Friday, June 26, 2009

England History: Æthelfrith's Victories

The long range of barren hills which separated Æthelfrith's kingdom from the Kymry made it difficult for either side to strike a serious blow at the other. In the extreme north, where a low valley joins the Firths of Clyde and Forth, it was easier for them to meet. Here the Kymry found an ally outside their own borders. Towards the end of the fifth century a colony of Irish Scots had driven out the Picts from the modern Argyle. In 603 their king, Aedan, bringing with him a vast army, in which Picts and the Kymry appear to have taken part, invaded the northern part of Æthelfrith's country. Æthelfrith defeated him at Degsastan, which was probably Dawstone, near Jedburgh. 'From that time no king of the Scots durst come into Britain to make war upon the English.'

Having freed himself from the Scots in the north, Æthelfrith turned upon the Kymry. After a succession of struggles of which no record remains, he forced his way in 613 to the western sea near Chester. The Kymry had brought with them the 2,000 monks of their great monastery Bangor-iscoed, to pray for victory whilst their warriors were engaged in battle. Æthelfrith bade his men to slay them all. 'Whether they bear arms or no,' he said, 'they fight against us when they cry against us to their God.' The monks were slain to a man. Their countrymen were routed, and Chester fell into the hands of the English. The capture of Chester split the Kymric kingdom in two, as the battle of Deorham thirty-five years before had split that kingdom off from the West Welsh of the south-western peninsula. The Southern Kymry, in what is now called Wales, could no longer give help to the Northern Kymry between the Clyde and the Ribble, who grouped themselves into the kingdom of Strathclyde, the capital of which was Alcluyd, the modern Dumbarton. Three weak Celtic states, unable to assist one another, would not long be able to resist their invaders.

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