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history: early medieval

 

The parishes of Ballingham, Bridstow, Foy, Hentland and Kings Caple are within Archenfield. In the early medieval period Archenfield was politically and cultural part of South-East Wales. With the exception of the parish of King's Caple to the east of the Wye, the river in this area forms the eastern boundary of Archenfield. The archaeological evidence for this period is virtually non-existent in the study area.

Archenfield is the anglicised form of Ergyng, the British kingdom which occupied southern Herefordshire from the 6th century.  Ergyng (or Ercic, or a variety of spellings in The Liber Landavensis) seems to be etymologically related to the place-name Ariconium, the Roman industrial town at Weston-under-Penyard, to the east of Ross-on-Wye.  Ergyng was once much more extensive than modern Archenfield.

 

 

A page from the Liber Landavensis - the Book of Llandaff

Like the other provinces of the empire, later Roman Britannia possessed a Christian Church.  Five British clerics had attended the Council of Arles in 314.  They included three bishops (one from York and two others - possibly from London and Leicester), a priest and a deacon.  Many of the British had maintained their Christian faith, even exporting it to Ireland, through the period when the pagan Germanic peoples had gradually taken control of the eastern part of the island.

Ergyng was the cradle of one of the several British bishoprics which ultimately formed the diocese of Llandaff.  The recorded origins of the bishopric of Ergyng lie with the activities of St Dyfrig, or Dubricius, in what is now southern Herefordshire.  Dyfrig seems to have emerged from the local Romano-British population and may have been active in the 5th century.  A bishopric seems to have been based at St Constantine's Church at Garthbenni by 500 AD. With English pressure growing on its original centre in south Herefordshire, the focus of this bishopric appears to have migrated westwards, finally settling at Llandaff in the late 10th or early 11th centuries.  The Book of Llandaff (compiled in the 12th century from earlier sources) claims that Dyfrig was the first in a direct line of Bishops leading to the then Bishop of Llandaff, Urban, consecrated in 1107.  In the Llandaff version, Dyfrig was followed sequentially by first St Teilo, then St Oudoceus as territorial bishops presiding over a diocese in the standard contemporary Roman fashion.  Such territorial diocese may have not only continued, but expanded, in the immediate post-Roman period.

Ergyng had its own dynasty of kings in the 6th and 7th centuries.  King Erb of Gwent and Ergyng granted land to the church in about 555 AD  His son Peibio was 'King of Ergyng'.  Peibio was followed by Cinuin and Gwyddgi, who were followed in turn by Gwrgan.  Gwrgan is the last person recorded as King of Ergyng, and probably died in about 645.  Gwrgan’s daughter, Onbraust, married Meurig of Glywysing/Gwent, and Athrwys was their son, unifying both kingdoms.

This process, by which smaller kingdoms and territories became part of larger ones, reversing a presumed post-Roman fragmentation, must have taken place in all parts of Britain, although the records are sparse.  Alliances were formed, often between Germanic and British kingdoms.  Larger groupings would in themselves have encouraged smaller kingdoms to seek alliances with larger neighbours.  Ultimately, even the larger kingdoms merged - by the early 9th century, Powys, weakened by its struggle with Mercia, was absorbed by Gwynedd.

Ergyng, as a distinct entity, seems to have retained some sort of separate political existence after it lost its own kings.  Recognisably separate groups of leading men of Ergyng, Gwent and Glywysing continued to be present, in their respective areas, at the granting of charters into the 8th or 9th centuries.

The process by which Ergyng came to be dominated by the English-speaking Mercians remains obscure, but certainly happened in stages over a long period of time.

In 722 the British won a victory over the English at Pencon (this is likely to be Pencoyd in Archenfield where numerous human bones were found some years ago).  The victor would have been King Ithel ap Morgan, and the result would have been the continuation of the rule of Glywysing in Ergyng.  The existence of a separate Ergyng polity of at least some sort in this period is suggested by a grant of land to the church by one Rhiadaf in about this time.  Rhiadaf purchased the land for this purpose and granted in the presence of Ithel and the elders of Ergyng - presentia iuthaili regis et nobilium seniosum ercycg.  The price may have included booty for it consisted of 24 items (possibly cattle), and ‘a Saxon woman, a precious sword and valuable horse’ (saxonica muliere et gladio pretioso et equo ualente) (The Book of Llandaff, p185).

However, the initiative passed to the Mercians by 743 when Cuthred of Wessex joined the Mercian king, Ęthelbald, in laying waste the border lands. 

Ithel had regained control of at least the greater part of Ergyng in 745, and returned 11 churches there to its bishop, Berthwyn, after the Saxon devastation.  The grant returning these churches is recorded in the Book of Llandaff which tells of the destruction of the border towards Hereford by the 'most treacherous Saxon race' (saxonica gente infidelissima).

In the mid 9th century Mercian expansion south of Hereford led to the annexing of northern Ergyng. Writing in the 12th century the author of the 'Life' of St Oudoceus (Euddogwy) says that at this time the area was lost to the English 'from Moccas to the Dore to the Worm to the Tarader'. This may have been as a result of a campaign by King Burgred of Mercia and his father-in-law, King Ęthelwulf of Wessex.

When Alfred the Great came to the throne of Wessex in 871 the Danes controlled most of England. His successes against them gained him great influence in Britain. His daughter Ęthelflaed married  Ęthelred the ruler of Mercia. Although Alfred and his son-in-law and daughter co-operated against the Danes, Mercia independently continued its historical struggle with the Welsh. The southern Welsh asked for Alfred's protection and thus conceded his overlordship.

In 917 the Danish jarls Ohtor and Hroald sailed up the Severn estuary and attacked the southern Welsh coast. Bishop Cyfeiliog of Ergyng was seized and taken on board their ships. The fact that it was the English king Edward who ransomed him for forty pounds illustrates his role as protector.

Ęthelflaed died in 918 and her brother, Alfred's son Edward the Elder, deprived her daughter Ęlfwynn of authority in Mercia and established one English kingdom. 

 

The early medieval dyke at Perrystone. Earlier than Offa's dyke, this dyke might be associated with the first movement of English speakers into the area.

Photograph © Chris Musson & the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club

 

 

 

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Wye Valley History pages

maintained by Archenfield Archaeology Ltd

           

This project was part-financed by the European Union (EAGGF) and DEFRA through the Herefordshire Rivers LEADER+ Programme.