Leading the Charge?: Leadership in war in late medieval Scottish burghs

Town governments in Scotland in the late medieval period were commonly dominated by a merchant elite who prioritised the stability, security and trading privileges of their burgh. A burgh council was usually led by an alderman, later known as a provost, and a number of burgh baillies (in Aberdeen there were four) elected annually. When the burgh was threatened, the aldermen and baillies took the lead in defensive preparations.[1] However, a brief entry from the council registers of the burgh of Aberdeen encourages an examination into the role these men played in offensive expeditions as well. The entry from 28th September 1485 noted that the town’s council elections for that year were to be delayed until ‘the aldirman and baillies that now ar[e] into thare officis… thare hamecuming fra the [h]oist quhilkis ar[e] now to pas[s] to the asseging [sieging] of berwick.’[2] Four days earlier an order had been proclaimed to tax the burgh inhabitants to cover the expenses of those who ‘passis to the asseging of berwick.’[3]

Fig. 1: Knight effigy in St Nicholas Kirk, Aberdeen – often attributed to be Robert Davidson but more likely to be the effigy of Alexander Chalmers, a close relative, probably the father, of the man elected as alderman in 1484. For more information see M. Cochrane Scott, ‘Dress in Scotland, 1406-1460’ (Unpublished PhD, University of London (Courtauld), 1987): 105.

Missing in Action?

Admittedly, further investigation suggests that the burgh officials’ involvement in conflict in 1485 may have been more limited than this extract initially implies. Very little is known about any action around Berwick, a town on the border between Scotland and England, that year. The town had been re-captured by the English in 1482 and an English Crown commission, dated 15th October 1485, warned that a Scottish attempt to retake Berwick was suspected.[4] However, wider evidence suggests that the threatened siege never materialised and Scottish resources were instead diverted to nearby Dunbar Castle which was re-taken by the Scots by mid-1486.[5]  Indeed, additional evidence from Aberdeen’s burgh records suggests that while the alderman and baillies may have left the burgh to go to the site of the gathering of a host it is unlikely they made it to Berwick. The burgh baillies were certainly present in the burgh court on 26th September and appear again to be present on the 3rd October, with the, only slightly delayed council elections, being held the following week.[6] With the option of travel by either sea or land, and the location of the hosting site in 1485 unclear, the possibility that the councillors did, at the very least, leave the burgh cannot be ruled out. However, the limited window of time available, combined with a lack of evidence for conflict around Berwick in 1485, makes any participation by an Aberdeen contingent in conflict that year highly unlikely.

Fig. 2: A section of an early seventeenth century map of Scotland, by Jodocus Hondius. Aberdeen and Berwick are both marked on the east coast of the map. Hosts for royal armies to fight England commonly mustered south of Edinburgh. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Taking the Lead?

What is clear, however, is that, in 1485, Aberdeen’s aldermen and baillies were expected to lead a representation from the town to war. Indeed, this is a view supported by wider evidence. In 1411, Aberdeen’s alderman, Robert Davidson, was killed at the battle of Harlaw while in 1547, two burgh baillies were granted an exemption from attending an army raised by the Scottish Regent but were expected to send their sons in their place. [7] Meanwhile the Edinburgh records make clear that in the early sixteenth century the burgh provost and baillies were all part of the force sent to the battlefield at Flodden in 1513, appointing interim office holders in their absence to maintain urban government.[8] This role for burgh leaders is perhaps not unexpected – all men within Scotland were, at least in theory, expected to fight in this period if required to by the monarch. However, it is nevertheless important to acknowledge that those who led in urban communities in Scotland during times of peace were also expected to lead in times of war.

Acknowledgements: The author would like to thank the SGSAH, and the UKRI, for their financial support for my PhD project from which this research is drawn.

Cite this article as: Kirsty Haslam, "Leading the Charge?: Leadership in war in late medieval Scottish burghs," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 18/10/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1430.

[1] i.e. ACA/1/9, p. 294; ACA/1/12, p. 130.  

[2] E. Frankot, A. Havinga, C. Hawes, W. Hepburn, W. Peters, J. Armstrong, P. Astley, A. Mackillop, A. Simpson & A. Wyner (eds), Aberdeen Registers Online (ARO): 1398-1511 (Aberdeen, 2019) <https://www.abdn.ac.uk/aro> [22/02/2021].

