Who Were The Britons?

The Britons were a collection of various Brythonic tribes who inhabited modern-day England and Wales. They were a Celtic tribe who settled in Britain during the Iron Age, where they lived and coexisted with rival tribes in peace. There were wars between tribes, just like the rest of the world at the time. However, Britons as an ethnic group were never threatened to the point of total erasure, at least until the Romans saw Britain, came to Britain, and conquered Britain in 55 BC.

The Retreat of The Britons

The primitive tactics of the Brythonic Celts were merely no match compared to the sheer might of Rome. They were destroyed. When the Romans left, however, the Britons finally had a short-lived period of peace until the 5th-century AD. The Anglo-Saxons swooped in on a full-scale invasion of Britain. These Germanic tribes The Angles, Saxons, Jutes and the Frisians were able to take complete control of England at the drop of a hat.

Most of these indigenous Brythonic tribes were pushed west into Wales and Cornwall. Some even went as far as the Isle of Man for sanctuary. Many fled across the channel, taking refuge in neighboring Brittany, giving the name and language to the region. Those who remained, however, eventually merged with these new Germanic tribes and thus the English race was born. Yet this is something that we aren’t taught in our history books. It is that the Britons had a kingdom in Scotland for a short while. This is the story of The hen ogledd or the old north as they were referred to by their Welsh brethren.

The Britons in Scotland

The Britons from the north of England managed to escape the onslaught of Germanic tribes and successfully fled into Scotland by sailing up the river Clyde. Eventually settling in the area and creating the famous fortress of Dumbarton. This fortress of on the Clyde was the epicenter of the kingdom of the Britons, which stretched from Stirlingshire to Ayrshire. The people here spoke old welsh or cumbric, which is a language almost entirely lost to the depths of time.

Dumbarton Rock on the Clyde.

It was here that the Britons flourished. After centuries of being battered and bruised by various unwelcome and hostile invaders, The Britons finally were left in peace, and a Brythonic cultural awakening took place. It was here that Scotland’s earliest poetry was penned alongside hundreds of ballads, songs, and tales. The old kingdom’s warriors would have feasted and drank, whilst they recalled tales of loss and triumph, tales of victory and defeat. As well as listening avidly to stories of King Arthur and the knights of the round table and other heroes of Brythonic culture until the small hours of the morning.

Dublin as a Naval Power

Image of olaf

Olaf the white was the the fearsome ruler of viking Dublin. The poor Britons didn’t stand a chance!

In 866AD, the Viking horde descended upon the poor unsuspecting Brits, reminiscent of an owl swooping up a field mouse in the dead of night. Olaf The White, leader of Nordic Dublin sent an army to ravage Scotland to steal its treasures as well as to extort its people. Aud, the wife of Olaf, controlled the Hebrides, so the two armies joined forces and for three years rained down like fire and brimstone upon Britons and Picts alike.

‘In this year the kings of the Scandinavians besieged Strathclyde, in Britain. They were for four months besieging it; and at last, after reducing the people who were inside by hunger and thirst (after a well in their midst had dried up miraculously), they broke in upon them afterwards. And firstly, all the riches that were in it were taken; and also a great host was taken out of it into captivity.’

Duald Mac-Firbis’s account of the storming of the Briton’s fortress of Dumbarton.

At last, all seemed to come to an end when Olaf returned to defend Dublin from native Irish attacks on the Viking town, Unfortunately for our brave boys, the worst was yet to come. The Vikings, with a fleet of 200 ships, laid siege to Dumbarton for four months and against all the odds the starved, deprived Britons held it out. Until like a final blow of the executioner’s axe, their well, their only source of water, dried up without a trace. At long last, the Britons were forced to surrender, their people enslaved and their king was slain.

What Became of The Britons of Scotland

After years and years of being bruised and battered by the Anglo Saxons, The Irish Gaelic raiders, as well as Viking pillagers, the Brythonic kingdom of Strathclyde or Ystrad Clud, the last powerful Brythonic kingdom of the hen ogledd fell. The kingdom of Strathclyde stretched from modern-day Strathclyde in southern Scotland to Leeds in northern England. It encompassed many areas that we know of today such as Dunbartonshire, Cumbria, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, Dumfries, Galloway, Bute, and Argyll as well as parts of North Yorkshire. The Britons were in a terrible strategic position surrounded by enemies on all sides. It was no wonder they submitted to the pressure.

The fall of Dumbarton resulted in the Pictish King Eochaid ruling Strathclyde until Donald II overcame him and ruled over the area. Historians widely accept that Strathclyde finally fell in the early 10th century when the Britons of Strathclyde alongside all the other kingdoms of the north succame to one king, Edward the elder towards the end of his reign.

The Legacy of The Britons in Scotland

The Britons of Strathclyde left a profound linguistic impact on Scotland. Many place names in the area that used to make up Strathclyde derive from Cumbric the language the Britons spoke at the time. The Britons also left behind jewellery, tombstones, and pottery fragments as well as thousands of other artefacts which now sit proudly in museums all across Britain and Ireland.