Teyrnllwg: A Bright Kingdom Slips Away Like Dust

A couple of weeks ago something immensely exciting happened: I received a response to queries on my blog regarding the black hole in the post-Roman history of Lancashire. A Penwortham resident called Ozrico told me the area between the Ribble and the Dee was known as Theyrnllwg. It belonged to the Britons until the Battle of Chester in 613 where its king, Brocmail, took on the Saxon king, Aethelfrith (and lost).

Therynllwg! I thought I had finally found the lost name of the kingdom to which south Lancashire belonged. Not only that, I had the name of its king!

Searching the internet, I found two sources for Theyrnllwg. The first was Charles Onam’s England Before the Norman Conquest (1921). Onam said ‘the lands between the Ribble and the Dee’ were ‘originally known as Therynllwg, of which the later Powys was the surviving remnant. It then extended from the Ribble to the Upper Wye, and from the Clwyd to Cannock Chase, and had been for a century a connecting link between the Britons of the North and those of the West.’

Onam’s words extended the territory of Theyrnllwg into Wales and were doubly exciting because for the first time I had found scholarship stating the area we now know as Lancashire formed a link between Wales and the Old North. This would have meant people had a connecting route (or routes) by which to trade and on their travels would have shared myths and stories. In relation to my on-going quest to uncover Gwyn ap Nudd’s forgotten connections with the Old North, if he was known in Wales and by the Strathclyde Britons this would have made it likely he was known in Lancashire too.

Through a reference in the footnotes, I traced Onam’s words back to William Stubbs’ Origines Celticae (1883) where I found within a list of Welsh names of districts ‘Theyrnllwg from Aerfen to Argoed Derwenydd’ (the river Arfon in Gwynedd and the woodland of the river Derwent in Cumbria?). This extended Theyrnllwg further and led to more sources. Stubbs said the list originated from the ‘Iolo MSS’ and this was ‘taken from a MS belonging to Mr Cobb of Cardiff, and is a mere fragment, a page of the MS having been torn out.’

Having obtained as much information as I could on the internet, I contacted Heron (who lives in Wales and is knowledgeable on such matters) and asked if he knew anything about Theyrnllwg. When I received his answer I was greatly disappointed.

Heron replied saying the name Theyrnllwg derives from Teyrnllwg and sent me an extract from Peter Bartrum’s A Welsh Classical Dictionary (1994). Bartrum stated Teyrnllwg was an ‘imaginary territory’ derived from the name of Cadell Ddyrnllug, a prince of Powys mistakenly taken to be its ruler.

I found out Cadell Ddyrnllug first appeared in Nennius’ History of the Britons (830) as Catel Durnluc, a servant of the tyrannical king of Powys, Benlli. When St Germanus arrived to remonstrate Benlli, Castel offered him hospitality. After Benlli, his city and his subjects had been burned by fire from heaven, Germanus rewarded Castel for his hospitality by making him king. This fulfilled ‘the prophecy of the Psalmist: “He raiseth up the poor from dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill”.’

Bartrum said in modern Welsh Durnluc would take ‘the form Ddyrnlluch or Ddyrnllug, meaning ‘gleaming hilt’, from dwrn, ‘hilt’ and lluch, ‘gleaming’ or llug, ‘bright’. The meaning evidently became obscure very early, and was perhaps interpreted as derived from teyrn, ‘prince’ and llwch, ‘dust’. This may have been the basis of the legend which derived Cadell from a humble origin, the author actually quoting Psalm 113 vv.7.8.’

The name Teyrnllwg was later and erroneously identified as Teyrnllwg’s kingdom. When I looked it up on the internet, I found a pamphlet titled The Fictitious Kingdom of Teyrnllwg (1960) by Melville Richards reprinted for Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society which provided further explanation.

The Fictitious Kingdom of TeyrnllwgIn its two pages Richards criticises an earlier article by Dr. J . D. Bu’Lock which ‘recreates the history of ‘The lost kingdom of Teyrnllwg’’ saying he has been misled by ‘the comparative validity and authenticity of the Welsh material’ (ie. the Iolo MS). ‘Dyrnllug is an epithet which can be readily analysed as dwrn (‘fist’) and llug (‘bright’), referring to some (?) physical characteristic of Cadell… By the fifteenth century Dyrnllug had become Deyrnllug in the genealogical lists.’

Teyrnllwg became accepted as a ‘territorial designation’ firstly because teyrn means ‘king, ruler’ and secondly because -wg was a common territorial suffix (ie. Morgannwg ‘country of Morgan’). Whilst Richards accepted the possible existence of a kingdom in the area of Cheshire and Lancashire he stated adamantly ‘its name was not Teyrnllwg’.

