Gilbert of Sempringham founded the Gilbertine Order. It was the only English founded order and it was also the only one with double houses. Gilbertine nuns followed the Benedictine pattern whilst the monks followed the Augustinian pattern of canons. Not all houses were double but the one at Watton in East Yorkshire was.
The story was recorded by Ailred of Rievaulx in the early 1160s. Essentially the nun in question was an oblate in that she had been in the priory since she was four years old. Interestingly, the Gilbertines had an age requirement for entry to their order – 24 for men and 20 for women. However, our nun gained admittance as a child at the request of the Bishop of York.
The nun became enamoured of either a lay brother or one of the canons. The attraction was reciprocated. They arranged to meet. The inevitable happened. The nun was found to be pregnant. The nun was beaten and imprisoned and when her lover captured she was forced to castrate him herself. He was returned to the male side of the house at Watton and disappears from the story.
However, the nun returned to her prison, was visited by the now deceased archbishop and two women who took the baby leaving the teenage nun in her original state of virtue. At which point she was allowed out of prison – a miracle having occurred.
It would have to be said that the Gilbertines had strict rules about segregating the canons from the nuns. Nonetheless the priory at Watton which was one of the most important Gilbertine Foundations was said to have many secret passages.
Watton was where Marjory Bruce, the eleven year old daughter of Robert the Bruce, was imprisoned by Edward I in 1306. She regained her freedom after the Battle of Bannockburn.
G. Constable, ‘Aelred of Rievaulx and the Nun of Watton: an episode in the early history of the Gilbertine order’, Medieval women, ed. D. Baker, SCH, subsidia, 1 (1978), 205–26
Kenneth III became king of Scotland in 997. He made it into the eleventh century but died in 1005 where upon he was succeeded by a cousin Malcom II who is often identified as Prince of Cumbria, demonstrating that the northern borders between England and Scotland were not as we would recognise them today. He died in 1034 and was succeeded by his grandson – Duncan.
Duncan I signals the start of the reign of the House of Dunkeld. He’d become King of Strathclyde in 1018, again demonstrating that the late tenth – early eleventh century was a time of shifting borders and the amalgamation of kingdoms. King Duncan as all G.C.S.E. students can tell you was bumped off by Macbeth. He became king in 1040 and was succeeded by his step-son who was killed in 1058 when King Duncan’s son took the throne.
Malcolm III is also known as Malcolm Canmore which apparently means “bighead” – there’s not much one can say to that other than to move swiftly on to him marrying a Saxon refugee who promptly became St Margaret of Scotland and filled the court with her Saxon friends and relations making her unpopular with the resident Scots. Malcolm was killed in 1093 near Alnwick – which is the History Jar’s opening gambit on the Anglo-Scots wars that continued intermittently and with varying degrees of ferocity until the beginning of the seventeenth century – not counting the reprise under a different guise in the Civil War in the middle of the century.
Malcolm was succeeded by his brother Duncan III who usurped the throne from Malcolm’s son which is going to make the Duncan numbering somewhat complex at this point – don’t query it, just accept that in this instance Duncan III comes before Duncan II! He grabbed the throne on 13 November 1093 but was turfed off it by the rightful successor the following year – another Duncan. Malcolm’s son is identified as Duncan II because that’s the correct ordering genealogically. Duncan II having gained the throne promptly died meaning that in a game of musical crowns Duncan III became king once more, ruling north of the Forth/Clyde line whilst his nephew Edmund ruled south of the line. Both Donald and Edmund were deposed in 1097 by King Edgar – and then you wonder why I haven’t ventured into Scottish history very much!
The parents of both Edmund and Edgar were Malcolm and Margaret so at least the Crown stayed in the family. When Edgar died the crown passed to his brother Alexander I. History records him as Alexander the Fierce. He married Sybilla who was one of King Henry I’s illegitimate daughters. The couple appear to have had no children so when he died the throne was passed to yet another brother – David who became King David I in April 1124.
If you recall, the inter-marital links between the royal houses of Scotland and England were strong at this time. Henry I had married one of St Margaret’s daughters – Edith who changed her name to Matilda when she married to fit into the Norman court better. Alexander was married to Edith/Matilda’s step-daughter and David I was married to another member of the royal family – Matilda of Huntingdon who was William the Conqueror’s niece or put another way Henry I’s cousin. By right of his marriage to Matilda, David became the earl of Huntingdon which raises the problem of a Scottish king having to do homage to a king of England for his lands in England. And you can see why politics swiftly became very complicated. Most Scottish kings got out of the bind by swearing very specific allegiance to the king of England for their lands in England “saving their own” i.e Scotland wasn’t part of the deal.
David I ruled Scotland whilst England tore itself apart during The Anarchy. He took advantage of the warfare between Stephen and Matilda to reclaim parts of Cumberland which William Rufus had annexed circa 1092, doing building work on Carlisle Castle and eventually dying there in 1153. He was succeeded by his grandson, another Malcolm.
