Heroic Age Logo The Heroic Age, Issue 2, Autumn/Winter 1999  

The Politics of Exile in Early Northumbria

Notes and Bibliography


  1. In the sixth century, this overkingdom likely contained Dalriada, Pictland, Strathclyde, Gododdin, Bernicia, and possibly Rheged. Deira was likely part of a Humbrian overkingship with remaining ties to other kingdoms in the former province of Britannia Secunda like Rheged.

  2. The term ætheling refers to the male descendants of a king for at least two generations (Dumville 1979:6). All of the æthelings were eligible to claim the throne. In the early period, brothers often succeeded over sons of the previous king. In times of stress, men who could claim descent from the founder of the kingdom could also claim the throne (Dumville 1939:15, 17-18). For a discussion of the use of the term ætheling throughout the Anglo-Saxon period, see Dumville 1979.

  3. Previous northern overkings before Æthelfrith were probably Aedan mac Gabran of Dalriada, probable northern overking from 585 to 603; and Bridei son of Maelchon of Pictland, probable northern overking from c. 558? to 585 whom Bede called “a most powerful king” (Bede 3.4; McClure and Collins 1994:115). For the dominance of Bridei son of Maelchon and Aedan mac Gabran see Bannerman 1974:78-90, Marsden 1997:47-78, and Smyth 1984:103-7.

  4. The Moore Memoranda is an addition to the oldest surviving copy of Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People that has been dated to 737. Among the material in the memoranda is the oldest Northumbrian king list, which extends back to Ida the founder of Bernicia in 547 (Blair 1950:245-257).

  5. ASC-E 603, Swanton 1998: 21. Blair (1948:106-107) notes that the reference to Hering son of Hussa is not found in any other source "but which, as commemorating an act of outstanding treachery, might well have been long preserved in folk-memory." He further believed that "towards the end of the seventh century an annalistic chronicle, perhaps in the form of entries in Easter tables, was being kept at some Northumbrian centre, perhaps Jarrow, and that this chronicle was the source of the northern additions to the version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from which texts D and E are descended" (Blair 1948:112). Although Blair did not believe that the record to the battle of Degsastan was contemporary, it could have been added to a retrospective chronicle entry in this early period. The addition of Ida to Bede's chronological summary suggests that retrospective annals either had already been created or were in the process of being created in Bede's time. If Bede had known of Hering's role in the battle of Degsastan, it seems likely that he would have omitted it. Treacheries against Æthelfrith by his own countrymen would have undermined Bede's portrayal of Æthelfrith as the heroic founder of Northumbria's most successful dynasty.

  6. The annals place Gartnait's death in the same year as Columba's death and Augustine's arrival in 597 but Anderson suggests that his death should be understood to be in 601 (AT 601; A. Anderson 1922:121).

  7. See the biography of Rhydderch Hael in this issue by Tim Clarkson for more information.

  8. It has been suggested that Bebba/e is the British name Bibba (Marsden 1992:60).

  9. Wid (Gwid) is a very obscure figure. In truth, we know nothing definite about him beyond the careers of four of his children. Three of his sons (Gartnait, Bridei, and Talorc) ruled Pictland successively from 631 to 653. There is a general consensus among scholars that his daughter married Eanfrith son of Æthelfrith and was the mother of Pictish king Talorcan (r. 653-657) (Miller 1978:56-57, 1982:155; M. Anderson 1980:169-170; Smyth 1984:64-65). Smyth (1984:65) has speculated that Gwid was a son of Nechtan of the Strathclyde dynasty and king of Picts based on the occurrence of a Gwid son of "Peithan" in the poem Y Gododdin. Smyth amends "Peithan" to Neithon (Nechtan) to make his identification. This identification is very tenuous and should be rejected. Even if the father of the Gododdin warrior named Neithon, there is still no proof that he was a son of Neithon (Nechtan) of the Strathclyde dynasty. Smyth (1984: 58-65) seeks to make this identification because he believes the Picts practiced a strictly paternal succession and this identification would support the sons of Wid/Gwid as the grandsons of Neithon of Strathclyde, King of Picts and paternal cousins of Bridei son of Beli son of Nechtan, King of Picts 672-693. However, Molly Miller (1982:151-153) has shown that the Picts practiced a form of mixed maternal and paternal succession whereby brothers inherited when possible, as is also found in the patrilinear succession among contemporary Anglo-Saxons, but maternal succession was used when the throne passed to the next generation. This also fits Bede's remark that "in all cases of doubt, they should elect their kings from the female royal line rather than the male" (Bede 1.1; McClure and Collins 1994:11). Miller (1982:151-153) also noted that intermarriage between the royal dynasties in Pictland meant that most kings were ultimately related to a former king on both their maternal and paternal lines. It seems far simpler to suggest that Wid had married a Pictish heiress, possibly the sister of Nechtan. This does not mean that Wid was not an important man in his own right since only politically important men would be allowed to marry a Pictish heiress or that Wid was not related to a former Pictish king himself.

