27 November, 2011

Roman York to Anglian York: documentary sources

In Late Roman Britain, York (Eboracum) was the base of the Sixth Legion and the civilian part of the city had the status of colonia, the highest rank of Roman city. It was clearly an important centre of Roman civil and military power. What happened to it after the end of Roman imperial administration in Britain?

Documentary sources refer to York in the fourth century and the early seventh, with a possible snippet or two in between. Archaeology also provides some possible clues. I’ll discuss the documentary sources in this post.


Death of Emperor Constantius and elevation of Emperor Constantine, 306 AD

"Constantius died at Eboracum in Britain in the thirteenth year of his reign, and was deified. ..."
"On the Death of Constantius, Constantine, his son by a somewhat undistinguished marriage, was made emperor in Britain, and succeeded to his father's position as a very popular ruler. ..."
--Eutropius, Breviarium, Book X Ch. 1 and 2, available online

These events occurred in July 306 AD.

Bishop of York attends Council of Arles, 314 AD

Eborius episcopus de civitate Eboracensi provincia Britanniae
Restitutus episcopus de civitate Londiniensi provincia suprascripta
Adelphius episcopus de civitate Colonia Londiniensium
Exinde Sacerdos presbyter Arminius diaconus
--Signatories to the acts of the Council of Arles, 314. Text quoted in Painter 1971, first page (with the relevant quote) available online.

The Council of Arles was held in 314 AD. The text translates roughly as follows:

Eborius bishop of the city of Eboracum in the province of the Britains
Restitutus bishop of the city of Londinium in the above province
Adelphius bishop of the city of Colonia Londiniensum
[?] Sacerdos the priest [and] Arminius the deacon
--My translation, very approximate.

I don’t know what ‘exinde’ means on the fourth line (if anyone would like to enlighten me, please feel free to comment), but it doesn’t matter for the purposes of this post. The two cities clearly identified are Eboracum (York) and Londinium (London). ‘Colonia Londiniensum’ is unclear. It might be a repeat of London, although two bishops from the same city seems a little extravagant, or a spelling mistake for Colonia Lindensium (Lincoln). Clearly, York had at least one bishop in 314 of sufficient standing to attend an important church council. Whether his name really was Eborius, or whether this was a mistake or a guess by a harassed scribe, or a title used instead of a name, is open to interpretation.


The next unequivocal mention of York in a documentary source is from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, written in 731, which quotes a letter from Pope Gregory to St Augustine written in 601:

We wish you also to send a bishop of your own choice to the city of York, and if that city with the adjoining territory accepts the word of God, this bishop is to consecrate twelve other bishops and hold the dignity of Metropolitan. If we live to see this, we intend to grant him the pallium, but he is to remain subject to your authority. After your death, however, he is to preside over the bishops whom he has consecrated and to be wholly independent of the Bishop in London. Thenceforward, seniority of consecration is to determine whether the Bishop of London or of York takes precedence, but they are to consult one another and take united action...
--Bede, Ecclesiastical History Book I Ch. 29

Pope Gregory clearly envisaged two senior bishoprics at York and London with approximately equal status. It may be significant that these are also the two bishoprics clearly identifiable in the Council of Arles, with which Pope Gregory must surely have been familiar. Perhaps he looked up the records when deciding how he would like his new branch of the church to be organised. Or possibly he had heard of a bishopric at York in his own day or in the recent past.

In 627, York was the site of the baptism of King Edwin (Eadwine) of Northumbria and was established as a bishopric:

...King Edwin, with all the nobility of the kingdom and a large number of humbler folk, accepted the Faith [...] in the year of our Lord 627 [...] The king’s baptism took place at York on Easter Day, the 12th of April, in the church of St Peter the Apostle which he had hastily built of timber [...] and in this city he established the see of his teacher and bishop Paulinus.
-- Bede, Ecclesiastical History Book II Ch. 14

For a discussion on the possible location of the early church mentioned by Bede, see my earlier article ‘Location of the seventh-century church in York’.

