Yesterday was the 837th anniversary of the English defeat of the Scots in the Battle of Alnwick (Northumberland), 13th July 1174. In the summer of 1174, King William I of Scotland threw in his lot with the other protagonists hostile to King Henry II in the ‘Great Rebellion’ of 1173-1174. William’s allies included Henry II’s three elder sons, Louis VII of France and dissident English earls such as the Earls of Chester and Norfolk. In other words, William I’s invasion of northern England in 1174, was not simply an Anglo/Scottish conflict. The combined impact of this unholy alliance was to give Henry II a major challenge to his authority.
In May 1174, William’s Scottish Army invaded Cumbria, while William’s younger brother, David secured control of the Earldom of Huntingdon. To meet the challenge of William’s invasion, Robert of Estouteville, Sheriff of Northumberland and Yorkshire raised an army to combat the Scots. Interestingly, Robert was assisted by the former sheriffs of Northumberland (William de Vesci) and Yorkshire (Rannulf de Glanville). We know quite a lot about the Scots invasion because of the account of a contemporary chronicler, William of Newburgh. William of Newburgh wrote his chronicle in the 1190s, and is generally thought to be a reliable writer.
William of Newburgh relates how Robert of Estouteville, de Vesci and de Glanville acted promptly to raise a force to counteract the Scots invasion. Indeed, as the chronicler relates; ”the occasion was so urgent that they had no time to collect their infantry.” [English Historical Documents, Volume II, page 377]. Arriving at Alnwick under cover of mist, the English force espied the “King of Scots with a squadron of sixty horsemen” [ ibid, page 378]. Taken completely by surprise, the English force captured King William, on 13th July, 1174. With William’s capture, the remainder of the now leaderless Scots Army “were at first thunderstruck . . . and soon after, as if goaded by the Furies, they turned against each other with the sword.” [ibid, page 379]. The Scots invasion was over, and, a fortnight after the Battle of Alnwick, on 26th July 1174, King William I was delivered to King Henry at Northampton, King William’s legs being pinioned beneath his horse, to signify Henry’s triumph. The defeat of William’s invasion heralded the wider defeat of the Great Rebellion. Perhaps today this medieval Anglo-Scottish battle at Alnwick conjures up the apparently increasingly extreme feelings of English/Scottish nationalism which seem increasingly common in 2011. Increased intense sporting rivalry between England and Scotland, combined with separatist political developments have seemingly begun to engender a fervent patriotism (especially in Scotland), which threatens to undermine the shared heritage of both countries within the UK. Such zealous appeals to nationalism inevitably make spurious entreaties to History, in order to justify the misguided policies of political separation which are increasingly in evidence within the UK in 2011.
It might therefore be the case that modern-day nationalists could use the Anglo/Scottish conflict of 837 years ago in the north of England to glorify their ill-advised policies of political separation, on the ‘Braveheart’ model. In fact, Scotland did rather well within the Angevin Empire; and Anglo/Scottish co-operation was as much a feature of Anglo-Scottish relations in the Angevin Empire as conflict – if not more so. The key element governing relations between England and Scotland in the Angevin period between 1154 and 1216 was delimiting the Anglo-Scots border, within the Empire. The policies pursued by the Angevin kings towards Scotland differed. Henry II pursued policies which effectively amounted to favouring Scottish devolution within the Angevin Empire. In contrast, his successor, Richard, seemed to favour Scots independence. It is my contention that Henry’s policies of devolution were in reality more realistic for Scotland:-
- In 1157, King Henry II and King Malcolm IV of Scotland agreed that all the English territory the Scots had obtained under King Stephen would be restored to England. It is true that this co-operation reflects some bullying by Henry, who was anxious for a foreign policy success to cement his recent accession to the English throne; but Malcolm was not humiliated, as he was granted his father’s old earldom of Huntingdon in England, as well as the territory of Tynedale in Northumberland.
- In December 1174, after his abortive invasion of northern England, King William I of Scotland was released from custody, after agreeing to the Treaty of Falaise. By this treaty, Henry II took possession of the Scottish castles of Berwick, Edinburgh, Jedburgh, Roxburgh and Stirling. This may again at first sight seem like Henry bullying the Scots, rather than genuinely negotiating with them, but this would be a mistaken view. Henry was punishing William for his rebellion – he was making a political point, rather than trying to dominate Scotland. Henry believed that the Scots should rule themselves, within the Angevin Empire. Henry never garrisoned Stirling, and returned Edinburgh to William in 1186, after William had demonstrated his trustworthiness.
In contrast, Richard was prepared to countenance Scots independence. Soon after his accession, In December 1189, Richard and William signed the ‘Quit Claim of Canterbury’. This agreement ostensibly favoured Scots independence because, by abrogating the Treaty of Falaise, it effectively conceded Scots independence from the Angevin Empire. However, on second sight, it does not appear that Scotland benefitted unduly from the Quit claim. To begin with, William had to ‘buy’ Scots independence; for the not inconsiderable sum (for a poor country) of £6,666. In addition, Richard had certainly not abandoned designs on Scotland. Richard schemed to make Otto of Brunswick (his nephew) King of Scotland after William’s death. This would be achieved by getting Otto to marry Margaret, William’s daughter and heir. In fact, this scheme came to nothing; but only because in 1198, William had a son, the future Alexander II of Scotland.
King Alexander II imitated his father in October 1215 by invading northern England, at a time when the last Angevin monarch, John, was facing opposition from all sides. The invasion did Alexander no good, as John’s forces expelled the Scots from northern England in January 1216.
(1) The final chapter in Anglo/Scottish relations was concluded by King Alexander II of Scotland, and King John’s son, King Henry III. In September 1237, the two monarchs signed The Treaty of York, by which King Alexander quitclaimed all his hereditary rights to the northern English counties of Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland. That settled the Anglo-Scottish border dispute once and for all; but by then, the Angevin Empire had itself disintegrated. Scotland was by then gradually developing the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France, which was in reality a euphemistic phrase masking Scotland’s increasing subservience to France. France effectively duped Scotland in the later Middle Ages, by using it as a pawn in its struggles with England. For all its support for France in the later medieval period, Scotland received hardly any tangible rewards.
(2) It is my contention that Scotland really prospered within the Angevin Empire under King Henry II, under the latter monarch’s enlightened policy of effectively supporting Scottish devolution. Here, surely, is the parallel for Scotland to follow in the 21st century: a devolved Scotland, prospering within the UK, rather than following spurious independence outside of it, on the model of the medieval ‘Auld Alliance’.