Dan Snow: Northumberland's border with Scotland has been 'a scar of violence'

TV presenter and historian Dan Snow explains Northumberland's bloody history with Scotland as he pleads for the Union to remain intact

Dan Snow promoting the Let's Stay Together campaign
Dan Snow promoting the Let's Stay Together campaign

Northumberland's border with Scotland is a ‘scar of violence’ which only healed with the Act of Union, historian Dan Snow has said.

Speaking to the Journal as he visited South Shields, Mr Snow is campaigning against Scotland voting for independence on Thursday as part of the Let’s Stay Together campaign.

He said violent battles over many centuries in the North East had for a time stagnated the economy, but through the Act of Union in 1707 when England and Scotland were united by Parliamentary law, the region flourished.

“This border is arbitrary. It is the scar of past violence. Through the Middle Ages it ebbed and flowed,” said Dan, who is the son of BBC journalist Peter Snow.

“When there is violence you don’t invest in the land because you can’t be sure of the political situation. The North East is one of Europe’s frontier zones, one of the most violent places in European history but then this became the booming heart of the industrial revolution and now Newcastle is a modern European city.

“It’s gone from being a border zone, inhabited by people who were different, to an area of absolute economic dynamite and I think the Union has had a lot to do with that.”

Northumberland’s long and complex history with Scotland can be traced to Hadrian’s Wall, built in 112AD supposedly to protect the Roman empire from lowland Scottish invaders.

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall

The Kingdom of Northumbria was created in 653AD, which included the land of Bernicia, up to the River Forth.

From the Norman Conquest in 1066 until the union of England and Scotland under James I and VI in 1603, Northumberland was the scene of frequent invasions including the battle of Flodden Field in 1513 where King James IV of Scotland was killed.

Roman Catholic support in Northumberland for Mary, Queen of Scots, led to the Rising of the North in 1569, and during the English Civil War in 1644 Newcastle was besieged by the Scots.

The town of Berwick has changed between Scottish and English hands 13 times though the centuries.

Mr Snow said: “The Civil Wars in the 17th Century were very interesting. We were a failed state. The Europeans called us the land of revolution. The Scots invaded England and we had the bloodiest war in modern British history in the last 500 years.

“We were a joke, and then to come together to work it out and since then with the exception of the Jacobite uprising. We worked extremely well to build the biggest economy that the world had ever seen, we travelled the world in ships built on the Tyne and that’s what we did when we worked together.

“We have an amazing cross border relationship and I’d like to live in a country that celebrates that, not a country that divvies us up.”

Dan Snow’s key borderland battles:

Battle of Nechtansmere

May 20 685AD

The Picts drew the Northumbrians into an ambush at Dun Nechtain in Badenoch and Strathspey and defeated them. This severely weakened Northumbria’s power in northern Britain. King Ecgfrith was killed in battle, along with the greater part of his army. The Pictish victory marked their independence from Northumbria.

Battle of Flodden


The last, largest and bloodiest of five key battles between the Scottish and English armies following fighting at Neville’s Cross, Homildon Hill, Hallidon Hill and Otterburn. The Scottish army under King James IV and English army commanded by the Earl of Surrey fought at Branxton in Northumberland. James IV was defeated and killed.

Battle of Newburn Ford

August 28 1640

A Scottish Covenanter army, a Presbyterian group led by General Alexander Leslie, fought English forces commanded by Edward, Lord Conway. Conway, heavily outnumbered, was defeated, and the Scots went on to occupy Newcastle. The English Civil War broke out two years later.

Civil war sieges


During the Civil War, parliament’s Scottish allies captured Newcastle, which supported the King, and also South Shields in an attempt to capture control of the River Tyne leading the royalists to flee south, leading to the Battle of Boldon Hill.

Jacobite movement

1688 to 1746

A Catholic Earl, James Radcliffe, the 3rd Earl of Derwentwater who lived at Dilston Hall was a Jacobite supporter. In 1715 he was captured and executed for treason for attempting to restore the exiled Stuart monarch James Francis Edward Stuart ‘Old Pretender’ to the throne.


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