The Scottish Borders and The Kingdom of Northumbria

Section 2.1.1.

A Very Brief History of Northumbria and its connection to Southern Scotland and to the origin of the surname of Hope.   Included is some information on the  Northumbrian and Scottish Flags.

The period of interest is between AD 450 and 1000 - roughly the period in the history of southern Scotland between the withdrawl of the Roman garrisons and the passing of the height of Anglian power in the north of England.   It is a time tradionally described as the "Dark Ages" but is now usually referred to as The Anglo-Saxon Era.

In the second century AD the Roman geographer Ptolemy recorded that the tribe that occupied the area of present day south-east Scotland were the Votadini centred in Lothian.  At that time all the tribes in southern Scotland would have spoken Old Welsh.    In the sixth century the northern English tribes of Bernicia and Deira combined to form Northumbria, the most powerful of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms before the rise of Mercia in the eighth century.   Northumbria stretched from the river Humber in the south to the Forth estuary in the North including the site of present day Edinburgh.


Map of approx 800 AD showing Northumbria in red stretching from the Humber estuary in the south-east corner to the Forth estuary in the north.  The present day Anglo-Scottish border is the dotted line from the Solway estuary in the Irish Sea in the west to just to the north of the island of Holy Isle in the North Sea.  It is probable that at times the Kingdom extended much further west in Scotland as to that shown. 

The tribes to the north and east of the Forth estuary were the Picts with the Scots in the west.  The Northumbrians were in conflict with the Picts not only to preserve their northern frontier but also with a desire to extend the frontier northwards.   The Picts on the other hand wanted the frontier further south and reclaim what they thought was their own land!  Recorded history at this time tended to very biased and as the Picts never wrote anything down - except on Standing-Stones - the English version of events usually prevailHowever the Picts are emerging from the mists - their DNA has been found among many Scots.

One of the turning points in the dominance of the Kingdom of Northumbria was their defeat at the hands of the Picts at the Battle of Nechansmere in 685.   The battle site was near Forfar in Angus ie not only north of the Forth but also north of the Tay.  The battle scene on the reverse side of the Pictish symbol stone at Aberlemno churchyard possibly commemorates this defeat of the Northumbrian Angles.

Another important battle - at least important to the Scots - was the legendary battle of 832 at present day Athelstanesford in East Lothian.   The  very romanticised version of the story is based on Book IV of Walter Boyer's Scotichronicon.  This story goes like this,  an army of Picts under Angus mac Fergus, High King of Alba, and aided by a large contingent of Scots led by Eochaidh (Kenneth mac Alpine's grandfather) had been on a raid into Lothian and were being pursued by a larger force of Angles and Saxons under one Athelstane.   The Picts/Scots were caught and stood face to face with their pursuers at a ford on the Peffer burn near the modern day village of Athelstaneford.  Fearing the outcome of the encounter, King Angus led prayers for deliverance, and was rewarded by seeing a cloud formation of a white saltire (the diagonal cross of St Andrew) against a blue sky.   The king vowed that if, with the Saint's help, he gained victory, then St Andrew would thereafter be the Patron Saint of Scotland.   The Scots did win and the Saltire became the flag of Scotland.  However, Scotichronicon states that its the Cross of the Lord that is the inspiration - no mention of the Saltire and Scotichronicon does not mention the formation in the sky. There are various stories which survive in several forms as to how St Andrew became the Patron of Scotland some of which, like this one, has posit angelic intervention as the reason.  

The Saltire is one of the oldest national flags in existence.   (Some more about the flag and and a possible connection with the American flag follows below.)  Although Kenneth mac Alpin is generally credited with combining the Picts and Scots into one nation,  the complete combining did not happen overnight and probably spanned several decades into the reigns of subsequent Kings.   The new nation was called Scotland and St Andrew did become the Patron Saint of the united realms.  Kenneth mac Alpin, King of Scots and Picts, Ard-righ Albainin, was laid to rest on the Island of Iona in 860 AD.   Apart from their flag being one of the oldest national flags, Scotland itself, remarkably is one of the oldest nations that is still in existence.  




The flag on the right is the one flying at the village if Athelstaneford, it is never lowered and is floodlit at night.   The background colour is sky blue but when the saltire was combined with the red St George's cross and Irish red Saltire to form the Union flag the resultant blue of that flag was made navy blue to counteract the strong reds on the flag. However the correct colour of the Saltire is still sky blue.






Saltire above the Royal Academy building on Princes Street, Edinburgh.





Vapour trails from aircraft leaving Edinburgh and Glasgow airports at the same time converging over Tweedsmuir in the Scottish Borders. (Photograph taken from the garden of the Editor 2005)



The Northumbrians were never again a force in the north and the Scots started the process of extending their southern border and as the result of the Battle of Carham in 1016 the River Tweed formally became the northern boundary of Northumbria and the Lothians became part of Scotland. The Commander of the Scottish army at Carham was King Malcolm II and the Commander of the Northumbrians was Uhtred son of Waldef.   However there is evidence that the Scots had established themselves south of the present day border.  There is today the ruins of Kershope Castle (a scheduled monument the scant remains are cared for by English Heritage) on the north bank of the North Tyne just north of the town of Keilder just a few miles south of the border.  Nearby to Kershope can be found Kerseycleugh.   There is another Kershope further west, this one in Cumbria, also on the border with Scotland.  Although 1016 is the formal date of the move of the boundary it had in fact been that way informally for some time.  The moving of the boundary south of course had left the Northumbrians living in the north of the country finding themselves in Scotland with a different overlord.   Even as late as King David I (1124-1153) they were referred to, by the monarch, as his English Subjects in the Lothians.  These border people could not have possibly imagined the twists and turns of future history that would beset them. 

