The Lost Fort
My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times
Scottish History: King David and the Civil War (Part 1)
With the conflict between Henry’s daughter and appointed heir, Matilda, and his nephew Stephen who also claimed the throne, things got really interesting in Northumbria.
Among other adventures, Alnwick Castle and its lord Eustace fitz John will come back into focus again. Ivo de Vescy, who had received the castle in 1095, erected the first Norman stone fortifications. His daughter married Eustace fitz John who was given the right to the castle and title. Eustace fitz John made a career under Henry I (I have mentioned him as one of the ‘colleagues’ of David already before he became king of Scots). The marriage to the rich heiress Beatrix de Vescy (before 1130) gave Eustace Alnwick and other lands in Northumbria, another marriage lands in Malton in Yorkshire, and he evolved as one of the key players during the reorganisation of the Northumbrian society under Norman control. Eustace also was one of the justiciars of the North and Keeper of Bamburgh Castle.
When Henry I died in December 1135, Matilda was busy in Anjou where her husband had to teach some barons who was boss. So Stephen de Blois, a grandson of William the Conqueror, acted fast and snatched the crown; the crowning ceremony took place on December 22. Most of the influential lords were willing enough to follow him – likely not wild about a female ruler to begin with, even less one married to an Anjou lord, ancient rivals of the Normans. Among them was Eustace fitz John who swore fealty to Stephen and thus was allowed to keep the honours he held under Henry.
King David of Scots, on the other hand, saw the unrest as chance to expand his territories into Northumbria which he claimed as heritage for his son from the late Matilda of Senlis. The fact that he could use his oath to Matilda (Henry’s daughter; we should start numbering the girls, too) as a pretext for armed action was just the icing on the cake. He swept down south and conquered Carlisle, Wark, Alnwick and Newcastle, though Bamburgh resisted his efforts. Carlise and Newcaste are said to have fallen 'by guile' - maybe the garrisons did not suspect David's real motive for entering town and castle. I don't know if David and his former friend Eustace met during that campaign; it would have been an interesting encounter, to be sure.
There were men from Galloway and Moray in David’s army, and perhaps from the Isles, too. He really must have called his levies fast, esp. considering travel in winter. The host did a lot of harrying the countryside, and the chroniclers, namely those of Hexham which fell victim to the raids, had no good word to spare for David. No matter the Scottish king was Christian, they came up with all those topoi in Bede's tradition (1), about pagan armies invading Christian England, including the babies torn from their mothers’ wombs and put on spikes, and horses stabled in churches. But since also the pro-David Ailred of Rievaulx makes some critical remarks about the army – though not about David himself; he blames the undisciplined lot from Galloway in for the booty – the campaign certainly was one of the nastier ones and it alienated several Northumbrian and Cumbrian lords who previously had been David’s supporters. David had to take hostages to keep the defeated lords in line.
David came as far south as Durham where he met with the army Stephen had hastily assembled. But instead of fighting a big battle, both men decided to enter negotiations, which was more frequent in the early and high Middle Ages than many people think. They agreed upon a treaty whereby David would retain Carlise while Newcastle and Wark went back to King Stephen (and Alnwick to Eustace). David’s son Henry was granted the title of Earl of Huntingdon which David had forfeited during his rebellion, and Henry would swear fealty to Stephen for Huntingdon and Carlisle. But no oath was required from David, and he also obtained the promise that if the defunct earldom of Northumberland ever were reinstated, Henry would be the prime candidate to hold it. Everyone saved his face; David went back to Scotland, the Galwegians back to Galloway with a sack full of shiny stuff Hexham and other places never got back, while Henry accompagnied Stephen to the Easter Court in Winchester.
