William Wallace’s Invasion of Northern England in 1297
By C.J. McNamee
from: Northern History v.26 (1990)
In the winter of 1297 William Wallace, fresh from his victory over the English at Stirling Bridge, presided over a ferocious and prolonged devastation of northern England. There had been raiding in the previous year when the Anglo-Scottish war had first opened, but nothing on this scale. Something of the extent of the destruction, and its impact on life in the region is conveyed by a contemporary chronicler:
At that time the praise of God ceased in all the monasteries and churches of the whole province from Newcastle
to Carlisle. All the monks, canons regular and the rest of the priests and ministers of the Lord, together with
almost the whole of the people fled from the face of the Scot.l
Modern narratives have tended to describe the invasion only in general terms, for in two respects the episode has been overshadowed. Historians of England have tended to concentrate on the prolonged phase of Scottish raiding which lasted from 1311 to 1322, historians of Scotland to focus on the importance of the Wallace invasion in the interpretation of the critical situation north of the border.2 This paper takes a closer look at the invasion of 1297, and the findings have significance both for our understanding of the state of affairs in contemporary Scotland, and for the parallels drawn between Wallace’s invasion and the raids of Robert Bruce and his supporters in the early fourteenth century.
The evidence which allows a reconstruction of the Wallace invasion falls into three main categories. Of the narrative sources, the near-contemporary Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough is much to be preferred. It can be supplemented in places by the Lanercost chronicle, the Scalachronica of Sir Thomas Gray composed circa 1362, Peter Langtoft’s rhyming chronicle, and the works of the Scottish writer John of Fordun.3 Blind Harry’s Wallace is, however, of little value, as it imputes to Wallace much of the itinerary of Bruce’s invasion of Yorkshire in 1322.4 Secondly, in the register of John Halton, Bishop of Carlisle, exists a schedule of reductions of parish valuations in the diocese of Carlisle for the triennial tenth of 1301, tax allowances granted in view of the destruction inflicted by the Scots.5 Thirdly, financial accounts of northern manors then in the King’s hand are preserved on the Pipe Roll. Fortunately, a relatively large number of properties were in this condition at the time of the invasion, most of them recently escheated from cross-Border landowners who sided with the Scots in 1296. These accounts contain details of damage inflicted by the Scots and, occasionally, the dates when it occurred.6
The invasion of his own realm marked the nadir of Edward I’s attempts to control Scotland; attempts which until then had met with remarkable success.7 In 1296 Edward had overrun Scotland in a matter of months. He had taken prisoner King John Balliol and many of the nobles, occupied all the major castles, and imposed on the country sheriffs and custodians of his own choosing, most of them English. He had established his own government based at Berwick-on-Tweed, acting in his name as feudal overlord of Scotland. Edward departed for Flanders on 22 August 1297, confident that the situation in Scotland was well in hand. Not until September did it become apparent that the real struggle for Scotland was beginning, and about to spill over into England; but already in May 1297 the English occupation was menaced by three risings: Andrew Murray led a rising with widespread popular support north of the Forth; another was led by Sir William Douglas, James the Stewart of Scotland, Sir Alexander de Lindsay and Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, in the south-west of Scotland; and William Wallace became active at around the same time, when he killed the Sheriff of Lanark and chased the English Justiciar from Scone.8
The rising in western Scotland was dealt with fairly promptly. Henry Percy and Robert Clifford, using the county posse of Cumberland and Westmorland (and perhaps of Lancashire), advanced into Scotland to Ayr.9 After some hesitation, the rebels, based at Irvine, decided to surrender.10 Wallace, however, is reported as having gathered a large company in Selkirk Forest by 17 July; and although Edward’s Treasurer of Scotland, Hugh Cressingham, had negotiated with nobles of Northumberland and mustered a force from that county, news of the surrender at Irvine postponed this expedition.11 Wallace was able to move north to besiege the castle of Dundee in August, and to link up with Murray’s successful northern rising. It was this combined army that the Earl of Warenne and Cressingham encountered at Stirling Bridge on 11 September, when the English sustained a humiliating defeat. The hated Cressingham was killed and flayed by the Scots. Prominent northern magnates who met their deaths included Robert le Vavasour and his eldest son, and Robert Delaval. Marmaduke de Thweng was captured when Stirling Castle surrendered shortly afterwards, and the Earl of Warenne fled precipitately to Berwick. On the side of the Scots, Andrew Murray was fatally wounded; but nevertheless this resounding victory was the signal for all of Scotland to throw off English lordship.12
News of the defeat travelled rapidly. By 21 September Cressingham had been reported dead to the Exchequer in London;13 and on 24 September instructions had arrived from Edward in Flanders as to how the emergency should be dealt with. He ordered that Warenne remain in Scotland and that he be reinforced by Robert Clifford, the Sheriff of York and thirteen northern lords.14 But execution of these orders was by now clearly impossible; by 27 September the Earl had retreated as far south as York, abandoning the North to the vengeance of the Scots.15
Walter of Guisborough’s narrative testifies to the panic as Northumberland prepared for the worst in the wake of the battle of Stirling:
For the Northumbrians were petrified with fear, and they evacuated from the countryside their wives
and children and all their household goods, sending them with their animals to Newcastle and various
other places throughout the provinces.16
