The Kingdom of Strathclyde

One of the kingdoms of Scotland that arose at the end of the Roman occupation of Britain was that of Strathclyde. At the height of its empire there stretched a kingdom from its capital Ail - Cluathe (Dumbarton) in the north down to Wales in the south. The people of the kingdom were Britons who spoke an early form of Welsh. The legend of Arthur arose from these people. Most of the kings are little-known, and their reign lengths are only approximate dates.

The first mention of the Britons of Strathclyde is in Irish literature. Beinne Britt, or Beinne the Briton, led a Strathclyde army at the Battle of Muchramha, against the Irish in the middle of the third century. Art, son of Conn, is killed in the battle. Conn was the High King of Ireland from 127 - 73 CE. He was known as Conn of the Hundred Battles. The Irish Kingship was succeeded by his two sons Conaire and Art and his grandson Cormac. As Cormac reign was 227 - 266 CE, the Battle of Muchramha can also be placed at 227 CE.

The accession of Nathi, the last pagan king of Ireland, in 405, prompted the Battle of Strathclyde, cath Stratha Cluatha. This battle may have been fought against King Coel Hen of Strathclyde. This battle was recorded in a famous Irish record as 'The Harrying of Strathclyde' - now sadly lost - which virtually proves St. Patrick was from Strathclyde.

Coel Hen 412-420

Coel Hen, the Old King Cole of the nursery rhyme was king around the turn of the 5th Century, probably after the Roman withdrawal from Britain c. 412 AD. His capital was probably in either York or Trapain Law in Lothian. His territory included southern Scotland then known as Rheged. He went to war against the Scots and the Picts, fighting in Ayrshire at what is now known as Coylton. Ayrshire was probably at the northern limit of his territory. Early versions of the nursery rhyme are Scottish; Robert Burns knew several. The Scots and the Picts were triumphant and King Coel was said to have drowned in a bog in Tarbolton c. 420. The capital would then move northwest to Ail-Cluathe and this became the capital of the Britons.

Ceretic 420-475

King Ceretic Gulectic was accused by St. Patrick of selling Christians to the Picts and the Scots as slaves. He established a royal house of Strathclyde, probably becoming king directly after Coel Hen c. 420, moving the seat of power to Ail Cluathe (Dumbarton). He probably reigned until c. 475.

Erbin 475-480, Cinuit 480-485, Gereint 485-490, Caw 495-501

Reign-lengths for the next few kings are less easy to ascribe. Erbin followed (c. 475-c.480), Cinuit (c.480-c.485), Gereint (c.485-c.490) son of Erbin named as one of 'Three who had command of the fleets of the Island of Britain', Tutagual (c.490-c.495) and Caw (c.495-501) in what was obviously a very turbulent period. The desposition of Caw as king explains Gildas hatred of Clinoch (Constantine) and the killing of the princes as threats to his throne in 508. It is probably at this turbulent time that the south of Britain is being colonised by Angles and Saxons, commanded by their leader Hengist. In W.F. Skene's Celtic Scotland: A History of Ancient Alban is the passage: "Hengist then proposes to send for his son and his cousin to fight against the Scots and asks Guorthegirn [probably Gereint in my terminology] to give them regions next to the northern wall. Octa and Ebissa come with forty cyuls, and circumnavigating the Picts lay waste the Orkneys, and occupy several districts beyond the Frisian sea, as far as the confines of the Picts. They are followed by other ships, which come to Kent." Skene then clarifies the passage with this footnote: "The author understands Nennius to mean that this body of invaders arrived on the east coast, went round the island, ravaging the Orkneys on their way, and entered the districts about the wall and on the north of the Firth of Forth by the west."

Union with Dalriada: Dumnagual Hen 501-508, Clinoch 508-540, Cinbelin 540-558

Domangall Hen reigned 501-508 AD, probably becoming the first Ard Righ. Yet his reign seemed as turbulent as the previous kings. He was suceeded by his son Clinoch who had an approximate reign length between 508 - 540 AD, corresponding with the reign length of most famous High King, King Arthur. Clinoch was succeeded by his brother, Cinbelin in 540 AD, who reigned until defeat by his nephew Conall in 558 AD, when the Ard Righ lapsed.

Ard Righ collapses: Tutagual 558-580

The kingship of Strathclyde then was taken over by Tutagual who reigned from this time until 580 AD.