  10. There is a general consensus by Miller 1978:56-57, 1982:155, M. Anderson 1980:169-170 and Smyth 1984:64-65 that Eanfrith’s wife was a daughter of Wid.

  11. According to Irish sources, Æthelfrith's brother Eanfrith was killed by Maeluma mac Baetain (d. 610) of the Northern Ui Neill at the battle of Degsastan (Bannerman 1974:87-88). This is likely a mistake for Æthelfrith's brother Theobald, although it is possible that Æthelfrith lost more than one brother in the battle.

  12. There are suggestions that Aedan was deposed or abdicated the throne to his son Eochaid Bude before his death (Bannerman 1974:86-97). Yet the succession of his son indicates that the defeat was not so devastating that his line lost favor among the aristocratic electorate of Dalriada. It may have been seen as a sign that the 70+ year old Aedan was simply too old to rule. The apparent peace between Dalriada and Bernicia after 603, and Dalriada's acceptance of Æthelfrith's exiled sons in 616 suggest that the Scots came to terms with Æthelfrith after the battle at Degsastan even if Aedan did not remain on the throne of Dalriada for long after the battle.

  13. Hereric was married and the father of at least two daughters by the time of his assassination in c. 614. He may even have had other children who are not mentioned in the sources. His sons, for example, may have shared his fate or died in Edwin's wars. Hereric is only mentioned by Bede to give his miraculous story of Hild's birth a context.

  14. Bede confirms that Acha sister of Edwin was the mother of Oswald, Æthelfrith's son born in c. 604/5 (Bede 3.6; McClure and Collins 1994:119). Bede does not actually say that Æthelfrith had married Acha but it is likely that he did so to support his annexation of Deira. The Life of St. Oswald by Reginald of Durham (1165) does claim that the king who drove Edwin into exile married Ælle's daughter (Acha) who became Oswald's mother but the account is late and confused, claiming that Æthelfrith's father Æthelric killed Ælle driving Edwin into exile (Chadwick 1963a:148-149).

  15. During or before their exile both æthelings appear to have married, Hereric to Breguswith, whose dynastic origins are unknown, and Edwin to Cwenburh, daughter of King Ceorl of Mercia. They also each produced at least two children, Hereswith and Hild for Hereric and Eadfrith and Osfrith for Edwin.

  16. According to Bede, the vision related that Breguswith "found a most precious necklace under her garment ...it seemed to spread such a blaze of light that it filled all Britain with its gracious splendor" (Bede 4.23; McClure and Collins 1994:212-213). According to Bede, this gem represented Hild. Since it was found "under her garment" it probably means that she was pregnant with Hild at the time of the vision. If Hild was indeed 66 years old at the time of her death in 680, she would have been born in 614 but possibly conceived in 613.

  17. Higham 1992; Chadwick 1963a:148-153; Bede 2.12, 2.14; McClure and Collins 1994:91-94, 97.

  18. Ceorl's kingdom does not need to be as large as Higham (1992:6-10) suggests. RÆdwald's dominion is not known to be especially extensive before he challenged Æthelfrith on the River Idle. Ceorl appears to have simply overestimated Æthelfrith, perhaps due in part to ignorance in as to how large the latter's northern domain really was.

  19. The date of the battle is questionable. Bede does not date the event and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle makes an incorrect inference from Bede’s reference to Augustine, dating it to 605. The annals date the battle at 613 in the Annales Cambriae and Annals of Ulster, 614 in the Annals of Inisfallen, and to 616 in the Annals of Tigernach, the latter claiming that Æthelfrith died immediately after the battle of Chester (Chadwick 1963b:173-177). Nora Chadwick (1963b:178) has shown by correlating other events in the Irish annals to securely dated events, such as the death of Columba and the arrival of Augustine, that the Irish annals predated events in this section by three years, implying that the battle occurred in 616. This is consistent with the Annals of Tigernach’s dating of the battle to immediately before Æthelfrith’s death in 616.

  20. If the battle did occur in 616, then it is just possible that Æthelberht of Kent had just died leaving the overkingship of the southern English in doubt. However, there is no evidence that Æthelberht's overkingship included the Britons of Powys and their refusal to join Augustine's mission suggests that they were indeed independent.

  21. The inclusion of the battle of Chester suited Bede's needs to prove Augustine's prophecy true and no more. There were undoubtedly many important pagan vs. pagan battles in southern Britain which Bede chose to omit.

  22. Blair (1948:117) notes that this road from Austerfield on the River Idle to Tadcaster near York, which incorporates the stretch from Tadcaster to Doncaster mentioned above, was a primary route between Northumbria and Mercia in the seventh century and of great importance for the security of both regions. As we shall see, Æthelfrith would meet his death in battle along this road on the eastern bank of the River Idle near Austerfield in 616, suggesting that he had secured this route by then.

  23. Archaeological discovery of the Roman road system in this area is incomplete. A road has not yet been found between Buxton and Northwich. Buxton was the site of a spa and therefore must have been a popular destination. It seems likely that it also would have been connected with Northwich or perhaps Middlewich. However if this road did not exist, Æthelfrith could have turned north to Manchester and then south to Chester through Northwich (Margary 1967:359). Ozanne (1962-3:35) suggests “the continued or revived importance of the Roman road between Derby and Buxton is illustrated by the construction of new barrows and the reuse of the prehistoric barrows along its line”. Blair (1948:119-121) notes that the road west from Doncaster toward Buxton was strategically important and may have been defended by linear earthworks across the Don valley by the Mercians in later times. It appears that the border between Mercia and Northumbria in later times was along the Mercian-Elmet border near the River Don.

  24. The northern direct route passes through the city of Leeds in the heartland of Elmet (Ordnance Survey 1994). Bede refers to the forest of Elmet in the region of Loidis, modern Leeds (Bede 2.14; McClure and Collins 1994:98). According to C. M. Taylor (1992:112), the southern boundary of Elmet may have extended to the river Sheaf (derived from the old English word for boundary), a southern tributary of the River Don. Doncaster, therefore, would have been within the southern territory of Elmet. Taylor (1992:112) believes that the early Old English derivation of the names of the river Sheaf and the towns of Dore (in Old English dor, “large gate” or “door”) and Whitwell gap (in Old English hwite-welle-geat, “the gate or gap near the white spring”) all indicate an early boundary during the initial Anglo-Saxon settlement period. The region between Doncaster and Littleborough would have been a three-way border between Elmet, Lindsey, and Mercia.

  25. The northern route would pass through the territories of Elmet, Craven and Lancashire that are all believed to have been under British rule during this period. The southern route would have taken Æthelfrith through Elmet and the Peak District. Ozanne (1962-63:33) suggests that significant Anglian settlement did not occur in the Peak District until the mid seventh century probably during a period of Mercian ascendancy. For Æthelfrith’s army to have passed through these areas and returned home, the British in these areas must have either been conquered or made tributary by Æthelfrith.

  26. Chadwick (1963a:150-151) believes that there are enough differences between the two accounts to "preclude the possibility that Reginald is indebted to Geoffrey". It should be noted that both accounts make Edwin a child and foster-brother of Cadwallon, rather than the adult he must have been. Further, in one of the late Welsh triads Edwin is listed as one of the three great oppressions of Mon that had been nurtured there. (triad 26W; Chadwick 1963a:148) The poetry on Cadwallon also refers to treachery by Edwin, perhaps to a kingdom that had once given him refuge. While all this information is late and legendary, it may explain the deep enmity between Edwin and Cadwallon of Gwynedd.

  27. Both traditions were written after the confusion between Æthelric King of Bernicia 568-572 and Æthelric King of Deira 599-604 that led the authors to make Edwin a young child in Cadfan's court. If Bede correctly records Edwin as being 48 years old in 633, then he was born in c. 685 and must have been nearly 20 years old when he fled into exile. Note that if Edwin was in Gwynedd before the battle of Chester he was likely a host at the court of Iago, Cadfan's father, although it is possible that Iago died before the battle and that Cadfan was king when Edwin left Gwynedd.

  28. By the time Æthelfrith's son Oswald ruled Northumbria, Penda was ready to strike out as an independent and the war between Mercia and Northumbria was initiated in earnest.

  29. The late Welsh triads claim that a British chieftain of Deira and Bernicia named Sgafnell or Ysgafnell slew Æthelfrith of Lloegr. Craig Cessford (1994:182) interprets this triad to indicate that "Sgafnell could well have been a Celtic member of Edwin's warband who followed him into exile and fought at the battle of the Idle to restore him to power." Cessford (1994:182) notes that in the very early seventh century, Deira and Bernicia were likely a mixed "Germanic/Native Celtic aristocracy".

  30. The region of the River Don was a possible southern area of Elmet (Taylor 1992:112, 123).

  31. There is every reason to believe that Edwin remained a subject king to East Anglia until RÆdwald's death in c. 625. Edwin's years of dominance lasted only from c. 625 to 633. (Yorke 1990:81; Kirby 1991:77-78)

  32. Conadd Cerr was either the son of Eochaid Bude or Eochaid's cousin Conall (M. Anderson 1980:150).

  33. An Anglo-Saxon noble named Osric son of Albruit (Ælfred) died fighting on Dalriada's behalf at the battle of Fid-Eoin in c. 628 (Moisl 1983:105-106). Moisl could not identify Albruit/Ælfred. However it is possible that Ælfred represents Æthelfrith; an equation specifically made in chapter 57 of the Historia Brittonum (Morris 1980:36). An Osric is not included among the sons of Æthelfrith in the HB or elsewhere but the name does fit stylistically with the known names of Æthelfrith's sons. Further, Æthelfrith's children were known to be in Dalriada in c. 628. Alternatively, it is possible that Ælfred/Albruit was a brother to Æthelfrith or a grandson of another Idling king such as Adda or Theodoric. Moisl suggested that Ælfred was a noble Bernician refugee in Dalriada who married a daughter of Aedan mac Gabran during Æthelfrith's reign (Moisl 1983:115-116). In this case, this Anglo-Saxon line did not return to Bernicia but remained in Dalriada as members of cenéla nGabrain.

  34. There are two instances when minors were placed on the throne in Deira or Northumbria. It is possible that Ælfwine son of Oswiu became king of Deira in 670 at the age of nine when his brother Ecgfrith became king of Bernicia and overking of Deira (i.e. king of Northumbria). Ælfwine was the sub-king of Deira when he died in the battle of Trent in 679 at the age of eighteen (Bede 4.21; McClure and Collins 1994:207) and he may be the intended king at the foundation of Wilfrid's Ripon in 671-678 whom Eddius Stephanus called Ælwine (Eddius Stephanus, Chap. 17; Farmer 1998:125). By Ecgfrith's reign (670-685), Deira was integrated within the Bernician kingdom to a large enough degree that it could be trusted to a minor. This probably implies that the Bernician kings had built a large enough group of noblemen loyal to them that Ecgfrith could entrust the kingdom largely to their care while Ælfwine was still a minor. The second instance is the ascension in 705 of Osred son of Aldfrith to the throne of Northumbria at the age of eight (Bede 5.18; McClure and Collins 1994:266). According to Yorke (1990:86-87), Osred was the only “certain minority recorded for Anglo-Saxon England pre-900”. In Osred's case, he was supported by ealdorman Berhtfrith whom Eddius Stephanus calls "a nobleman, second in rank only to the king" and Bishop Wilfrid (Eddius Stephanus Chap. 59-60; Farmer 1998:173-76). Osred's reign marks a turning point in Northumbrian politics. He was the last descendant of Æthelfrith to rule in continuous succession and was put on the throne by noblemen loyal to the Æthelfrithings who had much to loose by the ascension of a rival royal line (Yorke 1990:87). After the reign of Ecgfrith, the northern and southern boundaries of Northumbria were set along the Rivers Forth and Humber respectively. Therefore, Osred reigned during a period of much greater security when, although border clashes continued, the kingdom, as a whole was safe. Penda of Mercia created a threat to the very survival of the Æthelfrithing kings unparalleled in subsequent history and is therefore a special case when the border province or sub-kingdom of Deira could not be trusted to the care of a minor. The annexation of Deira to the Bernician kingdom was also still very much a work in progress decreasing the likelihood that governance of the sub-kingdom or province could be trusted to a youth.

  35. This is reinforced by the Breviary of Aberdeen's claim that she took the veil under Bishop Finian of Lindisfarne between 651 and 661 (A. Anderson 1922:142).

