Consisted of the western part of the Lake District, a surrounding coastal plain, and two outlying areas, a hilly district to the east towards Alston, and fertile lands north of Hadrian's Wall towards the Scottish border. Carlisle grew as a bridge over the Eden, where an east–west route from Newcastle towards Ireland intersected with two major north–south routes, an ancient road through Tebay, and an old route from Yorkshire across Stainmore.
Cumberland was one of the last shires to take shape and for centuries was disputed between England and Scotland. In Caesar's time it was in the territory of the Brigantes, but that was a loose confederation and the local tribe were the Carvetii. The Romans were interested in the area for strategic and economic reasons. In the end, their boundary with the Scots settled along the line of Hadrian's Wall. Carlisle (Luguvalium) was a major Roman town, and there were important forts at Hardknott (the worst posting in Roman Britain), and at Maryport, Penrith, Netherby, and Bewcastle. Ravenglass, where the Mite, Irt, and Esk meet, was a superb natural harbour until it silted up. The local mineral resources were also exploited—silver and lead from the Alston region, copper, coal, and iron elsewhere. After the Roman period, the orientation of the region was towards Scotland and Ireland rather than the south. It was a meeting‐place of peoples and cultures. The basic stratum was Welsh or British, and the name, Cumberland, means the land of the Cumbri—the Welsh. But the Saxons penetrated across from Northumbria and later there were settlers from Ireland and the Isle of Man, who left Norse place‐names—Aspatria, Cleator, Ennerdale, and Borrowdale. Roman and Celtic Christianity also competed here. St Ninian's mission at Whithorn was only the other side of Solway Firth and St Kentigern certainly evangelized in the 6th cent. from Strathclyde. After *Æthelfryth's victory at Degsastan in 603, the region fell under Saxon rule and became part of Northumbria.
But it was hard for any power to keep a firm grip on the area and as Northumbrian influence waned, that of Wessex rose. In 926 Athelstan, king of Wessex, met the kings of Strathclyde and Scotland at Eamont bridge to dictate terms, and reasserted his authority in 937 with a crushing victory at Brunanburh. But Wessex control of so distant a territory can only have been fitful.
By this time the term Cumbria was coming into use. The Normans did not at first occupy the area and neither Cumberland nor Westmorland was included in the Domesday survey in 1086. But in 1092 William Rufus brought a large force there and began building the castle at Carlisle and in 1133 Henry I established Carlisle as a bishopric. The Scots had by no means abandoned their claims. David I of Scotland took advantage of the confusion of Stephen's reign to occupy the area and died at Carlisle in 1153. Henry II reconquered it in 1157 and it stayed part of England. Westmorland was hived off to form a separate county and by the end of the 13th cent. Cumberland, like the other counties, sent two knights of the shire to Parliament.
Subjects: British History.