Alnwick Castle, Constable’s Tower
Several nobles were not happy about the way Stephen had treated the affair with David; and honouring Henry so highly (fe. giving him the place next to himself at the Easter banquet 1136), among them Simon de Senlis, Henry’s step-brother. He had gotten the Northampton part of his mother’s heritage, but Henry got Doncaster in recompense so overall fared a lot better than Simon. Others were Ranulf II Earl of Chester who wanted Carlisle back, and Archbishop William de Corbeil of Canterbury (no idea what his reason was). Ranulf publicily accused Henry of treason during a banquet, Henry felt dishonoured, Stephen failed to reconcile the men, and David called his son back while Ranulf of Chester left the court in anger as well.
Another relationship that had gone sour for David after the death of King Henry was the one with Archbishop Thurstan of York who now again - and with the backing of Pope Innocent II - claimed metropolitan supremacy over the sees in Scotland. Bishop John of Glasgow was obliged to go into exile for several years since he still refused to swear an oath to Thurstan. The consecration of the new cathedral in Glasgow was overshadowed by these problems. But it's interesting to note who was present at that consecration: besides Earl Henry (David's son) and William fitz Duncan of Moray, there were several Gaelic magnates, the earls (mormaors) of Strathearn and Fife, and Fergus of Galloway, all men who had no immediate connection with the diocese of Glasgow. Notable as well is the absence of several of David's Norman friends, like Robert de Bruce of Annandale; though Hugh de Morville and another Norman lord would join him on his way from Glasgow to Cadzow. The whole affair looks like a war council more than a religious meeting.
Hexham Abbey, east nave
In spring 1137, grievances had added up for David who argued that Stephen had gone back on his part of the treaty. This time Stephen was busy in Normandy dealing with Matilda, and could only send some of his nobles against David. Most of them were Northumbrian lords who had suffered from the raids. The two armies met at Newcastle, but again, a truce was agreed upon, partly due to Archbishop Thurstan. The six months should give Stephen time to decide about the earldom of Northumberland. There was no mention of Matilda's claim to the throne.
At some point during these developments, Eustace fitz John must have changed sides, though I could not find a final argument for the exact date. King Stephen relieved him of the keepership of Bamburgh which likely offended Eustace. It is also possible that he began to see the chance of a strong Northumbria under David as more realistic than Stephen's limited power. Eustace's change of sides also brought some minor lords over to David.
Stephen, who had gained a fair success in Normandy, said no to any claims of Henry of Scots to the earldom of Northumberland, and that was the end of it. So in January 1138, David's host swept south again, plundering and making itself very unpopular by lack of discipline (David had to personally stand in for the safety of Hexham, for example, and William fitz Duncan fought some men over plundering from allies).The army went through the middle of the country, left alone the lands of Eustace fitz John and isolated the pro-Stephen castle at Bamburgh. Walter d'Espec's castle at Wark withstood a siege and David could only leave a besieging force under William when he moved further south to Hexham, but was forced to withdraw on the approach of King Stephen at the end of February.
Stephen retaliated by leading his army up north and into the lands of David, harrying and plundering in turn. He avoided David’s centre at Roxburgh, either because he wanted to escape a trap David is said to have set there, didn't bring siege engines or thought plundering the countryside would bring David back to the negotiation table, or because he just was inept like that. Owan tries to make Stephen look capable here, but I can’t see that.
Bamburgh Castle, the reconstructed King’s Hall
It seems that Stephen’s foray into Scotland only showed David that the king had neither the ability nor the ressources to get through with a defeat of David in his own land, and so David pushed his claim again and set up another grand style invasion northward. This time he came down along the east coast, while William fitz Duncan led an army mostly of men from Galloway through Cumbria and gained a victory against the English at Clitheroe, grabbing lands in Lancastershire which William claimed by his wife Alice de Rumilly of Skipton. He'd married the lady just the year before and one may wonder what politics lay behind a connections that would give David's nephew a claim to lands in Lancastershire. It can't have been to Stephen's liking.
