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Each month we present a chapter in the history of Scotland. We move
forward in time each month.
Peoples of the Kingdom
In 1138, at the Battle of Standard, David I (1124 -53) led a diverse army
made up of 'Normans, Germans, English, Northumbrians and Cumbrians,
men of Teviotdale and Lothian, Glaswegians, and Scots'. It was, to the
English they confronted, an astonishing assembly of the diverse people who
comprised the kingdom of the Scots. David, who in his time at the court of
Henry I of England (1100 -35) had 'rubbed off all the tarnish of Scottish
barbarity', led an army which 'bellowed the war-cry of their fathers', heard
against the Viking Ivar in 903 and at Corbridge in 918, Albanaich,
Albanaich! The different gentes which comprised this army - new settlers
such as the French, Anglo-Normans and Flemings, as well as natives such as
the men of Moray who were close to the king's own line and the men of
Lorn in the third rank - also made up the kingdom of the Scots. David and
his successors, of the line of Canmore or macMalcolm, managed to be at
once both Celtic and feudal kings. By the end of the twelfth century, the
notion of a territorial kingdom, stretching to the north and south of the
'Scottish sea' of the Forth and embracing both Scotia and Lothian, was also
widely accepted. Yet the tradition of submission to a king of Scots did not
begin with the Canmore dynasty; it was already more than two centuries old.
Their kingdom was regulated by a complex patchwork combining a
typically western European feudal framework with Celtic custom,
which can be traced in many of its details to Irish law tracts of the
seventh or eighth century. The result was what has been called a
'hybrid kingdom', and one of its marks was the emergence of
composite common law of Scotland by the twelfth century. The
conjunction of old and new marked every aspect of life in twelfthcentury Scotland. The king's army was a mixture of feudal knights,
products of typical western European system of knight service, and a
'common army' of infantry and bowmen, which had for centuries
acknowledged, 'forinsec' or 'Scottish service' to the king. At
Bannockburn in 1314 they still comprised the bulk of Robert I's army.
The king's revenue was raised through a combination of the new land
assessments of feudal tenure - knights' fee and the older obligations
such cain. The difficulty lies in terminology, for phrases such a
'Scottish service' or 'the custom in that country' (in this case Argyll)
were the invention of the king's clerks. The older, established nexus
of law, custom and kingship had no convenient name - nor has to this
day. Yet by 1100 Gaelic law and custom had reached almost every
part of what we now know as Scotland, including Lothian in the
southeast. The new feudalism of twelfth century came into contact
not with a receding Celtic culture but with a still expanding one.
Each month we present a chapter in the history of Scotland. We move forward in time
each month.
Peoples of the Kingdom Part Two
A series of obscure clues - early cultivated terraces revealed by place-names or
aerial photography - suggest a pattern of intensive land clearance in the later
Dark Ages. It is unlikely that the 400-year development of Pictish kingship was
not paralleled in patterns of changing human settlement and farming. There are
oblique implications, which would make sense in terms of the political
consolidation of Scotland's early peoples, of a downhill movement of settlement
from land above 600 - 700 feet barrier; these also imply an extension of
agriculture from pastoral into arable. It is tempting to enter the hazardous terrain
of place-names and explore the significance of the 300 or so places which can be
shown to carry the Pictish word pett- or pit- (like Pitcapel or Pitfour) or even
commoner incidence of place names with the later Gaelic element baile (such as
Balgreen or Baldinnie), but it is sufficient to note that these and a number of
other place-name elements all suggest farming. There are considerable
difficulties in dating such evidence, but three general patterns seem likely: there
was fairly extensive early clearance, which in some cases (such as that of Bloak
Moss in Ayrshire) might be dated from as early as the fifth century; there were
extensive clearances of forests; and a marked development of arable farming is
suggested by the emergence of a fiscal system which with its emphasis on units
of land which could easily be subdivided such as the davoch, carucate or
ploughgate, and arachor, had an eye on the amount of ground which could be
ploughed as well as on the number of animals which could be reared.
It is likely, too that in more fertile regions such a Lothian and the Merse
the pace of clearance was quickening by the tenth and eleventh
centuries. In Berwickshire, the grant by Edgar (1097-1107) of Old
Cambus, which already has a mill must have been of largely arable
ground although it contained within its bounds place-names with a
Scandinavian element such a -dale (valley) and -law (hill), which are
more precisely dateable to the tenth century once Scandinavian
influence had impressed itself into northern English speech; here was
land which must have been converted to arable within the previous
century or so. The pattern and rhythms of farming were probably much
the same in 1300 as in 1000 or even 800. The underlying feature is of
the continuity of settlement. Prime sites, like the Upper Tweeddale valley,
had probably been staked out many centuries before 1100. Feudal
settlement enlarged townships, filled in waste (which can mean moss,
moor or wood), and extended the arable infield; but especially in fertile
areas like Lothian, these were usually not self-contained blocks of land
but scattered strips, sometimes miles apart. Like earlier Viking settlers in
Orkney, the evidence is not that the incomers pushed natives off the
good land but rather that they tended to take up land which had hitherto
lain uncultivated. The emphasis on arable land would also suggest that
the population increase which marked the twelfth and thirteenth centuries
had already begun before 1100. The exact population of Scotland in
1100, 1200, 1300 can only be guessed at; two recent estimates for its
level about 1300 have ranged from half a million to one million. The
precise level is however, less important than the undoubted fact that it as
Each month we present a chapter in the history of Scotland. We move
forward in time each month.