The existence of Teyrnllwg, kingdom of a prince with a bright and gleaming hilt or fist who rose from dust was well and truly refuted. (Although it continues to exist in the gleaming brightness of the name. The glamoury of a bright kingdom slipping away like dust…)

***

However a loose end remained to be tied up. If Teyrnllwg was fictitious what about Brocmail, its king? Oman said Brocmail is the son of Cincen, a descendant of Cadell. I discovered this was backed up by the Harleian MS 3859: The Genealogies, where he appears in the lineage of the rulers of Powys ‘[S]elim map Cinan map Brocmayl map Cincen map Maucanu map Pascent map Cattegirn map Catel dunlurc.’

It was also likely Brocmail was present in the Battle of Chester. In Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (8th C) Brocmail was the guard of 1200 monks from Bangor who had come to pray for the Welsh army. When the Saxon ruler Aethelfrith commanded his army to slaughter them, Brocmail fled, escaping with fifty.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (9th C) stated Scromail (a mis-spelling of Brocmail?) was the leader of the Welsh. After Aethelfrith slew ‘countless Welsh’ and ‘200 priests’ ‘he escaped as one of fifty.’ In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain (1136) Brocmail was Earl of Leicester and the battle took place in Leicester. Brocmail made a stand against Aethelfrith, in spite of having less soldiers, and only fled after he had ‘inflicted exceeding great slaughter upon the enemy.’ This version also mentioned ‘one thousand two hundred monks’ were killed.

As Brocmail is listed as a king of Powys, it seems more likely he was a leader in the battle than a guard. Nick Higham notes Bede is unreliable because he is more concerned about writing ‘providential history’ than military reality and is dubious about the slaughter of the monks. This makes it possible Brocmail’s deposition from a British king who faced the Saxons to a cowardly guard reflects his bias. (However it is equally possible Monmouth’s glorification of him as a British king is biased too…).

Archaeological evidence from Heronbridge, near Chester (a group of skeletons with clear signs of violent injury buried in a pit, believed to be the dead of the Saxon victors) demonstrates the battle took place in Chester and not Leicester. From this we can derive that the Battle of Chester really took place, Brocmail took part in it, and at this pivotal point Cheshire, and perhaps south Lancashire, first became subject to Saxon rule.

Brocmail’s involvement in the Battle of Chester also demonstrates these areas had real political links with Powys. This is supported by the fact when the Mercian Saxons took rule, they formed an alliance with the rulers of Gwynedd and Powys to take on Oswald and the Saxons of Northumbria at Maserfelth (Makerfield in Lancashire). It seems likely they were drawing on a pre-existing alliance.

Whilst the kingdom of Terynllwg may be dismissed as fictitious, the name provides important clues to links between rulers of Powys and the Britons of Cheshire and Lancashire.

***

A more realistic picture of these post-Roman British territories is drawn by Denise Kenyon in The Origins of Lancashire (1991). Kenyon notes attempts to locate Teyrnllwg in north-west England are not widely accepted. She goes on to suggest that concentrations of British place-names may be used to identify areas of lordship.

She posits three main territories. The first centres around Makerfield and Wigan and extends into the Leyland and Newton hundreds down to the Mersey (I assume its northern limit is the Ribble). The second includes the Fylde and centres on ‘Preese and Preesall, Greater and Little Eccleston and Inskip.’ There are two groups in Greater Manchester; around Manchester itself and ‘on the edge of the Rossendale forest’.

A further possibility is that ‘iuxta Rippel was in origin a small British kingdom or lordship encompassing the west Lancashire lowlands on either side of the Ribble, as far south as Makerfield, and extending into the Pennine foothills above Whalley’. These British lordships would have formed the basis for later Anglo-Saxon territorial units.

Kenyon identifies my home town of Penwortham as a ‘central place’ occupying a nodal position in the communication network on a crossing of the Ribble. She says its name is of interest as a hybrid of British and English: ‘Pen’ is British and means ‘hill’ whilst ‘ham’ is English and means ‘safe place’.

‘Ham’ names are indicative of ‘central places’ connected with ‘Roman military and industrial settlements’ (in Penwortham’s case Walton-le-dale) and are often seats of ancient parishes. The construction of the name reflects the acculturation of an important British ‘central place’ by the English.

