"O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent;
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content"
Robbie Burns

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

BERWICK-ON-TWEED: A Town With Identity Issues

In 2008 ITV in the UK ran an unofficial poll for the people of Berwick-on-Tweed to determine if they were in favor of becoming part of Scotland or remaining part of England. An odd question to those of us in the US, but for the 12,000 people of Berwick (2001 censes) it was a question worth pondering. With the new Scottish parliament only 2 and half hours away vs. Westminster (London) 6 hours away who would hear their voices more clearly? Plus the Barnett Formula (formula to distribute taxes as per devolution) has allowed for Scotland to distribute its share of taxes as per their Parliament’s control over issues like education (Scottish college students don’t pay upfront tuition in Scottish colleges) and free care for their elderly; issues that those across the border to the south envy. Though some find the Barnett Formula favors Scotland- personally as I see it the formula actually favors London, which gets approximately £8500 per person vs. Scotland’s £8150 per person. London has a population of 2 million more people than all of Scotland combined and it seems the further north one goes from London the per capita spending decreases. Maybe the real problem lies in redistributing the money from London to even spending/services elsewhere in England not with how much Scotland gets?

However despite this vote, 60% for Scotland (a vote of 1157 vs. 775) for England) Berwick (pronounced bear-ick) has remained under English control despite never ‘officially” becoming part of England. In 1482 as per the Treaty of Perpetual Peace between Scottish King James IV (the only good Stewart King) and English King Henry VII declared Berwick to be “of the kingdom of England but not in it”. Until 1746 it was a self-governing county/town until the “Berwick and Wales” act that stated the term England also included Wales and Berwick. However, Berwick (called Berwick South by the Scots so as not to confuse it with North Berwick in Scotland) has not always been part of England. Between the years 1147-1482 the town of Berwick has bounced back and forth from English to Scottish possession at least 13 times.

Berwick Guildhall

Historically the area was home to a Briton tribe who spoke a Brythonic form of Gaelic (often referred to as Old Welsh). This tribe merged with another Briton tribe to form what is now called Northumberland. But during this period Northumberland included the Scottish Lothians along the Firth of Fourth as well as northern England. Berwick, or Lothian as it was called, first became part of the kingdom of Scotland when the Scots under Malcolm II (grandfather to Duncan I and Macbeth and probably Thorfinn as well) defeated the Northumberians in 1018 at the Battle of Carham. During the reign of King David I in 1124, he named Berwick one of the first royal burghs where he encouraged merchants from the Continent to set up shop in Scotland. This coupled with the minting of Scotland’s first coins at Berwick among other Davidian improvements; Berwich became a very wealthy and important port for Scotland and its trade with the Continent exporting wool, grain and salmon.

Coldstream at Tweed

The Scots held it until the reign of William I, when the English captured him in 1174 at the Battle of Alnwick. He was ransomed and part of that ransom payment was the town of Berwick given to the English. However, in 1187 when Richard the Lionhearted wanted to go on crusade and needed funds he sold back Berwick to the Scots for 10,000 merks and to sweeten the deal Richard also released Wm’s and Scotland’s fealty to the English crown (which would be an ongoing bone of contention with the two countries). Scotland was able to hold the Berwick for the most part despite it being later burned by King John of England.

Elizabeth I's ramparts at Berwick

King Edward I of England helped (?) the Scottish kingdom by naming John Balliol as rightful claimant to the Scottish crown. However. it took John a while to figure out that Edward had assumed he (and Scotland) were expected to pay fealty to the English crown. King John acting as the Scottish king signed a treaty with France their “Auld Alliance” England’s enemy and refused to send Scottish troops to help the English fight the French. This enraged Edward and though he had taken the Scots regalia and the more important the Stone of Destiny on which all Scottish kings were crowned this was not enough. He returned to Scotland to teach the Scots a lesson. Unfortunately that lesson was the destruction of Berwick where 8000-15000 inhabitants were killed at the hands of English troops: women, children and old men were not given quarter. A future post will deal with Edward's unique form of cruelty at Berwick Castle.

Lone marker for the Battle of Halidan Hill 1333

From that point on Berwick once a wealthy port was now a fortified garrison the English held and after the defeat of the Scots at Battle of Dunbar, Berwick was the site of the signing of the Ragman’s roll where 2000 Scottish nobles swore fealty to Edward. However, in 1318 the Scots reclaimed Berwick and held it until after the Battle of Halidan Hill in 1333 a siege to relieve Berwick during the second Scottish war of independence but were soundly defeated by King Edward III. The English held Berwick off and on during the next 130 years through times of minority kings and trouble within. But in 1462 the Scots retook Berwick until the arrival of the Duke of Glouster, (future King Richard III) who captured it back in 1482. The Treaty of Perpetual Peace in 1502/3 made Berwick English property once and for all, if not part of England itself. During the reign of Elizabeth I there was much rebuilding of the ramparts and the fortification of the walled town of Berwick with the latest technology to reflect the new weapon manpower. It is though she spent in excess of £100,000 to fortify the town against the possibility of attack from Scotland who had alliances with Catholic France. Those ramparts remain today in much of the town of Berwick. An interesting note in the modern era during the reign of Victoria, she declared war against Russia signing the declaration as Queen of “Great Britain, Berwick on Tweed and Ireland” but when the peace treaty was signed “Berwick on Tweed” was omitted making Berwick technically still at war with Russia.

After the TV poll a local newspaper the Berwick Advertiser found 78% asked preferred to go with Scotland. Yet, despite their long history of being one nation’s property or the other’s who did the people of Berwick think they were? At the time in 2008 researchers found that when asked 25% thought of themselves as Scots and 25% English with an overwhelming number replying “Berwickers”. And this is probably reflective of the fact that on the Border many people believe themselves Borderers first then English or Scots. Not unlike many a Scotsman or Englishman who sees himself first as a Scot or English and then British.

Come back in a few days to learn about King Edward and the kind of cruelty he perpetuated at Berwick Castle during the war of Scottish Independence.


Chicks of Characterization said...

Very interesting post Jody! I visited Berwick -on- Tweed a few years ago, stayed at a resort area called Haggerston Castle, to keep my kids occupied at night since I was dragging them all over northumberland during the day!


Donna Goode said...

I'm loving your posts, Jody! Thank you for such interesting information that most of us miss along the route of gaining information.

Ann Lethbridge said...

Great post Jody, thank you. I love learning these details about my country. I always feel so guilty that I didn't know them before

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I consider you my best Scottish resource, Jody. I love this town and find it hard to believe they are 'still officially at war with Russia'. ;) You always come up and share such interesting facts. Thank you for this.

Jody said...

Thanks for the kind words everyone. I have to berwick on tweed only once so that my husband could golf on the most northern course in England. I stayed in the club house talking to young couple. I didn't get to explore to much as It was starting to get late and I wanted to get Flodden battlefield before it got dark. Next trip I want to explore more of the town and especially the ramparts. I have a copy of the Calendar of the Border Papers of the Scottish and English Border from the mid 1500's to 1603 which has all kinds of delicious accounts of the border reviers and the $$$$$ Elizabeth I paid to fortify it.

mjmuse said...

You know so much, which shows how hard you work and how seriously you take this subject. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
Michelle M

Gerald said...

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.