Topics > Northumberland > Berwick upon Tweed > Berwick-upon-Tweed, 1855 > History of Berwick-upon-Tweed

History of Berwick-upon-Tweed

Extract from: History, Topography, and Directory of Northumberland...Whellan, William, & Co, 1855.

We possess no authentic information respecting the circumstances to which Berwick owes its origin, but from the remains of Roman fortifications in the neighbourhood, it is supposed to have been a Roman station, indeed the spot upon which the castle stood is said to have been originally a Roman camp. The consolidation of the Saxon power in this country, was the commencement of a new era for Berwick. Penda, the pagan monarch of Mercia, having overthrown Oswald, the Christian king of Northumbria, laid siege to Bambrough, but being obliged to relinquish his project, he invested Berwick, took it by assault, and in sheer wantonness levelled it to the ground. The town was, however, soon rebuilt, and when the river Tweed became the boundary between the newly settled Saxon states, and the Scots and Picts of the north, Berwick became a frontier town of some importance. Then arose its fortifications and towers, fashioned in the rude masonry of the period, yet sufficiently strong to repel the attacks of the Scots. It is about this time that Berwick is first mentioned in history, for according to Boethius, Donald, King of Scotland, brother and successor to Kenneth II., the conqueror of the Picts, after a sanguinary battle on the banks of the Jed, in which be defeated Osbert, king of Northumbria, marched his victorious army down the Tweed's banks, till he arrived at Berwick. The inhabitants hearing of their king's defeat, and being terrified by the number of the advancing marauders, abandoned the town at their appearance and fled into the country. On the entrance of the Scots into the deserted Saxon town, they commenced to plunder and revel; but in the night the Saxons returned, and falling upon the sleeping and drunken foe, wreaked a fearful vengeance. Few escaped, the king and a few survivors being retained as prisoners.


When Egbert, the victorious king of Wessex, had obliged the different Saxon states to acknowledge his authority, peace, and the numerous blessings which follow in its train, were experienced by the inhabitants of the town, which at this time began to increase in prosperity and population, and on the surrender of East Lothian to Scotland, by Edgar, in 840, Berwick became subject to the Scottish crown. Not long, however, could the Scots claim Berwick as their own. For the Danes came from the east, and as the ancient settlers had yielded to the Saxon invaders, so they in their turn, were compelled to "kiss the dust," and submit to the conqueror's yoke, from which they were not released till the time of the great Alfred. Cotemporary with the minstrel king, was Gregory of Scotland, who, having subdued the southern parts of Caledonia, and extirpated the Danish invaders, pushed on till he arrived at Berwick, the last refuge of the Ostmen in the north, which he endeavoured to carry by assault. Nerved by despair, in addition to their native courage, the Danes baffled every effort made against them, and the Scottish monarch was about to withdraw his forces, when an unlooked for event placed the town in his possession. The Saxon inhabitants of Berwick, had long groaned beneath the oppression of their conquerors, and longed for an opportunity of revenge. Taking advantage of the attack, they rose in the night, and opened their gates to the Scots, who, rushing into the town, after a severe and determined conflict, became its possessors. Following up this success, Gregory advanced into Northumbria, where he defeated an immense army of Danes, and returning in triumph to Berwick, passed the winter there with his army. He granted many privileges to the town, which became again united to Scotland. 


We find the Norman conqueror here in 1072, when he compelled Malcolm of Scotland to render him homage. The Scottish king could brook this indignity only for a very short period, for he shortly afterwards captured Berwick, and returned home laden with the booty which he had acquired. On the death of Malcolm, his son Edgar assumed the Scottish crown, and gave Berwick to the see of Durham, in honour of its patron, St. Cuthbert, under whose banner he had gained an important victory. But Flambard, the successor of Carileph, to whom Edgar had made the grant, disregarding the gift of the Scottish monarch, made an irruption into his territories, on which Edgar, provoked at his ingratitude, reassumed possession of the town and its valuable appendages.


In the reign of Alexander I., Berwick began to assume the appearance of a port of some consequence, and was the capital of the East Lothians. In the reign of his successor the castle was built, or at least considerably strengthened. It was now almost the chief seaport of Scotland, and ships from different nations began to throng its waters. According to Torfaens, the merchants of this town were men of great wealth and magnificence, and one of them from his vast riches, acquired the name of the ''Opulent." He embellished the town with various buildings, monasteries, churches, and religious houses. Tradition still preserves an adventure of this merchant. One of his vessels being at sea with his wife aboard, was taken by Erland, Earl of Orkney, who took her to the Farne Islands. The merchant bearing of the disaster, manned fourteen vessels with a competent number of men, and went in chase of the pirates, whom he found, gave battle to, and utterly destroyed. David of Scotland appears to have taken great interest in this town, for he made several improvements in it, and in 1141, erected a convent of Cistercian nuns in its neighbourhood. 


William the Lion, King of Scotland, having in 1174, joined the three sons of Henry II., and others of the English nobility, in a rebellion against their sovereign, marched an army into England, but being opposed by Bohun, the constable of that kingdom, he was obliged to retire into his own territory. In revenge for this inroad into England, Bobun crossed the Tweed, burnt Berwick, and laid waste the adjacent country. William of Scotland was subsequently taken prisoner at the siege of Alnwick Castle, and the only condition upon which he could obtain his liberty was, that he would make an express acknowledgment that be held the crown of Scotland as a fief of the crown of England. By the advice of his nobles William rendered homage, and swore fealty to Henry as his liege lord. It was moreover stipulated that the Scottish clergy and nobility should also render the same homage, that Berwick and four other castles should be entrusted to English garrisons, and that William’s brothers and twenty of his barons should remain all hostages in the hands of the English monarch. 


