The Duke who started a war

Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, (1406-22nd May 1455), sometimes styled 1st Duke of Somerset was an English nobleman.  He also succeeded in the title of 4th Earl of Somerset and was created 1st Earl of Dorset and 1st Marquess of Dorset and Count of Mortain and was also known for his deadly rivalry with Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York.

Edmund was the 3rd surviving son of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset and Margaret Holland.  His paternal grandparents were John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and Katherine Swynford while his maternal grandparents were Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent and Alice FitzAlan.

Although head of one of England’s greatest families his inheritance was only 300 pounds, compared to his rival Richard, Duke of York net worth of 5,800 pounds.  His cousin Henry VI of England efforts to compensate Somerset with offices worth 3,000 pounds only served to offend many of the nobles and his arguments with York grew more personal.  Another dispute with the Earl of Warwick over the lordships of Glamorgan and Morgannwg may of forced Warwick into York’s camp.

Edmund’s brothers were taken captive at the Battle of Bauge in 1421.  Edmund was too young at the time to fight.  While his brothers were captive he gained military experience and took command of the English army in 1431.  After his re-capture of Harfleur and lifting the Burgundian Siege of Calais in 1436 he was named a Knight of the Garter.  After subsequent successes he was created Ear of Dorset (1442) and the next year Marquess of Dorset.  From 1444 to 1449 he served as Lieutenant of France.  In 1448 he was created Duke of Somerset.  As the title had previously been held by his brother he was usually called the second Duke.

Somerset was appointed as commander in France replacing York in 1448.  In 1449 fighting broke out in Normandy and Somerset’s defeats left him open to criticism from York’s supporters.  Somerset was meant to be paid 20,000 pounds but no evidence exists that he ever received the payment.  He failed to repulse French attacks and by the summer of 1450 nearly all of England’s French possessions were lost.   By 1453 all of England’s possessions in the south of France were lost as well and the Battle of Castillon ended the Hundred Year War.

York used the insanity of the King to be made Lord Protector gaining power which had been monopolised by Somerset since 1451.  York imprisoned Somerset in the Tower of London and his life was probably saved by the King’s recovery in 1454, to again save one of his favourites.  York at this point was forced to surrender his office.

By now York was determined to be rid of Somerset one way or another and in May 1455 he raised an army.  He confronted Somerset and the King at the First Battle of St Albans.  This marked the beginning of the War of the Roses.  Somerset was killed in a charge from the house he had been hiding in.  His son Henry could never forgive York and Warwick for his father’s death and would spend the next nine years trying to avenge him and restore his family’s honour.

Henry VI definitely had his favourites rightly or wrongly and it seems to be that they definitely help lead him into a Civil War which would split a country in two for years to come.

Arms of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, Edmund's father

Arms of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, Edmund’s father

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Traitorous Merchant who lost his head

An imaginary portrat of William de la Pole by Thomas Tindall Wildridge, 1888

An imaginary portrat of William de la Pole by Thomas Tindall Wildridge, 1888

William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk (16th October 1396 – 2nd May 1450) was an English commander during the Hundred Year War and Lord High Admiral of England from 1447 to 1450.  He was born at Cotton Suffolk and was second d son of Michael de la Pole, 2nd Earl of Suffolk and Katherine de Stafford, daughter of Hugh de Stafford, 2nd Earl of Stafford and Philippa de Beauchamp.

He was seriously injured during the Siege of Harfleur in 1415.  His father also died of dysentery during the siege.  Later in that year his elder brother Michael de la Pole, 3rd Earl of Suffolk died at the Battle of Agincourt.  William then succeeded as the 4th Earl of Suffolk.  He became co-commander of the English army at the Siege of Orleans in 1429 after the death of Thomas Montacute, 4th Earl of Salisbury.  When the city was then relieved by Joan of Arc in the same year he managed to retreat to Jargeau where he was forced to surrender on the 12th June.  He remained a prisoner of Charles VII, King of France for three years before he was ransomed. 