Malcolm IV is know rather unflatteringly to history as Malcolm the Maiden. He was only eleven when he became king. He died in 1165 and was succeeded by his brother William the Lion. He married into the English royal family as well. His wife Ermengarde was the great-granddaughter of Henry I by descent from yet another illegitimate child of the English king.
Their son became Alexander II in 1214. He also married into the English royal family to cement a treaty of friendship. He married Joan Plantagenet, the legitimate daughter of King John- there are two English Joans, this one and Joan Beaufort so be aware when you’re reading about Queen Joan that there were two of them at different times. They married in York Minster in 1221. Joan was only eleven at the time of the marriage. She seems not to have had a strong position at court where her mother-in-law was the power behind the throne. She ultimately returned home to England. The chronicler Matthew Paris suggests that the royal couple were estranged and it is perhaps fortunate for Alexander that Joan died enabling him to remarry. An annulment would have led at the very least to political difficulties.
Alexander III succeeded his father in 1249. He was only eight at the time and on one occasion during his childhood was kidnapped during a power struggle between two noble families. He married in 1251 another English bride sent north to represent parental interests and keep the peace. Margaret was the daughter of King Henry III of England. Henry III didn’t help things when he tried to make Alexander recognise Henry as his overlord. In 1262 Alexander took charge of his kingdom and got round the overlord thing by swearing loyalty to Henry III “saving my own lands” as in what’s in England I am loyal to you for but what’s in Scotland’s mine! Margaret died in 1275. Unfortunately both the couple’s sons died and their daughter Margaret had married Eric II of Norway following Alexander’s attempt to remove the Scandinavians from the Western Isles.
Alexander remarried to ensure that he had a son but was so keen to see his bride that he rode off into a dark and stormy night. His horse threw him and to make matters worse his granddaughter, known as the Maid of Norway, who now inherited the Scottish crown died on her way from Norway to England. Some sources say seasickness whilst others speculate that it was food poisoning.
Thirteen claimants to the throne now emerged – which was not good news which ever way you looked at it.
Initially the Crown was claimed by the House of Balliol in the person of King John. He was the great-great grandson of King David I. He was chosen to become king of Scotland by King Edward I of England who had been asked to referee the situation. John’s wife, for those of you with enquiring minds, was part of the extended Plantagenet family. The situation gave Edward I an opportunity to promote claims of English overlordship – so King John did not necessarily win friends and influence people with his promotion to the kingship – there were also, of course, many other peeved claimants who cheerfully overlooked that genealogically by right of the first born, it was John who should be king.
Robert de Bruce was the next claimant and his claim was that he was closest to the throne by “proximity of blood.” Or put another way he might have been further away in terms of primogeniture i.e. there were older sibling family lines but he was higher up the family tree e.g. if a son survived then that son should inherit rather than a grandson even if he was the heir of the first born.
To cut a long story short John abdicated in 1296. There was an Interregnum without anyone on the throne. Then Robert Bruce seized the throne.
Robert Bruce became King Robert I. He was succeeded by his son David II in 1328 but was then overthrown in 1332 by Edward Balliol who fancied his chances despite his father having abdicated. David II regained the throne the same year but there was another throne swap in 1333 and 1334 and 1335 and 1336 – think of it as an arm wrestling contest where first one then the other seems stronger – David ruled until 1371 when he died. He had no children so was succeeded by his nephew Robert Stewart.
The House of Stewart in the form of Robert II took the throne in 1371. He died in 1390 having produced many children. His son John became king but to avoid confusion…seriously…became Robert III. His son became James I in 1406 which was unfortunate as he was a prisoner of the English at the time.
James I married Joan Beaufort, the daughter of the Earl of Somerset, granddaughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. It was a royal love story. He wrote her a poem and dropped roses out of his window for her to find. When they returned to Scotland James was eventually assassinated and Joan took a bloody vengeance on the men who’d killed her husband.
Their son became James II when he was seven years old. Joan was marginalised after her second marriage. James II was killed on 3rd August 1460 when a canon exploded during the Siege of Roxburgh during an attempt to remove it from English custody. James III was nine years old and was assassinated in his turn in 1488. He was succeeded by his son James IV who married Margaret Tudor the eldest daughter of King Henry VII. James was killed by his royal brother-in-law’s army at the Battle of Flodden on 9th September 1513. His head and body are probably buried in separate locations having been carried back to London – which possibly didn’t help Anglo-Scottish relations very much let alone sibling ones.
James V was just seventeen months old when he became king of Scotland. he ruled until his own death after the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542. He allegedly turned his face to the wall when he heard the news of the Scottish defeat saying of his new born daughter that the crown came with a lassie and would go with one. His demise resulted in the so-called “Rough Wooing” with Henry VIII forcibly attempting to marry off his sister’s granddaughter – the infant Mary Queen of Scots – to his own son Edward. The Scots arranged a marriage with the French dauphin and sent their queen to France where she remained until Francis died and she returned home.
