It happened today - March 30, 2016

On March 30 of 1296 Edward I, the dreaded “Longshanks,” sacked Berwick-on-Tweed and massacred many of the inhabitants. It was the sort of thing he did, and the sort of place he did it. In fact if you like chaos Berwick was probably a good place to be.

There’s another Berwick, in Scotland, that might have seen some turmoil too. But this one is special.

Indeed when I say there’s another one in Scotland you’d better fasten your seatbelt, because this Berwick was in Scotland from some time around 1000 A.D. until William I of Scotland invaded England and got whomped and Berwick was ceded to England’s Henry II. His son Richard I sold it back to Scotland to finance his wars (Richard’s claim that he would have sold London if he could have found a backer was thus not really a joke).

In 1296 England went to war with France and John Balliol, whom Edward I had chosen as king over Robert Bruce in an arbitration held in… wait for it… Berwick-on-Tweed, invaded England and got whomped. Edward didn’t just capture Berwick. After he captured and horribly executed William Wallace he displayed one of his arms there in 1305.

The Scots got a measure of revenge when Edward II gathered the army there that went on to invade Scotland and get whomped at Bannockburn on June 24 1314, a battle that ended up securing Scotland’s independence for almost three centuries and guaranteed that the eventual Act of Union in 1707 took place under more equal and far more favourable terms than might have happened in the 14th century.

The Scots managed to besiege Berwick and capture it in 1318. But according to Wikipedia “England retook Berwick some time shortly after the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333”. I like it when they don’t even know for sure when your town got captured this time. “Och, mon, it happens so often, why write it doon?”

Why indeed? A treaty was signed in Berwick in 1357 in which the Scots agreed to pay a big ransom to get David II back, a ransom they could not afford and, being Scots, were in no hurry to pay anyway. In 1461 they got Berwick back anyway, as a bribe from Henry VI’s wife for help in the Wars of the Roses which the Lancasters went on to lose so badly the people who beat them, the Yorks, didn’t even win either. But that’s a story for another day. Except that it was one of those Yorks, Richard III, who took Berwick back in 1482.

That was about it for Berwick bouncing back and forth like a ping-pong ball. A treaty was signed there between Charles I and the Scots after the First Bishops’ War in 1639, the “Pacification of Berwick” which didn’t pacify anything much.

The Act of Union in 1707 did establish formally that Berwick was under English law, and there it has sat ever since. But some Scots and some locals are now grumbling that it should become part of Scotland because Scotland has better social services or some such edifying reason.

Good grief. Enough already.