After his return to England in 1434 he was made Constable of Wallingford Castle.  He became a courtier and a close ally to Cardinal Henry Beaufort.  His most notable achievement during this period but also his most controversial was his help with negotiating the marriage of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou in 1444.  This earned him the elevation to Marques of Suffolk.  Although a secret deal with in the marriage contract gave Maine and Anjou back to France was not popular in England and would eventually bring the downfall of William.

His own marriage took place on the 11th November 1430 to Alice Chaucer (1404-1475).  Alice was the daughter of Thomas Chaucer of Ewelme, Oxfordshire and granddaughter to the poet Geoffrey Chaucer and his wife Philippa de Roet.

With the deaths of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Cardinal Beaufort in 1447, Suffolk became the principal power behind the throne.    He was appointed Chamberlain, Admiral of England as well as other important offices, and made Earl of Pembroke in 1447 and Duke of Suffolk in 1448. 

On 16th July Suffolk met in secret with Jean d’Orleans, comte de Dunois at his mansion of the Rose in Candlewick Street.  This was the first of several meetings in London as Suffolk passed Council minutes to Dunois in assistance with the plans for the French invasion of England.  Dunois was a French hero from the Siege of Orleans.  It was rumoured that Suffolk never paid the £20,000 owed to Dunois for his ransom and because of this he now passed on state secrets. 

The following three years saw the near complete loss of England’s possessions in northern France.  Suffolk could not avoid the blame for these failures partly because of the loss of Maine and Anjou with the marriage arrangements for Henry.  On 28th January 1450 he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. The king intervened and tried to save his favourite who was then banished for five years.   Suffolk then sailed to Calais by ship but was intercepted by the ship ‘Nicholas of the Tower’ and captured.  He was then subject to a mock trial and executed by beheading. 

Suffolk was interred in the Carthusian Priory, Hull by his widow Alice.  The Priory was founded in 1377, by Suffolk’s grandfather Michael de la Pole, the 1st Earl of Suffolk and then dissolved in 1539.  Almost none of the original buildings survive following two English Civil War sieges in Hull in 1642 and 1643   

He was one of the first from the merchant class to raise him into a loftier position.  For this alone he is an important figure who fought for Henry VI’s father and then twisted himself either by chance or with his known traitorous acts manipulated his way into a higher position.  Whichever it was the weakness of Henry VI definitely helped him.  William was succeeded as the Duke of Suffolk by his only known legitimate son John, who became the 2nd Duke of Suffolk.

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Henry VI, and where it all started

Henry VI

Henry VI

Henry VI, (6th December 1471 – 21st May 1471) was king of England from 1422 to 1461 and again from 1470 and 1471.  He also held a disputed claim of the kingship of France between 1422 and 1453.   Reports describe him as very pious and peaceful man, who was not suited to the bloodshed of the dynastic wars that blighted his reign, such as the War of the Roses.  Bouts of insanity led to his wife Margaret of Anjou taking control of his kingdom.  His weakening position led to his own downfall and the collapse of the House of Lancaster and the rise of the House of York, eventually the conflict between the two would become known as the War of the Roses.

Henry was the only child of Henry V and was born on 6th December 1421 at Windsor Castle.  He succeeded the throne of England after his father’s death on 31st August 1422 at just the age of nine months old.  He was the youngest person ever to succeed the English throne.  Two months later and still not one  year old Henry also became titular King of France on the death of his grandfather Charles VI in accordance with the Treaty of Troyes.  His mother, Catherine of Valois (Charles daughter) was twenty years old herself this point and viewed with considerable suspicion by English nobles preventing her from playing a full roll in her son’s upbringing.

On 28th September 1423 the nobles all swore loyalty to Henry VI and a parliament was summoned in the Kings name as a regency council to govern until the King should come of age.  One of Henry V’s surviving brothers; John, Duke of Bedford was appointed senior regent of the realm and was in charge of the ongoing war in France.  During Bedford’s absence Henry V’s other surviving brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was appointed Protector and Defender of the Realm.  His duties were limited to keeping the peace and summoning parliament.  Henry V’s half uncle; Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester was an important member of the council.  After the Duke of Bedford’s death in 1435, the Duke of Gloucester claimed the regency for himself but was contested by other members of the council.

