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THE BRITISH KINGDOMS OF THE
MIDLANDS

After the Roman administration departed Britain for Italy, the Mediterranean way of life certainly didn't disappear from the country overnight. In the Romano-British towns of the North and the West, prominent men rose to power and constructed little kingdoms for themselves, based on the Imperial model. Such kingdoms emerged in the midlands too, they were just less long lived. Details are, therefore, far more scarce.


Calchfynedd

Some of the descendants of the Northern King, Coel Hen, appear to have moved south and made their mark on Midland Britain. King Arthuis of the Pennines' youngest son, Cynfelyn, was one. His son, Cynwyd, found willing followers in the Chiltern Hills where he set up the Kingdom of Cynwidion, which was named after him. The appellation later changed to Calchfynedd (Chalk-Hills) during his son, Cadrod's reign. Though the exact area described is not known for sure, it was certainly south of Powys and tradition ascribes it the towns of Northampton and Dunstable. It may have been the precursor of Saxon Chilternset. Archaeological evidence indicates the British held out here well into the 7th century.


West Midlands

Adjoining kingdoms were probably based on old Roman cities. Caer Luit Coyt (Wall in Staffordshire) was supposedly from where the Kings of Glastening (Somerset) fled. Caer Guricon (Wroxeter, Shropshire) and Caer Magnis (Kenchester, Herefordshire) were eventually conquered by the Saxons and became the centres of the Kingdoms of Wrocenset and Magonset respectively. They may originally have been one kingdom, possibly part of Powys under the personal authority of High-King Vortigern. Later they would have been divided among sons in the traditional Celtic manner. Caer Guricon would have been the main centre. The town has provided the most extensive archaeological evidence for the 5th and 6th century survival of the Roman way of life.


Pengwern

Early the following century, one Constantine was ruling in this area, probably around Caer Magnis. His apparent brother, Cyndrwyn Fawr (the Great, though he was also called the Stubborn), ruled the lost Kingdom of Pengwern. He fought against King Aethelfirth of Bernicia at the Battle of Caer-Legion (Chester, Cheshire) in AD 613. His son, Cynddylan's capital, Llys Pengwern, is traditionally said to have been the Saxon foundation of Shrewsbury, though it could also have been the Berth at Baschurch, just to the north. There are indications that there was also an outpost at Din Guricon, the hillfort on the Wrekin overlooking Caer-Guricon (Wroxeter). A more defendable site than the old Roman town was evidently needed by this time. Cynddylan's exploits are remembered in the Marwnad Cynddylan and the Canu Heledd, the latter being a cycle of poems named after his sister, but erroneously said to have been composed by King Llywarch Hen of South Rheged. They tell of Heledd's lament at the destruction of the Kingdom of Pengwern, Cynddylan and his family. The King of Pengwern had faught alongside King Penda of Mercia against the invading Northumbrians, particularly at the AD 642 Battle of Maes Cogwy (Oswestry, Shropshire). Here their enemy, King Oswald, was killed. Fourteen years later, after Penda's death, Oswald's brother, Oswiu, found his way clear to wreak revenge on Cynddylan. He overran Llys Pengwern and the Penwernian King was brutally hacked down with several of his brothers. He was buried at Eglwysseu Bassa (Baschurch, Shropshire) and the Royal Court dispersed. Their old allies, the Mercians, later moved in and settled the area.


The Heart of Britain

Below Caer Magnis, lay the Romano-British cities of Caer Gloui (Gloucester, Gloucestershire), Caer Ceri (Cirencester, Gloucestershire) and Caer Baddan alias Aquaemann (Bath, Somerset). Small kingdoms were apparently set up here in the 5th century, but their last kings, Cynfael, Ffernfael and Cyndyddan respectively, were all killed fighting the West Saxons at the Battle of Dyrham (Gloucestershire) in 577. The two former realms may have been sub-kingdoms of Welsh Ergyng, as there are faint traditional associations. St. Aldate, Bishop of Gloucester was said to be a prince of Ergyng and, in an old tale, King Caradog Freichfras of Gwent held court at Cirencester. Caer Baddan may have been associated with Dumnonia.

 

    Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.