25 September 1237: The English-Scottish border is set in law

The border between England and Scotland – having been fluid for many years – was legally defined on this day in 1237 (barring the odd skirmish over Berwick).

Sign marking the border between England and Scotland © Getty Images
The border round Berwick wasn't settled till 1482
(Image credit: © Getty Images)

The English and the Scottish have always enjoyed a lively relationship. So, it's all the more surprising that the border between these two nations is one of the oldest still in existence.

Alexander II, King of Scotland, laid claim to territory in northern England. When England's King John upset his barons and they rebelled against him in 1215, Alexander saw his chance. Allied with the barons and (of course) the French, he dispatched a Scottish army and besieged Dover.

Victory seemed assured for the Scottish king, but then King John pulled off a stunning game changer – he died. The fickle barons declared their grievances resolved and sent the Scots and the French packing. The young King Henry III was crowned at Westminster.

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King Alexander returned to Scotland with little to show for his efforts. He didn't get the territory he wanted – instead, he got Henry's sister, Joan, as a consolation prize. On 25 September 1237, the two kings fixed the border with the Treaty of York.

The border more or less stands to this day, with the obvious exception of Berwick-upon-Tweed, retaken for the final time by the English in 1482. The tug of war between England and Scotland has seen the border town change sides 13 times.

But the diplomatic niceties weren't appreciated by everyone. The border reivers – the families who lived in the area either side of the border – carried on their centuries-old custom of pillaging. These people were a thorn in the side of both kingdoms. One of the biggest and fiercest families was the Armstrongs, hailing from what is today Cumbria.

Just one year before the signing of the treaty in 1236, one Adam Armstrong ended up in the dock in Carlisle, charged with killing a man. The clan was held in such fear that he was eventually pardoned.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

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