What Made the Anglo-Saxons Capable of Conquering the Britons?

Nov 2008
1,351
England
I suppose its also possible that Oswiu was able to converse in Brittonic since his first legitimate marriage was to a British Princess,
It is a while since I studied the Northumbrian regnal list, but I remember reading somewhere that Bede didn`t mention Riemmelth, but he does mention Eanflaed, daughter of Eadwine, being married to Oswiu. Riemmelth is mentioned in Nennius but the Historia Brittonum is a little bit shaky where reliability is concerned. Is there any other source for this British princess?
 
Nov 2008
1,351
England
If Penda and Cadwallon were bi-lingual, it was most likely Latin that would have been the second language.
Cadwallon was a Christian, so it is possible having received instruction in that faith by a priest that he understood at least some Latin. I consider that it is highly unlikely that Penda, that fearsome pagan king of the Mercians, knew any Latin. He spoke English, and no doubt some base and low colloquial variety too, particularly when someone had offended him!

To return to foreign wives. Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his History of the Kings of Britain says that Cadwallon married Penda`s sister. A dynastic marriage perhaps? The problem, though, is that Geoffrey is regarded as being even less reliable than Nennius.
 
Mar 2015
1,396
Yorkshire
It is a while since I studied the Northumbrian regnal list, but I remember reading somewhere that Bede didn`t mention Riemmelth, but he does mention Eanflaed, daughter of Eadwine, being married to Oswiu. Riemmelth is mentioned in Nennius but the Historia Brittonum is a little bit shaky where reliability is concerned. Is there any other source for this British princess?
Rieinmelt does turn up in the Regnal Lists, Liber Vitae under the Anglicized name of Raegnmaeld and immediately before Eanflaed. I have lifted the bit below from "RELIGION, SOCIETY, AND POLITICS,AND THELIBER VITAE OF DURHAM", a PhD paper by Elizabeth Briggs.

reinmeld oswiu.JPG

This is not conclusive by any means but there seem to be quite a few heavyweight scholars who believe that Oswiu did marry Rieinmelt and for a very short time she was queen before she either dies or is sent to a convent. On becoming King, Oswiu in what is clearly a political act to cement the shaky hold that Bernicians Kings had over the richer York based Deria, takes Eanflaed, daughter of Eadwine of the Deiran regal line. Of course she is the Bede's heroine as she is an important actor in the move to adopt Roman Catholicism. She goes on to assist in the running of Witby Abbey , where her activities are last recorded 15 years after her husband's death.

The most likely reason for Oswiu's British marriage is the fact that the Brothers were in a very weak position until Oswald managed to defeat and kill Cadwallon. Oswiu luckily caught Penda off-guard returning form a campaign and similarly defeated and killed him achieving Northumbrian dominance. In the early days however, an alliance with Rheged would suit both parties since Rheged was in decline and beset with dangerous foes.
 
Jan 2014
2,516
Westmorland
There is no evidence whatsoever that an Anglo-Saxon king learned to speak Brittonic so I`m at a loss as to understand why you keep mentioning it as though it was a fact.
I don't. I'm only mentioning it because you said this:-

However, in Penda`s case there is a slight possibility that he was bi-lingual or at least knew some Brittonic. Guthlac, for example, after campaigning for a few years on the Welsh march certainly recognised Brittonic when he heard it.

...which, if true, was at odds with what you said before about Old English having only the slightest contact with Brittonic. I was just pointing out what I perceived to be an inconsistency in your argument.

I accept there is no positive evidence that any British king spoke English or vice versa. But there is evidence of interactions between the two groups which means they had to be able to communicate with each other in some way. Even a coterie of royal translators on one or both 'sides' would suggest a level of language contact which goes beyond what I thought you (via Coates) was arguing for.
 
Jan 2014
2,516
Westmorland
Having started his lecture dismissing the importance of placenames, DP then went on to urge that archaeologists should look around Hovingham as the name suggests followers of the royal house. His statement seemed coloured by the facts that he was complaining that he was unemployed and lived nearby.
Very nice spot, Hovingham.

Yes - it does rather appear that you were witnessing something which went beyond acceptable scholarly enquiry.