The Kershope Castle/Robert de Gresshope record is one of the earliest that mention the name of Hope, with respect to the Scottish Borders, that I have found so far and hence important for research into the Hope origins.   It should be noted that Kershope/Kerseyhope are only twenty or so miles south of Ferniehurst Castle the seat of the Kerrs - Marquis of Lothian - ands hence they may also be important for the Kerrs.   This is not the only early connection between the Kerr and the name Hope and that is c1200 when John Kerr the hunter is recorded as being from Soonhope which is near Peebles.  For more about his see the Soynhope/Soonhope page.   The Kershope (Kershopefoot) in Cumbria is about fifteen miles to the west.

Around 1100 AD in Scotland, in common with other countries, the requirement for the introduction of Surnames came about.   This was so that  people could be identified mainly for administration purposes as part of  the setting up of a formal system of government.  The concept having spread over Europe from the success of Charlemagne.   Taking ones profession as a Surname was popular ie, Baker, Butcher, Carpenter, Cooper, Forrester etc.  Also popular was the taking of a topographical feature near one's residence ie Forest, Hill, Meadows, Wood, etc.    A name for one particular topographical feature which the Anglo-Saxon Northumbrians had brought north with them was the word Hope for an enclosed valley which they had applied on both sides of the Border but particularly to the numerous side valleys of the River Tweed and its tributaries of the Rivers, Yarrow, Teviot and Ettrick.   Some people took the Surname of Hope and also of named valleys that had Hope as a suffix or prefix.   These people were probably shepherds.  Their Hope descendants can still be found in the Borders but also many emigrated to the four winds proud of their Scottish ancestry.           

Although the topographical feature of a Hope and place names like Coldingham, Tyningham, Whitingham, etc remind us that the Scottish Border area was Anglo-Saxon for several centuries -  there also many Cymric names still to be found relics of the people that were in the Borders area prior to the Romans  and subsequent Angles.   However the Borders has been Scottish for over a thousand years.


The Northumbrians also had an ancient flag comprising of red and gold vertical stripes - they could well have been flying this banner at the battle of Athelstansford.  The Venerable Bede writing in the seventh century records a banner of gold and purple which hung over the tomb of St Oswald, King of Northumbria.   Blue and yellow vertical stripes was a popular colour scheme on the sails of Viking longships as related in the Orkneyinga Sagas as were all red sails.   These Viking vertical coloured stripes obviously had a strong influence in determining the makeup of the Northumbrian flag of gold and red stripes.    It is a great pity that in 1950 the flag was modified by the heraldic process of countercharging the stripes ie the overlap of the stripes.  This is the flag of the county of Northumberland today.  

Connection between the Saltire and Old Glory.

One of the ancient families of Northumbria was the Washington family which had strong Scottish connections - the three stars suggest a connection with the ancient Earldom of Murray.  Just less than one thousand years later a member of that family namely George Washington was involved in the design of the flag for the new nation of America in 1777.    It is thought that the design of the new flag was probably based on the flag of the British East India Company and also on the Armorial of the Northumbrian Washington family which gave the colours of red and white and also the stars and stripes. 


It is said that the stars on the US flag are said to represent a constellation hence the background of dark blue is night sky.  However in addition the blue, on the British Union flag may have been a consideration. (A good website for the History of the Flag of the United States is Wikipedia.) 

It should be noted that the British Union flag on the flag of the B.E.I. Co which is the flag that George Washington would have recognised comprised only of the Red St Georges Cross for England and the white Saltire for Scotland.  It was not until  1801 that the red St Andrews Cross of Ireland was added which gives us the flag that we know today.  It is unfortunate from a Scottish point of view that the addition of the red Irish cross reduced the amount of blue and white on the flag and reduced considerably the impact of the Scottish Saltire on the flag.




On left British Union flag prior to 1801 with the Scottish Saltire and the red English St Georges Cross.


It must surely be a coincidence but it is compelling that the stars against a night sky in a flag heralding in a new nation in 1777 had an echo back to a cloud formation against a blue sky at the birth of another nation nearly one thousand years previously. 

Another prominent Northumbria family were the Nevilles whose family seat like Washington was in County Durham.   The progenitor of the Nevilles was another Uhtred -  and it was thought that he was descended from the Scottish Royal House of Dunkeld that provided the Scottish Monarchs from 1058 to 1290.   The  Neville Armorial has the red/white of Washington but also a white Saltire which must hark back to the family's Scottish roots.   

Armorial of the Neville Family


The Washington and Neville families were typical of many families that had lands in England and Scotland, because of their dual national interests, found great difficulty as time went on in their allegiances.   This was particularly the case with the Scottish branches of families who were reluctant to take up arms against English Kings viz Edward I and II.  Included in these families was the Bruce family - one of the correct historical facts in the film Braveheart.        

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