Clan Carruthers, Origins

CLAN CARRUTHERS: Welsh, the root of the Brythonic language of Caer-Ruthers

Carruthers, the Kingdom of Strathclyde and the Cumbric connection to the Welsh language.

by Mathew Carruthers, Aberdare, Wales, February 2021

The many conversations with other Carruthers throughout the world is one of the joys of being part of this society. One such exchange was with a partial Welsh speaker, this time a bit closer to home here in the U.K. 

During the conversation, Matthew Carruthers highlighted the overlap between the old Brythonic dialect of Cumbric and modern Welsh. Although his passion is the mining history of Wales, his interest in our own history has obviously been sitting simmering in the background, at least regarding the tongue of our ancient folks and its link to his homeland of Wales. 

Matthew, a devoted family man, lives with in Aberdare, South Wales. 

This piece discusses the links between the Welsh language and that of the ancient Cumbric dialect of the Brythonic language, as was spoken in the ancient lands of our forebears. It is built on his knowledge of the Welsh language and Carruthers history and ties in nicely with the 2019 study by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Edinburgh University ‘The genetic landscape of Scotland and the Isles

Screen Shot 2021-02-26 at 07.36.22
Published as a collaboration between Edinburgh University and the Royal College of Surgeons (Ireland) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 

‘The genetic landscape of Scotland and the Isles’ was published in September 2019 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It clearly shows, using a cohort of 2,554 individuals, the genetic map of Ireland and Scotland and any relationship that exists between both.  The evidence reflects that Scotland is divided into at least six distinct clusters of genetically similar individuals, who cluster together geographically. These include:

  1. the Borders,
  2. the South-west,
  3. the North-east,
  4. the Hebrides,
  5. Orkney
  6. Shetland.

Some of these clusters, notably those linked with the south-west (2) and Hebrides  (4), share particularly strong affinity for clusters of Irish ancestry.

NB this does not include the Borders.

These Scottish clusters also show remarkably similar locations to Dark Age kingdoms such as Strathclyde in the south-west, Pictland in the north-east, and Gododdin in the south-east. The results suggest that these kingdoms may have maintained regional identities that extend to the present. The modern genetic landscape of Britain and Ireland described by the researchers also reflects splits in the early languages of the Isles:

  1. Q-Celtic/Goidelic (Scottish, Irish and Manx Gaelic)
  2. P-Celtic/Brittonic (Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish, Old Brythonic and Pictish).

They further state that Shetland, an archipelago of approximately 100 islands, located between Norway and mainland Scotland, was found to harbour the largest proportion of Norwegian-related ancestry, a consequence of the Norse Viking migrations that began in the eighth century.

The study further compared the genomes of ancient Gaels buried in Iceland to the modern genetic diversity of Britain and Ireland. The comparison showed that these ancient settlers in Iceland shared the greatest genetic affinity with those on the western Isles of Scotland and the North-West of Ireland.

According to the Neil Whalley, a historian specialising in the subject of the Old North, with this excellent piece of writing is taken from and is italics: It was once thought that the Celtic languages were brought to Britain from central Europe in the Iron Age (from 500bc) by a people called the Celts as part of a cultural package which included certain types of art and the knowledge of ironwork.  It now seems more likely that the Celtic people originated in southern France and that their language came north either through Gaul into the east of Great Britain or via sea trade along the Atlantic seaboard into Ireland and western Britain.  When this occurred is not known, but it must have been sufficiently early to allow the languages of Britain and Ireland time to diverge considerably. 

It can hardly be doubted that the areas roughly covered by the old kingdoms of Strathclyde and Rheged should form the core of the Cumbric region; that is, the south west of Scotland, excluding Galloway, and the north of modern Cumbria. 

Instead of simply defining a Cumbric region, the map below has defined several zones based on the political history of the area and its topography. The problem here is that Brythonic dialects were once spoken across most, if not all, of Britain and did not simply vanish with the appearance of the English/Angles and Gaels in the 5th and 6th centuries

Screen Shot 2021-02-26 at 07.02.45.pngZone I covers the early kingdoms of Rheged and Strathclyde and is the Cumbric heartland, in which the majority of the Cumbric evidence is found.  This area is divided topographically into two smaller zones: firstly, the watershed of the Solway Firth (north of which Carruthers originates) plus Galloway, and secondly Strathclyde plus Ayrshire.  The former of these was brought under Anglian (Anglo-Saxon) control in the 7th century but continued speak Cumbric.  