Mary , queen from seven days old, married for a second time to Henry Stuart. Henry’s father Matthew Stewart decided he liked the French spelling of the name better for those of you wondering about the difference in spelling – same family – fashionable Matthew. Henry, styled Lord Darnley from birth was the grandson of Margaret Tudor from her second marriage which meant that Mary’s son James who was born on 19th June 1566 had a double dose of Tudor blood. His grandmother Margaret Douglas (Margaret Tudor’s daughter by her second husband) had been born on the English side of the border when Margaret Tudor had fled Scotland – so the Darnley side of the equation were English born and English subjects so not legally debarred from inheriting English titles.
More importantly James VI of Scotland as he became was male, with a direct Tudor bloodline and by 1603 had his own heir and a spare. Following the death of Elizabeth I who died without naming an heir James was invited into England to become James I of England.
Time for a cold compress and a lay down in a darkened room?….
There were fourteen (ish) landmark battles fought on English soil between 1066 and 1403. I have mentioned a couple of other battles in this post for the sake of neatness.
The two key battles of the Norman Conquest are:
25th September 1066 – the Battle of Stamford Bridge
This saw the defeat of Norwegian king Harald Hardrada by Harold Godwinson. According to legend a Norseman wielding a battle axe held the bridge crossing on his own for half an hour before a Saxon overcame the warrior by the simple expedient of finding his way beneath the bridge without being seen and used his spear to wound the man from below. The English put Hardrada to flight but then had to march from Yorkshire to the south coast. Hardrada and Harold’s brother Tostig who had sided with Hardrada were killed.
14th October 1066 – The Battle of Hastings
There were various skirmishes, sieges and revolts during this period but only two set piece battles. There were no more set piece battles until The Anarchy (1135-1153).
Stephen of Blois became king in 1135. His uncle Henry I had made his barons swear to recognise the rights of his only surviving legitimate child the Empress Matilda but after he died many barons decided that they preferred a king to a queen; Stephen arrived in England first and secured the treasury. Matilda was supported by her half-brother Robert Earl of Gloucester and her uncle David I of Scotland. David also made a claim on Northumberland by right of his wife – Matilda, Countess of Huntingdon who was the daughter of Waltheof of Northumbria. He began his campaign by capturing Carlisle and then advancing to Northumbria via Hexham. Inevitably the Scots and the English clashed.
22nd August 1138 The Battle of the Standard (Northallerton)
Eventually the English were victorious but David still retained control over the north of the country. Carlisle would not become English again until Henry II gained the throne.
2nd February 1141The Battle of Lincoln Stephen had been besieging Lincoln Castle when he received word that Robert of Gloucester and Ranulph of Chester were on their way to raise the siege. Stephen decided to fight and was captured for his pains.
1st July 1143 The Battle of Wilton. Robert of Gloucester attempted to capture King Stephen at Wilton Abbey. It was a surprise attack taking place at sunset. Stephen and his army attempted to break out but were forced back – Stephen escaped under cover of darkness from the abbey which was on fire by that point in proceedings. I’m in two minds about whether this is a key battle or not so have set it in italics – I don’t think it’s a landmark battle, it didn’t change the course of history – although it would have done had Stephen been killed or captured.
The Anarchy involved rather a lot of sieges, skirmishes and pillaging. As with the earlier Normans warfare was more to do with tactics and attrition than a set piece battle unless it was unavoidable. Stephen besieged Matilda in Arundel Castle for instance and again during the Siege of Oxford in 1142, Matilda had to escape over the frozen river in order to reach safety.
Under the Anjevin monarchs there was relative peace until King John proved unable to keep the empire that his father had built up. He resorted to taxation in order to pay mercenary armies in an attempt to regain his continental territories. This might have been acceptable had he been victorious – but he wasn’t. This led to the First Barons’ War (1215-17)
The First Barons’ War is more notable for its sieges than its battles. However, it is worth noting that the revolting barons had invited the French to invade which meant that after the death of King John, Henry III’s regent William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke had restore order and evict them. First he re-issued the Magna Carta which meant that the barons had very little reason to support the French.
20 May 1217 The Second Battle of Lincoln followed by “the Lincoln Fair” – i.e. a spot of pillaging. William Marshal attacked the Count of Perche who was holding the town but not the castle. There may have been 1000 men involved where as the Battle of the Standard involved armies of four and five thousand on each side. This battle is in italics because of the numbers. This was followed by a sea battle – the Battle of Sandwich.
The Second Baron’s War(1264-1267)
Henry III was nine when he became king. Marshal re-issued Magna Carta. Henry’s barons became used to power during his minority and expected more of a say in the way the country was run. Unfortunately when Henry III began ruling for himself he had a tendency to rely on foreign favourites rather than homegrown barons. He also set about trying to win his grandfather’s empire back – it wasn’t a success. Nor for that matter was his attempt to make his brother Richard the King of the Romans or his son Edmund the King of Sicily. All those campaigns required lots of taxation! In 1258 the barons forced Henry to accept the Provisions of Oxford which gave the barons more of a say in the way the kingdom was ruled. This did not go down particularly well with Henry who was a Plantagenet with the usual autocratic tendencies of medieval monarchs. The was a period of instability followed by outright revolt led by Simon de Montfort in 1263.