When Berwick came into Henry's possession, he pulled down the old castle and commenced to rebuild it for this purpose he sent officers, having his warrant, into the country on the border, who compelled all merchants, barons, priests, etc., to furnish so many men for the work. Slowly but surely the ponderous structure rose, and the Norman castle with its battlements and towers, donjon and keep, portcullis and drawbridge, in all the majesty of feudal grandeur, frowned gloomily over the sparkling waters of the Tweed. Of the strong and durable nature of the work, abundant evidence was furnished in 1846, when, during the excavations for the railway, the vaults and foundations of several of the castle towers were exposed, and so strongly united were the stones of which these foundations, etc. were composed, that the pick of the "navie" could not separate them, and it was only by the application of gunpowder that the masses of stone could he detached.


Berwick continued in the possession of the English till 1189, when Richard Coeur de Lion, previous to his departure for the Holy Land, renounced for the sum of 10,000 marks, the feudal rights which Henry II. had extorted from William the Lion. Ten years after this, a dreadful inundation took place in England; on the borders its ravages were most destructive, houses, trees, etc., were swept away, and among the rest the bridge of Berwick, but it was soon afterwards rebuilt. On the demise of Wil1iam I., the Scottish crown devolved upon Alexander II., who revived the claim of his predecessors to the northern counties of England, being encouraged in the prosecution of this demand by the discontented barons of the north; but John, who had succeeded to the English throne, not only refused to accede to the demand of Alexander, but made preparations for invading Scotland. In anticipation of this Alexander had made an inroad into Northumberland, whence he was soon driven by John, who, after laying Alnwick, Morpeth, and several other towns in ashes, took possession of Berwick, when the most barbarous cruelties were practised upon the defenceless inhabitants. The greatest atrocities were perpetrated in order to extract from the inhabitants the knowledge where their money was concealed; and, to obtain this knowledge, they hung up both men and women by the joints of their thumbs, and inflicted on them various tortures. 


Berwick was again rebuilt and fortified, hut only to suffer still more from the English and Scots, who were continually striving for its possession. In May 1217, the Archbishop of York, and the Bishop of Durham, came to Berwick, where they absolved Alexander II., of Scotland, who was present in person, from the excommunication which he had incurred by invading England in concert with Louis of France. Nineteen years after, the old town was the scene of a far different ceremony, Gilbert, Earl of Pembroke, having espoused Marion, sister of the Scottish King, came to Berwick to receive bis bride. The nuptials were graced by the presence of Alexander and his Queen, and in the train of Pembroke were some of the bravest 

soldiers in Europe.


But it was under the fostering care of Alexander III., that Berwick attained the summit of its prosperity, and its commercial and trading advantages were fully developed. He invited over a colony of Flemish merchants, who established themselves in Berwick, where, in a street, still called the Wool Market, he built for them a mart, or building, which, from the colour of the stone employed in its erection, was called the Red Hall. The Flemings held it by the tenure of defending it at all times against the English. But a new era was approaching, when Berwick became the place selected for the decision of a controversy, which for a long period disturbed the harmony of England and Scotland.


In the course of four years, Alexander of Scotland had seen his daughter and two sons consigned to the grave. Shortly after, he himself was killed by falling over a precipice, and the crown devolved to Margaret, his grandaughter, 'Surnamed the" Maid of Norway." The delicate health of this princess awakened the expectations of her distant relatives, and Robert Bruce, the Earl of Carrick, formed a party among both the Scotch and English nobles, for securing to himself the sovereign authority. Baliol, whose family like that of Bruce, was of Anglo-Norman descent, though now allied to the blood-royal of Scotland, observed, and exerted himself to thwart the projects of the Earl of Carrick. From jealous watchfulness and petty quarrels the animosity of the two parties soon broke out into open civil war. Alarmed at the danger which threatened the country, the states of Scotland, and Eric of Norway invited Edward to assume once more the character of a peacemaker. He did not, however, forget that of a politician, for he proposed a marriage between the princess and his own son. The proposal was agreed to, but the " Maid of Norway," overcome with the fatigues of a rough passage from her native country, had expired in the Orkneys.


Thirteen competitors for the crown now at once started forth. The three whose claims were best grounded on hereditary right, were Baliol, Bruce, and Hastings. Baliol was undoubtedly of the elder branch, but the laws of succession were not so well defined as at the present day. Bruce put in his claim as being the grandson, while Baliol was only the great grandson of David. Unable to decide, or dreading a continuation of civil war, the Scots determined to refer these various claims to the wisdom of Edward. The latter accepted the office, not, however, as an honour, but as a right, as a consequence of his being the superior lord of Scotland.


On the 2nd August, 1291, the town of Berwick presented an animated appearance, for within its walls the prelacy and chivalry of England and Scotland had assembled to determine the rights of the various claimants to the throne of the latter country. The King of England having arrived, required, as a preliminary, that his feudal superiority should be acknowledged by the various claimants. They asked time to consult, and the First of June was fixed upon for the statement of their objections. None were brought. Edward then informed them that in virtue of his suzerainty, he would proceed to adjudicate. The competitors having signed a formal instrument in acknowledgment of the right of the English crown, Edward appointed a council of forty Scots, chosen by Baliol, forty others selected by Bruce, and twenty-four Englishmen appointed by himself, to examine the allegations of the different claimants. After an enquiry of eighteen months, sentence was pronounced in favour of Baliol, who having done homage for the kingdom, Edward delivered to him the fortresses which he himself had received from the Scots, and by letters patent clearly stated that he claimed no right of wardship, marriage, or seizing of the kingdom. Baliol was crowned King of Scotland at Scone, the 30th November, 1292.


Several appeals to his superior lord, particularly that of Macduff, son of the Earl of Fife, had given umbrage to Baliol, and he at length decided, in conformity with the expressed desire of his subjects, to assert his independence. He gave the management of the coming struggle to a council of four prelates, four earls, and four barons, and concluded a treaty both offensive and defensive with Philip of France.


