The tiny village of Carham lies in the very north-west corner of Northumberland, at the point where the Anglo-Scottish border breaks away from the line of the Tweed and cuts southwards across country towards the Cheviots. It is known for not one, but two, battles, of which the consequences of the second led to the establishment of the present-day frontier between the two nations.
Battle No.1 is a shadowy affair. It took place in 833AD between the Danes and the English, at a time when the border itself didn’t really exist (the whole region forming part of the kingdom of Northumbria). The Danes, who were ‘on the up’ at the time, were flexing their muscles against a declining Northumbria and routed the defenders, killing ‘eleven bishops, two counts and a great number of people’ in the process. Within thirty or so years, Northumbria was a puppet kingdom of the new-fangled Danelaw.
Whereas the 833 battle took place probably quite near to the village (a little to the south-west, we think), the second encounter in the early eleventh century more than likely occurred two or three miles to the east in a field between Wark and Coldstream (indeed, this second battle is sometimes called the Battle of Coldstream). And we don’t even know the exact year for this one – but it was either 1016 or 1018.
By this time the Scots were trying to exercise ever greater control over Northumbria’s northern lands (Lothian and what we now know as the Border counties), and it was they who seemingly provoked the flashpoint in question. Though England existed as a united nation at the time, the defence of the attack was left to a local Northumbrian army. And the Scots, led by King Malcolm II and Owain of Strathclyde, won the day.
The victory established Scottish rule in the present-day south-east area of Scotland, being essentially the land north of the Tweed - though there is some dispute about the significance of the battle, as the Lothian region may effectively have been ceded by the English much earlier. What is not in dispute, though, is that the (second) Battle of Carham put the matter beyond doubt.
This didn’t stop the Scots trying their very best to push the border ever southwards (most notably during 1139-57 when they ‘ruled’ as far south as the Tees). However, the boundary eventually fell back to the line of the Tweed as a result of the Treaty of York in 1237, where it has stayed ever since … apart from the odd little tweak here and there!