History Files
 

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

2023
Totals slider
2023

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

 

Elmet / Elmetia / Elfed (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.

FeatureMuch about the existence of the Romano-British kingdom of Elmet is shrouded in mystery or vague fact, although tantalisingly less so than with many of its peers. It was located in South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, along with eastern Derbyshire and with extensions into West Yorkshire and lower North Yorkshire (see feature link). Bordering it to the east was Lind Colun (which very early on became Lindsey under control of Angles), Caer Lerion to the south (also quickly overrun, this time by the Middil Engle), the 'Kingdom of the Pennines' to the west and north-west, and Ebrauc to the north and north-east.

FeatureElmet (or Elmetia in its Latinised form, and Elfed perhaps as a later Brythonic form) apparently emerged in the late fifth century as a result of the fragmentation of the powerful 'Kingdom of Northern Britain' (see feature link). This seems primarily to have been formed as a continuance of the Roman military command of the north. Elmet's territory was descended from that of the tribe of the Corieltavi, with the northern part coming from the Brigantes and perhaps centred on Loidis (Latin Campoduno, modern Leeds).

FeatureIn fact, Loidis may have formed the core of Elmet, and may also have been the last part of it to fall in the early seventh century. Elmet was a bulwark of the defence of lower northern Britain. Once it did fall, so too did any realistic British hope of holding onto the Pennines (see feature link).

FeatureIt takes some rather tortuous deduction to provide a full name breakdown for the name 'Elmet' (see feature link for the full process). It seems to bear no relation to the earlier tribe around the Loidis area which is known to have removed itself from the confederation of the Brigantes in the second century. It bears a possible link to 'elm grove' which is backed up by a statement in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal: 'This hilly limestone region, between the Wharfe and the Aire, was once a great forest of elm-trees. It was the Elmet of remote times...'. So Elmet was indeed an elm forest.

Within the kingdom's borders, the region of Mission gained its name from the Brythonic word 'magestu', meaning 'open land', an expanse which was relatively free of trees. This area had been wooded until the Romans burned it down during their invasion of the Corieltavi lands in AD 46. The woods gradually regenerated, but were devastated by a flood, probably in the late fourth century. This knocked down all the trees, which were later found in the bogs with their tops pointing downstream. From that point on, the area was mostly open with a little wetland forest lying in spots across open fens.

Nearby Messingham probably gained the first and oldest part of its name for the same reason; 'mess'. The Brythonic word 'magestu' evolved into the Old Welsh plural 'maessid' and 'mais' and then the Middle Welsh and Modern Welsh 'maes', showing a development which could easily be interpreted by the Angles of the Lindisware or Mercia as 'mess', to which they appended 'ing' to denote the people who settled the area.

Interestingly, following Elmet's fall, its population of Britons may have stayed put (royal family aside) and maintained a strong presence in the area. Later Anglo-Saxon names such as Barwick survive (berewic is Old English for 'corn farm'), in this case as Barwick-in-Elmet, as if the locals were determined to maintain the memory of the fallen kingdom. The incoming Angles became known as the Elmed Saetna, or Elmet settlers, so it is clear that the name was well enough established amongst the invaders to survive the kingdom's collapse.

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with the notes on Elmet's demise being greatly enhanced by M R Watson, and additional information from A History of the English Church and People, The Venerable Bede (Leo Sherley-Price translation - revised by R E Latham), from the Annales Cambriae, James Ingram (taken from the Harleian manuscript, the earliest surviving version, London, Everyman Press, 1912), from Early Territorial Organization in Gwynedd and Elmet, G R J Jones (1975), from Place Names of The West Riding of Yorkshire, A H Smith (1971), from The Cambridge Historical Encyclopaedia of Great Britain and Ireland, Christopher Haigh (Ed), from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, and from External Links: Brittonic Language in the Old North, and Suffix Dictionary, and Online Etymology Dictionary, and The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal.)

 

fl c.470

Mascuid / Masgwid Gloff 'the Lame'

Son of Gwrast Lledlwm of Rheged. First king of Elmet.

c.470

Mascuid is granted the territory of Elmet by his father, Gwrast Lledlwm, king of Rheged. Loidis (Leeds) may form his capital, but this is far from clear. It may even be a separate region or sub-kingdom of its own.

