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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter V


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 unto himself.

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 Strath-Clwyde.

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 remarked.

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 William.

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 away hastily.

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 estate:

"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 home.

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 Romans themselves

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.


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