Henry’s half brothers Edmund and Jasper, through his mother and her new husband Owen Tudor were both given earldoms.  Edmund was the father of Henry Tudor who would become Henry VII, King of England.   From 1428 Henry’s tutor was Richard de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.

In reaction to Charles VII Valois’ coronation as King of France in Reims Cathedral on 17th July 1429, Henry was soon crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey on 6th November 1429.  He was then crowned King of France at Notre Dame de Paris on 16th December 1431.  It was not though until 13th November 1437, just before his sixteenth birthday that he gained some form of independent authority.  His want to gain some form of authority was clear to see when the place named of signing writs was changed from Westminster (where the council sat) to Cirencester (where the king was) in 1434.    Henry then gained full royal powers when he came of age.

Henry was declared of age in 1437 which was the same year that his mother died.  Henry took the reins of government gaining full control, although this shy and pious boy averse to deceit and bloodshed soon allowed the court to be dominated by a few noble favourites who clashed on the matter of the French war.  After the death of Henry V, England lost momentum in the Hundred Year War.  Military victories by Joan of Arc helped the Valois family gain ground.  The young King favoured peace which was preached to him by Cardinal Beaufort and William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk.  On the other side Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Richard, Duke of York preferred a continuation of the war.

Cardinal Beaufort and the Earl of Suffolk persuaded the King that the best way to pursue peace with France was through a marriage to Margaret of Anjou.  Margaret, a niece to King Charles VII of France was apparently very beautiful and Henry agreed straight away.  Suffolk was sent to negotiate with Charles.  Charles agreed to the marriage as long he did not have to provide the customary dowry and instead receive the lands of Maine and Anjou from the English.  These conditions were agreed in the Treaty of Tours, but the cession of Maine and Anjou was kept secret from the Parliament in London as it was believed that it would be hugely unpopular with the English populace.

Margaret of Anjou, Henry's wife

Margaret of Anjou, Henry’s wife

The marriage took place at Tichfield Abbey on 23rd Aril 1445, one month after Margaret’s fifteenth birthday.  Henry wavered the agreement to give up Maine and Anjou to Charles after he realised just how unpopular this would have been.  Margaret was determined to make him to see it through and after the deal became public knowledge in 1446, public anger was angered at the Earl of Suffolk, with Margaret and Henry determined to protect him.

One thing is certain within Henry’s early life and with his gain of full royal powers.  He was easily led and influenced by others.  Shy, pious a peaceful man never having the full set of skills for rule.  Maybe his weakness led to the War of the Roses and the power struggle that was going on between his most trusted and powerful advisors.  It was clear to see the stage was set by this point and that the audience was about to sit down for a feud that would cause so much bloodshed across England.

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War of the Roses

War of the Roses was the battle of two families, who tried to wrestle the crown of England for their chosen branch of the House of Plantagenet.  The houses of Lancaster and York and their supporters fought each other several sporadic episodes between 1455 and 1487.  It followed the turbulent time of the Hundred Year War between England and France, which caused social and financial troubles in England.   The war started with Henry VI on the throne and he was challenged by Richard, Duke of York.  By the end of the war the weak claim of Henry Tudor gave the Lancastrians a victory over the last Yorkist king Richard III. 

The next series of blog posts will look into some of the key and important players from the period and some of the more obscure unknown people who also played their parts.

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Judith of Flanders, two Kings and a Count in twenty years.

Judith and her 3rd husband Baldwin

Judith and her 3rd husband Baldwin

Judith of Flanders, (c 843 AD to c 870 AD) was the eldest daughter of the Frankish King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald and his wife Ermentrude of Orleans.  Through her marriages too two different Kings of Wessex (Aethelwulf and Aethelbald) she was Queen twice.  Her first two marriages were both childless.  Her third marriage to Baldwin, Count of Flanders made her the first Countess of Flanders.  One of her sons by Baldwin married Aelfthyth daughter of Aethelbald’s brother Alfred the Great.  She was also an ancestor of Matilda of Flanders the Queen consort to William the Conqueror and thus the later monarchs of England.  This places her quite highly as things stand in the history of both Wessex and England.