It was another century before York formally acquired archbishopric status and Pope Gregory’s wish was fulfilled. (However, at least it was fulfilled eventually. Augustine’s southern archbishopric ended up being based in Canterbury rather than in London as Pope Gregory intended, a situation that persists to this day.)

Notitia Dignitatum

Dux Britanniarum.
Sub dispositione viri spectabilis ducis Britanniarum:
Praefectus legionis sextae.
--Notitia Dignitatum, Latin text, available online

This translates approximately as “Under the command of the honourable Duke of the Britains, Prefect of the Sixth Legion”. The base of the Sixth Legion is not named in the Notitia, but the Sixth was known to be based at York in earlier centuries and several inscriptions relating to the Sixth Legion are known from Roman York. Assuming that the Sixth hadn’t relocated, this would suggest that York was still a legionary base when the Notitia Dignitatum was compiled, which is usually placed in the early fifth century.

Where the Dux Britanniarum himself was based is not specified in the Notitia. York would seem a likely candidate, but somewhere closer to the frontier at Hadrian’s Wall might also be possible, or the Dux may have had several bases and moved between them as occasion demanded.

Annales Cambriae

501 Bishop Ebur rests in Christ, he was 350 years old.
--Annales Cambriae, available online

The similarity of the name ‘Ebur’ to the Roman name for York, Eboracum or Eburacum, and to the name of the bishop of York who attended the Council of Arles in 314, Bishop Eborius, is consistent with this ‘Bishop Ebur’ also being a bishop of York. If this is correct, it might indicate a long-running practice of referring to the bishop by the title of his see*. If this inference is correct, it implies that there was still a Christian bishop based in York in 501 or thereabouts. If so, this could also suggest a context for Pope Gregory’s desire to establish a bishopric at York; if he thought there had been one there in the comparatively recent past, he might have wished to revive it.

The rather enigmatic reference to the bishop’s age ‘he was 350 years old’ is a bit of a puzzle. The number could be a straightforward scribal error, and this is perhaps the simplest explanation. Another possibility may be that it referred to the office, rather than to the incumbent, i.e. that the bishopric of York was 350 years old. The Council of Arles shows that it was established by 314. Three hundred and fifty years before 501 takes us back to about 150 AD, which would be early but perhaps not impossibly so. York was a major army base and major city, and had a cosmopolitan population. Tombstones have been found in York commemorating people from Italy, Gaul, Sardinia, Bavaria and possibly Egypt, and eastern religions such as Isis and Mithras were present in the city (Ottaway 2004). Perhaps Christianity might have arrived in the city and established a church as early as 150 AD, which could have been remembered as the origin of the bishopric. Or possibly whoever compiled Annales Cambriae was familiar with the legend recounted by Bede of a British king requesting Christian conversion in 156 AD (Bede Book I Ch. 4), ascribed that (with or without cause) as the origin of the York bishopric and did the calculation.

If the entry refers to the bishopric, it could be interpreted to mean that the bishopric of York, i.e. the office, came to an end in 501 AD. Or it could refer to the death of the current bishop at the time, conflated with a separate record about the antiquity of his office.


York was clearly an important ecclesiastical centre in 314, as well as a military base and colonia. The military base may have persisted into the fifth century if the Sixth Legion mentioned in Notitia Dignitatum had not changed its location.

When York next appears clearly in the historical record, in the early seventh century, it is again as an ecclesiastical centre (intended in 601, realised in 627). Whether it also had political and/or military importance is not known. As the southern bishopric established by St Augustine ended up in the royal centre of the kingdom of Kent at Canterbury (rather than in London as specified by Pope Gregory), this may indicate that bishoprics tended to gravitate to royal centres, and this in turn may suggest that the northern bishopric was also established in a royal centre. If so, this suggests that York may also have been a royal and political centre for the kingdom of Deira/Northumbria by 627.