But the invasion did not immediately materialize. Scottish activity in Northumberland is not reported until 13 October.17 Wallace’s movements in the two to four weeks following the battle are suggested by chronicle accounts. Immediately afterwards he had pursued the Earl of Warenne to Hutton Moor, just outside Berwick, but `perceiving the English arrayed to oppose him, he came no nearer to Berwick, but retired and bivouacked in Duns Park’.18 It is also reported that he turned north to continue the siege of Dundee Castle, and certainly he had time for this before the invasions of England began.19
Berwick was probably occupied by the Scots at some time before the 11 October; for on this date Wallace wrote to the mayors and commons of Lubeck and Hamburg that the ports of Scotland were once more open to German traders.20 Wallace could hardly have proclaimed the liberation of the kingdom to foreign traders with Berwick still in English hands.21 Scalachronica reports that Wallace dispatched Henry de Haliburton to take possession of the town when the English burghers had evacuated.22 Berwick Castle, however, was not taken.23
This is how the Lanercost chronicle summarizes the invasion:
After this [the capture of Berwick] the Scots gathered together and and invaded, devastating the whole country, causing burnings, depredations and murders, and they came almost up to the town of Newcastle, but turned away from it and invaded the county of Carlisle; there they did as in Northumberland, destroying everything, and afterwards they returned to Northumberland, to devastate more fully anything they had overlooked previously; and on the feast of St Cecilia virgin and martyr they returned to Scotland.24
It seems unlikely that the Scots would return over territory they had already devastated; and it is also true that parish valuations, when mapped, are suggestive of invasion of Cumberland from Liddisdale or Berwick, rather than Northumberland. Yet Guisborough’s more detailed narrative does not contradict this summary; and when collated with independent sources it becomes the only possible itinerary.
Wallace, then, was at Haddington on 11 October, though not yet on his way into Northumberland. Instead he appears to have resumed the siege of Dundee.25 Guisborough actually gives two dates for the start of the invasion; on the feast of St Luke (18 October) he says the Scots started terrorizing Northumberland, but not until around the feast of St Martin (11 November) did they concentrate for a massed invasion. And indeed there is no reason to believe that Wallace or Wallace’s army was in England before the beginning of November. The initial phase of the invasion was one of raids by scattered bands of marauders. A camp or lair was established in Rothbury Forest from which the Scots raided the surrounding countryside.26 The earliest Scottish depredation in Northumberland to which a date is assigned is the burning of Felton mill, said to have taken place a fortnight after Michaelmas, i.e., around 13 October.27 (Felton is only seven miles from Rothbury.) All over the country people fled from the countryside to walled towns and castles, and at Newcastle preparations were made in the castle in case of attack.28 The county posse of Northumberland had been called up by Cressingham in July, and had presumably been scattered at Stirling Bridge. The only resistance came from castle garrisons; the Alnwick garrison in particular is said to have harassed the raiders.29 In London the government was aware of what was happening, for Warenne had arrived with news of imminent invasion. In the King’s absence nothing precipitate could be done. The clergy reacted promptly by issuing summonses for both Convocations to vote money for defence on 15 and 23 October.30 Westminster began to give orders on 23 October for a muster against the Scots, but this mobilization would take time, the muster being scheduled only for 6 December.31
There is no shortage of evidence of the raiders’ activities in Northumberland. A rash of burnings and lapsed rents in the north-east corner of the county suggests attack from Berwick. The parishes of Norhamshire and Islandshire, pertaining to Durham Priory, record a sharp decline in tithe revenue. In 1292/3 Norhamshire sheaf tithes were worth £193 and those of Islandshire worth £137 13s. 4d.; in 1297/8 they had fallen to £88 16s. 8d. and £59 respectively. Tithes of Lowick and Bowsden vills were reduced because of burning by the Scots. Altarage from Norham was also affected, falling from £56 to £20.32 The mills of Norhamshire and Islandshire had been destroyed and rendered nothing.33 On the Priory’s property at Ellingham, rents were said in 1299 to have decayed by 79s. 8d. owing to the burnings of the Scots. In 1293 these rents had brought in £6 3s. 8d.,34 so they had fallen almost to a third of their pre-war value. Demesne rents at Spindleston and Budle were also reduced `because the land was waste on account of the Scottish war’.35 Embleton, held by the Earl of Lancaster, did not suffer quite as badly as Ellingham; the inquisition post mortem of Edmund of Lancaster shows that the annual value of the manor of Embleton had diminished by a quarter (from £48 pounds to £36) and that of the appurtenant manor of Stamford by only 5 per cent. One of two mills at Embleton was burnt by the raiders.36 Longhorsley parish church was also destroyed.37 Destruction seems to have been particularly heavy around the Cheviot, where rents of bondmen and cottars at Yeavering had fallen and the manors of Hedgely, Hepburn, Doddington and Wickton rendered nothing in 1297-98 `on account of the war against the Scots who burnt and destroyed the said manors’.38 At Hethpool and Akeld there were no bond rents paid in 1298 because the bondmen were killed and ruined in the war.39 Alnwick, too, seems to have suffered damage; a `Song on the Scottish War’, allegedly written by a Prior of Alnwick, laments how the Scots had given the town to the flames; though, as Guisborough notes, the castle held out.40
