Kingdom of Elmet
|circa 5th century–627|
|Capital||Loidis (Leeds) and/or Cambodunom (probably Slack, near Huddersfield)|
• fl. 580
|Gwallog ap Llaennog|
• fl. before 616
|Ceretic of Elmet|
|Historical era||Early Middle Ages|
|circa 5th century|
|Easter Day 627|
Elmet (Welsh: Elfed), sometimes Elmed or Elmete, was an independent Brittonic kingdom between about the 5th century and early 7th century, in what later became the smaller area of the West Riding of Yorkshire then West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire.
The precise borders of the original kingdom of Elmet are unclear. Some[who?] have argued that, until the 7th century, it was bounded by the rivers Sheaf in the south and Wharfe in the east. It adjoined the kingdom of Deira to the north and Mercia to the south, and its western boundary appears to have been near Craven, which was possibly also a minor British kingdom. As such, it was not conterminous with other territories of the Britons at the time, being well to the south of others in the Hen Ogledd ("Old North"), such as Strathclyde, and north-east of Wales, Cornwall and Dumnonia. As one of the south-easternmost Brittonic regions for which there is reasonably substantial evidence, Elmet is notable for having survived relatively late in the period of Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain.
The term is used as an affix to place names between Leeds and Selby, including Barwick in Elmet and Sherburn in Elmet. It was thus used more widely in medieval times, for places in the wapentakes of Barkston Ash and Skyrack, including Burton Salmon, Sutton (east of Castleford), Micklefield, Kirkby Wharfe, Saxton, and Clifford. In the tribal hidage, the extent of Elmet is described as 600 hides; while a hide was a unit of value rather than area, 600 hides would probably have encompassed an area slightly larger than the combined total of the wapentakes of Barkston Ash and Skyrack. Hence scholars such as A. H. Smith concluded that those two wapentakes probably approximated much of the area of the former Elmet.
Elmet is attested mainly 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. One source, the Anglo-Saxon Historia Brittonum states that Elmet was a kingdom, although it is the only source that says this directly. While Bede does not specifically describe Elmet as a kingdom, but rather as silva Elmete the "forest of Elmet", it is clear from his discussion that it was a distinct polity, with its own monarchs. The name 'Elfed/Elmet' is Brythonic in origin and is also found in Elfed, the name of a cantref in Dyfed, Wales.
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.
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, King Edwin of Northumbria led an invasion of Elmet, and overran it in 616 or 617. Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People says that a Northumbrian noble, Hereric (father of Hilda of Whitby), an exiled member of the Northumbrian royal house was killed with poison, while living at the court of King Ceretic of Elmet. It has been suggested that this was either the casus belli for the invasion, if Hereric was poisoned by his hosts, or a pretext for a Northumbrian annexation of Elmet, if Edwin himself had Hereric poisoned. The Historia Brittonum says that Edwin "occupied Elmet and expelled Certic [sic], king of that country". It is generally presumed that Ceretic was the same person known in Welsh sources as Ceredig ap Gwallog, king of Elmet. 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. Bede mentions that "subsequent kings made a house for themselves in the district, which is called Loidis".
After the conquest of Elmet, the realm was incorporated into Northumbria on Easter in 627. Its people were known subsequently 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.
A major battle between Northumbria and Mercia, the Battle of the Winwaed took place in the area in 655, according to Bede, somewhere in the region of Loidis.
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.
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. The 2015 Oxford University study compared the current genetic distribution in Britain to the geographical maps of its historic Kingdoms, and found that the distinct West Yorkshire genetic cluster closely corresponds to Elmet’s known territories. This suggests Elmet may have maintained a regional identity through the centuries.
Around 1865, a Pillar stone with a 5th or early 6th century inscription was found at St Aelhaearn's Church, Llanaelhaearn in Gwynedd. The Latin inscription reads "ALIOTVS ELMETIACOS/HIC IACET", or "Aliotus the Elmetian lies here". It is believed that this refers to an otherwise unattested Aliotus from the Kingdom of Elmet who may have been active in the area before Saint Aelhaiarn founded his church.
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.
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- Koch 2006, p. 670.
- Smith, A.H. (1961). The Place-names of the West Riding of Yorkshire. 4. Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–3.
- John T. Koch, 'Elfed/Elmet', in Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, ed. by John T. Koch (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2005), pp. 670–71.
- 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.
- Anderson, AO (1922). Early Sources of Scottish History: AD 500–1286. I. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd. p. 441.
- Downham, Clare (2007). Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ivarr to A.D. 1014. Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press. p. 121. ISBN 978-1903765890.
- 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.
- 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
- Nash-Williams, V.E. (1950). The Early Christian Monuments of Wales. (No.88).
- "Aliortvs Stone, Llanaelhaearn Church (57658)". Coflein. RCAHMW. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
- "Remains of Elmet - The Ted Hughes Society Journal". Thetedhughessociety.org. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
- "Last Exit to Nature by Richard Murphy | The New York Review of Books". Nybooks.com. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
- "Man Booker Prize 2017: shortlist makes room for debuts alongside big names". The Guardian. 13 September 2017. Retrieved 13 September 2017.
- Koch, John T., ed. (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-85109-440-7.
- Rollason, David (2003). Northumbria, 500–1100. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Snyder, Christopher (2003). The Britons. Blackwell Publishing.
- Woolf, Alex (1998). "Romancing the Celts: a segmentary approach to acculturation". In Laurence, Ray; Berry, Joanne (eds.). Cultural Identity in the Roman Empire. London: Routledge.
- Skea, Ann (2001) . "Regeneration in Remains of Elmet". Ann Skea.
- Echoes of Elmet group
- The Elmet Trust – Ted Hughes Festival, Mytholmroyd