Scotland's Story, Alexander I, David I & Battle of Standard

Story of Scotland Chapter Five: Alexander I, David I & Battle of Standard

by Robert M Gunn© 1996-2012
All Rights Reserved, by all international copyright law exclusively to the author and ©Skye-Net, RM Gunn

Chapter Five

Scotland Under MacBeth Successors

Engraving of MacBeth
MacBeth was one of the last of the Kings of ancient Scotland. He was Gaelic speaking as were his predecessors. They represented the old Pictish and Scottish Kingdom of Kenneth MacAlpin, their ancestor. It has been said that they were 'Chief of Chief's' in the Clan system. Until the end of his reign, MacBeth's Kingdom was not involved with English arms or influence. As mentioned at the end of chapter three, MacBeth, had he not been defeated by Malcolm III (with English money and arms), Scottish history would have been drastically altered in ways we can only imagine. It certainly would have remained more Celtic in nature than the way it did under the new monarch Malcolm III Canmore (big or great head). However, it was Malcolm III who triumphed, and now Scotland would forever have the "English Party" influence deeply placed in its courts. Lowland beliefs and politics would be drastically different than that of the Celtic/Norse Highlands and that division would eventually have disasterous results for the Highlanders. Lowland Scottish ties to England would grow deeper and deeper with every passing generation of Lowland Scot's; and it was from the Lowlands, that the Scots Kings would rule. This was the beginning of the Highland-Lowland divide, which so dominated much of Scotland's turbulent history.

[Margaret & Malcolm] Malcolm III Canmore (meaning 'big head') was the first in a succession of kings of Scotland, who were under heavy English pressure or favor. Malcolm III took Scotland from MacBeth with English help, and it was the beginning of a process whereby Scottish Lords were bought or bribed with money and/or gifts (titles & lands) to promote English causes in Scotland. As previously mentioned, Malcolm III grew up in exile in England and spoke English as his primary tongue. He also visited Normandy, made friends there, and was also under their influence. The English looked upon Malcolm favorably, not for his sake, but because it was established English policy to get Scots to recognize the English as their Overlords by influencing the Kings of Scotland, and their counselors. Or, if that failed, by force. Once Malcolm was firm on the throne, he forgot many of his obligations to England, and instead made a treaty with Norse, Earl Thorfinn the Mighty, leader of the Northern Vikings in Scotland, in 1059. This, of course, upset English plans greatly. Now Malcolm III had a powerful ally to the north, but an angry neighbor in the south.

Malcom was not a wise or consistent leader though, and the treaty dissolved in time. Instead, he married Margaret, an exiled Saxon Princess who had taken refuge in Scotland along with her brother Edgar the Aetheling, after the Norman conquest of England of 1066. Most of all Anglo-Saxon (English) Nobility fled to the Lowlands of Scotland as safe haven from the Norman invaders.

The Norman Invasion and it's Effect on Scotland
[Bayeaux tapestry] The Norman invasion of England was almost as important for Scotland as it was for England. Henceforth, England and her rulers (now Normans) were in one way or another to play an even greater part in Scottish affairs. The weight of the Normans influence (short for North men, as they were originally Viking settlers in Normandy), is perhaps the important change in all of British history. As shown in the Bayeaux Tapestry (partially pictured right), these Norse descendants came with French horses, cavalry, new tactics, and the French language, which they had adopted a century before. The tapestry itself was created by Norman women to commemorate the event. The particulars; horses, armor, weapons, longboats, etc, has been invaluable to historians studying the Normans. After the Battle of Hastings (the Norman Invasion of 1066), the Norman lords moved north and began to distribute lands all over England -- and eventually Scotland. It would take only a few decades for their influence to be felt in the Scottish Lowlands, and only a century in parts of the Highlands. This is the beginning of the separation of Lowland Scotland from the Highlands and the Isles of Scotland.

Saxons, Angles from England, sought safe haven from the Normans in Lowland Scotland. The Lowlands, already a mix of Scots, Strathclyde Britons, Angles, and Saxons, were henceforth known as Scots, and they soon spoke a form of their own version of English called Scots tongue or just "Scots", different from the Gaelci speaking north. But the Lowland Scots relation to the northern Scots Highlanders and Gaelic speakers, were never again the same. The Lowland and Highland gap, already there, was getting wider with every generation. English and Norman influences were to make themselves increasingly felt in the Lowlands, and it was from the Lowlands that the kings ruled.

