Early British Kingdoms: Middle Britain
In a recent post (here) we looked at the kingdoms that emerged in Southern Britain during the sub-Roman period. One commonality between the several southern kingdoms was that their names derived from the names of the tribe that had occupied that relative area. Rome’s occupation changed the social structure of Britain forever, but the upheaval that resulted from Rome’s departure allowed some tribes to regain their identity and assert a much smaller measure of control. They did, however, still retain many of the qualities infused by the Romans. In this post, we will look at the main kingdoms of Middle Britain and see how their development progressed during the early-5th century.
The kingdoms of Middle Britain, especially those on the eastern coast, would take the initial brunt of the foreign invasion forces. Caer Went was the kingdom furthest east in Middle Britain. Unfortunately for the people living there, that meant that many of the invading Angle tribes began their invasion on the eastern shore. Before the Roman occupation, the Iceni had occupied the easternmost region. The Iceni tribe was the very same tribe to which the famous Queen Boudica belonged in the 1st century. Into the 5th century, the Iceni were not able to reestablish themselves in any semblance of a coherent people, probably due to the very fact that the invasions began so quickly. They probably migrated to the west in order to avoid the Angle invaders, leaving Caer Went to fall into foreign hands.
Caer Lerion & Linnuis
Little is known about this specific kingdom during the early sub-Roman period. Some have surmised that this territory may have simply been governed by the kingdom directly to its north, a kingdom named Linnuis. Neither kingdom came out well in the end. Linnius seems to have fallen to the Angle invasion first, and its neighbor to the south, Caer Lerion, fell soon thereafter. Both kingdoms had lost a large measure of control by the year 500.
The kingdom of Caer Colun was the eastern kingdom able to maintain control the longest. While its neighbors to the north and south had both fallen by 500 A.D., the Trinovantes had regained a small measure of control in Caer Colun. Their name died with Roman influence, but the pre-Roman tribe managed to reestablish a fairly large town in the same area where Rome had built up Camulodunum. While we may never know how they managed to do so, the Britons of Caer Colun managed to hold off the increasing invasions well into the 6th century.
The main Romano-British town of Middle Britain was called Londinium by the Romans and Lundein by the Britons. After the Roman system began to fall apart, it seems that the Trinovantes of Caer Colun may have briefly exerted control over Lundein, however, archaeology from the period indicates that Lundein was one of the first inland towns to fall. By the latter half of the 5th century, Lundein had been abandoned and fallen under Saxon control.
The kingdom of Cynwidion was by far the most interesting and resilient of the early kingdoms of Middle Britain. While the Angles invaded the northernmost kingdoms of Middle Britain, the Saxons assaulted the southeast, and the Jutes settled the southwest, a Britonic king was starting to establish control of the central kingdom that eventually bore a variant of his son’s Welsh name. Cynfelyn ap Arthwys was the son of King Arthuis of the Pennines, an area in the highlands of Northern Britain. In a later post I’ll delve into the similarity and debate which King Arthuis’ name has brought to the debate about the existence of King Arthur. For now, however, we’ll focus on his children and their consolidation of a stronghold in central Britain.
Cynfelyn made some progress southward from his father’s kingdom late in the 5th century. His son, Cynwyd ap Cynfelyn, was largely responsible for strengthening the gains in central Britain and beginning the resistance against the Saxons. The kingdom initally derived its early name from Cynwyd, but when his son took over, the Angles had begun to encircle the fierce kingdom and push its borders of control further south. By the time Cadrawd had taken the reigns in the mid-6th century the kingdom had been compacted due to external pressure and had come to be known as Calchwynedd. Amazing as it seems, even after being encircled by the various invading tribes, the Britons in Calchwynedd managed to maintain control of their small kingdom until the 7th century.
Caer Gloui, Ceri, Baddan, & Celemion
The four westernmost of the Middle-British kingdoms managed to retain a high level of the centralized control that existed there during Roman times. If the references to a King Vortigern contain any validity, it would seem that a central leading figure in early sub-Roman Britain established his power base in the western regions of Britain and into Wales. This would help explain why these western kingdoms may have been able to withstand the foreign invaders into the late-6th century.
Admittedly, this is a cursory overview of the simple dynamics at play in early Middle Britain. I will attempt to deal with the invading forces (Saxons, Angles, and Jutes) in separate posts so that we can get a good grasp on the culture and mindset of the people pouring onto British shores during this time period. For a great dynamic look at the progression of change in sub-Roman Britain take a look at a time-lapse map of the early kingdoms here.