Ryderrch Hael 580-612 AD, St. Mungo and Merlin

King Ryderrch Hael, who reigned 580 - 612 AD, is best known from the story as the king who threw his queen's ring into the Clyde after discovering she was unfaithful to him. The distraught queen asked St. Mungo for help. The ring was found by St. Mungo inside a salmon and thus the queen was vindicated. Ryderrch is also said to have possessed a Excalibur -like sword called Dyrnwyn. Legend has it that the sword could only be used by someone from noble birth - and that it could also burst into flames! He also gave protection on his land to Merlin the druid, and had his Royal Palace at Partick.

We know something of the British Royal family at this point. Just west of Yarrow, north of the Ettricks, stands a stone with an inscription in latin : Hic memoriae et bello insignisimi princi pes Nudi Dumnogeni hic iacent in tumulo duo filii liberalis translated as: 'Here Nudos' princely offspring rest, Dear to fame, in battle brave, Two sons of a bounteous sire, Dumnonians, in their grave.' Inscribed in the latter sixth century it commemorates two sons of Nudd Hael of the royal house of Damnonia.

Constantine 612-617, Neithon 612-621

Constantine reigned after Ryderrch Hael until 617 AD. Neithon ruled from then to 621 AD. Not much is known of King Neithon, but there is an earlier story of his nephew, Prince Elidyr Mwynfawr or Morken, who married the daughter of Maelgwn Hir of Gwynedd, a minor king who once tried to assert himself as High-King. Tradition states that he achieved this in a King Canute-like story where he managed to survive the onrushing tide, where the other suitors for the Ard Righ failed. This seems implausible, and given that he reigned between 517 and 539, at a time when King Arthur was said to be the Ard Righ, probably has no basis in fact. When Maelgwn died in 539, the kingship passed to his illegimate son, Rhun Hir. This incensed the Strathclyde prince, who considered himself to be the true heir through marriage to the legimate daughter. He left Strathclyde with an army, in order to press his wife's claim to the throne. Unfortunately, in the time it took to sail to Caernarvon, Rhun had mobilised his support and Elidyr was defeated in the battle of Cadnant Brook c.550 AD.

Bili 621-633, Owain 633-645

Bili was the next King of Strathclyde from 621 to 633 AD. He was succeeded by Owain who reigned from 633 to 645 AD. He was responsible for checking the Dalriadic expansion, by killing King Domnal Brec of Dalriada in 642 AD at either Strathcarron or at Loch Awe. More on this in the entry for the ancient Welsh poems.

Gwriad 645 -658, Dumnagual II 658-694, Bili II 694-722

Then followed a number of kings:- Gwriad (645-658), Dumnagual (658-694). In his reign, the Britons were active in Ireland. The Battle of Rath Mor Maighe Line (Moylinney) in Antrim was in 682.

In Bili's reign (694-722), the Irish campaign continued. In 697 they joined with the men of Ulster to ravage Murthemne in Louth. In 702 they killed Irgalach, either the son or grandson of Conang, the king of Bregia, on an island off Howth. The Irish campaign ended though with a defeat in the Battle of Magh Culinn in County Down. It seems that King Bili then turned his attention closer to home with a campaign against the Scots. I.M.M MacPhail's Dumbarton Castle notes" In 704 there was a great slaugther of the Britons by the Scots at a place in the Vale of Leven." This may show that the Scots were trying to annex British territory.In 710 at Longecoleth, MacPhail notes that the British were victorious although he notes that "Lorg-eclet" was "hitherto unidentified." More on this in the entry on the ancient Welsh poems. The campaign ended in defeat c.716 at the rock of Mionuire, again at the hands of Selvach, who was also responsible for many internal battles in his kingdom. The rock of Mionuire may be the Clach nam Breatann at the head of Loch Lomond, on the western side of Glen Falloch.

Teudebur 722 - 752, Dumnagual III 752-760

On the succession of Teudebur (722 - 752) the Picts were particularly aggressive under their King Oengus I. MacPhail's Dumbarton Castle notes a battle between Britons and Picts in 744. However, Teudebur was able to stabilise his power and in 750 AD managed to check the growing power of the Picts by defeating Oengus' son Prince Talorgen at the battle of Mugdock, near Drumchapel.

