Sacking of Berwick upon Tweed
Famously Berwick changed hands some 13 times in medieval times, a prize of war for the rulers of England and Scotland. In 1296 the town was part of Scotland, and an extremely important settlement too: huge amounts of trade, particularly with Scandinavia and Northern Europe, came through the port of Berwick. That trade made the place prosperous, far more significant at the time than Edinburgh .
King John of Scotland – John Balliol whom Edward I had put on the Scottish throne in 1292 – had been treated as a vassal by Edward, regularly humiliated by him. In desperation at having various major settlements and fortifications confiscated by the English, John in 1295 allied with the French against Edward, an act regarded with some justification as treachery by the latter. Edward raised a great army – probably more than 30,000 soldiers - to make that point forcibly to Scotland.
Berwick, thanks to its location, served as the starting point for Edward’s campaign. After a siege the town fell on March 30, though the castle was able to hold out. The English army then proceeded to massacre the inhabitants with horrific thoroughness. Contemporary reports of the death toll vary hugely: depending on the source they run from roughly 7,000 to 60,000, though given the population of Berwick at that point was well below that last figure it can be discounted. The consensus has upwards of 15,000 dying. Tales of the brutality abound: women and children being put to the sword; thousands being hanged; buildings burned with those inside perishing in the flames. The bloodshed lasted three days while every hiding place was searched and all those found were slaughtered.
Edward ordered the massacre as an example to the rest of Scotland of what to expect should resistance to his overlordship continue. It was a coldly calculated act of inhumanity; the use of terror for political ends.
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