What happened in between? Apart from the enigmatic reference in Annales Cambriae, which is consistent with (but does not prove) York having retained some ecclesiastical significance up to (at least) 500 AD, the documentary sources are silent on the fifth and sixth centuries at York. Further clues to the post-Roman development of York may come from archaeology. I’ll discuss these in later posts.


Annales Cambriae, available online

Bede, Ecclesiastical history of the English people. Translated by Leo Sherley-Price. Penguin Classics, 1968, ISBN 0-14-044565-X.

Council of Arles, 314. Text quoted in Painter 1971, first page (with the relevant quote) available online.

Eutropius, Breviarium, Book X Ch. 1 and 2, available online

Notitia Dignitatum, Latin text, available online

Ottaway P. Roman York. Tempus, 2004. ISBN 0-7524-2916-7.

Painter KS. Villas and Christianity in Roman Britain. British Museum Quarterly 1971;35:156-175. First page available online

*The Archbishop of York still signs documents as ‘Ebor’, so this may be a very long-running tradition indeed.

Map links

25 November, 2011

November recipe: Apple cake

I adapted this recipe from one for carrot cake, because I grow more cooking apples than carrots. I daresay it could also be made with eating apples, although you would probably need to reduce the amount of sugar. It’s a delicious cake, rich without being heavy. It’s also very easy to make, especially if someone will help you grate the apples.

Apple cake

For the cake
8 oz (approx 250 g) wholemeal flour
6 oz (approx 150 g) dark brown soft sugar
1 teaspoon (1 x 5 ml spoon) baking powder
0.5 teaspoon (0.5 x 5 ml spoon) ground cinnamon
2 eggs
5 fl. oz. (approx 140 ml) cooking oil
Approx 1 lb (approx 450 g) cooking apples, after peeling and coring

For the cream cheese icing
1.5 oz (approx 40 g) butter
3 oz (approx 80 g) icing sugar
1.5 oz (approx 40 g) cream cheese

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon in a large bowl.

Make a well in the centre, pour in the beaten eggs and the oil. Mix well.

Peel and core the apples. Grate the apples using a coarse grater. Add to the cake mixture and mix well. It should be the consistency of thick batter.

Grease and line a 6 inch (approx 15 cm) deep cake tin, or a loaf tin about 6 inches x 4 inches x 3 inches (approx 15 cm x 11 cm x 7 cm). Pour in the cake batter and level the top.

Bake in a moderately hot oven, approx 170 C, for about 1.25 – 1.5 hours until the cake is risen, set and golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack.

To make the icing:
Sieve the icing sugar. (It is quicker to sieve the icing sugar first, rather than try to beat out the lumps later. Trust me on this).

Beat the butter into the sieved icing sugar until smooth.

Beat in the cream cheese.

Cut the cooled cake in half horizontally, and sandwich the two halves back together with the cream cheese icing. If you prefer, you can spread the icing on the top of the cake instead and decorate with walnut halves.

Serve cut in slices.

I expect to get 12-14 slices out of this (but that will depend how big a slice you like). It keeps for about a week in an airtight tin. The cake can be frozen without the icing.

18 November, 2011

The Wolf Sea, by Robert Low. Book review

Harper, 2008. ISBN 978-0-00-721533-1. 336 pages.

Sequel to The Whale Road, reviewed here earlier, The Wolf Sea is the second in the series about the Oathsworn, a verjazi band of Norse mercenaries hired for pay, on their quest for a rune-spelled sword and a hoard of cursed silver. This instalment is set in Byzantium, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East in 965/966. Historical figures such as the Byzantine generals Leo Balantes and John Tzimisces (John Red Boots) appear as secondary characters. All the main characters are fictional.

