Approaches to Conflict on the Anglo-Scottish Borders in the late Fourteenth Century

Anglo-Scottish Conflict - Scottish soldiers in_the_14thCApproaches to Conflict on the Anglo-Scottish Borders in the late Fourteenth Century

Alastair Macdonald

Ships, Guns and Bibles in the North Sea and Baltic States c.1350-c.1700 (2000)

In the summer of 1380, a flagrant breach of the Anglo-Scottish truce then in force took place. The great Scottish magnate William, Earl of Douglas, invaded the West March of England.1 The expedition was of size enough to penetrate as far as Penrith, some 30 miles into England, and that town was ravaged during its annual fair. Rich prizes in booty and prisoners were taken and Douglas’s force returned to Scotland unmolested.2 Damage caused in north-western England was extensive: the royal demesne around Carlisle was wasted; rents in Inglewood Forest nearby were reduced by three-quarters; and the barony of Liddel, on the Border, was found to be worth nothing, as were lands at Alstonby in northern Cumberland ‘totally destroyed by the Scots’.3 The Douglas invasion of 1380 amounted to an impressive military achievement. A further Scottish raid on Northumberland, meanwhile, was launched in tandem with the Douglas offensive in the west. This eastern offensive, led by George Dunbar, Earl of March, culminated on 25 June 1380, at Horse Rigg close to the Border in Northumberland. There the Earl of March defeated an English force led by Ralph, Baron Greystoke, an important member of the northern English nobility. The English force, perhaps 200 strong, had been heading towards the castle of Roxburgh where its leader was to take up duty as the garrison commander. (Areas of southern Scotland, including the castle of Roxburgh were in English hands at this time, a legacy of earlier Anglo-Scottish war)4 Rather than reaching his destination, Greystoke’s fate was to be conveyed to Dunbar, the main seat of the Earl of March, and be feasted on his own plate with the provisions he had intended to carry to Roxburgh.5 As well as Greystoke, other prominent figures were captured by March’s force, including William Aton, Robert Hilton and John Creswell. Greystoke later claimed that 120 men were captured alongside him at the battle of Horse Rigg.6

In 1380, then, the Scots had launched a seemingly well-planned double offensive culminating in victory at the battle at Horse Rigg. This was an extensive and sophisticated Scottish military effort; and it took place on sea as well as on land. Damage inflicted on Fame Island in Northumberland seems to indicate Scottish naval activity in 1380.7 This activity may have been diversionary in intent while the earl of March operated on the Border and his colleague-in-arms Douglas plundered unopposed in the west. There was also an important international dimension to this Scottish offensive. The timing of the onslaught was precise, and took account of developments beyond the strictly Anglo-Scottish sphere. The Scots waited until the Earl of Buckingham had bee dispatched to France to lead the English military effort for 1380.8 Co-operation may also have occurred with French and Castilian attacks on Ireland. The Scots had very strong links with the French crown around this time and at least one earl of Douglas was in personal correspondence with a king of Castile.9 French and Castilian vessels were captured at Kinsale in 1380, the same year in which Richard II’s lieutenant in Ireland, the English Earl of March, mentioned his services in combating the Scots, and a decree was made against Scots or other enemies being admitted to religious houses in Ireland.10 Even further afield, tenements in Beaumaris, North Wales, were found to have been wasted by the Scots in 1381.11 So this Scottish offensive of 1380 was devastating in the English borders, but also entailed a continental dimension and probably, an intervention in the Irish Sea world to the west. Not surprisingly, despite the official existence of an Anglo-Scottish truce, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland and the greatest magnate of the English far north, wanted to launch a retaliatory raid into Scotland. He was, however, prevented from launching an invasion by royal writ. Travelling to Westminster to find out why, Northumberland was informed that John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, was to be dispatched north to hold March–Day negotiations with the Scots.12 Gaunt’s force for this meeting was over 3,000 strong, and it cost the English exchequer more than £5,000. Its result was to reaffirm the truce with Scotland that had been so heavily breached in the course of the year.13


The truce, then, remained extant throughout this burst of conflict and beyond: the Scottish attack of 1380 was not, in a legal sense, an act of war. It was simply, and on a grand scale, a breach of the truce. It was a year of violence, the proper forum for settling which lay, legally, in the long-established wardenial courts that had jurisdiction over the settlement of cross-Border grievances. From a legal perspective, the massive violence of 1380 was not in essence different from an armed raid into Scotland launched in 1371 by Hugh Dacre, a figure of the lesser nobility of northern England. Dacre was duly, and quite legally, brought to account for his actions. A March-Day jury of Scots and English agreed that Dacre should pay £100 to the earl of Douglas (the offended party in 1371) for damages sustained during the raid. Dacre apparently refused to pay this sum so Sir Henry Percy (the future Earl of Northumberland mentioned above), in his capacity as a March Warden, reimbursed the wronged Scottish magnate from his own funds.14 The English government promptly issued orders for the arrest of Dacre and decreed that the sum of money in question be levied from his lands.15 The system of March Law had, evidently, been able to cope with what was in essence a cattle raid launched by Hugh Dacre. The Scottish offensive of 1380 is, again in a legal sense, comparable even to the case of John Prince. In 1394, Prince committed a murder in the Marches (presumably of a Scotsman) in breach of the truce then extant. The miscreant fled to Yorkshire, where he was arrested for other crimes. He was subsequently handed over to the Earl of Northumberland, again in his capacity as warden, to stand trial for the murder at the next March Day. We do not know what became of Prince, but it does seem that the legal machinery of the Marches was able to cope adequately with such minor breaches of the truce.16