Edward suspecting his intentions, summoned Baliol, as his vassal, to accompany him to Guienne ; then he demanded the castles of Roxburgh, Jedburgh, and Berwick, as securities in his absence, and lastly summoned him to his court at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Baliol refused compliance with these demands; Edward accordingly entered the north with a powerful army, and after several skirmishes invested Berwick-upon-Tweed in the spring of 1296. A strong garrison composed of the men of Fife, now defended the town, besides a smaller force that held the castle. The English monarch commenced the attack at once by sea and land; of his ships, three were burnt, and the rest compelled to retire. Edward beheld the defeat of his fleet, and maddened with rage led on his men to the attack. The frail defences of the town gave way before the impetuous onset of the soldiery, who entering the place slaughtered the unfortunate inhabitants and soldiers without mercy. Amid the shrieks and groans of the dying, the cries for mercy, and the infuriated shouts of revenge, that rose from the captured town, the Flemings bravely defended the street, which they held in fief from the king of Scotland, on condition they should defend it against his enemies, and well and gallantly did this little band of heroes perform their tenure. Foot by foot did they retreat up the Wool  Market, presenting an unbroken front to the overwhelming numbers of Edward's army. They gained their tower, barricaded its gates, and defied the whole strength of the English. Long and desperately did they maintain their post against their assailants, who, maddened with the death of one of their favourite leaders, that had fallen pierced by a Flemish spear, and despairing of carrying the place by storm, heaped together a quantity of straw and wood, mixed with broken furniture, at the gate of the tower; a torch was applied, and the stifling smoke began to eddy around the brave Flemings, but they scorned to yield, and it was not till the roof, walls, and battlements had fallen in, and the brave defenders of the tower were buried in its ruins that the English could say the Red Hall was their own. The castle surrendered, and its garrison was allowed to depart weaponless, on condition of not bearing arms against England. Many writers state the slaughter of the inhabitants by Edward as enormous. Boethius tells us 7,000 were butchered, others assert the number to be much greater. We have no account of the loss of the English. Immediately after this, Edward despatched the Earl of Warene against the strong castle of Dunbar, in the neighbourhood of which the Scots were defeated with great slaughter. This battle was followed by the submission of all Scotland; Edinburgh and Perth, the rival capitals, and all the fortresses as far as Moray Frith, opened their gates. At Berwick, meantime, Edward received the homage of all the prelates, barons, tenants of the crown, and representatives of the towns. 


While the great mass of the Scottish population quietly submitted, others did not yet despair of their country's independence, and not a few were lurking in arms amid the woods and morasses of the mountains. The fame of one, who like themselves, was an outlaw, attracted their attention; his exploits were in every mouth, and hope was heightened to enthusiasm by tidings of a bold encounter, in which he slew the sheriff of Lanarkshire, and still more when joined by Sir William Douglas, he entered Scone, put the justiciary to flight, and seized the treasures. The outlaw's name was William Wallace. Animated by his example, chieftains arose in almost every county, and their followers were soon afterwards united into one numerous army. Headed by Wallace, the Scots defeated the English forces at Stirling Bridge; pushed on towards Berwick and immediately laid siege to the castle. The fortress being well garrisoned and victualled, held out bravely, and in spite of the courage of Wallace, who led his Scots to repeated assaults, the governor defied him. The Scottish leader was obliged to raise the siege on the advance of the English regent, who, in the king's absence, marched to the relief of Berwick with an army of upwards of 13,000 men. 


After the defeat of the Scots at Falkirk, the cause of independence languished, and Wallace became a wanderer. Betrayed by one whose brother he had killed, he was crowned with laurel in mockery, and sentenced to death for treason. Wallace underwent the awful punishment; his head was placed upon the Tower of London, and one of his arms hung from the point of a spear on Berwick Bridge. Tradition tells us that some charitable hand removed this relic of the Scottish hero from its ignominious position, and gave it sepulchre in the spot now known by the designation of "Wallace's Green." In the following year, Berwick witnessed the execution of some more Scottish patriots. Niel Bruce, brother of Robert Bruce, the deliverer of Scotland, and some other knights were taken prisoners in an attack upon Kildrummy Castle, brought to Berwick, where they were tried. and afterwards hung, drawn, and quartered on a small hill to the left of the Edinburgh Road, still called the Gallows Knowe. 


The Countess of Buchan having dared to place the crown of Scotland upon the head of Robert Bruce, in 1306, and soon afterwards falling into the hands of Edward, was by him doomed to experience a severe fate. In one of the outer turrets of the castle of Berwick was constructed a cage, latticed and crossed barred with wood, and secured with iron, in which this unfortunate lady was immured. No person was permitted to speak with her except the women who brought her food, and it was carefully stipulated that these should be of English extraction. Confined in this rigorous manner, she remained for four years shut up in her cage, at the end of which period, she was transferred to a less rigorous confinement in the Carmelite convent in the town. 


Edward died in 1307, and on his death-bed commanded his son to prosecute the war with the Scots, and to carry his bones before the army to the very extremity of Scotland. On the king's death these commands were disregarded. His successor hastened from the capital to the borders; received the homage of the English barons at Carlisle, and that of the Scotch at Dumfries; and at the head of a gallant army advanced in pursuit of Bruce, whom he followed into Ayrshire, and then returned to England. He made several inroads into Scotland through Berwick, during the years 1310 and 1311, and, in 1314, he assembled there the most numerous army that had ever crossed the border. It consisted of nearly 100,000 men, of whom 40,000 were cavalry, and the rest infantry. Having obtained an additional reinforcement from the northern counties, this powerful army advanced into Scotland in two columns, under the command of leaders of the most distinguished character. 