Having escaped with their lives and not much else after their quest to find the treasure-tomb of Attila the Hun, young Orm Ruriksson and the remnant of the Oathsworn, now sworn to Orm as their jarl (leader), find themselves in Byzantium with no ship, no money and no plan. Beyond survival, Orm has two concerns; retrieving the precious rune-sword stolen from him by an old enemy, and finding the remainder of the Oathsworn who were left behind in Novgorod when Orm and the others went in search of Attila’s tomb. Going into partnership with Radoslav, a Slav-Norse trader who has a ship but no crew, gives Orm and the Oathsworn an opportunity to start the first task, and so begins a chase through the islands of the Mediterranean and the deserts of the Holy Land. Amid the wars between the Byzantines and the Arabs, the Oathsworn relentlessly pursue their stolen sword – and finally discover the fate of their lost comrades.

Like its predecessor, The Wolf Sea is an action-packed tale of violence and intrigue, full of gory battle scenes, gruesome deaths and black magic. If anything, the tone is even darker than The Whale Road. Orm is finding the responsibility of leadership a heavy burden, and is haunted by dark dreams of betrayal and loss. Black humour leavens the grim events, from the warrior losing an arm in battle and saying, “See if you can find the hand. I had a ring I liked”, to the Norseman told that Islam will allow him four wives but no alcohol and trying to work out if this is an acceptable deal. Narrated in first person by Orm, the laconic prose style is reminiscent of the Norse sagas, terse but sprinkled with vivid images recalling Norse kennings, e.g. bad news arrives “like a mouse tumbling from rafter into ale horn”, a beefy warrior is described as “he had muscles on his eyelids.” The characters display the openness to new lands and customs that seems to have been a characteristic of the historical Norse travellers. They may refer disparagingly to foreigners as “goat-botherers” (and more, ahem, colourful variations; there is no shortage of modern expletives), but they quickly develop a liking for exotic spices and learn to cook Arab food.

Some of the characters are familiar from The Whale Road. Orm himself, intelligent as ever and now older than his years; mystical Sighvat with his store of folklore and two tame ravens; brawny Finn Horsehead. New characters are introduced (the attrition rate in the Oathsworn requires it), of whom the most memorable for me were the Goat Boy, a young Greek boy with a name the Norse can’t pronounce who acts as guide and translator, and the lively Irish monk Brother John. As might be expected for a tale about a hard-bitten warrior band far from home, the cast is almost exclusively male. Apart from dark witchcraft, women are peripheral.

The end is more of a pause in the action, as the Oathsworn still have their search for Attila’s treasure to resolve. Indeed, the plot is almost circular; for all their adventures, Orm and the Oathsworn end in much the same position as they began, no further from returning to Attila’s hoard but not noticeably nearer to it either. It will be interesting to see if the quest for Attila’s hoard is resolved in Book Three (and if so, how).

A historical note summarises the historical background and the major events invented by the author, and a map at the front is invaluable for tracing the route of the Oathsworn’s epic journey.

Violent, action-packed military adventure following the grim fortunes of a Norse mercenary band in tenth-century Byzantium and the Middle East.

10 November, 2011

Cousins at war: Ecgfrith of Northumbria and Bridei son of Beli

In 685, Ecgfrith of Northumbria and Bridei son of Beli, King of the Picts, fought a decisive battle which resulted in Ecgfrith’s defeat and death and an end to Northumbrian ambitions in Pictland. Historia Brittonum adds the intriguing detail that Ecgfrith and Bridei were cousins. How might that be so?


Historia Brittonum

Egfrid is he who made war against his cousin Brudei, king of the Picts, and he fell therein with all the strength of his army and the Picts with their king gained the victory; and the Saxons never again reduced the Picts so as to exact tribute from them. Since the time of this war it is called Gueithlin Garan
--Historia Brittonum ch. 57, available online

Brudei, Brude, Bruide, Bride, Bridei are all alternative spellings; Egfrid is an alternative spelling of Ecgfrith.