Thus we have a picture of post-Roman Penwortham lying either on the northern edge of a British lordship centring around Makerfield or in the midst of iuxta Rippel. Differences between the dialects north and south of the Ribble (ie. ‘chester’ to the south and ‘caster’ to the north) make the former seem more probable. This lordship would have been taken over by the Saxons some time after the Battle of Chester. The ‘wahl’ element of Walton-le-dale suggests a strong British presence remained in this town, adjacent to Penwortham.

Kenyon’s identification of Penwortham as a central place on the communication network re-opens the possibility of it linking Wales and the North. Whilst most historians are dubious about connection by road due to boggy ground, the river Ribble was no doubt used for transport and communication with Penwortham as a look-out point and possible port.

Is there any way of making a case that the Britons of the lordship centring on Makerfield once shared a pagan mythology and told similar stories to those further north and in Wales?

The only evidence of native British pagan worship in the vicinity comes from Romano-British altars, statues and inscriptions to deities such as Deae Matronae (the mother goddesses), Apollo-Maponus (Maponos was a Brythonic god of youth) and Mars-Nodontis (Nodens was a Brythonic god of hunting and healing and is cognate with Nudd, Gwyn’s father). These are not in our Makerfield lordship but north of the Ribble in the Fylde.

That Kenyon believes the Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical divisions are likely to have been founded on earlier British ones (drawing on the etymology of Eccles from eglys ‘church’) and monks from Bangor were praying for the Welsh army suggests the Britons had been Christian before the English arrived in 613.

How and when they were converted (or chose to convert) remains a matter for further investigation. Insights in this direction may throw light on how the ancient British gods and goddesses slipped from the consciousness of the people of my locality like the bright dust of Terynllwg.

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16 thoughts on “Teyrnllwg: A Bright Kingdom Slips Away Like Dust

  1. Interesting, especially the ‘Wg’. I live in South Wales in Cilfynydd, the original name for this area before it became a mining village takes its name from the large stream or brook ‘Nant cae dudwg’. The area name is ynys cae dudwg. Seems to translate in relation to what appears to be a druidic slaughter stone in the field where the spring originates as ‘place with a field of frowning people’. I have also read an old name for Glamorgan/Gwent – Essylwg. ‘Wg’ possibly translates as frowning, which could be interpreted as discontented people.

    1. In Welsh Theyrn seems to translate as Tyrant a Monarch or Sovereign. Llwg translates as scurvy and the ‘wg’ also translates as frown or scowl. My interpretation; the area known as theyrnllwg was ruled by a tyrant monarch who saw his people suffer malnutrition in a state of poverty and discontent, would that make any sense perhaps?

  2. When it comes to the written history of sub roman Britain I don’t think there are any definite answers ‘yes’ or ‘no’. In the case of Theyrnllwg it could well be just be an epithet of that Cadell mentioned in the genealogies. The source material for naming it as a kingdom came from Iolo Morgannwg, and he is known to have been – shall we say ‘creative’? – in his work. He’s reliable in some cases and not in others.
    Of course, the other contender for kingship in our area at the time is none other than the great Llywarch Hen, who is said in the triads to be one of the kings who did not defend his realm, which it is thought was lost after the assassination of Urien due to in-fighting amongst the Britons. Many place his lands further north in Argoed Llwyfain, but some researchers have placed it further South.
    Llywarch ended up in Powys under the protection of Cynddylan Ab Cyndrwyn, where he wrote the most poignant poems of his era.

    1. I’ve seen Llywarch Hen placed as the ruler of southern Rheged and that placed in Lancs and Cheshire, but don’t think many scholars would agree with that now. That is John Morris’ reading in ‘The Age of Arthur’ which no-one recommends anymore. A shame as I also love the poems attributed to Llywarch.

      Interestingly, John Morris places not only Llywarch in Lancs but Elidyr (Mwynfawr) his father? who is the owner of a horse called Du y Moroedd ‘the Black of the Seas’ on whom according to legend he makes his trip from a ‘Benllech’ in the north to a ‘Benllech’ on Anglesey and is killed in Arfon. Guy Ragland Philips link Du with the Black Horse of Bush Howe, not too far north of Lancs. Du seemed to be very famous in his day!

  3. Great post, and so interesting to read about your process tracking down the history of your region. I’ve had similar experience trying to figure out where my father’s family came from in northeastern England. The town no longer seems to exist, or the town’s name was misspelled in our family bible. In any case really neat research, and thank you for sharing!

