Medieval Borders

The beginnings of Medieval Scotland

The beginnings of Medieval Scotland are also the beginnings of Scotland as a nation. Prior to the medieval period, in the period known as the Early Historic; Scotland was made up of several small kingdoms each with their own distinct peoples: Picts in the north and east, Scots in the West, Britons in the south-west and Anglo-Saxons in the southeast. Over the centuries before and into the Medieval period these kingdoms merged together to create what we now think of as ‘Scotland’. Much of the east of the Scottish Borders (the historic county of Berwickshire) and East Lothian actually belonged to the kingdom of Northumbria from the 7th century, which stretched as far south as the Humber river in Yorkshire, England. It wasn’t until Malcolm II, king of the Scots, won the battle of Carham in 1018 AD against Earl Uthred of Northumbria that East Lothian and Berwickshire became part of Scotland. Even then, the Kingdom of Strathclyde was still a distinct kingdom under Owen the Bald, until later in the same century.

By the reign of King Malcolm III (nicknamed ‘Canmore’, meaning ‘great chief’) from 1058 many of these smaller kingdoms had joined together, approaching what we know today as modern Scotland. However, parts of the Highlands and Islands had been conquered by the Scandinavians, putting them under Viking rule until much later.

It is with King Malcolm III in the mid 11th century that the medieval period begins in Scotland. For the next few centuries Scotland entered a period of growth and prosperity.

Some of the most visible indicators of this growth and prosperity in southeast Scotland are the building of the great abbeys at Kelso, Dryburgh, Melrose and Jedburgh. For more on the Medieval religion in the borders click HERE.

However, over the medieval period there were many events and changes in the Borders. Among the famous struggles of the time were the Wars of Scottish Independence and the Border Reivers.

The Wars of Scottish Independence began in 1296 when the English, under King Edward I, sacked the town of Berwick. From this period onwards there was unrest a long the border between England and Scotland. Several battles were fought and incursions into the oppositions territory to try to take land occurred between the two nations over the next 60 or so years.

Taking advantage of this unrest were the Border Reivers, groups of raiders who would raid up and down the border. These raiders were from both the Scottish and English sides, and lasted long after the Wars of Scottish Independence ended in 1357, continuing up to the 17th century.

Further events of the medieval period in the Scottish Borders are explored in the following pages; namely Burghs, Tiny Touns and Diet and Disease. Please read on for more information on these topics.

Reenactment of the Battle of Carham

Further resources

For further resources about the Wars of Independence see the links on the Downloads and Further Resources page under 'Medieval Borders'.