I was born in 1966 in the small town -of Whitehaven in the now demised county of Cumberland. When I was a child I was told the story of "King Dunmail" the last King of Cumberland and how he met his untimely death . In a way the story is similar to that of an other great Briton, Arthur, in the way it is clothed in Legend, complete with its own "holy grail". Part of the story detailed how the crown of Cumberland was thrown into a tarn never to be found again and as a child I often day-dreamed of finding this crown. As I have grown older I have had an increasing urge to find out what, if any, evidence there is to support the fabulous tale. On this web page I intend to collate the evidence and all related links to the elusive King Dunmail.
The Legend of King Dunmail
This is the legend of King Dunmail :

According to legend, Dunmail was the last king of Cumberland, whose army met a terrible defeat by the combined forces of Edmund king of the Saxons and King Malcom of Scotland. The battle took place in the year AD945 on the mountains between Grasmere and Keswick. It is said that it was Edmund himself who killed Dunmail and that after the battle he ordered the remaining Cumbrians to pile boulders on top of their slaughtered king to form a grave. This pile of boulders are what is known as Dunmail Raise. Legend also states that Dunmails two sons were captured and had their eyes put out by the maurading saxons. More importantly however , the crown of the kings of Cumberland was said to be thrown into nearby Grisedale Tarn [6], never to be found again.

The Legend, the Theory
The legend of king Dunmail appears to be based on true story. There is good evidence that King Dunmail did exist in the mid 10th century. Most texts refer to the king as Dunmail (as still used today in the Lake district) but in Palgraves History of the the Anglo-Saxon's [2] he is named as Donald or perhaps Dumhnail and he is stated as being of Scotish decent. In the Regnal Chronologies Dunmail is listed as a king of Strathclyde although he is named as Dunmal which may well be a typographical error. He is certainly not the last king of the Strathclyde Royal House

Although the anglo Saxon Chronicles refer to all of Cumberland being overan in 945 AD they make no mention of king Dunmail being defeated. This might not be suprising as the Chronicles were written with a heavy saxon bias and as such were unlikely to concentrate on a prominent Briton even if he was defeated. Dunmail was defeated by the combined forces of King Edmund and Malcom of Scotland. When Dunmail is referred to as "the last king of Cumberland" this means that he was infact the the last king of the Cumber or British. The lands he ruled over probably covered Cumberland to Strathclyde , which represented the final stronghold of the British. There is some question in my mind if Dunmail was the last king of Cumberland or if Cumberland still existed as Strathclyde at the time of the Norman Conquest, a subject that requires further study.

So far there is no evidence to support the theory of the crown although there is a good chance that a king of a powerful nation such as the British would have some form of crown.

The story of the blinding of his two sons seems well supported in most texts but his death at the battle does not. This of course raises the question of what was the real significance of the pile of boulders known as 'Dunmail Raise'. It seems likely that this cairn was errected for no other purpose than to record the battle site.

'Anglo Saxon England' by Sir Frank Stenton  states that Dunmail was not killed when his lands were given to king Malcom of Scotland. There is even a reference to Dunmail going on a pilgrimage to Rome in 975 . The same text identifies Malcom as being Dunmails son.  I think there is some confusion over names in the book (or in my notes) as there was a king Domnall of Strathclyde in 975. There were also two Malcoms in the Strathclyde Royal house Malcolm I and II between 971 and 973 prior to Domnall and   Malcolm III an IV after him. I have not as yet had time to adequately study this work so no conclusion can be drawn yet.[4]. The "Formation of England" by HPR Finberg seems to support the theory of Dunmail surviving as it states that Dunmail regained his throne some two years after his defeat. [5]

The following article was submitted to me by David Hughes and it outlines his theory on King Dunmails place in the Hierarchy of Cumbria:

Antonius "Donatus", the Welsh Anthun "Wledic", the only surviving son of the earlier British king and Roman Emperor, Maximus, and/or the younger brother of the British king Constantine II (Constantine III as rival Roman emperor, 406-11), set himself up as king or emperor in Britain in Year 418 in opposition to the other self-proclaimed British kings, and, establishing himself at Carlisle in Galloway (S-W Scotland), also founded a post-Roman British kingdom that year and is reckoned as the "first" King of Galloway/Cumbria. He was run-out of Cumbria (N-W England) by "the sons of Cole", i.e., "the Coelings", who gave Cumbria another dynasty of rulers. He was killed in Year 423 fighting Quintillus of Strathclyde. His descendants reigned as Kings of Galloway until Year 683 when Merfyn "Mawr" was killed fighting the Angles of Northumbria. His descendants later appear as the Lords/Earls of Carrick until 1256.