The Latin text is:
echfrid ipse est qui fecit bellum contra fratruelem suum, qui erat rex pictorum nomine birdei et ibi corruit cum omni robore exercitus sui et picti cum rege suo uictores extiterunt et numquam addiderunt saxones ambronum ut a pictis uectigal exigerunt. a tempore istius belli uocatur gueith lin garan.
--Historia Brittonum ch. 57, Latin text available online

In the original Latin, the term translated into English as ‘cousin’ is ‘fratruelem’. Wikipedia says that this is a specific term meaning ‘maternal first cousin’, i.e. indicating that Ecgfrith and Bridei were the sons of two sisters. I have also seen definitions saying that it can mean that they were the sons of two brothers; it’s unclear to me whether the term can also extend to sons of two siblings, i.e. sons of a sister and a brother.

Pictish Chronicle
Bride filius File .xx. annis regnauit.
Tolorcan filius Enfret .iiii. annis regnauit.
--Pictish Chronicle, available online

File is an alternative spelling of Beli or Bile. Enfret is an alternative spelling of Eanferth.

Annals of Ulster
642 Afterwards Domnall Brec was slain at the end of the year, in December, in the battle of Srath Caruin, by Hoan, king of the Britons

686. The battle of Dún Nechtain was fought on Saturday, May 20th, and Egfrid son of Oswy, king of the Saxons, who had completed the 15th year of his reign, was slain therein with a great body of his soldiers
722 Mael Corgais from Druim Ing, and Bile son of Eilphín, king of Ail Cluaithe, die.
693. Bruide son of Bile, king of Foirtriu, dies
--Annals of Ulster available online

Strathclyde genealogy
Run map arthgal map Dumnagual map Riderch map Eugein map Dumnagual map Teudebur map Beli map Elfin map Eugein map Beli map Neithon map Guipno map Dumngual hen map Cinuit map Ceritic guletic …
--Harleian genealogies, available online

In an Irish Life of St Adamnan, Bridei is described as “son of the king of Dumbarton” (according to Tim Clarkson’s website Senchus). Dumbarton, also known as Alt Clud (“Rock of Clyde”), was an important centre for the kingdom of Strathclyde.

There are two Belis to choose from in the Strathclyde genealogy. Beli map Neithon appears in the middle of the list. His son Eugein (a variant spelling of Owain) may be the ‘Hoan King of the Britons’ recorded as having won the battle of Strath Carron in 642 in the Annals of Ulster. This date is consistent with Beli having lived in the early-to-mid seventh century (since he had an adult son in 642). If correct, it is in turn possible that Beli could also have fathered a son who was adult in 685.

Another Beli, Beli map Elfin, appears three generations later, but he died in 722 according to the Annals of Ulster and so cannot be the Beli who was the father of Bridei.

For in the following year [685], King Egfrid [...] rashly led an army to ravage the province of the Picts. The enemy pretended to retreat and lured the king into narrow mountain passes, where he was killed with the greater part of his forces on the twentieth of May in his fortieth year and the fifteenth of his reign.
--Bede, Ecclesiastical History, Book IV Ch.26

Bede does not say who Ecgfrith’s mother was. As Ecgfrith was around 40 in 685, he was born in around 645. His father Oswy married Eanflaed, daughter of Eadwine of Deira/Northumbria some time before 651, because Bede recounts a story about a miracle performed by Bishop Aidan (who died in August 651) about Eanflaed’s voyage to Northumbria (Bede, Ecclesiastical History Book III ch. 15). It seems likely (although not certain) that Ecgfrith was the son of Oswy and Eanflaed, since Ecgfrith appears to have succeeded Oswy without opposition, and a son of Oswy (of the royal house of Bernicia) and Eanflaed (of the royal house of Deira) would have had a strong claim.

If Ecgfrith was the son of Oswy of Bernicia and Eanflaed of Deira, how could he have been a cousin to Bridei, son of Beli of Strathclyde and king of the Picts?