David besieged Bamburgh and managed to break the outer defenses albeit not the inner bailey, but he isolated the castle. He then took Norham Castle that was held for the Bishop of Durham, though failed to turn the bishop over to his cause which meant he could not take Durham itself (where a big castle still sits near the cathedral). The armies united on the way to York and at that point the Northumbrian lords who did not follow David realized that this was more than the average harrying the countryside sort of campaign. David wanted to extend his lands to include Yorkshire and St.Cuthbert's Land (County Durham). Exact numbers of his army can only be estimated; the 22,000 of the sources are likely an exaggeration.
The Northumbrians were led by William Earl of Aumarle and Ralph of Orkney for Bishop Thurstan of York. Other leaders were Walter d'Espec, Robert Bruce (who held land not only in Annandale but also in Cleveland), a member of the Percy family, Richard de Courcy, Roger de Mowbray (2) and others - a close-knit group of Norman landholders in northern England with mutual relationships by marriage.
Both parties met at Cowton Moor near Northallerton in Yorkshire. We have a detailed description of the ensuing battle by Ailread of Rievaulx (see ‘main sources’ at the end of the text). Of course, Ailred is not unbiased and the speeches of the parties involved are his invention. Speeches attributed to historical characters have been a way for authors to sneak their own ideas into historiography since Tacitus (3), if not earlier.
Rievaulx Abbey, main nave seen from the side
Rievaulx was the house from which David's biographer Ailred of Rievaulx came.
Ailred (born in 1100) was a member of King David's court for ten years until he left to become a monk in Rievaulx in 1134. He knew David, his son Henry, and several other participants in the civil war quite well. Judging by his Lament for King David, he must have genuinely liked the king, religious motives and exaggerations of the lament aside. His historiographic texts (which also include a geneaology of the kings of England and a history of Edward the Confessor) were aimed at Henry II, son of Matilda and named as successor of King Stephen; thus likely written after 1152.
Ailred’s true hero in the Relatio di Standardo (translated as Battle of the Standard) is Henry, the son of King David, who is described as a paragon of Christian virtues and braveness. David’s role was corrupted because of employing those ‘evil Galwegians’ and listening to the wrong advisors (a note we can find in the Lament as well, as only 'sin' David committed).
Negotiations took place before the battle, the delegation may have been led by Robert Bruce, David's old friend. He promised he would argue for Henry's claim to Northumberland with Stephen, but David - correctly, I think - did not believe in any success of such an endeavour. In Ailred's Relatio di Standardo, Robert Bruce gets a nice speech, reminding David of their time together, of the many services he and other Norman lords had lend him when he came to kingship, of the evil of listening to wrong advisors and keeping those 'barbarian Scots' around (well, David was their king, after all). According to Ailred, David was about to embrace Robert, when William fitz Duncan called Bruce a traitor and the peace came to naught. Robert then formally renounced his homage and the lands he held as fief from David. That latter part is confirmed by other sources and would have been the proper way to end a feudal relationship.
The other man who gets a speech by Ailred is Walter d'Espec, founder of Rievaulx Abbey. He was an old man at the time but obviously still able to encourage an outnumbered army. The Scots were many but had brittle spears and no discipline, and the Normans had already defeated a whole list of enemies, often while outnumbered as well. He also refers to the defeat of King Malcolm at Abernethy. The Gauls (as Ailred calls the Normans opposing David) fought for the good cause and God would be with them. God got some assistance by the saints Peter of York, Wilfrid of Ripon, and John of Beverley whose banners had been attached to a ship's mast mounted on a cart, which gave the battle its name. The Normans formed a single wedge with some light cavalry and infantry (mostly archers) flanking.
Not the exact place of the Battle of the Standard, but the typical landscape of the area
The scene moves back to David's war council. He wants to deploy the Norman knights on his side in the first rank to meet the knights on the other side, but the Galweginas, emboldened by their victory at Clitheroe, want to have that honour for themselves and insist they will not run. The Earl of Strathearn advises David against it, but the king agrees. I admit I do wonder a bit about that since it was indeed not a tactically sound decision. How strong was the position of Fergus of Galloway?