The "King Dunmail", the last King of Cumberland (d. 945), was descended from "the Coelings" rather than Antonius "Donatus" since the descendants of Cole "Godebog", the "Gwyr Y Gogledd" , tookover Cumbria from the descendants of Antonius "Donatus", who were afterwards confined to Galloway. It is more proper that the "last" King of the Britons should descend from ancient British royalty (represented by Cole Godebog's descendants) rather than the British branch of the Roman imperial house (represented by Antonius "Donatus", among others, e.g. the Dukes of Gloucester, etc.)

29th January 2003

What Nationality was Dunmail?
There seems to be many conflicting sources regarding the nationality of Dunmail. An easy assumption would be that he was of British decent,  as in many texts he is referred to as the last king of the British. The Cumbrian History website (the EDGE) states that he was a Norse king. His name certainly seems to be Celtic but power alliances could often change these things. The Regnal Chronologies state that Dunmail was a king of Strathclyde but this still does not rule him out as of being of Norse lineage as the capital of Strathclyde was sacked by the Vikings in 870. There is also evidence of Viking occupation of Cumbria during this time.

What's in a name?
In this section I intend to cover the origins of the name Dunmail. As a work in progress here is an extract from an email from David Ford who obviously knows his stuff:

"His name in Welsh is Dynfael. The -fael is from Maglos meaning Prince. I'm not sure about the Dyn- off-hand, but it is a common Early British prefix, perhaps best known in the name Dynod (Dunaut, etc)."

I did some investigations and turned up Dunmail on a Celtic Names site. That means I now have Dunmail, Donald, Dumhnail, Dunmal and  Dynfael to describe the same person. David also helped out a bit more with some further thoughts:

"I've been thinking about the name Dunmail. Dunos is certainly early Brythonic for "hill" in placenames, though in most that have survived it has the later meaning of  "fort" (Don, of course, is also Saxon for "hill" which doesn't help matters). I do not know of any usage of this in a personal name. I suspect that Dunmail derives from the Celtic name of Dyfnwal (Dumnagual, Domnall, etc). This was very popular in Northern Britain and was used by the Kings of the Scots, the Strathclyde Britons & Bryneich. (In the south, the Kings of Ceredigion, Gwent & Dumnonia also used it). Dunmail would appear to be a late form (as Dungarth is a late form of Dynod), the change of the -wal to -mail is well attested in the name Brochfael (Brochmail) which is often spelt as Brochwel. This would explain why you have found Dunmail sometimes called Donald, as Donald is the modern form of Dufnwal (via Dunwald). Anyway, Dufn-Fael means "Prince of the World"

A Cumbrian folk song about King Dunmail.

A best Guess at the lyrics:

Comes a wind from Steelfells brow
Striking chill the rock and slough
Strikes the death cold body now
Of the king Dunmail

Slain the king of Cumberland
Broken spirited men disband
Malcom's forces , Edmunds hand
Slew the king Dunmail

Weary prisoners gathered stones
Arranged them around their masters bones
marking still the final groans
Of the king Dunmail

Dunmails sons were brought to hand
Saxon Edmund waved his hand
Blind their eyes with firebrand
Sons of king Dunmail

Time spins webs across this yarn
They say the truths still there to learn
Lying deep in Grizedale Tarn
The crown of King Dunmail

The initial thrust of this research was to find the truth, if any, about the Dunmail legend and to trace the history of my birth county. As the project has progressed it has become apparent that the term "Last King of Cumberland" may not just refer to a Geographical location but that Dunmail may have been the last king of the Britains. This revelation has widened the aim of the project somewhat to cover British kings that ruled over the Northwest of England in the years 400-1000 AD.

Current work in progress:

  • Get maps and photographs of Dunmail Raise and Grizedale Tarn
  • Was Dunmail a British, Scotish or a Norse king?
  • When did Dunmail come to power?
  • Who was his father?
  • Cumbrian history timeline
A bit of fun : Would you like to call your Baby Dunmail ?

Your first name of Dunmail has given you a pleasant, easy-going, friendly nature. Personal contacts are important to you. In situations where you are serving others,
demonstrating or instructing, you have the patience to go into details that someone else may not think to be important. In your association with others, you are often
limited to the more mundane happenings and little personal problems that can be so frustrating to those of an active, dynamic nature. You desire to create system and
order in your environment but are inclined to become side-tracked and socialize when you should be working. Your ambitions are not large, as you lack confidence in
your own abilities and would sooner not take a chance. You are often at odds with yourself, knowing what you should do, but finding it hard to find the initiative and
will power to do it. Liking to plan and think ahead, you do not act impulsively and do not like to have your plans or routine interfered with. You seek the advice of
others when making a decision and prefer to work for others, rather than carry the full responsibility yourself. This name limits imagination and vision. Health
weaknesses affect the intestinal tract, resulting in constipation and associated disorders. There is also a weakness in the fluid functions of the body, causing either
swelling of the legs and ankles, phlebitis, or varicose veins. "

I forget who sent me this so I am unsure who to credit with the work.

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