History Files

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Angles North of the Humber



Situated around modern Durham and Northumberland, the kingdom was based on one called Bernaccia which seems to have been founded during the break-up of Romano-British administration in fifth century Britain. A group of Angles took it over, in AD 547 according to tradition, and pronounced the existing name as Bernicia.

This group of Angles claimed descent from Benoc's Folk in Angeln, their homeland in what is now Denmark. They were probably hired and settled as mercenaries, or laeti, on the north-east coast of Britain in the very late fifth century, and possibly in the region between the Forth and the Tyne. It seems possible that they arrived to fulfil the same role as the Jutes originally had in Kent, to help defend the borders against devastating Pictish and Scotti raids. The fact that it seems to have taken them so long to mount a takeover bid probably speaks volumes of the readiness of the Northern British to defend their territory.

While the Angles seemed to have taken over with very little fuss, during a power gap, according to later tradition the former British ruler continued to fight on from outside his former lands until at least 590. It also seems possible that the Bernician Angles had a hand in founding neighbouring Deira as an independent kingdom, as tradition and King Ida's date of death indicate fighting against the British kingdom of Ebrauc was undertaken. Nennius (whatever his unreliability) seems to back this up in 550 and 561.

One possible trigger for the takeover in 547 could be the Yellow Plague that was sweeping the country between 549-552. Not only did it fracture Pictland into two clearly-definable kingdoms based around a north-south divide, it also killed the king who had previously held it together - Drust mac Munaith. The plague hit the island's Britons far harder than it did the Saxon invaders, finally shifting the balance of power in favour of the latter. The same disruption could have allowed the Bernician Angles to forge a kingdom of their own on Britain's north-east coast - soon to become a deadly opponent of the Picts.

Bernician royal residences were at Bamborough and Yeavering (known originally as Ad-gefrin, no doubt from the Brythonic 'hill of goats'). An impressive assembly of wooden structures has been excavated there.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson, from A History of the English Church and People, The Venerable Bede (Leo Sherley-Price translation - revised by R E Latham), from Early Sources of Scottish History AD 500-1286, Volume 1, Alan Orr Anderson (Reprinted with corrections, Paul Watkins, Stamford 1990), from Kings and Warriors, Craftsmen and Priests in Northern Britain AD 550-850, Leslie Alcock (Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2003), from Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD 80-1000, Alfred P Smyth (1984), and from External Links: Mote of Mark (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland), and 'Lost kingdom' linked to Galloway (BBC News), and The fiery demise of a vitrified hillfort in Scotland (Past Horizons, dead link).)


Esa / Oesa

Probably settled his people in the area as laeti, from Angeln.


Morgan Bulc accedes to the kingship of Bernaccia, apparently at a young age. It seems plausible that it is at this time that Angles are settled along the coast or on Hadrian's Wall as laeti in order to strengthen the territory's external defences. The same thing had already happened in the region of Deywr.




547 - 559


Son. Dispossessed the last British king of Bernaccia.


MapGiven Ida's date of death of 559, it seems highly probable that one of two circumstances are true: that he takes a hand in the initial uprising and may be responsible for leading the first assaults on Ebrauc; or that he is against fighting his British neighbours, and the Angles have to wait until his son commands the kingdom before they can find someone willing to lead them into battle.

It seems more than coincidental that the Angles in Deira assert their full independence at the same time. Up to now their new leader, Ælle, may have had a role as one of Ida's generals or allies who chooses this moment to assert his own independence.

The isle of Lindisfarne, or Ynys Metcaut to the British, remained the fortress by which the Angles held onto their kingdom in the face of repeated British attacks, but Din Guayroi or Guarie (Bamburgh Castle) shown here may have been another

559 - 560

Glappa / Clappa


560 - 568



568 - 572

Æthelric / Aethelric


572 - 579

Theobald / Theodoric / Deoric

Brother. Killed by Owain map Urien of Rheged.

577 or 579

The Bernicians fight the British northern coalition which consists of Rheged and Elmet and which lays siege to Metcaud Lindisfarne (on the Northumbrian coast) for three days. The Flamdwyn of British literature, or Flamebearer, is presumably Theobald, king of the Bernicians. Up to this point, and probably until the reign of Æthelfrith, Bernicia is little more than a coastal territory. Archaeology supports this with a distinct lack of Anglian graves in the sixth century. British resistance to Bernicia's expansion apparently remains strong until the death of the last powerful king of Rheged about 597.

579 - 585

Frithuwald / Freothwulf


585 - 593


Possibly a son of Ida or leader of a rival faction.


Elmet and Rheged form a confederation of British kings, primarily based and operating in the north. The dispossessed Morcant Bulc of Bernaccia and Riderch Hael of Alt Clut both join the confederation in operations against the Angles, and are present at the siege of Ynys Metcaut (Lindisfarne) in this year. The Bernicians are almost driven out of Britain but then the confederation falls apart.

593 - 616


FeatureSubdued Deira. Killed by the East Engle.