ARO-6-0934-01. The individuals elected in 1484, were all re-elected as general council members in 1485 and either they, or a relative of the same name, held office as either an alderman or baillie again later in the 1480s or 1490s (ARO-6-0935-02; ARO-7-0079-04; ARO-7-0141-02; ARO-7-0465-02).

[3] ARO-6-0933-01.

[4] W. Campbell, Materials for a History of the Reign of Henry VII, Vol I (1865): 579.

[5] N. Macdougall, James III (Edinburgh, 2009): 200, 312; RPS 1484/2/31; A payment for the building of a boat from Berwick by the Scottish Exchequer was made in 1486, which may relate to the conflict. However, the context of the entry ensures this cannot be definitively proved (G. Burnett (ed.) The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland Vol IX (Edinburgh, 1886): 434).

[6] ARO-6-0933-01; ARO-6-0933-03, ARO-6-0934-02; ARO-6-0934-04.

[7] S. Boardman, ‘The Burgh and the Realm’ in E.P. Dennison, D. Ditchburn and M. Lynch (eds), Aberdeen Before 1800: A New History (East Linton, 2002): 213; ACA/1/19: 222, 391.

[8] J. Marwick (ed.), Extract from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh Vol I 1403-1528 (Edinburgh, 1869): 142.

Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part 6

In this sixth and final part we discover the fate of both our protagonist and his silver sallet. This, in turn, opens up a wider debate as to the fate of so much of the martial material culture of the period.

A Bloody Red Herring

Sir William would never return to redeem his sallet. He, his big brother Sir John, and the vast majority of his countrymen fell in the sair fecht against the Auld Innemie. At Rouvray on 12 February 1429 a Franco-Scots force sought to cut off a supply train loaded with barrels of herring headed for the invested city of Orléans. The Scots were abandoned by their pusillanimous native allies including Duke Louis of Orléans’ natural son Jean (count of Dunois from 1439) (Figure 1). This Bâtard d’Orléans, however, would prove himself to be a key figure in turning the tide for King Charles. Once trapped in the net of the wily Sir John Fastolf at this Battle of the Herrings, the Scots felt the bitter edge of this English commander’s ‘werre cruelle and sharpe without sparing of any parsone’.[1]

Figure 1: A Knight in Prayer, Stone figure sculpture, French, 15th century, Glasgow Museums, 44.25.

‘white harneys of old facion’

Where then, is Sir William’s sallet now? And indeed the harness of so many of those who fought at this time? Documentary evidence such as indentures, household, business and governmental accounts, and wills attest to the fact that there was a great deal of it.[2] The final act of the Orléans play, alluded to in the first essay, has the defeated English soldiers marched away bareheaded – their sallets in their hands (‘la teste nue […] leurs salades en leurs mains’).[3] Sumptuous artworks depict harness in fine detail (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Ordeal by Fire of St John the Evangelist (detail), stained glass panel, France, c. 1510, Glasgow Museums, 45.390.a.

            Sir John Fastolf, a commander who had grown filthy rich from the wars in France, was dead by 1459. In 1462 an inventory was made of his goods at his house at Southwark. There listed are ‘viij white harneys of old facion […] x peyre breganders, febill […] x basenettes, xxiiij salettes, vj gorgettes […] ij haberions and a barell to skore [t]hem’.[4] On 4 November 1454 two London armourers were tasked with providing a valuation of the stock of Court Pothof, late of Southwark, armourer.[5] Of those classed as an ‘old haubergeon’ (‘vet’ haberion’) three were valued at 20d., one at 16d. and another at 12d. There was one sallet that was black from the hammer, meaning it had not been planished or polished (‘j nigra Salet’) worth 10d., one old basinet (‘j vet’ Basenet’) worth 16d., and one pair of greaves (‘j par’ Greves’) (lower leg defences) worth 8d. These sorry scraps were probably not worth much more than the roll of parchment on which they have been recorded.

Figure 3: Sallet/salade/ barbut, Italy, late 15th century, originally fabric covered, Glasgow Museums, E.1939.65.al.

