Saturday 31 July 2021

Government, Religion and Society

You might wonder whether your correspondent has ceased reading. Those who know me, however, would aver that the only point at which I would not be reading is when the last book is pulled from my cold, dead, hand, to quote some US gun-nuts. What I have not done is write blog posts about the books, but that is about to change. After all, my wargamer credentials have been augmented by reporting on a few battles and updating on the painting, so it only seems fair to say something about the reading.

The first book on the blog backlog pile is this one:

Appleby, J., & Dalton, P. (Eds.). (1997). Government, Religion and Society in Northern England 1000 - 1700. Stroud: Sutton.

Obviously, this is a book of edited essays, arising from a conference at Liverpool Institute of Higher Education (now Liverpool Hope University) in 1995. The aim was to cut across conventional boundaries – the Norman Conquest or the distinction between the medieval and early modern periods, for example. I am not sure how successful that was; specialists are, after all specialists. Perhaps in the context of a conference a medievalist chatting to a scholar of the Reformation over coffee might make their respective subjects a bit less opaque.

Anyway, it is an interesting set of papers, ranging from Anglo-Saxon Cheshire (albeit seen through the lens of Domesday Book, of course) through to the problem of recusants and dissenters in the north-west between the Restoration and ‘Glorious’ Revolution. There is a lot in between, as well, a fair smattering of which relates to the issues surrounding the second Anglo-Norman kingdom in these isles, Scotland.

Paul Dalton and Keith Stringer both tackle the issues surrounding the Anglo-Scottish border in the earlier part of the period. There was a time in the middle of the Twelfth Century when the whole of northern England, from the Mersey or Ribble and Humber north to the current border on the Solway – Tweed line, could have become part of Scotland. As most wargamers know, the decisive battle was that of the Standard in 1138, when the northern levies defeated David I, just outside Northallerton.

Of course, it was not quite that simple and the Standard was not as decisive as its result suggests. If David had not been King of Scotland, he would still have been a substantial landowner in England. The defeat at Northallerton did little to change that, although it did blunt an immediate march on York.

I noted when I wrote about Dalton’s book Conquest, Anarchy and Lordship that he thinks that the largely undocumented battle at Clitheroe, also in 1138, which the Scots won, was more important, as it gave David a springboard to approach Yorkshire from the west, through the Aire Gap. This might be so, but Stringer thinks that the Scottish domination of the Ribble – Mersey area came a bit later, but was extant by 1141.

In 1149, an unlikely combination of David I, Ranulf of Chester and Henry of Anjou approached York in force. Scottish power had been building, and English royal power waning sufficiently in the north fro Henry to accept that the far north would be part of an extended Scotland. York as a second capital would greatly enhance not only David’s territorial jurisdiction, and his jurisdiction over the bishops of Scotland (over whom the Archbishop of York claimed precedence) but augment the wealth he had to use. York was, after all, an ancient trading centre and also had a mint.

The world was a complex place in the north (as everywhere else, it seems). There were extensive links between the Anglo-Norman barons of northern England and those of southern Scotland. Indeed, they were often the same people. There were also ecclesiastical links. David I founded a number of abbeys in southern Scotland and some of the nobles did as well. These were often daughter houses of English abbeys, and many of these houses held lands on both sides of the border, as did their benefactors. In all the links between northern England and the southern Scottish polity were stronger than between the former and the souther English polity, including the monarchy.

Of course, David did not take over York. Stephen, in one of his few forays north, raced there ahead of the allies and they dispersed. Stringer suggests that 1149 is a decisive date in British history, preventing a (so to speak) northern powerhouse reducing England to the Midlands and South. Of course, Henry of Anjou, when he succeeded as Henry II, simply bullied the new (and very young) king of Scotland into giving up all his forebear’s gains, and the border settled on the Solway – Tweed line, more or less.

There is great potential here for a wargamer with Anglo-Norman armies and a bit of imagination. What if the alliance did capture York, and Henry then became King of a reduced England? Ranulf of Cheshire had his own problems with the Welsh, and so could be taken in the rear, at least from the point of view of invading Yorkshire. If David’s son Henry had not predeceased his father then he would have been the older and more experienced monarch, although the combined forces of Scotland and northern England may well have been less than that of the midlands and south. On the other hand, Henry II was constantly distracted by the business of Normandy. There is a lot of potential, a lot going on.

Other essays are also interesting, but not so much as a wargamer. The essay on Yorkshire nunneries is fascinating (reminding me of a line in 1066 and all that: ‘what have you done with your mother-in-law? If nun write none’). Also interesting are the pieces on the fifteenth-century north (were northerners barbarians? No, its just how southern chroniclers characterised them Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose). Also the role of women on the Anglo-Scottish frontier in the sixteenth century, and the dissolution of the monasteries (linked to the Pilgrimage of Grace, of course).

Overall, highly stimulating. But I’m still not buying an Anglo-Norman army.


  1. I never knew that about Scotland nearly ‘nabbing’ most of northern England. I knew SE Scotland used to be Northumbrian in an earlier period. Just shows what a shifting thing national identity is, even in the oldest ‘nation states’.
    Wonder if it had happened if we’d have still seen what Rory Stewart called the ‘tartanisation’ of south and east Scotland or if the balance of cultures would have meant something else emerged from the mix of Anglo, Norse, Brythonic, Gaelic, and Pictish.

    1. Yes indeed, the border didn't stabilise until the later 12th Century, I think. As to 'tartanisation' ,probably not. David I was very keen on the Anglo-Norman thing so we'd probably have got an attenuated Angevin state based on London and Normandy and a Scotland based on Edinburgh and York. Interesting to speculate, however.

  2. Very interesting, many thanks. I don't understand the thrust of the argument about Clitheroe though: how could that battle have more permanent and decisive consequences than the subsequent battle? I am not disputing the contention, I just don't understand the mechanism.

    The whole 'Norman' period is one I find fascinating, and have armies for: I think that (like the Wars of the Roses) I play it less than I might due to a bit of scepticism about the rules on offer.

    1. The Normans, or Anglo-Normans are fascinating, and I keep being tempted.

      Clitheroe seems to be 'decisive' because it established Scottish rule down to the Ribble / Mersey area, and then permitted David to start obtaining influence in the Skipton lordship (it is complicated) The Standard was a defensive English victory which did not really change the strategic outlook - the Scots were still to the north and west and could press again on Yorkshire.