A resurgent Bernicia apparently conquers the minor British kingdom of Dunoting, and probably The Peak at the same time. Elmet is now surrounded. Following the Bernician conquest of the Pennines, their authority is seemingly not stamped on the southern part of the region. Saxons move into the south Pennines from the Midlands, becoming the Pecset (or Pecsætna). These Saxon groups are probably already a client unit of the swiftly growing kingdom of the Iclinga Mercians.


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. It is probably this victory under Æthelfrith that secures the borders of Bernicia against the British.


Aedan mac Gabrán of Dál Riata invades Bernicia and attacks Æthelfrith at the Battle of Degsastan. His forces are led by Hering son of Hussa, the former king of Bernicia, suggesting internal rivalry amongst the Bernician elite. By fighting and defeating Dál Riata, Æthelfrith secures the alliance of Dál Riata's enemies, the South Picts. His northern flank is now safe and he turns his attention south and west.


FeatureIn one of the bloodiest and hardest fought battles of its time, several British kings form a coalition to halt Æthelfrith at the Battle of Caer Legion (Chester). Cearl of the Mercians could also be involved on the British side (according to scholarly theory). Iago of Gwynedd, and Selyf of Powys are both killed, and the battle is a British defeat. Bledric ap Custennin, king of Dumnonia, dies at the Battle of Bangor-is-Coed, which follows very soon afterwards, and South Rheged falls to Æthelfrith (see one of Geoffrey of Monmouth's more accurate entries about this campaign via the feature link).

Although Æthelfrith defeats the British at Caer Legion, he does not occupy the territory around Chester. Just who does is unknown, and the entire history of this region from the post-Roman period to the tenth century is extremely sketchy. One possibility is that the line of the River Dee is successfully defended by the people living just to the west of it - the Dogfeilion - who are able to claim great prestige from being the victorious defenders of the western Britons. Another possibility is that groups of Angles not under Bernicia's control settle the region to the east of the Dee, and are later subsumed within Mercia.


Æthelfrith is patrolling what is presumably the southern border of 'his' territory, the River Idle, which is the border of the kingdom of Elmet, itself probably tributary by now. There, he is attacked and killed by the army of King Raedwald of the East Engle at the Battle of the River Idle (close to the former Roman settlement of Bawtry, approximately ten kilometres (six miles) south-east of Danum (Doncaster), on the Roman road to Lind Colun (Lindsey)). Could his forces have been so weakened by his defeat at Bangor-is-Coed in 613 that he is now easy pickings for a rival to the position of Bretwalda?

616 - 632

Edwin (St) of Deira

FeatureSon of Ælle. Bretwalda (627-632).


Edwin regains both his own throne in Deira and secures the Bernician throne. Shortly afterwards he forces the collapse of the British kingdom of North Rheged, although a northern portion of it seems to survive and continue as an isolated enclave. The rest is absorbed into Bernicia. Edwin also conquers Ynys Manau and this is telling - it shows that he is almost certainly able to proceed through Galloway to get there.

Aggression by various groups in northern Britain is certainly attested during this period, but it is Bernicia which makes tributary much of Rheged's territory, including Galloway. Interestingly, the region's hill forts are destroyed in this period, and all of these in central Galloway lie within or very close to parishes in which clusters of early Anglian settlement can be discerned from place-name evidence, indicating not only a political, but also an attempted cultural purge around the middle of the seventh century AD.

Trusty's Hill Fort
Excavations have 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, but was destroyed by fire during the Anglian takeover


Edwin conquers the British kingdom of Elmet after winning a battle fought near Bawtry. The kingdom may have survived this long only as an ally of Æthelfrith's, or at least a neutral neighbour, but the change of king spells its end.

c.620 - c.658

The increasingly powerful Bernician / Deiran throne begins to dominate the Lindisware.


The Book of Leinster (190a) makes mention of a tale, now lost, entitled Sluagad Fiachna maic Báitáin co Dún nGuaire i Saxanaib, 'The Hosting of Fiachna son of Baitan to Dun Guaire in Saxon-land'. The Fiachna mentioned in the title is a son of Baetan mac Cairill, king of Ulster. He is a famous warrior who is killed in 626. The Dún Guaire mentioned is the Irish form of the British Din Guayroi, the native name of Bebbanburch (modern Bamborough), the capital of Bernicia.

The Annals of Ulster also mention an event for 623, 'expugnatio Ratho Guali la Fiachna mac Báetáin', 'the storming of Rath Guali by Fiachna son of Baetan'. The details of the event seem to have been lost, but in general terms, an Irish raiding party led by Fiachna, son of Báetán seems to have attempted to storm the Bernician stronghold of Bamborough. Given the fact that the Bernicians had already weathered half a century of similar attacks by Britons, it seems a rather foolish expedition, and it results in Fiachna's death.


Edwin is killed at the Battle of Hatfield Chase by Penda of Mercia (just outside the western borders of Lindsey) while the latter is allied to Cadwallon, king of Gwynedd and High King of the Britons. Cadwallon repays many years of defeats, deaths, rapes and pillaging at Northumbrian hands by conducting a year-long campaign of revenge in the kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira, also killing Edwin's replacement, Eanfrid. It is likely that Lindsey, which had been a Deiran vassal, becomes independent for a while following this destruction of its masters.

632 - 633

Eanfrid / Eanfrith

Son of Ethelfrith. Pagan. His son became king of North Pictland.


