Downfall of the Saxons, and
establishment of the Norman ascendancy.—Battle between the English and Scoto-Saxons.
A chronicle of matters done,
Which toil and trouble cost;
The records of a battle won,
And eke a battle lost.
Albeit the Pendragon of Albin
had been brought to do homage to the Basileus and Bret-walda of the South
country for the provinces of Lothian and the Merse, a counterpoise, by way
of generous gag, was given him in the districts round about the Debateable
Land and Carlisle in Cumberland, ceded to Malcolm I. The southwestern
frontier of Scotland was very much extended beyond the Wall of Severus;
whilst the eastern boundary was contracted so far north as the waters of the
Scots" Sea, otherwise called the Firth of Forth. That the English monarch
should have been so geuerous to his brother, in thus yielding up Cumberland,
may appear strange at first sight, especially when we remember that in those
lawless days men battened, not upon honest labour, but rather upon plunder;
but,' if we may credit historiographers who have noted this transfer, it
should seem that the liberal donor made a virtue of necessity, since he
magnanimously bestowed on his neighbour that which he could not well keep
The cause of the cession is
obvious, says Sir "Walter Scott. In exemplification of this he remarks, that
the people of Cumberland were of the same race and manners with those of the
Britons of Strath-Clwyde who occupied the opposite frontier; and Edmund, who
retained but a doubtful sovereignty over Northumberland, would have been
still more embarrassed by the necessity of retaining, by garrisons or
otherwise, so wild and mountainous a country as British Reged.
By yielding it to Malcolm, he
secured a powerful ally, capable of protecting the western frontier of
Northumberland, and to whose domination the Cumbrians might be the more
readily disposed to submit, as it united them with their brethren of
With the uncivil wars between
Duncan I. who came to the throne in 1034, and Macbeth, Macduff, and certain
others, we have nothing to do, as the arena of their broils did not lie nigh
the waters of the Solway,—the subject of our disquisitions. Pity it is that
they had not oqcasion to come into these pleasant parts, and inhale the
amorous breezes that ever blew over them; as, if they had, it is possible
that the balmy influence of this atmosphere would have suddenly changed the
tenor of their bosoms, and have set them hugging, kissing, and caressing
each other, quite as hard as they had been before fighting.
William of Normandy, some
time after the victory of Hastings, pressed his conquests northward on the
island, and wrenched from Malcolm Cean-More, or Great Head, all that part of
the western border which had, a few years before, been given up, as we have
William was the most
formidable adversary that any Scotch king had ever, up to this time, had to
contend with ; for he not only may be considered as possessed of a greater
degree of civilization than these rude northerners, and better skilled in
the regular discipline of troops, but he had the force of Normandy,- as well
as the force of England, at his command.
Malcolm's great head,
howbeit, was not empty of brains; and by the help of these brains he planned
and prosecuted a most vigorous invasion into England, as a set-off against
The English king had been
sorely tyrannizing over his new subjects, so that in Northumberland he found
them rather disposed to favour his antagonist than himself. With this county
he was obliged to purchase the allegiance of Gospatric, on condition that
the said Gospatric should assist him against the Scots. This was agreed to,
and Cumberland was ravaged accordingly.
In 1071, William was summoned
to quell an insurrection in Wales; and, whilst busied cutting men's throats
there, Malcolm took the opportunity of mincing William's people on the
borders, notwithstanding that the chroniclers say he did not mince the
matter at all.
Malcolm marched his men
through Gretna Green, and a wonder it was the amorous atmosphere did not
soften his heart—it is supposed he held his breath all the time, and would
not inhale it. He crossed the Sark and the Debateable Land ; he pressed
onward with vast expediency and haste, using infinite cruelty wherever he
came, and, at a place ycleped Hundreds-held, he massacred divers English
noblemen and all their company. He then "veered hys mayne sheete," as
Spencer saith, and steered away into Yorkshire: here he slew, plundered, and
enslaved ; despatching his booty away into Scotland as he took it. When this
was done, he marched upon Durham: he pillaged the bishopric, and burnt the
sacred edifices to the ground.