These three incidents of Anglo-Scottish conflict are clearly quite different in scale. John Prince in 1394 carried out a murder, an individual criminal act. Hugh Dacre’s breach of the truce was of a greater scale, but still seems to have been illegal activity carried out by one individual and his retainers. The Scottish offensive of 1380 was hugely different in character. In all but name this was full-scale war. The military effort featured the involvement of much of the politically active classes in Scotland and, assuredly, the tolerance of the Scottish king of the time, Robert II, and his government.17 So, despite their identical legal status (as breaches of the truce), these three incidences of conflict are radically different in scale and in nature. Approaches to conflict on the Anglo‑Scottish Borders in the later middle ages, however, have often utilised a legalistic standpoint and approach the Border region from the perspective of the development of the March Laws.18 This approach has certainly been a useful one: it has shed much light on social and behavioural patterns in the Borders, as well as outlining the process of change and adaptation within the unique legal code of the Borders. The rest of this paper, however, attempts to describe what might be some of the flaws of this legalistic approach and some of the problems with other common approaches to the later medieval Anglo-Scottish Borders. Finally, some perspectives will be suggested which it is hoped might provide a more precise focus on the Marches, and particularly conflict in the region, during this period.

The legalistic, institutional approach to conflict in the later medieval Marches can, in some senses, be problematic. One problem is that the perspective adopted tends to be the view from Westminster. This is understandable in that the initiative behind the development of the March Laws often came from government; and, of course, it is in the centrally preserved records of English government that much of the relevant evidence can be found. However, the views of the actual inhabitants of the Border region are liable to disappear under this treatment. Possibly even more dangerous is the tendency to ignore the Scottish government (perhaps because the legal records relating to the Laws of the Marches have generally not survived in Scottish governmental archives). We can read, for instance, that ‘it was not until the middle years of the fourteenth century that the English crown made any real effort to address the troublesome problem of cross-border crime’.19 We can read, also, of the ‘consolidation’ of border law in a chapter with terminal dates equating to the reign of Richard II (1377–-1399) and of how this was one of that king’s few personal achievements. The retreat of March Law in the early fifteenth century, meanwhile, is the fault of neglectful early Lancastrian kings.20 None of this takes account of the position of Scottish governments which, in turn, obscures the essential truth of any developments in the March Laws: they were international regulations and their operation and refinement depended upon the goodwill and cooperation of two kingdoms, not merely initiatives arising from one.

Another attendant difficulty of the legal and institutional approach to conflict in the Borders is that the centrist angle produces a tendency to view the region as innately problematic. The solution to the problems posed there will eventually be solved by government intervention, as the forces of law and order make their gradual, linear advance. Essential to this perspective is the theory that the later medieval Borderers were themselves invariably responsible for the conflict that afflicted their region. The engine of conflict was local. Criminality, cattle raids, magnate and gentry feuds: these were the traits of border society that could lead to ‘raiding and counter-raiding … [which] might develop into open war’.21 The unruliness of the marchers is not to be approved of, but neither is it really their fault. The prevalence of Anglo-Scottish war from 1296 was, by this way of thinking, what transformed Border society into the volatile and violent society so often described by historians. When exactly this society degenerated into a zone of criminality and bloodletting is open to dispute. But Geoffrey Barrow is probably quite near the point of consensus when he describes the Edward III phase of the Scottish ‘wars of independence’ (from 1333) as the point of no return for society in the Marches.22 It is this approach to the Borders that ultimately allows late fourteenth-century breaches of the truce, regardless of their nature and magnitude, to be seen as symptoms of the same societal problem. The Borders have become an excessively turbulent zone. Truces are hard to enforce because of the warlike predilections of the marchers. Breaches of the truce have the same, local, root causes, whether they are individual acts of murder or combined magnate affinities causing mayhem throughout the border region.23

Arguably, the approach outlined above is fundamentally misleading. Anglo-Scottish conflict in the late fourteenth century is not rooted in Border society, nor is it shapeless and random; more of this later. For the moment, though, it might be worth considering why the image of a turbulent Border region and a government (sometimes two governments) trying to control it is so powerful. For it is not, by any means, just historians adopting a legalistic approach who regard the region in this way. The concept of a violent and uncontrolled society on the Marches is most certainly the dominant image of the region in the later middle ages. ‘this is the image consistently portrayed, for instance, in works aimed at non-academic audiences. A recently published tourist map of the borders contains the following statement (from the perspective of c.1600): ‘for six centuries up to that moment this troubled buffer zone … rang to the clash of steel, the thunder of hooves and the screams of bloody murder’.24 Yet this is not, in the end, so very far removed from many academic visions of the Border zone in the middle ages.