Hearing of Edward's approach, Bruce chose for the coming struggle a p1ace called the New Park. It was partly open, partly covered with trees. The front of the position was secured by a morass, and. the east, or right flank, by the precipitous banks of a stream called Bannockburn. The left flank extending almost to Stirling, seemed to lie open to attack, but was, in reality more dangerous than any other quarter, it was one extensive series of concealed pits, bristling with sharpened stakes. The hurdles and sods which covered these pits were sufficiently strong to bear a foot soldier, and certain of yielding under the heavy cavalry of England. At daybreak, on the 24th June, the day of surrender or battle, the Scots gathered round a height, on which an altar had been erected, and there the Abbot of Inchaffray celebrated mass. Having finished, he impressed upon his hearers the duty of fighting for their country, and then led. them with a crucifix in his hand to the field of battle, where they knelt and prayed once more, and then calmly awaited the onset of the English. They were nearly all on foot, and were armed with spears and battle axes. Two occurrences gave them more than ordinary courage. One was the victory of Bruce in single combat with Henry de Bohun, one of the bravest of the English knights. The other was the defeat of a strong body of English cavalry, while attempting to push on for Stirling. This defeat was the more glorious as it was won by infantry, who forming in something like the ancient phalanx, repelled every assault, and drove the English at last into complete disorder.


While the Scots were still glowing with this triumph, they were attacked by the English infantry, and soon began to fall in great numbers beneath the incessant shower of arrows. To maintain the unequal conquest, Bruce summoned his reserve, and finally ordered his small party of men-at-arms to charge the English bowmen in flank. This movement decided the fate of the English infantry. They fled in confusion, and the knights with the Earl of Gloucester at their head, rushed forward to renew the conflict. But their horses were entangled in the pits, the riders were thrown, and the timely appearance of the Scottish camp followers, who had been stationed in the valley, scattered dismay through the English ranks. Edward, who was not deficient in personal courage, spurred on his charger to partake in the battle, but the Earl of Pembroke wisely interposed, and led him to a distance. With a few gallant exceptions, the whole body of the English was now in full flight; baggage, treasure, engines of war, and were left to the victors. Edward, after a hot pursuit, must have thought himself happy when he entered the gates of Dunbar.


On the third day after the battle, Edward arrived at Berwick, and while there published a proclamation, to advise his subjects of the loss of his great seal, which was lost with his treasures at Bannockburn, and warning them not to regard any orders that might appear with its impression, unless such orders were otherwise confirmed. Bruce subsequently restored the seal to Edward. We find Berwick described at this period as a strong and well walled town, from which it is apparent, that Edward during his Scottish wars, had not neglected to strengthen and build defences for its safe keeping. The king issued a summons a year after for his barons to meet him at Berwick, in order to ward off a threatened attack of the Scots, but when the king marched into Scotland, a famine threatened his army, and obliged him to return. During the absence of the monarch, Berwick did not enjoy the blessings of peace, for Douglas hovering about the neighbourhood, defeated and killed, on two several occasions, a Gascon gentleman, governor of Berwick, and Robert de Neville, both of whom were interred in the church of the Grey Friars. 


Several attempts were subsequently made by the Scots to capture Berwick, but without success. At length, in 1318, it surrendered to Bruce, who appeared in person before its walls. The Scottish king found the castle well garrisoned with provisions and military stores, and instead of demolishing the fortress, which he had hitherto done with all he had taken from the English, he strengthened the fortifications and defences of the towm, and gave the keeping of it to his son-in-law, Walter Stewart, who vowed to defend the perilous post to the utmost. 


Edward being resolved to regain this important fortress, a parliament was held at York, and the barons who attended it, accompanied the king as far as Berwick, anxious to wipe out the stain which the defeat at Bannockburn had inflicted upon the chivalry of the nation. Edward entrenched his camp at Tweedmouth, and then began to invest the walls of Berwick, with all that eagerness which recent defeat and hope of revenge could lend. With a cordon of armed men, he slowly but surely surrounded the devoted town, and then began the assault. The English attempted to take the place by escalade but the ladders laden with soldiers were thrown back from the walls, and the dead and bruised assailants were cast into the trenches. Again and again did the English rush to the attack, and every time were they driven back. Bruce hastened to raise the siege, but despairing of success, despatched fifteen thousand men under Randolph and Douglas to surprise the English Queen at York, and to ravage the country. They failed in their first object, but their devastations were so extensive, that the archbishop, at the head of the posse of the country, ventured to oppose them at Boroughbridge. He was defeated, and three hundred clergymen, and ten times that number of laymen, fell by the sword, or perished in the river. The disastrous intelligence soon reached the camp before Berwick, and Edward determined to raise the siege.


The English monarch departed from Berwick never more to visit it. Bruce shortly afterwards arrived here, and being sensible of the hazard to which it was exposed from its position, and of its importance as a frontier town, the Scottish king heightened the walls ten feet, added many towers, and put the fortifications in a more complete state of repair. After a truce of two years the war was renewed, and Edward again entered Berwickshire with a formidable army. From the scarcity of provisions, he was obliged to retreat, and in the year 1323, a treaty of peace for thirteen years was confirmed at Berwick.


On the death of Bruce, in 1329, Edward Ill. revived the claims of the monarchs who had preceded him, and war was recommenced. Pretences are seldom wanting at the call of aggrandisement, and, in 1332, Edward Baliol, the pretender to the Scottish throne, appeared at Roxburgh, where he surrendered the independence of Scotland to Edward III., as his liege lord, and engaged to put him in possession of Berwick with its territory, and other lands on the Marches. The repeated incursions of the Scots, furnished Edward with the pretext that they had violated the treaty of peace, and induced the English parliament to give its approbation to a renewal of the war. The campaign was opened by Baliol, with the siege of Berwick, which was gallantly defended by the Earl of March, the commander of the castle, and Sir Alexander Seaton, the governor of the town. Two months elapsed before the king of England arrived when the operations of the siege were immediately pushed on with new vigour, and in a general assault the town was set on fire. The inhabitants, intimidated by the danger, stipulated to open the gates, unless they were relieved before a certain day, and Sir Archibald Douglas, the new regent of Scotland, anxious to save so important a fortress, passed the Tweed with a numerous army, and offered battle to the besiegers. Edward kept within his entrenchments, and the regent, having thrown a few knights and some provisions into the place, departed the next morning, ravaged Northumberland, and laid siege to the castle of Bambrough, in which Queen Philippa resided. The king now demanded the surrender of the place; the Scots replied that it had been relieved, and the English in revenge hanged one of the hostages, the son of the governor. This act of severity alarmed the relations of the hostages that survived, and new agreements were made by the Earl of March and Sir William Keith, who had assumed the command of the town, to admit the English within the walls at the end of five days, unless the Scottish army should previously raise the siege, or introduce a body of 300 men-at-arms into the place between sunrise and sunset of the same day. A messenger was instantly despatched to the regent, and on the afternoon of the fourth day the Scottish army was seen advancing in four bodies to attack the besiegers. Edward drew up his army on Halidon Hill, from which the archers annoyed the enemy, as they struggled through the marshy ground at the foot, and climbed up the declivity of the mountain. The Scots were fatigued and disordered before they could reach their opponents, and the obstinacy with which they fought served only to increase their loss. The regent, six earls, and many barons fell on the field of battle; the fugitives were pursued by Edward and a party of the horse on one side, and by Lord Darcy and his Irish auxiliaries on the other, and the slaughter is said to have exceeded that of any former defeat. The town and castle were immediately surrendered, and the young King of Scotland, with his wife, the sister of Edward, was conveyed for greater security, from Dumbarton into France; where he resided for several years.