Zone II covers the Lothians, which contain a significant number of Brythonic place names, suggesting some continuation of the Cumbric after the Anglian advance around AD 600.

Zone III is divided into two sections.  The first covers south Cumbria and Lancashire north of the Ribble; an area which seems to have remained distant from Anglian control at York. The second section covers the heartlands of the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia: the valley of the River Tweed and adjacent coastal corridor, which includes the royal centres of Bamburgh and Yeavering and the monasteries of Lindisfarne and Melrose; and the valley of the Tyne in which were located the monasteries of Hexham, Jarrow and nearby Monkwearmouth.

The Connection

iu-2.jpegA long time ago before the Norman conquest, even before the Romans, with their fine robes or before the Saxons, Jutes and Angles landed in the south west of England in the 5th century, there were native tribes in Briton called the Celts. These were differentiated from the Goidelic Celts who populated Ireland (Hibernia), and were known as Brythonic or Brittonic Celts. Interestingly, although both of Celtic stock, their appearance in Ireland and Britain has to have occurred from very early times, for the languages to have a divergence in their development.

Britons/Brythonic Celts

The Brythonic nation (from Welsh; Brython) stretched from Cornwall all the way to the top of Scotland and the Picts/Picti. These were given this name by the Romans ie as a derivation of “The Painted,” or “Tattooed People,” which described the blue tattoos (wode) with which the Picts covered their bodies.

Evidence shows that the Celts spoke a common language, with regional dialects that is closely related to modern Welsh (Cymraeg), where Cymraeg is translated to meaning homeland or countrymen. In the case of the Border region of Caer Rydderch, the dialect was Cumbric.

The ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde and the lower kingdom of Rheged, (also from Welsh), which covered much of South-Eastern Scotland and North-Eastern England, was called the Hen Ogledd in the old language. It was here that our name of Carruthers has its origins. However, although an ancient language, the evidence of these linguistic connections remain to this day and still connect us as Welsh speakers and to those ancient tribes of Hen Ogledd.

Hen Ogledd translates from Welsh to meaning ‘Old North’. It is suggested that Hadrian’s Wall, the defining line of between the kingdoms of Strathclyde and Rheged became blurred after the Romans finally left Britain in 410. The House of Carruthers of Dormont have commented that Carruthers legend has suggested an ancestry going back to Coel Hen (Old King Cole, made famous through the Children’s rhyme of that name), who lived around the turn of the fourth and fifth centuries. Coel Hen was married to Ystradwal, the daughter of Cadfan and was the ancestor of several lines of kings in the Hen Ogledd or “Old North”, the Brythonic Celtic speaking part of northern England and southern Scotland.

The name Strathclyde itself comes from the Cumbric, meaning Ystrad Clud, with the term Strath being introduced from the Anglo-Saxon language and meaning wide valley.  In modern Welsh, Clwyd means gate or entrance and is reflected in the full name of Strathclyde, entrance to the valley.

Looking at the origins of Carruthers ie ‘Caer’ Rydderch, which is translated from the Cumbric as the ‘fort’ of Rydderch, we know Caer means fort as it is in modern Welsh and that Rydderch is shown historically as being the name of a chieftain/king in the area at the time. It has been suggested by historians that ‘our’ Rhydderch referred to Rydderch Hael, a famous ruler of the kingdom of Ystrad Clud in Hen Ogledd.

Caer Rydderch to Carruthers

The transition from Caer to Car can also be seen in such family names as Car-lisle (fort of Lugas) or Car-nagie (fort of the gap) and as such the transition is easily followed.

The name Rydderch, at least at first glance is less so, until you look at how it is spoken in Welsh. In Welsh the double ‘d’ has a ‘th’ sound and the ‘ch’ is softened. This can be heard here, in recording number 1, being accurately spoken with the ‘th’ sound. This further shows us the root of our name as Ruthers and added to Caer/Car, its progression to Carruthers becomes very easy to follow.