In 1066 (possibly as a response Norman invasion of England), Malcolm Canmore moved his capital to Dunfermline, in Fife. He had been in exile in Saxon England for fifteen years following the death of his father King Duncan (see MacBeth). He owed his throne to English help, and his sympathies seem to have been more directed towards the Angles of Lothian than the Gaels of the rest of his kingdom. The damage done by the withdrawal of his capital into the Lowlands was soon to be aggravated.

After the Norman Conquest of England (1066), Edgar Atheling, the dispossessed heir to the Saxon throne, came to Scotland. With him came his mother and two sisters, one of whom, Margaret, married Malcolm and became the dominating influence in Scotland.

Margaret, later St. Margaret
[Margaret] Under Malcolm III Canmore (big or great head), and his successors, the foundations of feudalism were laid, at any rate, in southern Scotland. Malcolm's English wife Margaret, a saintly and very determined young woman, set herself to introduce to her husband's court English fashions and customs. Born in exile in Hungary, she was the sister of Edgar Aetheling, the short-ruling and uncrowned Anglo-Saxon King of England. Margaret and her family returned to England in 1057, but fled to Scotland following the Norman conquest of England of 1066. There is a legend that Margaret, along with her family, attempted to leave England back to the Continent in 1068 but her ship was caught up in a storm and she was washed ashore in Scotland, where Malcolm fell in love immediately. This is probably not the case, for evidence suggests she fled to Scotland to avoid Norman capture, and only met Malcolm III in 1070. However they met, they eventually married.

Margaret’s power over the king was great, and she succeeded in turning him against his own way of life – indeed, although fighting was one of Malcolm’s pleasures, domestically he was a good deal less effective. In addition, as we have seen, he had strong Anglophile tendencies owing to his long stay in England and his great friendship with his uncle, Siward, and was the more ready on that account to fall in with his wife’s wishes.

His court servants became courtiers and persons of consequence, and court manners as understood in Europe were introduced. Margaret was a woman sophisticated by the standard of her own times. Gaelic she did not know and would not learn, for it was not spoken in any great court in Europe; so Gaelic ceased to be the court language – and English became the language of the Lowland court, in time all of the Lowlands would speak the Angle language, instead of Gaelic. Gaelic would remain the language of the Highlands and Islands.

Her principal efforts, however, were directed against the Celtic (Culdee) church, which was an affront to her Zeal and ardor fro Rome. As Frank Adam aptly put it, she “was a narrow-minded and ill-tempered virago, completely under the dominance of her confessor, Turgot, who had inspired her with an intense dislike of the Celtic Church.”

Malcolm, devoted to his half-English, half-Hungarian queen, supported her at a meeting at which the Celtic churchmen were presented with an ultimatum: conform or get out. Most chose to do the latter, and Margaret promptly replaced them with English and Norman priests. A complex diocesan clergy replaced the simple, evangelical Celtic Church. Benefices were instituted, bishops and abbots became men of wealth and eminence, gifts of land were made to churches and monasteries, and Malcolm’s generosity, inspired by his queen, started the process by which one third of the richest Lowland lands in Scotland was acquired by the Church, by the end of the thirteenth century. Had it not been for this process, there might have been no Reformation in Scotland.

Her grateful beneficiaries canonized her, in the Lothians (and nowhere else at the time) she was regarded lovingly by the people, and to this day Scotland accepts her as a saint. But C. Stewart Black has succinctly, and not unfairly, summed up her character:

“She was imbued…with the English conviction that England’s ways are God’s ways, and that whatever is believed by Englishmen must of necessity be right. Any suggestion that the Scots might be capable of determining their own destiny would have shocked her to the core.”

Margaret took the Scottish clergy in hand, much to their dismay, sought to impose the religious practices prevalent in England, (Anglo-Saxon England, not Norman), celibacy, poverty, and so on. Scot's clergy prior to this had been allowed to marry. Due directly to Margaret Canmore's influences , Scottish court life assumed a decidly English tinge, while in the church a system of regular diocesan episcopacy gradually took shape. Malcolm, being educated and raised since the age of nine in England, was inclined to share his wife's views and during his reign shifted the cultural center of his Kingdom southwards into what had been Anglo-Saxon territory (Lothian area) , only recently absorbed as a Scottish region, thereby seriously offending the Celtic north and west. The old Culdee Church in Scotland suffered greatly from Margaret's introduction of Roman Catholicism, and eventually faded away.

The effect on the Highlands was drastic. The removal of the capital from Dunstaffnage to Scone, and thence to Dunfermline, could not but impress the Highlanders with the Royal lack of sympathy: the King was no longer one of them (MacBeth was the last Celtic king). The death of the ancient Celtic Church, the moving of the capital, the change from Gaelic to English, and the influx of feudal Norman noblemen impressed upon the Highlander the great difference between himself and the Lowlander. The races that united under Kenneth MacAlpin now found themselves shunned by the foreigners of Strathclyde and the Lothians.

