Kirkudbright, 10th Century

By Martin Williams.

Some notes on affairs around the Solway in the mid C10: my  agents have secured the doors…

1. No Anglo-Scottish Issues   

England and Scotland shared no common border at this   time. The northernmost point of the domain  of King Eadred was around Clitheroe: the southernmost point of the lands of Malcolm I of Scots was in the Pentland Hills south of Edinburgh. Between these two powers the lands we now call The North and the   Borders were ruled by various means. In the south of the region the Kingdom of York had shuffled off its forced submission to England (again) and chosen Anlaf Sihtricsson of Dublin as its king (again), ably advised by Archbishop Wulfstan I (of course). 

The north of the region was split east and west, along a ragged  and wandering frontier – from the Forth to the Tees the Earl of Northumberland, Osulf I of Bamburgh held sway together with Bishop Ealdred of Chester le Street: whose Community of St Cuthbert held an impressive (and autonomous) tract of territory: and from the Clyde to Stainmoor the kings of Strathclyde (or Cumbraland in OE) ruled, traditionally from the Rock of Dumbarton. Strathclyde was a largely British state: although considerable Anglian settlement had occurred at various times in the Solway area. It was, however, gradually falling into the Scottish empire: a process which would be complete by c. 1034.

2. The Sea

The Solway Firth gives out onto the Irish Sea: here then is a highway for another power: the Norsemen of the Sudreyar: ‘the Isles and Man’ – how far the official reach of the Norse  kings and their  jarls in Orkney could reach is unclear: at this time Hakon the Good, Athelstan’s foster-son is set down as King of Norway, and Orkney is divided between the sons of Torf-Einar – Arnkel and Erlend, who would fall with Bloodaxe at Stainmoor. Thorkell Skull-Splitter was also a power in the islands. We cannot forget that Ulster is no distance from Galloway over the sea: and indeed we see some parallels in the archaeology with Down and Antrim in the late C10 .  Given that York and Dublin were sharing a king (not uncommon at this point): and that York was at its mercantile height we see the Irish Sea as a great highway for trade: and while the English took their share of this by minting vast quantities of coin at Chester (some of which, perhaps intended for export, being of extremely variable quality…) other communities had little option but to use more direct methods than economic fraud.

My Lord-Predecessor and his professional associates at Whithorn refer to a limited and managed Scandinavian settlement on good farms around Whithorn in c.900 or later: ascribing this to the possible acquisition of Danish mercenaries for coastal defence.  Such mercenaries may have remained wedded to the Old Practices. The pagan Viking burial at Kirkcudbright (a minster of sorts in this period) is added evidence for this.

Thus we can argue that Galloway at this time (though in the midst of a tantalizingly obscure period) was populated by a cocktail of British, Anglian and Scandinavian kindreds facing a threat from the sea while at the same time, drawing some of its wealth from trade. Whilst there is no evidence for large-scale conflict in c.950, history cannot legislate for the depredations of thieves, rogues and vagabonds at any time.