            The answer, then, to our question is simple: until the Gothic Revival of the eighteenth century, mail and plate armour was considered perfectly reusable iron and steel. A good example is to be found in Glasgow Museums’ collection. A mid-fifteenth-century helmet has had its face opening crudely sheared back, most probably to provide an archer with a better view (Figure 3). Visitors to Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum can gaze in awe at the ‘Avant’ harness (Figure 4). It is a remarkable survival from the fifteenth century. Yet it is also a sight that would have once been commonplace in every town, city, and castle and on every battlefield across Europe.

Figure 4: Milanese Armour by Corio Workshop, Italy, c. 1445, Glasgow Museums, E.1939.65.e.

From the Siege of Orléans to the Soo side

Today Scottish schoolchildren readily recognize the name Lord Darnley as that of the notorious second husband of Mary Queen of Scots (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Portrait of Lord Darnley, Henry Stuart (1545-1567), 16th century, Glasgow Museums, PL.1927.248.

Yet the vital role of his ancestor – and so many of theirs – in weakening the English cause in France is largely forgotten. Darnley is a neighbourhood in, what is now, the Southside of the City of Glasgow very close to Glasgow Museums Resource Centre. In nearby Castlemilk, Sir William’s castle was demolished to make way for an (also demolished) country house, the stables of which have been converted into a community hub. Here can be seen a fantastic nineteenth-century fireplace carved with the dramatic scene of Sir William and his men fighting heroically at the gates of Orléans (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Old fireplace rescued from Castlemilk House depicting Sir William fighting at the siege of Orleans.

[1] Letters and Papers Illustrative of the Wars of the English in France […] Vol. 2, Part 2, ed. by Joseph Stevenson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1864, repr. 2012), p. 518.

[2] R. Moffat, ‘Armourers and Armour: Textual Evidence’, in The Encyclopedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles of the British Isles, c. 450-1450, ed. by Gale Owen-Crocker, Elizabeth Coatsworth and Maria Hayward (Leiden: Brill, 2012), pp. 49-52.

[3] Mistère du siège d’Orléans, ed. Guessard and De Certain, p. 745.

[4] London, British Library, Additional MS 39848, fol. 50r-fol. 53r, printed in Paston Letters and Papers of the Fifteenth Century, Part I, ed. by Norman Davis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 107-14 (at pp. 113-14).

[5] London, London Metropolitan Archives, Plea and Memoranda Roll A80, membrane 4.

Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part 5

Evidence for the role of plunder is addressed in this fifth piece of this six-part essay to explain how Sir William Stewart of Castlemilk may have obtained his silver sallet.

A Helmet with a Coronet ‘of purest gold ornamented with the most precious gems’

Thomas, duke of Clarence, was the eldest of Henry V’s younger brothers and heir to the English (and French) throne. His reckless charge at a force of Scots who were enjoying a wee swally and a game of footie would prove to be his last. The Battle of Baugé (22 March 1421) utterly destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the English ‘Band of Brothers’.[1]

            The unnamed chronicler at Pluscarden Abbey in Moray, writing later in the fifteenth century, tells an intriguing tale:

[…] sed tamen publica vox fuit quod quidam Scotus montanus, Alexander Makcaustelayn nominatus, de Levenax oriundus, de familia domini de Bachania, dictum ducem de Clarencia occidit; quia, ac hoc signum, coronellam auream, quae in galia sua de auro purissimo, gemmis preciosis ornatum, super caput ejus in campo inventa fuit, praedicus Makcastelan secum in campo portavit, et pro mille nobilibus domino de Dernly vendidit: qui eandem coronellam Roberto de Houston pro quinque millibus nobilium sibi debitis in pignore postea reliquit.

[…] but folk said, however, that a certain mountain Scot (i.e. Gael) from the Lennox, of the lord (earl) of Buchan’s household, named Alexander Makcaustelayn, slew the said duke of Clarence who, as proof of this, found on his (Clarence’s) helm on his head in the field (of battle) a gold coronet of the purest gold ornamented with the most precious gems. The aforesaid Makcastelan [sic] carried it with him into the camp and sold it to the lord of Darnley for 1,000 nobles, who afterwards pledged this same coronet to Robert Houston for 5,000 nobles.[2]

Fig.1: St. George and the Dragon, stained glass panel, c. 1400, made in England, Glasgow Museums Collections, 45.86.

“This day should Clarence closely be mew’d [or hewed!] up”

A remarkable survival is a household account recording payments to Bartholomew Winter ‘arm[o]rer’ to the hapless Duke Thomas. It dates to sometime between 1418 and 1421 in anticipation of the departure ‘versus p[ar]tes Normandie’. We are provided with a great amount of detail as to the lavish equipment this nobleman took on campaign. I have included in this extract the armour only.

j par’ de plates nouis liij s. iiij d. j nouo basinet xliij s. iiij d. vno pare’ [sic] Cirotecar[um] de plate xiij s. iiij d. j breeke de maile j pair gusset iij pair’ [sic] voiders xxj s. viij d. j lorica xxvj s. viij d. pro exambio vni’ pair’ [sic] legharnays & j pair’ rerbrace viij s. […] margarete Strawston’ pro iij verges de corsez rubij p[ro] garnisshing’ del legh[ar]nays vaumbrace & rerbrace & aut[re]s v s. Henrico aurifabro london’ p[ro] Bukles & pendantz de arg’ pro eod[e]m xxj s. vj d. […] pro iiij dozein poyntes p[u]r armyng de j h[a]b[er]geon’ Girdell’ ij d. j tresse ij d. sim[u]l cu’ Bothirs de london’ vsq’ Grenewyche p[u]r assayng del dit h[er]neyse v d. […] pro emendac[i]one vni’ basinet’ cu’ vno pare [sic] de plates & totu’ h[er]nec’ d[omi]no Comiti xx s. p[ro] j salade xx s. vno par’ nouar[um] sabatou[n]s vj s. viij d. et p[ro] imposic[i]one de nouo de vno par’ cirotec’ de plate empt’ pro d[omi]no Comite iiij s. iiij d. vna lorica xxxiij s. iiij d. vn’ pysan’ xiiij s.

one new pair of plates 53s. 4d., one new basinet 43s. 4d., one pair of plate gauntlets 13s. 4d., one breech of mail and one pair of gussets, three pairs of voiders 21s. 8d., one hauberk 24s. 8d., for canvassing one pair of legharness and one pair of rerebrace (plate arm defences) 8s. […] Margaret Strawson for three ells of red silk for equipping the legharness, vambrace and rerebrace, and others 5s., Henry, goldsmith of London, for silver buckles and pendants for them 21s. 6d. […] for four dozen points for the arming of one haubergeon girdle 2d., one tress 2d., along with boat hire from London to Greenwich for assaying the said harness 5d. […] for mending one basinet with one pair of plates and all the lord earl’s harness 20s., for one sallet 20s., for a new pair of sabatons 6s. 8d., and for newly-fitting one pair of plate gauntlets 4s. 4d., one hauberk 23s. 4d., one pisan (mail collar) 14s.[3]

None of this harness survives but some idea of its finery is given by beautiful artworks produced at this time (Figure 1 and Figure 2).

Fig.2: St John the Evangelist Hands the Palm to the Jewish Chief Priest, stained glass panel, c. 1450-55, Glasgow Museums Collections, 45.92.

This same account records a payment ‘for gilt mail to repair my lord Edmund’s hauberk along with its making etc.’ (‘pro giltmayle p[ro] emendac[i]one lorice d[omin]i mei Ed[mund]i simul cu’ factura eiusd[e]m &c’’). Edmund Beaufort, the future duke of Somerset, was Clarence’s teenage stepson. Edmund’s elder brother Thomas was captured in the mêlée at Baugé by Darnley’s retinue and was (very likely) passed on to Jean, duke of Bourbon, for doubtless a handsome fee.[4]

Might Sir William’s sallet have come from this valuable haul? It is certainly a very strong possibility. What then was the fate of Sir William and his silver sallet? Find out in the final instalment.

Cite this article as: Ralph Moffat, "Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part 5," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 14/03/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1230.

[1] John D. Milner, ‘The Battle of Baugé, March 1421: Impact and Memory’, History, 91 (2006), 484-507.

[2] Liber Pluscardensis, ed. by Felix J. H. Skene, 2 vols (Edinburgh: Paterson, 1877-80), I, 356. Might this man be the ‘matasselin’ who was gifted a harness by King Charles in 1447, as mentioned in the third essay?

[3] London, Westminster Abbey, Muniment 12163, fol. 12r-fol. 12v, and fol. 20r.

[4] Rémy Ambühl, Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War: Ransom Culture in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 66-68.

Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part 3

This third, and the following two parts, of this six-part essay examine the evidence available to provide an explanation as to where such equipment as Sir William Stewart of Castlemilk’s silver sallet may have come from: royal gift, purchase, and plunder.

‘A ung homme d’armes natif du pays d’Escoce […] un harnoiz’

On 26 May 1447 King Charles forked out 2,726 livres 5 sous tournois for seventy-five harnesses and thirteen brigandines. A harness is the term for a complete plate armour. A brigandine is a flexible torso defence constructed of fabric and metal plates (Figure 1 and Figure 2). A number of these were gifted and distributed (‘donné et fait distribuer’) thus:

A ung homme d’armes natif du pays d’Escoce nommé Matasselin; un harnoiz, à un grant homme d’armes du dit pays d’Escosse nommé Unfroy Coningnam, un harnois; à Gilbert, archier de la garde du corps dudit seigneur, que ledit seigneur luy a donné pour envoyer en Escosse, un harnoiz […] à Robert Hounter, homme d’armes, ung harnoiz […] à Robert Conignan, trois harnoiz et une brigandine dorée; à un archier, une brigandine commune.[1]

The payment for these was made to ‘Balsazin de Trez, marchant de Milan, armurier’. Such royal gifts of martial equipment were entirely dependent on urban centres and their inhabitants.

Fig.1: Glasgow Museums, Hercules and his Companions on Mount Olympus or Hercules Initiating the Olympic Games (detail), 46.80, tapestry, Belgium, c. 1465-1470.

Wise Guys’ Supplies: The Milanese Connection

On 12 October 1455 Francesco, duke of Milan, wrote to Charles VII to request safe conduct for Balzarino da Trezo, armourer of our City (‘armorero de questa nostra cita’). He also asked that this be revoked if necessary ‘so that Balzarino does not bring any craftsmen of his art outwith our jurisdiction’ (‘non condure alcuni lavoratori de l’arte sua fuora della nostra jurisdictione’).[2] But the Duke could not put the genie back in the bottle. Balzarin and his brother Gasparin (Lombard versions of Balthazar and Caspar – presumably there was a third brother to make up the Magi: the Three Wise Men) had been granted letters of naturalization between 1449 and 1450 and were firmly ensconced at Tours.[3] An extract from the letter granted to their fellow Milanese business partner conveys the importance of such men to the French war effort. The King extends his thanks for ‘the good and agreeable service that the said supplicant has done us in times past with sale of harness, wishing to attract this in our said realm’ (‘bons et aggreables services que le dict suppliant nous a faiz le temps passé ou dict fait de marchandise de harnois, voulans icelui attraire en nostre dict royaume’).[4]

Fig.2: Royal Armouries, Brigandine, III.1664, Italy, 1470.

It is up for debate if Balzarin and his compatriots were craftsmen or merchants (or indeed both). In a document of 1477 Gabriel de Trez is named as the son of ‘sire Balsarin de Tres, valet de chambre et armurier du roi’.[5] What is indisputable is that they were able to shift a quality product.In Parisian regulations of 1407 the charge was levelled that German-made haubergeons are ‘not of such sure work as is made in parts of Lombardy’ (‘pas si seurs ouurages que on fait esd[i]c[t]es partes de lombardie’). It is, it was claimed, in ‘good towns of Lombardy where they are accustomed to make and work good and secure armours’ (‘bonnes villes de lombardie ou len a acoustume faire & ouurer de bonnes et seures armeures’). Worse still, these knock-offs were being flogged off to unwitting buyers with false marks or signs (‘faulses marques ou saigns’).[6] Three years later an unscrupulous merchant was slapped with a fine of 100 Parisian sous for attempting to sell three haubergeons ‘signe et m[ar]quez du saing de milan’.[7]

Fig.3: Glasgow Museums, Haubergeon, E.1939.65.e.14, Germany, 14th century.

English fighters too, appreciated the quality. For instance, one hauberk of Milan (‘vna[m] lorica[m] de milayne’) was bequeathed by Sir Philip Darcy in his will of 16 April 1399.[8] In 1464 Sir John Howard lent out ‘a salate of fyn melen wethe a veser’, ‘a fyne salat of melen wethe a veser’, and another of his men ‘hathe on[e] of my fyneeste salates of melen, wethe a veser’.[9]

That the silver sallet was a gift to Sir William is a strong possibility. The next two instalments deal with two alternatives: purchase and plunder.

Cite this article as: Ralph Moffat, "Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part 3," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 15/01/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1180.

[1] Chronique de Mathieu d’Escouchy, ed. by G. Du Fresne de Beaucourt, 3 vols (Paris: Renouard, 1863-64), III, 255-56. The original document – if it survives – is probably in the Archives nationales.

[2] Jacopo Gelli and Gaetano Moretti, Gli armaroli milanesi. I Missaglia e la loro casa (Milan: Hoepli, 1903), p. 5, citing Milan, Archivio di Stato di Milano, Missivi ducale, no. 25, fol. 139r.

[3] Paris, Archives nationales, JJ//180, no. 1403, fol. 94r: ‘Gasparinon et Balsarino de Trez’. The toponymic Tres/Trez reflects the Lombard pronunciation of Trezzo.

[4] Paris, Archives nationales, JJ 180, no. 111, fol. 50r, printed in Françoise Mighaud-Fréjaville, ‘Être naturalisé dans la vallée de la Loire (1450-1501)’, Annuaire-Bulletin de la Société de l’histoire de France, unnumbered(2011), 3-13 (p. 12).

[5] Tours, Archives départementales d’Indre-et-Loire, 37, 3E1/2.

[6] Paris, Archives nationales, Y//2, Châtelet de Paris, Livre rouge vieil, fol. 237r.

[7] Paris, Archives nationales, Registres des sentences civiles du Châtelet, Y//5227, fol. 173v.

[8] York, Borthwick Institute, Abp Reg. 16: Richard Scrope, fol. 134v. The Latin name lorica was specifically applied to the hauberk at this time. See R. Moffat, ‘The Manner of Arming Knights for the Tourney: A Re-Interpretation of an Important Early-14th-Century Arming Treatise’, Arms & Armour, 7 (2010), 5-29 (at pp. 13-14).

[9] Manners and Household Expenses of England in the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Centuries Illustrated by Original Records, ed. by T. H. Turner (London: Nichol, 1841), p. 440. The original document is likely in the archives at Arundel Castle.

War and Medieval Scotland’s Urban Communities – the case of Berwick-upon-Tweed

Fourteenth-century Scotland was dominated by the Wars of Independence. In this conflict, Scotland’s towns were a key element of control for both sides. What effect this had on their inhabitants is somewhat difficult to ascertain, due to a lack of detailed evidence from the towns themselves. But English record evidence, for periods when these communities were under occupation, provides some insight into the participation of townspeople in the war going on around them. Berwick-upon-Tweed is perhaps the best example of an English-held town, due to its endurance as an English possession. Captured in 1296 by Edward I of England, it was not returned to Scottish allegiance until 1318. It only remained Scottish for another fifteen years before it fell to Edward III. And evidence for the period after 1333 provides quite detailed material on the experience of war for the Berwick townspeople and their martial involvement in the town’s defence.[1]

Berwick Castle
Founded by David I in the twelfth century, this once mighty fortress changed hands several times during the prolonged and often bloody fighting between Scotland and England in the medieval period. Warfare, neglect and ultimately, the construction of the station and the railway bridge, reduced the castle to the ruin we see today. The fragment of the castle seen in the picture is known as “the White Wall”.

Keeping Berwick Safe?

The English, upon the town’s capture, were concerned about the loyalty of its Scottish inhabitants. Although the town’s garrison contained Scots who supported the alternative English-backed Balliol regime in the kingdom, the political affiliation of the townspeople was more dubious.[2] As a result, Edward III encouraged English people to settle in Berwick, sending letters to nineteen English towns and offering inducements to encourage such a move.[3] As late as 1337 Edward III remained worried about a lack of Englishmen and reissued his appeal for more migrants as ‘delay is dangerous.’[4] Those who did move may have recognised a need to participate in urban defence.

Richard Colle of Norham petitioned the king for a messuage in Berwick as a reward for good service in the Scottish wars, ‘so that he can henceforth have a certain income [to contribute to the] strength and defence of the town.’[5] And Henry Chesham petitioned the king to town land for a reduced rent so that he ‘could build on it and incur expenditure and live on it to the strengthening of the town.’[6] However, by 1342 such men may have grown tired of dependence on their efforts. For in this year Edward III sent orders that the burgesses of Berwick should no longer be retained in the defence of the town. This appears to have been in response to an appeal by the burgesses that they should not be required to provide military service. The Berwick administration’s response, however, only exacerbating the burgesses’ disquiet.

For felons were utilised in place of the townsmen as a means of replacing the lost manpower. This upset Berwick’s burgesses and merchants once again who duly complained to Edward III. But in this instance their protestations found a less sympathetic ear and the king rebuked the townsmen and ordered them not to interfere with the work of the king’s ministers. Indeed, it may have been the king himself who ordered the recruitment of felons for Berwick’s defence as orders of January 1343 suggest.[7] But local discontent with the town’s administration and defence may have been of longer standing. In 1341, the keepers of the town gates were accused of extorting merchants and stealing their produce. Edward III ordered Berwick’s constable and his ministers to desist such activity and ‘conduct themselves honourably.’[8] But such examples emphasise that relations between townsmen and administration were often fraught.

Conclusion

Berwick-upon-Tweed was a vital base for English forces in Scotland, as well as a political and economic prize. And yet, English efforts for its defence were often half-hearted, underfunded, and created tensions with the town’s populace. As late as 1349, the townsmen of Berwick were writing to Edward III complaining that they:

have often shown the king and the council the misfortunes and perils of their town, daily hoping that some remedy might be sent for their salvation, but they have found no relief, and are now abandoned and forgotten. Since all their earthly hope of recovery rests in the king, they inform him that the town was never in such peril since it came into his hands, because it is totally lacking in men and victuals. The Scots are greatly cheered because of the [Black Death]; they daily do all the injuries they can by land and sea, and capture victuals coming to the town from England. They have made ladders and other engines to come to the town, to try if they can to take it. The writers cannot resist their malice […] and they ask that help be quickly sent.[9]

Although likely an exaggeration of their situation, any threats to the town were a blow to English strategy and English pride. And in 1355 such fears were realised as the town’s walls were overcome by a surprise Scottish attack that, though ultimately unsuccessful, demonstrated weaknesses in Berwick’s defence. The townsmen of Berwick, therefore, likely had every right to be fearful and to consider that their safety remained insufficiently protected.

Cite this article as: Iain MacInnes, "War and Medieval Scotland’s Urban Communities – the case of Berwick-upon-Tweed," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 15/10/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1105.

[1] For more on this period of conflict, and on Berwick in particular, see Iain A. MacInnes, Scotland’s Second War of Independence, 1332-1357 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2016); J. Donnelly, ‘An open economy: the Berwick shipping trade, 1311-1373’, Scottish Historical Review, 96.1 (2017), 1-31; J. Donnelly, ‘An open port: the Berwick export trade, 1311-1373’, Scottish Historical Review, 78.2 (1999), 145-169; A. Tuck, ‘A Medieval Tax Haven: Berwick upon Tweed and the English crown, 1333-1461’, Progress and Problems in Medieval England: Essays in honour of Edward Miller, ed. R. Britnell and J. Hatcher (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 148-167.

[2] These included several Lothian-based knights and their followers, including Thomas Bisset, David and John Marshall, and Henry and John Ramsay (The National Archives, London, E101/22/9, f. 1).

[3] Rotuli Scotiae in Turri Londinensi et in Domo Capitulari Westmonasteriensi Asservati, ed. D. Macpherson et al. (London, 1814-19), i, p. 258; Tuck, ‘Medieval Tax Haven’, pp. 149-150.

[4] Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland: Supplementary volume v, ed. J. Galbraith and G.G. Simpson (Edinburgh, 1986), no. 767.

[5] Northern Petitions Illustrative of Life in Berwick, Cumbria and Durham in the Fourteenth century, ed. C.M. Fraser (Surtees Society, 1981), pp. 20-21.

[6] Northern Petitions, p. 27.

[7] CDS, v, no. 796.

[8] Rot. Scot., i, pp. 613-615.

[9] CDS, v, no. 810.