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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2 Comments

Filed under Dark Ages

2 responses to “The little known Kingdom of Alt Clut

  1. Nicely balanced piece I thought.

    There may have not always have been war between Dal Riata and Alt Clut and Columba was said to have been an emissary between them. Tim Clarkson (Senchus blogger) in his book on Columba even puts forward the theory that the ‘Wily’ epitaph may have been taken out of context (or given a later explanation) and that he may have originally been accused of eating them out of house and home, rather than ravaging them. I’m not doing justice to what Tim says, but it’s an interesting theory.

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