Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter IV

Ancient Kings of Scotland. — Wars between the Britons, Danes, and Saxons.

The many warlike, famous kings
That reigned o'er parts of Scotland;
They did such fierce and fiery things,
They rendered it a hot land.

After Fingal and his Caledonian warriors defeated Caracalla, as he marshalled his host beneath the wings of the Roman eagle, perpetual hostilities befel savagely between the two nations for several generations of men. It was in the year 211 that the battle, to which we refer, took place. Ossian afterwards, in the palace of Selma,—that stood upon the rock by the water side, and at whose base were the white sands he speaks of, (which, by the way, are now brown,) and also, when the wind was favourable, within hearing of the roaring tide that rushed over the rocky ledge of Cona, and within sight of the most ancient castle of Dunstaffnage across Loch Etive,—there sang the deeds of heroes achieved on this bloody field. There, whilst the wilk, brimming with mead, was quaffed by the chiefs, whose spears now leant against the wall,—there did Ossian strike the harp, and tell how Caracal closed his wings of pride and fled before the hardy sons of Albin.

The northern tribes continued unceasingly to assail the works of Adrian, whenever there was any chance of compassing any good to themselves, or any evil toward their foes; and in these attacks they were repelled by a succession of Roman commanders during two centuries.

After the meteoric Arthur had descended to the grave, like a falling star that shoots from its sphere on high, where it had been the light of the world, then, over those amorous parts lying round about the pleasant shores of the Solway, the fierce spirit of contention took dwelling within the bosoms of men, so that dire and cruel wars set them quarrelling together.

The authentic records of these times are scarce and obscure; the meager fragments of history that have come down to us from certain kronkills can hardly be accredited; and if it were not for the purer light of tradition, (which is always the truest part of history,) we should be lamentably deficient in all that relates to the sun-rising—the early dawn of Scottish affairs.

The Scoto-Hibernian tribe of the Dalriads from the Green Island, were located in the country of the Epidii, or on that part of Caledonia which is now the western half of Argyleshire ; and they were spreading themselves from this point in radii over the land, much to the annoyance of their neighbours, whose homes they invaded. It is an unpleasant thing to have ones house and home entered by strangers. These colonies were led by the three stalwart sons of Ere, severally ycleped Loarn, Fergus, and Angus, the second of whom (Fergus) being afterwards the progenitor of a long line of kings in Scotland.

Whilst these things were doing amongst the Kelts and Dalriads of the north, the Jutes, Hen-gist and Horsa, were cutting bull-hides into thongs, after the effeminate yet classic ensample of the lady Dido, and were measuring out land in Thanet, whereon to ensconce themselves. Is it not rational to suppose that the old term of a hide of land took its rise from this act of Hengist?

These ealdormen, or chieftains, with their followers, arrived in three keels, or vessels; and Vortigern, " one of the Three Drunkards of Britain," as celebrated in the Triads, sent them cards of invitation, courteously bidding them come and crush a cup of metheglin with him and his family. Rowena and the bowl together were irresistible ; Hengist married the one, and quaffed the other. The son-in-law then fought the battles of his new sire, and received ample territory in recompense. But it has been well said that, "where much is given, much will be required."

The demands of the strangers increased in proportion to the liberality of the Britons; so that, not content with what had been bestowed on them, they began to clamour for more ; and when this more was refused, they got into a passion and tried to snatch it by force. The Jutes even joined with the Picts and Scots, and ravaged the lands of their late entertainers. This course was neither just nor amiable. After divers achievements, smacking rather of war than of love, they established themselves finally in the kingrick of Cant-wara Land.

About the same time that the Jutes were conquering Kent, Ella and a pugnacious band of Saxons were locating themselves very unceremoniously in Sussex, then the country of the Regni. They fought with the Britons, and prevailed on them to take flight into the forest of Andreade, as the only practicable mode of keeping their souls and their bodies identified in one and the same individual.