14th May 1264The Battle of Lewes
Simon de Montfort V Henry III & his son Prince Edward. Henry III narrowly escaped death and fled the battle field before being captured This resulted in a fifteen month imprisonment for Henry and Edward. This allowed de Montfort and the barons to rule under the auspices of Parliament under the Provisions of Oxford.
4th August 1265 Battle of Evesham
Prince Edward eventually escaped with the aid of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester. Edward rallied marcher lords, took on de Montfort and won.
There was another battle at Chesterfield on 15 May 1266 to bring the Earl of Derby to heel but it wasn’t on the scale of Lewes or Evesham which is why it is not on the list as a key battle.
First War of Scottish Independence
I did say England but it’s almost impossible not to mention the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 that saw William Wallace defeat the English or the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 which saw Edward II put to flight by Robert the Bruce. These victories, together with Edward II’s unmartial outlook, allowed the Scots to invade Northumberland and Yorkshire .
20 September 1319 Battle of Myton
The Scots killed some 4000 English when an English army attempted to prevent the Scots from taking York. The Scots did not then take York because Edward II signed a peace treaty.
The Dispenser War (1321-1322)
Various barons including Edward II’s cousin Thomas of Lancaster rebelled against the king because of his reliance upon the Despensers. They weren’t terribly impressed with the way Edward handled the Scots either.
16th March 1322 The Battle of Boroughbridge Thomas was captured and executed.
14th October 1323 The Battle of Byland – Edward II was staying at Rievaulx Abbey when the Scots and the english encountered one another. The English, led by the Earls of Richmond and Pembrokeshire assumed that they would simply prevent the Scots from ascending Sutton Bank and force them to go the long way round. Instead the Scots chose to fight and ultimately Edward II was forced to flee.
Second War of Scottish Independence
King David II was too young to rule after the death of Robert the Bruce. This was the opportunity for Edward III to regain Scotland. He was supported by Scots who had been dispossessed by Robert the Bruce because they had supported the English during the First War of Independence. There were a series of invasions and King David was sent to France for safety. Edward gained the upper hand and there was a truce until David returned from Scotland. The truce was soon in tatters.
19th July 1333 The Battle of Halidon Hill saw Sir Archibald Douglas being defeated by Edward III. The battle was precipitated by Douglas’s attempt to raise the siege on Berwick which was at that time in Scottish hands.
1346 The Battle of Neville’s Cross David II arrived outside Durham, lost the battle and was captured. He spent the next eleven years in the Tower.
19th August 1388 Battle of Otterburn James, Earl of Douglas crossed the border with 6,000 men. Harry Hotspur, son of the Earl of Northumberland was sent to stop them. During the battle the earl was killed but Hotspur was captured. It was a decisive Scottish victory for the Scots despite the death of their general.
14th September 1402 Battle of Homildon Hill something like 22,000 men clashed. The English were once again led by Harry Hotspur but unlike Otterburn this time the English were victorious.
21st July 1403 Battle of Shrewsbury Between Otterburn and Homildon Richard II was deposed by his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. He was initially supported by the Percies but by 1403 they had changed their minds. The earls of Worcester and Northumberland renounced their loyalty to Henry IV saying that he was guilty of perjury. In reality Northumberland was irritated that Henry had taken the Scottish hostages that had been captured at Homildon which Northumberland regarded as Percy profit. Hotspur joined with Owain Glyndwr and the result was the Battle of Shrewsbury. The victory belonged to Henry IV.
Edith or Matilda of Scotland was the wife of Henry I. The couple had four children but only two survived to adulthood – Matilda and William. It was the death of William that ultimately plunged England into a lengthy and rather bloody civil war.
Edith was born circa 1080 in Dunfermline to Malcolm III and Margaret , grand-daughter of King Edmund Ironside and great niece of Edward the Confessor . Somewhat confusingly since Margaret fled England along with her family at the time of the Norman Conquest it turns out that Edith’s godfather was Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror. William’s queen, Matilda of Flanders was also present at Edith’s baptism as godmother. It’s recorded that little Edith pulled at the royal headdress – this was later seen as a sign that Edith would herself be queen one day. Tyler identifies the fact that Edith’s name identifies her Saxon royal heritage whilst the choice of godparents reflects the political capital of the infant.
When she was about six Edith was sent to England to be educated by the nuns of Romsey Abbey in Wiltshire. The Royal House of Wessex had a tradition of association with the abbey and Edith’s aunt Christina was the abbess there. She had left Scotland in 1086 to become a nun. Edith’s older sister Mary went with her. As well as spending time in Romsey the girls also spent time at Wilton Abbey – again there was a royal connection to the House of Wessex – Edward the Confessor’s wife Edith Godwinson was associated with the nunnery and had retired there after the Conquest. Wilton was regarded as a centre for female learning as well as a centre of spirituality. The nunnery had a nail from the True Cross, bits of the Venerable Bede and St Edith.