This event seems to coincide with the death of Mor ap Ceneu, 'King of Northern Britain', and the subsequent division of his north-eastern territory into Ebrauc to the east of Elmet and the 'Kingdom of the Pennines' to the west.

The latter division will probably leave Elmet permanently cut off from Rheged and perhaps even in danger of annexation, so it is in Gwrast's interests to ensure that one of his sons is in command of the territory around Loidis. This territory at this time is at its greatest extent, probably extending as far south as the point at which the Derwent joins the River Trent.

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.495

Llaenauc / Llaennog ap Masgwid

Son.

c.495

Although Llaenauc has been linked by some to territories farther to the north, his father's clear associations with the founding of Elmet tie him to this territorium. It has been suggested that he is the founder of an early sixth century British kingdom which is centred on Lennox (now in southern Scotland), and giving his name to the town.

No evidence exists to support this theory and it seems much more likely to be an attempt to explain the town's name by linking it to a known British ruler. It may also be an offshoot of similar attempts to link the 'Kingdom of Northern Britain' to Kyle.

fl c.500

Einion ap Masgwid

Brother. The first of four 'Princes of Elmet'.

fl c.500

Arthuis ap Masgwid

Brother. Often confused with contemporary, High King Arthur.

Arthuis' role in Elmet is unclear. As a younger son of Mascuid he is unlikely to inherit the kingship, but could the Celtic tradition of dividing territories between all surviving sons mean that he holds power in an Elmetian sub-territory?

Several such territories have been mentioned, including Balne (the Latin balneum means 'bath') to the north of Doncaster, Meisen in the marshy area to the south of Hatfield Chase, Morthen to the south of Conisborough, Lindrick, close to the south of Tickhill, and the district of Led to the north of Castleford. Each could potentially host a prince and his warband.

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)

FeatureThe period in which he flourishes, at the end of the fifth century, is also contemporary with the most probable period in which the better known Arthur is dux Britanniarum and possibly even an emperor of Britain in the style of several Romans before him, meaning that the two are often confused (see feature link).

fl c.500

St Cynllo ap Masgwid

Brother.

fl c.500

Ceredig ap Masgwid

Brother.

c.540 - aftr 590

Guallauc / Gwallog Marchod Trin

Son of Llaenauc. Linked with Elmet via two surviving poems.

c.540

Guallac is appropriately nicknamed 'Marchod Trin' ('Battle Horseman') in early material which survives only because it is transported to Wales. There are two surviving poems concerning him, one of which calls him a 'judge over Elmet', suggesting he is not so much a king, more a commander-in-chief or even a magistrate (a Roman position of governance which seems to be strongly maintained in the south of the fifth century but is seemingly unheard of in the sixth).

559

The Angles of Deywr assert their full independence, seemingly at the same time as the death is reported of Ida of Bernicia. This significantly raises the threat of an invasion of Ebrauc or Elmet by hostile former mercenaries who have now formed their own kingdom of Deira.

Sancton Saxon cemetery, East Yorkshire
The cemetery at Sancton in East Yorkshire was created by the pagan Saxons of Deira in the sixth century, situated close to two Roman roads which would have been in use at the time, albeit in a declining state of repair

c.570 - 580

FeatureThe Deirans continue to gain ground in neighbouring Ebrauc. Although by now they seem to have already captured the coast by about 570, the city of Ebrauc is known to fall later, between about 570-580, so it seems likely, given their dates of death (via the Annales Cambriae - see feature link), that the sons of Eliffer fight on from their capital until overrun. The loss of Ebrauc to the Deirans leaves Elmet's long north-eastern border exposed.

590

FeatureGuallauc allies himself to his cousin, Urien or Rheged. A confederation of British kings is formed from this alliance, primarily based and operating in the north. The dispossessed Morcant Bulc of Bernaccia and Rhiderch Hael of Alt Clut both join the confederation in operations against Anglian Bernicia, and are present at the siege of Ynys Metcaut (Lindisfarne) in this year.