We find Edward at Berwick in 1335,and again in 1340. At this latter period he was accompanied by an army of 46,000 men. In 1341 he celebrated his Easter here, and held a tournament, in which twelve Scottish knights entered the lists with twelve of the king's train. This spectacle was exhibited with great pomp and magnificence; but from the animosity which existed between the people of the two nations, the exhibition was attended with so much ire and inveteracy, and such bitter rivalship, that two Scottish knights, and Sir John Twiford, an English knight, were slain. 


David Bruce, King of Scotland, having been captured at the battle of Neville's Cross. in 1346, commissioners met at Berwick, in 1354, to treat of his ransom, and on the 3rd October, 1375, all the conditions of ransom having been agreed upon, the king was released, and the "great truce" for five and twenty years was concluded.


During the absence of Edward Ill., on an expedition to France, in 1355, the Scots formed a scheme for the recovery of Berwick. Thomas Stewart, Earl of Angus, in concert with the Earl of March, having collected a great number of ships from different ports of Scotland, filled them with brave warriors, and in a dark night disembarked them on the northern side of the mouth of the Tweed, whence they moved unobserved to the foot of the town walls, and at day-break took the town by escalade. The English that were on guard were quickly overpowered; the captain of the town, Sir Alexander Ogle, and two other English knights, being slain. But the town did not remain long in possession of the Scots. We may judge of the great importance of Berwick in those days, from the anxiety of the English king to recover it; for, having received intelligence, while yet in France, of the success of his enemies, he returned into England with all possible expedition, and though his parliament was then sitting, he staid only three days in his capital. Pursuing his march northwards, he arrived at Durham on the 23rd December, whence he issued his summons to all the fighting men of the several counties of his kingdom, to attend him at Newcastle, on the 1st January. Having kept his Christmas at the last named town, he marched from it at the head of his army, and came before Berwick on the 14th January. His navy having also arrived at the river's mouth, he laid siege to the town both by sea and land. The castle still holding out for him, he went into it in person, accompanied by his guards, designing to let clown the draw-bridge, and to attack the town on that side, while his army assaulted other parts of the walls. Sir Walter Manney, also, one of Edward's most celebrated captains, was employed in advancing a mine below the wall, by the help of certain miners, who had been brought from the forest of Dean. The Scottish garrison, judging it impossible to hold out the place, against the combination of force and art employed to reduce it, soon offered to capitulate, and were allowed to march out with safety of life and limb. King Edward, after this, made considerable additions to the fortifications. Berwick was again the property of the Scots in 1384, but it was very soon regained for the English by Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.


Berwick enjoyed a short period of repose on the accession of Bolingbroke to the throne of England, and it was not till the rebellion of the Percies, that the town was in danger of being once more in the possession of the Scots. In 1404, the Earl of Northumberland engaged to deliver up the castle and town of Berwick-upon-Tweed to the King of Scotland, Robert III. resigning also his revenue of 500 marks per annum, out of the customs of the town of Berwick. Northumberland was arraigned for this, but escaped punishment. After the defeat of the Percies at Shrewsbury, the king seized upon all the lands and fortresses belonging to the Earl of Northumberland, and marched northward with a numerous and well appointed army, having with him artillery and other engines of war. The Earl of Northumberland had fled into Scotland, carrying with him the son of Harry Hotspur, and left the defence of Berwick to Sir William Greystock, who, in conjunction with many friends and noblemen of Northumberland's party, determined to resist the king to the last extremity. Henry's summons to surrender the place was treated with scorn: the garrison, confident in the strength of the castle, and the many sieges it had sustained, laughed at the king's threat of compelling them to yield. Little did they dream of the new power which gunpowder had placed in Henry's hands. Bolingbroke directed his engineers to fire upon the citadel. The first shot which reached it was one from a cannon of large bore, and as the report shook the foundations of the old walls, and infused terror into the souls of the enemy, a large portion of the tower, struck by the shot, fell in ruins. Defence was useless against this formidable assailant, and the garrison, relying on the mercy of the king, surrendered. Several of the most anxious of the nobles, made their escape by sea. Sir William Greystock and a few others were taken to the Gallows Knowe, where, having made their confessions and received absolution, they were beheaded: the remainder were sent to prison.

After the sanguinary battle of Towton, near Tadcaster, in Yorkshire, which was fought on Palm Sunday, 1461, and in which the Yorkists were victorious, a party of the Lancastrians, viz. King Henry, the Prince of Wales, the Queen, the Duke of Somerset, and several others, being then at York, and hearing of the success of the White Rose, made a precipitous retreat to Newcastle, and thence to Berwick, which they delivered to the Scots. The Earl of Warwick, the "King Maker," having reduced Bambrough, hastened to Berwick, which he speedily mastered and wasted the borders in revenge.


