Friday, 14 August 2009

Northumbria / Northumberland Place in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Series ****



Northumbria (sometimes spelled Northhumbria) is primarily the name of both a medieval petty kingdom of the Angles people, in what is now north east England and southern Scotland, and of the earldom which succeeded it when a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom became England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory: the Humber estuary.







Map showing Humber Estuary











Map showing River Humber as boundary between Yorkshire and Lincolnshire but also how one river joins another, here the River Ouse allowing access to the North East, thus traversing the country






Northumbria was formed in central Great Britain in Anglo-Saxon times. At the beginning of the 7th century the two kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira were unified. (In the 12th century writings of Henry of Huntingdon the kingdom was defined as one of the Heptarchy of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.) At its greatest the kingdom extended at least from just south of the Humber, to the River Mersey and to the Forth (roughly, Sheffield to Runcorn to Edinburgh) - and there is some evidence that it may have been much greater .
The later (and smaller) earldom came about when the southern part of Northumbria (ex-Deira) was lost to the Danelaw.




The northern part (ex-Bernicia) at first retained its status as a kingdom but when it become subordinate to the Danish kingdom it had its powers curtailed to that of an earldom, and retained that status when England was reunited by the Wessex-led reconquest of the Danelaw.



The earldom was bounded by the River Tees in the south and the River Tweed in the north (broadly similar to the modern North East England).



River Tees






River Tweed










River Tweeds Catchment Area covering Scotland and Northern England

Much of this land was "debated" between England and Scotland, but the Earldom of Northumbria was eventually recognised as part of England by the Anglo-Scottish Treaty of York in 1237. On the northern border, Berwick-upon-Tweed, which is north of the Tweed but had changed hands many times, was defined as subject to the laws of England by the Wales and Berwick Act of 1746.
The land once part of Northumbria at its peak is now divided by modern administrative boundaries.



Berwick-upon-Tweed





King Oswald

Oswald at Durham Cathedral


After Edwin's death, Northumbria was split between Bernicia, where Eanfrith, a son of Aethelfrith, took power, and Deira, where a cousin of Edwin, Osric, became king. Cumbria tended to remain a country frontier with the Britons. Both of these rulers were killed during the year that followed, as Cadwallon continued his devastating invasion of Northumbria. After the murder of Eanfrith, his brother, Oswald, backed warriors sent by Domnall Brecc of Dál Riata, defeated and killed Cadwallon at the Battle of Heavenfield in 634.
Oswald expanded his kingdom considerably. He incorporated Gododdin lands northwards up to the Firth of Forth and also gradually extended his reach westward, encroaching on the remaining Cumbric speaking kingdoms of Rheged and Strathclyde. Thus, Northumbria became not only part of modern England's far north, but also covered much of what is now the south-east of Scotland.
King Oswald re-introduced Christianity to the Kingdom by appointing St. Aidan, an Irish monk from the Scottish island of Iona to convert his people. This led to the introduction of the practices of Celtic Christianity. A monastery was established on Lindisfarne.
War with Mercia continued, however. In 642, Oswald was killed by the Mercians under Penda at the Battle of Maserfield. In 655, Penda launched a massive invasion of Northumbria, aided by the sub-king of Deira, Aethelwald, but suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of an inferior force under Oswiu, Oswald's successor, at the Battle of Winwaed. This battle marked a major turning point in Northumbrian fortunes: Penda died in the battle, and Oswiu gained supremacy over Mercia, making himself the most powerful king in England.

Religious union and eventual decline


Whitby Abbey


In the year 664 a great synod was held at Whitby to discuss the controversy regarding the timing of the Easter festival. Much dispute had arisen between the practices of the Celtic church in Northumbria and the beliefs of the Roman church. Eventually, Northumbria was persuaded to move to the Roman practice, the Celtic Bishop Colman of Lindisfarne returned to Iona.

Lindisfarne Gospels Page


Northumbria lost control of Mercia in the late 650s, after a successful revolt under Penda's son Wulfhere, but it retained its dominant position until it suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Picts at the Battle of Nechtansmere in 685; Northumbria's king, Ecgfrith (son of Oswiu), was killed, and its power in the north was gravely weakened. The peaceful reign of Aldfrith, Ecgfrith's half-brother and successor, did something to limit the damage done, but it is from this point that Northumbria's power began to decline, and chronic instability followed Aldfrith's death in 704.


In 867 Northumbria became the northern kingdom of the Danelaw, after its conquest by the brothers Halfdan Ragnarsson and Ivar the Boneless who installed an Englishman, Ecgberht, as a puppet king. Despite the pillaging of the kingdom, Viking rule brought lucrative trade to Northumbria, especially at their capital Jórvík, (York).

York Port


Earldom (930–1217)
After the English regained the territory of the former kingdom, Scots invasions reduced Northumbria to an earldom stretching from the Humber to the Tweed. Northumbria was disputed between the emerging kingdoms of England and Scotland. The land north of the Tweed was finally ceded to Scotland in 1018 as a result of the battle of Carham. Yorkshire and Northumberland were first mentioned as separate in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 1065.