On the death of King Teudebur, only two years later in 752, he was succeeded by his son Dumnagual who reigned till 760. However, probably taking advantage of the new political situation, the Northumbrian king, Eadberht, managed to seize the lands of Kyle, at the start of Dumnagual's reign. In 756, Eadberht joined with King Oengus I of the Picts to try and seize Dumbarton, but Dumnagual partially redeemed himself wiping out the Northumberian army at the battle of Newburgh-on-Tyne. MacPhail notes that Oengus was "thirsting to avenge the defeat of Mugdock and accompanied by a force of Angles from Northumbria, led his army to the town of Alclut and forced the Britions to accept terms. This happened on the first day of August, but nine days later, on the homeward journey from Alclut, the Anglian army was overwhelmed at a place called Ovania." This may be a derivation of Govan in Glasgow, but that probably took its name from one of Caw's sons. MacPhail suggests an alternative placing of Ovania at Strathaven.

Owain 760-780, Rydderch II 780-798

Other kings followed Dumnagual: - Owain (760-c.780); Rydderch (c.780-c.798); Cynan (c.798-816); Artgal (816-872) who led the Britons in burning Dunblane in 849; Run (872-878); and Eochaid (878-889). In 780 the Annals of Ulster note that Alclut (Dumbarton) was ravaged by fire. I.M.M. MacPhail in his Dumbarton Castle states: "There is no reference to an enemy having destroyed the fortress by fire and it may be assumed that the fire was accidental." It seems curious though that c.780 is the end of Owain's reign and the start of Rydderch's. It may be that the fire brought about a change in kingship by the people, or that Owain died in the blaze.

Viking threat : Cynan 798-816, Artgal 816-872, Run 872-878, Eochaid 878-889

These kings however were variously troubled by a new northern menace, the vikings. The vikings besieged Dumbarton Rock for four months in 870, cutting off the British water supply, thus in 871, Dumbarton was destroyed by the Norse King of Dublin, Olaf, and a year later King Artgal, now prisoner, is himself killed, through a deal between King Constantine I of Alba and King Olaf.

It seems that Run took the throne being Constantine I's brother-in-law, presumably as sub-king or client. It is from this time that the influence of Dumbarton diminishes and that of Glasgow begins to rise; across the river from the Royal Palace at Partick, Govan becomes a major administrative and political centre at a site known as Doomster Hill, and a church is built dedicated to St. Constantine.

This dedication is probably not to the Dalriadic or Alban kings, or Irish saints, or even the son of Rhyderrch Hael that became king (612-617) of that name; but possibly a veneration to the greatest Christian Strathclyde king, Clinoch - known to Gildas as Constantine, a latin version of his gaelic name. Gildas notes that he wore the habit of a holy abbot while killing royal youths, probably his brothers.There is a theory that suggests that King Arthur is buried here.

Another possibility is a Constantine who joined a monastery in Rathin, whose conversion was recorded in 588. W.F. Watson's Celtic Placenames in Scotland notes that "About the middle of the sixth century Comgall's monastery in Tiree was raided by Pictish robbers". This most likely refers to St. Comgall of Bangor, but as we shall see later there is a strong possibility that the names of Comgall, Constantine and Clinoch are interchangeable, at least in one case.

Eochaid was related to the Alba kings, being the grandson of Kenneth I (MacAlpin), first king of Alba (843-858). Some historians though reject Eochaid as king giving that honour solely to Giric of Alba. It seems clear though that the Alban influence on Strathclyde would now only intensify.

Exile to Wales and direct rule from Alba: Donald II of Alba 889-900

Such was the threat of the vikings, Eochaid allied himself to King Giric of Alba, and both ruled Scotland (i.e. Alba and Strathclyde) as joint monarchs. However in 889, both were deposed by the vikings, and Eochaid's cousin took the throne as ruler of Scotland; King Donald II. This marks the end of Strathclyde as an independent state, and a year later King Donald II was to exile the British royal family, who fled to north Wales. This migration explains the cult of St. Mungo in Wales and traditons relating to Gwyr y Gogledd; the Men of the North.

Donald II of Alba was given the epithet dásachtach in some kinglists meaning a violent madman, which no doubt explains the mass migration of the Strathclyde nobility.

Kingship reestablished 900-1034:

Direct Scottish rule continued until 900 when Donald II of Alba died. The British once again took control but the Kingdom of Alba was now the dominant power in the region.

Following the battles with the English kings Athelstan and Edmund in the middle of the tenth century, the subjudgated Cumbria (southern Strathclyde) was ceded to the Kings of Alba in return for helping the English against the vikings in Northumbria. Since then the kingship of Strathclyde was nominally claimed by Alban princes before they became Kings of Alba.