Feudalism, as it happened, was responsible for stabilizing the clan system, for clanship absorbed and transformed feudalism so that the word, as applied to the Scottish Highlands, means something very different from the usual mental picture of English serfs supporting their local manor by slave labor. (Although in the Lowlands English-like feudalism did take place). But this lay in the future, and Margaret and Malcolm only drove a wedge between the central government and the Highlands – a wedge that was not effectively removed until the tragedy of Culloden.

[Malcolm Canmore] Malcolm III, selfishly coveting his southern neighbors lands in north England, conducted a series of border raids into Northumberland and Cumberland. This, of course, provoked a retaliatory response on the part of the Normans, led by William the Conqueror himself in 1071. William I invaded Scotland and forced the foolish Malcolm to pay homage to him. This did quell Malcolm's raids on England, at least for a while. In 1093 an attack on Northumberland (again), by Malcolm, was repulsed and Malcolm III was killed by one of his Norman friends named Morel. Queen Margaret, for her part, died three days later, uttering a prayer of thanks that "...such sadness should have been sent, to purify my final moments." She was in due course canonized.

Over the next three decades, Scotland was in turmiol, ruled over by a succession of weak, insecure kings. During this pitiful succession of inadequate kings, the Normans found themselves more and more easy Overlords of any and all Scots Kings. Normans began to take lands in lowland Scotland much as they did in Ireland.

Meanwhile in the Western Isles and parts of the Highlands, a new figure emerged - for a while.

Magnus Barefoot (aka Magnus Barelegs)

Circa 1093

The Hebrides were not always part of the kingdom of the King of Scots. From about the 9th century until the 13th century Norway claimed these Islands, together with the Isles of Man, Orkney, the Shetlands, and there was considerable traffic between Norway and these Islands. Needless to say, the Norwegian overlordship was not always admitted and the Scottish kings frequently tried to regain the Islands.

In spite of Norse ownership of these Isles (and about 1/5 of the mainland in the far north), it was Celtic culture, influence and language which eventually won out. The incoming Norsemen settled, adopted Gaelic (or partially Gaelic) names, adopted Christianity of the Culdee Church, intermarried with the natives (Gunn, MacLeod, MacQueen, MacAuley, are just a few of the clans claiming Norse descent, many others having partial Norse ancestry), and even imitated the Scoto-Irish poetry and arts. The Norse also had some things in common with the Highlander and Islander before they “moved in”; including intricate knot work art, oral history taught by bards called skalds, a tribal society structure not too dissimilar from a clan, and worshipped a cross, even though it was for different gods until they converted. The name for these Scoto-Norse, these mixed race people (the term usually refers to Islanders), became “Gallgael” and all the Island clans belong to this half-Gaelic, half-Norwegian race.

In the last year of Malcolm III’s reign (1093), Magnus Barfaet or Barefoot, King of Norway, was in occupation of the Western Isles. He was the monarch who, claiming that the Mull of Kintyre was an island, had his ship dragged across the isthmus of Tarbet while he sat at the helm.

[Viking lonships] These Norsemen were scarcely the “terrible Vikings” of popular fiction, for under the Norwegian kings the Western Isles enjoyed wealth and prosperity, and the state of society was advanced by contemporary standards. The arts flourished, manufactures were plentiful and excellent, and the islanders were undoubtedly contented with their lot.

There were, nevertheless, many incidents of barbaric nature, although this was happening all over Scotland in this time. The sack of Eigg in 618 AD, when St. Donnan many monks were slaughtered by pirates, was a probably not a Viking raid (as so often stated in older texts), as they hadn’t set out of raids (or at least none are recorded) until the late 8th century. Norse raiders may have been active, been then so were Pictish pirates, and Irish pirates. It wasn’t until the arrival of the Norse vessels that Picts and Irish ships took to hiding, and piracy became the hallmark of the Norse. However some pirates did raid Eigg in about 617-18 and according to Annals of Ulster, “Donnan of Eigg and 150 “martyrs” were killed. That may be an exaggeration in numbers, but you get the impression it was a terrible raid even so. The long held assumption that it was a Viking raid is now in much dispute.

But by 795 AD it was the Norse who struck with such ferocity that chroniclers left warnings of the end of the earth, the spawning of demons and lightening striking from that sky. Clearly this was metaphorical lightening, and the demons were dramatic license for foreign invaders, but you get the distinct feeling the shores of Britain had never seen anything quite like this; striking so fast, so swiftly they barely had time to react, or recover.

