The Men of the North: The Britons of Southern Scotland

By Dunshea, Philip | The Historian, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

The Men of the North: The Britons of Southern Scotland


Dunshea, Philip, The Historian


The Men of the North: The Britons of Southern Scotland. By Tim Clarkson. (Edinburgh, Scotland: Birlinn, 2010. Pp. x, 230. $32.95.)

The Britons of the North failed to bequeath their identity to any modern nation. They spoke a language something like Welsh and lived partly in what is now Scotland; but they were neither Welsh nor Scots. Consequently, unlike every other early medieval people in the British Isles, they have failed to attract a retinue of patriotic historians willing to defend their place in the historical landscape. Tim Clarkson's unashamedly partisan work aims to remedy this. Interestingly, he chooses to divert attention away from the fact that many of these North Britons lived within the borders of modern England.

Readers are taken through each of the major North British kingdoms in turn, in a period spanning the end of the Roman Empire to the Norman Conquest. All of the classic "Dark Age" issues are covered: language and identity, dynastic politics and overlordship, the introduction of Christianity, and the great battles of the era. We also have the rise of Northumbria, since the story of the North Britons is, in many ways, the story of the Anglo-Saxon expansion that eventually ended their independence. Many of the kingdoms Clarkson explores--in particular Gododdin and Rheged, which disappeared in the seventh century--will be unfamiliar to his wider audience. Establishing their history requires a great deal of filling in gaps and arguably a measure of credulity; Clarkson's approach, though cautious, is less so than is currently standard in the field.

Nevertheless, this is the best introduction so far published to the "Men of the North," as they became known in later Welsh tradition. …

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