Carham 1018 Society
The Battle, The Border and The Dawn of Two Nations
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The Battle of Carham
There are many questions about the Battle of Carham, but very few clear cut answers. The Battlefields Trust is working with The Carham 1018 Society to find some firm answers to these questions, to produce a more logical and justifiable account of the events of 1,000 years ago, and determine Carham's contribution to the Border story.
The Rise and Fall of Northumbria
During the first millenium AD, the British Isles were subject to invasion and occupation on many occasions. The Romans came and went, but others: Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes and Vikings came and made more permanent settlements. The result was the emergence of small kingdoms, which over time, merged by conquest or agreement into larger entities.
By about 700AD, Northumbria, stretching from the Humber to the Firth of Forth, was the largest and most powerful of these kingdoms. This did not last, and within two centuries Northumbria was under threat from the Danes in the south, the Scots in the north and the Galwegians in the west, and was losing territory.
When was the Battle fought?
1016 or 1018?
For decades there have been two schools of thought about the date of the battle - 1016 or 1018. Much of the argument was based on the date of the death of Uthred, Earl of Northumbria which has also been given as 1016 or 1018. If Uthred did die in 1016, then obviously he could not have been at the Battle of Carham in 1018, and either the date of Uthred's death or the date of the battle is wrong.
However, writing in about 1100, Simeon of Durham specifically states that the Battle was fought in 1018 and that it was preceded by the appearance of a comet. The only comet around this time was visible for 30 days in August of 1018 and this strong evidence supports the date of the Battle of Carham as September 1018. This date will be assumed to be correct for this project.
Where was the Battle fought?
Carham or Wark?
Again there are two candidates for the site of the Battle; Carham itself, or 2.5 Miles to the east at Wark. The ruins of the castle at Wark suggest that the Battle may have been fought there, and some editions of OS maps specifically mark a place on the south bank of the Tweed to the east of the village as the site of the Battle. But there is a problem with the Wark site. 1,000 years ago, even 500 years ago, at this point the River Tweed ran a different course much further to the south, (see map), and either side of the river would have been marsh land, unsuitable as a battle ground.
At Carham the course of the river is much more stable due to the topography and the hard limestone geology. There was, and still is, a reasonable crossing point over the river which in the Middle Ages, would have been a good defensive point. The link to Saint Cuthbert, and the existence of a Minster founded by the Saint at Carham, makes this both a place worth attacking and also a place worth defending. Archaeological work will take place over the next year to look for evidence of a battle and early Christian sites.