But Gospatric was again in
motion. Whilst the great-headed king was doing these evil deeds near the
eastern seas, Gospatric, on the part of William, hied away towards Carlisle
to rifle all the regions adjacent: this he did to admiration, until Malcolm
followed him, burning with wrath, and swearing that the laws of the land
should be put in full force against this enemy.
And, verily, the established
law of that day was put in full force against him,—to wit, the lex talionis,
or Law of Tit-for-Tat; for the Scotch king came up with him and debated
fierce battle with him, using swords and spears rather than words,— an
argument so sharp, as soon talked down Gospatric, and obliged him to fly
Malcolm then returned in
triumph over the border, and espoused the Saxon princess Margaret, a lady
famed for every virtue.
Very little difference has
existed since Stephen's reign with respect to the position of the border
line, if we always except the Debateable Land, which was continually a
matter of dispute. Carlisle, which naturally pointed out the western
extremity of the line, owing to its being the principal stronghold in the
vicinage, had been carefully repaired by William before his death, as it had
continued in a state of dilapidation ever since the Danes had pillaged it,
two hundred years previously. This act gave great offence to Malcolm Cean-More,
since he thought that, as it lay within the limits of his feudal dominions,
it was a breach of the late treaty, and an intrusion which he had no right
to make. His fief, or feud, for which he did homage, he looked upon in the
same light in which a modern tenant looks upon his land for which he pays
rent to his landlord; to wit, that, as long as he pays his rent, (or did
homage, which was only another way of paying it,) that land, or territory,
or fief, was his own,—even free from the domination or interference of the
superior. When William, therefore, came to Carlisle, and strengthened it
with massy walls and towers, the Scottish monarch was perplexed with various
doubts as to the object of such fortification : he thought it an undue
intrusion, to say the least of it; and he did not at all relish the
restraint that a numerous Norman garrison, placed therein, imposed upon him.
In fine, he did not like to have the Conqueror of England and his soldiers
so near to him.
Being a little whit techy at
the proceeding, he hastened southward to Gloucester, where William then held
his court, in order to make complaint in person : but the haughty son of
Rollo would not admit him entrance, unless he should, on this present
occasion, now go through the humiliating ceremony of swearing fealty.
Malcolm, perad-venture fearful of treachery, being so far from his own
kingdom, refused; but he said he would do homage as had ever been the custom
heretofore, that is, on the borders. As this was not agreed to, Malcolm
returned to Scotland and prepared for war.
Carlisle was consequently
left in statu quo; which, being rendered into the vulgar tongue, signifieth,
with a Norman garrison in it.
Stephen found matters in this
state, and the frontier line terminating at this point.
Whilst these matters were in
debate, other things of importance were in progression. Substantial changes
had taken place, both in the interior of South and North Britain, and had
amalgamated these two grand divisions of the island, each into one great
kingdom ; so that the regions where they had hitherto bordered on each
other, ceasing to be the residence of independent or tributary states,
assumed the character of frontiers, or, as we now term them, says Sir Walter
Scott, of borders.
William was prodigal in gifts
of territory to his barons and lesser chivalry, that shared the hazardry of
Hastings' fight along with him; and several of his followers had grants of
land along the line of which we speak. Some ancient minstrel has sung this
sequent couplet of him, when discoursing of his large gifts of honour and
"Dona chastels, dona titcz,
Dona terres as vavarssors."
This notable fact of the
consolidation of England and Scotland, each into one separate monarchy, and
wholly unfettered as regarded the other, took place nearly about the same
time. At least, albeit the consolidation of England, as a kingdom, was
achieved somewhat earlier than the settlement of Scotland, when the
Heptarchy states were all united under one diadem, still the distractions,
occasioned by Danish invasions and civil wars, prevented her extending her
empire over her northern neighbours. Indeed, the power of England could
scarce be said to be wielded by one sovereign with uncontrolled sway until
William the Conqueror had repressed the various insurrections of the Saxons;
subjugated for ever the tumultuary Northumbrians, who, for several
centuries, 'had been the noted disturbers of that district; and had acquired
a consolidated force capable of menacing the kingdom of Scotland. Had such
an event befallen a century earlier, It is probable that all Britain would,
at that remote era, have been compelled by one single sceptre. On the other
hand, if per-adventure a Scottish monarch had existed during the Heptarchy
as puissant and as capable of great works as Canmore in aftertimes, it is
fair to say that he, most likely, would have pushed his conquests much
further south than the present borders, and would have possibly secured to
Scotland all the countries north of the Humber.
