Kingdom of ELMETE
An independent British kingdom in the 400's-600's A.D. situated
in what are now parts of North, West and South Yorkshire. At its greatest
westward extension it probably reached what is now the Lancashire coast.
Elmet (Elmed/Elfed) called Elmete Saetan or "the dwelling place of the people of Elmete" came into prominence following the evacuation of the Roman Legions from Britain after 407-410 A.D*. As such it is synonymous with the origins of Arthurian legends much corrupted by later generations.
[*It was not until the 500's that the notion of "The Year of Our Lord" was first used, and not widely used until the 700's or 800's]
Origin of Elmet:
The Celtic-British Brigantes had revolted in 155 AD against the Romans, burning down the Ilkley fort (Olicana). They were soon overcome and the fort rebuilt.
It is likely that at this time the local Romano-Celtic British tribes in the vicinity of Leeds (Loidis) separated from the Brigantes and formed an alliance with the Romans. The Romans found it convenient to rule by alliances with local chiefs. The local tribes formed themselves into the kingdom of Elmet.
The origins of Elmete lie with the Romano-Britons who were culturally differentiated Celtic bretheren of the Welsh, Galloway/Cumbrians (Rheged) and Forth estuary Britons (Manau Gododdin).
At Greetland near Feslei (Halifax) the historian Camden notes:
'Here was dug up a Votive Altar, as it seems, to the Tutelar God of the city of the Brigantes.
DVI DI BRIG
On the other side,
ET NVM GG.
T. AVR AVRELIAN ANTONINO
VS DD RPO SE III. ET GET. COSS.
ET SVOS S. M. A. GS.
To the God of the city of the Brigantes, and to the Deities of the Emperors,
Titus Aurelius, Aurelianus hath dedicated this in behalf of himself and his.
The inscription on the other side shews the time when the altar was set up,
i.e. when Antoninus was consul the third time with Geta"10
The kingdom may have maintained a capital at what is now Leeds (Loidis Regio), bounded on the north by the River Wharfe and to the south by the rivers, Sheaf and Don (Sheaf in O.E. means "boundary").
About A.D. 600 according to the poem "Goddodin' written by the British poet Aneurin, British warriors (between 300 and 363 in number) gathered in Goddodin and then attacked Catterick in an attempt to separate Bernicia from Deira. The British were decimated, this was a significant turning point in the Anglian advance into British held territory.
The pattern of place-names given as being sited in Elmet (see map below) indicate that the River Wharfe provided a natural northern boundary for the Kingdom of Elmet. The townships appear to mass against York and Deira, as if it were a withdrawal or defensive line.
See map of Elmet Saetan
Likewise the river Sheaf which lies to the south through Sheffield may have formed the southern boundary of Elmet at its maximum extent.
It was the north-east boundary which was breached during 617 A.D. when Edwin King of Anglian Northumbria, attacked Elmet which was defended by King Ceretic (Caractacus). It is likely that many of the British were Christians at this time. Edwin and his followers were still pagans.
Anglian colonisation probably occurred soon after this attack on Elmet. Place names with "ton", "ham", "ing" and "ingham" may have had their origin at this time e.g. Bramham, Swillington and Parlington.
Edwin's attack on Elmete ostensibly occurred because Edwin's nephew, Hereric, who had plotted against Edwin, sought sanctuary in Elmete with King Ceretic, but Hereric was poisoned, this may have given Edwin the pretext to attack.
Later in 627 Edwin was baptised at York.
However, Elmete was strongly contested country between Northumbria and
Mercia, the pagan state led by Penda made incursions in 633 when Edwin was killed at Hatfield Chase. Penda held Edwin's lands and "reigned there for some twenty years".
Pagan/Anglian/ Mercian colonisation of Elmete may have occurred at this time.