So where does this image come from? Like much in the historiography of the Anglo-Scottish Borders, the turbulent image of the region owes much to the influence of Sir Walter Scott. Border history was already being written before Scott, of course: and its general tenor was heavily influenced by the fact that, in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, there was palpably (from a governmental perspective) a `border problem’ which Tudor and Stewart regimes attempted to address, with ultimate success.25 This early modern struggle, though, immediately became the lens through which the medieval past in the Borders was observed. George Ridpath’s classic history of the Border counties (1776) described an unruly zone of shapeless military clashes.26 Scott, in his turn, brought his influential vision to bear on the history of the Borders. In his quest for what might be termed the imaginative truth of the past rather than the historical record, Scott keenly espoused the Border ballads and the romantic image that these works evoked. The resultant image of the Borderers was picturesque – they were proud, unruly, and fierce warriors.27 James Hogg’s viewpoint was similar, and although ballad evidence does not really apply so far back, he happily placed – insofar as it rested on historical fact – his imaginative (and highly entertaining) reconstruction of Border adventures in the late fourteenth century.28 The romantic vision of Scott and Hogg has proved remarkably enduring and has much to do with the still-dominant approach, even in academic work, to the medieval Anglo-Scottish Marches.

One of the reasons that this vision has proved so enduring is that it does, as suggested above, contain an element of truth. English and Scottish governments did try to control perceived frontier turbulence; exceptional societal patterns are evident in the prevalence of the cattle-raid and of clan-based social organisation. What really is at issue here is not the model of the unruly borders in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (a model which, in many of its characteristics, has in any case long been questioned 29). Of interest instead is how this image comes to be applied backward with such regularity to the more distant past, in this case the later fourteenth century. It seems self-evident that the fourteenth-century Anglo-Scottish Marches need not be identical to the society found there two centuries later. Neither the evidence suggesting a border zone of innate criminality and lawlessness, nor the likely circumstances that would give rise to such characteristics, are easily to be found in the late fourteenth century.30 Yet a lack of evidence pointing to the model of the turbulent Marches in this period has not prevented its depiction in precisely those terms. It is a relatively common approach; with regard to the Borders, to apply much later evidence backward to the medieval period. Depiction of an essentially monolithic, unchanging Border region (of cattle-raiding clans, feuding magnates) has been posited for the whole medieval period, even when the evidence upon which this rests comes largely from a later period – the sixteenth century and beyond.31 Even in very recent works, we can readily see seventeenth-century anecdotes being cited, without so much as a blush, as evidential support for remarks about the uncontrollable nature of late fourteenth-century border society.32

More chronologically sensitive work has, of course, been done: ‘just as conclusions about the late medieval arable economy of the region should not be drawn merely from sixteenth-century evidence, so it should not be assumed that the pastoral, raiding society of the border ballads was fully formed in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries’.33 So far, this type of approach has not altered the core perception that the Anglo-Scottish frontier was a zone of ill-controlled turbulence, essentially unchanging in its wild nature over centuries. In some approaches, indeed, the wild frontier is so unchanging that its unruly characteristics are etched into the ageless landscape itself. For Bruce Webster, the very topography around Hermitage Castle in Liddesdale ‘gives a sense of a land barely controllable by the limited resources of the middle ages, a land where neither Scottish crown nor English crown could rule with effect’.34 This is a monolithic view, rooted in the very landscape, of an unchanging society. Taking the rugged frontier vision this far does, though, raise problems. When do the Anglo-Scottish Borders become ‘wild lands’? They are just that, according to some, even in the relatively peaceful period in Anglo-Scottish relations during the thirteenth century.35 This, of course, displaces the impact of consistent Anglo-Scottish warfare from 1296 as the causative factor in creating a unique, and uniquely turbulent, society on the frontier. Viewing the Borders as a particularly unruly zone from time immemorial – when in fact from, say, the Scottish governmental perspective, there were many regions far more troublesome in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries – is testament to the power of the romantic vision sponsored by Scott and Hogg.36 The image of the unruly Borders is attractive, picturesque and enticing. People want the past to have been painted in garish colours. Modern novels, even modern poetry, feed this demand.37 It is also very easy for historians to buy into aspects of the romantic vision orthodoxy: if the tumultuous nature of border society was in itself the cause of medieval conflict a difficult problem of assessing causation can be avoided.

The vision of ungovernable, rowdy borderers is attractive in another sense. It fits well with approaches to the English North, which has been perceived to be a troublesome zone, from the governmental perspective, throughout the medieval period.38 The whole idea of a particularly violent and problematic North has been substantially reassessed in recent approaches to the region in the fifteenth century.39 The same is not really true of the late fourteenth century. For this earlier period the bulk of academic work from an English angle stresses the problematic relations of the crown with the great families of the north – and especially of the Border region – and the people they led.40 For Scotland, the evidence pointing to a crown problem of governance in the Borders in the late fourteenth century is very slight, to say the least.41 Yet Scotland is commonly assumed to have mirrored problems on the English side of the Border – and, indeed, it has been assumed that the problem of Scottish Border unruliness was even worse than that manifested in England. There are, again, historiographical reasons for this. An old orthodoxy existed which saw later medieval Scottish governance in general as feeble and problematic – and until recently the reigns of first two Stewart kings, Robert II and Robert III (1390-1406), were seen as the worst of Scotland’s medieval rulers.42 So there was good reason to believe that governance might be a problem in the Scottish border region. Scholarly works on the Marches from a Scottish perspective were, meanwhile, almost non-existent. It is perhaps forgivable that historians of the English north have been inclined to imagine, faced with this vacuum, that a mirror image of Cumberland and Northumberland existed on the other side of the Border.43 At the same time, English historians generally can be rather remiss in forgetting about the existence of Scotland. We have been told recently that Richard II departed England for the first time during his reign on the Irish expedition of 1394-5. This is somewhat forgetful of the Scottish campaign led by Richard a decade earlier.44 English historians can also be a little careless of using the Scottish academic work which does exist: the recent major biography of Richard II (1997) utilises no Scottish scholarship in dealing at length with a reign which featured extensive Anglo-Scottish conflict.45

