Development of a Border
Although the legendary British hero King Arthur has mythical associations with the Eildon Hills, an early Welsh epic poem describes a real war band of Gododdin and their heroic ride from Din Eiddyn (Edinburgh) to Catraeth (Catterick) in Yorkshire, where they died in battle against the Angli. These riders would have passed through the Borders and along the Roman road, Dere Street, which continued to have a strategic importance and influenced where armies marched and battles were fought.
The Anglian kingdom of Bernicia (which later became part of Northumbria) extended into the Borders in the course of the 6th and 7th centuries. Its border with the Britons of Strathclyde may have been marked, in Teviotdale, by the Catrail. This was a boundary made up of intermittent linear earthworks (as well as ridges, streams and perhaps woods which are no longer there), which separated the arable lowlands of the east from the less fertile uplands of the west.
Feudalism and Overlordship
Feudalism was a social system, introduced to Britain by the Normans of Northern France, in which a piece of land (a fief) was held as part of a close mutual bond between a liege lord and his tenant or vassal. This bond could be between the king and one of his nobles, or between a noble and one of his free tenants. The terms of the agreement imposed obligations on both lord and vassal. One feature of the system was that a fief was not rented in the modern sense but the occupying vassal provided his liege lord with services in kind. Military service was particularly important because it allowed the king to raise a feudal army from his vassals and their supporters. King David I introduced the system and granted lands to Norman knights from England to encourage Scotland’s development. The first earthwork castles, (such as the Lovel family’s motte and bailey at Hawick) were erected by these Norman nobles, partly for their protection and partly as a mark of their social position.
The Border Wars
King David I intervened in the English civil wars of the 12th century with the intention of obtaining England’s northernmost counties (Cumberland had been Scottish before 1092). In this he was successful and for more than ten years Scotland’s southern boundary lay between the mouth of the River Tees and Morecambe Bay. These territories reverted to the English king, Henry II, who for a time also held the Borders castles of Jedburgh, Roxburgh (across the Tweed from present day Kelso) and Berwick.
The greater part of the 13th century saw peace between the two kingdoms and the Scottish claim to England’s northernmost counties was finally abandoned by Alexander II in the Treaty of York in 1237. In the Wars of Independence over the late 13th and early 14th centuries, Scottish nobility was usually divided into pro- and anti-English parties (many nobles still had lands in England) and this in itself was cause for civil war. King Edward I had negotiated a treaty at Birgham (Eccles) near Coldstream, by which his son would unite the Scottish and English houses through marriage. Now he took advantage over Scotland’s weakness to apply pressure to Scotland’s King John (of the House of Balliol) and make him compliant to his will. Although John is often regarded as Edward’s puppet, it was his defiance of the English king which led to his defeat and deposition in 1296 and the loss of the Scottish crown jewels, the Stone of Destiny and the royal Border castles of Berwick, Roxburgh and Jedburgh.
During this period Scottish resistance stiffened under William Wallace, who defeated an English army at Stirling Bridge in 1297 and was named “Guardian of the Realm”, reputedly in Selkirk church. Wallace’s victories (and his brutal death in 1305) are the stuff of legend but it was Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick and claimant to the crown of Scotland, who now assumed leadership of the resistance movement and developed Wallace’s guerrilla tactics to achieve eventual success. The Scottish nobility and clergy rallied to Bruce’s support and he was crowned King Robert I in 1306. Robert I worked hard to unite his subjects but King Edward II of England managed to alienate his own supporters with little effort and brought his army to humiliating defeat at Bannockburn in 1314, The royal castles of Berwick, Roxburgh and Jedburgh were key strongholds and enabled English troops to continue to dominate Teviotdale and lower Tweeddale, except when the castles themselves were under attack. During the 16th century the Scottish and English marches became notorious for the lawlessness among its inhabitants, who were a constant thorn in the sides of the authorities. Reiving, or robbery, became a way of life, as did kidnapping and enforced protection money. The words “gang” and “blackmail” originated on the frontier at this time, and grievances between families were kept alive for generations. Although the authorities did their best to control and suppress this lawlessness, they also made good use of the Borderers as light horsemen whenever it was convenient to do so.
Although King James IV married Margaret (the sister of King Henry VIII of England) he nonetheless honoured his obligations to his French allies when Henry invaded France in 1513. James, in turn, invaded England and was killed, along with much of Scotland’s nobility. The Battle of Flodden (Northumberland) which took place only a few miles south of the Tweed, was the worst military disaster in Scottish history.
The 1540s was a particularly hard time for the Borders. Henry VIII’s armies with the support of the English fleet, passed through the Borders and left behind garrisons at Roxburgh, Hume, Eyemouth, Lauder and Ferniehirst (Jedburgh). Although these were desperate times for the Scots they did have some victories, notably at the Battle of Ancrum Moor (1545). Joy at this victory was brief for later in that year the Earl of Hertford invaded, putting most of the Merse and Teviotdale to the flame (fig.7The English queen Elizabeth I maintained a truce with Scotland and in general this was kept, although the armed commotion known as the Redeswire Fray (1575) developed from what should have been a peaceful meeting of the Wardens of the March on the Border at Carter Bar (Jedburgh/ Southdean). Wardens’ meetings were regular events to hear and redress grievances against reivers.