In 855 AD King Aethelwulf of Wessex, made a pilgrimage to Rome and on his way back in 856 AD he stayed at the court of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles the Bald.  In July of that year he became engaged to Charles’s daughter, Judith.  On 1st October 856 AD they wed at Verberie in northern France.  The marriage formed a diplomatic alliance between Wessex and the Holy Roman Empire.  Both kingdoms had been suffering from numerous Viking raids and an alliance between the two would make them stronger to repel the attacks.

The marriage itself gave Aethelwulf trouble at home, provoking a rebellion led by his eldest surviving son Aethelbald.  A compromise was reached between Aethelwulf and Aethelbald in where they split the kingdom between father and son.

Judith had no children with Aethelwulf, who died 13th January 858 AD.  He was succeeded by his son Aethelbald who married Judith.  Judith would have been only roughly 15 at the time.  It is believed that Aethelbald would of married Judith to enhance his own status and claim to the throne.  The marriage was condemned by Asser in the Life of Alfred the Great

One King Aethelwulf was dead.  Aethelbald his son, against God’s prohibition and Christian dignity and also contrary to the practice of all pagans, took over his father’s marriage bed and married Judith, daughter of Charles, king of the Franks, incurring great disgrace from all who heard of it.

Judith was still childless when Aethelbald died in 860 AD after a reign of only two and half years.

Following Aethelbald’s death Judith sold all her properties in Wessex and returned to France.  She was then sent by her father to the Monastery of Senlis.  Charles would have presumed due to her childless state that he would be able to rearrange another marriage of political alliance if he could prove she had kept her virtue.  However in 861 AD, around Christmas Judith eloped with Baldwin, the later Count of Flanders and it is believed the two were married at this time in the Monastery of Senlis.  This time Judith was not depicted as the victim bride but part of the plot, and with the consent of her brother Louis the Stammerer.  Maybe third time lucky she got to marry for love!

Judith’s problems did not stop there though.  Her father unsurprisingly was unhappy and ordered his Bishops to excommunicate the couple.  They couple fled to Judith’s cousin Lothair II of Lotharingia for protection before going to Pope Nicholas I to plead their case.  The Pope intervened for the couple and asked Judith’s father to accept the marriage and welcome the young couple to his court.  The couple returned to France and were officially married in Auxerre in 863 AD.

Baldwin was given the land south of Scheldt and the County of Flanders.  His main task was to ward off and deflect any Viking raids.  You would have to wonder with King Charles not liking Baldwin, whether there was an alternative motive behind making sure Baldwin took part in many battles.  This plan if it was in Charles thoughts didn’t work though.  Baldwin did well and quelled the Viking threat, increased his army and also his land holdings.  He became a very faithful supporter of Charles.

Judith and Charles had three children

  • Charles (born after 863 AD and died young.
  • Baldwin II (c 864 AD – 918 AD) succeeded his father as Count of Flanders and married Aelfthyth daughter of Alfred the Great
  • Raoul/Rodulf (c 869 AD – 896 AD) became the Count of Cambrai around 888 AD and was killed by Herbert I of Vermandois in 896 AD

Judith died in about 870 AD just a few years before her father became Holy Roman Emperor.

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Father of the Great, Aethelwulf, King of Wessex.

Aethelwulf 1

Aethelwulf, meaning noble wolf was King of Wessex from 839 AD until his death in 858 AD.  He was the father of one of the greatest if not the greatest Anglo-Saxon kings, Alfred the Great.  He was the only known child of King Egbert of Wessex.  He conquered the Kingdom of Kent on behalf of his father in 825, and was later made King of Kent as a sub-king to his father.  He succeeded his father as King of Wessex, on Egbert’s death I 839.  By this point the Kingdom stretched from Kent in the east to Devon in the west.  At the same time as Aethelwulf became King of Wessex his son Aethelstan became King of Wessex.

