the fragmented medieval ruin of Berwick castle beside the Victorian train
station and Royal border bridge is a shell of it's former glory,
originally a great Scottish fortress fought over by the Scots and the
English for centuries. If it's stones could talk what tales they could
tell invasions, massacres, wars, hostage taking and the like.
King Edward I of England, the "Hammer of the Scots" invaded
Scotland besieging Berwick castle and it's town "walls"
(actually a wooden palisade). Edward and his army entered the town by
surprise spending three days ruthlessly killing almost the entire civilian
population. While the castle's garrison led by William
"the hardy" Douglas could do nothing in their defence.
slaughter of innocent civilians is not confined to the pages of the past
but has been repeated again and again throughout history. Even in the
recent Balkans conflict some 700 years after the Berwick massacre. Edward
eventually ended the carnage on seeing a pregnant woman giving birth being
hacked to death by his men.
castle finally fell, surprisingly Edward let the Scots garrison flee with
their lives. While Douglas was incarcerated in the "Hog's
Tower". Edward's army moved on to defeat the Scots army at the battle
of Dunbar (where it's claimed a rogue called William Wallace stole from
the bodies of the dead both Scots and English alike) The alleged stone of
Destiny used to crown Scottish Kings was also stolen from Scone by the
English and taken to London. Douglas under duress swore allegiance to King
Edward to escape imprisonment, but later in 1297 he joined William Wallace
in rebellion against the English invaders. In retaliation his own castle
of Douglas in Lanarkshire was stormed by Edward's lackie Robert Bruce
(later King Robert I 1306-1329) with Douglas's wife and children,
including a young man called James (later Bruce's "Good
Sir James" Douglas) taken hostage and handed over to Edward's
wrath. Douglas for the sake of his family surrendered and was taken to
York castle in chains where he died of ill-treatment in 1302. Three years
later Wallace was also captured then hung ,drawn, castrated, disembowelled
and beheaded for his campaign of rebellion, with his head placed on a
stake above London bridge while the remaining parts of his body were sent
North to Scotland for public display. Eventually one of his legs was
nailed above the gatehouse of Berwick's town walls as a reminder of
Edward's justice and a warning to any would-be Scots rebels living nearby.
Douglas's own harrowing account of the Berwick massacre, his inability to
protect the civilians and his own death at the hands of the English at
York moulded young James Douglas's character into a violent, vindictive
killer, whose guerilla campaign against the English earned him the title
the "Black" Douglas, a token reference to his dark skin and
black hair but more fully a reference to his black nature in warfare. For
example he beheaded the entire English garrison in his own castle of
Douglas leaving their bodies in the vaults beside spilt grain and wine
before setting the castle on fire and for good measure he chopped up their
horses dumping the animal parts into the castle's well along with salt to
spoil the water supply. The whole event became known as the "Douglas
In 1306 the
Countess of Buchan was imprisoned in a cage above Berwick's town walls for
the crime of crowning King Robert the Bruce. At the same time Bruce's
sister Mary was held in a cage above Roxburgh castle, another Scottish
monument occupied by hostile English. In 1307 Edward I died en route to
invade the west of Scotland. His son Edward II lacking the military
prowess of his father turned back to England, giving the Bruce and his
"Good Sir James" Douglas time to gather support for their
rebellion. In 1314 Douglas made an abortive assault on Berwick castle, but
was successful in taking Roxburgh using the same tactics, attacking at
night with specialized rope ladders. Also in that same year the Bruce
defeated Edward II's army at the battle of BannockBurn, near Stirling.
Edward pursued by Douglas fled to the coastal fortress of Dunbar
where he and some of his men escaped by boat to the security of Berwick
then still in English hands.
Douglas captured Berwick Town and starved it's castle garrison into
surrender in some small way obtaining revenge for his father's death and
the massacre of 1296. Though the English did make several unsuccessful
attempts to recapture the castle and Town in 1319. In 1329 King Robert the
Bruce on his deathbed insisted that after his death Douglas should cut out
his heart and carry it on a pilgrimage to the holy lands. Douglas did as
he was commanded, unfortunately in 1330 he only got as far as southern
Spain, where he died at the battle of Teba. Legend claims Douglas
realizing he was going to die, tore the casket containing Bruce's heart
from round his neck and threw it at the Moors crying "forward"
following his friend into battle for one last time.
body was recovered and boiled so his skeleton could be returned to
Scotland along with Bruce's heart. Douglas was intered at St Brides church
while Bruce's heart was taken to Melrose Abbey where it remains to this
day. After 1330 the Douglas heraldry was amended with a red heart on their
surcoats, shields and banners representing the King's heart and turning
Douglas's death at Teba into a legend.
