Dunmail, last King of Cumberland (died 945) is a figure of both history and legend.
In AD 945 the Saxon king Edmund I of England conquered Strathclyde and ceded Cumbria to his ally, Malcolm I, king of Scotland. This historical conflict is the subject of a traditional King in the mountain myth with strong echoes of the King Arthur legend of the Once and Future King, as follows:
According to the legend, Dunmail, king of Cumberland, was attacked by the combined forces of Edmund and Malcolm and retreated into the heart of the Lake District. Dunmail met the kings in battle in the pass that divides Grasmere from Thirlmere but was defeated, was killed in the fight (it is said at the hands of Edmund himself) and his sons were subsequently blinded by the victors. Some of the surviving Cumbrians, taken prisoner by Edmund, were ordered to collect rocks to pile on Dunmail's body, forming a cairn that still exists to this day and gives the pass its modern name, Dunmail Raise. Others of Dunmail's warriors fled with the crown of Cumberland, climbing into the mountains to Grisedale Tarn below Helvellyn, where they threw it into the depths to be safe until some future time when Dunmail would come again to lead them. Every year the warriors are said to return to the tarn, recover the crown and carry it down to the cairn on Dunmail Raise. There they strike the cairn with their spears and a voice is heard from deep inside the stones, saying "Not yet, not yet; wait awhile my warriors."
Dunmail features as a character (and his death is described) in the classic story of the Vikings in Lakeland Thorstein of the Mere by W. G. Collingwood. He is mentioned briefly in Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Trease.
At an earlier date, the story was versified by William Wordsworth:
- They now have reach'd that pile of stones
- Heap'd over brave king Dunmail's bones,—
- He who once held supreme command,
- Last king of rocky Cumberland.
- His bones and those of all his power,
- Slain here in a disastrous hour.
As far as written history is concerned, the name of the "Dumbalrase stones" is recorded in a map of the 1570s, and the association of the cairn with the king is recorded as early as the seventeenth century, when John Ogilby wrote that "Dunmail-Raise-Stones" were erected by a Cumbrian ruler of that name to mark the frontier of his kingdom. The specific association with the historic battle in 945 appears repeatedly in the 1770, in the works of the antiquaries Thomas West, Thomas Pennant. and William Gilpin. Joseph Nicolson and Richard Burn gave both versions of the story.
No king of Cumberland is named in the earliest accounts of the war in of 945, but king "Dunmail" is named by Roger of Wendover (d. 1236), who also introduces the statement that his sons were blinded by King Edmund after the conflict. We also have corroberating evidence from the biography of Cathróe of Metz that a king named Dyfnwal was ruling in Cumbria the 940s. Historians often identify him with the king Dyfnwal ab Owein who died on a pilgrimage in 975, but if so, he must have survived the war of 945.
Reference in literature
William Wordsworth mentions the legend of Dunmail in Canto First of 'The Waggoner', ll. 209-14; composed 1805, published 1819.
- Carruthers, F. (1979) People Called Cumbri. Robert Hale: London
- Ogilby, T. (1699) The Traveller's Guide: Or, A Most Exact Description Of The Roads Of England. Abel Swall: London 
- West, T (1784) A Guide to the Lakes, in Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire. 3rd. ed., Law, Richardson & Urquhart, Pennington: London and Kendal 
- Pennant, T. (1776) A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides; MDCCLXXII. 2nd. ed, Benjamin White: London 
- Gilpin, W. (1786). Observations, relative chiefly to Pictureseque Beauty, Made in the Year 1772, On several Parts of England; particularly the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland, and Westmoreland. R. Blamire: London. 
- Nicolson, J. & Burn, R. (1777), History and Antiquities of Westmoreland and Cumberland. Strahan and Cadell, London 
- William Wordsworth, The Collected Poems of William Wordsworth. Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1995.
- Cumbria: The Age of Kings, a site exploring the legend of King Dunmail and Cumbrian Dark Age history in general.