Monday, 5 October 2009

The Celtic Kingdom of Devon


This website attempts to uncover some of the real history of Devon - a Celtic Devon - proud, unique, and independent.

Most people are aware that Devon has beautiful varied scenery, a rich Maritime history ( with names such as Drake, Raleigh, Gilbert, Grenville, etc...) and a vibrant tourist industry.

However Devon is much, much more than that.

Devon was the cornerstone of one of Britain's most significant Celtic Kingdoms (Dumnonia), and retains a significant heritage from those days. Devon's people are predominantly of Celtic stock, with the Celtic language (which also resulted in Cornish) being spoken well into the dark ages, and is retained today in place names, dialect, as well as in customs and culture.

This is not to say that the Saxons, who 'conquered' Devon in the eight and ninth centuries (and who militarily conquered Cornwall in the ninth and tenth centuries), or the Normans who did the same to the whole of England in the eleventh century, are without merit or contribution. However the point of this web-page is to promote that part of Devon's history which for some strange reason appears to have been repressed - that of Celtic Devon.

Devon's Cornish Celtic name is Dewnans although another Celtic name for it is Dyfnaint (meaning 'deep valley dwellers') and it is this that gives Devon its name.

Devon was one of the last areas of what is now known as England to be conqured by the Anglo-Saxon invaders, and was not formally claimed by the Saxon Kindom of Wessex until the early ninth century (805 AD - only a couple of decades before Cornwall was 'conquered', although Cornwall retained some degree of independence thereafter), and even after this (as noted in King Alfred the Great's will in 900 AD), Devon's Celtic people were called Wealcynn (wealas being the Anglo-Saxon word for Celts, and literally translates as 'foreigner').

Perhaps it is surprising that this history of Celtic identity is not better known. How can this be so? A number of factors probably came into play. The Victorian era prized all things teutonic because (for some reason) they equated it with civilised society. Even in the mid/late twentieth century schools teach a 'unified' english history with little focus on regional history. Devon's own Celtic history has been overlooked and neglected. This story is not unique to Devon. History, language and culture have been suppressed in many parts of the Celtic world (eg Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany - to name a few). In Devon's case its proximity to Cornwall, with its own rich Celtic ancestry, has probably also hindered recognition of Devon's own history.

The question of Devon's Celtic identity is not new. In 1870 Professor Thomas Huxley, President of the Royal Society, President of the Ethnological Society and friend of Charles Darwin who stated that '(Devonians) are as little Anglo-Saxon as Northumbrians are Welsh' by which he meant that Devonians are genetically descended from the Brythonic Celts, rather than the germanic tribes of the Angles or Saxons who give the term 'Anglo-Saxon' (and the term England) its name.

The 'pro-teutonic' prejudices of the Victorian era were Huxley's target, and sadly his views were not universally accepted. The ramifications of this 'Victorian prejudice' continued well into the twentieth century, and distorted the real history. However the issue is now being revisited, and the truth is slowly emerging.

Recent genetic evidence (from the BBC 'Blood of the Vikings' series) has indicated that the Celtic peoples in South Western Britain not only survived, but that their gene pool are predominant in the current population.

Norwegian based research indicates that Devon (and Cornwall) has a far greater proportion of black hair colour than other english counties, a tendancy also seen in Ireland and Scotland. Perhaps this also provides evidence of a common Celtic background, and certainly supports the theory that the Tamar is no 'racial' boundary.

Prince Geraint
(g hard). Tributary Prince of Devon, and one of the knights of the Round Table. Overhearing part of E'nid's words, he fancied she was faithless to him, and treated her for a time very harshly; but Enid nursed him so carefully when he was wounded that he saw his error, “nor did he doubt her more, but rested in her fealty, till be crowned a happy life with a fair death.” (Tennyson: Idylls of the King; Enid.)

"Brown’s presentation of English policies as if they were British exemplified all the familiar dishonest and self-serving motivations"


John L. Murphy / "FionnchĂș" said...

Thanks for this on Devon; I've always shared a "kindred" interest in Elmet, after Ted Hughes' poetry collection "Remains of Elmet" and a visit to Yorkshire way back. You might like my recent review of Simon Young's "Britain AD 500" on my blog.

Anonymous said...

There has tended to be an over-simplification in britain, ignoring celtic influence in england, and other influences in the celtic nations, but unfortunatly the maker of the dewnans site had gone about it the wrong way...

Rather than first researching what genuine influence the celts had had in devon , he started with the intetntion of copying each of the elements of celtic nationhood (language, flag etc.)

The 'old devonian' language is a quite terrible piece of work, presented on these websites as fact. There are no records of old devoninan, no survivals, and indeed linguists have never ever used the words 'old devonian' the closest is the hypothetical southwestern brythonic, and if one were to attempt to reconstruct this it would not be in the way arthur biddick has.

And, whilst I would suspect devon would have a higher genetic inhesritance from 'celts' if only from the well attested movement from cornwall, If I remember correctly the blood of the vikings series did not collect any data in devon, it was instead interpolated from that of cornwall and elsewhere, and so would obviously have come out similar to cornwall

Unknown said...

I think Devon & Cornwall, and possibly the whole of the south-west peninsular was one Celtic nation, what the Romans called Dumnonia, this got segregated with the subsequent interference and conquests throughout history, there would have been one celtic language throughout the whole of this region, and this survives today as Cornish.