Two years before, in 793 AD, in northern England, English writers (Alcuin) wrote this of the Viking raid at Lindisfarne:

“In this year dire portents appear over Northumbria and sorely frightened the people. They consisted of lightening, and fiery dragons were seen in the air. A great famine immediately followed those signs, a little after that in the same year the ravages of heathen men miserable destroyed God’s church, with plunder and slaughter.”

The raid by Norse pirates on Iona in 795 left behind death and destruction, and we may never know what plunder was taken. The raids continued for centuries, even turning from raiding monasteries only, to raiding settlements, towns and villages. Eventually, in about 150 years, they began to stay, and not leave at the end of “vikingr” season. And thus began the integration of the Norse and Gaelic cultures.

Once the Kingdom of the Isles was established (and ruled by Viking-Scots), the Islesmen seem to have lived fairly amicably with the Vikings, and held their own. The Scottish kings, on the other hand, maintained a resistance to these interlopers, particularly when they encroached on the east and northeast of the kingdom.

I approach this next tidbit of information with great trepidation: it may well be an anecdote and not entirely factual. Still, it is worth mentioning.

Magnus Barefoot’s (sometimes called Barelegs) most amusing, if not his best-known claim to fame is illustrative of the free exchange of ideas between the Islesmen and the Norse, or in the case, Norwegians. In his saga dated 1093, appears the following passage:

“It is said when King Magnus returned from the expedition to the west, that he adopted the costume in use in the Western Isles, and likewise many of his followers; that they went about barelegged or barefoot.”

He may thus appear in history as the first person to set the fashion for those present-day visitors to the Highlands and Islands who blossom forth in Highland dress.

From the maiden's bower I hear
Secret sighs, these
Shall not be wasted.
I love her words,
Though I cannot see her;
Let everybody know
How highly I praise her friendship.

- (19., the history of King Magnus Barefoot. Heimskringla. S.Sturlason)

Alexander I and David I of Scotland

Back in the King's realms of Scotland, another weak king took over after the death of King Donald Ban or Bane. This new king was named Alexander, son of Malcolm III and Margaret. His sister married the English King, Henry the first, while Alexander I had himself married to Henry I's daughter, Sibylla. Finally, after an uneventful reign, Alexander I died and in 1124 his brother David became King of Scots and had an eventful 30 year reign. David I had received a Norman education and grew to love Normans and Anglo-Norman culture. He may have thought they were his friends, but a quote from Anglo-Norman Noble William of Malmesbury, reveals much; "His manners were polished from the rust of Scottish barbarity".

[David I] David recognized his niece, the Holy Roman empress Matilda (died 1167), as heir to Henry I in England, and from 1136 he fought for her against King Stephen (crowned as Henry's successor in December 1135), hoping thereby to gain Northumberland for himself. A brief peace made with Stephen in 1136 resulted in the cession of Cumberland to David and the transfer of Huntingdon to his son Earl Henry. David, however, continued to switch sides. While fighting for Matilda again, he was defeated in the Battle of the Standard, near Northallerton, Yorkshire (Aug. 22, 1138). He then made peace once more with Stephen, who in 1139 granted Northumberland (as an English fief) to Earl Henry. In 1141 David reentered the war on Matilda's behalf, and in 1149 he knighted her son Henry Plantagenet (afterward King Henry II of England), who acknowledged David's right to Northumberland.

On David I's return to Scotland as king he proceeded to distribute large estates there amongst his Anglo-Norman friends, such as the de Brus (the Bruce family), Walter Fitz-Alan, a Breton who became his high Steward (the ancestor of the Stewart Clan), de Bailleul (the Balliol family), de Comines (the Comyn family) and many others who thus became landholders on both sides of the border.

Coin of David I's reign
[Coin from reign of David I] David I also introduced into the Lowlands a fuedal system of ownership, founded on a new, French speaking Anglo-Norman aristocracy. Although they intermarried and eventually merged with the old and rapidly disappearing, Celtic aristocracy, these new Scots remained for a time partially Gaelic, save for the south and east of Scotland which now spoke a primitive form of English, (Lothian English) .

Meanwhile, in the Highlands of Scotland, a different, more patriarchal system prevailed (based on the ancient clan system and tanistry), and the King of Scots writ counted for very little. In the Isles of western Scotland and parts of the west mainland, whose Norse-Scot (Gall-Gaels) clans, paid little attention to the King of Scotland. If the Islanders were loyal to anyone, it was a very loose connection to the king of Norway. All that would change when Somerled (progenitor of clans Donald & MacDougal) defeated the Vikings in a great sea-battle. Although Somerled himself would be later killed by treachery, he and his idea had freed many of the western Isles clans from any fealty to Norway. But many of the Islands would remain in the Kingdom of Norway until the mid 13th century.