Scenario (a): through an unrecorded daughter of Eadwine

Click to enlarge

This scenario postulates that Eadwine had another daughter, unrecorded, who married Beli ap Neithon of Strathclyde and became the mother of Bridei. This hypothetical daughter would be the sister or half-sister of Eanflaed, making Bridei and Ecgfrith the sons of two sisters or maternal first cousins. In its favour, this scenario fits the use of the term ‘fratruelem’.

It has several disadvantages. First, if Bridei had two non-Pictish parents (father king of Strathclyde, mother a Northumbrian princess), where did his claim to be king of the Picts come from? One possible resolution to this problem is to suggest that Beli of Strathclyde may have had Pictish ancestry and that this was the source of Bridei’s claim. Another is to suggest that Bridei’s mother had Pictish ancestry and Bridei’s claim came through her. A maternal claim would fit with the hypothesis that the Pictish royal succession had at least some matrilineal component (discussed in an earlier post). If one postulates that Eadwine married or had a liaison with a lady of the Pictish female royal line (‘X’ in hypothetical family tree (a) above), then matrilineal succession would mean that the sons of this union were eligible for the Pictish kingship via their mother. What about the daughters? If the daughters were eligible to be mothers of future kings of the Picts, then a daughter of Eadwine and X would be able to pass a claim to the Pictish kingship to her son (the grandson of X through the female line). By this mechanism, a daughter of Eadwine and a Pictish royal lady could bear a son (Bridei) who would be eligible to be considered as king of the Picts. This relies on matriliny operating over two generations, so that as well as the sons of a Pictish royal lady being eligible for the Pictish kingship, the sons of her daughters were also eligible. This doesn’t sound implausible, but as far as I know there is absolutely no evidence for it.

A second disadvantage is that as far as I know there is no evidence to suggest that Eadwine had any dealings with the Picts, either friendly or hostile.

Scenario (b): through a marriage between Oswald and an unrecorded sister of Beli

Click to enlarge

This scenario postulates that Oswy’s brother Oswald married an unrecorded sister of Beli of Strathclyde. In its favour, it introduces no difficulty with Bridei’s claim to the Pictish kingship, as it makes no assumptions about Bridei’s mother and therefore she could have been a lady of the Pictish royal line whose sons were eligible for the Pictish kingship. Oswald was in exile among the Scots of Dal Riada (roughly modern Argyll) from 617 to 633 or 634. A marriage with the neighbouring kingdom of Strathclyde during this period of exile would make reasonable sense, either as an alliance between Oswald’s hosts in Dal Riada and their neighbours across the Clyde, or as an alliance between Oswald in his own right and an ally who he may have seen as a potential source of support for his own claims to Northumbria, or a bit of both.

Against it, this scenario makes Ecgfrith and Bridei cousins only by marriage, with Ecgfrith’s uncle Oswald marrying Bridei’s (hypothetical) aunt. This may not have counted as ‘fratruelem’, depending on how the author of Historia Brittonum used the term.

Scenario (c): through an unrecorded sister of Oswy

Click to enlarge

This scenario postulates that Oswy had an unrecorded sister or half-sister, daughter of Aetheferth of Bernicia and his wife Bebba (or another lady), and that this unrecorded sister married Beli of Strathclyde and gave birth to Bridei.

In its favour, this scenario would make Ecgfrith and Bridei the sons of a brother and a sister (or half-sister), which would make them first cousins and could be consistent with the term ‘fratruelem’ if it extended to include children of siblings of either sex. Eanflaed and Oswy’s (hypothetical) unrecorded sister would have been sisters-in-law. Depending on how in-laws were viewed, the writer of Historia Brittonum may have considered them sisters and thus their sons as ‘fratruelem’ even if the term was meant specifically to mean sons of two sisters.

