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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Britain


Dunbar / Din Baer (Anglo-Saxons)

This town in East Lothian is located forty-five kilometres (twenty-eight miles) to the east of Edinburgh. It was at the centre of a short-lived Northumbrian sub-kingdom that encompassed some of the territories of the former Lothian kingdom, and was formed at some point after the reign of Oswiu. The location had been a fort that had been occupied since at least the first century BC, and seemingly remained so throughout subsequent centuries. Archaeology has shown that a large, sunken-floored building existed in this period, surrounded by two concentric post trenches - defensive timber walls.

In Votadini Brythonic, the name Dunbar translates roughly as the 'fort on the height'. The modern Castle Park in Dunbar preserves the footprint of the earlier Iron Age promontory fort that would have been used at this time. The name may have entered Scots Gaelic as 'Dun Baer', or Dunbar could have been the English adaptation of that name. It is more likely, however, that the original name was Brythonic in origin, in the form of 'din bar', and the other two languages adopted and adapted that version.

The creation of Dunbar as a regional capital was probably part of the Northumbrian effort to conquer and colonise southern Pictland, much of which they held for thirty years from about 655. This was the date at which, having defeated Penda of Mercia and Aethelhere of the East Engle, and having conquered Mercia, Oswiu was acknowledged as Bretwalda. He was able to forge a single kingdom of the Angles north of the Humber, known, as with many Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, by its geographical location - Northumbria.

The attempt to conquer the Picts eventually came to nothing, probably weakened by the deaths of its successive rulers at the hands of the Picts themselves. However, Guotodin independence seems largely to have been restored in the region around Edinburgh, although very little is known of it. It probably had to carry out a balancing act of pleasing the Picts on one hand and the Northumbrians on the other, and would have been in danger of being caught in the crossfire whenever those two went to war. In time Northumbrian dominance was reasserted in Edinburgh, ending any possible thoughts of a restored Guotodin kingdom.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with 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 History of the Celtic Place-Names of Scotland, W J Watson, and from External Link: Historic Environment Scotland.)

671 - 685


Sub-king. Killed at Nechtansmere by Brude of Pictland?


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, possibly a relative of the king. He rules the Picts in Ecgfrith's name.

Tantallon Castle
Tantallon Castle pictured here is a medieval construction that was erected by the powerful earls of Angus, not too far north-westwards along the coastline from Dunbar itself, but the view certainly gives a good impression of what Lothian's coast was (and still is) like


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.


Attempting to consolidate thirty years of occupation in southern Pictland, Ecgfrith of Northumbria leads a huge army against the Picts at the Battle of Nechtansmere, probably including forces from Dunbar amongst his army. 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.

The men of Dunbar (the former Guotodin) sack the Northumbrian monastery at Abercorn to the west of Edinburgh and, according to Bede, regain their freedom. The former kingdom does not re-emerge, but Dunbar itself seems now to operate with at least some degree of independence, although with an eye towards Northumbrian preferences in its politics. Its name is recorded as Dynbaer in the Vita Sancti Wilfredi (The Life of St Wilfred, bishop of Ripon, died in 709 or 710), which is written in the next century.

685 - 698

Beorhtred / Berhtred

Son and sub-king (dux regius). Killed by Brude of Pictland?

698 - 711


Son? Sub-king. Killed at Manaw by the Picts?


Nechtan of the Picts tries to befriend the Northumbrians. They send a war party under the leadership of Beorhtfrith, King Osred's chief ealdorman and a battle is fought on the Moor of Mannand (Manaw, near the Firth of Forth). The battle results in heavy losses on both sides, and no recorded victory.

711 - 866

The semi-independence of Dunbar may survive past this date, but at some point, either now or later, it is subsumed within Northumbria to be ruled directly. Surprisingly this reintegration happens at a time in which Northumbria is beginning a long, slow period of decline, possibly under the reign of the dissolute Osred I or Coenred, his successor.

866 - 954

MapFeatureAn 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 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.

954 - c.975

Eadred of Wessex becomes the first recognised king of England when the Scandinavian kingdom of York falls to him. He hands the day-to-day governance of the region to Oswulf, high reeve of Bamburgh. These reeves may also rule the area 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'.

c.975 - 1296

The Guotodin territories become part of the Scottish crown. Dunbar (Lothian) re-emerges as an earldom of Scotland in the eleventh century, to be granted to Gospatric, deposed earl of Northumbria in 1072.

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