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The Eden Valley, heartland of the kingdom of Rheged
Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North) c. 550 – c. 650

Rheged (ˈr̥ɛɡɛd) is described in poetic sources as one of the kingdoms of the Hen Ogledd ("Old North"), the Brittonic-speaking region between the Forth and the Humber in the Dark Ages. Its borders are not described in the poems, but some modern scholars have suggested that it included what is now Westmorland, Cumberland, Dumfriesshire and Galloway, and possibly extended into Lancashire.[1] In the historical sources Rheged is intimately associated with the king Urien Rheged and his family.[2] Its inhabitants spoke a dialect closely related to Old Welsh.[3]


The name Rheged appears regularly as an epithet of a King named Urien in a number of early Welsh poems and royal genealogies. His victories over enemies, both Britons and English, in the second half of the 6th 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 perhaps specifically in Westmorland when referred to as "Ruler of Llwyfenydd" (identified with the Lyvennet Valley).[4] Later legend associates Urien with the city of Carlisle, only twenty-five miles away; Higham suggests that Rheged was "broadly conterminous with the earlier Civitas Carvetiorum, the Roman administrative unit based on Carlisle". Although it is possible that Rheged was merely a stronghold, it was not uncommon for sub-Roman monarchs to use their kingdom's name as an epithet.

Place-name evidence from Dunragit (possibly "Fort of Rheged") suggests that, at least in one period of its history, Rheged extended along the Solway Firth as far as Wigtownshire. More problematic interpretations suggest that it could also have reached as far south as Rochdale in Lancashire, recorded in the Domesday Book as Recedham ('Rheged-home'). The River Roch on which Rochdale stands was recorded in the 13th century as Rached or Rachet.[5] These place-names may (apparently) incorporate the element 'Rheged' precisely because they lay on or near its borders. Certainly Urien's kingdom stretched eastward at one time, as he was also "Ruler of Catraeth" (Catterick in Yorkshire).

Kings of Rheged

The traditional royal genealogy of Urien and his successors traces their ancestry back to Coel Hen (alias King Cole), who is considered by many to be a mythical figure; if he has some historicity, he may have ruled a considerable part of the North in the early 5th century. All of those listed below may have ruled in Rheged, but only three of their number can be verified from external sources:

  • Meirchion Gul, father of Cynfarch
  • Cynfarch Oer (Cynfarch the Dismal), also known as Cynfarch fab Meirchion and Cynfarch Gul, father of Urien
  • Urien Rheged, (c. 550 – 590), about whom survive eight songs of Taliesin
  • Owain mab Urien, also celebrated for having fought the Bernicians; son of Urien

Southern Rheged

A second royal genealogy exists for a line, perhaps of kings, descended from Cynfarch Oer's brother: Elidir Lydanwyn. According to Bonedd Gwŷr y Gogledd Elidir's son, Llywarch Hen, was a ruler in North Britain in the 6th century.[6] He was driven from his territory by princely in-fighting after Urien's death and was perhaps in old age associated with Powys. However, it is possible, because of internal inconsistencies, that the poetry connected to Powys was associated with Llywarch's name at a later, probably 9th century, date.[7] Llywarch is referred to in some poems as king of South Rheged, and in others as king of Argoed, suggesting that the two regions were the same. Searching for Llywarch's kingdom has led some historians to propose that Rheged may have been divided between sons, resulting in northern and southern successor states. The connections of the family of Llywarch and Urien with Powys has suggested to some, on grounds of proximity, that the area of modern Lancashire may have been their original home.[8]

End of Rheged

After Bernicia united with Deira to become the Kingdom of the Northumbrias, Rheged was annexed by Northumbria, some time before AD 730. There was a royal marriage between Prince (later King) Oswiu of Northumbria and the Rhegedian princess Riemmelth, granddaughter of Rum (Rhun), probably in 638, so it is probable that it was a peaceful takeover, both kingdoms being inherited by the same man.

After Rheged was united into Northumbria, the old language was gradually replaced by Old English. In the 10th century, after the power of Northumbria was destroyed by Viking incursions and settlement, large areas west of the Pennines fell without warfare under the control of the British Kingdom of Strathclyde, with Leeds recorded as being on the border between the Britons and the Norse Kingdom of York. The Lakeland fells remained under the control of Strathclyde until the early 11th century when Strathclyde itself was absorbed into the Scottish kingdom. The name of the people hopwever remains in the name of Cumberland; it probably derives from an old British word *Kombroges meaning "fellow countrymen", perhaps an equivalent of the Roman civis; "citizen".

Rheged Centre

Entrance to the Rheged Discovery Centre

The name Rheged has been adopted by the Rheged Centre[9] close to Penrith in Cumberland. The centre has a number of retail outlets and cafés with a Cumbrian theme, as well as the largest turf roof in Europe and a giant cinema screen . A special film was commissioned for the opening of the centre in 2000 but this film is no longer being shown. (Rheged: The Lost Kingdom - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0248362/ )


  1. Koch 2006, p. 1499.
  2. Koch 2006, p. 1498.
  3. Jackson 1953, p. 9.
  4. Williams 1960
  5. Williams 1972, p. 82.
  6. Chadwick 1959, p. 121.
  7. Chadwick 1973, pp. 88–89.
  8. Chadwick & Chadwick 1940, p. 165.
  9. "Rheged Centre". Discover Cumbria. http://www.rheged.com/. Retrieved 20 October 2012. 

Sources and further reading

  • Bartrum, P.C. (1966). Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. 
  • Chadwick, H.M. (1959). Cambridge Studies in Early British History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Chadwick, H.M.; Chadwick, N.K. (1940). The Growth of Literature. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Chadwick, N.K (1973) [1958]. Studies in the Early British Church. North Haven, CT: Archon Books. ISBN 0-208-01315-6. 
  • Ellis, Peter Berresford (1994) [1993]. Celt and Saxon The Struggle for Britain AD 410–937. London: Constable & Robinson. ISBN 0-09-473260-4. 
  • Higham, Nick (1986). The Northern Counties to AD 1000. A Regional History of England. London: Longman. ISBN 0-582-49276-9. 
  • Jackson, Kenneth (1953). Language & History in Early Britain. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 
  • Kapelle, W.E. (1979). The Norman Conquest of the North: the Region and its Transformation, 1000–1135. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-7099-0040-6. 
  • Koch, John T, ed (2006). Celtic culture: a historical encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-85109-440-0. 
  • McCarthy, Mike (March 2011). "The kingdom of Rheged: a landscape perspective". Northern history (Leeds: University of Leeds) 48 (1): 9–22. doi:10.1179/174587011X12928631621159. 
  • Marsden, John (1992). Northanhymbre Saga: History of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of Northumbria. London: Kyle Cathie. ISBN 1-85626-055-0. 
  • Morris, John (1973). The Age of Arthur. Phillimore & Co. ISBN 0-85033-289-3. 
  • John Morris-Jones (1918). Y Commrodor. XXVIII. London: The Society of Cymmrodorian. 
  • Williams, Ifor (1935). Canu Llywarch Hen. Gyda Rhagymadrodd a Nodiadau. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. 
  • Williams, Ifor (1960). Canu Taliesin Gyda Rhagymadrodd A Nodiadau. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. 
  • Williams, Ifor, ed (1972 [paperback, 1990]). The Beginnings of Welsh Poetry (3rd ed.). Cardiff: University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-0035-9.