Ynys Manau is lost as Bernicia is in a state of near-collapse after the deaths of two kings at Cadwallon's hands and the absence of a strong central authority. Such an authority appears in the form of Oswald, who reunites the two kingdoms of Northumbria and becomes an extremely powerful force in northern Britain.

633 - 642

Oswald (St)

Son of Æthelfrith. Ruled a united Northumbria. Bretwalda.


Oswald defeats and kills High King Cadwallon at Heavenfield near Hexham, thereby removing any British claims to the conquered Elmet. He may also renew the domination of Lindsey during his lifetime.


The greatly weakened British kingdom of Guotodin is conquered. Bede also claims that the kings of Pictland and Dál Riata recognise Oswald's supremacy during his reign.


Oswald is killed by Penda of Mercia on 5 August at the Battle of Maserfelth (Maes Cogwy to the Britons), but Eiludd Powys, king of Powys on the Brito-Welsh side, is killed. The location of Maserfelth is still disputed but opinion favours Oswestry ('Oswald's tree') in Shropshire. Politically, Oswald's death splits Northumbria. His brother succeeds him in Bernicia but Deira breaks away under their cousin Oswine.

St Oswald of Bernicia
Expelled from Bernicia by Edwin of Deira in AD 616, Oswald and his brother, Oswiu, sought refuge on Iona where they converted to Christianity - Oswald brought it back with him when he became king of Bernicia

FeatureOswald's body is ritually dismembered and the head and four limbs are hung from the branches of a tree, something that harks back to traditional offerings to Woden (of Angeln). The head is venerated at Lindisfarne for two centuries while the right forearm becomes a cult relic for four hundred years at Bamburgh and then at Peterborough Abbey.

The Bernicians continue to rule the captured territory of the Guotodin, although Oswald's death possibly sparks a contest between the northern powers for control of the Firth of Forth and the Guotodin lands. Owain of Alt Clut and Domnal Brec of Dál Riata fight at Strathcarron, to the east of Din Eidyn, and the Annals of Ulster mention a battle between Oswald's successor and a band of unnamed Britons - possibly Alt Clut again (or even the remnants of the Guotodin themselves).

642 - 654


FeatureBrother. Bretwalda.


At some point well before 654, Oswiu marries Rienmelth ferch Royth, better known as Rhoedd map Rhun map Urien Rheged. At the very least, Oswiu's marriage is a dynastic union, albeit with a bride whose family has found themselves in severely reduced circumstances, but it also gives him a legal claim to rule the former kingdom of Rheged, and therefore all of the North, a land that he and his forebears have reunited so that it closely resembles the 'Kingdom of Northern Britain' over two hundred years before.


Following his victory in battle over Penda of Mercia and Aethelhere of the East Engle, and his conquest of Mercia, Oswiu cements the increasingly accepted union of Deira with Bernicia to create a single kingdom of the Angles north of the Humber, known, as with most Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, by its geographical location - Northumbria.

MapNorthumbria (Humbrenses / Hymbronenses)

The seventh century saw the kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira united after the two had increasingly become dominated by the Bernicians to the north. The Angles of the north had always considered themselves to be a people separate from the mixture of Angles and Saxons to the south of the Humber, but until Mercia's eighth century dominance of the south there were probably close trading and cultural links with the kingdom of Lindsey. Thanks to a term that was probably coined by Bede, or at least popularised by him, This new single kingdom became known to the southerners by the Latin 'Humbrenses', 'the people of the river', referring to the Humber, which at the time was applied to the entire region which was drained by the tributaries of the Humber river system, from the Ouse as far north as York to at least the lower course of the Trent.

It may have been Oswiu's victory against Mercia at the battle of Winwaed in 654 which confirmed his dominion over the north. By this act, he reunited much of the former territory of the 'Kingdom of Northern Britain' as it had been prior to its fragmentation, over two hundred years before. Initially, though, Deira is ruled by a sub-king on behalf of Oswiu. This sub-king is Oswiu's son, Aldfrith, whose mother is, according to Nennius, Rienmelth, daughter of Royth (or Rhwyth), better known as Rhoedd map Rhun map Urien Rheged.

(Additional information from The Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Lindsey, Kevin Leahy, from A History of the English Church and People, The Venerable Bede (Leo Sherley-Price translation - revised by R E Latham), and from Rheged: An Early Historic Kingdom near the Solway, Mike McCarthy.)

654 - 670




Two years after his destruction of Penda of Mercia, which had made him the supreme power in England, Oswiu destroys the British royal family of Pengwern, creating a power vacuum in the West Midlands. Apparently this battle, at or near Caer Luit Coyt (Lichfield), is fought by Cynddylan as king of Powys (and potential overlord of Pengwern), although he and his retinue of seven hundred warriors is defeated.


The Synod of Whitby sees Oswiu accept the Catholic church of Rome and its representative at Canterbury in preference to the Celtic Church based at Iona, thereby sidelining the latter. The seat of the church in Northumbria is moved from Lindisfarne to York. (The name 'Whitby' is Norse, introduced by the later Vikings based at York. The original Saxon name seems to be Streonaeshalch, possibly Strensall, a village now in the district of the City of York.)