So the Scottish army deployed its forces in the following manner: First rank the Galwegians under their king Fergus; second rank the men from Cumbria and Teviotdale and probably the minor Northumbrian lords following Eustace (mixed infantry and knights), led by Henry and Eustace fitz John; third rank the men from Lothian and the Isles, the latter probably led by Somarled. King David and his personal entourage (those were of course trained knights) led the last line consisting of men from Moray, Fife and other areas in Scotland proper, to aid whatever group may need it.
The battle took place on August 22, 1138. The Galwegians held the onslaught of the knights and salvas from the archers for some time but eventually broke. If Ailred is to be believed, this was the moment when Henry showed his braveness. He tried to stop the route of the Galwegians and charged deep into enemy lines. King David made an attempt to hold the last two lines that were carried on back by the fleeing Galwegians after the Lothian leader, Earl Gospatric II had been killed by an arrow. What I find odd is that Ailred says he dismounted, but maybe he led the Moray infantry contingent against the oncoming Normans for a while. He was already 58 at the time but not past his fighting years, it seems. David – who I suppose remounted at some point - managed to screen a somewhat orderly retreat since most of the leaders succeeded in leaving the field alive; the only prisoner we know of is William Comyn, David’s chancellor. Eustace fitz John escaped to Alnwick, wounded, most of the others made it to Carlisle.
Henry managed to break through the surrounding enemy with his bodyguard, and then the feigned to join the pursuing Normans. There’s a nice little legend about Henry giving his armour to a poor farmer on the way to Carlisle, but that only covers the fact that the leaders of the Scottish army obviously preferred to not be easily recogisable. Henry was united with his father in Carlisle two days after the battle.
It was founded by Henry I and expanded by David
The Battle of the Standard was a defeat, but by no means a decisive one since David kept most of his army intact, and his leading nobles survived. Neither the Normans under William of Aumale nor King Stephen – who also faced the rebellion of Robert of Gloucester, Empress Matilda’s illegiitmate half-brother, at the Welsh borders - had the strength to take any advantage of their victory and didn’t even try to follow David into Cumbria.
Both sides tried to consolidate their position. The English/Northumbrian lords took Malton Castle, one of Eustace fitz John’s possessions (thogh Alnwick was never threatened) while David continued his siege of Wark, but for most the former borders were respected. In September Alberic Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia and legate of Pope Innocent II, came to Scotland to talk with David about religious issues, particularly the bishop of Glasgow, but soon found himself involved in peace negotiations between David and Stephen. David turned out to be quite a fox when it came to getting the best of it. For one, Bishop John of Glasgow was allowed to return from exile, but more, the truce with England allowed him to continue the siege or Wark while the English were bound to forego invasions. In return, David convinced the Galwegians and Islemen to return at least the female prisoners they had taken to be sold as slaves.
The castle finally surrendered in November, after Walter d’Espec gave permission, and David acted generously in providing the garrison with mounts (they had eaten their horses) to travel to Durham; acknowledging their braveness. I suppose the importance of Wark at that point was more a moral than a military one.
Stephen and his lords at first were unwilling to grant David and Henry much; especially the Northumbrian nobles who had seen their lands ravaged by David’s army. But Queen Matilda managed to convince her husband that a war in the north was not worth the effort and that he had more urgent problems in England, with the rebellion of Robert of Gloucester (an illegitimate half-brother of the empress Matilda). A stable buffer zone would be the best solution. Since she also was David’s niece (her mother was David’s sister Mary who had married Eustace of Boulogne), she took an active part in the negotiations. The other Matilda, Henrsy’s daughter, and her claim to the English throne were never mentioned. David knew that Stephen had the actual power to grant him possessions, while Matilda was still rather powerless.
