Bernicia

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Bernicia (Old English Bernice, Beornice, Latin Bernicia) was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom established by Anglian settlers of the 6th century in what is now southeastern Scotland and North East England.

The Anglian territory of Bernicia was approximately equivalent to the modern English counties of Northumberland and Durham, and the former Scottish counties of Berwickshire and East Lothian, stretching from the Forth to the Tees. In the early 7th century, it merged with its southern neighbour, Deira, to form the kingdom of Northumbria and its borders subsequently expanded considerably.

Contents

British Bryneich

Etymologies

Bernicia is mentioned in the 9th-century Historia Brittonum (§ 61) under the Welsh name of Berneich or Birneich and in Old Welsh poetry and elsewhere under the name of Bryneich or Brynaich. This may reflect the name of a preceding Brythonic kingdom or province, which was subsequently adopted by the Anglian settlers and rendered as Bernice or Beornice in the Old English tongue. If such forms represent a Welsh version of Bernicia, it is unclear why Welsh would need to borrow a 'foreign' name for the area, so the former hypothesis is usually accepted, although no etymological analysis has produced a consensus. The etymology which is most widely cited is that tentatively proposed by Kenneth H. Jackson, which gives the meaning "Land of the Mountain Passes" or "Land of the Gaps".[1] The earlier derivation from the tribal name of the Brigantes has been dismissed as linguistically unsound.[2] More recently, however, John T. Koch has suggested that while the primary form is probably *Bernech, it was conflated with the native form *Brïγent for the old civitas Brigantum as a result of Anglian expansion in that territory during the 7th century.[3]

Whatever the etymology, political activity in the area before the Anglian advent is suggested by other linguistic evidence. A few important Anglian centres in Bernicia bear names of British origin or are known by British names elsewhere: Bamburgh is called Din Guaire in the Historia Brittonum; Dunbar (where Saint Wilfrid was once imprisoned) represents Dinbaer; and the name of Coldingham is given by Bede as Coludi urbs ("town of Colud"), where Colud seems to represent the British form, possibly for the hill-fort of St Abb's Head.[4]

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