The choice of these nunneries perhaps reflects the political heritage of Edith of Dunfermline. The Normans weren’t necessarily secure on the throne and by maintaining their royal behaviours Malcolm III and his wife were leaving a path open to reclaiming the crown as well as arranging good marriages for their daughters.
Unsurprisingly Edith had lots of prospective suitors including the 2ndearl of Surrey (de Warenne) and Alan Rufus the Lord of Richmond. It is also suggested that William Rufus might have been a candidate for Edith’s hand – it is perhaps one reason why Edith was required to wear a religious habit during her childhood.
Edith’s settled life came to an end on November 13 1093 when her father and one of her brothers was killed at the Battle of Alnwick. Her mother died on the 16thNovember at Dunfermline where she is buried. Aside from a controversy about whether she was a nun or not History does not know where Edith was between 1093 and 1100.
At some point in 1093 Edith left Wilton and was ordered back there by Anselm the Bishop of Canterbury. He believed that she had taken holy orders – that she was in fact a nun. In 1100 Edith was called upon to testify before a council of bishops that although she had been educated at Romsey and Wilton that she had not taken any vows. She stated that Christina had required her to wear a habit to protect her from unwanted attention from Norman lords. Edith does not appear to have had a good relationship with Christina – she stated that her aunt would often give her a sound slapping and “horrible scolding.” She further added that when she was out of her aunt’s sight she tore off the monastic veil that her aunt made her wear and trampled it in the dust.
In addition to Edith’s testimony there was also the fact that Archbishop Lanfranc had ruled that Saxon women who went into hiding in nunneries in the aftermath of the Conquest could not be deemed as having taken monastic vows when they emerged from their hiding places. Although Edith clearly hadn’t gone into hiding due to ravaging Normans, Christina’s dressing of the girl in a monastic habit was seen as having stemmed from the same root. William of Malmsebury notes that Christina grew old and died at Romsey so perhaps the move to Wilton was partially to get away from an unloved relation – but that is entirely speculation.
On one hand its evident that Edith/Matilda’s bloodline was ample reason for Henry I to marry her but William of Malmsebury states that Henry loved his new bride. Henry I and Edith married on November 11thin Westminster Abbey. Anselm performed the marriage but before doing so told the entire congregation about Edith potentially being a nun and asked for any objections. The congregation- possibly knowing what was good for it- cried out in Edith’s favour. Afterwards she took the name Matilda – not that it stopped Henry I’s lords mocking him by calling him Godrick and his queen Godiva because of the return to Saxon customs that Henry instituted.
And for anyone doubting whether Edith/Matilda was legally able to marry, the fact that a healthy baby daughter, the future Empress Matilda, was born in February 1102 followed by a boy called William in September 1103 put an end to those niggling concerns that Henry might have married a nun – would God have blessed a marriage if it was invalid?
Honeycutt, Lois L. (2005) Matilda of Scotland: A Study in Medieval Queenship
“Edith Becomes Matilda.” England in Europe: English Royal Women and Literary Patronage, C.1000–C.1150, by ELIZABETH M. TYLER, University of Toronto Press, Toronto; Buffalo; London, 2017, pp. 302–353. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt1whm96v.14. Accessed 24 Feb. 2020.
Candlemas or the Feast of the Purification of Mary is February 2 and the date when the baby Jesus was supposed to be presented at the Temple. Jesus is the light of the world – there were ceremonies that involved processing with candles which were often then blessed. These candles were supposed to be helpful in time of illness – they would be decorated and kept throughout the following year. They were also supposed to protect dwellings from storms.
Candlemas is one of those feasts that turns up in a historical context to mark the time of year. It’s not a quarter day but it is an important feast. I’ve come across it most often when reading about the border between England and Scotland. George MacDonald Fraser made the feast famous with his novel The Candlemas Road a story set in the sixteenth century about Lady Margaret Dacre the heiress of Askerton Hall.
Essentially Candlemas was the feast that was half way between Christmas and the Spring Equinox. For the borderers this meant the “light at the end of the tunnel” so to speak – the reivers’ horses weren’t up to the task of raiding from that point onwards.
Raiding and reiving seems to have gone on all year but the cycle of the seasons made the winter months particularly noticeable. “The longer the nights grow the worse they will be,” notes Sir Robert Carey in his memoirs of his time as the Deputy Warden of the English West March. George MacDonald Fraser records that from September to November the land was dry and the cattle which had been in the meadows all summer were at their best i.e. it was good riding and the cattle were at their most valuable and thus a greater temptation. As the winter progressed the cattle grew weaker and the weather was often too bad to want to steal them in any case. By February 2nd – forty days after Christmas, the cattle were in their poorest condition and feed was more expensive so it was unlikely that many people would be feeding their horses the oats they required for hard riding – so if you were a law abiding soul you would probably sleep a little easier…until the better weather at any rate.