Fate, however, had so
balanced the power, by making two equally astute kings contemporaneous, and
equalities were so balanced between them, that curiosity in neither could
make choice of either's moiety,—a state of affairs that served to settle the
boundary, even where it has almost invariably ever since remained.
The orb of Saxon ascendancy
now set, never to reappear; whilst the sun of Norman dominion arose.
Except the massy
ecclesiastical edifices of the Heptarchy, few traces of the architecture of
that period remain on the border. The Saxon houses, even of the princes,
were for the most part built of wood; and their military system consisted
rather in giving battle in the open field, than in attacking or defending
places of strength. They may have surrounded their towns with a rude
circumvallation of earth, or such material as the spot afforded ; but they
had no turreted castles on the border like those which arose so numerously
soon after, and especially in the reign of Stephen, and perhaps none
elsewhere. Conings-burg Castle, near Sheffield, is, by some antiquaries,
supposed to be of Saxon origin, and even, as is further asserted, built on
the site of the tumulus of Hengist.
Coins, cups, and
drinking-horns, of Saxon and Danish manufacture, have from time to time been
dug up on the frontiers, but the occasions were rare.
Up to the conquest of England
by the Duke of Normandy's ill-gotten son, and for a long time subsequently,
the border feuds, which raged so fiercely afterwards, can scarcely be said
to have arisen. It was enough for the monarchs on both sides of the line to
busy themselves in consolidating their own authority over so many various
tribes, as Britons, Saxons, Danes, and Normans, without turning their
attentions to the annoyance of each other, unless when such annoyance tended
to the end in view. During this early period, therefore, the edifices of
devotion, as churches, monasteries, and the like, arose the more frequently,
that the good understanding between the two countries was only interrupted
by occasional and brief wars, bearing little the character of inveterate
hostility, such as subsequently existed between them, even in the piping
time of peace.
The subjects that peopled the
Scottish side of the frontier were as heterogeneous in extraction as those
on the opposite side, and quite as impatient of control. The Scots and Picts
had ever been picking quarrels with each other; but now, at the time of
which we speak, videlicet, towards the close of the eleventh century, they
had melted down into one people, bearing the former name. The Scoto-Britons
of Reged, around the margin of the Firth of Solway, struggled hard for
independence, which although they lost, they still retained their
individuality. This was more the case with the people of Galloway, who,
lying more remote from the authority of the kings of Scotland, gave them
apparently no more obedience than that which was formerly yielded by the
British tribes to the Pendragon.
In his Essay on Border
Antiquities, to which we are much indebted, Sir Walter Scott tells us that
the northern division of Bernieia, extending over towards the confines of
the kingdom of Strath-Clwyde, was inhabited by a numerous population of
Scoto-Saxons; being the descendants of those tribes that had partly
colonized the district, and partly had fled out of Northumberland to eschew
the ravages, first of the Danes, and secondly of the Franks.
Thus, it will be seen, that
both the king of the north country, as well as the king of the south
country, were possessed of a heterogeneous comminglement of blood amongst
their subjects, that but ill-consorted with peace, order, or unanimity.
Now, about this time a savage
fight between the two kingdoms was debated. David, the then king of the
north, took part with the Empress Maude, his niece, against the pretensions
of Stephen. He had already chastised Stephen at Roxburgh, forcing him to hie
away off the field as one who did not prosper in the strife ; but now, the
year after, he entered England with a powerful army, and met his foes, who
nevertheless were much more powerful than he, at a place ycleped Culton
Moor. His army was composed of the inhabitants of Galloway near the western
frontiers, placed in the van, along with the men of Carrie, Kyle,
Cunningham, and Renfrew; in the second line came the Lodeneses, or dwellers
in Lothian; then the irregularly disciplined clans from the mountains,
commanded by their own maormors or chiefs, who would fight like bull-dogs
for booty, which, when obtained, they were impatient to carry immediately
The front line of the English
army was intermixed with archers ; and the horsemen, saving a body of
cavalry as a reserve at some distance, dismounted down from their steeds,
that they might shun the long lances which the first line of the Scots bore.