Advices touching these successes appear to have been wafted back to the old Teutons across the eastern sea; for not long after Ella had built his throne, and had been hailed as the first Bretwalda, or Emperor of the Isle of Briton, others of his countrymen followed his course, and settled themselves in Hampshire. This they did not do without a great deal of cutting argument and chop logic with the natives, and Geraint their prince, who endeavoured in vain, through the rhetoric of swords and hatchets, to talk them down.

Another colony debated cruel war with the men of Essex, led on by the Supreme Lord, or Suzerain, ycleped iEscwin; and in spite of all that the Britons could say to them, in trying to persuade them not to persist in coming, still they were so headstrong that they would.

At this most dreary epocha also, now came over the Angles, angling for territory much in the same way that their ancient neighbours the Jutes and Saxons had done.

So savagely did these tribes demean themselves, but more especially the Saxons, who counted the greatest numbers, spread themselves over the greatest number of hides of land, and committed the most cruelty, that men of letters have, judging by their stern attributes, shrewdly dived into the derivation and origin of the term Saxon. Some "say it arose from the word seax, the name of the short sword which they always wore, and which they were so fond of using against their enemies; but Higden, as may be seen in the Polycronycon, derives it otherwise. "Men of that cowntree," says he, "ben more lyghter and stronger on the see, than other scommers or theeves of the see, and pursue theyr enemyes fulle harde bothe bye water and bye londe, and been called Saxones of Saxum, that is, a sfowe, for they ben as harde as stones, and uneasy to fare withe."

The British kingdoms of Deyfyr and Bryneich (latinized into Deira and Bernieia), extending from the Humber to the British Sea, or Firth of Forth, were, according to Palgrave, divided from each other by a forest, occupying the tract between the Tyne and Tees; and which, unreclaimed by man, was abandoned to the wild deer. Properly speaking, he further says, this border-land, now the bishoprick of Durham, does not seem originally to have belonged to either kingdom; but, in subsequent times, the boundary between Deira and Bernieia was usually fixed at the Tyne. The Trans-humbrane countries were much exposed, at an early period, to the attacks of the Jutes and Saxons. The Britons of Strathclyde and Cumbria, whose territory lay on the western side of the country, yet stretched over to those places which these "scommers, or theeves" were invading, aroused themselves and opposed them.

In these wars the natives of Reged, comprising all the district about Annandale, the shores of the Solway, and the Debateable Land, being the scene of our history, and over which the renowned Urien held his sceptre, took active measures to beat back these uncourteous strangers into the ocean from whence they had come. But Urien, the hero of the bards and the subject for song, found in Ida a sturdy foe. This son of Angle-land succeeded in erecting a tower on a lofty promontory of the coast, which served him at once both for a castle and a palace. The Britons gave it the name of the " Shame of Bernieia", so humiliated did they feel at this act of their enemies. Ida afterwards bestowed it on his queen Bebba, from whom it took the appellation of Bebban-Burgh, the burgh or fortress of Bebba; and thence became abbreviated into Bamborough.

The separate states of Deira and Bernieia, governed for a series of years by Ella or Ida and his descendants, who traced back their genealogy to Woden, were at last united into the one sole and independent kingdom of Northumbria. Against these the old dwellers of Reged and Cumbria fought frequent and fierce battles. The natural boundary that separated them from each other, was the ridge of mountains running north and south through the island, which has oft-times been called the British Apennines. These mountains, in this part of modern England, then served the original possessors of the soil in good stead against the encroachments of the new comers, even as the mountains of Wales protected their brethren from the men of Merkenricke or Mercia. It is true, these obstacles, in both cases, were finally surmounted and passed; but they opposed a barrier so formidable, not only from their height and ruggedness, but also from the morasses with which they abounded, and from the shelter which their crags, glens, and fastnesses gave to the besieged, that several centuries elapsed before the Saxons could penetrate so far as their western sides.