These are, then, some of the reasons why Anglo-Scottish border conflict in the later middle ages is usually dealt with unsatisfactorily. The assumptions that historians bring with them to the past are, in this case, highly misleading. And in the present context one of the most serious distortions is to adopt the assumption that Anglo-Scottish conflict in the Borders was of necessity locally driven, that it invariably arose internally from the nature of the society itself.46 If we turn, once again, specifically to the situation in the late fourteenth century the problems in this common approach can hopefully be made evident.

It may be instructive to start with a relatively peaceful decade in Anglo-Scottish relations, the 1360s. Conflict still occurred during this ten-year breathing space in a century of war. Petty crime continued: in both 1364 and 1366, for instance, Henry Locker, an Englishman, committed murders in his own country before retiring with Scottish criminal partners across the Border, where he resided as an adherent of the Scots.47 More serious breaches of the truce also took place. It was presumably raiding of some magnitude that prevented the English administration in Scotland from collecting any rents from the church of Hawick in 1364 because of destruction and devastation by the Scots.48 Absolutely nothing, though, in terms of violence is going on which we can compare to the 1380 Scottish invasions and to many other large breaches of the truce which occurred later in the fourteenth century. Indeed in the 1360s, the hallmark of relations between the Border officers of England and Scotland and of the two central governments is co-operation. Genuine attempts to enforce the truce appear to have been made and increasingly sophisticated March legislation was developed. When Bishop Appleby of Carlisle, in his capacity as warden of the English West March, wrote to the Scottish king, David II, in 1367, claiming that breaches of the truce in his jurisdiction had not been so bad for many years this does of course suggest at least a local increase in conflict.49 Appleby’s expressed concern also, though, suggests solicitude that the current detente should not be endangered. There is little other evidence of serious violence at this time, and detailed legislation aimed at dealing with and preventing breaches of the truce was agreed in 1367.50 In 1368, furthermore, the English king, Edward III, demonstrated his resolve to prevent his subjects making retaliatory raids on the Scots by sternly instructing his Border officers to prevent any such activities.51 The problematic lordship of Annandale (a valley in south-western Scotland under English administration) was subject to particularly close attention in the 1360s. Edward III allowed the English lords of Annandale to split the rents of the lordship with the Scots, an approach that indicates a sensitivity to potential trouble-spots and a will to pre–empt any flare-ups.52 Scottish wardens of the West March, meanwhile, gave guarantees against damage to the inhabitants and lands of the valley in 1360 and 1364, while local arrangements for redress of grievances were made in Annandale in 1366.53

There is thus strong evidence in the 1360s of a mutual desire to keep good peace between the realms and to ensure that the business of March Law was smoothly transacted. The explanation for this, so often overlooked, is to be found by reference to the wider world of international diplomacy, and the political aims and expectations of the respective kings of England and Scotland. The 1360s were a time of Anglo-French truce during the Hundred Years War, as well as Anglo–Scottish truce. In circumstances of Anglo-French truce the Scottish crown invariably sought to maintain peaceful relations with England – and part of this naturally entailed the good governance of the Border region. The English crown, at this stage, was also keen to retain friendly relations with the Scots. Embroiled closely in continental diplomacy, by now Edward III’s regime had given up notions of conquest in Scotland. English energies were much more focussed on a developing Cold War with France.54 In an era when personality was vital in dictating inter-state relations there also seem to have been bonds of some amity between the Scottish and English kings, David II and Edward III.55 In such pacific conditions the March Laws were advanced and border conflict was controlled. For co-operation on the Border, though, political will had to be evident on both sides.

From 1369 until the expiry of the Anglo-Scottish truce in 1384 this was no longer the case. Advances in March Law in the period were few – and there was a great increase in violence in the Anglo-Scottish Marches. The traditional explanation for this much-increased Border conflict in the years after 1369 is, of course, that the turbulence of the Border inhabitants was responsible. The reason that the Borderers were now so unruly compared to their manner of behaviour in the 1360s is not a question that is normally given consideration. The explanation, though, insofar as one is offered, is that there was a general weakening of royal authority in the localities in the later middle ages and, with particular reference to the Scottish regime of Robert II, that the monarchy was enfeebled and incapable. It would seem to be appropriate to examine, at this juncture, on what evidence this theory is based. There is, certainly, one powerful prop for this argument: the English crown itself believed for a time in the 1370s that it was unruly Borderers who were responsible for the escalating violence. An English commission of February 1373, to deal with the feud of William, Earl of Douglas, and Sir Henry Percy, the two most powerful Borderers of the time, marked the inception of a new approach by the English government to dealing with the perceived problem of the Marches. In the commission, Sir Henry Scrope, Sir Richard Hastings and Roger Fulthorp, all outsiders from the Borders, were appointed to deal with the Douglas-Percy feud. Shortly afterwards, the same triumvirate was commissioned to enforce the truce and, on 26 May, a further three non-marchers were appointed to attend a March-Day with the Scots, which was held in July.56 This policy, of using outsiders in Border administration and enforcement of the March Laws, continued for the next five years. This does seem to show that, from the perspective of Westminster, the Borderers themselves were regarded as the main troublemakers in the early 1370s and that the truce could best be kept by outsiders. The line adopted in diplomacy by the Scottish government at this time was similar, expressed in letters of Robert II to his counterpart, Edward III: Robert desired Peace with England but was incapable of controlling his Border nobles.57

However, we need to be careful in accepting at face value either the culpability of the marchers on either side of the Border or the peaceful protestations of the Scottish king. The English government itself was not fooled for long – the experiment of using outsiders to the Marches in administrative posts was only continued for five years. The scale of Scottish attacks, meanwhile, as the 1370s wore on, convinced the English regime that something far larger was going on than just the rowdy activities of some Border hooligans. The framework that we need to understand what was really going on with regard to Border violence in the 1370s and the 1380s is a governmental context and an international perspective. Without an awareness of these dimensions we see only a catalogue of attacks and outrages without shape or reason. It was from 1369 that Scottish attacks on the Borders began to gather momentum.58 There is no particularly convincing, local, Border reason as to why this should have been the case. But a glance at the wider world of European international relations provides us with a compelling reason for the Scots to be more belligerent from that year. In 1369, war broke out again between England and France; another phase of open conflict in what is termed the `Hundred Years War’ had begun. The renewed war began in inauspicious circumstances for the English and, generally speaking, it was to continue in the same vein.59 These circumstances – distracting foreign war for England, and also domestic political instability – were the conditions under which the Scots habitually attacked the north of England. This can be demonstrated in detail by reference to the years 1369-1380. At first, the main sign of Scottish pressure on England was the re-occupation of lands in the Scottish Borders that had still, until 1369, been under English occupation. The year 1371 witnessed the end of the Bruce dynasty in Scotland, with the death of David II, and the accession of Robert II, first of the Stewart monarchs of Scotland, and a king whose ‘foreign policy’ towards England was far more uncompromising than that of David II. Tellingly, one of Robert’s earliest acts was to reaffirm the alliance with France – the Auld Alliance – a specifically anti-English international alignment.60 From 1371 also, there were increasingly damaging Scottish raids on England itself. Until 1375, this was the pattern of Anglo-Scottish relations: relatively minor (by later standards) raiding, and reoccupation of previously English–controlled southern Scotland. But suddenly, from 1375, we have another hiatus when there does not seem to be Scottish raiding until 1377. It is no coincidence that an Anglo-French truce was agreed in June 1375 and that war between France and England would break out again only in the summer of 1377.61

During this pause in Anglo-French hostilities, the English crown was able to exert diplomatic pressure on the Scots over breaches of the truce, including Scottish seizure of lands that had been under English administration. In 1377, however, Anglo-Scottish war broke out again; and in the summer of 1377 (again the timing is not a coincidence) the Scots launched their biggest invasions of England since the 1350s. George Dunbar, Earl of March, a prominent player in 1380, was to the fore, burning English-held Roxburgh and sparking general warfare on both the Eastern and Western Marches.62 A pattern of persistent Scottish attacks continued until the truly major attacks of 1380 outlined above. In terms of conflict in the Borders, then, it is vital to bear in mind the governmental perspective and the international dimension. These factors together tell us that the Scottish government under Robert II did not want peace to reign in the Borders. It did not want March Law to preside over the military activities of the Scottish leaders and bring them to account. And when only one side in the Anglo-Scottish dichotomy, in this case the English side, wanted to control conflict and to create legislation to that end, there was no chance of conflict being controlled. The only way, in fact, that conflict could be controlled in the Borders from the English perspective was finally to realise that the Scots would not of their own volition seek to limit military activity. The English crown had to accept that the Scots needed to be intimidated into co-operating in control of conflict on the Anglo-Scottish Marches. This, essentially, was what the host that John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, brought to the Border in the autumn of 1380, was expected to do: 3,000 men was an intimidating enough array. That contingents spilled over the Border and burned Dumfries and plundered some lands of the earl of Douglas was perhaps just the level of punitive activity required to rattle the Scots.63

From the English perspective, force was the way to ensure Scottish co-operation over the matter of the truce in the early 1380s. Negotiations between Scottish representatives and the Duke of Lancaster were begun in October 1380, and culminated in an indenture sealed at Berwick on 12 November.64 A new truce, ‘a special security’ as it was termed, was agreed until 30 November 1381. Arrangements were made for payment of redress for breaches of the truce during that period.65 The Scots, faced with John of Gaunt’s display of might in 1380, seem to have adhered reasonably closely to this agreement in the face of the English threat.66 If they had not done so, their credibility in terms of diplomatic negotiation would, in any case, have been entirely lost. In the early 1380s we find another indication that Robert II had fairly good control over the military activities of his nobility, and that the Borderers did not rampage aimlessly, beyond the reach of impotent government. When it was prudent for the Scots to stop attacking England, that is precisely what they did.

