Educator's summary

Hello everyone, and thank you for your deep and thoughtful engagement with the course so far. It has been great to see such interest in earlier periods of history – and a strong appetite for more information!

I am going to deal with four themes that have provoked interesting comments and questions, and offer suggestions of further reading, with an emphasis on material available online.

If you live in the north-west of England, we have two upcoming Regional Heritage Centre Study Days that are relevant to this week’s material: Annual Archaeology Forum (now in its 46th year) on Saturday 2 March 2019 (held on campus), and Lancashire 500–1500 (held at Whalley Abbey on Friday 5 April 2019).

Please see the RHC events card for more information.


There has been strong interest in the level of Romanisation in the Lancaster area, and interaction with the Celtic-speaking population.

The nature of Romanisation varied regionally, and a distinction between ‘civil’ and ‘military’ zones has been an enduring theme in scholarship since F.J. Haverfield’s The Romanization of Roman Britain. That book was written more than a century ago, and scholars now nuance the distinction; see, for example, the ‘Fields of Britannia’ project at Exeter University for a regional approach to the rural landscape. Nevertheless, the Lancaster area lacked facets of Romanisation found further south and east, such as villas (country estates).

While Latin would have been used in the army, the local Celtic (Brittonic) language persisted into the early medieval period. One interesting on-line resource is the Celtic Personal Names of Roman Britain database.

Post-Roman Britain

The enigmatic Roman-medieval transition has captured the imagination of learners. Two texts that offer an insight into the fifth century are the writings of St Patrick. Patrick grew up somewhere on the western coast of Britain and was taken into captivity by Irish raiders at the age of sixteen; he spent six years in Ireland and subsequently returned there as a Christian missionary. The seaborne raid is the type of activity that Lancaster’s fourth-century ‘Saxon shore’-style fort deterred.

Moving into the sixth century, the main account is Gildas’s ‘On the ruin of Britain’. Gildas was writing in western Britain and his work is a polemic against the leaders of his day. It creates an image of chaos, but there are also hints of continuity of the Roman-era mindset. For example, Gildas describes the kings as tyranni, a term that had been applied to Roman usurpers, in order to denigrate their authority.

Modern archaeology offers insights into this era, although the period remains rather elusive in north-west England. Further south and east, furnished Anglo-Saxon graves (i.e. with grave goods) offer a considerable amount of evidence. We have no definite examples in Lancashire, which is a reflection of the length of time that it took for this area to become incorporated into the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. Our best evidence for Northumbrian influence in Lancaster is the sculptured stones from Lancaster Priory, one of which I showed on the first video. The inscription reads ‘Pray for Cynibald (the son of) Cuthbert’ – these are both Anglo-Saxon names.


The place-names exercise has sparked a great deal of interest, and it is good to see that learners have been inspired to investigate place-names in their own localities.

The exercise on place-names around Morecambe Bay has given you the fundamental principles that you need to understand a place-name anywhere: find early forms of the name, interpret the etymology from those, and investigate the linguistic origins.

If you are interested in England, a useful resource is the Key to English Place-Names. [Please note - there is currently a fault on this website, but it appears to have been reported very recently so hopefully will be fixed soon]. There are also the many print volumes of the English Place-Name Survey.

For Wales, there is now Rhestr o Enwau Lleoedd Hanesyddol/List of Historic Place-Names.

For Scotland, look at the website of the Scottish Place-Name Society

A useful resource for Irish place-names is

In Lancashire, there is an ongoing project to collect historical place-name forms. See the website of the Lancashire Place Name Survey for more details.

The skill of reading and dating early handwriting is known as Palaeography. For further insight into medieval palaeography, see this resource from the National Archives.

Scottish influence in medieval northern England

The theme that learners found most surprising was the complexity of Scottish involvement in Lancaster Castle. For David I, I have already posted a comment, which provides information about invasions in the year 1138.

For Robert the Bruce’s expedition in 1322, and its broader context, see Colm McNamee, ‘The raiding of northern England, 1311-1322’, a chapter from his book The Wars of the Bruces (1997) which can be seen online here.

I hope you enjoy progressing through the rest of the course. Coming up next week we have early modern Lancashire, with an emphasis on the trial of the Lancashire Witches at Lancaster Castle.

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This article is from the free online course:

Lancaster Castle and Northern English History: The View from the Stronghold

Lancaster University