The Battle of the Standard - 1137 A.D.

While this battle, and what led to it, usually only appears in English history, it was fought against David I's Scottish army. It should therefore be included here. This is one Scottish battle you may only find one this history site. A small historical background of the situation in England is required to set the stage.

[Standard] The vexed question whether supreme political power should be placed in the hands of women was partly responsible for one of the most picturesque and interesting battles seventy years after the Norman Conquest (1066). When a drunken pilot cast away the White Ship in 1129, and the heir of King Henry I of England was drowned, the monarch naturally desired that the succession to the English throne should pass to his own family rather than either of his nephews (sons of William the Conqueror’s daughter). With that end if view he called together all of his chief nobles, and induced them to swear to a solemn oath that they would support the claim of his daughter, Matilda, to the throne after his death.

The Barons and Matilda

Although the promise was duly given, this undertaking was never popular. Apart from the fact that, in that turbulent age, it was improbable that a woman could successfully rule the country, there were other less obvious objections. Matilda was the widow of a German monarch, the Emperor Henry V, and, having lived abroad since childhood, was out of touch with English sentiment. When, having exacted this promise, the English king went to the length of marrying Matilda to another foreigner, Geoffrey of Anjou, the Barons bitterly repented of their bargain; indeed some of Henry’s most ardent supporters, Roger of Salisbury, roundly stated that he never would have dreamt of paying homage to Matilda if he had suspected that she would take a foreign husband.

Apart from these reasons, Matilda’s arrogant temper effectually undermined what little support her cause might have had among the English nobles, so that on the death of her father, ten years later, very few Englishmen were prepared to welcome her as their Queen. When the Great Council met in London to discuss the question of her succession, she had hardly one supporter.

“A man must chosen to rule England”, declared the haughty feudal barons from this meeting, maintaining that they never would bow the neck beneath the yoke of any foreign count’s wife.

Stephen Claims the English Throne

The feeling was so strong that it prevailed over the maintaining of their solemn oath. An easy solution to the difficulty, created by the fact that the barons had previously sworn loyalty to Matilda, was, however, found when the Pope released them from their oaths to Matilda. Thus the way was prepared from the usurpation of Stephen, Count of Blois, third son of Adela, daughter of the victor of Hastings (William I), who claimed the throne, urging that he was the first prince of blood, and that is disgraceful for men to submit to a woman’s rule. His brother, Henry, Bishop of Winchester, gained over for his cause the leading clergy, and he was joyfully received by the citizens of London, after he had escorted the embalmed body of Henry I to the Abbey of Reading, where, on the interment day, he had lent his shoulder to bear the leaden coffin.

The first to draw his sword for Matilda was her uncle, David I, King of Scotland. Thrice in one year he ravaged with great severity all Northumberland, which he claimed as his own, and on the third occasion he marched as far as Yorkshire. On the approach of Stephen with an English army, David found it advisable to fall back on Roxburgh, where he took up a strong position, and prepared to give battle. But Stephen, on discovering that some of his nobles had a secret understanding with the Scots, avoided that snare that had been laid for him, and, after laying waste to the Scottish frontier, retreated southwards.

In March, 1137, David re-entered Northumbria, urged, it is supposed, by letters from his niece, the Empress Matilda, the justice of whose claim to the throne of England he felt keenly, as she was the only legitimate daughter of King Henry. Her claim certainly appears to be more than just. At the same time, by a curious chance, he was uncle to the queen of Stephen!

Situation in England

England was at this time in a deplorable condition, and the inhabitants of her northern counties had few other resources on which to rely than their own valor and the energetic policy of Thurstan, the aged Archbishop of York, who, in his decrepit form, displayed all the energy of a youthful warrior. Stephen was so pressed in the south of England, where many of the Barons had risen in recent opposition to his government, that he could raise no army of any consequence to oppose the 26,000 (more accurate figures could well be around 15-17,000) invading Scots, and the only succor Stephen could send north was a body of spearmen under Bernard de Baliol, a Yorkshire man whose descendants (chiefly, John Balliol) were afterwards to bear a prominent but ignoble part in Scottish history. But Thurstan had already assembled the Northern Barons, exhorting them “to fight for their families and their God”; He assured them victory, and promised heaven to those “who might fall in so sacred a cause.” Aged, and unable to appear in public on account of many infirmities, this old prelate deputed an ecclesiastic named Ralph Nowel, who, in the exercise of his usurped authority over the Scottish Church (recently converted to Roman Catholicism by St. Margaret), he had named Bishop of Orkney, to act as his representative.