The Gododin, an ancient Welsh poem by a contemporary bard, tells, in piteous language, of the fierce encounters that befel between the natives and the Teutons, who had come to molest them. The Danes were, perhaps, the most restless, pertinacious, and turbulent of all the various invaders of Lloegr: they had succeeded in planting themselves in the northern parts of England (according to modern appellation) ; but no sooner found themselves rooted there so firmly as to be without fear of eradication by those whom they had dispossessed, than they set out upon new conquests, and pierced far into the states of Cumbria, Reged, Strathclwyde, Pictavia, and the Scots"' land. Under the command of Halfdane, they spoiled all the churches and monasteries of the sometime converted occupiers of the soil; and they devastated the territories pertaining to the see of St. Cuthbert, which comprised, besides that region about the ancient forest stretching between the Tees and Tyne, the city of Carlisle and a tract of country measuring twelve miles around it, including Gretna.

During these transactions a continual predatory warfare was kept up between them and the previous habitants; who, by the way, were often Saxons, who had, a century or two before, invaded the Britons, even as the Danskers were invading them. In such countless swarms did they at last infest the land, and so ubiquitous did they appear, owing to their numbers and the celerity of their movements, that the terrified and wonder-stricken English used to exclaim, "If thirty thousand are slain in one day, there will be double that number in the field on the morrow."

The Scandinavian pirates had acquired so much fierceness and activity, and these united qualities, blending with an insatiable cruelty and passion for murder, had brought them so many victories, that nothing now appeared likely to stop their career until they should absolutely subjugate the whole of Europe. Such a vast design seems actually to have been planned by them. They not merely overran Great Britain, now so called, and the lesser islands pertaining thereto, but they landed on the shores of France, and boldly carried hostility into the very heart of the country, and even steered their long ships across the Bay of Biscay, coasted Portugal, and sailed into the Mediterranean by the Pillars of Hercules.

It was Scandinavian Heathenism against all Christendom. Not a monarch in Europe but trembled for his throne. It was a kind of common cause ; and, if they were defeated in one end of Europe, the other end rejoiced. Thus it is that, when the Scots encountered the Northmen and overthrew them in a fierce battle, Charlemagne, in a distant region, and reigning over another country having no connexion with Scotland, felt that the Scots had done him a service by checking the progress of the common enemies of one great portion of the world. We believe that it was in grateful acknowledgment for this good deed that he professed himself and his successors to be ever the friendly allies of the Scots, to be their faithful reliance and their protection; and, in everduring token whereof, the double tressure drawn round about the lion on the shield of this kingdom was added, an heraldic symbol typifying that France, under the badge of the Fleur-de-lis, united by bands round the Lion, should be the protector of Scotland.

It is a pleasant thing if we can, in serving ourselves, also at the same time serve our neighbours. In fighting this battle-field, the Scots certainly were intent upon serving themselves; but such fair service did they do their brother monarchs in the distant neighbourhood, that the thanks of all Europe, as well as those of Charlemagne, poured in upon them.

The descendants of the Romanized Britons, occupying what was originally the lands of the Ottadini, Sclgovaj, Gadeni, the Damnii of Clydes-dale, and of the Novantes of Galloway, long maintained themselves independent of their Anglo-Saxon oppressors; that is, in so far as this, that, although they suffered defeat and persecution from them at detached periods too often repeated, still, through tact in retiring from them amongst the wilder regions of Valencia, as this Roman province was called, or in wisely shunning pitched battles when they perceived the foe to be too strong for them, they kept themselves a separate people, devoted to their own laws, and governed by their own Pendragon.

The province of Valencia, during the supremacy of the Roman power, comprised all that territory enclosed between the Wall of Lollius Urbicus on the north, stretching from the Firth of Clyde to the Pictish Sea, and the works of Severus on the south, running from Solway Firth to the Tyne.

