A Scottish fortress - in England

WE KNOW of several castles in Scotland which were either built from new – Lochmaben, in Dumfriesshire - or substantially rebuilt and extended - Roxburgh, in the Scottish Borders - by the English during the Wars of Independence of the 14th century. But there is one famous English castle that can claim to be Scottish - Carlisle, hard by the Anglo-Scottish Border.

The Scot responsible? King David I from the 12th century.

(And before you write in … I don't count Berwick Castle as English, because it was built in the 12th century when Berwick-upon-Tweed was a well-establish part of Scotland.)

Cumbria had long been under the sway of the ancient Britons of Strathclyde, ruling from their power base atop Dumbarton Rock. That all came to an abrupt end in 1092, following the Norman conquest of England, when William II "Rufus" - William the Conqueror's son and heir - seized Carlisle and built a castle there.

The Scottish kings weren't going to let go so easily. In 1135 civil war broke out in England following the death of Henry I - the Conqueror's second son - as Henry's daughter, Matilda, the chosen heir, and his nephew, Stephen, fought for the throne. King David of Scotland grasped the opportunity presented, by invading the northern counties of England and annexing them. He held on to them until his own death in 1153.

David I of Scotland died not in one of his more famous Scottish castles, such as Edinburgh or Stirling, but at Carlisle - in the little chapel on the second floor of the mighty stone keep on 24 May. It had become one of his favourite residences.

David was king in Scotland for twenty-nine years,

warily discerning what was provident;

After he fortified his kingdom with castles and arms,

the king died an old man, at Carlisle.

(An entry in Melrose Abbey's Chronicle for the year 1153)

So why had David of Scotland chosen to die in an English castle, far from the heartland of his kingdom? The answer has probably more to do with wealth-creation than political power. When he invaded northern England in 1135, David may have been motivated by more than the simple desire to ride to the aid of the beleaguered Queen Matilda. He knew only too well that high up in the northern Pennines were rich mineral deposits. The area around Allenheads, on the cusp of Cumberland, Northumberland and County Durham, is now more famous for its lead-mining heritage. But in the 12th century it provided the mints of mainland Europe with much of its silver. That's what probably attracted David's shrewd business eye, not any fancy notions of chivalry.

David I became known as "a sair [sore] saint for the croun", because it was felt that his lavish spending on founding abbeys and priories took the crown finances to the brink of bankruptcy. Not only was he the first British sovereign to introduce the reformed Benedictine orders to the British Isles (the Tironensians to Selkirk in 1113), but he set up more than 20 other monasteries, from Berwick to Beauly. They included the Cistercian abbey of Holme Cultram, south-west of Carlisle, in 1150.

But David wasn't a poor king of a poor country. He may perhaps have struggled financially early on, but thanks to his acquisition of silver-producing areas, he became immensely wealthy. And that is why he built a mighty stone keep at Carlisle, the city closest to that wealth. It was from Carlisle that he could keep an eye out and control his financial source. And it is perhaps no coincidence that it was in Carlisle Castle that he kept his will and where he died.

Unfortunately, Scottish control of northern England did not long survive David's death. In the following year, King Stephen of England died, little mourned, and within four years, Carlisle and the northern counties of England were back in English hands - and there they have stayed to this day.

Chris Tabraham is Principal Historian with Historic Scotland, the government agency responsible for the historic environment in Scotland. During his 35-year career he has published extensively. His most recent works include The Illustrated History of Scotland (Lomond Books, 2003), Scotland's Castles (Batsford Books, 2nd edition 2005) and Castles of Scotland: A Voyage Through the Centuries (Batsford Books, 2005).

If you enjoyed reading this, you may want to read:

The essential guide to Scotland's castles

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