Douglas's brother Archibald was killed at the battle of Halidon
hill, failing to save Berwick town and castle from falling back into
the hands of the English led by King Edward III. In 1355 Archibald's son William
(later 1st Earl of Douglas) with Patrick Dunbar, Earl of March and
William Ramsay of Dalhousie routed almost the entire English garrison from
Norham in an ambush at the battle of Nisbet, near Duns. Fearing for the
security of the token garrison left at Norham the English unwittingly sent
most of their troops from Berwick. Instead though the Scots led by Dunbar
and against William Douglas's wishes stormed Berwick town setting it
ablaze as they were unable to secure the castle and had to withdraw when
more English reinforcements suddenly arrived. In reply many Scots villages
squire Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie with 50 men seized Berwick castle by
scaling the walls at night surprising the bewildered garrison who
abandoned their posts and fled to Berwick town. Ramsay found himself in a
bit of a dilema as the town was still held by Governor Thomas De Musgrave
who called on the Earl of Northumberland with his young son Harry (later
the infamous "Hotspur" Percy) and an army said to number in
thousands drawn from Alnwick and Warkworth to besiege the castle. Ramsay
and his men made a stout resistance but lacking sufficient manpower and
munitions it was only a matter of time until they would be defeated.
of Berwick castle appears to have been done without the permission of King
Robert II of Scots (1371-1390) or the border Lords whose responsibility it
was to protect the peace, but also to wage war when the time and prize was
right. An organised combined attack on Berwick by the Scots should have
involved taking the castle and town at the same time with enough men and
supplies to hold both against the evicted English. Ramsay's actions though
daring would cause more trouble than they were worth as the English would,
by border tradition, have to retaliate in a "eye for eye"
policy. So the whole Scots border was on alert for the counter attack
which could come anywhere at anytime. Ramsay was not popular on both sides
of the border.
this his Uncle Archibald "the
Grim" Douglas (an illegitimate son of the "Black"
Douglas) and Lord Lyndsay of the Byres massed a relief army at Haddington,
little more than 500 in number and marched south to Berwick hoping to
collect more men on the way. But many of the Scots borderers were hostile
to a rescue attempt or diversion to help Ramsay escape as they felt he
deserved to be captured by the English for his rash act. When Archibald's
army approached Berwick his scouts informed him that the English army
encircled around the castle numbered around 10,000 strong with archers,
siege engines, heavy horse and ships blockading the river. There was no
avenue of escape for his nephew. Archibald then made a lengthy speech to
his army praising Ramsay and his men as heros but that in all fairness it
would be suicidal for them to engage the English in open battle or attempt
a diversion as they were totally outnumbered. Reluctantly the army
withdrew heading towards Melrose to support local forces in resisting the
expected English counter attack.
presence had not gone unnoticed by the English as Thomas De Musgrave and
several units of heavy horse quickly pursued, catching the Scots just
short of Melrose. Fortunately Archibald's army was joined by his cousin
William 1st Earl of Douglas with his son James
(later 2nd Earl of Douglas) also George Dunbar 10th Earl of March and
his vassal Sir John Gordon. During the ensuing battle of Melrose Musgrave
was unhorsed and forced to yield for ransom by Gordon. While young James
Douglas and other Scots squires distinguished themselves in the fray. With
Musgrave and other unit leaders captured, the remaining English not
already slain fled back to Berwick with news of their defeat.
battle William Douglas knighted his son James since he had proved himself
in battle. Archibald also knighted some of the other squires in the
euphoria of victory and the prospect of much gold and silver for Musgrave
and the other hostages safe return. The English complained "the Earl
of March and Douglas and the latter's cousin Sir Archibald, are harassing
the English Borderers by imprisonments, ransoms and otherwise".
Meanwhile Berwick castle with it's walls breached was entered by storm and
all the Scots slain aside from Ramsay who was taken hostage as a
bargaining chip to be used in ransom deals yet to be made between the
Scots and English Borderers. But whose to say the Scots wanted Ramsay
back, that in itself is another story.
ruin of Berwick castle originally a piece of Scotland is a sad shell of
it's former strength, besieged and occupied again and again by the
English. Until finally even the border was moved further into Scotland to
accommodate Berwick as an "English" castle and burgh denying
it's Scottish roots.