At some stage in early November (1 November is suggested by Fordun 41) sporadic and undisciplined raiding gave way to a concentration of Scottish force, which we may reasonably associate with the arrival of Wallace. `The Army of Scotland’ marched south, scattering the Northumbrian tenantry. Woodhorn on the coast appears to have been abandoned as income from the manorial court brought in nothing in 1298/99 on account of the war, and at Heugh in Stamfordham there were no issues at all, as the land lay waste on account of the Scottish war.42 Newcastle was prepared for the worst. From 30 September until 2 November a garrison of six men-at-arms, eighty-eight crossbowmen and an equal number of archers was maintained in the castle. An engineer was employed to repair two posterns in the walls and a turret; and money was spent on a springald and ammunition and a `bretasche’.43 Of an approach to Newcastle at this stage there is no chronicle account; Wallace may have given the town a wide berth. He moved instead into Tynedale. There the Scots wreaked havoc at Bywell; almost half the demesne (103 acres of demesne out of 235) lay waste for the rest of the year `on account of the Scottish war’.44 They burnt the town of Corbridge, which can barely have recovered from the raids of the previous year.45 By 7 November Wallace was at Hexham Priory. In the Guisborough text two letters which Wallace awarded to the canons are given in full. One, bearing this date, is a letter of protection for the Priory. The other, undated, is a permission for one canon of the house, escorted by a squire and two servants, to approach the `Leaders of the Army of Scotland’ whenever it should be necessary. The likelihood is that the convent had agreed to pay money for the protection, and the second document describes the means of delivering the ransom.46 The author of the `Song on the Scottish War’ explains that Newminster Abbey had by a similar deal escaped destruction; except that, as Newminster could not pay, the Prior was taken hostage .47
Although the Guisborough chronicle reads as though both Hexham documents were granted on Wallace’s return march into Northumberland, that which is dated 7 November must have been granted on the outward march, for independent sources agree that Wallace did not arrive at Carlisle until Martinmas (11 November).48 Carlisle, it would appear, was already under threat, from Galloway and possibly also from the north‑east. On 13 October the castle suddenly started to prepare as though an assault were imminent. Robert Bruce of Annandale (a Scot, whose loyalties might be suspect) was replaced as garrison commander by John de Halton, Bishop of Carlisle, and a garrison was employed from that date.49 On 21 October the King ordered the Bishop to pay Henry Percy’s attorney 50 marks for the defence of the Carlisle; and two days later the Earl Warenne sent ten Galwegian hostages to the city in an effort to protect Carlisle.50 Destruction in the parishes of Burgh-by-Sands and Rockcliffe (Map 2) may be attributed to the Galwegians, including damage to the de Multon manor of Burgh, in the King’s hand by reason of minority. Other de Multon lands, at Irthing and Brampton in Gilsland, are said to have been destroyed a fortnight before Martinmas (29 October).51 This date might be incorrect; but war-damage in Bewcastle and Stapleton parishes leaves open the possibility of an early attack from the direction of Roxburgh. The de Multon lands suffered heavily; in only six months of 1295/96 they had been worth £218 9s. 81/4d. to the Exchequer; but in the whole year 1297/98 they brought in only £53 20s. 81/4d. Water mills belonging to the de Multons were destroyed at Irthington and `Geldesdale’. Other properties in Burgh and Gilsland were also affected: according to the escheator’s roll, the tenements of Henry del Dykes at Burgh and of Thomas de Leverisdale at Kirkcambeck were burnt at this time so that neither rendered any issue the following year.52 Then, around Martinmas (11 November), the victor of Stirling descended on Cumberland to complement the ravages of the Galwegians. It is reported that on Martinmas Eve he was burning three baronies – Liddel, Levington, and Gilsland – as he approached Carlisle.53
According to the Bishop of Carlisle’s account as keeper of Carlisle Castle, both city and castle were besieged by a Scottish army from Martinmas.54 On arrival before the city, Wallace sent a clerk to the citizens to demand surrender in the name of `William the Conqueror’. But when this was refused, and. the city was seen to be equipped with machines to resist a siege, he did not attempt to storm it.55 He seems to have left a detachment to keep in check the castle garrison however, for the siege is said to have lasted until 8 December.56 Then the Scottish army marched away, `devastating everything, by way of the forest of Inglewood, Cumberland and Allerdale to the Derwent at Cockermouth’.57
Until recently it was thought that Northumberland bore the brunt of Wallace’s invasion,58 but it is clear that the Exchequer and the local clergy were much more alarmed at the devastation in the Western March. The yield of the current subsidy from Cumberland was so low as to occasion an inquiry in the Exchequer.59 The Sheriff later petitioned in Parliament for allowance of arrears outstanding from his time in office. He claimed that these had been `impossible to levy on account of the destruction, impoverishment and burning made in the county by the Scots’.60 John of Fordun, in his Chronica Gentis Scotorum, does not even mention the devastation of Northumberland, only the burning of Allerdale.61
More revealing however is a revision of ecclesiastical taxation in the diocese of Carlisle. This was made in 1301 for collection of the triennial crusading tenth to take account of damage suffered at the hands of the Scots four years previously.62 Fourteen parishes received a total exemption from the tenth, and sixty others remittance of one third of the sum due. While it is true that parish valuations bear no relationship to the actual income of parishes,63 the reassessment nevertheless shows which parishes were considered to be the worst affected by war damage by contemporaries. When mapped, this re-assessment shows clearly the path of Wallace from Tynedale and Gilsland, through Farlam, Hayton and Crosby on Eden. His route to the south through Inglewood is also readily apparent, indicating that he followed the course of the River Caldew. The exemptions of the northern parishes of Bewcastle and Stapleton may suggest attack from the north-west; and the exemptions of Arthuret and Kirklinton accord well with the statement that on Martinmas Eve Wallace was burning the baronies of Liddle and Levington in this northern district. It must be remembered however that some of this damage will have been caused in the raids of the previous year.64 The wide distribution of parishes receiving partial remission of taxation indicates that the army fanned out into Cumberland, taking full advantage of the opportunities for pillage.