In 654 at the Battle of Winwaed the Christian king Oswy of Northumbria defeated the Anglian pagan Penda and regained the lands that had been lost. This may have led to a third wave of Anglian migration into Elmete, and extended Northumbria to what is now the coast of Lancashire. Many of what became English townships may have had their origins at this time, especially those with the suffix -field or -ley, e.g. Barnsley, Huddersfield and Midgley.
Edwin's Villa Regia in Elmete
Bede states that a royal residence or "Villa Regia" existed in Elmete at the time Paulinus was in the region (about A.D. 627), being situated at "Campodunum" (this could be a corruption of Cambodunum mentioned in the Ravenna Cosmography). The Villa could have been established by Edwin after his victory over the Celtic British here in 617. Bede also states that the missionary Paulinus built a church here, which was later burnt down probably along with the Villa Regia by the heathen Penda, in 633. Being made of stone, only the altar survived which was moved to the monastery of Abbot Thrythwulf which was located in the "Forest of Elmet".
The Royal residence was rebuilt by later kings in the region called Loidis
Suggested sites for the Villa Regia :
-Leeds (The region being called Loidis Regio indicates its royal status).
-Cleckheaton (Cambodunum to the Romans).
-Castle Hill near Almondbury, a pre-Roman Brigantian stronghold (Camulodunum).
-Barwick in Elmet.
|Mascuid Gloff, King of Elmet||Welsh, Masgwid
|Mascuid the Lame was the second son of King Gwrast Lledlwm of Rheged.
may have inherited the southern part of his father's Kingdom in the late 5th century, and thus probably became the first independent King of Elmet.
His capital may have been at Leeds? though it is possible that this was the centre of a separate sub-kingdom
called Loidis Regio. Other suggestions for a capital have been Barwick in Elmet, Cambodunum (Newsteads nr. Cleckheaton), Slack or Doncaster (Campodunum2) and Castle Hill (Camulodunum)
|Llaenawc, King of Elmet.||Welsh, Llaennog
Llaenawc has been suggested as the founder of an early 6th century British Kingdom based on Lennox in Southern Scotland1 giving his name to the town. There is, however, no evidence to support this theory, and the
association of his son with Elmet would indicate that this was Llaenawc's real
|Prince Arthuis of Elmet||Welsh, Arthwys
|This younger son of King Mascuid Gloff was a contemporary of the
High-King Arthwyr, and the similarity of their names may have led to some of
his exploits contributing to the great man's story.
|Gwallawc(Guallauc) Marchawc Trin, King of Elmet||Welsh, Gwallog
Latin, Wallocus (this name is still found today in Woloch)
|There are two surviving poems in praise of Llaenawc's son, Gwallawc
the Battle Horseman, and it is one of these that identifies the Kingdom which
was ruled by
his line. In En env Gvledic nef gorchordyon, he is called by the poet Taliesin"a judge over Elmet".
Described as a "skilled warrior , allied with other British kings in the north against the English.. he inspired terror from Dunbarton to the borders of mid-Wales....and vexed the people of York".
Gwallawc's reign was at its height in the late 6th century, when he allied himself
to his cousin, Urien of Rheged, and his confederation of British Kings that included
Kings Morcant Bulc of Bryneich and Riderch Hael of Strathclyde. Together, they
caused much discomfort to King Hussa of Bernicia and his men. Gwallawc was
present at the Siege of Ynys Metcaut, against him, in 590. It is thought he may
have contributed a sea-faring contingent to the coalition.
|Ceretic, King of Elmet||Welsh, Ceredig
|Ceretic, son of Gwallawc, was the last King of Elmet. He was killed,
in 617, defending his kingdom
against the invading Northumbrians. King Edwin of Deira had just reclaimed his
kingdom after years of exile. Urien of Rheged's son, Rhun had according to British tradition, baptised Edwin whilst he was in exile. Edwin imposed himself on Northern Britain
by invading first Bernicia, and then Elmet.