The aborigines, now partly Romanized through intercourse with their first conquerors, still continued to be the prevailing people. Their individuality was first weakened when the Teutons became masters of their eastern districts of Bernieia, since called Berwickshire, Lothian, &c., and compelled them to the adoption of new customs and new institutions. They pushed their conquests northwards to the foot of the Grampians, and are supposed to have been the founders of the city of Edinburgh. It is more than probable that the Britons had long had a dun, or fortress, on the commanding and isolated rock now occupied by the castle, as such an advantageous position could scarcely have been overlooked; but the name of Edwins Burgh, or, as called by the contemporary Britons, Dun-Edin, clearly points out the fact, that the Saxons under Edwin gave name, and also consideration, strength, and power, to this place.

Their seaxes opened a way for them westward; and they warred inveterately with the natives, whom they had for the most part cooped up in the wildernesses of Reged and Galloway, and hesitated not to pass the Catrail, a remarkable trench running north and south through those parts as a boundary, and in some sort resembling the Dyke bf Offa, constructed to separate Mercia from Wales.

Contemporary with Alfred of England, reigned Gregory, surnamed the Great, over the turbulent vassals of the Lowlands. He fought hard against the Danes, and, in return, the Danes fought hard against him; but it is rational to conclude that he, nevertheless, fought the hardest, and for this reason, to wit,—he conquered them, and put a multitude to the sword.

He then turned his seaxes against the Cumbrians, who, being mostly Picts, were at that actual time in alliance with his foes. He overcame them, and they promised never to be so naughty again: but Constantino the Pendragon soon forgot his promise, and dared to invade Annandale. Gregory followed him — came up with him at Lochmaben near Springfield—fought with him—and slew him there by the margins of the four lakes.

To these invaders the Lowlanders probably owe the Scoto-Saxon language as existing amongst them since that period.

It is remarkable, observes Sir Walter Scott, that the obscure contests of the Britons and Saxons yet survive in traditional song. For this we have to thank the institution of the Bards, the second rank of the Druids, and partaking of their sacred character.

This order survived the fall of Druidism, and continued to perpetuate whilst it exaggerated the praises of the British chieftains, who continued to fight in defence of the Cumbrian kingdom of Reged, and the more northern district of Strath-Clwyde.

The chief of these Bards, of whom we still possess the lays in the ancient British language, are Taliessin, Merlin of Caledonia, Aneurin, and Llywarch Hen. The two last appear to have been princes; and, contrary to the original rules of their order, they, as well as Merlin, were warriors.

Urien of Reged, the shores of whose kingdom were washed by the waters of the Solway and the Sark, and his son Owain, of whom we have made mention, were much-loved matter of song; and Llywarch Hen had the advantage of witnessing the valorous deeds achieved in the morning by the light of the sun, which at evening he chaunted v by the light of lamps and torches.

These native princes, however, do certainly appear to have maintained a long struggle with the Saxons, which was frequently successful, and might have been eventually .so, had not the remains of the provincial Britons been divided into two petty kingdoms, of Cumbria and' Strath-CIwyde, and those tribes of warriors frequently distracted by disunion among themselves. As it was, they finally lost their independence ; for no kingdom, any more than a house, can stand when it is divided against itself.

The last king of the Cumbrian Britons, called Dunmail, was slain in a contest nigh unto Ambleside, on the waters of Winandermere, where a hugeous cairn or barrow, raised ad ejus et rei memoriam, is still called Dunmail-Raise ; and his country was ceded to Scotland by the conqueror Edward, in 945.

Strath-Clwyde, sometimes resisting and sometimes submitting, maintained a precarious independence until about 975, when Dunwallon, the last independent monarch of the northern Britons, was defeated by Kenneth III., King of the Scots, and is said to have buried himself, his mishaps and his shame, within the privity of a cloister's walls.

Upon the death of Alfred, the succession devolved upon his son Edward, ycleped the Elder, and upon Ethelwald his first cousin. Divers un-cousinly contentions ensued betwixt these relations as to who should finally enjoy the sovereignty; and, had not death arrested Ethelwald in the midst of his career, widows and orphans would have abounded in England.