Peoples of the Kingdom Part Three
The greatest difference between farming in 800 and 1200 was probably not
in the balance between pastoral and arable, which was progressively
extended over centuries, but in the mix of different kinds of animals reared:
at Buckquoy in Orkney in the ninth and tenth centuries, cattle accounted for
50 per cent of the food supply, sheep for 30 per cent and pigs 20 per cent. By
the twelfth century and certainly by the thirteenth, farming for cash and
hence for the wool, fleece or hide rather than the carcass had resulted in a
marked shift towards the rearing of sheep. By the fourteenth or fifteenth
century, this is quantifiable: a fairly typical Lothian laird in 1424 had 2,618
sheep and 248 cattle. Everywhere in Scotland, both north and south of the
Forth, it is likely that farming was mixed, although the balance varied. The
need to keep flocks of animals for food and, increasing after 1100 for cash,
suggests a basic similarity in the shape of farming which to an extent
overrode regional differences imposed by geography. It is also strongly
suggests a continuity over the centuries, linking the Scotland of the 'Dark
Ages' with the feudal kingdom of the Scots rather than a sharp break and a
new beginning sometime after 1100.
There were new departures. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries
would see the appearance of a Scottish coinage, unknown before the
reign of David I, and by the 1280s some forty million silver pennies
are likely to have been in circulation; the founding of king's or royal
burghs, given extensive privileges to trade both within the kingdom
and outside it; and the granting of vast tracts of land to religious
houses of orders such as the Cistercians, Benedictines and
Tironensians which gave a new impetus to patterns of farming of the
land. Yet it would be a mistake to think of eleventh-century society as
a primitive, sluggish, but moveable object which met the irresistible
forces of stronger and more centralized kingship, new towns and
church reform. With each of these developments, there was not a
hostile takeovers but some sort of new modus vivendi. The essential
dynamics were threefold: an older society, still expanding and
evolving, whichmust have seen extensive settlement especially in the
tenth and eleventh centuries; a new feudal system which accelerated
existing patterns of change and intensified rather than transformed
how Scots worked the land; and the twelfth-century general European
economic boom which encouraged cultivation, trade and population
increase. It was interaction of these three elements, varying from
region to region and even from place to place, which redrew the face
of early medieval Scotland, but the outline of an earlier society was
still clearly visible.
Each month we present a chapter in the history of Scotland. We move forward in time
each month.
Peoples of the Kingdom - Lords and Men
The feudal system was a method of landholding and assessment of land, by
which a fief or estate was granted by the superior and his heirs to be held by a
vassal and his heirs; it carried with it and guaranteed a hierarchy of rank by
which lordship was exercised and homage was paid between two 'free' persons;
and it gave to the king a uniform military structure, based on the armoured
knight and his retinue. Lordship was thus as much about power, which depended
on people of various sorts, as it was about land. Lordship, it has been said,
'implied castles, halls, mills, villages or ferm touns, and indeed churches and
chapels too'. The mixture of old and new which so striking characterised the
emergence of a feudal kingdom also marked its peoples. The nobility were a
mixture of new Anglo-French or Flemish adventurers and an established Celtic
aristocracy, such as the great mormaers of Fife or Strathearn whose power in
their own accustomed territories continued unimpaired, although recast in a new
terminology of 'earls'. By 1200 the process of intermarriage and assimilation
between new and old nobility was already well under way. The dependants of
the new aristocratic settlers, granted land in return for the obligation of knight
service according to the classical pattern of military feudalism, seem to have
settled beside an older, parallel class of middle- and lesser-ranking lords rather
than displacing them; both were forerunners of lairds of later medieval Scotland.
The status before and after 1100 of other occupiers of the land - the bulk
of the ordinary people of Scotland - is far less certain, but it is likely that
most were already tied to their lord in some fashion, being liable to pay
tribute of one kind or another, whether cain (originally reckoned in cattle
but later payable in grain or cheese as well), conveth (originally a duty of
free quarter or hospitality) or food-rent. The recasting of a Celtic fiscal
system which had already been based on land, though focused on the
family unit or household and tempered by the ethos of the kindred, to
one based on land measurement tied to feudal lordship was less drastic
than might be imagined; many of the old features and even their names
remained well into the medieval period, grafted on to the new. By 1200 a
class of husbandmen was beginning to appear, some of whom held land
which has been split up or sub-infeudated in strict feudal terms 'of ' a
greater or lesser lord. But most husbandmen (who may have farmed up
to thirty acres in the twelfth century) and cottars (who worked only five to
ten acres) by then probably did not hold land in feudal term, in return for
a fixed fee, but more likely leased it for a money rent, usually on a yearly
Each month we present a chapter in the history of Scotland. We move
forward in time each month.