Norman invasion and partition of the earldom
Williams Harrying of the North took place in the Blue coloured areas of the map
William the Conqueror became king of England in 1066. He realised he needed to control Northumbria, which had remained virtually independent of the Kings of England, to protect his kingdom from Scottish invasion. To acknowledge the remote independence of Northumbria and ensure England was properly defended from the Scots William gained the allegiance of both the Bishop of Durham and the Earl and confirmed their powers and privileges. However, anti-Norman rebellions followed. William therefore attempted to install Robert Comine, a Norman noble, as the Earl of Northumbria, but before Comine could take up office, he and his 700 men were massacred in the City of Durham. In revenge, the Conqueror led his army in a bloody raid into Northumbria, an event that became known as the harrying of the North. Ethelwin, the Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Durham, tried to flee Northumbria at the time of the raid, with Northumbrian treasures. The bishop was caught, imprisoned, and later died in confinement; his see was left vacant.
Ruthless Norman repression of the Anglo-Saxon rebellion in the north of England (1069–70). After his victory at the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror faced a series of revolts against Norman rule across England which he suppressed effectively but ruthlessly. The rising in the north was led by Edgar the Aetheling, an Anglo-Saxon prince, and Earl Waltheof, assisted by a Danish invasion. William first devastated the areas around York to isolate his enemies; the revolt was quickly suppressed and the Danes driven off. William continued his campaign around the north of England to deter further risings and in 1070 attacked parts of Mercia as well. The ‘harrying’ was effective in deterring potential rebels but famine followed his military campaign and even the Norman writer Ordericus Vitalis described it as ‘barbarous homicide’. The Domesday Book survey of 1086 recorded that large areas of the north were devastated.
Rebellions continued, and William's son William Rufus decided to partition Northumbria. William of St. Carilef was made Bishop of Durham, and was also given the powers of Earl for the region south of the rivers Tyne and Derwent, which became the County Palatine of Durham. The remainder, to the north of the rivers, became Northumberland, where the political powers of the Bishops of Durham were limited to only certain districts, and the earls continued to rule as clients of the English throne.

The city of Newcastle was founded by the Normans in 1080 to control the region by holding the strategically important crossing point of the river Tyne.
Newcastle showing the Tyne Bridge

Subsequent history
The Northumbrian region continued a history of revolt and rebellion against the government, as seen in the Rising of the North in Tudor times. A major reason was the strength of Catholicism in the area after the Reformation. Rural, thinly populated, and sharing a border with an often hostile Scotland, the region became a wild place where reivers raided across the border and outlaws took refuge from justice. However, after the union of the crowns of Scotland and England under King James VI and I peace was largely established. After the Restoration, many inhabitants of the Northumbrian region supported the Jacobite cause.
Flag
Flag of Northumbria

The flag of the kingdom was "a banner made of gold and purple" (or red), first recorded in the 8th century as having hung over the shrine of King Oswald. This was later interpreted as vertical stripes. A modified version (with broken vertical stripes) can be seen in the coat of arms and flag used by Northumberland County Council.

Culture

The design of the Northumbrian or Border Check is one of the earliest styles of Tartan in Northern Europe.

Northumbria was famed as a centre of religious learning and arts. Initially the kingdom was evangelized by monks from the Celtic Church, which led to a flowering of monastic life, and Northumbria played an important role in the formation of Insular art, a unique style combining Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Byzantine and other elements. After the Synod of Whitby in 664 Roman church practices officially replaced the Celtic ones but the influence of the Anglo-Celtic style continued, the most famous examples of this being the Lindisfarne Gospels. The Venerable Bede (673–735) wrote his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in 731) in a Northumbrian monastery, and much of it focuses on the kingdom.
Northumbria has its own check or tartan, which is similar to many ancient tartans (especially those from Northern Europe, such as one found near Falkirk and those discovered in Jutland that date from Roman times (and even earlier). Modern Border Tartans are almost invariably a bold black and white check, but historically the light squares were the yellowish colour of untreated wool, with the dark squares any of a range of dark grays, blues, greens or browns; hence the alternative name of "Border Drab." At a distance the checks blend together making the fabric ideal camouflage for stalking game.
Language
Apart from standard English, Northumbria has a series of closely related but distinctive dialects, descended from the early Germanic languages of the Angles, of which 80% of its vocabulary is derived, and Vikings with a few Brythonic and Latin loanwords. The Scots language began to diverge from early Northumbrian Middle English, which was called Ynglis as late as the early 16th century. (Until the end of the 15th century the name Scots (or Scottis) referred to Scottish Gaelic). There are many similarities between modern Scots dialects and those of Northumbria.
The major Northumbrian dialects are Geordie (Tyneside), Northern (north of the River Coquet), Western (from Allendale through Hexham up to Kielder), Southern or Pitmatic (the mining towns such as Ashington and much of Durham), Mackem (Wearside), Smoggie (Teesside) and Tyke. To an outsider's ear the similarities far outweigh the differences between the dialects. As an example of the difference in the softer South County Durham/Wearside the English 'book' is pronounced 'bewk', in Geordie it becomes 'bouk' while in the Northumbrian it is 'byuk'.
Due to the roots of Northumbrian dialects, it is often said that visitors from Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands often find it much easier to understand the English of Northumbria than the rest of the country. An example is the Geordie 'gan hyem' (to go home), which sounds similar to the Danish and Norwegian 'gå hjem', and means the same. In fact, many northeasterners report that when abroad they are often mistaken for Norwegians or Danes. This occurrence is said to be particularly common with German speakers.
Further reading
Higham, N.J., The Kingdom of Northumbria AD 350–1100 (1993) ISBN 0-86299-730-5 Rollason, D., Northumbria, 500–1100: Creation and Destruction of a Kingdom (2003) ISBN 0-521-81335-2

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