Rheged [Welsh IPA: r̥ɛgɛd] was a Brythonic kingdom of Sub-Roman Britain, whose inhabitants spoke Cumbric, a dialect of Brythonic closely related to Old Welsh. [Jackson, "Language & History in Early Britain", p. 9] It was situated in what is now north-western England, possibly extending into south-western Scotland. This was the homeland of the warrior monarch, Urien (in Latin, Urbgenius), as recorded in early Welsh poetry.


The name Rheged appears regularly as an epithet of a certain Urien in a number of early Welsh poems and Royal genealogies. His victories over the Anglian chieftains of Bernicia in the second half of the sixth century, are recorded by Nennius and celebrated by the bard Taliesin who calls him 'Ruler of Rheged'. He is thus placed squarely in the North of Britain and more specifically in Westmorland when referred to as 'Ruler of Llwyfenydd' (the Lyvennet Valley).cite book | last = Williams | first = Ifor | title = Canu Taliesin | publisher = Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru | year = 1960 | location = Cardiff |oclc=221299230 ] Later legend is very strong in associating Urien with the city of Carlisle, only twenty-five miles away and Higham suggests that Rheged was "broadly conterminous with the earlier Civitas Carvetiorum", the Roman administrative unit based around Carlisle. Although Rheged could just be a mere stronghold, it was not uncommon for sub-Roman monarchs to use their kingdom's name as an epithet and generally, it is accepted as a kingdom covering a large part of modern Cumbria.

Place-name evidence from Dunragit (possibly 'Fort of Rheged') suggests that, at least during one period of its history, Rheged extended into Dumfries and Galloway. More problematic interpretations suggest that it could also have reached as far south as Rochdale in Greater Manchester, recorded in the Domesday Book as "Recedham". Urien's kingdom certainly stretched a long way eastward at one time, he was also 'Ruler of Catraeth' - Catterick in North Yorkshire.

Kings of Rheged

The traditional Royal genealogy of Urien and his successors traces their ancestry back to Coel Hen (alias Old King Cole), who may have ruled much of the North in the early 5th century. It is generally assumed that all of those listed ruled in Rheged, but only three of their number can be verified from external sources:

* Meirchion Gul - little known ruler, father of
* Cynfarch Oer - who gave his name to the family tribeFact|date=February 2007, father of
* Urien Rheged - as above, father of
* Owain - also celebrated for having fought the Bernicians

outhern Rheged

A second Royal genealogy exists for a line, perhaps of Kings, descended from Cynfarch Oer's brother, a certain Elidir Lydanwyn. According to early Welsh poetry, Elidir's son, Llywarch Hen, was certainly of landed status and was driven from his territory by princely in-fighting after Urien's death. He is later associated with Powys.

Searching for Llywarch's kingdom has led some historians to suggest that, as was common in later Brythonic kingdoms, Rheged may well have been divided between sons into North and South. A southern kingdom based on Ribchester in Lancashire would neatly fill a gap where no sub-Roman kingdom is otherwise known. However appealing, this is pure speculation.

The Irish in Rheged

There is considerable evidence for an Irish presence in Rheged. It is known that Irish Christian missionaries were active in sub-Roman Cumbria (although the region was at least nominally Christian even in Roman times), as indicated by several early church dedications to St. Columba. There were likely Irish traders, pirates and settlers unconnected with the church as well.

The End of Rheged

After Bernicia united with Deira to become the kingdom of Northumbria, Rheged was annexed by Northumbria, at some time before AD 730. There was a royal marriage between Prince (later King) Oswiu of Northumbria and a Rhegedian princess, probably in 638, so it is possible that it was a peaceful takeover by the same man inheriting both kingdoms.

After Rheged was incorporated into Northumbria, the old Cumbric language was gradually replaced by Old English, with Cumbric surviving only among remote upland communities. The name of the Cymry has, however, survived in the name of Cumberland and now Cumbria.

Rheged remembered

The name Rheged has today been adopted by the The Rheged Centre close to Penrith in Cumbria. The centre, apart from having a number of retail outlets and cafes all with a Cumbrian emphasis, boasts the largest turf roof in Europe and a giant cinema screen that shows films including one about the history of Rheged.



*Bartrum, PC (1966) "Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts"
*Ellis, Peter Beresford (1993) "Celt and Saxon"
*Higham, Nick (1986) "The Northern Counties to AD 1000 "
*Jackson, Kenneth (1953) "Language & History in Early Britain", Edinburgh University Press
*Marsden, John (1992) "Northanhymbre Saga"
*Morris, John (1973) "The Age of Arthur"
*Morris-Jones, John (1918) "Y Commrodor 28"
*Williams, Ifor (1935) "Canu Llywarch Hen"
*Williams, Ifor (1960) "Canu Taliesin "

External links

* [http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/index.html Early British Kingdoms: Kings of Rheged]
* [http://members.aol.com/michellezi/poems/urien.html The Head of Urien Rheged, attributed to Llywarch Hen]
* [http://www.rheged.com/ The Rheged Centre]

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