A detailed picture of devastation at Bolton in Allerdale survives on the Pipe Roll.65 There the Scots burnt the mill, the fulling mill and the grange and `destroyed the whole patria’. Rents for the year 1297-98 were badly affected; only 5 ½ bovates out of 29 and only nine of thirteen cottages could be rented out. This seems to be testimony to the flight or impoverishment of local tenantry. Pastures. were destroyed, either by animals driven by the Scots or by the cattle of the English army which arrived there in 1298; but rents of the upland vaccaries of Thornthwait and Thakethwait remained undiminished as though they had escaped the raiders. The Scots do not seem to have reached Cockermouth, however; rents of the borough and demesnes for 1298-99 appear to be wholly undiminished.66 Burning is recorded at Uldale and Caldbeck on the northern slopes, where there were no rents in 1298-99 because of burning the previous year. Loss of a whole year’s rent on the lands of William le Gardiner at Lothwait on Bastenthwaite Water, `burnt and wasted by the Scots’, marks the furthest point known to have been reached by Wallace’s men. Further progress appears to have been discouraged by the Cumbrian Mountains. The Scots did however penetrate into Westmorland. Besides the evidence of reduced parish assessments, there is evidence that the Lands of Walter de Kemplee in Kemplee failed to render any rent in 1298-99 ‘on account of the burning of the Scots the previous year’.67
There was no resistance to the Scots in the countryside, despite the fact that the county posses of Cumberland and Lancashire had been disbanded before the battle of Stirling and thus should have been available for service.68 An inquisition survives into a homicide by an arrayer, on 10 November at Sowerby. The arrayer, acting under orders from Robert Clifford to assemble all footmen capable of ‘bearing arms at Carlisle on that day, killed a man who refused to join up.69 Perhaps Clifford was finding it impossible to stem the tide of flight.
At some stage, perhaps around 18 November, Wallace’s army reformed and, now joined by the Galwegians, marched back into Tynedale, Guisborough states that an invasion of Durham was contemplated, but that to ward off the invasion of his patrimony St Cuthbert in the week after Martinmas sent snowstorms in which many of the Scots perished. Wallace was further discouraged by false rumours that the Bishop of Durham had prepared a great host for defence.70 As the chronicler points out, this was untrue; Durham had contributed heavily in terms of men, animals and waggons to the suppression of revolt in Scotland 71 and was as defenceless as the other northern counties. But instead, Wallace returned to Hexham Priory.
Guisborough has an interesting anecdote about the behaviour of Wallace’s men at the Priory.72 Only three canons remained at the Priory but were shortly to be evacuated to other Augustinian houses.73 These the Scots harassed, demanding to be shown where the treasure of the house was kept. One of the canons replied, `It is not a long time since your people carried off almost everything of ours to your own country, so where it is kept you know very well.’ He may have been referring to Wallace’s earlier visit on 7 November, but it is more likely that he meant the depredations of the previous year (28 June 1296), when the Scots drove away the canons, plundered the convent and fired both it together with the town.74 Only recently had the canons’ oratory been rebuilt.75 Wallace arrived and demanded to hear Mass; but while he left the church to discard his weapons his men stole the sacred vessels from the altar. Greatly angered and embarrassed, Wallace demanded to know who had committed such a sacrilege and threatened dire punishment; but after a time he confessed to the canons that these were a rough and uncivilized people, who had no shame. Most likely it was the presence of the Galwegians which caused the trouble. The incident has striking parallels with another in 1138, when King David I, also invading England, granted protection to the convent and executed Galwegian raiders who threatened to violate it.76 Hexham Priory was dedicated to St Andrew, and it is just possible that the preference of these western Scots for the rival cult of St Columba 77 provided the motivation for desecration of the church. Yet it is almost as though the men of Galloway had a grudge against this particular shrine. The Lanercost Chronicle describes with horror how in 1296 the men of Galloway had tossed relics into the flames and cut the head from a statue of St Andrew; at which the English chronicler Walter of Guisborough expressed wonder at Scotsmen showing such contempt for the saint he assumed to be their patron.78 But in warfare the Galwegians were notoriously wild and violent, and perhaps it is futile to seek any special motivation for their atrocities. The real reason for Wallace’s anger was that the Galwegians were violating the immunity which he had granted to the Priory two weeks previously.
