THE BATTLE OF CARHAM 1018
Question – Why is the border between Scotland and England on the River Tweed?
Answer – Because of the battle of Carham.
“The Battle of Carham ——– in the year 1018 was the decisive factor in settling the easterly part of the Border Line, as the Scottish King, Malcolm II, claimed successfully, as a result of his victory, the whole country north of the Tweed.” (Mack 1926 p. 6)
It has been suggested that the battle actually took place in 1016 (Stenton 1943 p.418) but subsequent research has established that this was based on a misreading of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Duncan 1976 p. 20-28). Simeon of Durham, writing in the late eleventh century, says that the battle took place in 1018 after the appearance of a comet; a comet which Woolf dates to August 1018 (Woolf 2007 p.236).
Alastair Moffat says the battle took place on 26 May 1018 but gives no source for this date (Moffat 2007 p.178).
The victorious Scottish forces were led by Malcolm II, King of Scots, and Owen the Bald, King of Strathclyde. The Scots defeated the men “from Tees to Tweed”, led by Uhtred, Earl of Northumbria (Duncan 1975 p.98).
At that time the King of England was the Dane Canute. Neither Canute nor the rest of the English took part.
Carham is on the south bank of the River Tweed, five miles downstream from Kelso, opposite Birgham on the north bank . This area was well known in medieval times as a point where an army could cross the river by ford . At that time the land was less intensively farmed and the river was probably wider, shallower and slower.
In Anglo-Saxon, “Carham” means “settlement by the rocks” (there are rocky outcrops beside the river) and “Birgham” means “settlement by the bridge, or crossing”.
In response to Viking attacks and invasions (the first was in 793 in Lindisfarne) the separate Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms in what became England (Wessex, Mercia, etc) had begun to unite under Alfred the Great of Wessex (871-899) from his court in Winchester (Stenton 1943 passim). However, in November 1016 the English King Edmund Ironside was succeeded forcibly by the Danish King Cnut who, as a consequence, ruled most of England as well as Denmark.
The Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings, the Scots, the Northumbrians, the Welsh and the Irish were for ever raiding each other for slaves, cattle, plunder and to expand their own boundaries at the expense of their neighbours.