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Viewing website implies consent to set cookies on your computer. Full details Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group
Registered Charitable Incorporated Organisation Number 1155775
SWAAG Honorary President:
Tim Laurie F,S,A,
SWAAG News Archive
  News Archive
West Yorkshire – the Kingdom of Elmet?
This was the question posed by November’s speaker, SWAAG member Ian Earnshaw.

Many people believe that after centuries of inter-marriage between Roman, Irish, Jute, Saxon, Angle, Viking and Norman French invaders with the pre-Roman Celtic population, that the DNA signatures of the population of the UK would be consistent across the whole country.

A report published in The Nature Magazine during 2015 (Peter Donnelly & Ewen Callaway), actually did confirm that in the main, the spread of DNA signatures across the UK (with the participants being people who could trace the birth of their own 4 Grandparents & their Families back to within 80km of each other) was as expected.

However, the report also identified some clusters in the UK that do have DNA differences from the majority population. When you overlay the post-1974 UK map on the location of these DNA differences the areas appear as: Cornwall; Devon; North Wales, Cumbria, Scotland, South Wales, Northern Ireland and West Yorkshire.

As someone who can trace their own family back to living in West Yorkshire in the late 18th Century, Ian questioned how West Yorkshire came to be so different not just from the UK but also from North or East Yorkshire. Why is it even called West Yorkshire and why is it located where it is?

The story of West Yorkshire starts in 383 AD, when the soon-to-be Roman Emperor, Magnus Maximus, known as Macsen Wledig in Gaelic, made local British ruler Coel Hen “Protector” of the Old North, which extended from the Humber up to Hadrian’s Wall and even to the Antonine Wall. Coel Hen, who was more than likely the leader of the Brigantes Confederation and his family, then went on to rule Northern Britain in one form or another for the next 250 years before finally being conquered by the Angles and later the Vikings.

In around 470 AD, out of the Old North, came the Kingdom of Elmet on land controlled by the “Ledees” tribe which was “Betwixt the Aire and Wharfe rivers”. This area was then attacked by both Angles and Vikings between 627 AD and 886 AD but in the main, was never colonized by them, leaving the resident Celtic-Christian population in situ. Examples of their presence can be found in the Celtic names of the rivers and hills within the area that we still use today.

Following the Danelaw agreement in 886 AD, the Vikings took over the North of England, except for Northumbria and Cumbria, and renamed it Jorvik-Scir (Yorkshire) after their main city Jorvik. They also divided the area in “Thrydings” creating the Ridings of Yorkshire with the West Riding of Yorkshire extended westwards from the River Ouse between York and The Humber to the border with the Kingdom of Cumbria.

Finally, after the Battle of Brunanburgh in 937 AD, the great King Aethelstan created the “Liberty of Cawood, Wistow and Otley” giving royal protection to local Celtic-Christian population from pagan Viking attacks originating from North and East Yorkshire This Liberty lasted until 1864 when it was merged with the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Finally, as a Christmas Mystery, new research by a local author, Alistair Hall, points to the possibility of the actual existence of “King Arthur” and for him to have been a North Britain Warlord and not associated with the South.

It is thought that his famous series of 12 battles against the Jutes and Saxons Invaders, quite possibly took place along the southern border of the Kingdom of Elmet and between the Humber and the Wash. The final battle at Mount Badon, was now thought to have taken place in 469 AD, at Bardon Hill, Leicestershire.

At this time and with such locations, the name of “King Arthur” may have been Arthwys ap Mor Pendragon (fl. 450 – 520), great-grandson of Coel Hen, the “Protector” of the Old North.

Ian Earnshaw
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News Record: 161     Updated: 17-11-2022 15:01:06