Wallace remained at the Priory for two days, using it as a base for raiding the surrounding countryside. Then, in spite of the freezing weather, the Scots left the shelter of the Priory and marched along the Tyne towards Newcastle. Wylam, on the Tyne, is reported to have been destroyed. The men of Ryton in Durham, thinking themselves safe, came out to jeer at the Scots across the swollen river; and great was the panic in the Bishopric when a party of Scots braved the torrent to burn their village.79 Newcastle again prepared to defend itself. The town had not yet been fully enclosed, though defences had been built in places.80 From an incident in March 1298 it appears that the townspeople had organized watches on the defences after curfew; and to facilitate defence the Mayor and Bailiffs ordered demolition of a house belonging to the Bishop of Carlisle outside the north gate.81 Probably buildings immediately outside the walls were razed in order to deprive attackers of cover. Not a great deal of faith was put in the town defences however, and the centre of the city’s preparations was the castle. A garrison of six men at arms, sixty crossbowmen and forty archers was maintained in the castle from 6 November until the following February and £13 5s. 5d. was spent rehabilitating three war-engines.82 Similar preparations seem to have been put in motion at Tynemouth; on 23 November the Prior ordered that all the houses built against the wall of his fortified monastery should be burnt down as in preparation for an attack.83 The date is important as it indicates the approach of the Scottish army.
From the countryside tenants fled to the comparative safety of the town; at the manor of Fawdon demesnes produced nothing all year round `on account of the war’ and assized rents were diminished.84 But, as at Berwick and Newcastle, the Scots did not attack:
For the courageous men who were in charge of Newcastle braced themselves and went out of the city a little way,
despite the fact that they were very few against many. Seeing this, the Scots veered away from the city, divided
among themselves the spoils, and handing over to the Galwegians their share, they departed to their own regions.85
Wallace might have been impressed by the town’s state of preparedness. His own forces may have been dispirited or depleted by cold and hunger, or simply reluctant to risk losing their spoils in a major battle.
The Galwegians probably returned home through Tynedale; but Wallace turned north. So it is that Lanercost reports that the Scots returned to Northumberland to lay waste more completely that which they had already destroyed. But Lanercost’s statement that they were unable to take any castles in England is not quite correct; the minor castle at Mitford was attacked and destroyed on 25 November, and the grange and all the corn in it burnt.86 It is unlikely that a small raiding party could manage this, and it seems to indicate the homeward route of Wallace’s army. Very soon afterwards the Scots crossed the Border. Lanercost gives 22 November as the date when they returned home, but Scottish chronicles claim that the invasion lasted until Christmas or the Purification (2 February).87 Minor raiding may have continued into 1298; but Scottish chronicles also mention a second invasion of England on the Western March, where Wallace confronts an English army at Stainmore and forces it to withdraw.88 No independent sources confirm this; it might relate to an incident during ravaging of Cumberland, but it could as easily be pure invention, showing Wallace driving the English from ancient bounds of the Scottish Kingdom. Before 1297 was out the Scots had already lost the initiative; Robert Clifford led a raid into Annandale just before Christmas, and by February Warenne, together with the lords of Northumberland and Cumberland, had raised the siege of Roxburgh and recaptured Berwick.89
It is easier to iron out the narrative of the Wallace invasion than to pinpoint the historical significance of the episode. It does not lie in long-term economic effects on northern England. Some townships do seem to have had a struggle to survive in the years immediately following the invasion; in 1298 no rent was forthcoming from the bondmen of Hethpool and Akeld because they had been killed and destroyed by the Scottish war and then in 1299 nothing was forthcoming from either free or bond tenants at Hethpool, because they all had fled to Berwick.90 Payment of the Norhamshire and Islandshire tithes is a good general indication of how this area fared in the aftermath of the invasion. The high tithe incomes of 1292 were never again attained in the middle ages, and in general recovery seems to have been painfully slow. In 1297-98 the Norhamshire tithe income had fallen to 45 per cent of the 1292 figure and Islandshire to 43 per cent; by 1300-01 tithe income of both parishes had recovered to 66 and 63 per cent respectively and by 1314-15 one had risen to 76, the other fallen, to 51 per cent.91 This sluggish recovery indicates the very serious impact of the invasion, but few details exist to illustrate the nature of the damage. Judging by the accounts of later raids, it may be presumed that people had been driven from their homes, and communities scattered; buildings representing significant capital investment such as mills, barns and houses – had been burnt down; growing crops trampled; and herds, flocks and valuable plough oxen driven off. However, the area did have an opportunity to recover. Once Wallace’s men had departed, it was allowed a decade’s respite, for raiding did not resume until at least 1307 and did not become serious until 1315. It cannot be argued that the damage inflicted on the area by the Wallace invasion was in any sense irreversible, or that it heralded the long-term economic decline which set in after 1315.
Three major problems remain unsolved: the objectives of the expedition; the form of the invasion; and its significance in the light of Robert Bruce’s incursions of the fourteenth century. Wallace’s intentions are difficult to fathom. His itinerary, a wandering east-west across the North of England, between Newcastle and Carlisle and doing nothing on arrival at either, appears to be indecisive in the extreme. On the one hand he displays interest in the great strategic targets of Berwick, Newcastle and Carlisle; on the other he declined to assault any of them. His refusal to assault without siege-train the walled city of Carlisle looks like discretion; but his failure to take on Warenne or the men of Newcastle outside poorly-defended towns looks like a pair of lost opportunities. On the whole it looks as though the Scottish army was purposefully led to these key strategic points, but difficulties seem to have come from the ranks. Besides Guisborough’s anecdote wherein Wallace at Hexham failed to control his men, attention should be drawn to the behaviour of the men before Newcastle, where instead of assaulting the town, plunder was shared out, and they departed to their various regions.92 Discipline came second to pillaging on this expedition.
It may indeed be questioned how far Wallace was in control. The first proof of his presence in England is the protection he gave to Hexham, dated 7 November, that is almost a month after raiding began. The offensive initiative was not his; rather, it had been seized spontaneously by the Scottish people, a natural follow-up to their victory at Stirling. Wallace was apparently led to invade England by the spontaneous reaction of the Scottish people. As his biographer writes, ‘Wallace needed neither excuse nor reason for the raid. It was an end in itself.’93 His belated appearance in England gives an impression that Wallace entered England in order to supervise the raiding, or to ensure that it did not get out of hand. The lack of strict leadership is apparent too in the form taken by the Scottish army. The Fordun narrative paints a picture of Wallace leading an obedient conscript army,94 of seried ranks of infantry spearmen (which indeed may not be far off the mark on the occasions of Stirling and Falkirk). But the near-contemporary chronicles indicate that the invasion force was predominantly composed of infantry, and that it was swollen by a mass of country-folk, with perhaps some cavalry provided by Scottish nobles.95
Wallace’s bold approaches to the major strategic targets of Berwick, Newcastle and Carlisle are reminiscent of the invasions of David I and William the Lion, and they contrast with the purely tactical raids of Robert Bruce from 1307 to 1314.96 It is easy to draw unfavourable comparisons between the swift raids of Bruce, which lasted never more than three weeks, and Wallace’s five-week rampage. Circumstances surrounding these episodes were however totally different; whereas the ineptitude of Edward II gave Bruce the military initiative in the fourteen-tens, Wallace’s invasion was borne along on a tide of popular euphoria following the victory at Stirling Bridge. Consequently, his invasion dissolved at crucial junctures into a free-for-all of plundering. There does not seem to have been any systematic collection of blackmail or tribute, such as Bruce imposed on the North of England. If Newminster Abbey and Hexham Priory did purchase immunity from raiding,97 the looting which occurred at the latter convent shows that Wallace was not in a position to enforce the discipline necessary for the systematic exaction of ransoms. His trouble with the Galwegians reminds us that the Bruces had done much to unite Scotland before they began to raid England;98 whereas Wallace did not have the advantage of a united Scotland behind him. Nor are there any hints of collusion with Wallace’s forces by any segment of the population of northern England. Such accusations were made against. certain cross-border landowners in 1296, and later against the lower orders in general from 1307 onwards.99 In 1297 there was no attempt at subtlety; the Scots were anathema to the English, one and all. For the rural tenantry of northern England it was a harrowing, though short-lived, experience. Memories of the Wallace invasion no doubt contributed to the decision of the northern counties in 1311 to 1314 to pay the extortionate ransoms demanded by Robert Bruce, rather than risk a repetition of the horrors of 1297.100
Finally, in this, the heroic age for historians of Scotland, there is always a danger of laying too much stress on the personal influence of the national leaders. One cannot ignore the impersonal economic forces which encouraged Scottish invasions of England in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, and the Scottish chroniclers do mention an economic motive for the invasion. They record that bad weather in Scotland had created a dearth of grain by the autumn, and that Wallace resolved to take his army into England to live at the enemy’s expense.101 Wallace can hardly be said to have `wintered’ in England; he only stayed for five weeks. But by all accounts the winter of 1297-98 was an exceptionally hard one, with appalling weather causing shortages all over Britain;102 and it is undeniable that famine at home made an invasion of England all the more attractive to Scots. The coincidence of harsh economic conditions at home and aggression towards England is repeated. In the hard year of 1311 Robert I once again began large‑scale raids on northern England.103 Again in 1315-22, the period of Scottish military supremacy in northern England, Scotland, like the rest of Britain, must have been suffering from the crop failures and (more especially) from the livestock murrain. On this occasion Robert warned Edward II that he himself could not control `the fury of the raging throng’.104 It might be going too far to claim that the Scots were driven south by famine on either occasion; nevertheless these dearths can only have encouraged Scots to participate in expeditions across the Border.
The Scottish invasion of England in 1297 thus appears to have been a prolonged exercise in devastation and a barely controlled quest for plunder, motivated by popular feelings of vengeance and euphoria in the wake of victory and by hardship in Scotland. It must be said that the invasion does not show William Wallace in the best of lights. It is ironic this is the best documented episode in Wallace’s career; for this brief period his shadowy figure steps onto the better illuminated stage of England, and, from what we can tell, he is not very firmly in control of events. But it must be borne in mind that the episode is not at all typical of Wallace’s campaigns, nor one which reveals very much about Wallace personally. This inglorious invasion of northern England may not greatly alter our assessment of Wallace; if he indulged his followers in this great plundering expedition, he nevertheless proved his abilities and heroism on the fields of Stirling and at Falkirk.
* I am indebted to Dr J. R. Maddicott of Exeter College, Oxford and to Mr J. Campbell of Worcester College, Oxford, for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper.
1 The Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough, ed. H. Rothwell, Camden Society, 3rd series, LXXXIX (1957 for 1955‑57), 304. The St Edmundsbury Chronicle alone compares the effects of the 1296 and 1297 devastations, recording that in 1296 the Scots burnt 120 northern English vills, whereas the following year Wallace destroyed 715 vills. The source for these figures is unknown, but the precision is intriguing. V. H. Galbraith, `The St. Edmundsbury Chronicle’, English Historical Review, LVIII (1943), 62, 68.
2. A. Fisher, William Wallace (Edinburgh, 1986), and G. W. S. Barrow, Robert Bruce (Edinburgh, 1988), pp. 92‑93.
3. Rothwell, Guisborough, pp. 303-7; Chronicon de Lanercost, ed. J. Stevenson, Maitland Club (Edinburgh, 1839), pp. 190-91; Sir Thomas Gray, Scalachronica, ed. J. Stevenson, Maitland Club (Edinburgh, 1836), p. 124; Peter Langtoft, Chronicle, ed. T. Wright, 11, Rolls Series (1868), 297-309; Johannis de Fordun Scotichronicon cum Supplementis et Continuatione Walteri Bower, ed. W. Goodall (Edinburgh, 1759), pp. 171-74 and J. de Fordun, Chronica Gentis Scotorum, i, ed. W. F. Skene, The Historians of Scotland, 1 (Edinburgh, 1871), 328-30.
4 G. Neilson, `On Blind Harry’s Wallace’, Essays and Studies, I (1910), 93-104.
5 Registrum Johannis de Halton, ed. W. N. Thompson, Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Record Series, ii (Kendal, 1906), 195-97.
6 P(ublic) R(ecord) O(ffice), Exchequer, Pipe Rolls, E 372/146, mm. 23, 23d, 47-48d; PRO, E 372/147, mm. 32-33.
7. M. Prestwich, Edward I (1987), pp. 469-76; Barrow, Robert Bruce, pp. 69-79.
8. Fisher, William Wallace, pp. 32-41; Barrow, Robert Bruce, pp. 80-87.
9. Documents Illustrative of the History of Scotland, ed. J. Stevenson, 11, 170-73, 181-82, 186-87; H. Gough, Scotland in 1298 (1888), pp. 254-55; Rothwell, Guisborough, p. 301.
10. Fisher, William Wallace, pp. 41, 44-45; Barrow, Robert Bruce, p. 84.
11 Stevenson, Documents, II, 201-03.
12. Fisher, William Wallace, pp. 48-56; Barrow, Robert Bruce, pp. 86-90; Langtoft, Chronicle 11, 299; N(orthumberland) C(ounty) H(istory), (Newcastle upon Tyne, 15 vols 1893-1940), IX,167.
13. C(alendar) of D(ocuments Relating to) S(cotland), ed. J. Bain, II (Edinburgh, 1887), 244.
14. Stevenson, Documents, II, 231; Bain, CDS, II, 243.
15. Bain, CDS, II, Introduction, xxxi.
16. Rothwell, Guisborough, p. 304.
17. PRO, E 372/146, m. 32d.
18. Stevenson, Scalachronica, p. 124.
19. Goodall, Fordun, p. 172; Liber Pluscardensis, t, ed. F. J. H. Skene, The Historians of Scotland, vii (Edinburgh, 1877), 155.
20. Full text and facsimile given in Documents Illustrative of Sir William Wallace, his Life and Times, ed. J. Stevenson (Edinburgh, 1870), p. 159 and frontispiece; Barrow, Robert Bruce, p. 90.
21. For the importance of Berwick to Scotland, see J. R. Hunter, `Medieval Berwick‑uponTweed’, Archaeologia Aeliana, 5th series, x (1982), 67-69, 82-84.
22. Stevenson, Scalachronica, p. 124.
23. Stevenson, Documents, ii, 228-29.
24. Stevenson, Chron. de Lanercost, pp. 190-91.
25. See references given in note 19 above.
26. Rothwell, Guisborough, p. 304.
27. PRO, E 372/147, m. 32d.
28. Bain, CDS, ii, 261-62.
29. Stevenson, Documents, ii, 200-3; Rothwell, Guisborough, p. 304.
30. R. Graham, `An Ecclesiastical Tenth for National Defence in 1298′, English Ecclesiastical Studies (1929), pp. 317-18.
31. Stevenson, Documents, Il, 237-39.
32. D(ean) and C(hapter) of D(urham), Bursar’s Accounts, 1292-93, 1297-98.
33. DCD, Bursar’s Accounts, 1297-98. Barrow, Robert Bruce, p. 93 suggests that at this time Aymer, laird of Hadden, and Mary, widow of William Melville, raided Norhamshire.
34. Durham Account Rolls, ii, ed. J. T. Fowler, Surtees Society, C (1899 for 1898), 491 and 501.
35. PRO, E 372/146, m. 23.
36. NCH, II, 21-22.
37. Registrum Palatinum Dunelmense, ed. T. D. Hardy, ii, Rolls Series (1874), 721.
38. PRO, E 372/146, m. 23.
40. The Life and Acts of Sir William Wallace of Elerslie by Henry the Minstrel ed. J. Jamieson (Edinburgh 1820), x-xi. The Song is given in full in The Political Songs of England ed. T. Wright, Camden Society, old series, vi (1839), 160-79.
41. Skene, Fordun, I, 329.
42. PRO, E 372/146, m. 23.
43. Bain, CDS, II, 261-62.
44. PRO, E 372/146, m. 23; SC 6/1126/12.
45. NCH, x, 85.
46. Rothwell, Guisborough, p. 306.
47. Wright, Political Songs, pp.173-74.
48. Both Historical Papers and Letters from Northern Registers, ed. J. Raine, Rolls Series (1873), p. 155 and C(alendar) of I(nquisitions) M(iscellaneous), II, 629 agree on this date.
