The name Allen derives from a Celtic personal name of great antiquity and obscurity, found in England and Scotland well before the Normans introduced surnames into England. Little is known about the early Allen family, but it spread far and wide across the British Isles and beyond, and Y-DNA testing confirms that it is the originator of a number of prominent families. The branch of the Allen family that gave rise to the Pickerings of Oswaldkirk shortly after the Norman Conquest was also the progenitor over a century earlier of the line that later adopted the name Dunbar. The Dunbars count among their close ancestors both the early Kings of England and the early Kings of Scotland, the marriage between the granddaughter of Ethelred II of England and the grandson of Malcolm II of Scotland providing the link between the two monarchies.
Crinan of Dunkeld was the son-in-law of Malcolm II. He held the titles of Earl of Atholl and Abbot of Dunkeld during the time when the town was the centre of the church in Scotland, following the transferral of the relics of St. Columba of Iona there for safekeeping during the Viking raids of the 9th century. This was at a time when abbots were allowed to marry, and Crinan and his wife Bethoc of Scotland had two sons and a daughter. Their first son, who became King Duncan I of Scotland, was killed in battle against Macbeth, Earl of Moray, who was succeeded him as king. Maldred of Dunkeld is said to have been Crinan and Bethoc’s second son and, although historians dispute his parentage, it is lent credence owing to his status as potential successor to his brother and rival to Macbeth. However, any ambitions of seizing the throne were put aside when he sought safety in Northumbria, where he married Ealdgyth of Bamburgh, a daughter of the King of England and the third wife of Uhtred, Earl of Northumbria, a woman of equal status to his own.
Northumbria at the time covered the area of northern England between the river Tweed and the Humber estuary, and was divided by the river Tees into the northern province of Bernicia, centred on Bamburgh, and the southern province of Deira, centred on York. In 1067 William I (in return for a large sum of money) granted the earldom of Northumbria to Gospatric, the son of Maldred and Ealdgyth, though it seems he ruled over Bernicia only, despite his generally accepted title of Earl of Northumbria.
In spite of his position Gospatric rebelled against King William, becoming one of the leaders of the three northern rebellions which took place in 1068 and in early and late 1069. Arnketil, his second cousin by marriage and an important pre-Conquest landholder in the Pickering area, was another leader. All three rebellions were put down harshly, yet William’s treatment of Gospatric was surprisingly lenient, as he was allowed to continue in office. In 1068 Anketil’s son (another Gospatric, perhaps named after his relative) was still tenant-in-chief, holding of the Crown, in many of his late father’s lands throughout Yorkshire and lord in others.
When King William finally dismissed Gospatric from his earldom in 1072, he went into exile in Flanders for a time, later making his way to Scotland where, shortly before his death in c1074, he was granted the earldom of Dunbar by King Malcolm III and large holdings and in Lothian and the Merse. Gospatric’s descendants in the main line became the Earls of Dunbar and March.
Dunbar harbour and castle, 2023
Historical Works of Simeon of Durham, vol. 3, Simeon’s Account of the Siege of Durham, pp.765-768: https://archive.org/details/historicalworks00simegoog/page/n359
Marriage and Murder in Eleventh-century Northumbria: A Study of ‘De Obsessione Dunelmi’: https://books.google.fr/books/about/Marriage_and_Murder_in_Eleventh_century.html?id=Crnv8jaK7hkC
Bloodfeud: Murder and Revenge in Anglo-Saxon England: https://books.google.fr/books?id=Mz7k0NeveBYC&pg and https://archive.org/details/bloodfeudmurderr0000flet_s2h2/page/n8
Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England: https://pase.ac.uk/jsp/index.jsp
A History of Northumberland, vol. 7, The House of Gospatric, pp.14-105: https://archive.org/details/historyofnorthum07nort/page/14
Allen Name Meaning: https://www.ancestry.com/name-origin?surname=allen
FTDNA Surname Projects: https://www.familytreedna.com/group-project