Historians have conflicting assessments of Aethelwulf.  Some state that Aethelwulf was intensely religious with little political sense.  He was an unambitious man who suffered greatly because of the inconvenience of rank.   Some historians state that he has been under-appreciated and lay the foundations for Alfred’s reign.  He managed to find new and adapt traditional answers and coped with the Scandinavian threat better than others in the same period.  It is also mentioned that he was the first to open channels of communications through the Frankish realms in Europe towards the Alps and Rome.

The most common source from the time the Anglo Saxon Chronicle refers to Aethelwulf’s presence at some important battles of the time.  In 840 AD he thought at Carhampton against 35 ship companies of Danes whose raids had increased greatly.  His most notable victory came in 851 AD in ‘Acleah’.  This could be possibly either Ockley in Surrey or Oakley in Berkshire.  Here Aethelwulf and his son thought against ‘the greatest slaughter of heathen host ever made.”  Around 853 AD Aethelwulf and his brother in law Burged, King of Mercia defeated Cyngen ap Cadell of Wales, and made the Welsh subject to him.  According to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle Aethelwulf fought more battles through the adjoining years mainly against different pirating bands and Danes.

This was an era when different European nations were being constantly raided and invaded by many different groups.  In the south this was by the Saracans, in the east the Maygars, in the west the Moors and in the north the Vikings.  Before Aethelwulf’s death raiders had wintered on the Isle of Sheppey and pillaged East Anglia which would then set precedence for his sons to be constantly harassed by different raiding parties.

As king Aethelwulf split the kingdom into two.  He gave the eastern part to his eldest son Aethelstan, this including the counties Kent, Sussex, Essex and Surrey.   Aethelwulf then kept the more ancient western half for himself, which included Hampshire, Wiltshire, Devon and Dorset.

Aethelwulf coin

Aethelwulf and his first wife Osburh had five sons and a daughter.  After Aethelstan came Aethelbald, Aethelbert, Aethelred and Alfred.  Each of his sons with the exception of Aethelstan succeeded to the throne.  Alfred the youngest has been praised as one of the greatest kings to ever reign in Britain.  Aethelwulf’s daughter Aethelswith was married as a child to King Burgred of Mercia.

Religion was always a great and important part in Aethelwulf’s life and this did rub off on his son Alfred.  As early as the first year of his reign he began planning a pilgrimage to Rome.  With the increase of raids he felt the need to appeal to the Christian god.  In 853 AD he sent his son Alfred to Rome.  Alfred was only four years old.  In 855 AD about a year after the death of his wife Osburga, Aethelwulf followed Alfred to Rome where he was generous with his wealth.  He disturbed gold to the church of St Peter.

On the return journey from Rome he married Judith of Flanders in 856 AD.  Judith was a Frankish princess and a great-granddaughter of Charlemagne.  She was about twelve at the time and her father was Charles the Bald, King of the West Franks.

Upon his return to England in 856 AD Aethelwulf was met with a rebellion.  His elder son Aethelbald (Aethelstan had since died) had devised a conspiracy with the Ealdorman of Somerset and the Bishop of Sherborne to oppose Aethelwulf ‘s resumption of kingship upon his return.  Although Aethelwulf had enough support to banish Aethelbald and his fellow conspirators he instead yealded the western half of Wessex to Aethelbald while keeping the central and eastern parts for his own rule.

Also on returning to England Aethelwulf managed to change the laws regarding the future Kings Queens.  Previously the Queen was not called Queen but known only as ‘wife of the King’.  They were not allow the Queen to sit next to the King.  The restriction was lifted for Queen Judith and it is believed that the concessions were made because she was already a high-ranking European princess.

Aethelwulf died 134th January 858 AD and was buried at Steyning and later re-interred in the Old Minster at Winchester.  His bones now rest in one of several ‘mortuary chests’ at Winchester Cathedral.

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The little known Kingdom of Alt Clut

Dumbarton Rock

Dumbarton Rock

Alt Clut was a Brythonic kingdom in the western part of Scotland that later became Strathclyde.  The Kingdom was ruled from Dumbarton Rock Alt Clut until around 870AD when the rock was captured and sacked by Norse-Gaels from the Kingdom of Dublin after a four month siege.  There after the centre of the kingdom moved to Govan.  Govan is now situated in modern Glasgow and had previously been a religious centre.  The kingdom later was known as Cumbria after 870 and may have ruled parts of modern day Cumbria in the 10th and 11th centuries AD.  In the 11th century AD the Kingdom of Alba conquered Stathclyde, but the area remained distinctive with different laws using the Cumbric language alongside Gaelic until the 12th Century AD.