670 - 685


FeatureSon. Killed by the Picts.


Drust (or Drest) of North Pictland tries to expel the Northumbrian invaders from his land, but is defeated by Ecgfrith and removed from the throne. Whether these invaders have enjoyed supremacy over the kingdom or not is unclear, although the accession in 653 of Talorcan son of Eanfrith would suggest this. The Northumbrians are also dominant in the Lothian region, and a sub-king has already been appointed to Dunbar.

675 - 679

The Northumbrians dominate the Lindisware, taking temporary mastery of their territory from the Mercians following the death of their King Wulfhere. However, by 679 Northumbrian dominance has been completely thrown off. Mercia regains dominance over the Lindisware and retains it until 874. A border is agreed by Æthelred of Mercia with the Northumbrians (Ecgfrith being Æthelred's brother-in-law), fixing the border at the River Humber in perpetuity.


Northumbria establishes a bishopric under Bishop Trumwine amongst the South Picts at Abercorn. The effort to convert the Picts fails just four years later and is abandoned shortly after the North Picts defeat the Northumbrians at the Battle of Dunnichen.


In June 684, Ecgfrith sends sent an army under the command of Berht to Ireland. Berht lands his forces on the eastern coast of the Irish midlands and proceeds to lay waste to the plain of Brega, at the heart of the territory of the Southern Uí Neill under the command of High King Finsnechtae Fledach. Hostages are taken and are later repatriated with the help of St Adomnán of Iona.


Attempting to consolidate thirty years of occupation in southern Pictland, Ecgfrith leads a huge army against the Picts at the Battle of Nechtansmere, probably including forces from his sub-kingdom at Dunbar. The Picts defeat them and massacre the entire army including Ecgfrith, and proceed to clear Pictland of the remaining Northumbrians who have settled there, killing or enslaving them.

This Pictish cairn and its marker stone supposedly commemorate the site of the Battle of Nechtansmere, with Nechtan's 'mere' or loch having been drained many years ago

685 - 704

Aldfrith / Alcfrith / Alchfrith the 'Learned'

Bastard son of Oswiu by Fin of Ireland. Ruled May 685-14 Dec 704.


Pope Sergius ordains Bishop Willibrord as the bishop of the Frisians. The bishop is a Northumbrian missionary and a follower of Bishop Wilfred, one of a wave of English Christians to enter Germanic lands in this period in order to bring them into the faith. Willibrord becomes the first bishop of Utrecht in Frisia.

704 - 705

Eardwulf I

706 - 716

Osred I

Ruled from December 705 or early 706. Killed by Cenred.


Osred's accession marks the onset of Northumbrian decline. Osred himself, despite apparently having some redeeming qualities, is known for his fornicating rampages through the kingdom's nunneries. During the same period (or thereabouts), the semi-independence of Dunbar in the north is seemingly ended.

716 - 718

Coenred / Cenred

718 - 729


FeatureSon of Aldfrith. Ruled until 9 May.

729 - 737



FeatureThe Venerable Bede completes his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum at Jarrow in Northumbria; five books and 400 pages on the history of England.


The English church is divided into the two provinces of Canterbury and York. Bishop Ecgberht, brother of King Eadberht, becomes the first archbishop at York.

737 - 758

Eadberht / Eadbert / Eadbriht



The Pictish king, Angus, again attempts to take territory from Alt Clut. His brother, Talorcan, leads a Pictish army at the Battle of Mocetauc. The fighting must be brutal and unforgiving, as both Talorcan and his opponent, King Teudeber of Alt Clut, are both killed. Eadberht of Northumbria is said to take the plain of Kyle (around modern Ayr) in the same year, presumably snatching it from Alt Clut.

Plain of Kyle
The Northumbrians seized the plain of Kyle following a heavy battle between its former owners, the Britons of Alt Clut, and the Picts - presumably this loss cut off the Britons from the southern territory of Cumbria


Eadberht reigns in peace and relative stability, marked by regular issuances of coinage. He abdicates to become a monk at the urgings of the patrician Æthelwold Moll. His son is murdered by palace servants after the briefest of reigns, and the patrician, who may be a distant relative, accedes.


Oswulf / Osulf / Oswald

FeatureSon. Murdered.

758 - 765

Æthelwald Moll

Not of royal blood, but noble. From 5 August to 30 October.


Æthelwald Moll's accession to the Northumbrian throne is achieved only after his brother becomes archbishop of York, highlighting the fact that the church is heavily involved in the dynastic disputes which eventually weakens the crown to a critical degree. However, while not in direct line to succeed, his reign does bring a semblance of peace and stability back to the kingdom.

765 - 774

Alchred / Alhred

c.765 - 779

The Anglian Collection is probably compiled during this period in Northumbria, and contains the pedigrees for six Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Deira, Bernicia, Mercia, Lindsey, Kent, and the East Angles. Today, the earliest surviving of four copies is Mercian, from the first half of the ninth century.

774 - 779

Æthelred / Aethelred I

Son of Æthelwald Moll. Driven from throne. Restored in 790.


Dynastic instability returns to the kingdom when Æthelred is driven from the throne after ordering the killing of three courtiers.