The Bernicians are almost driven out of Britain but the confederation falls apart when Morcant Bulc has Urien Rheged assassinated, fearing his great power should the Britons win the war against the invaders. His act fatally weakens the British cause in the north.

c.590 - 617

Ceretic / Ceredig ap Gwallog

Son. Potential High King. Died in exile c.619.

595

The fall of Dunoting, and probably The Peak at the same time, leaves Elmet surrounded on all sides by its enemies from the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia. They are growing increasingly powerful at the expense of the remaining 'Men of the North'.

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)

Ceretic himself is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the nephew of 'King Arthur', thanks to his great-uncle being Arthuis, 'Prince of Elmet' (see above circa 500). His name, Ceretic or Caradog, means 'beloved of Dagda', Dagda being Dag, the solar god who is cognate with English 'day', plus 'da', meaning 'good' - 'good Dag', in the same way that Christians might say 'blessed lord'.

c.597

The Battle of Catreath is a disaster for the Britons. The flower of the northern British warrior class is decimated by the superior numbers of the Bernician Angles. Guotodin, as well as the other kingdoms of the north, probably including Elmet, are all fatally weakened by the defeat.

Elmet's greatest champion, Madoc, is certainly numbered amongst the casualties, and it seems likely that Elmet's borders are reduced around the same time to a core territory which lies between Danum (Doncaster), Legiolium, and Loidis (Leeds), all to the west of the final stretch of the River Don before it meets the Humber.

This is most likely to be due to an opportunistic raid by Deira, but it may also suggest that Elmet becomes tributary to the dominant Angles around this time.

Britons versus Angles
The attack against the Angles at the end of the sixth century appears to have been a last-ditch attempt by the semi-Romanised Britons to rid the land of these invaders - and it failed, albeit gloriously

616 - 617

As recorded by Bede, Saint Hilda is born in 614 as a member of the royal family of Deira, which had been driven out in 593 by Æthelfrith of Bernicia. Hilda grows up under the protection of Ceretic, whom Bede describes as 'King of the Britons', suggesting that he is a candidate for the high kingship (and a viable one who fits into the general chronology under the name of Keretic).

In 616, Edwin is restored in Deira, immediately invading Bernicia to become ruler of all the Angles to the north of the Humber. He begins a push westwards which will gain him the entire Pennine region.

In 617 Edwin uses the poisoning of Hilda's father, Prince Hereric, as a pretext for invading Elmet, holding Ceretic responsible. As Ceretic had been on peaceful terms with Æthelfrith, it is possible that the death had been arranged in order to appease this Bernician king.

The Elmetians are outnumbered by Edwin's host and are chased to the River Don (probably the southern border of the kingdom) where they make a final stand. That doomed stand is crushed in a battle which is fought near the former Roman settlement of Bawtry (approximately ten kilometres to the south-east of Danum (Doncaster), on the Roman road to Linnuis (Lindsey). Edwin is able to subdue the kingdom and its last native king, Ceretic, is expelled to die around 619.

River Idle near Bawtry
The River Idle, just south of Bawtry, which connected to the River Don until 1628, was the scene of the final battle for Elmet's free British warriors

617 - 634

High King Cadwallon (and probably his father, too) already holds a claim to the crown of Deira as part of his domains. He now apparently includes Elmet in this claim, and this is enforced when Cadwallon and Penda of Mercia kill Edwin of Bernicia in 633 at Hatfield Chase. When Cadwallon himself is killed at Heavenfield in 634 by Oswald of Bernicia, that claim probably dies with him.

634 - 655

Penda of Mercia may have inherited his former ally's claim to Elmet, but his death at the hands of Oswiu of Northumbria at the Battle of Winwaed marks a definite demise for Elmet. Whin Moor near Leeds is the reputed site of the battle, with Penda's forces being driven back to the River Air, probably at Woodlesford.

FeatureMuch of Elmet appears to fall under the control of Northumbria, although at least a small slice of its southern territory is in the hands of the Mercians by the late seventh century, as witnessed by the six hundred hides which are attributed to it in the Tribal Hidage document (see feature link).

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