Bernicia and Deira

Bernicia and Deira AD 410 – 593

In 410AD the Goths of the east sacked Rome and troops were permanently withdrawn from Britain to defend the collapsing empire. Britons were left at the mercy of raiding and chaos. From AD 430 to AD 600 Saxons from northern Germania colonised the south of England while Angles (Anglians) from southern Jutland colonised the north and east. In the early stages this is a somewhat shadowy period, sometimes called ‘The Dark Ages’, where historical records can be hazy up until the reign of Æthelfrith in AD 593 when the light of history shines more clearly. In the north, two kingdoms emerged from the darkness: Bernicia and Deira.

Map of the Kingdom of Northumbria before the Viking era
Map of the Kingdom of Northumbria before the Viking era. The borders of the kingdom would fluctuate over time. Map © David Simpson and 2018. This is a reduced resolution image. A high resolution version of this map is available as an A2 print from Tangled Worm

👈 Late Roman | TimelineEdwin era 👉

410 – Romans leave Britain

Nearly all Roman troops have left Britain to defend against the Visigoths who are sacking Rome. Britain has now virtually ceased to be part of the Roman Empire.

430 – Germanic mercenaries hired

Britain’s Roman towns have fallen into disrepair and disorder. Native Romano-Britons are seemingly employing Germanic soldiers and colonists called Saxons and Angles (or Anglians) to defend them against the Picts in return for land. Angles have begun to settle in Britain and will eventually give their name to England (the Angle land).  Germanic soldiers such as Frisians had served in the Roman army and some had been stationed on Hadrian’s Wall during the heyday of Roman rule where their languages would have been familiar alongside the common parlance of Latin.

432 – Bishop St Patrick

St Patrick, a bishop, begins the conversion of Ireland to Christianity. As a young man he had been captured and enslaved in Ireland to which he has returned as a bishop and missionary. He is a Briton, possibly originating from Cumbria.

445 – Newcastle still ‘Hadrian’s Bridge’

Despite the Roman departure, Newcastle is still known by its Roman name of Pons Aelius – pons means ‘bridge’ and Aelius is the family name of the Emperor Hadrian who built the Wall.

Anglo-Saxon church at Newcastle
Foundations of an Anglo-Saxon church at Newcastle within the site of the Roman fort and later castle © David Simpson (see Roman and Anglo-Saxon Newcastle)

450 – Angles settle the North

Angles from southern Denmark are colonising land in the Yorkshire Wolds of East Yorkshire, lands that were once the territory of the Parisi tribe in pre-Roman times. It will become the heartland of the Kingdom of Deira. Anglian settlements also develop around the Rivers Tyne, Wear and Tees as well as in coastal areas and valleys. In southern England settlement of Saxons is taking place. Everywhere the Angles and Saxons will intermingle with the native Britons who will continue to make up the majority of the population. Deira is the Anglian name for the new territory and kingdom in East Yorkshire, but it has an earlier Celtic name ‘Deur’ suggesting the Angles have taken over an existing territory.

Where the Angles came from © David Simpson

537 – Supposed death of King Arthur

The legendary King Arthur is said to have died while fighting for the Britons against the Anglo-Saxons, perhaps somewhere near Hadrian’s Wall, possibly Birdoswald in Cumbria. However, there is very little early evidence he existed and the stories that surround him are a much later medieval invention not recorded until the twelfth century.

547 – Ida seizes Bamburgh

The Ancient coastal stronghold of Din Guaire (or Din Guayroi) (Bamburgh) has been captured by an Angle chief called Ida. He is reputedly a descendant of the god Woden. Bamburgh has been added to Ida’s expanding Kingdom of Bernicia. Ida’s capture of Bamburgh is usually seen as the first stage in the emergence of the Anglian Kingdom of Bernicia. The roots encompass an earlier Celtic tribal territory called Bernech but its boundaries are uncertain.

Bamburgh Castle.
Bamburgh Castle © David Simpson

550 – Ida is over king

Ida has become an over king of the North following a conquest of neighbouring territories including land south of the Tees.

560 – Death of Ida

Ida has died but the details of his successors are hazy. The very brief reign of Glappa is mentioned, followed by the reigns of Ida’s sons Adda and from around AD568 Aethelric, who seems to have been succeeded by Theodoric, another son of Ida, in 572.

560 – Aelle attacks Britons

Aelle, an Anglian chief, is conducting his people against the native Britons in Deira (Yorkshire Wolds). Aelle is the first king of Deira and claims descent from Woden.

563 – Monastery founded on Iona

A monastery has been established by Irish missionary St Columba on the island of Iona off the Caledonian coast near the much larger island of Mull. Iona will become one of the most important centres of Christianity in Northern Britain with a significant influence on Christian developments in Northumbria.

572 – King Theodoric

Theodoric, a son of Ida becomes king of Bernicia. His name means ‘king-king’.

575 – Cumbrians besiege Lindisfarne

Urien, the leader of the British kingdom of Rheged (Cumbria), has besieged King Theodoric of Bernicia on the island of Lindisfarne. The siege lasts three days. Lindisfarne, which the Britons (Celts) called Medcaut seems to have been an early focal point in the emergence of the Kingdom of Bernicia. Lindisfarne’s Anglian name ‘Lindisfarona’ means ‘travellers from Lindsey’. Lindsey, to the south of the Humber, was a part of Lincolnshire associated with early Anglian colonisation. Perhaps the Angle rulers of Bernicia hailed from there.

Lindisfarne Castle from the island churchyard
Lindisfarne Castle from the island churchyard © David Simpson

579 – A new king

Details are hazy in this early period but Theodoric was succeeded by Firthuwald as King of Bernicia.

579 – King Hussa

Again, details are hazy but in this year Hussa is thought to have become King of Bernicia.

588 – King of Deira dies

Aelle, the first King of Deira (Yorkshire) has died. His successor is thought to have been Aethelric who reigns until 604.

590 – King of North Britons murdered

Urien the leader of the northern Britons has been murdered on Lindisfarne fighting against the Anglo-Saxons. He was betrayed by Morgan, a leader of the Goddodin tribe from Edinburgh.

593 – Æthelfrith is North East king

Æthelfrith, grandson of Ida, has become King of Bernicia in the North-East. Æthelfrith is the son of Æthelric, one of Ida’s sons.

👈 Late RomanEdwin era 👉


Kingdom of Northumbria

The Kingdom of Northumbria 547-900 AD. Poster Print (A2 only).


North East England History and Culture