The Archbishop issued an order for all the ecclesiastics in every parish of his diocese to appear in procession, with their crosses, banners, and relics, and enjoined them all men capable of bearing arms to assemble with Robert de Ferrars, William Percy (forerunner to the Percy house which fought the Douglases), Roger de Mowbray, Ilbert de Lacy and Walter I’Espec, an aged Norman warrior of great experience.

It is notable that all of these men were either Normans themselves, or descendants (probably first generation) of Normans. This really was a conflict of the Norman barons, of which there are more in English history. The involvement of the Scots without any mention of Highland clans seems to suggest, to this writer, that these events took place before the existence of what we now call the Clan System. Most of the Scots in the Scottish army, therefore, would have been Lowland feudal servants and knights serving David I. If there were any of what would become Clansmen involved, they probably served only as reinforcements as a feudal army doesn’t have a place for men not owing allegiance to someone. It is likely this coming battle took place before the existence of a clan structure in the Highlands.

The Scots Attack

The Scots were coming on with sword and with flame, burning everything in their wake. The Scottish army was a mixed one, although we have only a few of the participants by name. David I dispatched his nephew, William, at the head of a body of Galloway mean, into the west of England, where, on 4 June 1138, he defeated a considerable force of English near Clitheroe, and carried off much spoil.

The only first-hand account we have comes from Prior, Richard of Hexam, who wrote about the battle some 15 years after the event. Of course, he saw things from a very English perspective, and he wrote it that way:

“The King [David] then passing by Durham…and according to his usual practice, caused the towns and the churches which previously escaped destruction to be dismantled, plundered and burnt. Crossing the Tees [river], he commenced a similar career of violence. But God’s mercy, being moved by the tears of innumerable widows, orphans, and victims, no longer permitted such wickedness to remain unchastised.”

Despite such glaring bias, we are able to gather quite a bit from his text. The Scottish army is described as being made up of “Pictish Galwegians” (these would be men from Galloway, misnomered as Picts) in the center; on the left flank men from Cumbria and the Borders, with a mix of fighting men on the right, including “Highland Brigades”, with King David commanding the reserve. We aren’t told anything about the Highland Brigade so no clan associations can be made from this.

As William with the men from Galloway, were plundering cities, the King, David, had laid siege to the strong castle of Norham, which Ralph Flambard, Bishop of Durham, had erected nineteen years before to repress the inroads of the Scottish Borderers. It was surrendered, and dismantled by David, who marched southwards through Northumberland and Durham without opposition till he came to Alverton, now called Northallerton, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, on August 22nd.

The English Standard

The rally-point of the English army was a simple cart with a ships mast inside, topped by a cross. It was drawn up in battle array on Cutton Moor, close by this place. It was at the time a wide expanse of purple heather, interspersed with dark green gorse, and stunted bushes. The mast, securely lashed to a four-wheeled, wooden cart, or wain. On the summit of this mast was a crucifix, having in its center a silver box containing the consecrated host, and below it waved the banners of three patron saints – Peter of York, Wilfred of Ripon, and John Beverly. Hence the name of this conflict, the “Battle of the Standard.”

At is base, sheathed in armor, with his helmet open, old Walter l’Espec gave a speech and commanded orders to his followers. At the conclusion of the speech, the text of which is lost, we know he gave his ungauntled hand to William, Earl of Albemarle, exclaiming, “I pledge thee my troth to conquer or to die!”

This battle had all ready taken air of a crusade because it was primarily led by prelates and bishops, and now with those closing words, the English felt God had ordained them to win against mighty odds that day. The representative of the energetic old Thurstan delivered a speech for the encouragement of the army. It ended with this sentence: “Illustrious chiefs of England, by blood and race Normans, before whom France trembles….here are the Scots, who fear you, undertaking to drive you from your own estates!”

As the three lines of the Scottish army approached the Standard, they witnessed the outnumbered English all kneel, while the holy men gave them absolution, a shot of “Amen”, and then every man repaired to his place.

From the Conquest (1066) to the close of the 12th century, little had changed in the weapons and armor of the English. But there were five distinct varieties of body armor by them about the time of the Standard. It consisted of a scaly suit of steel (resembling fish scales, thus “scale armor”), and an iron cap; a flexible overcoat of iron rings, similar in design to chain mail, but with the rings crossing each other from different directions to offer protection from slashing and thrusting. Underneath all this leather and metal was a coat of “quilt armor” which added padding more than protection, and yet another set of ring mail with the rings going to opposite way of the first set, and finished off (a fifth set) of chain mail containing small plates of steel inset within the links, overlapping like tiles of scales of a fish and a long flowing tunic of cloth. Of course only the knights, men-at-arms, and nobles could afford all this armor, and the average soldier had nothing but quilted or leather armor. Pennons fluttered from the spear-heads; and knights wore nasal helmets (like the Vikings), and carried kite-shaped shields of iron. Their spears were oft tipped with metal and barbed. Swords were common amongst the knights, while spears and simple clubs might be found in the ranks of the commoners.

