Battle of Carham (c.1016)

Whilst King Cnut the Great rested control of the English throne from Edmund Ironside in 1016, the Ealdorman of all Northumbria – a man called Uchtred the Bold – was away from his homeland, seemingly harrying the border regions of modern-day Scotland’s Lothian and the Borders. When Cnut took control of Yorkshire and Northumbria that year, Uchtred was forced to return home to pay homage to the new King of England. But before he reached the court of Cnut, he was set upon and killed by a northern rival.

The Battle of Carham, however, concerns the campaign Uchtred was on before he turned south to pay fealty to Cnut. Ravaging the lands of modern-day southeast Scotland (at the time contested, and not ‘Scottish’, per say), Uchtred’s army was met and challenged by the joint forces of Scottish King Malcolm II, and King of Strathclyde Owen the Bald. According to A. Woolf in The New Edinburgh History of Scotland Vol. 2: From Pictland To Alba 789-1070 (2007), Malcolm II and Owen the Bald grouped together “near Caddonlea (Selkirkshire) […] where the Wedale road from Alba met the Tweeddale road from Strathclyde, lay at the northern edge of Ettrick Forest (roughly corresponding to Selkirkshire in extent) which formed a march between Cumbria and Northumbria.” Before the massive, combined force of the two Scottish kingdoms could cross the Cheviot into England, however, Earl Uchtred met them in battle.

The Battle of Carham took place near Carham-on-Tweed, a village south of the River Tweed, about three miles west of Coldstream. The encounter resulted in a Scottish victory, from which Uchtred would flee south, into the waiting arms of death. Though historians dispute just how significant the battle actually was, it appears that the Scots’ victory led to the borderline being set at the Tweed, and the Lothian and Borders areas being officially included within Scotland’s boundaries for the first time. Though ‘Scots’ would not think of themselves so, in the capacity we do today, for some time, the Battle of Carham seems to have been a notable step toward uniting the peoples of modern-day Scotland under one nation, and was certainly significant for Borderers, whose long-contested lands were for the first time an undisputed part of Scotland.

It should be noted that traditionally the Battle of Carham is dated to 1018. However, Earl Uchtred was assassinated by allies of King Cnut in 1016, and so it seems more likely that Carham occurred shortly before said assassination, and hence in 1016, not 1018.