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Kingdom of Elmet

circa 5th century–627
Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North) c. 550 – c. 650
Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North) c. 550 – c. 650
Capitalpossibly Loidis (Leeds)
Common languagesCumbric
Celtic Christianity
• fl. 580
Gwallog ap Llaennog(?)
• ? - 616
Ceretic of Elmet
Historical eraEarly Middle Ages
• Established
circa 5th century
• conquered
• Disestablished
Easter Day 627
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Hen Ogledd
Kingdom of Northumbria

Elmet (Welsh: Elfed) was an independent Brittonic kingdom between about the 5th century and early 7th century and later refers to a smaller area of what became the West Riding of Yorkshire.[1]


The precise borders of Elmet are unclear. The term was used in medieval times as an affix to place names in the West of the old Barkston Ash and East of the old Skyrack wapentakes (between Leeds and Selby) including Burton Salmon, Sutton (east of Castleford), Micklefield, Sherburn in Elmet, Kirkby Wharfe, Saxton, Clifford and Barwick in Elmet.[2] In the Tribal Hidage the extent of Elmet is described as 600 hides of land, an area slightly more than the total of the wapentakes of Barkston Ash and Skyrack. Some[who?] have concluded that those two wapentakes approximately represented the area of Elmet,[2] although a hide is not a true measure of land area.

Some[who?] have argued that the kingdom of Elmet, until it was conquered in 616 or 626, was bounded by the River Sheaf in the south and the River Wharfe in the east. It adjoined Deira to the north and Mercia to the south, and its western boundary appears to have been near Craven, which was possibly a minor British kingdom. As such it was well to the east of other territories of the Britons in Wales and the West Country (i.e. Cornwall and Dumnonia), and to the south of others in the Hen Ogledd ("Old North"). As one of the southeasternmost Brittonic regions for which there is reasonably substantial evidence, it is notable for having survived relatively late in the period of Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain.[3]


Elmet is chiefly attested in toponymic and archaeological evidence; a reference to one Madog Elfed in the medieval Welsh poem The Gododdin and to a Gwallog also operating somewhere in the region in one of the putatively early poems in the Book of Taliesin; and historical sources such as the Historia Brittonum and Bede.[4] The Historia Brittonum provides the only direct evidence that it was a kingdom. It says that King Edwin of Northumbria "occupied Elmet and expelled Certic, king of that country". Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People says that Hereric, the father of Hilda of Whitby, an important figure in the Christianisation of the Anglo-Saxons, was killed at the court of Ceretic. It is generally presumed that Ceretic/Certic was the same person known in Welsh sources as Ceredig ap Gwallog, king of Elmet. However, Bede does not speak of Elmet as the name of a kingdom but rather of the silva Elmete "forest of Elmet". He mentions that "subsequent kings made a house for themselves in the district, which is called Loidis", and the battle of the Winwaed was also in the region of Loidis – probably the area covered by the present day City of Leeds.

From this evidence it appears that Elmet was one of a number of Sub-Roman Brittonic realms in the Hen Ogledd – what is now northern England and southern Scotland – during the Early Middle Ages. Other kingdoms included Rheged, the Kingdom of Strathclyde, and Gododdin. It is unclear how Elmet came to be established, though it has been suggested that it may have been created from a larger kingdom ruled by the semi-legendary Coel Hen. The historian Alex Woolf suggests that the region of Elmet had a distinct tribal identity in pre-Roman times and that this re-emerged after Roman rule collapsed.

The name of Elmet is probably Brythonic, but its origin is obscure. It is probably the same as the Welsh Elfed[citation needed], the name of a cantref in Dyfed.[2] Elmet appears to have had ties with Wales; an early Christian inscription found in Gwynedd reads "ALIOTVS ELMETIACOS HIC IACET", or "Aliotus the Elmetian lies here". A number of ancestors of Ceretic are recorded in Welsh sources: one of Taliesin's poems is for his father, Gwallog ap Lleenog, who may have ruled Elmet near the end of the 6th century.