The problem with place names is how to interpret them. The suffices quickly become naming conventions and once most people are speaking english the same names appear again and again.
Yes indeed. Many place name elements lose their lexical meaning over time. This is true of British elements such as 'afon' ('river') which gives us modern 'River Avon', but it is equally true of English and Scandinavian elements. 'Lake Windermere' is no less tautologous than 'River Avon' and both Torpenhow and Pendle Hill each contain no less than three words for hill.

Placenames are useful but they must be treated with caution. The only thing this map of 'tun'/ton' placenames tells us is that it was a very popular name in England, much more popular than on the continent.
Relative chronologies of certain place name forms have helped to a degree, but a common element such as tun could indeed have been given over an extremely long period of time. That said, all evidence types for our period have to be treated with caution. The various King Arthur theories, even if we discount those which are plainly on the lunatic fringe, nearly all make the mistake of ignoring (or knowing nothing about) basic textual criticism. Equally, the old tendency of historians to insist that conclusions drawn from archaeology had to be hammered into existing historical narratives essentially amounted to a misunderstanding of the potential of archaology to cast light on what is, in many ways, a prehistoric period.
 
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Jan 2014
2,516
Westmorland
I suppose its also possible that Oswiu was able to converse in Brittonic since his first legitimate marriage was to a British Princess, Rieinmellt, great granddaughter of Urien of Rheged, who ironically had come within a hairsbreadth of eliminating the nascent Angle Bernician Kingdom - only saved form extinction by his assassination.
Either that or she could speak English. Or both. Either way, although I personally accept it as true, it nowhere actually states that Riemmelth was Urien's great granddaughter. She is only even called a granddaughter of Rhun and it is assumed (probably correctly, in all fairness) that this Rhun is the same Rhum who, by the ninth century at least, was believed to have been Urien's son.

The Lindisfarne story, in which Urien nearly wipes out Bernicia is, in my view at least, not historically accurate, even though many people are content to accept it as such. I believe that it is a fictional story attached to the growing legend of Urien and the other heroes of the 'Old North' at some point prior to the ninth century.

Not much is known about Rieinmelt other than the Kingdom of Rheged disappears from history at this point,
In the early days however, an alliance with Rheged would suit both parties since Rheged was in decline and beset with dangerous foes.
One might argue that Rheged never actually makes it into history in the first place, at least not in the sense that we now understand it. The historical evidence for a large kingdom called Rheged sprawling across modern North West England and South West Scotland is, unfortunately, non-existent. The earliest references to Rheged do not state that it is a kingdom and neither is there any reason to think it any more important than the various other territories whose names are attached to sixth century figures. The thought process which lies behind Rheged's place on our maps of dark age England is basically "Urien is often associated with somewhere called Rheged. Urien was a king, ergo Rheged was his kingdom." That was how medieval Welsh poets envisaged it, but that doesn't make it historically accurate. It used to be thought that Dunragit (near Stranraer) and Rochdale were both named for Rheged (thereby giving us the boundaries of the 'kingdom') but both etymologies were debunked long ago.

However he disappears, like his mother from history without a mention even by the Bede - strange?
Oswiu had quite a penchant for bumping off his family members. Interestingly, it is possible that the Bewcastle Cross commemorates Ahlfrith and it is also just possible that the cross was erected in the very early years of Ecgfrith's reign - in other words, immediately after Oswiu had died. A persona non grata being rehabilitated?

Is there any other source for this British princess?
Riemmelth doesn't vanish entirely, as she's also named (in corrupt, Anglicised form) in the list of queens and abbesses in the Durham Liber Vitae. She's right up there at the top, with no less a person than Eanflaed herself.
 
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Mar 2015
1,396
Yorkshire
Oswiu had quite a penchant for bumping off his family members. Interestingly, it is possible that the Bewcastle Cross commemorates Ahlfrith and it is also just possible that the cross was erected in the very early years of Ecgfrith's reign - in other words, immediately after Oswiu had died. A persona non grata being rehabilitated?

Riemmelth doesn't vanish entirely, as she's also named (in corrupt, Anglicised form) in the list of queens and abbesses in the Durham Liber Vitae. She's right up there at the top, with no less a person than Eanflaed herself.
Interesting that you believe Rheged may not have existed - Charles-Edwards for one thinks it did. I know that it has been almost impossible to pin down and vaguely is plonked in Cumbria somewhere.

