1.4 Founding Kingdoms

It’s difficult to know how much to believe of the stories relayed in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle about the formation of the early kingdoms – do they simply reflect the history they wished they’d had? Plus, was Arthur a legend or reality?


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13 thoughts on “1.4 Founding Kingdoms

  1. They didn’t did they, King Arthur, is not mentioned in any foundation myths of the emerging English kingdoms

  2. Darn it! Debra, bernicia…I’ll eat crow next time…
    But I’ll stick to my pronunciation of agora if you don’t mind!
    John, no, no one mentioned Arthur in their stories…it’s a long shot there’s no argument about that!

  3. Thank you for exploring a period of history that I know very little about. I noticed that six of the kingdoms seem to meet a point that is basically London. I wondered if this is because:
    1) London was already important at this time
    2) This is a reason that London later became important
    3) The same geographical reasons that London later became important are the reasons that it hub of these Kingdoms
    4) Just a coincidence
    5) A misreading of the map and not even a real thing
    Thanks Again.

  4. Fascinating episode as always and, in this case, personally useful. My English ancestors came from Norfolk and Suffolk, and now I know that’s part of East Anglia. Hail the Angles!

  5. Hi, a couple of points – I accept that your podcast is not aimed at experts (I am currently writing a dissertation on the formation of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria) but there were a couple of errors in this podcast which I feel you need to be aware of. Firstly, as Bob Hanson points out, you got the geographical locations of Deira and Bernicia wrong (your pronunciation of Deira is also questionable although this may just be a matter of personal prefernce). Also, the terms heptarchy and bretwalda are inaccurate and now rejected by historians. Bede uses neither (his passage on the ‘bretwalda’ just refers to imperium and the term bretwalda stems from a later scribal error). The two terms were popularised by the twelfth century Henry of Huntingdon but are in fact inaccurate representations of the period. No king held overlordship over the whole of Britain and histroians spend a lot of time trying to figure out how much power they actually wielded. The term heptarchy hides immense complexity of this period and I was slightly confused as to why you insisted on using this term when you clearly recognised the fact that there were many more than seven kingdoms (for example, my dissertation argues that Northumbria only formed in the very late seventh century and that Deira and Bernicia remained separate in many ways up until this point). Finally, your discussion of the Tribal Hidage was interesting. You are right to point out how much ink has been spilt discussing this document but the fact is historians simply do not know what to make of it and it certainly isn’t a reliable and complete enough document to support all that you tried to hang on it. Sorry! I am a bit of a history geek, but hey, that is why I am doing a degree it!

  6. Sorry, one more thing – you were incorrect in stating that all the Northumbrian rulers traced their descent from Ida and in fact sort of botched the Northumbrian foundation myth. Ida was the founding father of Bernicia and became the one people claimed descent from following the reign of King Oswald and his brother Oswiu’s subsequent marriage to a member of the Deiran royal house. The Deiran dynasty claimed descent from Aelle and in fact Deira appears to have been the earlier of the two kingdoms with Ida conquering Bamburgh in the mid sixth century and forming Bernicia. This is of course all very uncertain and murky but it is certain that King Edwin and others of the Deiran house did not claim to descend from Ida.

  7. Ah Liz, How i enjoyed your comments! The next episode’s going to be 10 minutes longer with all the retractions and corrections I’m going to have to go with…
    Any tips on the Deira pronunciation?
    Did you spot that the Thames doesn’t in fact run uphill?
    I think I’ll stick with the Heptarchy; I agree it over simplifies a very complicated story, but I have a cussed love for out of date tags, such as Dark Ages. Where do you stand on that?
    Fascinated to hear about Bretwalda, really. I am very much prepared to accept the correction, since I strongly suspect you know a lot more about it that I do, but, is there not a reference in the ASC for 827, ‘Ecgbryht..w

  8. Hello David,

    I’m re-listening to the beginning of this podcast and am understanding/following it much better this time around.

    I have one question I hope you or a listener can answer. Did the people (nobles and/or others) actually refer to themselves and their territory as you do on the podcast? Of course in their own language. Did they think of “Northumbria” as their home? Did they call themselves “Mercians?” Or, did they refer to themselves maybe as a clan, or family, or what?

    1. Hi Matthew. It’s a little difficult to be sure because of course we don’t have anything that comes back from ordinary people. There is clearly a tradition of tracing themselves back to a founder, possibly mythical – so Edward the Confessor is referred to as of the ‘Cerdicngas’, the people of the original founder Cerdic; the same happens in Bernicia, where the founder was Ida, and in Mercia where they call themselves Icelings. The West Saxons originally referred to themselves a the Gewisse. But in all of that there’s obviously something ‘tribal’ going on, and I imagine that this would have been a theme. So, as you suggest, especially in earlier centuries, it might have been people of rather than the larger kingdoms which were new, and collections of loyalties of the greater men at least for a while. Thereafter I am guess when I say that I imagine people had multiple loyalties, as they do now – to their lord, tribe, king. I am reminded by someone on a Facebook group that Bede referred to himself as coming from the region belonging to the monastery at Jarrow, which is very regional. But all these are really guesses!

  9. Hi David,
    I love your podcasts.
    I started with the Angevins but I’ve decided to start from beginning.
    I can’t resist my Scottish nature though and point out that arguably because of the ascendancy of James VI and the Stuarts, arguably the earliest ancestors of the current monarchy are the Kings of Dal Riada from whom the kings of Scots claim descent.

    Although I gather you are quite a fan of Cerdic and this is the history of England after all, so I do understand your argument…hahaha.

      1. A safe bet I think.

        Thanks again for these podcasts. They make the long days at work pass a lot more pleasantly.

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