 Remnants of Old Brittonic

Further north, in the old Pictish lands of the north west of Scotland in some of the place names, the Brythonic language is still reflected. This supports the current evidence that the Picts were part of the same Brythonic speaking group of Celts that covered the whole island of Britain. A simple example is the term Aber, in modern Welsh this means mouth or estuary, in Cumbric it means river mouth. One of Scotlands largest cities on the east coast, famous for its oil industry is Aber-deen (mouth of the River Dee).

Again, in a direct link to Carruthers, but this time to the Mouswald orphans of Janet and Marion, the term Drumlanrig in Cumbric is suggested as meaning a clearing on a hill or ridge. This brings us to James Douglas of Drumlanrig and the role he played in the disposal of Janet through marriage and his suspected involvement in the death of Marion allowing him to acquire the lands of Mouswald for himself, after the last chief of Carruthers of Mouswald was killed in 1548.

So, if the Welsh language give us a good platform to compare the ancient Brittonic tongue, based on the assumption that the Celts came from or through Gaul and shared the same deity structure.  One would presume that the Gallic languages would also be somewhat entwinned. A simple example would be the word for window, in French Fenêtre and Welsh Ffenester.

As you can see the language of our ancestors is still in existence and still used by us Celts in Wales. For this reason and as a Welshman, I am also so very proud of my Scottish heritage and the fact that the land of my birth is so closely connected to that of my ancestors.

We therefore need to be proud of our Carruthers heritage from the Hen Ogledd, as our ancestors, at least through the female line, spoke the Brythonic ‘language of the Gods’, possibly one of the oldest tongues in Europe; up there in Bonnie Scotland.

Clan Carruthers Society WP footnote 2021

19 thoughts on “CLAN CARRUTHERS: Welsh, the root of the Brythonic language of Caer-Ruthers”

  1. Hello, Thank you for all the work for Clan Carruthers. My great grandfather was George Frederick Carruthers, descendant of Frederick Fraser Carruthers and Georgiana Barnes.(great great grandparents)
    Frederick Fraser and Georgiana had 3 children and lived in Toronto.
    I have a number of letters from George Frederick and other papers, including a very old drawing of the family home in Holmians. Also, I believe a brother of Frederick Fraser, ?John? got into some kind of legal difficulties and there are a few very old papers describing this.
    I am not sure what to do with all these artifacts, but I thought you might be interested in them.

    1. Thank you for this post & replies. Would love to see the drawing of “the family home in Holmians”. Interesting pronunciation of Rydderch in Welsh – many spellings of CARRUTHERS on early American documents are both CARRIDERS & CRIDDERS. Probably the way people pronounced their name then and so officials spelled it that way.

      1. Dear Georgina

        If this is the hand drawn plans of what looks like kirkwood, I did receive it, I’m sorry, it was in my spam folder but did pass it on.

        I’ll do a blog on it. This is great, anything else let me know.


      2. Hello, I just read the posted chapter
        of Arthur Stanley Carruthers’ book on Holmains.
        I understand the Kirkwood reference a lot better.
        I guess like all old families, there were lots of ups and downs.
        My great great great grandfather, John Carruthers married Mary Anne Moore, -( who was Irish) and went off to India for the East India company.
        I have his lettered petitioning for a leave, and there was some scandal regarding Sadlers Wells which, I think was mixed up with the Moore family. There is sort of a warrant, on very old parchment, which I don’t understand.

      3. Many of the Holmains line sought their fortune in India. Can you send us copies of these documents and we will try to put a blog post together on your ancestry which I’m guessing you have done

      4. Thank you for your interest. It will take a while to get them together and copy. The legal document is huge.
        It’s a good story, and we only have fragments, it is a blessing that we don’t have the crazy legal system they had!

      5. Hi Marshall

        The pic of the Holmains home is on the site on pieces referring to Holmains. Regards the name, the variations in spelling as you rightly said, occurred due to pronunciation and misrepresentation by officials. As Annandale was Brythonic during the time of Rydderch, Cumbric, a dialect of ancient Celt was spoken. It seems that modern Welsh still pronounced Rydderch as Ruthers. This was picked up by one of the family who is Welsh and a Welsh speaker. All interesting stuff

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