Peoples of the Kingdom - Lords and Men
The twelfth and thirteenth centuries saw a dual process: The importation of
feudal model of landholding and its naturalisation as a practical, working
system. The pattern of feudal settlement as a result varied from one region to
another, but still more so within each locality; the already heavily settled,
fertile area of east Berwickshire, for example, resembled a patchwork quilt
of different working arrangements. The same centuries also saw the
development of a cash economy, which was connected only indirectly to the
new feudal kingship and which had as great an impart on the fabric of rural
life as feudalism; surplus grain, produce and livestock might be sold in a
local market, and rents were increasingly paid in cash rather than in kind.
The land itself did not see a massive colonisation and extension of
settlement after 1100. It was already extensively settled by 1100, shown in
the striking fact that the majority of rural place-names can be traced to the
period before 1250. Yet over the course of the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries it would be more intensively settled and farmed than ever before.
At the apex of the feudal pyramid were the great lords. In the later
twelfth century three was none greater than the younger brother of
William I (1165-1214), David, Earl of Huntingdon, who was granted
the huge lordship of Garioch in Aberdeenshire about 1180. Garioch
was typical in the sense that it was an area which had already been
substantially improved in recent times, both before and after 1100.
The name itself (literally 'place of roughness') suggests that the
lordship originally had been restricted to the hilly country east of Oyne
which bordered on the Grampian Highlands, but that there had been
an eastward and downhill drift of settlement, probably starting well
before 1100, along the line of the valley of the River Urie to the point
where it eventually met the River Don at Inverurie. It was Inverurie
which became the caput of Garioch once David had acquired it; a
castle was established there by 1199 and it was already a royal burgh
by 1195. The locale and a lower-lying grain-growing district, were
both very typical; more unusual was its size (100 square miles in
extent), its neat geographical rationality, and the clear-cut nature of
its symbols of feudal lordship, the motte-and-bailey castle and cast
burgh, both at Inverurie.
Each month we present a chapter in the history of Scotland. We move forward in time
each month.
Peoples of the Kingdom - Lords and Men
David, like his grandfather, a more famous David, Earl of Huntingdon (who
became David I in 1124), was a member of an Anglo-Scottish aristocracy
who brought Anglo-Norman and Flemish clients and retainers from his
English to his Scottish estates to act as stewards and constables. In this he
was typical of the flood of 'Norman' families recruited by successive kings
of the twelfth century from David I onwards - such as Avenel, de Soules,
Melville or Somerville. Some, like the family of de Brus (coming from the
village of Brix near Cherbourg), were indeed Norman but most were drawn
from a concoction of English, Breton, French, Picard or Flemish and their
chief attribute was their obscurity. Amongst them, it is worth noting, was
Walter, the third son of a steward of the lords of Dol in Brittany; arriving in
1136, he would serve as Steward to three twelfth-century kings of Scots and
found a family of Stewart which by 1200 had established a great lordship
based largely in Renfrew, Ayrshire, Bute, and Cowal. By 1300 the Stewart
family had become one of the most powerful of the west Highland chiefs.
Although many of these lords retained estates or interests in England,
France, or the Low Countries, only the greatest (including members of the
royal house) tried to run their various estates as a single concern. For some
the tug of loyalties would not be settled until well into the Wars of
Independence, but for most there were already by the 1150s signs that their
first loyalty lay with the Kings of Scots.
The details of royal patronage of this new foreign aristocracy are to
be found in charters for knight service, such as the massive grant of
the land of Annandale in 1124 to Robert de Brus for ten knights or the
grants in 1161 to the Steward of lands in Renfrewshire for five. Its
extent and initial purpose are perhaps most easily grasped by a
glance at a map of the motte-and-bailey castles founded in the twelfth
century. These primitive earthen mounds, often encircled by a dry
ditch and topped by a wooden tower, bespattered the hostile and
difficult country in the south-west; the fact that there were sixty-two in
Dumfriesshire and Kirkcudbrightshire and a further forty -five in
Ayrshire corresponds to the fact that the bulk of David I's grants were
south of the Forth but it demonstrates far more graphically how
hazardous life could be for these foreign colonists on the frontier of
the king's authority. By 1250, a new phase was opening in the king's
relations with his far-flung localities; the motte was giving way to the
castle, built professionally of stone and lime, and an altogether more
formidable construction.