Donald I 900-908

Along with Donald II of Alba, this and subsequent Donalds become confused in the genealogies. This Donald I is known from the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba which states that he died in the reign of Constantine II of Alba between 908-916.

Donald II mac Aed 908-925

This Donald is known from the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba as being elected on the death of Donald I although there is confusion here due to the word elig used, usually taken as shorthand for eligitur (elected), may also suggest a King of Ailech.

Eoghain Caesarius mac Donald 925-937

Eoghain Caesarius mac Donald (Eoghain I) was recorded by the Symeon of Durham in 934 along with his allies King Olaf III of Dublin and King Constantine II of Alba in a battle against King Athelstan of England. This seems to be a battle where Athelstan invaded Strathclyde perhaps to consolidate his position. Although defeated in this battle the celtic kings survived until the Battle of Brunaburh in 937 where they perished against Athelstan and his brother Edmund. Brunaburh has not yet been identified, though it could be Bromborough in Mersyside; or Burnswark, south of Lockerbie; or almost anywhere inbetween!

Donald III mac Eoghain 937-971

This seemed to be a very difficult reign. In 945 Edmund of Wessex continued attacking Strathclyde, and devasted Cumbria which he then gave to Malcolm I of Alba in return for an alliance. Edmund blinded two sons of Donald's in the battles - probably not Ryderrch and Malcolm since they both became king after him.

Malcolm I was to keep his bargain with the English and join with them on attacking the Norse influence on northeast England. The Alban kings may have claimed Strathclyde and Cumbria from then, giving subsequent princes nominal control of the kingdom; Indulf, Dubh and Culen. However given the length of Donald's reign and that his son Ryderrch killed Culen in a hall burning suggests that the Strathclyde kings regarded this overlordship with contempt.

The reign of Donald mac Eoghain (937-971) almost certainly coincides with that of St. Catroe, said to be his relative. Donald seems also to be pious; the Welsh Brut Y Tywyssogion states that Donald set off on pilgrimage to Rome - probably around 970, leaving his son Ryderrch [also known as Amdarch] as king - Donald's journey to Rome is confirmed by the Annals of Ulster which notes his death on pilgrimage in 975.

Ryderrch III 971-973

Donald's son Ryderrch [Amdarch] is mentioned as killing King Culen of Alba in 971 and Culen's brother Eochaid in Ybandonia, as Culen had raped his daughter. Ybandonia has not been identified though it is somewhere in the ancient kingdom of Lothian; as the Chronicle of Melrose attests that is where Culen died.

Unusually the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba does not say that Culen was buried on Iona, suggesting that Culen was disgraced.

Malcolm mac Donald 973-997

By 973, Ryderrch's brother Malcolm was sufficiently powerful to be noted as King of the Cumbrians by the monk Florence of Worcester when he met King Edgar of England on the River Dee at Chester, at the time probably the border between England and Strathclyde.

Eoghain II 'the Bald' mac Donald 997-1018

Eoghain the Bald (or Eoghain II) was at the battle of Carham in 1018 according to Symeon of Durham. The Welsh annals record his death at 1015 but this is routinely thought to be mistaken and Symeon of Durham is correct. However, there is no other evidence to suppose that Eoghain died at Carham other than this 'mistake'.

Eoghain is usually taken as the last of the Strathclyde kings

Duncan mac Crinan1018-1034

The British line successor to Eoghain is not known, and it seems probable that the Alban kings - at this time Malcolm II - claimed Strathclyde for their princes and Duncan mac Crinan - Malcolm II's grandson and heir - became king.

Duncan thus claimed the two kingdoms on his succession to the Alban throne. When he was overthrown by Macbeth, his son Malcolm moved to Cumbria - and was no doubt the same Malcolm that Edward the Confessor tried to reinstall as the "son of the king of the Cumbrians" in Strathclyde in 1054.

Formal merger with Alba and the end of the Kingdom 1034

In 1034, the Kingdom of Strathclyde was formally merged with that of Alba, and Scotland was formally born, albeit at this time without the Western Isles and the Orkneys and Shetland which were still under Norse rule.

The once all powerful capital of Al Cluith (Dumbarton), still refers to itself as the ancient capital of Britain and Scotland. As Gaelic became the dominant language of Scotland, the British language has long since retreated south now remaining only in Wales changing slightly through time to become modern Welsh. Clues to one legacy of Strathclyde that also followed the language south, can still be found in Scotland; the concept of the Ard Righ, the High King, and the legend of King Arthur.