The town appears to have shortly afterwards fallen again into the hands of the Scots, for we find that during the winter of 1480, the English laid siege to Berwick, both by sea and laud. The works being new they flattered themselves they should with little difficulty be able to beat down the walls, but though several breaches were made, the resistance was so obstinate, that after spending most part of the winter in carrying on the siege, the English were forced to raise it, and retreat from before the town. In two years afterwards, Edward IV. invested Berwick with an army of twenty-two thousand men; the garrison made no resistance, and the town was immediately seized. Lord Hales, who had the command of the castle, refused to surrender it, and prepared to defend it to the last. Four thousand men were left to continue the siege, and the main body advanced towards Edinburgh. Lord Hales having done everything in his power to ward off the enemy, was forced to yield, and Berwick, for the last time, was delivered up to England, the Scots never again attempting its recovery. "And thus," say a local writer, "after a lapse of 600 years, with the halo of centuries surrounding it, and the memories of the Saxons, Danes, and Scots upon it, did this old and war-worn pile fall into the hands of the redoubted English." 


In the reigns of Richard IlI of England, and James III. of Scotland, commissioners were appointed by the two crowns to determine the limits of Berwick, on which occasion it was agreed that the disputed territory should remain uncultivated and uninhabited. In the year 1502, a treaty was concluded between Henry VII. and James IV. of Scotland, by which the Scottish monarch should marry the princess Margaret, eldest daughter of Henry, and by this union cement the friendship of the two nations. We are informed hy Hollingshed that by this agreement, the young queen's jointure was to be £2,000 sterling, and the writings giving and conveying them were to be delivered at Berwick to her father, or to such as were empowered by him to receive them. Her dowry amounted to about £10,000 sterling, to be paid in three equal portions; the first payment at her marriage, the other two in the second and third years. The King of Scotland also stipulated, that the town and castle of Berwick-upon-Tweed, with the ancient bounds and inhabitants thereof, should for ever remain and be included in the present perpetual peace. Among the great days of Berwick was that on which, in 1503, the Princess Margaret passed through the town on her way to Scotland, where she was to become the bride of James IV. According to the circumstantial details given by Leland, Margaret and her splendid retinue were met "At the entrynge of the bryge by the cappittayne of Barrwyk well appointed, and in hys company hys gentylemen and men of armes who received the said qwene into the said place. At the tother end of the bryge toward the gatt, was the maister marshall companyd of his company, ichon bearing a staffe in his haund. After hym was the college revested with the crosse, the whiche was gyffen hyr for to kisse by th' archbyschop as before. At the gatt of the said towne was the maister porter, with the gard and soyars of the said place, in a row well appoynted. Ichon of those had an hallebanle or other staffe in his haund as the other. And upon the said gatt war the mynstraylls of the said capittayne, playnge of their instruments. In the midds of the said towne was the maister chamberlayn, and the mayre, accompanyd of the bourges and habitaunts of the said place, in fayr ordre, and well appoyuted. In such fayr ordre and company sche was conveyed and brought to the castell, wher sche was receyved by the Lady D'Arcy nonnestly accompanyd." The queen remained at Berwick for two days, where she had a “great chere of the said capittayue of Barrwyk, and hyr company in likewys. The first day of August the qwene departed fro Barrwyk for to go to Lamberton Kerke in varey fayr company, and well apoynted." 


A treaty was concluded at Berwick, in October 1525, between the commissioners of Henry VIII. and James V. for a three year's truce, and in 1528, this truce was renewed for five years more. Another peace was signed at Berwick, in December 1533, to be broken on either side, as the different interests and ambition of the nations prompted, which happened very soon after; for, in 1541, the Duke of Norfolk, at the head of an English force, marched into Berwick, and thence advanced up the Tweed against James V. He burnt Kelso and several villages, and after having vainly endeavoured to bring the Scottish monarch to battle, the rigour of the season, and the scarcity of provisions, obliged him to re-enter Berwick, eight days after he had left it. Many additions and repairs were made to the fortifications of the town, in 1550, the great expense of which, with those of Calais, are stated in the king's journals as the cause for debasing the coin, and two years afterwards no less than £6,000 was expended for the reparation of this fortress, as appears from the minutes of secretary Cecil. Not a vestige of these works is now left, they were swept away by the new fortifications which were commenced in the reign of Elizabeth. 


In November, 1566, the beautiful and unfortunate Mary, Queen of Scots, after superintending the proceedings of the circuit courts at Jedburgh, a common practice, at regular seasons, with the Scottish sovereigns, and being desirous of seeing Berwick, came into the neighbourhood accompanied by a retinue of 300 horse. Sir John Forster, deputy governor, came with other officers out of Berwick, and tendered her the respect of the good people of the town. The Queen expressed her desire to see Halidon Hill. The captain escorted her there, and pointed out to her the different situations of the battle, Douglas Dyke, etc , he then conducted her to a spot on the west side of the town, whence a good view of the old borough might be obtained. She was saluted by a general discharge of ordnance from the town, and was afterwards attended by Sir John Forster and his company as far as Eyemouth, on her way to Coldingham. From this time till the death of Queen Elizabeth, in 1603, Berwick endured almost all the evils that can afflict a people from the guilty passions of rival sovereigns, and the turbulent manners of men whose forefathers and themselves had been involved in hostile broils for three centuries, during which period this town had changed masters no fewer than thirteen times. The union of the two crowns in the person of James VI. of Scotland, closed a long and almost uninterrupted scene of rapine and bloodshed. 