Below is a synopsis of some of the early kings of Alt Clut.

Ceretic Guletic was king of Alt Clut in the 5th Century AD.  He was identified with Coroticus a Britonnic warrior mentioned on a letter by Saint Patrick.  One of the letters is addressed to the warband of the Coroticus people.  The letter mentions the enslavement of newly Christianised Irish and the sale of Christians

‘Soldiers whom I no longer call my fellow citizens or citizens of the Roman saints, but fellow citizens of the devils, in consequence of the evil deeds; who live in death after the hostile rite of the barbarians; associates of the Scots and Apostate Picts; desirous of glutting themselves with the blood of innocent Christians, multitudes of whom I have begotten in God and confirmed in Christ.’

In the letter Patrick announces that he has excommunicated Coroticus’ men.  The connection between Coroticus to Ceretic Guletic is based largely on the 8th Century AD gloss to Patrick’s letter.  It has been suggested that sending the letter provoked the trial Patrick mentions in the Confession.  The ‘Apostate’ Picts are the southern Picts that were converted by Saint Ninian and ministered to by Palladius who subsequently left Christianity.  The Northern Picts of Flortriu were later converted by Saint Columba in the 6th Century AD.  As they were not yet Christian they would not have been called Apostate.

From using the above you would be able to date Ceretic in the 5th Century AD.  Ceretic also appears in the Harleian genealogies of the rulers of Alt Clut.  This lists his father as Cynloyp, grandfather as Cinhil and great-grandfather as Cluim.  It is from this source we get the nickname Guletic which means land-holder.  In the Book of Armagh he is called ‘Coirthech rex Aloo’ or Ceretic, King of the Height (of the Clyde).

Cinuit, the Harleian genealogies indicate that Cinuit was the son of Ceretic Guletic .  He is more identified as the father of Dumnagual Hen an important but obscure ancestor figure of Welsh traditions.   Although in later genealogies such as the Bonedd Gwyr y Gogledd identify Dumnagual’s father as Idnyuet said to be the son of Maxen Wledic (the Roman usurper Magnus Maximus).

Dyfnwal Hen or Dumnagual Hen, Dumnagual the Old (Hen) is regarded as an important ancestor figure in many kingly lines of the Hen Ogledd (Old North).  According to the Harleian genealogies Dumnagual had at least three sons.

  • Clinoch, a successor as King of Alt Clut.
  • Guipno or Gwyddno, who fathered the later kings Neithon.
  •  Cynfelyn who was a later king of Din Eidyn, (Edinburgh).

The Bonedd Gwyr y Gogledd gives a more modified version of Dumnagual’s family tree.  Here he is a son of Idnyued and grandson of Maxen Wledig.  Although the Bonedd does agree with the Harleian stating that Dumnagual is the great-grandfather of Rhydderch Hael a later king of Alt Clut, but his later descendants are altered significantly.  Gwyddno is included but is listed as his great-grandson not his son and is also identified as Gwyddno Garanhir of the Taliesin legend.

Also sometimes Dumnagual is listed as an ancestor to the Aedan mac Gabrain family, a 6th Century AD ruler of the Kingdom of Dal Riata.

Clinoch, not much is known about Clinoch, except that he was the son of Dumnagual as with the Harleian genealogies.  He had a son who followed him as king of Alt Clut  called Tutagual.

Tutagual, is belived to have ruled during the middle of the 6th Century AD.  Much is evidenced that Tutagual was the father of the better known Rhydderch Hael.  Tutagual may be identified as the tyrannical ruler mentioned in Saint Ninian’s 8th Century AD poem Miracula Nyniae Episcopi and Ailred of Rievaulx’s 12th Century AD Vita Sancti Niniani.  The Miracula calls the king Tuduael and Thuuahel, while Ailred gives him the name Tudwaldus and Tuduvallius.  Although it may be that this contradicts the suggested dates for Ninian’s life.

