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Northumbria (England)

Region of England

Last modified: 2020-12-05 by rob raeside
Keywords: northumbria | england |
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[Northumbria] image by Jason Saber, 3 January 2015

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Introduction: Northumbria and Northumberland

The Kingdom of Northumbria (654-954) was a medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom founded in early 7th century by King Æthelfrith. The name Northumbria itself came from the Old English meaning "the people or province north of the Humber."
Northumberland is a modern ceremonial English county very much smaller than the medieval kingdom, but located within the same region. There are seven modern counties located within the region of the medieval kingdom, they are Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, Durham, Cumbria, Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Merseyside. Part of Scotland and Cheshire were also included in the territory controlled by Northumbria at its largest size. The best way to illustrate this is with this map.

English Counties within Northumbria

[Area of Northumbria today] Map located and modified by Pete Loeser, 30 November 2020

The yellow marks the area of Northumbria about AD 700 and shows the modern English counties located in the same region. Think of the area between the Firth of Forth, Scotland, in the north down to the Humber, England, in the south, basically the whole narrow neck of Britain. It contained both Edinburgh and York within its borders. The little yellow tip of Cheshire shown on the map may have been on the southern border.
After Northumbria's fall the northern part was absorbed into the kingdom of Scotland, and the rest became the historic Northumberland and County Durham of England.
Pete Loeser, 30 November 2020

About the Northumbria Flag
From Royal Purple to Faded Red

[Northumbria gold & royal purple colors] Gold and Royal Purple    [Northumbria gold and red colors] Gold and Faded Red
images by Pete Loeser, 30 November 2020 and Jason Saber, 3 January 2015

The 8th century Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum describes a flag flown over tomb of King Oswald of Northumbria (Æthelfrith's son), who finished uniting Bernicia and Deira. It says: "...they hung up over the monument his banner made of gold and purple." Since purple cloth was expensive and hard to get in the Middle Ages it was often replaced with red cloth that soon faded. The eight vertical yellow/red striped variant of the flag of Northumbria is now listed on the UK Flag Registry.
Pete Loeser, 30 November 2020

Use of the Northumbrian flag

Herewith the text of a (fairly long) article in this week's Economist.


"Yorkshire has the white rose: Lancashire has the red rose. But what does the North-East have as a regional symbol? The question is beginning to worry some north-easterners who reckon that a regional flag might gain them more respect in the outside world, as well as serving as a rallying point for the Geordie nation.
The search for symbols is taking them back a long way into the past. In the 6th century, there were two northern kingdoms east of the Pennines - Deira, which roughly corresponds to modern Yorkshire, and Bernicia, from the Tees to the Scottish border. In the 7th Century, they united into one kingdom from the North to the Humber, hence the modern name Northumbria. Some reckon that the ancient divide between the two kingdoms partly accounts for the differences between Yorkshire and Geordie accents.
Now some north-easterners are proposing that the ancient eight striped red and gold flag of Bernicia should be hoisted once again as the region's symbol. A few locals are enthusiastic. Bill Lancaster, a cultural historian at Northumbria University, says he is astonished at how fast a modern version of this flag has popped up all over the county, from factory flagpoles to car bumper stickers in the last five years. (The article is illustrated with a black and white photograph of a car bumper sticker).
But Richard Berg Rust, chairman of the Northumbrian Association, thinks that the flag of Bernicia is only popular north of the Tyne. He suggests that the cross of St Cuthbert, abbot of Lindisfarne when it was a European centre of Christian learning in the 8th century, has a wider appeal because it was also adopted by the Prince Bishops of Durham.
The Northumbria Tourist Board agrees. It is incorporating the symbol, a pale red cross with splayed out tips on a white background, into its new logo. Others, however, like David Fleming, director of Tyne and Wear Museums, worry that such an overtly Christian symbol is inappropriate in the modern multi-faith north east.
But Mr Fleming has no doubt that some symbol from the past will emerge. He has been struck by the huge queues of people (many wearing the Newcastle United colours) (black & white) generated whenever the Lindisfarne Gospels, a richly illustrated 8th century bible produced by Lindisfarne monks but now kept in London, have been on show in Newcastle.
He reckons that the peculiar fanaticism of local football fans and the interest in local historic symbols are part of the same thing: a deep rooted desire for a cultural identity which reaches back to a time when the region was great and powerful, coupled with a certain resentment towards the south. Mr Rust fantasises that there may come a day when both the Newcastle and Sunderland (red & white) football teams run out with shirts emblazoned with St Cuthbert's cross. That would be great for regional identity, no doubt, but probably a little confusing for the referee."
This all put me in mind of a short pamphlet put out about 20 years ago by the Flag Institute which recommended a series of regional flags for England. The flag suggested for Northumbria was different again from the above two. William Compton's idea was for a flag with a field divided blue over red by a gold Scandinavian cross. At the same time WGC suggested another seven flags for other regions of England. Unfortunately, having traveled extensively around the UK in the last few years, I have never seen one of them in use.
Stephan Hurford, 6 March 2000

As far as I have been able to find out the only flags definitely relevant to Northumbria and Northumberland are the traditional banner of the Kingdom of Northumbria (eight vertical stripes alternately gold and purple) and the flag of Northumberland County Council. Drawings of flags with St George's or Scandinavian crosses in various colour combinations were just ideas that seem not to have been adopted as no one wanted them.
David Prothero, 22 June 2001

[Northumbria and Northumberland flag together] image located by Pete Loeser, 30 November 2020

This photo taken at the at the Glastonbury Music Festival says it all - faded purple, not red.
Source: British County Flags: Northumbria.
Pete Loeser, 30 November 2020

Flag lore associated with the Northumbrian Flag

One of the more colourful legends circulating about this flag: the Northumbrian flag was first flown by the Percy's, Dukes of Northumberland. It was flown in battle against the Scots. The modern design comes from the old Northumbrian tradition, started by the Percys, of flying a Scottish Lion Rampant flag (yellow and red) torn into shreds at the head of the Northumbrian Army. It was a way of reminding the Scots what happened last time, and what would doubtless happen again!
Dave W, Northumbrian Piper, 20 August 2006

The problem with this, of course, is that the flag isn't purple and gold, it is red and gold... and, just to confuse matters further, the coat of arms of the Percy family (the Earls of Northumberland) is blue and gold - originally azure a lion rampant or. I agree though that Dave W's explanation sounds like an after-the-fact legend.
James Dignan, 21 August 2006