779 - 788

Ælfwold / Elfwald / Alfwold I



Ælfwold is murdered as part of a conspiracy by the 'patrician' Osred II, who then accedes to the throne. His reign is short and ends in his exile.

788 - 790

Osred II

Forcibly tonsured and exiled to Ynys Manau. Died 792.

790 - 796

Æthelred / Aethelred I

Restored to throne. Ruled until April.


Not content with his exile, Osred attempts to return to Northumbria from Ynys Manau but he is abandoned by his soldiers and murdered by the order of Æthelred.


In what is the first major attack by Vikings on English territory, Lindsfarne Monastery is sacked by raiders and the monks are slaughtered. The age of enlightenment and learning in Britain in which Lindisfarne had played a major role now begins a steep decline. The situation is not helped by the continuing dynastic discord in the kingdom.



Former 'patrician'. King for 27 days.

796 - 806

Eardwulf II

Ruled from 26 May. Driven from the kingdom.

806 - 808

Elfwald II


Eardwulf II

Restored with the backing of Charlemagne of Francia.

808 - 840


840 - 844

Ethelred II

Forced off the throne. Restored in 844.



844 - 849

Ethelred II

Restored to throne.

849 - 862

Osbert / Osbriht

Deposed by Ælla. Died 867 alongside Ælla.

862 - 867

Ælla / Ella

FeatureLast independent Old English ruler of Northumbria.

866 - 867

FeatureAn army from the Viking kingdom of Dublin under Ivarr the Boneless gains control of the kingdom of Northumbria (as loosely shown in the 1958 feature film, The Vikings). Osbert and Ælla temporarily bury their differences in the face of a common enemy, and lead an army into the Roman ruins of York to fight off the invaders in a bloody and protracted battle. The English do great slaughter but following the deaths of their kings and their bodyguards, the survivors come to terms. English ealdormen continue to rule Bernicia under the Viking aegis while the Vikings directly control Deira.


867 - 873

Egbert I

Puppet ruler of Bernicia. Installed by Ivarr the Boneless of Dublin.

867 - 874

Ivarr takes his army southwards to conquer East Anglia in 869, and sack the capital of Alt Clut in 870. Ynys Manau also falls to his forces around 870, and between 870-871, Ivarr's brother, Bagsecg, is involved in the attacks, leading the Great Summer Army into England and adding his forces to those of Ivarr and Halfdan. Bagsecg is killed at the Battle of Ashdown in Wessex in 871, and the following year the Great Army is back in Northumbria. It winters in late 872 and early 873 at Torksey on the River Trent in Lindsey, before moving west into Mercia, which is defeated in 874 and a vassal king is installed on its throne. Later that year the army divides, with one half going to Cambridge and the rest heading towards the Tyne and eventually settling in York.

Viking helmet

873 - 876

Ricsig / Ricsige

Puppet ruler of Bernicia.

876 - 878

Egbert II

Puppet ruler of Bernicia.


Egbert II is the last recorded English king of Northumbria. By now his 'kingdom' is little more than the former territory of Bernicia while further south a Scandinavian monarchy is established, ending the necessity of an English puppet ruler.

The high reeves of Bamburgh rule the northernmost part of former Bernicia, while from time to time the kings of Wessex, under whose control falls the rest of England, push the Scandinavians out of York and rule a partially united country.

MapHigh Reeves of Bamburh / Bamburgh (Bernicia)

FeatureWith the Scandinavians now in control of the majority of the kingdom of Northumbria, native Anglian rule was reduced to its original core territory around the castle of Bamburgh. This had originally formed a stronghold of the British kingdom of Bernaccia before being captured by Angles in 547 to form the capital (and initially the only holding) of Bernicia. Bamburgh was known by Nennius as Din Guardi or Dynguayth (section 61 - see the feature link for the Historia Brittonum text). This fortress is equated with Bamburgh thanks to an entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and it also serves as the probable site of the Arthurian Joyous Gard.

While the Scandinavians governed the vast majority of the former territory of Northumbria in the tenth century, the high reeves of Bamburgh may have started to lay a quiet claim to the Northumbrian crown. The source of this claim is unclear, but the earliest high reeve may have been a member of the Northumbrian royal family which fled the Vikings after the fall of York. They may also have ruled the area to the north of the Tees (former Bernicia) almost as an independent kingdom between 878-927, being referred to, or referring to themselves as sub-kings. The Annals of Ulster called the first of them the 'king of the North Saxons'.

The title of high reeve seems to be influenced by a Scots word and may have been equivalent to a high steward. It was certainly a lesser position than that of an earl. After the full unification of England they continued to serve in their lesser capacity until 1041. It is unknown whether they bore any descent from the kings of Northumbria, and the history of Northumbria itself in this period is fairly poorly recorded.

(Additional information by Mick Baker, from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from Roman Britain: A New History, Guy de la Bédoyère, from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, from 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 Link: Libellus de exordio atque procurso istius, hoc est Dunhelmensis, ecclesie (Tract on the origins and progress of this the church of Durham), Symeon of Durham (Reviews in History).)