Edward now entefed upon the dominion of the greater part of the island, with the reservation of certain lesser governments appertaining to his sister, Ethelfleda, "the Lady of Mercia." This heroine was the Boadicea—the Semiramis — the Zenobia of that day : she ruled with penetration and sagacity, and she acted with promptitude and effect. Victory followed her steps, and power supported her throne. But she died. She left her kingdom—or rather queendom—to her daughter Elfwina; for the Salique law had no part with the Saxons, but the authority was allowed to " fall by the spindle side,1' that is, through the female line.

After a while some misunderstanding arose, and Elfwina was captured by her uncle Edward : he conducted her into Mercia, and from that time we get no tidings of her. Peradventure there was foul play.

Edward's territories were now still further extended, and his puissance became irresistible. He overcame many fierce Holdas of the Danes, who had been teasing him for a course of years with invasion, herriment, and plunder; he fortified certain burgs of his kingdom, that he might strengthen himself and terrify his foes; and he secured the affections, or at all events the fears or wills of his people, by crafty policy and prudent administration.

Such was the dread in which he was held, that princes who would gladly have driven their chariot-wheels over his neck, if so be they could, fulsomely came forward with flattery, and craved his alliance. By alliance, howbeit, Edward understood submission. To submission, moreover, were they obliged to stoop ; his strongholds, his comparative wealth, and his forces in the field, compelled them to it, whatever their preference might have been.

Within the closure of the "timbered," or palisaded, burg of Witham in Essex did the people flock to tender their allegiance. The towns of Northampton and Bedford followed the example ; and then, with many wry mouths, came Colchester and Maiden. After that, all the Dansker Ploldas of the eastern possessions submitted in the same way, as a course not easily to be eschewed. Mercia was equally obedient, that had some time been hostile; Ethelfleda's subjects "turned to him" and acknowledged him their sovereign, besides certain of the kingdoms of the Heptarchy.

These successes superinduced others. All the kings of the Britons—Howel Dda, Cledauc, Ed-wall,—became Edward's liege men, and rendered him homage, together with their vassals. North of the Humber it was just the same ; the Danes and the Angles swore fealty, never to serve any other prince but only him.

Last of all, let us turn to the theme of our history : the men of Gretna Green, in the district of Reged, in the British kingdom of Strath-Clwyde, accepted him as their " Father, Lord, and Protector ;" and the princes of Galloway, of Cumbria, and the King of the Scots, along with all their people, threw up their caps and cried "Long life to Edward!"

About the year 925, after a brilliant reign, Edward fought his last battle: he wrestled with death, and was thrown. Athelstane, his son, succeeded to the globe and sceptre.

Albeit the Britons had acknowledged the two former Saxon kings their sovereign lords, they now, in this reign, tried to regain their independence; and to that end they arose to assert their ancient rights. But Athelstane arose too. The end of this rising was, that one side or the other must be put down. Verily the seax, which the Teutons had imported along with themselves from the shores of the Baltie, soon persuaded the Kelts to give in ; furthermore, they were necessitated to pay a yearly tribute of much precious metal into the "hoard," or treasury, of the King of London. All the Cymri of the north—and the vellum chronicles especially make mention of those who dwelt by the waters of the Solway— were compelled into submission to the domination of this fair-haired interloper, besides succumbing to the vice-regency of his various Jarls and Heah-Gerefas.

In process of time the Gothic languages began to spread themselves over the kingricks of Valencia ; the Scots and Picts, amalgamated into one people, assuming the former name: but we are told that Reged, for many lunar cycles, maintained its original Kimbric purity unmixed or sophisticated, and that this purity, in the remote regions of Galloway, was still more marked and more enduring. This is not so much matter of marvel when we recollect that in Wales, to which nook of the ancient British nation Urien of Reged was enforced to slink away from his ravishers, the language there had survived through all vicissitudes in prevalence and purity for nearly a thousand years. As it was in Wales, so it was in Galloway,— the aborigines were driven westward, even until the breakers of the Atlantic dashed over their ankles: here they made a stand; and the last traces of their identity are not obliterated yet.

Return to our Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus