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Scottish Battles. Carham.

13 July 2022
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The Battle of Carham (c. 1018) was fought between the Kingdom of Scotland and the Northumbrians at Carham on Tweed. Uhtred, son of Waltheof of Bamburgh, fought the combined forces of Malcolm II of Scotland and Owen the Bald (King of Strathclyde). Their combined forces defeated Earl Uhtred’s forces, determining the eastern border of Scotland at the River Tweed.

Written records of the battle.

Sources for the battle are scarce. Those that do mention the battle often include it in a survey of other events. The English sources only briefly discuss the battle. Three of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle manuscripts (C, D, and E) record the events leading to the conflict:

“Then [Atheling Edmund and Earl Uhtred] led an army into Staffordshire and into Shropshire and to Chester, and they ravaged on their side and Cnut on his side. He then went out through Buckinghamshire into Bedfordshire, from there to Huntingdonshire, and so into Northamptionshire, along the fen to Stamford, and then into Lincolnshire; then from there to Nottinghamshire and so into Northumbria towards York.”

King Malcolm and Owen grouped together “near Caddonlea (Selkirkshire) […] where the Wedale road from Alba met the Tweeddale road from Strathclyde, lay at the northern edge of Ettrick Forest (roughly corresponding to Selkirkshire in extent) which formed a march between Cumbria and Northumbria.” Uhtred’s forces intercepted them before they crossed Cheviot. This interception meant that he did not have enough time to gather enough troops. Another source, De obsessione Dunelmi (“On the Siege of Durham”), places the battle under the 1018 annal listing Uhtred as the Northumbrian army.

Dating controversy.

Symeon of Durham (12th Century), using dependable Northumbrian materials, located the year of the battle in 1018 (“without mention of Uhtred”) in the Historia Dunelmensis Ecclesie. His record of a comet’s visibility 30 days before the battle correlates with astronomical evidence from August 1018. Stenton mentions the comet but dismisses it on the grounds that the death of Earl Uhtred in 1016 voids the argument for 1018. Three versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (C, D, and E) reference the death of Uhtred in the 1016 annal:

“When Uhtred learned this, he left his ravaging and hastened north-wards, and submitted then out of necessity, and with him all the Northumbrians and he gave hostages; and nevertheless he was killed with him Thurketel, Nafena’s son; and then after that the king (Cnut) appointed Eric for the Northumbrians, as their earl, just as Uhtred had been; and then turned him southward by another route keeping to the west and the whole army then reached the ships before Easter.”

Stenton and C. Plummer argue that the earlier date of the battle used the 1016 annal’s inclusion of Uhtred’s death. Duncan argues and Woolf supports that the mention is an aside from the scribe recording in 1018 or 1019. De Obsessione Dunelmi (c. 1165) supports Duncan’s theory that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle scribe is discussing the more recent death of Uhtred as it places his death following the events outlined in the English source under the 1018 annal.

Significance.

The battle’s significance is a matter of controversy, especially in regard to the region of Lothian. Scottish historians claim Lothian was won for Scotland at Carham and that Scotland’s borders were expanded as a result; Marjorie O. Anderson argues that the English king Edgar the Peaceful granted Lothian to Kenneth II of Scotland, King of Scots, in 973. In English sources, the Battle of Carham is not given any special significance. Still others, such as G.W.S. Barrow hold, that “What English annalists recorded as the ‘cession’ of Lothian was… the recognition by a powerful but extremely remote south-country king of a long-standing fait accompli.”

The Scots’ possession of what now constitutes the south-east of Scotland seems to have been recognized by kings of England, even when kings such as Cnut and William the Conqueror invaded, as they did not seek permanent control of the area.

Aftermath.

After the battle of Carham, much of present-day Scotland was under the control of the King of Scots, although Norsemen still held sway in Ross, Caithness, Sutherland, and The Isles. The Lords of Galloway remained semi-independent. Scotland or Scotia referred to what constitutes present-day Scotland north of the Forth and Clyde; it was not until the time of King David I of Scotland, citizens in the south-east of the kingdom began to think of themselves as Scots. In his own charters (e.g. to St Cuthbert’s in Edinburgh), he continued to refer to the men of Lothian as English. Woolf asserts that “the likelihood is that these are under representative glimpses of a much longer conflict which escaped the detailed gaze of our chroniclers because far more interesting things were happening in Southumbria and Ireland at the time.”

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