History of Cumbria - After The Romans

After The Romans

By the official Roman break with Britannia in 410, most of Britain was already effectively independent of the empire. In Cumbria, the Roman presence had been almost entirely military rather than civil, and the withdrawal is unlikely to have caused much change. Many of the Roman forts may have continued in use as places of local government and habitation; there is evidence suggesting that Birdoswald was inhabited until at least the 6th century.

Even before the Romans left Britain, it appears that Coel Hen was an important figure in the Roman province of Northern Britain, which covered everything between the River Humber and the River Tweed. He may have been the last of the Duces Brittanniarum ("leaders of the Britains") (sic) and as such would have commanded the army in this region. After the withdrawal, Coel Hen became the High King of Northern Britain (in the same vein as the Irish Ard RĂ­) and ruled from Eburacum (now York).

Following Coel Hen's death, his kingdom was continually divided among his descendants until, in the 6th century, Urien is recorded as the king of a land called Rheged, which is thought to have been centred on modern Cumbria but also to have included large parts of Dumfriesshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire. The Kingdom was based at Llwyfenydd, believed to be what is now the Lyvennet Beck, a tributary of the River Eden in east Cumbria. The little that is known about Rheged and its kings comes from the poems of Taliesin, who was bard to Urien. It is known that under Urien's leadership the kings of the north fought against the encroaching Angles and that he was betrayed by one of his own allies, Morcant Bulc, who arranged his assassination after the battle of Ynys Metcaut (Lindisfarne) around AD 585.

The lack of documentary or even archaeological evidence from this period of Cumbria's history has meant that history and legend have become hopelessly intertwined and the fragments of certainty have become the basis of local myth. One of Cumbria's greatest heroes is Urien Rheged's son, Owain (usually Ewain in Cumbria), who is supposed to have lived at Castle Hewen, believed to be a Romano-British hillfort south of Carlisle.

As with many other areas with Celtic connections, there are a number of Arthurian legends associated with Cumbria. Arthur's father Uther Pendragon is supposed to have lived at Pendragon Castle, high in the upper Eden Valley, although the castle itself is probably 12th century and was originally called Mallerstang Castle. It is also believed that Arthur's last Battle of Camlann in which he was fatally wounded was fought near Birdoswald, whose Roman name was Camboglanna. More popular in local legend are associations with Arthur's knight Lancelot, who is believed to have been from Tarn Wadling, now a dried up lake near High Hesket (and overlooked by Owain mab Urien's Castle Hewen). "King Arthur's Round Table", a massive earthwork near Penrith, has no actual associations with Arthur but is said to have been a duelling ground for Lancelot. Finally, the Roman bath-house at Ravenglass, known locally as Walls Castle, is thought to be the Arthurian Lyons Garde.

One aspect of the sub-Roman period in Cumbria that can be assumed with a little more certainty is the early establishment of Christianity. A number of early saints are associated with the region, including Saint Patrick, Saint Ninian and Saint Kentigern.

Patrick was born to a family of local dignitaries at Banna venta Berniae, assumed to be Ravenglass (whose Roman name was Glannaventa) or somewhere in the Solway region of Carlisle. Several places are traditionally associated with Patrick, such as Aspatria and Patterdale, largely because both derive their names from historical Patricks, but there is no evidence to suggest that there is any association with these places.

Saint Ninian, born about AD 360, was almost certainly of Cumbrian origin and has strong associations with Ninekirks near Penrith. Not only did Ninian give his name to the place, he is believed to have had a hermitage in the caves of Isis Parlis overlooking the present church, which was originally dedicated to him. Earthworks in the area also give tantalising clues to an early monastery here. Ninian is often credited with the conversion of the Cymry to Christianity, despite its original introduction to the area by Romans.

By the 6th century, however, it seems that the Cymry had fallen back into old pagan ways and that Saint Kentigern re-Christianised the area. Kentigern, or Mungo as he was affectionately known, was a contemporary of Urien Rheged (although one source claims that he was the illegitimate son of Owain mab Urien) who is known to have been a Christian, but his subjects might have been less devout. Around 553 Kentigern was expelled from Strathclyde, because of a strong anti-Christian movement. He fled as far as Wales, and could not find refuge in Cumbria, which was maybe also less devout. But the Christians won the battle of Ardderydd (Arthuret) (573) on the border with Scotland, between the Christian King Rhydderch Hael of Strathclyde and the pagan King Gwenddolau. After this Kentigern returned to Strathclyde. Rheged's involvement in this battle is not clear, but it seems they benefited by gaining the land of Caer-Wenddolau (modern Carwinley) by the Border Esk separating Cumbria from Dumfries and Galloway, and they may have even amalgamated with Strathclyde to form a dual kingdom.

Read more about this topic:  History Of Cumbria

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