It should be noted that there is always an exception! The Scots won the Battle of Nesbit Moor in August 1355 before attacking and sacking Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Edward III was forced to bring an army north in order to defend the castle at Berwick which was under siege. The Scots decided that discretion was a sensible option and backed off before Edward arrived at his destination. Having met with Edward Balliol at Roxburgh, Edward decided to teach the Scots a lesson and in delivered his retribution in February 1356 in the Burned Candlemas Campaign. Basically Edward III set fire to the Lothians and what the English didn’t destroy the Scots did in a bid to force the English back with a burned earth policy. In the end this turned out to be justified as Edward’s fleet was destroyed in winter gales off North Berwick.
Edward expressed his irritation by destroying Haddington Monastery but was eventually forced to turn back.
‘Whitekirk and the ‘Burnt Candlemas’, Rev. Edward B. Rankin in the Scottish Historical Review Vol. 13, No. 50 (Jan., 1916), pp. 133-137
MacDonald-Fraser, George. The Steel Bonnets
Mortimer, Ian. (2008) The Perfect King: the life of Edward III
Most people think that in the aftermath of 1066, having won the Battle of Hastings, that William the Conqueror was able to sit back on his newly acquired throne and twiddle his fingers – after all the story is the Conquest of England and that is usually where the topic stops if you are a school child.
However, William spent the rest of his life dealing with rebellions both in England and in Normandy. His neighbours in Normandy also assumed that if William was in England that the Norman border would make an easy target.
As a result of the various rebellions in England many of the Saxon nobility sought shelter at the Scottish court of Malcolm III. He ended up married to Edgar the Atheling’s sister Margaret in 1071 – who renowned for her piety became St Margaret. Edgar with his family arrived in Scotland in 1068 having previously submitted to William only to join with Gospatrick of Northumbria to rebel against William. According to legend the family was on board a vessel destined for the Continent, remember they were originally from Hungary before being invited by Edward the Confessor to return to England.
So far as Malcolm was concerned his marriage to Margaret gave him a claim to the English throne – stories tend to linger more on the romance of the fleeing princess rather than the potential for a land grab. It was an opportunity for Malcolm to expand his borders southwards during times when William had his hands full elsewhere. He celebrated his marriage by invading various bits of Northumberland and Cumberland. It is probable that he was looking to establish a secure border and annex Cumberland which the Normans had not yet got around to quelling aside from the easily accessible coastal areas.
In 1072 William, having dealt with the revolting Northerners, turned his attention to the Scots. He sent an army across the border as well as a fleet of ships. The Scots and the Normans met at Abernethy in Perthshire. Malcom lost the ensuing battle and he was forced to sign the Treaty of Abernethy. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded that Malcolm agreed to become William’s man and his son Duncan was handed over as surety for future good behaviour. Edgar was asked politely to leave Scotland and William gave Malcom lands in Cumberland – but which in reality did not receive the Norman stamp until the reign of William Rufus – and even then in times of trouble the Scots were quick to shift the border south. Just as an aside the Norman habit of giving Scottish nobility land in the north of England as a way of turning them into liege men did ultimately change the Scottish language and the politics of the region.
This all sounds very clear cut but the Normans did not successfully invade Scotland – Scotland remained firmly in the hands of the Scots – albeit a Scottish court which many felt was becoming anglicised by the presence of Margaret, her children by Malcolm and the assorted ragtag of Saxons who had sought shelter across the border.
Throughout this period there were skirmishes and battles across the borders between England and Scotland. In 1079 the treaty had to be re-imposed after a Norman army skirmished across the border in retaliation for Malcolm’s incursions into Northumberland.
The treaty broke down completely in 1093. Malcom was killed at the Battle of Alnwick on the 13th November and Margaret, apparently from grief, died on the 16th November. Malcolm was succeeded by his brother Donald.
Paxton House in Berwickshire, pictured here from the gardens to the rear of the property, is a Regency delight stuffed with Chippendale furniture. It was built by Patrick Home who had to pay for the design of the house by John Adam (younger brother of Robert), the quarrying, dressing and building of his delightfully symmetrical home a few miles from Berwick. Ironically having built it he never actually lived in it.
The Homes are an ancient – and somewhat unlucky- border family. This is perhaps testified by the fact that between 1413 and 1576 every eldest son of the Home family died either in battle or as a prisoner in English hands. The house even boasts a section of the so-called Flodden Banner that covered the bodies of Lord Home and his oldest son. Though of course Paxton House hadn’t been built at that point. In fact it wouldn’t be started until 1755.
The Home family managed to get itself into even deeper trouble in 1715 when it supported the Jacobite cause. Sir George Home of Wedderburn, his brother and his son managed to get caught at the Battle of Preston. Although George’s life was spared he was still guilty of treason so lost the family estate. However, a cousin called Ninian was able to demonstrate that George owed him so much money that the estate was effectively mortgaged to him – resulting in its return to the family. As these things tend to be, inheritance proved complicated. Ninian had returned the property to George but none of George’s sons had legitimate heirs. There were daughters. Ninian intended that his son should marry George’s daughter Margaret but the son preferred Margaret’s younger sister. Ninian having been widowed married Margaret himself…with me so far? He was approximately thirty years older than his bride but that didn’t stop him fathering a second rather large family of whom the builder of Paxton House – Patrick- was the eldest surviving son.