So it is a governmental perspective that explains why, after a decade when March Laws were regularly flouted by the Scots, there suddenly emerged again a greater degree of co-operation, a spirit of detente. The workings of redress for breaches of the truce, notably dysfunctional, particularly on the Scottish side in the previous decade, began to function again in the early 1380s.67 We find, for instance, that in 1383, a jury of 12 notable people, six from Scotland and six from England, having consulted with carpenters and masons, agreed on damages owed by the Scots following an attack on the English-occupied castle of Roxburgh.68 The preceding decade of Border violence, though, had not gone by without damaging the processes of March Law. An illustration of this can be found in 1382, when John Creswell (captured at Horse Rigg in 1380) was allowed £40 towards his ransom from Scottish goods captured at sea during the truce by mariners of Newcastle.69

The Border situation, in any case, changed again from 1384. The Scottish government chose a policy of open war in that year, and this was regularly to be the state of affairs until 1389. The decade after 1389, though, was one of truce, not just in Anglo-Scottish relations but in the Anglo-French sphere. The nature of the tripartite relations of the three realms dictated that the position of Scotland with regard to England in these circumstances was weak. The English government, consequently, could take a much more robust stance on the issue of keeping the peace in the Borders. The Scots did launch limited attacks on northern England to coincide with the absence of the English king, Richard II, while he was on campaign in Ireland in 1394-5. The response of the English administration, though, was highly effective: they ordered the arrest of all Scottish shipping in English ports. Faced with this sanction, the Scots were forced to back down.70 This is the language of power rather than the amicable workings of an advanced system of March Law. Not until almost a decade of truce had passed, in 1398, do we again find important developments in the March Laws.71 And in the late 1390s we see again the smooth operation, or at least the attempted enforcement, of redress payments for breaches of the truce. In 1398, even close associates of Archibald, third Earl of Douglas, were being required to attend a March meeting under pain of a £3,000 penalty, and his son and heir (also Archibald) was being taken to task for an attack on Roxburgh.72 We know, moreover, of one instance where that least easily enforced aspect of March Law, losses at sea, was being adequately taken care of. A receipt of two Scottish merchants, Adam Forrester and Sir John Hamilton, testifies to the fact that they were granted redress for losses they had suffered at the hands of Englishmen at sea.73

Unsurprisingly, this co-operative spirit in Anglo-Scottish relations was not to last. When Richard II of England was deposed in 1399 and replaced by Henry IV, the Scottish reaction, predictably, was deep raiding into England. This was the start of another phase of war between England and Scotland, one of deep intensity lasting into the early years of the fifteenth century.74 That is perhaps another story. But to understand the early fifteenth century in the Borders, just like the fourteenth century, we must cast our gaze beyond the Marches. In the early fifteenth century the governments of both England and Scotland, in different ways and for different reasons, disengaged themselves from the Marches of their kingdom. Both domestic political reasons in the two realms and the perception that little could be gained by governmental involvement in the Borders lay behind this shift. This shift of government away from the Borders has great significance for the way society in the region was to develop. To understand this society, and the prevalence of conflict within it, we must not be shackled by pre–conceived impressions of an ungovernable and violent province. We must look at conflict in the Borders in the context of Anglo-Scottish relations in a wider sense and in the knowledge that the sphere of government in both realms was inhabited by intelligent life and expressed policies and agendas which impacted on the localities. We must also look further afield towards the wider European world of which England and Scotland were both a part.

End Notes

1. Thomae Walsingham Historia Anglicana, ed. H. T. Riley, 2 vols, Rolls Series 1863-4, i, 435-8; Chronicon Angliae, ed. E. M. Thompson (Rolls Series 1874), 267-70.

2. Ibid (bis); The Original Chronicle of Andrew of Wyntoun, ed. F. J. Amours (6 vols., Scottish Text Society, 1903-14), vi, 278-81; Scotichronicon, ed. D. E. R. Watt, 9 vole, Aberdeen 1987-98, vii, 380.

3. PRO, E28/1, no. 5; Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem (London, 1904-), xv, no. 443; H. Summerson, `Responses to War: Carlisle and the West March in the later fourteenth century’, in A. Goodman & A. Tuck, eds., War and Border Societies in the Middle Ages, London 1992, 155-77 (at 157); idem., Medieval Carlisle: the city and the borders from the late eleventh to the mid-sixteenth century, 2 vols., Kendal, 1993, i, 312.

4. The Newminster Cartulary, Surtees Society 1878, 296.

5. Chron. Wyntoun, vi, 290-3; Chron. Bower, vii, 396.

6. Northern Petitions ed. C. M. Fraser, Suttees Society 1981, nos. 115, 117, 166; Calendar of Patent Rolls, London 1891-, 1381-5, 182; PRO, SC8/178/8864.

7. R. B. Dobson `The Church of Durham and the Scottish Borders, 1387-88′, in Goodman, Border Societies, 124-54 (at 142).

8. R. Delachenal, Histoire de Charles V, 5 vols., Paris 1909-31, v, 367-9.

9. A. Goodman, `A Letter from an earl of Douglas to a king of Castile’, Scottish Historical Review, 64 (1985), 68-75.

10. Historia Anglicana, i, 437; Chronicon Angliae, 268-9; Statutes and Ordinances and Acts of the Parliament of Ireland, ed. H. F. Berry, Dublin 1907, 480-1; Documents on the affairs of Ireland before the King’s Council, ed. G. O. Sayles, Dublin 1979, 253.