Towards the end of the 6th century, Elmet came under increasing pressure from the expanding Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Deira and Mercia. Forces from Elmet joined the ill-fated alliance in 590 against the Angles of Bernicia who had been making massive inroads further to the north. During this war it is thought Elmet's king Gwallog was killed. The northern alliance collapsed after Urien of Rheged was murdered and a feud broke out between two of its key members.

After the unification of the Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria, the Northumbrians invaded and overran Elmet in 616 or 617. It is not known definitely what prompted the invasion, but it has been suggested that the casus belli was the death by poisoning of the Northumbrian nobleman Hereric, who was an exiled member of the Northumbrian royal house residing in Elmet. It may have been that Hereric had been poisoned by his hosts and Edwin of Northumbria invaded in retaliation; or perhaps Edwin himself had Hereric poisoned and invaded Elmet to punish Ceredig for harbouring him.

After the conquest of Elmet, the realm was incorporated into Northumbria on Easter in 627[5] and its people were known as the Elmetsæte. They are recorded in the late 7th century Tribal Hidage as the inhabitants of a minor territory of 600 hides. They were the most northerly group recorded in the Tribal Hidage. The Elmetsæte probably continued to reside in West Yorkshire as a distinct group throughout the Anglo-Saxon period and may have colluded with Cadwallon ap Cadfan of Gwynedd when he invaded Northumbria and briefly held the area in 633.

The Life of Cathróe of Metz mentions Loidam Civitatem as the boundary between the Norsemen of Scandinavian York and the Celtic Britons of the Kingdom of Strathclyde: if this refers to Leeds, it suggests that some or all of Elmet may have been returned to Brittonic rule for a brief period in the first half of the 10th century before Anglo-Saxon reconquest, but not as an independent state.[6][7][8]

According to a genetic study published in Nature (19 March 2015), the local population of West Yorkshire is genetically distinct from the rest of the population of Yorkshire.[9] The article compared the genetic distribution to the historical kingdoms,[which?] but the results for West Yorkshire actually found a higher proportion of Germanic[clarification needed] descent than in other areas.[citation needed]


The name survives throughout the area in place names such as Barwick-in-Elmet and Sherburn-in-Elmet. A local parliamentary constituency is also called Elmet and Rothwell.

The area to the western Calder Valley side of Elmet is the subject of a 1979 book combining photography and poetry, the Remains of Elmet by Ted Hughes and Fay Godwin. The book was republished by Faber and Faber in 1994 as Elmet, with a third of the book being new poems and photographs.

A novel by Fiona Mozley called Elmet was shortlisted for the 2017 Booker Prize.[10]


  1. ^ "Kingdom of Elmete". Heartland. 24 October 2007. Archived from the original on 28 March 2008.
  2. ^ a b c Smith, A.H. (1961). The Place-names of the West Riding of Yorkshire. 4. Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–3.
  3. ^ Koch 2006, p. 670.
  4. ^ John T. Koch, 'Elfed/Elmet', in Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, ed. by John T. Koch (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2005), pp. 670-71.
  5. ^ Speight, Harry (1900). Upper Wharfedale: being a complete account of the history, antiquities and scenery of the picturesque valley of the Wharfe, from Otley to Langstrothdale. London: Elliot Stock. p. 29.
  6. ^ Anderson, AO (1922). Early Sources of Scottish History: AD 500–1286. I. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd. p. 441.
  7. ^ Downham, Clare (2007). Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ivarr to A.D. 1014. Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press. p. 121. ISBN 1903765897.
  8. ^ Dumville, D. N. (2001). "St Cathróe of Metz and the hagiography of exoticism". In John Carey, Máire Herbert and Pádraig Ó Riain (ed.). Studies in Irish Hagiography. Dublin. p. 177. ISBN 978-1851824861.
  9. ^ https://www.nature.com/news/uk-mapped-out-by-genetic-ancestry-1.17136 citing Leslie, S., Winney, B., Hellenthal, G. et al. The fine-scale genetic structure of the British population. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature14230
  10. ^ "Man Booker Prize 2017: shortlist makes room for debuts alongside big names". The Guardian. 13 September 2017. Retrieved 13 September 2017.

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Coordinates: 53°52′N 1°09′W / 53.86°N 1.15°W / 53.86; -1.15