The English had with them their most famous standard, wherein they placed .
an infinitude of faith and confidence as a certain palladium against the
puissance of their foes. They looked upon it much in the same light in which
most ancient, and, to say the truth, barbarous or superstitious nations,
looked upon their standards; which, through the cunning of their chiefs,
were generally declared to have been the gift of heaven, or else blessed in
some peculiar way, so as to render them magical and invincible. Thus, the
Romans found the early Caledonians fighting under an ensign of war called
the Sun Beam, which had been transmitted to them by Fyn Mac Cowl;—and the
looked with a supernatural
reverence upon the legionary eagle : the Lochlyns and Danskers reared up a
banner emblazoned with a hugeous raven, the name of which was Reafen: the
Saxons, under Hengist, carried the white horse ; perhaps in compliment to
their leader, whose name means stallion : and the men of Wessex carried a
golden dragon before them.
The English standard, to
which we refer, was a ponderous and unwieldy machine : the body of it was a
kind of box mounted upon wheels, so as to render it locomotive ; and from
the centre of this box was reared the lofty mast of a ship, surmounted by a
glittering silver cross; and around this last were displayed, fluttering in
the breezes, the gorgeous banners of St. Peter, St. John de Beverly, and St.
Wilfred. Conspicuous rallying points, such as this served for, were in use
all over the Continent of Europe about the eleventh century.
If such an apparatus would
make men fight, why, let them use it, and the desire of their commanders and
of their country is fulfilled. He who infused his soldiers with a
superstitious pride, in tutoring them to defend this machine against their
foes, (and consequently, if not ostensibly, to defend themselves at the same
time,) instilled a hyper-natural strength into their arms, and a
hyper-ordinary courage into their hearts; and thus, by such a practice,
victories followed. But, take away all the mysticism from the box upon
wheels, the mast, and the flags, and then, for all the good it would do the
army, it might as well have been put into the fire.
Men do not know their real
powers until they have occasion to put them -forth in critical positions ;
and the plan adopted in the dark ages (and it will even succeed in the
enlightened ones) was to work upon the powers of their pseudo-faith, namely,
their superstition. The pride of preserving their badge unviolated, and the
idea of shame attached to any injury which might befall it alighting on
themselves in condemnation, braced them with new nerves, and inspirited them
with energies scarcely their own.
But the battle began, and the
onslaught was fierce. The English rushed upon the van of the Scots; and so
vigorous was the charge, that the latter were enforced to give ground. They
were unwittingly driven back upon the centre, where David commanded in
propria persona very improperly—improperly,, because his commands, as issued
to his men, failed in making them obey as he directed, that is, in cutting
his enemies to bits. In fine, they disobeyed his orders: he told them to
gain him the victory, but they did not. Seeing confusion spread amongst the
ranks, seeing the cool discipline of his army broken in upon, and seeing the
front line falling back upon him as the Southrons advanced, he found it
expedient to see what was next to be done. Having seen into this, without
looking far so to do, and being resolved that to contend any-longer would be
but false vplour, he decided upon embracing that truest part of valour
designated discretion. His doughty son had hit hard with his metal brand all
who were not for him; and he himself had vehemently insisted that his
soldiers should conquer or—give in. This was all vanity in the commencement
of the action, and vexation of spirit attended on the end.
Giving up the day for lost,
he turned about his horse's head, and hastily retreated, with part of his
shattered forces, towards Carlisle city, where he immured himself peevishly
within the walls of the castelet.
Historiographers write that
he lost ten thousand men on this occasion; but this is doubted by some
readers, as it is known that the English did not think they had done so much
as to instigate them to pursuit, and we furthermore find that the Scots were
able to renew the war next year. Howbeit, not long after, a peace was
concluded betwixt the two kingdoms; and Prince Henry, the same who had hit
all opposers so hard with his metal brand during the late battle, was
enfeoffed with Huntingdon and Northumberland, on condition that he should do
service to Stephen for them.
David continued the friend of
his niece, the Lady Empress Maude, even so long as his spirit continued to
inhabit his earthly clay; but, after he had reigned more than twenty-nine
years, the said spirit bid him adieu at Carlisle, and went aloft.