877 - 883

Halfdan is expelled from York and there follows an apparent interregnum. However, even without a ruler in York itself, the Vikings there retain governorship of former Deira (southern Northumbria) and the vassalage of Bernicia (northern Northumbria), which now centres on Bamburgh.


Once the Danelaw is established by the Peace of Wedmore in 878, Guthrum formalises his rule of East Anglia. A Danish kingdom is founded to exist alongside the similarly-formed Scandinavian kingdom at York.


The close relations between the new king of York, Guthfrith, and the monastery of Saint Cuthbert force the vassal region of Bernicia to accept the direct control of York, although locals still govern in the king's name at Bamburgh.


Formal recognition is made in the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum of the Danish and Anglo-Saxon spheres of control in England. The treaty defines the boundaries of both kingdoms and makes provision for peaceful relations between the two peoples.

? - 913

Eadwulf / Eadulf I

High Reeve of Bamburgh. Claimant to the throne at York.

910 - 913

It is very possible that Eadwulf gains the throne in York after the Danish kings are killed at the Battle of Tettenhall in 910. Coins minted during this period carry no name, but Eadwulf's death in 913 is of major importance, being noted in the chronicle of Æthelweard and by the Irish Annals of Ulster and the Annals of Clonmacnoise. He is named 'king of the Saxons of the north' by the Irish, while Æthelweard states he rules as 'reeve of the town called Bamburgh' (perhaps deliberately downplaying his role).

Bamburgh Castle
The eleventh century Norman version of Bamburgh Castle which survives today replaced the original British and Anglian fortifications which would largely have been wooden in nature

913 - 930

Ealdred I Ealdulfing

Son. Ruled in York (913-918)?


A powerful Norse-Irish dynasty from Dublin seizes control of York, potentially destroying the slow Anglo-Saxon recovery of the region. Ealdred is driven back into his own lands, suggesting a greater level of authority has been enjoyed by Bamburgh until this date.

920 - 921

At the same time that Ragnald, king of Dublin and York, accepts Edward, king of Wessex, as father and lord, Ealdred does the same.


Æthelstan marches north after subduing the Scandinavian kingdom of York and expels Ealdred (perhaps because he is a rival for the throne at York). Ealdred becomes the king's man and is reinstated.

930 - 963

Oswulf / Osulf

Son. Helped defeat Eric Bloodaxe in York. Earl of York (954-963).


A coalition of northern forces tributary to Eadred of Wessex defeats Eric Bloodaxe, king of York, in battle, due in no small part to Oswulf's vital allegiance. Northumbria falls under the rule of the kings of England and is administered by Oswulf.

955 - 959

There is a successional rift between King Edred's two sons, Edwy and Edgar. The latter takes control of Mercia and Northumbria, while Edwy rules in the south until his death in 959. Edgar then seizes complete control and becomes the second king of England.

959 - 960

Oswulf is signing charters as dux and then eorl of York, but following his death in 963, the territories under his control are divided, with one Oslac being handed York by King Edgar the Peaceful of England, while Oswulf's son succeeds him in Bamburgh.

963 - 995


Son. Became Waltheof I, earl of York (975-995).


The original British Bernaccian and Anglian Bernician fortifications at Bamburgh are destroyed during a Viking attack.

995 - 1016

Uchtred the Bold / Uhtred

Son. Also earl of York. Murdered.


Uchtred is a royal son-in-law, a powerful ally of Æthelred II and Edmund Ironsides, and possibly the most important man in the north of England in the Anglo-Saxon fight to clear out the Danish invaders. Unfortunately he is tricked and murdered by the opposing, pro-Danish camp, possible with the direct connivance of Canute.

After his death, and the massacre of a large number of his supporters by Thurbrand 'the Hold', a rival in Northumbria, the high reeves lose their position of power in York as the arrival of the new Danish kings of England changes the political balance of power in the country.

1016 - 1019

Edulf II / Eadwulf Cudel



It is thought that the little-known King Owen the Bald of Strathclyde dies at the Battle of Carham in Northumbria. It seems likely that he has a British successor, but this person's name is unknown, and the extent of his domain must also be a matter of great uncertainty, with the Scots also claiming to control areas of the kingdom.

Carham parish church
Carham lies on the south bank of the River Tweed, now on the English side of the border with Scotland, with a more modern church building now sitting on a site which has been a church possession since AD 675 (External Link: Creative Commons Licence)

1019 - 1038

Eldred II

Son of Uchtred.

1038 - 1041

Edulf III / Eadwulf

Betrayed by King Hardicanute and killed.

1038 - 1039

Eadulf launches an attack in 1038 on Scots territory by raiding into Cumbria (an appendage of Strathclyde). In a revenge attack, King Duncan of the Scots lays siege to Durham in the following year, only to be put to flight. His cavalry is savaged during the fighting and the heads of his slain foot soldiers are collected in the market place to be hung upon posts.

1041 - 1066

With the help of a betrayal of Edulf by Hardicanute, Danish king of England, Siward, earl of York, begins to govern Bernicia without any local officials under him, fully uniting north and south Northumbria under one 'ruler' and ending the line of high reeves, his main source of competition. Edulf's son, Osulf, later seizes the new earldom briefly, in 1067.