The Army of the Scots

The Red Lion had been a national emblem for some time, and traditionally the thistle a much longer symbol, on this day the standard borne by the Scots was simply a long lance with a tuft of blooming mountain heather attached to it. The armor and equipment worn by the Lowland knights of David I’s army looked very much like that of the English. The Scots had them outnumbered almost two to one. The Scottish vanguard consisted of the men of Liddesdale and Cumberland, and the fierce and wild men of Galloway under their principle chiefs, Ulric and Donald, led by Prince Henry, who was reinforced by a bodyguard of men-at-arms under Eustace Fitzjohn, a Norman baron of Northumberland, whom Stephen had offended by depriving him of the castle of Bamborough. Fitzjohn switched sides.

[Standard] The second line was composed of more “wild men”, Highlanders and Islanders, armed with round targets (targes – small leather round shields), spears, swords and pole-axes. The third, or reserve line, commanded by the king, consisted of a strong body of Saxon and Norman knights and men-at-arms, with the men of Moray covering the rear. Such a mixed army had never been assembled together to fight for one side in Scottish history. One very curious thing is the placement of the Saxon and Norman knights. Why would David have put such well-armored men in the rear? It could well have cost them the battle. But such was the singularly mixed force led by the Scottish king, for in his ranks were many men of England who favored the cause of Matilda, David’s niece, or were disgusted with Stephens rule in England.


Favored by a dense fog and the smoke of burning villages nearby, which concealed his advance for a time, David hoped to take the English by surprise; but they were fully prepared, and every man was standing to his arms. Ere the battle began the Norman barons, sent to two men to the Scottish lines to parlay a peace. This was common in medieval battle history, and it was often done to avoid a large battle. One side could concede to leave, in return for payment or land and titles, and as such could leave with honor intact and warriors alive. This day, the English sent two men who were well known to the Scottish king, and whose descendants would play an even larger role in Scottish history. Robert Bruce, Earl of Annandale (Robert I’s grandfather), and Bernard de Baliol (Edward Baliol’s grandfather), were nobles of Norman birth who both held vast estates in both England and Scotland. As such landowners, they could talk with either side with equal interest. They came to the Scots offering conditions of peace, “to procure from Stephen a full grant of earldom of Northumberland in favor of Prince Henry.”

But King David I of Scotland refused all proposals, while his nephew, William MacDonoquhy, insulted one of the negotiators, saying:

“Bruce, thou art a false traitor!”

Thereupon Bruce and Baliol departed, renouncing their allegiance to the Scottish Crown, and the advance was resumed after some disputes for the honour of leading the attack. David’s first mistake was something one could almost see coming. When the king placed some Norman knights and Saxon archers in the van, he gave terrible offense to the men of Galloway, who are described as “bare-kneed”, making one think of the kilt, but probably not. These men were more Norse, and wild, than Scot. Gallgael was the origin of their name (Galloway), and it meant foreigner-Gael. The men of Galloway, hence offended, offered they could fight better than the “Frenchmen” (Normans) with their chests bared to the enemy. ”Whence comes this mighty confidence in those Normans?” scornfully asked Malise, Earl of Strathearn. “I wear no armor; but there is not one among them who will advance beyond me this day!”

“Rude earl”, replied Allan de Piercy (Percy), a Norman knight, “you boast of what you dare not do.”

Yet the Galloway men got their way, and led the attack under their own chieftain, while the mailed knights marched in the second line.

The English were drawn up in a dense mass around their sacred Standard. Their men-at-arms, all dismounted, and sending their horses to the read, with the archers, met the shock of the impact of battle on foot. It was begun by the fierce “wild men” as they were called, of Galloway, who flung themselves sword in hand on the serried English spears. The spearmen gave way; but a dense shower of arrows threw the Celts into disorder.