Ninian died. Margaret became responsible for her family’s upbringing. Patrick was to be a lawyer. She sent him to be educated in Leipzig. From there he went to Frederick the Great’s court, fell in love and was ordered to take the grand tour by his mother principally because the only way for Patrick to marry the girl he loved was to settle in Germany and Margaret did not want the family money to leave the country.
Whilst Patrick was touring Europe the family butler decided to relieve the family of the rent which was kept in a locked cabinet beneath Lady Home’s bed in her home at Linthill near Eyemouth. The cabinet is now at Paxton House. Patrick’s mother was in the habit of carefully locking her chamber door before retiring to bed. She also kept the keys to the cabinet under her pillow.
The butler, a man by the name of Norman Ross, knew how the tumbler mechanism for the lock to her bedroom worked. He let himself in having stopped the lock by choking it with cherry stones, hid until Lady Home retired for the night and waited until she was asleep. There was then the small matter of retrieving the keys from beneath her pillow.
Unfortunately Margaret pictured above (image accessed from https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/margaret-home-d-1751-lady-billie-210935) awoke. The butler panicked and stabbed his employer with a knife – that he either had about him or which was upon the night stand depending on the source. Margaret managed to summon help and survived long enough to name her murderer who had escaped through a window as the servants arrived on the scene. She died on August 16 1751- the attack having happened on the night of the 12th. Other accounts suggest that Margaret survived only two days. In either event the murder is deemed to have occurred on the 12th.
Ross was arrested the following day and conveyed to Edinburgh where he was tried. Prior to his execution he had his right hand chopped off. He was also hanged in chains – one of the last men to suffer this fate. Essentially his body was tarred and hanged in a cage where it was left to decompose. The severed hand was placed on top of the gallows. Scottish law and English law differed in the treatment of Ross. Under English law he would have been found guilty of petty treason but under Scottish law it was murder plain and simple. The additional punishment reflected the fact that bond between servant and employer had been broken. Ross was a trusted member of the household and is described in texts of the time as Margaret Home’s “confidential servant.”
It was probably as a consequence his dramatic return home that Patrick forgot to empty his travelling chest – a large and ornate piece of furniture. It eventually languished in Paxton House for the next two hundred and fifty years – consequentially the house has some very fine mid eighteenth century gentlemen’s costumes on display.
In 1755 Patrick began to build the house with a view to marrying the young woman he’d fallen in love with when he was twenty-two. Unfortunately Sophie de Brandt, his sweetheart, died before the house was finished. Patrick never furnished the house – that task fell to his cousin, another Ninian Home, when Patrick sold him the house in 1773 having inherited Wedderburn Castle from his uncle.
I loved Paxton House – a hidden gem. It’s part of the Historic Houses Association and entry to the house is by tour. I’d have to say as much as I enjoyed the history I also enjoyed spotting the appropriately regency clad teddy bears that are part of the children’s trail! There’s no image of the Flodden Banner as photography is not permitted in the house.
In 1415 there were about 78 peel or pele towers in Northumberland. These towers were essentially private fortifications for protection in the event of Scottish raids – or neighbours you didn’t necessarily agree with. The idea was that you could secure your family and portable valuables until it was safe to emerge or help arrived – beacons were kept on the top of the towers which could be lit to summon help and to worn the surrounding countryside of danger.
Peel towers were an architecture that resulted from the Scottish Wars of Independence. Some of the peel towers were not ordinarily used as dwellings – rather they should be considered refuges in times of trouble whilst at the other end of the spectrum places like Aydon Castle near Hexham resemble castles.
Preston Tower was built by Sir Robert Harbottle at the end of the fourteenth century. Sir Robert was a man of his time. He was part of the affinity of Sir Mathew Radmayne of Levens and rose in Redmayne’s service. When Harbottle murdered a man in Methley in Yorkshire in 1392 it was Redmayne and his successor who secured Harbottle’s pardon.
You’d have thought that Harbottle would have kept his head down but it wasn’t long before he came to the attention of the law once again when he took part in a raid on the Yorkshire property of Isabel Fauconberg stealing her property as well as the property of her tenants. A commission was set up to investigate but somehow or other Harbottle escaped the consequence of his crimes once more.
Henry IV, having taken the crown from his cousin Richard II, made him constable of Dunstanburgh Castle in 1399 – clearly not having read his cv beforehand. He even managed to acquire one of the wardenship of the east march – essentially turning Harbottle into the law. Perhaps it’s not surprising that since he did so well from the Red Rose monarchs that Harbottle was loyal to both Henry IV and Henry V even when the Percy family rebelled against them. Having bagged himself an heiress in the form of Isabel Monbourcher, Harbottle had risen from henchman to man of wealth and influence. When Hotspur rebelled against Henry IV, Harbottle was able to claim a better share of his wife’s inheritance – so it would appear that luck was on his side as well.
In between times Harbottle had served in Henry IV’s army in 1400 against the Scots and became a member for parliament. In short he had become part of the gentry in the north and had a good stout peel tower to prove it.