A Celtic-British link between Elmet and North Wales exists in the form of a Latin inscription on a rough stone dated about the 400-500's A.D. now preserved in Llanaelhaearn church, North of Pwllheli on the Lleyn Peninsula, Gwynedd which reads:
|ALIORTUS ELMETIACO IACET|
Here lies Aliortus the man from
It is believed that Edwin, who later became the Anglian king of Northumbria, had spent part of his exile with the British King Cadfan of Gwynedd (N.W. Wales)5
* Much of the above information is reproduced by kind permission
of Early British Kindoms on Britannia. Early British Kingdoms
Placenames which have the affix "in Elmet":
Aberford- O.E. Aedburford 1176 "Ford of a woman called Eadburg"
Church Fenton-O.E. cirice/OScand kirkja, Fentune 963, Fentun 1086 D.B., Kirkfenton 1338 "Farmstead or village in a fen or marshland with a church.
Kippax- O.E. aesc (replaced by OScand askr), Chipesch 1086 D.B. "ash tree of a man called Cippa/Cyppa"
|Newton Kyme-O.E. niwe+tun +cymbe"the new farmstead, estate or village at the hollow"||
Tata+caester "Roman town of a man called Tata or Tada"
Bardsey- O.E. Berdesei 1086 D.B. "island of higher
land belonging to a man called Beornraed
|Clifford-O.E. clif+ford "ford at a cliff or bank", Cliford 1086 D.B.||
Leeds-Celtic Ladenses, Loidis 731, Ledes 1086
D.B. "People living by the strongly flowing river"
Normanton-O.E. northman+tun "farmstead of the Northmen or Norwegian Vikings" Normantone 1086 D.B.
|Temple Newsam-O.E. niwe+hus "place at the new houses"
Affix indicates lands held by the Knight Templars.
Barkston Ash-OScand, "farmstead of a man called
Ferrybridge-Oscand,"ferry near the bridge"
|Lead-Celtic (in Loidis) West of Saxton||Parlington-O.E. "estate of a man called Pearta"||Thorner-O.E. thorn+ofer"ridge or bank where thorn trees grow" Tornoure 1086 D.B.|
-O.E. berewic, "barley farm, outlying part of an estate" Elmed first recorded in 600's, probably British.
|Garforth-O.E. Gaera+ford, Gereford 1086 D.B. "Ford of a man called Gaera" or "ford at the triangular plot of ground"||
Ledsham-O.E. Ledes+ham , Ledesham c. 1030, 1086 D.B."a homestead in Loidis"
Ryther-O.E. ryther"place at the clearing' Ridre 1086 D.B.
|Towton-O.E. Tofi+tun "farmstead or a village of a man called Tofi" Touetun 1086 D.B.|
|Boston Spa- a recent name 1799, family from Boston, Lincs. Spa affix due to discovery of mineral spring 1744.||
Grimston-Oscand pers name O.E. Ton, Grimeston 1086 D.B. "farmstead or estate of a man called Grimr"
|Ledston- O.E. , Ledestune 1086 D.B.) "a farm or settlement in Loidis"||
Saxton-O.E. Seaxe+tun "farmstead of the saxons" or Oscand "farmstead of a man called Saksi" Saxtun 1086 D.B.
or O.E. scelf "Shelf or bank of a man called Ulfr"
Oleschel(sic) 1086 D.B., Ulskelf 1170-7.
Bramham-O.E. Brameham 1086 D.B. 'homestead or enclosure where broom grows"
|Harewood-O.E. har+wudu "wood frequented by hares" N.B. hares were native to Britain, rabbits were introduced by the Normans.||
Scholes-OScand skali "the temporary huts or sheds"
|Wetherby-OScand vethr+by "wether-sheep farmstead" Wedrebi 1086|
Brotherton- O.E. or OScand. Brothertun c.1030 "Farmstead of the brother or of a man called Brothir"
Hazelwood Castle-O.E. haesel+wudu
|Methley-O.E. maeth + leah Medelai 1086 D.B." clearing where grass is mown" or OScand methal+ O.E. eg "middle land between two rivers'||Sherburn-in-Elmet-O.E. scir+burna "place at the bright or clear stream" Scirburnan
c.900 Scireburne 1086 D.B. in Elmed-Celtic.