On the death of Queen Elizabeth, James VI. of Scotland, was proclaimed at Berwick, March 26th, J603, King of England, France, and Ireland, by the name of King James 1., and on the 5th April, his majesty began his journey from Edinburgh, the royal retinue consisting of about five hundred mounted noblemen and gentlemen. On his arrival at the boundaries of Berwick, he was received with every demonstration of loyalty and affection, by Sir John Carey, the marshall, accompanied by all the officers of the town and garrison. As the king entered the gate, the keys of the town were delivered to him by William Selby, gentleman porter, on whom the king conferred the honour of knighthood, and returned to him the keys. At the market place the mayor delivered to his majesty the charters of the town, and a purse of gold; his majesty graciously returned the former, and as graciously retained the latter. In return the king confirmed all their charters, adding many privileges, which still remain peculiar to the town. In royal state James proceeded to the church, to render thanks to God for granting him so peaceful an entrance into his new dominions, and the Bishop of Durham preached on the occasion. On the following day the king visited the fortifications, port, and magazines, and at the head of the garrison under arms, displayed his skill in gunnery by discharging a piece of ordnance, a feat which ·was answered by a loud cheer from the assembled multitude. Influenced by the most humane and praiseworthy intentions, James endeavoured as much as possible to remove all recollections of past hostilities between England and Scotland, and in furtherance of this object his majesty ordered that portion of the country which had hitherto been called the borders, to be designated the middle shires. From this time the importance of Berwick as a frontier town declined. A long and peaceful reign followed, and though the borderers, for a century after, continued to rob and plunder their neighbours, yet the ancient feeling between the Scotch and English had changed to a more Christian and enlightened spirit.


On the demise of James I. his son Charles ascended the throne of England, and after a brief struggle with his parliament, concerning the prerogative of the crown on one side, and the liberty of the people on the other, a civil war ensued. On the 3rd June, 1633, Charles I. arrived at Berwick, on his way to Edinburgh to be crowned. He was met at the foot of the bridge by the local authorities, and conducted with every mark of respect to the Market- place, where the recorder of the borough delivered a long and tedious speech m his presence, after which his majesty proceeded on his way. We find him here again, in 1639, when he was marching with his army to suppress the Covenanters. A short time after this latter visit, Charles granted to the people of Berwick, a brief in order to collect money to build a church, instead of the old one which had been taken down in the reign of Mary, and the materials employed in the reparation of the walls and fortifications.


During the Parliamentary wars, Berwick was surprised by Sir Marmaduke Langdale, Sir Charles Lucas, and other English; and Clarendon tells us that ''Sir Marmaduke was no sooner master of Berwick, than several gentlemen and noblemen of the adjacent parts came flocking to see him, as did officers and soldiers thereabouts, who had formerly served the king, well armed and appointed for war; so that they had not only a sufficient garrison to keep that place, but troops enough of horse to free the adjacent counties from those forces and committees, and other persons, who were either publicly engaged in, or well known privately to wish well to the Parliament." 


After the execution of the king, and the defeat of Langdale and Hamilton at Preston, Cromwell resolved to march into Scotland, where Charles II. had been crowned and acknowledged as king. Advancing by easy marches, Cromwell entered Berwick, where he quartered his army, and shortly afterwards marched into Scotland, the Scots retreating before him, and wasting the country.


On the death of Cromwell, his son Richard was chosen to succeed him; but he possessed few of the talents, and fortunately none of the ambition of the relentless Oliver. General Monk, who had been left in Scotland by Cromwell to subdue that kingdom, finding out how matters stood in England, cautiously removed from his forces those men whom he distrusted, secured the castles of Edinburgh and Leith, and established his head quarters at Berwick. He shortly afterwards proceeded to London, where, by his means was wrought the restoration of Charles II. to the throne of his ancestors.


The annals of Berwick record nothing of importance during the reigns of Charles ll., James II., William and Mary, Anne, or George I.; but the year 1745 brought with it the attempt of Charles Stuart, son of the Pretender of 1715, to regain the crown of his ancestors. Prince Charles, whose courage was not deterred by his father's failure, determined to make one bold attempt for the throne, and in June, he lauded in Inverness-shire, with a few followers. No sooner did the news of his landing reach London than a reward of thirty thousand pounds was offered for his head, and the prince not wishing to be out-done in liberality, offered the same sum for that of George II. Everything was neglected for the coming strife, men's thoughts were entirely occupied with war. Berwick was put into the best posture of defence, and made a depot for arms and ammunition. The inhabitants formed themselves into companies, chose their own officers, and did the duty of the garrison. On the occupation of Edinburgh by the prince's army, most of the gentry resident between that city and Berwick, hastened with their families to the latter place for protection. General Cope after his defeat at Preston Pans, retired to Berwick, where he arrived with several officers, and a body of dragoons, on the 2lst August. On the same day, the ''Glasgow," man-of- war, arrived there with 700 Dutch troops, who introduced an infectious fever into the town, which swept off great numbers of both sexes. The army of the Prince invaded England by the western border, to the great joy of the good people of Berwick. After having advanced as far as Derby, the Prince and his army returned to Scotland, and at the battle of Falkirk, the too confident Hawley, was as completely beaten as Sir John Cope at Preston Pans. 


When the news of Hawley's defeat arrived at London, every face was clouded with apprehension, and the Duke of Cumberland was appointed to the command of the army. So expeditiously did the Duke travel, that though he left London on the 26th January, he passed through Berwick on his way to Scotland, on the 30th. At the approach of Cumberland, the Highlanders withdrew, and prepared for battle on the heath of Culloden. It was unfortunate that they had not chosen the mountain passes behind them. Their number was now litt1e more than four thousand; that of the enemy about eight thousand. The English had orders to attack, not the Highlander in his front, who could turn aside the thrust with his target, but the one on the right whose side would be unprotected. The plan succeeded; the Highlanders burst through the first line, but were thrown into confusion by the second, and in half an hour, were driven from the field, leaving upon the heather twelve hundred of their comrades. Orders had been issued to give no quarter, but the activity of the clansmen eluded pursuit, and the fury of the victors fell upon the wounded, who where barbarously despatched. Some disabled Highlanders had crawled to a neighbouring farm-house, but house and men were given to the flames and consumed together. 


