi-independence for the Angles in Deywr?

At this point in time it would appear to be Ebrauc which governs the whole of the south-east section of 'Northern Britain'. It seems to be Soemel - based on approximate dating used here - who leads a change in organisation for Deywr's defence. Perhaps he refuses to blindly obey orders and instead establishes negotiated terms of service, possibly on a semi-independent basis.

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)

The period in which Britain is in confusion following the removal of Vortigern from office and the Jutish revolt in Ceint would be an ideal date for this event. It may also be the trigger for the settlement of Angles on the opposite, southern bank of the River Humber, the early Lindisware.

fl c.480

Uestorualcna / Sguerthing / Westerfalea

Son. Westerfalea means 'western falcon'.

There is also a Sguerthing who is king of the Geats, and probably a contemporary. Given that it is likely that Angles are in Deywr at this time, then there are either two leading figures with the same name at the same approximate time at either end of the North Sea, or Sguerthing and his descendants have not yet arrived to take control of the Angles in this region of Britain.

Either is possible, although that would turn these Anglian kings into Geats. A third option (perhaps the most favourable) is that the names simply become confused in oral tradition or later written form.

Geat warriors
A depiction of the fearsome Geat warriors of the time of Hygelac and Beowulf, according to twenty-first century Hollywood


'Saxon' leader of a massive alliance of Scots, Picts & Irish.

Colgrin is mentioned by Geoffrey of Monmouth as a 'Saxon' leader who leads a wide-ranging alliance against Arthur, high king of Britain, along with Badulf his brother and Duke Cheldric, a Saxon who brings a powerful force with him from Germany (probably Childeric I, king of the Salian Franks of Yssel at this time). Colgrin is actually an eleventh century Anglo-Norman name with Old Norse ancestry (see the Academy of Saint Gabriel Report 1338, Sources), making it a modern name in Geoffrey's terms.

Ultimately all three are killed in battle against Arthur as he successfully reclaims Britain from Saxon infiltration. Unfortunately, in reality, although Arthur is almost certainly able to stem the Germanic advance, he is not able to reclaim areas such as Kent and possibly Lindsey, while Deywr itself is apparently still a subject region of Ebrauc (although possibly semi-autonomous) with a large population of Angles who serve as laeti.

Map of Elmet
A map showing Elmet's probable borders during its greatest extent, with the grey areas being lost first, and the deep pink area last, in 617 (click or tap on map to view full size)

fl c.500

Uilgils / Giulglis / Wilgils


fl c.520

Uuscfrea / Ulfrea / Uxfrea / Usfrey


fl c.540

Yffi / Iffi / Yffe

Son. Father of Ælle.


FeatureThe Angle laeti who have probably been settled in areas of Deywr for up to a hundred and twenty years now take full control of the region, separating themselves entirely from Ebrauc's control. The circumstances are unknown, but under Ælle, the son of Yffi, the Angles found their own kingdom. While doing so they introduce Anglian pronunciation which corrupts 'Deywr' into 'Deira'.

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