  36. ASC-E 633; Swanton 1998:25. According to Bede, Penda of Mercia later executed Eadfrith during the reign of Oswald.

  37. Bede states that the regnal list compilers credited Eanfrith’s reign to Oswald in an attempt to write Eanfrith out of history for his reversion to the ancestral gods of the Bernicians indicating that this had been blamed for his death (Bede 3.1; McClure and Collins 1994:110-111). Therefore Eanfrith and Oswald reigned for a cumulative nine years and there is little but the record of Oswald’s participation in Cynegils’ baptism (ASC 635; Swanton 1998:27) to give an end point to Eanfrith’s reign.

  38. Bretwalda, meaning “ruler of Britain”, is a term first used in the ninth century to refer to Egbert of Wessex in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Yorke 1990:16). This term also generally applied to the seven great overlords listed by Bede has having hegemony over the southern Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, although there were likely others who were as dominate but not named by Bede (Kirby 1991:17-18; Yorke 1990:157-158). Bede’s prejudices against the Mercians appear to have prevented him from naming Penda, Wulfhere and Æthelbald to his list of imperium wielding overkings although they seem to fit the description. Bede is specific in claiming that the kings he listed enjoyed "imperium" over the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms south of the Humber thereby exempting his own Northumbria from the realm of the early overkings (Yorke 1990:157). Indeed, the first three of Bede’s listed overkings (Ælle, Ceawlin, and Æthelberht) all appear to have limited their hegemony to the territory of the southern, former Roman province of Maxima Caeseriensis (Higham 1995:151-161). There is no evidence that an official position of Bretwalda ever existed (Higham 1995:63) but it was retrospectively applied to kings who exercised the greatest hegemony over other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. According to Barbara Yorke (1990:158), the defining trait of a Bretwalda was the ability to collect tribute that possibly included military service. See Higham 1995, Kirby 1991:14-20, and Yorke 1990:157-162 for a further discussion of overkingship among the early Anglo-Saxons.

  39. Eadfrith was the grandson of the Mercian King Ceorl who probably sprang from a rival dynasty to Penda's own. After keeping Eadfrith as a prisoner for a few years, Penda may have decided that he would not make a good puppet king to reinstate on the Deiran throne and therefore found him more of a risk than an asset.

  40. These marriages included his own during his exile, which produced OEthelwald and probably the marriage of his sister Æbbe.

  41. It is possible that the ties between Oswald and Domnall Brecc were looser because Oswald's older brother Eanfrith had been the heir apparent. It should have been Eanfrith who made oaths of loyalty to Domnall for aid in returning to his homeland. Eanfrith's death may have severed the strongest obligations of the remaining sons of Æthelfrith to Dalriada.

  42. It is possible that ties between the Gewisse and Deira did continue at a low level since Alhfrith King of Deira from 655- c. 664 invited Wilfrid to Deira on the advice of his "faithful friend" Cenwealh, King of the West Saxons and had Agilbert (Cenwealh's bishop) ordain Wilfrid on a visit to Deira (Life of Wilfrid, Chaps. 7-9; Farmer 1988:114-116). It is possible that Rome continued to work on reclaiming Deira via continued ties between Wessex and Deira that began during Oswine's exile. One way for continued ties between Deira and the Gewisse to have survived the effects of Penda on both kingdoms would have been for Oswine to have married a woman from Cynegils’ family during his exile.

  43. (Bede 2.15, 3.8, 3.19 4.23; McClure and Collins 1994:99, 122,142-143, 210) East Anglian noblewomen who entered Frankish convents included Æthelburh daughter of King Anna, Sæthryth step-daughter of Anna and Hereswith daughter of Hereric and wife of Anna’s brother Æthelric.

  44. 75 years calculated from Æthelfrith's conquest of Deira in c. 604 to the death of the last sub-king of Deira, Ælfwine son of Oswiu in 679. Deira's revolts against Bernician rule erupted in 616 when Edwin recaptured the throne until 634 when Osric was killed, in 644 when Deira revolted against Oswald's heir Oswiu and chose Oswine son of Osric as king until 651 when Oswiu captured and executed Oswine son of Osric and annexed Deira again, in 655 when Oswiu's nephew OEthelwald revolted against Oswiu by siding with Penda at the battle of Winwæd, and lastly in c. 665 when Oswiu's own son Alhfrith sub-king of Deira revolted undoubtedly with Deiran support against his father.


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