I thought I had said that Riemmelt appears in the Librer Vitae under an anglicised name. I understood that Ahlfrith's name does not occur on the Bewcastle Cross but that of his wife (whose name escapes me for the moment) does - sort of weak evidence of a Cumbrian connection.

The other thing that did strike me when looking through the Liber Vitae is the lack of Celtic names as Elizabeth Briggs highlights (above) - less than 2 %. Since the Liber Vitae includes not just kings and queens but churchmen down to a quite lowly status, it does indicate, to me at least, that Britons in A-S Northumbria occupied the lower levels of society.
 
Nov 2008
1,351
England
I accept there is no positive evidence that any British king spoke English or vice versa. But there is evidence of interactions between the two groups which means they had to be able to communicate with each other in some way. Even a coterie of royal translators on one or both 'sides' would suggest a level of language contact which goes beyond what I thought you (via Coates) was arguing for.
Diplomatic exigencies do not constitute large scale linguistic contacts between the two groups.
 
Nov 2008
1,351
England
The other thing that did strike me when looking through the Liber Vitae is the lack of Celtic names as Elizabeth Briggs highlights (above) - less than 2 %. Since the Liber Vitae includes not just kings and queens but churchmen down to a quite lowly status, it does indicate, to me at least, that Britons in A-S Northumbria occupied the lower levels of society.
It could also suggest there were few of them, and those who were there had been "sidelined, confined to the periphery of Northumbria. The place-name evidence suggests this to be the case. My own opinion is that in the south and east the Britons were almost totally replaced, and this is where the initial contact between the races happened. It Northumbria, where contact happened a little later, replacement happened but not to the degree as in the south and east. Nevertheless, the Britons in the north, as I just suggested, seem to have been sidelined and isolated. Mercia, however, may have experienced different dynamics at work as regards contact.
 
Jan 2014
2,516
Westmorland
Interesting that you believe Rheged may not have existed - Charles-Edwards for one thinks it did. I know that it has been almost impossible to pin down and vaguely is plonked in Cumbria somewhere.
Most people do think that, but hunting for Rheged has been one of the objectives of my research and although I'm quite possibly wrong, I'm having difficulties finding any persuasive evidence for a kingdom of that name. Tim Clarkson makes the point that the existence of Rheged as a sprawling pan-Solway kingdom has been expressed so often and for so long that it has become what he terms a 'factoid'. I think he's right. As such, many commentators assume the question is settled, do not set out to question what Rheged was and the factoid perpetuates. However, they tend to hedge discussion of Rheged about with caveats, which suggests an underlying measure of academic unease. Homer always referred to dawn as 'rosy-fingered' and in a similar fashion, Rheged tends to get called 'shadowy'.

To avoid any confusion, I think somewhere called Rheged existed. I just don't think it was on anything like the scale of a kingdom. I'd argue it was just one of a number of small sixth-century territorial units under the control of Urien.

I thought I had said that Riemmelt appears in the Librer Vitae under an anglicised name.
You did indeed. My apologies - I was responding to your earlier post and had not read your subsequent post at that point.

I understood that Ahlfrith's name does not occur on the Bewcastle Cross but that of his wife (whose name escapes me for the moment) does - sort of weak evidence of a Cumbrian connection.
Cyneburh was Mrs Ahlfrith and her name is on the pillar, although it isn't that uncommon a name. The problem is that the inscriptions have weathered over time and are no longer fully legible. As such, we are partially reliant on earlier translations, often carried out by antiquarians. An 'Alcfrithu' is apparently named on the pillar and this has been associated with Ahlfrith.

The other thing that did strike me when looking through the Liber Vitae is the lack of Celtic names as Elizabeth Briggs highlights (above) - less than 2 %. Since the Liber Vitae includes not just kings and queens but churchmen down to a quite lowly status, it does indicate, to me at least, that Britons in A-S Northumbria occupied the lower levels of society.
Possibly. The other option is that acculturation. political expedience or simple fashion meant that anyone who was anybody had an English name, whatever their ethnic background. We know of Wilfrid renaming a British boy with an English name when the lad was dragooned into the monastic life. I'd be wary of assuming that Britons were unable or unwilling to use English names, especially in Bernicia, which has long been held up as an example of an area where English migration was relatively modest in terms of scale.
 
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