49. Raine, Northern Registers, pp. 154-59.
50. Stevenson, Documents, il, 237; Raine, Northern Registers, pp. 156-57.
51. PRO, E 372/147, mm. 32-33.
53. CIM, II, 629.
54. Raine, Northern Registers, p. 155.
55. Rothwell, Guisborough, pp. 304-05.
56. Raine, Northern Registers, p. 155. Clearly the scribe must have intended 8 December not 8 September.
57. Rothwell, Guisborough, p. 305.
58. G.W.S. Barrow, `Lothian in the First War of Independence’, Scottish Historical Review, LV (1976), 155.
59. PRO, Exchequer, Kings Remembrancer Memoranda Rolls, E 159/88, m. 141.
60. Rotuli Parliamentorum, i, 163; Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1301-07, p. 549.
61. Skene, Fordun, i, 329.
62. Thompson, Registrum Johannis de Halton, ii, 167-68, 195-97.
63. Graham, `The Taxation of Pope Nicholas IV’, English Ecclesiastical Studies, pp. 294-95.
64. Described in Barrow, Robert Bruce, pp. 69-72; Rothwell, Guisborough, pp. 272-73. 65. PRO, E 372/146, m. 48d.
66. Ibid., m. 54d.
67. PRO, E 372/147, mm. 32d-33
68. Rothwell, Guisborough, p. 301. See p. 42.
69. CIM, II, 629.
70. Rothwell, Guisborough, p. 305.,
71. Ibid. C. M. Fraser, `Edward I and the Regalian Franchise of Durham’, Speculum, xxxi (1966), 334-45.
72. Rothwell, Guisborough, pp. 305-06.
73. The Priory of Hexham, i, ed. J. Raine, Surtees Society, XLIV (1864 for 1863), Appendix, xxvi-vii.
74. Rothwell, Guisborough, p. 277.
75. Ibid., p. 305.
76. Barrow, Robert Bruce, pp. 92-93.
77. Ibid., p. 7.
78. Stevenson, Chron. de Lanercost, pp. 173-74; Rothwell, Guisborough, p. 277.
79. NCH, viii, 83; Rothwell, Guisborough, p. 307.
80. B. Harbottle, `The Town Wall of Newcastle Upon Tyne: Consolidation and Excavation in 1968′, Arch. Ael. 4th ser. XLVII (1969), 72; C. M. Fraser, `The Town Ditch of Newcastle Upon Tyne’, ibid., xxxix (1961), 381-82.
81. CIM, i, 632 and ii, 92-93.
82. Stevenson, Documents, 11, 118-19.
83. NCH, viii, 391-93; PRO, King’s Bench, KB 27/202, m. 77.
84. Rothwell, Guisborough, p. 307; PRO, E 372/146, m. 23.
85. Rothwell, Guisborough, p. 307.
86. PRO, E 372/146, m. 23d. The castle cannot have been utterly ruined, as it continued in use until circa 1320, NCH, ix, 58-60, 106-10.
87. Stevenson, Chron. de Lanercost, p. 191; Goodall, Fordun, p. 172; Skene, Fordun, I, 329.
88. Goodall, Fordun, pp.172-74. See Fisher’s interpretation of this, William Wallace, p. 66.
89. Rothwell, Guisborough, pp. 307-08; Stevenson, Chron. de Lanercost, p. 191; Stevenson, Scalachronica, p.124.
90. PRO, E 372/146, m. 23.
91. DCD, Proctor’s Account, Norham 1300-01, 1314-15.
92. Rothwell, Guisborough, p.307.
93. Fisher, William Wallace, p. 64.
94. Goodall, Fordun, p. 172.
95. Rothwell, Guisborough, p. 305; Barrow, Robert Bruce, p. 91.
96. Compare comments on Wallace’s style of warfare in Barrow, Robert Bruce, pp. 91-93 with J. Scammell, `Robert I and the North of England’, EHR, LXXIII (1958), 385-403.
97. See above, p. 47.
98. Barrow, Robert Bruce, pp.178-86, 188-96.
99. Bain, CDS, III, nos. 382, 440, 476, 675; PRO, Ancient Correspondence of the Chancery and the Exchequer, SCI/35/142a. A little later in the century even knights and gentry were in collusion with the Scots. Scammell, EHR, LXXIII, 385-403.
101. Goodall, Fordun, p. 172; Skene, Pluscarden, p. 156.
102. H. E. Hallam, `The Climate of Eastern England 1250-1350′, Agricultural History Review, xxxii, p. 127, Tables 1, 4 and 5. Price evidence is conveniently given in T. H. Lloyd `The Movement of Wool Prices in Medieval England’, Economic History Review, Supplement 6: Table 2 shows that prices in England were generally high in the years 1294 to 1298.
103. Hallam, Agric. HR, XXXII, Tables 1 and 2; Lloyd, EcHR, Supplement 6, Table 2.
104. I. Kershaw, `The Great Famine and Agrarian Crisis in England, 1315–22′, Past and Present, 59 (1973), 1–50.
This article was first published in Northern History vol. 26 (1990). We thank the University of Leeds, School of History, for giving us permission to republish this article.
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