Earls of Northumbria / Northumberland

Northumbria in the eleventh century was the descended form of the powerful Anglian kingdom of Bernicia. The northern borders of this kingdom had fluctuated somewhat thanks to ongoing skirmishes with the Picts, but the formation of a single kingdom of the Scots had solidified matters - and the border - to a certain extent. The eleventh century version of Northumbria, however, reached at least as far north as Bamburgh, which had been governed as a separate entity since around AD 900 thanks to the Scandinavian invasion and conquest of York and its adjacent territories. Reformed into a Scandinavian kingdom at York, the Scandinavian territories were eventually subdued by English forces from Wessex and Mercia with support from Bamburgh.

Siward, the Scandinavian earl of York who had arrived in England following Canute's capture of the English throne, governed York and its vast territories from around 1031 (or possibly 1033). By 1041 he had managed to remove his rivals in Bamburgh in northern Northumbria and unite the two regions under his control, creating a powerful earldom of Northumbria. Following the Norman invasion of 1066, this vast territory was broken up into York towards the southern end and Northumberland to the north.

Siward was also related to King Duncan I of Scotland via a kinswoman of his - Sybil, either his daughter or sister. Through her, Duncan produced two sons - Malcolm (Ceann Mor) and Donald Bane - whose hereditary claim was threatened by Duncan's cousin, Macbeth. This gave Siward the perfect opportunity to involve himself in events in the north, which he seems to have done with some enthusiasm.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Mick Baker and Geoffrey Tobin, from The Kingship of the Scots 842-1292: Succession and Independence, A A M Duncan (Edinburgh University Press, 2002), from Scottish Kings 1005-1625, Archibald H Dunbar (D Douglas, Edinburgh, 1899), from Early Sources of Scottish History AD 500-1286, Volume 1, Alan Orr Anderson (Reprinted with corrections, Paul Watkins, Stamford 1990), and from External Links: Who was the Cumbrian Earl Gospatric?, Duncan I [Donnchad ua Maíl Choluim], D Broun (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).)

1041 - 1055

Siward / Sigurd 'the Stout'

Earl of York (1031-1041). Died.

1041 - 1066

With the help of a betrayal of High Reeve Edulf of Bamburgh by Hardicanute, Danish king of England, Siward, earl of York, begins to govern Bernicia without any local officials under him, fully uniting north and south Northumbria under one 'ruler' and ending the line of high reeves, his main source of competition. Edulf's son, Osulf, later seizes the new earldom briefly, in 1067.

Bamburgh Castle
The eleventh century Norman Bamburgh Castle which replaced the original British and Anglian fortifications


Siward, father-in-law to the late Duncan, king of Scotland, succeeds in momentarily expelling Macbeth from Lothian after fighting a fierce battle in which around three thousand Scots are killed, along with 1,500 English. In his place he briefly installs Duncan's brother, Maldred, on the Scottish throne. Macbeth swiftly recovers his lost throne in the same year.


During the revolt of Earl Godwin of Wessex, both Leofric of Mercia and Siward remain loyal to the king. Godwin's army is defeated and Godwin and his family leave the country to go into exile.


Siward and Malcolm Ceann Mor, son of Duncan I and Siward's grandson, set off on a campaign to defeat Macbeth of Scotland. They do so at Dunsinnen, wresting Lothian and possibly Strathclyde from him, but they fail to depose him. Ceann Mor is set up as Malcolm III, at least in Cumbria (Strathclyde), a client king of the English.

1055 - 1065


Brother of Harold II of England. Fled and later killed in battle.


Earl Tostig, the rebellious younger brother of Harold Godwineson of Wessex, flees the country after he murders two members of the house of Bamburgh. Harold appoints Morcar, son of Ælfgar of Mercia, as Tostig's replacement on Northumbria and marries his sister to seal the deal.

1065 - 1066


Brother of Edwin of Mercia. Dispossessed.


Harold's army defeats an attempted invasion of England by the Norwegian king, Harald Hadrada, who has sided with Harold's rebellious younger brother, Earl Tostig. Almost immediately afterwards, Harold has to march his tired army south to face a second invasion by William, duke of Normandy. Harold is narrowly defeated at Hastings on 14 October, and the Anglo-Saxon line of kings comes to an end. Northumbria (York and Bamburgh) is broken up into the earldoms of Northumberland and York.

The Norman conquest of Britain owed much to good fortune, but once achieved it was enforced by military strength and a prolific castle-building programme



Quickly appointed to secure Northumbria. Murdered.


Osulf II / Oswulf

Son of Edulf II of Bamburgh. Usurped earldom and then killed.

1067 - 1068

Gospatric / Cospatrick

Cousin. Purchased earldom from King William. Rebelled.


It seems that the British of the post-Roman entity which had provided the later-named 'Kingdom of Northern Britain' may have intermarried with the Angles of Bernicia and the Vikings of York, but they had remained conscious of their Celtic heritage well into Norman times. Earl Gospatric is especially interesting as his name has a Brythonic origin that means 'servant of Patrick'.

Another Gospatric, thought to be a distant cousin of the earl, is a tenant-in-chief in Yorkshire in 1086. He is apparently promoted to this station under the aegis of Count Alan Rufus (William 'the Conqueror's Breton cousin and cavalry commander).