11. E. A. Lewis, The Medieval Boroughs of Snowdonia, London 1913, 295.

12. The Westminster Chronicle 1381-1394, ed. L. C. Hector and B. F. Harvey, Oxford 1982, 42.

13. J. Campbell, `England, Scotland and the Hundred Years War in the Fourteenth Century’ in J. R. Hale, et. al., eds., Europe in the Later Middle Ages, London 1965, 184–216 (at 207); Rotuli Scotiae in Turri Londinensi et in Domo Capitulari Westmonasteriensi Asservati, ed. D. Macpherson, et. al., 2 vols., London 1814-19, ii, 29-30; Foedera, Conventiones, Litterae et Cuiscunque Generis Acta Publica, ed. T. Rymer, 4 vols., London 1816-69, iv, 101-2. For more detail on the Scottish offensive and its context see A. Macdonald, `Crossing the Border: a study of the Scottish military offensives against England c.1369-c.1403 (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Aberdeen 1995, 60-4.

14. Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, ed. J. Bain, et. al., 5 vols., Edinburgh 1881-1986, v, no. 847.

15. Calendar of Close Rolls, London 1892-, 1369-74, 338.

16. Not so minor, of course, to his victim. The case is discussed in H. Summerson, `The Early Development of the Laws of the Anglo-Scottish Marches’ in W. G. Gordon and T. D. Fergus, eds., Legal History in the Making, London 1991, 29-42 (at 37).

17. Linking the Scottish `government’ directly to the warfare of 1380 is difficult, but from a broader perspective evidence of the involvement of Robert II’s regime in the Scottish war effort of the 1370s and 1380s is quite compelling (see Macdonald, `Crossing the Border’, chapters 1-3, passim.).

19. Among recent works whose approach leans heavily on the legal perspective see: H. Summerson, `Crime and Society in Medieval Cumberland’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, new series, laocxii (1982), 111-24; idem., `Early Development’; C. Neville, `Border Law in Late Medieval England’, Journal of Legal History, ix (1988), 335-56; idem., `Keeping the Peace on the Northern Marches in the Later Middle Ages’, English Historical Review, cix (1994), 1-25; idem., Violence, Custom and Law: the Anglo-Scottish Bowler Lands in the Later Middle Ages, Edinburgh 1998.

19. Neville, Violence, 15 (my italics).

20. Ibid., 65, 96.

21. Summerson, `Early Development’, 36.

22. G. W. S. Barrow, `The Aftermath of War’, Scotland and its Neighbours in the Middle Ages, London 1992, 177-200, at 179.

23. For a treatment of the Scottish offensive of 1380 as just another breach of the truce see Neville, Violence, 73, 86.

24 ‘In Search of the Border Reivers’ (Ordnance Survey Map, Crown Copyright, 1998).

25. D. L. W. Tough, The Last Years of a Frontier, Oxford 1928; T. I. Rae, The Administration of the Scottish Frontier 1513-1603, Edinburgh 1966; G. M. Fraser, The Steel Bonnets, London 1971; G. Watson, The Border Reivers, London 1974; R. T. Spence, `The Pacification of the Cumberland Borders, 1593-1628′, Northern History, xiii (1977).

26. G. Ridpath, The Border History of England and Scotland, London 1776.

27. See, for instance, W. Scott, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, London 1931, (first published in 1802).

28. J. Hogg, The Three Perils of Man, Edinburgh 1989, (first published in 1822).

29. For instance, B. W. Beckinsale, `The Characteristics of the Tudor North’, Northern History, iv (1969).

30. Macdonald, `Crossing the Border’, 208-45.

31. For a particular case in point see P. J. Bradley, `Social Banditry on the Anglo-Scottish Border in the Late Middle Ages’, Scotia, xii (1988), 27-43. This article is discussed in more detail in Macdonald, `Crossing the Border’, 210.

32. N. McCord and R. Thompson, The Northern Counties from AD 1000, London 1998, 73.

33. A. Tuck, `Farming Practice and Techniques, Northern Borders’, in E. Miller, ed., The Agrarian History of England and Wales Volume III 1348-1500, Cambridge 1991, 182.

34. B. Webster, Medieval Scotland: the making of an identity, Basingstoke 1997, 11.

35. R. Bartlett, Trial by Fire and Water, Oxford 1986, 122.

36. For a discussion of the pre-1296 relations of the Scottish government with the border region see Macdonald, `Crossing the Border’, 213-14.

37. See, for instance, A. Massie, The Hanging Tree, London 1992, and N. MacCaig, Collected Poems, new ed. London 1990, 174.

38. G. T. Lapsley, `The Problem of the North’, American Historical Review, v (1900), 440-66; H. M. Jewell, `North and South: the antiquity of the Great Divide’, Northern History, xxvii (1991), 1-25; idem., The North-South Divide: the origins of northern consciousness in England, Manchester 1994; R. L. Storey, `The North of England’, in S. B. Chrimes, et. al., eds., Fifteenth-Century England, new ed. Manchester 1995, 129-44.