(Photo taken from the train) Carla has a post about it here
A settlement was agreed upon in Durham on April 9th, 1139 (Second Treaty of Durham). David’s son Henry was finally given the earldom of Northumberland though minus the castles of Bamburg and Newcastle. He was also restored to the earldom of Huntingdon which he had forfeited in 1137, and he did homage to Stephen for all these possessions. The Northumbrian lords in turn had to swear fealty to Henry. David kept Carlisle and Cumbria, got lands in St. Cuthbert's County in recompense for Bamburgh, and promised to ‘remain loyal’ to Stephen, whatever that means. Not much, it would turn out. ;) He also gave some hostages, among them Hugh de Morville, Earl Gospatric III of Dunbar, and - according to Richard of Hexham - Fergus of Galloway, though I'm not sure the latter makes sense, him being an independent king. It was more likely his son Uhtred (4). No hostages provided by Stephen are mentioned.
So David basically got what he set out to gain at the beginning of his conflict with England though he could not extend his lands into Yorkshire; the Tyne would remain the border. Stephen got peace in the north, but a really pissed off Ranulf of Chester who wanted Carlisle back and went into open rebellion. He tried to capture Henry at the siege of Ludlow, but Stephen rescued the young man. Stephen also made sure there were no more incidents like during the Easter celebrations in 1136, and arranged Henry's marriage to Ada de Warenne.
David consolidated his position in Cumbria, expanded Carlisle Castle, and he also issued his own coins (thanks to the silver mines of Cumberland); the first 'Scottish' money.
Then the empress Matilda invaded in September 1139.
Alnwick Castle, keep mit main tower entrance
The peace at Durham had also consolidated the postion of Eustace fitz John. He regained many of his possessions in Northumberland (though I could not figure out if that included Malton Castle in Yorkshire) and got other lands in Henry's earldom of Huntingdon (maybe to make up for Malton?).
In Alnwick Castle, Eustace built the circular keep and the towers surrounding the inner bailey, as well as the outer curtain wall. Parts of the 12th century Norman masonry can still be seen in the curtain wall and other spots like the arch over the inner gate. The size of the castle has not been altered since Eustace's time though the living quaters were modernised, a barbican added and other changes took place over the centuries. Alnwick Castle remained a formidable stronghold during the War of the Roses when the Percy family held it (yeah, there is material for more posts *sigh*).
Alnwick Castle, view from rampart to Postern Tower
(1) Of course, the Picts and Britons invading Northumbria in the 7th century were mostly Celtic Christians, not pagans, but in Bede's view, they were rotten heretics who celebrated Easter at the wrong date and and thus capable of all sorts of atrocities. Richard of Hexham still calls the men from Galloway 'Picts' though they were a mix of Britons, Gaels and Norse at that time and had never been Picts.
(2) Roger de Mowbray was not related to Robert de Mowbray. Robert's wife had been granted annulment of her marriage and married Nigel d'Aubray. But they got a divorce, too, and Nigel married Gundred de Gournay. Their son Roger, ward of the Crown after his father's death in 1129, entered adulthood in 1138 and was given the forfeited lands of Robert de Mowbray (Montbray) in Normandy and Yorkshire, whose name he took.
(3) Most famous are the speeches he gives to Arminius in the Annals and to Calgacus in Agricola which say more about Tacitus’ political sympathies.
(4) According to an endnote in Owan's biography, the passage seems to be corrupted.
Frank Barlow: The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216. 5th edition, Edinburgh 1999
Robert Bartlett: England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225. 5th edition, Oxford University Press, 2003
Edmund King: King Stephen. Yale English Monarchs. Yale University Press, 2010
Richard Oram: David, The King Who Made Scotland. Tempus Publishing Ltd, 2004
Richard Oram: Domination and Lordship, Scotland 1070-1230. The New Edinburgh History of Scotland, Edinburgh 2011
Ailred of Rievaulx: The Historical Works, translated by J.P. Freeland, edited by M.L. Dutton. Cistercian Publications 56, 2005
Ian W. Walker: Lords of Alba, The Making of Scotland. Sutton Publishing, 2006
The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, the Baltic Countries, and central Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.
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All texts and photos (if no other copyright is noted) are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.
- Name: Gabriele Campbell
- Location: Goettingen, Germany
I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History, interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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