Preston Tower has walls which are over two metres thick, is three storeys high and has rooms off the main chamber at each level. It was described by Pevsner as one of the best bits of medieval architecture in the country.
England had been Protestant since the death of Mary Tudor in 1558. The majority of the population had quietly got on with the change from Protestantism under Edward VI to Catholicism under Mary and then back to Protestantism with the ascent of Elizabeth.
On 14 November 1569 the Northern Earls led by the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland revolted. They and their followers arrived at Durham Cathedral and celebrated a Catholic Mass having first of all overturned the communion table and destroyed Protestant books. They rapidly acquired some 6000 men who marched under the old Pilgrimage of Grace (1536) banner – the five wounds of Christ shown at the start of this post. No one is quite sure how many people flocked to follow the banner – numbers have been put as high as 20,000.
What is interesting, aside from the insurgency itself, is the number of people who chose to go to the mass and what the state of religious belief actually was. The cathedral was packed. Perhaps its not so surprising. Cuthbert Tunstall had been Bishop of Durham in 1559 but had been deprived of the diocese when he refused the Oath of Supremacy. He had been replaced by James Pilkington an unpopular but conformist Puritan. That said there were a large number of parishes, many of them impoverished and subject to border raids, not to mention a shortage of clergy. In many places the vicar had to serve several parishes or there were none. It was even noted that “vagabond Scots” did the work of preaching. It is perhaps not surprising that people continued to believe what they had always believed, irrelevant of what Protestant London might like. Effectively circumstance and geography ensured that religious belief in the north remained conservative.
The stated aim of the Northern Rebellion was to topple Elizabeth and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots – returning Catholicism to the country once again. By the 20th of December the Earls of Westmorland and Northumberland had fled across the border into Scotland and the churches which had toppled their communion tables and celebrated mass had some explaining to do. The Durham Consistory Court was busy. Charges related to destroying Protestant books and altars, setting up Catholic altars and holy water stones that should have been destroyed previously but which had simply been hidden away, taking part in a Catholic mass and other Catholic rites. Not everyone attended a mass because they wanted to. People in Darlington were forced to attend the event and so far as the Durham clergy were concerned a number of them testified that they had taken part in the old rites by compulsion rather than desire.
The numbers of churches destroying the paraphernalia of Protestantism in Yorkshire was even higher than it was in County Durham. It’s worth noting that the Earl of Northumberland’s territory stretched far into Yorkshire. Inevitably with statistics it is impossible to know how many of the men who burned books did so under duress or had simply become carried away on a tide of destruction rather than having genuine belief into the rights and wrongs of the matter.
As for the altars and water stones there is evidence that when it became clear that the rebellion was failing that a number of them including the water stones placed by the doors in Durham Cathedral were quietly returned to their hiding places. When questioned no one admitted to knowing what had happened to them.
Texts identify the fact that in the years that followed numbers of Northern magnates opened their homes to Jesuits and the problem of clergy numbers remained in the north alongside impoverished livings.
Doran, Susan, and Durston, Christopher (1991)Princes, Pastors and People: The Church and Religion in England, 1529-1689 London: Routledge
Duffy, Eamon (1992) The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580, New Haven: Yale University Press
Kesselring, Krista J. (2007) The Northern Rebellion of 1569: Faith, Politics and Protest in Elizabethan England, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
In 1590 James VI of Scotland got married. His wife was a Protestant princess. She had been raised in a Lutheran court. The dowry of £150,000 helped as did a hand full of islands including Orkney which Scotland already held but which now legally became Scottish rather than Scandinavian.
It began as a love story. James wrote to his fourteen year old bride and fell so in love with her that when bad weather prevented her from reaching Scotland, he himself took to the sea so that he could reach Anne who had arrived safely in Oslo rather than remain on a vessel which had almost foundered in the storm. Having been married the pair returned to Denmark where James developed an interest in witchcraft – he went on to write a text entitled Daemonologie.
The Danish minister of financed faced criticism for not properly outfitting the vessel.The Danish admiral responsible for conveying Anne to Norway rather than Edinburgh blamed a Copenhagen witch rather than bad weather or his own seafaring skills. The woman, Anna Koldings was the wife of a burgess with whom the admiral had quarrelled confessed to being a witch…under torture. It was an impressive story. Apparently the witch responsible for the storm has sent little devils in wheelbarrows across the sea. They then climbed up the keels of the fleet which was transporting Anne and caused the storm. In September 1590 she was burned to death. Eleven other women, including the wife of the burgomaster, were also executed because quite clearly transporting demons in empty barrows across the sea would require the efforts of more than one woman.
When James returned to Scotland his interest in the topic of witches was well and truly alight. The Kirk was delighted as they had been keen on the topic of witches for some considerable time. Now that the king was on board the way was clear to start the bonfires. In North Berwick a coven was unmasked and James was amazed when they repeated conversations that he had in Norway – the burnings began. The North Berwick trials ran for two years and more than seventy people were implicated.