|Whitkirk-O.E. hwit+OScand "white church"|
Brettona c.1160 Burton Salamon 1516 'Farmstead of the Britons"
High Melton -O.E. middel (replaced by Oscand methal) + tun., Middeltun 1086 D.B. "a high middle farmstead"
Micklefield-O.E. micel+feld "large tract of open country"
|South Kirby-OScand Kirkju-by "village wth a church" Cherchebi 1086 D.B. Sudkirkebi c.1124. South affix used to distinguish from Kirkby (now Pontefract)||Whitwood-O.E.
"white wood"-refers to the colour of tree bark or blossom, Witewde 1086 D.B.
Cester+ford, Ceaster forda late 1000 "ford by the Roman fort"
|Huddleston (West of Sherburn)||
Milford-O.E. myln+ford "ford by the mill" Myleford c.1030
stufr+O.E. tun "farmstead of a man called Stufr" or "farmstead built of or
among tree stumps"
|Cawood-O.E. Ca+wudu, Kawuda 963 "Wood frequented by jackdaws"||Kiddal Hall||
Monk Fryston-O.E. Frisa+tun Possessed by Selby Abbey in 1000's Fristun c.1030 Munechesfryston 1166. Affix Monk from O.E. munuc.
swin+hyll(or leah)+ing+tun "farmstead near the pig hill or clearing" Suillintune
Early life for the Anglians was harsh. At Wharram
Percy8 in North Yorkshire, hundreds of skeletons were found in
a cemetary of a deserted village. It has been shown from archaeological
investigation that many children died shortly after birth. Hunger and disease
were evident. Stunted growth is indicated by Harris Lines which
appear under X-ray treatment of the bones, these lines are a result of periods
of famine. July famine was common during the harvest before it was collected
and processed. Existing grain stocks were invariably mouldy, the mould or
fungi contained ergotamine which often resulted in "crazy bread", it is believed
that harvest workers were often affected by this toxin9.
By October stores were usually full and people were available for warring, this was a common time when battles were fought (e.g. the Norman Invasion occurred in this month) 9. Anglians used horses but not in battle e.g. at the battle of Hastings, whereas the Normans used the horse and spur (originally developed by the Mongols).
Adults also showed evidence of nutritional deficiencies and acute sinusitis,
the latter probably the result of smoky houses. Tuberculosis was rife as
they shared houses with beasts, and osteoporosis, even then was common8
Most people lived only until their 40's due to the difficult conditions.
Genealogically, there are only about 50 generations since this period.
|From Birth of Christ||80 generations|
|From End of Roman period (420 A.D.)||60 generations|
|From 1066||<40 generations|
C.S. Lewis commented on the "Snobbery of Chronology" where we
make the assumption that because we are of later generations we
are somehow superior, but the Anglian and Saxon skeletons are about the same
size as we are today, their brains are exactly the same size as our own with
the same cubic capacity of grey matter9.
1. John Morris, 1973
2. Campodunum(Cambodunum of the Romans) is the name referred to by Bede, which
has not been positively identified but may be Cleckheaton, Doncaster or Slack.
3. Roman and Anglian Settlement Patterns in Yorkshire M. Faull 1974.
4. The Beginnings of English Society, D. Whitelock, 1952
5. The Conversion of Europe, Richard Fletcher, 1997
6. The Battle of Winwaed and the Sutton-Hoo Ship Burial, Yorks. Arch. Jour. 37 (1947)
7. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Ed. M. Swanton, 1988.
8. Meet The Ancestors, Julian Richards, 1998
9. A Thousand Years in One Day, Lacy on Life at the turn of the last millenium. ABC-CD
10. Yorkshire Dictionary for 1822, Thomas Langdale.
11. From Early British Kingdoms