Hi folks! Today we’re continuing with the political environment of Dark Ages Britain, the setting for The Retreat to Avalon and The Arthurian Age. So far we’ve talked about Rome’s impact on the developing British kingdoms, what Warlords and Kings really were at the time, and an overview of the land that would eventually become Scotland.
This article is about the kingdom of Alt Clut. Our hero, Gawain, is born and raised there, very close to modern day Glasgow. I talk about his home and where it is, specifically, in this post. Gawain’s father, Gwyar, is a minor but respected warlord and retainer of the king of Alt Clut, Dyfnwal The Old. (More about this here).
Dyfnwal was the son of Ceretic The Landholder, the first king of Alt Clut that we know of by name. The reason we know of Ceretic, is because of Saint Patrick. Some of Ceretic’s warriors had raided Ireland and made off with some of Patrick’s recent converts. The bishop asked for them to be returned, and when rebuffed, he wrote a very angry open letter to Ceretic and his soldiers excommunicating them until they released the captives and made amends. This letter is one of the few writings we have that has survived from that period and makes it plain that the Britons in the area were mostly Christian.
Relationship status: It’s Complicated
The Britons of Alt Clut only fell under Roman rule a couple of times for very short periods, so it is likely that the kingdom had ancient roots into the tribal era, rather than developing out the Roman occupation as occurred in southern Britain. The Damnonii was the primary tribe, though the neighboring tribes surely were mingled in. They seem to have been on reasonable terms with the Romans when the Romans kept themselves south of Hadrian’s Wall, and Rome would often hire mercenaries from the region. Of course, raiding from Scotland is the whole reason the wall was built. Arthur is said in some sources, including Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, to have warred against the Picts and Scots alongside the warriors of Alt Clut.
About the Kingdom
Alt Clut, which means, roughly, “Rock of the Clyde”, was the name of the fortress capital of the kingdom, located at Dumbarton Castle. Alt Clut was a fairly large kingdom of great influence, but its founding is lost in the mists of legend and unrecorded history. Alt Clut seems to have encompassed roughly the areas of modern Renfrewshire, Dunbartonshire, Stirlingshire, Lanarkshire and the north half of Ayrshire. However, there is evidence that Alt Clut often controlled all of what would become southern Scotland.
A word about borders…
We have very little information on where borders existed in the ancient and early medieval eras. Even the borders of Roman provinces are hotly debated. For the purposes of The Arthurian Age series, I have set borders based on the best information I have found in order to provide the consistency the story needs, or to make sense of the geo-political landscape and how it molded history.
Joining in progress…
At the opening of The Retreat to Avalon, Alt Clut controls Nouant, the kingdom to the south (area of Galloway and southern Ayrshire), through family connections. The king is Dyfnwal’s brother, Tutgual. Alt Clut also rules over the neighboring kingdom of The Gododdin (area of Edinburgh and southeastern Scotland). This came about from a war between the two countries during Ceretic’s reign. Lot, the king of the Gododdin, is on “friendly” terms with Alt Clut, but is surely maneuvering to get out from beneath Dyfnwal’s control. King Arthur’s visit to raise troops for his campaign in Gaul may provide the opening.
To the north of Alt Clut, the wild Picts are always a threat, though the descendants of some Pictish tribes live in Alt Clut and Nouant. To the northwest, in what would become Argyllshire, the raiding Irish tribes known as the Scoti were just beginning to establish colonies, destined one day to give their name and language to Scotland.
The Legacy of The Old North
Alt Clut, as part of what the Welsh called “The Old North” is full of fascinating history and legend and likely the longest-lived of the Brythonic kingdoms. Their imposing citadel at Dumbarton was never taken until the year 870, when the defenders ran out of water after a four month Viking siege. The king, his family and hundreds of Britons were taken as slaves to Dublin.
This finally gave the Scots their chance and it appears that Alt Clud becomes a mixed Gaelic and Brythonic kingdom, known as Strathclyde. This means “Valley of the River Clyde”, the center of power of the region. The Scots would fully take over Strathclyde by the mid eleventh century, controlling as far south as Cumbria until the end of the eleventh century.
Thanks for visiting and I hope to see you again for our next foray into Dark Ages politics with a visit to The Gododdin!