    1. It appears our true history is suppressed. I strongly recommend reading the holy kingdom by Alan Wilson.
      Ancient historical records show that Britain was never fully conquered by the Romans,retaining it’s culture, it’s royal families intermarrying with the Caesars. With the coming of Joseph of Arimathea in AD37, it’s kings become converts to Christianity and the Island the secret home of many of Jesus’s followers.
      Two of those kings were named Arthur – one, Arthur 1 of WARWICKSHIRE, the fourth-century son of the emperor Magnus Maximus, the other his sixth century descendant and a king of Glamorgan – their careers rolled into one and elaborated upon by medieval poets, they became the single King Arthur of myth and Legend.
      As a result of research going back over forty years, the authors of this book are able to reveal the location of the graves of both Arthurs, the location of Camelot, the burial place of the ‘true cross of Christ’ and uncover a secret historical current that links our own times with the mysteries of Arthur and the Holy Grail. In doing so they challenge many orthodox beliefs perpetuated by a church which long ago lost touch with it’s roots. Alan Wilson mentions a Khymry tribe, Cumbria sounds a possible derivative. This book really is very interesting indeed.

      1. In this book there is a map of the cymru area prior to the Roman invasion extending into the North of England as far as the Scottish borderline with the name Essylwg for Glamorgan/Gwent. I would’nt dismiss Therynllwg as fictitious, as I say, ynys cae dudwg is the old name for where I live. I would recommend also looking at OS maps for your area, in particular old farm names, stream and spring names and names for fields. please let me know if you find any ‘Wg’ names. Appears we may have been a bunch of frowning, scowling people back then, kind of makes sense as the tribes of Britain became more and more defensive of their territory with population growth and greed replacing a harmonious balance throughout the Island.

  4. To turn the question of history on its head: will our descendants, a thousand or more years from now, know that there was a revival of the old religions? Will whoever writes the surviving histories or the official records of our age remember us? The act of remembering (or indeed re-membering) is important, and the absence of definite facts only highlights this importance, because these may well be be unofficial, unrecorded communities. A former archaeologist friend of mine worked on Irish villages of the C19th; she said that, after the villages were abandoned in the famine, many of them simply disappeared back into the landscape, being built of local, natural biodegradable materials. I can’t help feeling there might be a parallel here, with our forebears in Yr Hen Ogledd. Some Romano-Brythonic gods may have had shrines carved of age-defying stone, but what of the others?

    As for the etymology of ‘Theyrnllwg’… etymology can be a fickle and misleading signpost, and today’s folklore is full of yesterday’s plausible toponymic tales, so I tend to avoid wandering into this area of discussion. But – you might have already discovered this from Heron or from your own research – the root of ‘teyrn’ in Welsh has strong connotations of sovereignty – ‘teyrnas’ meaning kingdom or realm. In the story of Rhiannon (who herself is cognate with Rigantona, the great queen), Teyrnon is the man who finds her stolen child after keeping watch over the mare whose foals are also being stolen; he is most likely cognate with Tigernonos, the great lord.

    Bearing all that in mind, the mythic (as opposed to the evidence-based historic) tale seems to speak of the continuation of British sovereignty, even through waves of successive invasions and conquests: “er gweitha’ pawb a phopeth, ry’n ni yma o hyd.” In spite of everyone and everything, we are still here. And I quite like that 

    I look forward to reading more of your research!

    1. Thanks for adding the Teyrnon / Tigernonos link – something I hadn’t thought of. I’d agree that even as mythic place Teyrnllwg has important ties to a mindset and Brythonic concepts of sovereignty. It’s still in my mind… (oh and hope you don’t mind but I misquoted ‘ry’n ni yma o hyd’ at the end of my my most recent piece!)

      1. I wouldn’t even have noticed if you hadn’t said so here – you made the words your own in service to that landscape. Though I should probably credit Dafydd Iwan, whose rousing 80s folk song I stole them from – worth a listen if you are interested 🙂

  5. In spite of your feeling of disappointment at not finding an historically attested realm, it seems to me that you are effectively recreating such a realm in the intersections of Rheged, Elmet and Powys : a ‘teyrnas’ ( and Angharad’s comments are very much to the point here) or an area of sovereignty for Gwyn and the gods of the land. Your work validates that sovereignty which is shaped out of your relationship with the land.

    1. Heron, I love the idea of creating a ‘teyrnas’ for Gwyn and the gods of my land 🙂 … a place of re-cognition as they speak to me and appear within the landscape, old gods, an old land speaking in new ways.

  6. I come from Lancashire (Liverpool was in Lancashire at the time I was born in it!). I grew up mostly in Formby which is supposed to have been a Viking settlement originally. It has the -by ending and there are a few others in the area; Kirkby, Crosby. That part of Lancashire was quite isolated and probably wasn’t settled much until that time.

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