The following is Monsieur Jorvin's description of Berwick in 1762. It is interesting as showing the state of the town and castle at that period. "Berwick is the first town by which I re-entered England, and being a frontier to England, has been fortified in different manners. There is in it at present a large garrison, as in a place of importance' to this kingdom. It is bounded by the river Tweed, which empties itself into the sea, and has a great reflux, capable of bringing up large vessels, was it not prevented by sands, at the entrance of the port. I arrived here about ten of the clock on a Sunday; the gates were then shut during church time, but were opened at eleven, as is the case in all fortified places. Here is an upper and a lower town, which are both on the side of a hill, that slopes towards the river. On its top, there is a ruined and abandoned castle, although its situation makes it appear impregnable. It is environed on one side by the ditch of the town, on the other side by one of the same breadth, flanked by many round towers and thick walls, which enclose a large palace, in the middle of which rises a lofty keep or donjon, capable of a long resistance, and commanding all the environs of the town. The high town encloses within its walls and ditches those of the lower, from which it is only separated by a ditch filled with water. In the upper town the streets are straight and handsome, but there are not many rich inhabitants, they rather preferring the lower town, in which there are many great palaces similar to that which has been built near the great church, and in all the open areas are great fountains. And in one of the areas, the guard house and public market before the Town Hall or Session House. So that by walking over Berwick, I discovered it to be one of the greatest and most beautiful towns in England.


"The greater part of the streets in the lower town are either up or down hill, but they are filled with many rich merchants, on account of the convenience and vicinity of its ports, bordered by a large quay, along which the ships are ranged. There is not a stone bridge in all England longer and better built than that of Berwick, which has fourteen long and wonderful wrought arches, and is considered as one of the most remarkable curiosities in the kingdom. I passed over it on leaving the place. Adjoining it is a large suburb, Tweedmouth, from whence the country is covered with heath and briars to Ashton, where there is a castle.'' 


The "pomp and circumstance of glorious war" had long departed from Berwick, when the wars of England with Napoleon caused the inhabitants of the old town to resume their martial propensities, and on the threat of invasion by the French Emperor, there was no lack of volunteers, ready "to do or die" in the cause of fatherland. "In the memorable year 1804," says Mr. Sheldon, "the sentinel who watched on the lonely height of Halidon Hill, fancied he saw a blush far brighter than that of morning tinge the western sky; he looked again, and lo ! the watch-fire of Dunse Law, the beacon in case of alarm, was throwing up into the dark morning sky its volume of fire, startling the fox and prowling wild cat on the mosses of Lammermuir. It was no mistake; for Cheviot, alarmed at the portentous signal, was also growing into a round of fire, and travelling northward with lightning speed. North Berwick Law took up the tale of fear, and struck terror into the heart of the Lothians and Merse. The sentinel on Halidon, convinced the French had landed, no longer hesitated; but thrusting his torch into the prepared firewood, the flames instantly leaped into the air like a giant released from imprisonment, and far over the dark and shadowy waters of Berwick bay, he saw the castle of Bambrough give the fiery alarm coastward. The garrison of Berwick saw the portentous blaze; and turning out on the parade, the drums beat the well known hurried call to arms. The inhabitants awakened by the throat of war, rushed hurriedly to the streets. The Berwick Volunteers were mustering under arms; for the report had spread that the French had landed on the west-coast. 


"Hall's Volunteers came mustering on the parade, mixed with the veteran soldiers of the last century, the Loyal Masonic Volunteers, enrolled from the different masonic lodges of the town, came "fastly forming in the ranks of war," the Sea Fencibles came pouring in from along the coast, to the number of a hundred, loaded with ball cartridge, and armed with boarding pikes and caps. The artillerymen were busily employed in running out and loading the guns of the ramparts, and now came thundering down the streets the tread of many horses, as the Yeomanry Cavalry of Berwickshire came pouring in under the command of Colonel Buchan, of Kelso, all gentleman riders with high bread horses under them; riding at a sharp trot over the Bridge, their accoutrements ringing and clashing with their speed; came the Haggerston troop, commanded by its colonel, Sir Carnaby Haggerston. The Eyemouth Militia dashed hurriedly along at double quick time, whispering the dreaded news. Still more come trotting smartly up as the day dawned; the Chirnside Volunteers, the Hutton Trainbands, the soldiers of Ladykirk, and the tenantry of Ford and Tillmouth Castle, headed by their respective landlords, on they come, pouring, thrusting and marching, every man ready for action, and animated with the feelings of a Spartan hero. The day declined, and the hardy volunteers bivouacked as best they might in the town, waiting for the appearance of the French, ‘while some, like sacrifices by their fires of watch, sit, and inly ruminate tomorrow's danger.' But with the morning arrived a mounted messenger, explaining to the jolly volunteers the mistake occasioned by the false alarm. Then was every face radiant with joy, the Fencibles started up with an oath, to testify their pleasure, some few indulged in an extra flourish with their broad swords, as if they were sorry so much good valour should be lost. The inhabitants, overjoyed to be released from the horrors of a battle and a siege, threw open their doors and their pockets, and the brave fellows who so quickly came forward to protect their country at the first summons, were honourably entertained with the burgesses' best. Now that war smoothed his wrinkled front, and peace and jollity went laughing round, the volunteers entertained the good people of Berwick with a mimic representation of war, after which the yeomanry departed to their several homes; the Fencibles withdrew along the coast to their houses, the Militia-men marched out in good order, and thus finished the mustering of the Berwickshire Fencibles on the occasion of the 'False Alarm.' " Since then the cannons have been removed from the walls, the soldiers from the barracks, and from being so lately a garrison town, Berwick has become a quiet provincial town, with little remaining to indicate its former greatness. 


Berwick-upon-Tweed, 1855 Anglo-Scottish Wars


Add a comment or share a memory.

Login to add a comment. Sign-up if you don't already have an account.


Co-Curate is a project which brings together online collections, museums, universities, schools and community groups to make and re-make stories and images from North East England and Cumbria. Co-Curate is a trans-disciplinary project that will open up 'official' museum and 'un-officia'l co-created community-based collections and archives through innovative collaborative approaches using social media and open archives/data.