Dark Age Politics, Part 5 – Nouant

Welcome back! Today we’re continuing with the kingdoms of Dark Ages Britain, the setting for The Retreat to Avalon and The Arthurian Age. So far we’ve had several articles, including Rome’s impact on the developing British kingdoms and what Warlords and Kings really were at the time. The last article in this series was about Gawain’s homeland, Alt Clut.

When The Retreat to Avalon opens, Gawain and Gareth are returning from visiting Gawain’s sister, Beatha and her husband, Kenal. The location is not specifically mentioned (until book 2, The Strife of Camlann), but Beatha and Kenal live in the adjoining kingdom of Nouant.

Nouant is a Brittonic or Old Welsh name for the Kingdom of the Novantae, a British tribe that lived in the area of modern Galloway and Carrick. The kingdom seems to also have included much of the land of the Selgovae, stretching at least as far east as Dumfries. It is also thought to have controlled the Isle of Man at various times. As I mentioned in the last article, borders are very hard to identify and were likely ill-defined in the 5th century. The borders I chose for continuity in the books are based on the best information I have found.

There is some question as to the population of Nouant in the 5th century. What seems most likely is that it was a combination of Britonnic and Pictish speaking tribes, with a smattering of Gaels from Ireland.

St. Ninian established the church, Candida Casa (The White House) at Whithorn in about 397 A.D. He’s known as the Apostle to the Southern Picts, which gives some evidence that Pictish tribes lived among Brittonic tribes in the region south of the Antonine Wall. We know of Picts who were converted to Christianity (and apparently later abandoned it) from the writings of St. Patrick. Since the Picts seem to be a recurring theme, I will do my next article on who they were.

Remains of St. Ninian’s Chapel, Whithorn
From this link.

We have practically no records from the era about this region. What we do know comes mostly from Roman era documents and carvings and from later references in Welsh poetry and early medieval documents. For The Arthurian Age series, I am taking the most reliable information I can find and molding my story to fit what we know and suspect.

One of the clearest references to Nouant appears in the Old Welsh poem Y Gododdin. The poem talks about an ill-fated attack by the Britons of the Old North against the Angles of Bernicia, who held the fortress of Catraeth (near modern Catterick). In elegizing the Britons, the bard refers to “Three Chiefs of Nouant” who contributed many warriors to the cause.

As best we can determine, the area between the Antonine Wall and Hadrian’s Wall developed from various tribal roots into a large realm that may have been dominated by the Damnonii of Alt Clut by the end of the 4th century A.D.

One of the peculiarities of Celtic kingship is that succession was not passed down as we think of it today: that the eldest son gets the whole shebang. No, among the Britons, when the king, chieftain, etc, passed on, his lands were divided among all of his male heirs. If there were no male heirs, a politically convenient marriage to a daughter may solve the problem, or the lands may pass to another member of the deceased’s family. Lack of male children was not usually a problem, so what often happened was that a large kingdom would, over time, fragment into smaller and smaller kingdoms. This decentralization certainly had an effect on the ability of British kingdoms to unite in the face of threats, as blood ties were no guarantee of friendship. This lies behind many of the challenges that King Arthur faces in trying to unite the Britons against the Saxon threat.

It appears that Ceretic, the British ruler of Alt Clut chastised by St. Patrick, may have been the last ruler of the greater part of what became Southern Scotland. His sons or grandsons seemed to have gained the first divisions of the greater kingdom into Alt Clut, in the north, and Nouant, in the south. In The Retreat to Avalon, Alt Clut is ruled by Dyfnwal Hen, and Nouant is ruled by his brother, Tutgual.

Over the next few centuries, it seems that Nouant had more to fear from her British neighbors to the south, the Kingdom of Rheged, than from Saxon expansion or Scoti raids. Rheged invaded and annexed at least a part of the kingdom by the mid-sixth century. By the early seventh century, Bernicia appears to have overrun northern Rheged, at the very least. Early in the eight century, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria now controls the region, establishing the bishopric of Hwit Ærn (Whithorn). For whatever remained of the Kingdom of the Novantae, it appears to have gone much the same as Alt Clut-Strathclyde, fading away into obscurity as it is absorbed into the future Scotland.

Thanks for stopping by, and as always, I’d love to hear from you!

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