Prince Henry now at the head of his mailed cavalry, charging with lances leveled, broke through the English ranks, “as if they had been spider’s webs,” and actually dispersed the horse-holders in the rear. Ulric and Donald had fallen, yet the Galloway men rallied without them, and renewed the attack. The other lines closed up. Prince Henry now found himself surrounded by the enemy and managed to extricate himself with great difficulty and loss of his men’s life. For almost two hours the battle raged without any break in the fury. In the middle, it was a confused mass of horse and men wedged together. English Norman knights found they could get their swords inside the Scottish armor by slipping the tip of a sharp weapon in at the shoulder joint, and wiggling the dagger or sword inwards until the tip cut into flesh. Then they drove the points deeper into each other, barely able to maneuver, one man would eventually fall from pain or blood loss before the other. He was quickly trampled to death. Whoever fell into this writhing mass was doomed. But the Galloway Scots, who must have been a sight to behold, began another rally and the English, now pushed in from all sides around the tiny standard, could hardly stand upright. An English soldier, unrecorded by name, with singular tact and presence of mind suddenly elevated a human head upon his spear, shouting, “Behold the head of the King of Scots!”

It was a deception. The king was busy trying to rally his men, but the deception took and it spread through the Scottish ranks that their king was dead.

The Retreat of the Scots

The men of Galloway, disheartened, fled, falling back upon the second line, while the third line abandoned the field without ever striking a blow. King David strove valiantly to rally his men and dispel the myth of his death, but he could not be heard.

Painting of the Battle of the Standard by Reubens
[Standard] David could see the truth of the situation. All was lost. The Scots had relied upon a single charge to break the English defense around their Standard, but somehow it held. Once that was apparent, David began to withdraw from the field. Placing himself at the head, he covered the retreat as far as Carlisle, where, enraged by their defeat and fired with mutual animosities and petty jealousies, his men fought promiscuously among themselves. Scot attacked Saxon, Norman attacked Norman and the Scots nearly killed themselves with their mixed army.

David, on 25 August, entered Carlisle, and there for some days he remained in great uncertainty as the fate of his gallant son, Prince Henry, whose impetuosity had carried him through the ranks of the English. Hexam says that, “On his return from the chase of fugitives in the rear, find the battle lost, he commanded his men to throw away their banners, and since they were armed so much the same, they so mingled with the pursuers he passed them undetected, and after many hazards succeeded in reaching Carlisle on the third day after his father, the king.”

At Carlisle, David exacted an oath from all the survivors, both of the battle and the furious aftermath of bloodlust, that they should never again desert him in war; and after storming and razing to the ground Walter l’Espec’s castle of Werk, he returned to Scotland more like a conqueror than one whose army had been routed. When the terms of peace were signed, Stephen ceded pratically the whole of Northumberland to David’s sone, Prince Henry. As such, David was able to salvage a great deal even in defeat.

Neither Stephen or the Empress Matilda were in a position to follow up the English victory with a tour of destruction of the Scottish borders. By the treaty of Durham, signed in 1139, Northumberland passed to Earl Henry, and to David I he granted Cumberland (with Carlisle). After these land acquisitions, Scotland can accurately be called a Nation. It showed that David was able to unite all his men, and salvage his ambitions (to obtain control of Northumbria) despite defeat in battle.

The Divide

The Battle of the Standard brought out more than just land treaties, although those were great. It revealed a dark side of the Anglo-Scottish hatred and prejudice, from both sides, that would get worse for another 600 plus years: The invasion of England brought out a deep-rooted English prejudices against the Scots as murderous barbarians, which Walter Scott reflected so faithfully in his ‘Tales of a Grandfather’. An English chronicler wrote of David’s troops:

“They cleft open pregnant women, and took the unborn babe; they tossed children upon spear-points, and beheaded priests upon the altars…There was screaming of women, the waling of old men; groans of dying, despair of the living. - Historia Anglorum

Every generation of English children from this point forward, were told this lie, as if it was the truth. And anger and hatred seethed on both sides because of it.

David I's Reign

When David I came to the throne in 1124, Scotland had been a rather primitive country, with only small towns and little industry. Also, depending on where you were in the Lowlands in 1124 , you could have to speak Latin, French, English or a number of Gaelic dialects just in the south of Scotland! Coinage began by following English usage in regard to types and weights: the earliest silver pennies were those of David I (1124-53) and copied Stephen's, though the use of profile portraits in the 13th and 14th centuries showed an interesting divergence. The Scottish church, with only three Bishops, had little influence. When David I died in 1153 much had changed. In many areas of the Lowlands, what remained of the old Celtic way of life had been swept away and a new Anglo-Norman order of things were established in it's place.

While David did little to help the old Celtic ways, he modernized a backward Scotland -- and Scots benefitted from David I's administrative work. Especially the future kings of Scotland.

Next, in chapter 6 of "The Story of Scotland's History": From Alexander II, Somerled, up to the begining of the Scottish War of Independence.

  • Chapter 6 -'Somerled, William the Lion to Balliol', Alexander II, III and more.

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