Rhydderch Hael, is the first King of Alt Clut that we know a little more about.  He is believed to have died c.614 AD.  He appears frequently in later medieval works in both Welsh and Latin.

In the a preserved tale from  the 12th Century AD, Welsh law code known as the Black Book of Chirk.  The tale tells of how Rhydderch accompanies rulers from the north on a military expedition to the Kingdom of Gwynedd in North Wales.  Elidir Mwynfawr, another prince of the north had been killed at Arfon in Gwynedd.  In response Rhydderch joined Clydno Eiddin, Nudd Hael and Modaf Hael to seek vengeance on King Rhun Hir ap Maelgwn of Gwynedd.  They travelled by sea and ravaged Arfon but were expelled by Rhun’s forces.  Rhun then attacked Alt Clut and pushed as far north as the River Forth.

Some people say that the events at Arfon may not have taken place and that Welsh propagandists made up the tale to try and glorify their own Kings.  They would of used Rhun as the ancestor and a great warlord who would wage war far beyond his own territories and against figures famed and already rich with Welsh tradition.

Welsh tradition also places Rhydderch as one of the northern British kings who fought against the Anglo-Saxon realm of Berncia.  The Historia Brittonum depicts him as an enemy of several Bernician kings of the late 6th Century AD.  It is said he joined with Urien of Rheged and Morcant Bulc in their ill-fated alliance.

The below is taken from Chapter 63 fo the Historia Brittonum,

Four Kings fought against them, Urien and Rhydderch (Hael) and Gwallawg and Morcant.  Theodoric fought vigorously against Urien and his sons.  During that time, sometimes the enemy sometimes the Cymry were victorious and Urien blockaded them for three days and three nights in the island of Ynys Metcaut.  But during this campaign, Urien was assassinated on the instigation of Morcant from jealousy, because him military skill and generalship surpassed that of all the other kings.

The war with Bernicia is only two military campaigns in which Rhydderch is said to have been involved.   The other was a raid on the Alt Clut court by Aeden mac Gabrain king of Dal Riata and a fellow-contemporary of Saint Columba which is recorded in the Three Unrestrained Ravagings of the Island of Britain in the Welsh Triads.

When Aeden the Wily came to the court of Rhydderch the Generous of Alt Clut; he left neither food nor drink nor beast alive.

Apart from this work there are no other supporting texts to prove their accuracy.  Although with Dal Riata and Alt Clut being neighbours and the mindset during the post Roman period and Dark Ages in northern Britain it is easy to believe that they would have warred at different points.  Dal Riata at the time was new to British politics but the Gaels or Scots of Dal Riata were commonly known to raid along the coast since the time of Vortigern.  Furthermore Aeden mac Gabrain is also known to be a belligerent warlord raiding as far as Northumbria and Pictavia.

Clochoderick Rocking stone in Renfrewshire, Scotland. This stone is said to mark the burial place of Rhydderch

Clochoderick Rocking stone in Renfrewshire, Scotland. This stone is said to mark the burial place of Rhydderch

Aside from the Welsh sources the other main source of information regarding Rhydderch is the Latin hagiography surrounding Kentigern the patron Saint of Glasgow whose Life was written in the 12th Century AD by Joceline of Furness, in Cumbria on behalf of the Bishop of Glasagow.  It is believed that 7th and 8th Century AD traditions were used and Rhydderch appears as King Rederech and is portrayed as Kentigern’s royal patron and benefactor.

Rhyddrech’s exact date of death is unknown, although the Life of Kentigern places his death as the same year as the Welsh saint which according to the Welsh Annals occurred in 612. This is adjusted by historians to 614 AD.  The date is supported by Adomnan who refers to Rhyddrech as a contemporary of Saint Columba who died in 597 AD.  Welsh collections name Rhydderch’s sword as one of the so-called Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain.  It is said that Dyrnwyn (the sword) when drawn by a worthy or well born man the entire blade would blaze with fire.


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