39. See, for instance, R. B. Dobson, `Politics and the Church in the Fifteenth-Century North’, in A. J. Pollard, ed., The North of England in the Age of Richard II, Stroud, 1996, 1-17; A. J. Pollard, `The Characteristics of the Fifteenth-Century North’, in J. C. Appleby and P. Dalston, eds., Government, Religion and Society in Northern England 1000‑1700, Stroud 1997, 131-43.

40. For instance: R. L. Storey, `The Wardens of the Marches of England towards Scotland 1377-1489′, English Historical Review, lxxii (1957), 593-615; J. A. Tuck, `Richard If and the Border Magnates’, Northern History, iii (1968), 27-52; idem., ‘Northumbrian Society in the Fourteenth Century’, Northern History, vi (1971), 22-39; Summerson, `Crime and Society’; J. A. Tuck, `War and Society in the Medieval North’, Northern History, xxi (1985), 33-52.

41. For a discussion see Macdonald, `Crossing the Border’, 222-33.

42. S. Boardman, The Early Stewart Kings: Robert II and Robert III 1371-1406, East Linton 1996, xiii-xiv.

43. For works with some sensitivity to the possibility of differing patterns on the opposite sides of the Border see A. Goodman, The Anglo-Scottish Marches in the Fifteenth Century: a frontier society?’, in R. A. Mason, ed., Scotland and England 1286-1815, Edinburgh 1987, 18-33; idem., `Religion and Warfare on the Anglo-Scottish Marches’, in R. Bartlett and A. MacKay, eds., Medieval Frontier Studies, Oxford 1989, 245-66; idem., `Introduction’, in Goodman, War and Border Societies, 1-29.

44. M. Aston and C. Richmond, `Introduction’ in Aston and Richmond, eds., Lollardy and the Gentry in the Later Middle Ages, Stroud 1997, 2.

45. N. Saul, Richard II, London 1997.

46. Classic expositions of the view that late fourteenth‑century conflict arose largely within border society can be found in Campbell `Hundred Years War’, 191-2, 213, and R. Nicholson, Scotland: the Later Middle Ages, Edinburgh 1974, 194-6.

47. Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous, London 1916-, iii, no. 531; CIPM, xv, no. 248.

48. PRO, SC6/951/4.

49. Cumbria Record Office, Carlisle DRC1/2, fo. 155. For Appleby’s pacific leanings in his role as March warden see R. K. Rose, `The Bishops and Diocese of Carlisle: Church and Society on the Anglo-Scottish Border’, PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh 1984, 98-9.

50. Foedera, iii.ii, 137; Rot. Scot., i, 913-5.

51. Cumbria Record Office, DRC 1/2, fo.196

52. CDS, iv, nos. 47, 100, 127.

53 Ibid.; cf. R. Gladstone, `The early Annandale charters and their strange resting place’, Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 3rd series, vi (1918-19), 137-46.

54. Macdonald, `Crossing the Borders’, 15, 21-2.

55. Doubt has been cast recently on the personal friendship of David II and Edward III (‘A Question about the Succession’, ed. A. A. M. Duncan, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, xii (1994), 1-57 at 8), but see, for instance, the contemporary illustration of the two kings clasping hands (British Library, MS Cotton, Nero D VI, which is used as the cover illustration for R. Frame, The Political Development of the British Isles 1100-1400, Oxford 1990).

56. Rot. Scot., i, 955-6, 958-9.

57. Cambridge University Library, MS Dd.3.53, fo. 439.

58. Macdonald, `Crossing the Border’, 18-21.

59. For the inauspicious start of the war for England in 1369 see, for instance: E. Perroy, The Hundred Years War London 1965 161-164; J. A. Tuck, Richard II and the English Nobility, London 1973, 6; R. Delachenal, Histoire de Charles V, 5 vols., Paris 1909-31, iv, 196-209.

60. Scottish Record Office, RH6/156, SP7/2; Archives Nationale, Paris, J677/9, 10, 12, 13, K 167/5.

61. Macdonald, `Crossing the Border’, 26-42.

62. Ibid., 49-53.

63. Campbell., `Hundred Years War’, 207; De Controversia in Curia Militari inter Ricardum Le Scrape et Robertum Grosvenor milites, ed. N. H. Nicolas, 2 vols., London 1832, i, 116, 119, 186, 236-9.

64. Rot. Scot., ii, 29-30; Foedera, iv, 101-2

65. Rot. Scot., ii, 27-8; Foedera, iv, 101-3

66. The silence of the chronicles in the years following 1380 is convincing evidence of a decline in violence – the well-informed Westminster chronicler records no Scottish information until 1381.

67. For complains regarding default of Scottish redress see, for instance, Rotuli Parliamentorum, ed. J. Strachey et. al., 6 vols., London 1783, ii, 353, iii, 62. Generally on the workings of March Law at this time see Neville, Violence, 70-6.

68. Neville, `Keeping the Peace’, 10.

69. CPR, 1381-5, 182.

70. For Anglo-Scottish relations in these years see Macdonald, `Crossing the Border’, 123-35.

71. Neville, `Keeping the Peace’, 15-17.

72. PRO, E39/95/2, 11.

73. PRO, E101/128/20, 21.

74. Macdonald, ‘Crossing the Border’, 137-62.


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