It has the same disadvantage as the first one mentioned for scenario (a) above: the source of Bridei’s claim to the Pictish kingship if he had two non-Pictish parents. As above, a possible resolution to this problem is to postulate that Bebba was a lady of the Pictish royal family, and that Pictish matriliny extended for two generations so that the sons of her daughter were eligible for the Pictish kingship. There is a slight straw of evidence that might support this, as Bede says that one of Aethelferth’s sons, Eanferth, lived in exile among the Picts. This would be consistent with a connection between Eanferth and the Pictish royal family, which would fit with Eanferth being the son of a Pictish lady.

Scenario (d): through Eanferth’s Pictish marriage

Click to enlarge

Aethelferth’s son Eanferth, brother or half-brother of Oswy and Oswald, appears in the Pictish king-list as the father of a Pictish king, Talorcan. If the Picts followed a form of matrilineal succession to the kingship, the logical implication is that Eanferth married a lady of the Pictish royal family while he was in exile among the Picts. This scenario postulates that Eanferth and his Pictish wife also had an unnamed daughter, sister of the Pictish king Talorcan, and that she married Beli of Strathclyde and was the mother of Bridei.

In its favour, this hypothesis fits easily with Bridei’s claim to be king of the Picts. In this scenario, Bridei would be the maternal nephew of a previous king of the Picts, Talorcan, a likely candidate for the kingship.

Against it, under this scenario Bridei and Ecgfrith would be second cousins a generation apart, which may not have counted as ‘fratruelem’, depending on how the author of Historia Brittonum used the term.


Any of these scenarios is possible, and they all have advantages and disadvantages. No doubt there are other possibilities as well.

Scenario (a) relies on Eadwine having married into the Pictish female royal line, on an unrecorded daughter from such a marriage who then married Beli of Strathclyde, and Pictish matriliny extending for two generations. It is possible that Eadwine’s wanderings in exile “through all the kingdoms of Britain” extended to the Pictish lands and a romantic entanglement and/or dynastic marriage. However, despite the obvious romantic appeal of such a notion, there is nothing in Bede or Historia Brittonum to support any involvement of Eadwine in Pictish affairs. One might imagine that if Eadwine had had ties with Pictish royalty close enough to involve marriage and/or children, he would have had dealings with the Picts and at least some would have been recorded (though the sources are so patchy that this does not necessarily follow).

Scenario (b) relies on a distant connection by marriage being sufficient for the writer of Historia Brittonum to consider Ecgfrith and Bridei cousins. This is possible, if the relationships had become obscured by then (Historia Brittonum was written well over a century after the events, although it may have drawn on earlier sources), or if the writer was using the term ‘fratruelem’ loosely. However, the writer presumably chose the term for a reason, and could equally well have chosen a term for a distant relationship if that was what was meant.

I prefer (c) or (d), as these two scenarios both rely on connections between the Pictish and Northumbrian royal families for which there is some evidence. Bede is clear that Eanferth lived in exile among the Picts and the Pictish king-list is clear that he was the father of a Pictish king. Scenario (d) relies on Eanferth’s Pictish marriage having also produced an unrecorded daughter who then married Beli of Strathclyde, and on the writer of Historia Brittonum using the term ‘fratruelem’ loosely to include second cousins; (c) relies on Eanferth’s mother having been a Pictish royal female, on an unrecorded daughter (sister of Eanferth) who married Beli of Strathclyde, and Pictish matriliny extending for two female generations. Of the two I have a slight preference for (c), because it makes Ecgfrith and Bridei first rather than second cousins, and because if Eanferth had Pictish ancestry it provides a context for his Pictish exile (if he already had family connections there through his mother) and his Pictish marriage.


Annals of Ulster available online

Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Translated by Leo Sherley-Price, Penguin Classics, 1968, ISBN 0-14-044565-X

Harleian genealogies, available online

--Historia Brittonum ch. 57, translation available online; Latin text available online

Pictish Chronicle, available online