William has been tightening his grip on the newly-conquered kingdom of England. At first, only the south-east has been considered as being securely held. In 1067 Princes Blethyn and Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn of Gwynedd, Deheubarth, and Powys have resisted the invaders as part of their supporting role for Harold Godwinson. In that year they had joined Eadric the Wild of Mercia in an attack on Norman forces at Hereford in 1067, and now in 1068 they also join Earl Edwin of Mercia and the dispossessed Earl Morcar of Northumbria in a further attack.

1068 - 1069

Robert Comine

Replacement when Gospatric joined the rebellion. Killed.

1069 - 1070

With the death of Robert Comine at the hands of the rebels in the north of England, the title of earl of Northumberland falls vacant during the Harrying of the North under William of Normandy.

Robert de Comines and the Harrying of the North
The Harrying of the North began after Earl Robert Comine and his men ignored advice to pull back from Durham and were then slaughtered by the rebel army

1070 - 1072


Reappointed by King William.


The large number of English exiles who have gathered at the court of Malcom III of Scotland and raids by Malcolm into Northumberland and Cumbria (Strathclyde) became a concern to King William who marches north. Malcolm is forced to submit and sign the Treaty of Abernethy in 1071, agreeing to his son, Duncan, becoming a hostage in England. Even so, Malcolm makes two more raids into England in 1079.


Earl Gospatric loses his position and travels to Cumbria, where his son Waltheof is the lord of Allerdale (not to be confused with Waltheof II, below). This Waltheof's wife may be named Sigrid (Sigrith or Sigridh). The couple named their son and heir Alan (perhaps in commemoration of Alan Rufus of Brittany). Alan of Allerdale's sister, Gunnilda, marries Uchtred, lord of the ancient region of Galloway (now in south-western Scotland), and their son, Lachlan Roland of Galloway, is later the father of Alan of Galloway. This latter individual is a member of King John's council and advises him to sign Magna Carta in 1215.

Gospatric later finds refuge for a time in Flanders before returning home. King Malcolm III Canmore of Scotland (who is probably Gospatric's uncle) grants him the future earldom of Dunbar (Lothian). Gospatric later takes part in the Scots rebellion of 1094.

1072 - 1075

Waltheof II

Son of Earl Siward. Arrested and executed a year later.


The 'Revolt of the Earls' is ended by William of Normandy with the execution of Waltheof in 1076 (not to be confused with Waltheof of Allerdale, son of Gospatric. His numbering is to avoid confusion with Waltheof I, earl of York (975-995)). This effectively completes William's conquest of England.

1075 - 1080

William Walcher

Prince-bishop of Durham. From Liege. Murdered.

1080 - 1086

Aubrey de Coucy

A Norman. Resigned and returned to Normandy.

1086 - 1095

Robert de Mowbray

Deposed for rebelling against William Rufus. Died 1125.

1091 - 1093

Another raid across the border by Malcolm, king of Scots, in 1091 ends in defeat, and again he has to submit to the English king. It seems that the English finally drive out the Scots from their hold on Cumbria (Strathclyde) immediately after this. Malcolm leads a final incursion in 1093 which leads to his defeat at Alnwick by Robert de Mowbray, earl of Northumberland, and his death at the hands of Arkil Morel. His son and heir, Edward, dies in the same battle and Queen Margaret dies in Edinburgh Castle, four days later.

Malcolm Ceann Mor and Margaret
Malcolm Ceann Mor and his second wife, Margaret, sister of Edgar the Atheling, ruled a Scotland that was coalescing into a single kingdom, one which would enjoy relative unity for as long as the House of Atholl survived

1095 - 1139

With Robert deposed for rebelling against William Rufus, king of England, the title again falls vacant, now for a space of forty-four years. Eventually Stephen of England is pressured into appointing a new earl by David of Scotland. Henry of Scotland is selected for the position, signifying Scotland's strong role in the region at this time. He is also father to the future king of the Scots, Malcolm IV.

1139 - 1152

Henry of Scotland

Son of King David I of Scotland. Died.

1152 - 1157

William of Scotland ('the Lion')

Brother. King of Scotland (1165).

1157 - 1189

William is deprived of his title and lands by the powerful Henry II of England. The title remains in the king's hands until it is purchased by Hugh de Puiset, bishop of Durham in 1189, sold by Richard I who is keen to raise funds for his Crusade.

1174 - 1175

William the Lion, king of Scotland, spends a considerable amount of effort trying to regain his lost earldom of Northumberland, and now becomes involved in a rebellion against Henry II of England that is known as the Revolt of 1173-1174. At the Battle of Alnwick, while supporting a raid against Henry's forces, William is captured and imprisoned. His release is only gained in 1175 when he acknowledges Henry as his feudal lord in the Treaty of Falaise.

1189 - c.1191

Hugh de Puiset

Bishop of Durham.


The title falls vacant in or around 1191 and remains so until the First Barons' War, when the barons of Northumberland and York pay homage to Alexander II of Scotland in 1215-1217. In 1217, the barons surrender to Henry III of England, and the crown holds the title until it is granted to the Percy family in 1377.

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