At its height, the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria was vast, encompassing all the land between the River Humber and the Firth of Forth, although the western side of Northumbria had a coast on the Irish Sea only between the Ribble and the Lune. King Oswald established this vast expanse of land as his kingdom in 633AD, and it was one of the seven kingdoms of the Heptarchy of Anglo-Saxon England (the others were Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Wessex, Kent and Sussex).
By 1220AD, the great Kingdom of Northumbria has been split into the counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmoreland, Durham and Yorkshire. This article is concerned only with the most northern of these five. The locals of Northumberland are still, confusingly, called Northumbrians.
Like most of northern England, Northumberland is swathed in moorland. The eastern seaboard, from the Tweed to the Wear is relatively flat, and suitable for farming, well-irrigated by the rivers that descend from the Pennine Mountains, and, to the north, the Cheviots. The Tyne Gap is a natural pass between Gilsland to the north and the Pennines to the south, and is some of the most fertile land in the region. The Tweed catchment, a region known as The Merse, is another fertile area for crops, and it has passed between Scottish and English hands many times in the last centuries for this very reason. Gilsland, straddling the Scottish border, is the only other region that has substantial agriculture. For the most part, Northumbrian farmers herd livestock - primarily goats and sheep in the foothills of the mountains, which has plentiful grazing. Many of them only descend from the hills in the depths of winter, which comes very hard to this part of the world. The hillsides are dotted with byrnies, temporary dry-stone shelters for the shepherds. The only substantial Royal Forest in Northumberland is the Forest of Alnwick, which covers most of the land bounded by the Coquet, Till and Tweed. These areas are administered under Forest Law and theoretically belong to the King. These forests are a mixture of yew, oak and birch, with a fair amount of Scots pine, larch, beech and hazel; but the legal term forest does not directly relate to trees, and there are areas of cultivated land and pasture within these forests. Mainly deer and boar, but also wolves and even bears can be found in these forests. Naturally, patches of woodland can be found all over lowland Northumberland, often composed of oak, beech, birch and hazel, but none reach substantial size. The rest of the region - that which is not forest or cultivated land - is moorland - the haunt of the wildcat, the hare and the grouse.
The early history of Northumberland is tied up in the history of Northumbria; which has a long history of invasions. Positioned as it is between the Picts (and later, Scots), the Saxons, the Vikings and the Welsh of Strathclyde, its history has consisted of numerous struggles to retain its identity. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that the sole Hermetic covenant in this part of Britain, the Covenant of Horsingas, is so fiercely independent.
When the Romans retreated from England, they were replaced by successive waves of Germanic invaders. Angles from Northern Germany and Denmark arrived and settled north of the River Humber - thus North-(h)umbria. Two kingdoms emerged in the north from the settlers joining with the native British - Bernicia ("of the mountains") in the north and Deira ("of the waters") in the south. In 565AD, Pope Gregory sees a number of fair-haired Angles in a slave market in Rome and declared that these "Angels" should be converted to Christianity. Thus it was the early Northumbrians that gave the whole of England (Angle-Land).
The first time that the Northumbrians were recorded as uniting against a common foe was when a combined force of Britons gathered in Strathclyde to fight the Northumbrians in 600AD. They met at Catterick, and the Northumbrians won the day. Soon after, Deira and Bernicia where united under one king, Aethelfrith, but they didnt remain one kingdom for long. It wasnt until King Oswald in 633AD killed a Welsh King who was ravaging the area stability was brought to the north. Oswald is also responsible for inviting St Aidan from Iona to Northumbria to preach the Christian faith to the Northumbrians. The Venerable Bede and St Cuthbert continued this mission, and the Celtic Church was strong in Northumbria.
In 783AD, dire portents of fiery dragons, famines and exceptional flashes of lightning presaged the coming of the vikings. For three generations, the raiders ransacked the east coast of England, with Northumbria - particularly Northumbrian monasteries - taking the brunt of the attacks. The year 865AD brought the end of the raids - in the form of invasion. The sons of Ragnar Lothbrok sought revenge on King Aelle of Northumbria, who had slain their father (a story made famous by its wonderfully cheesy retelling in the 1958 film The Vikings). They appointed a king north of the Tyne, then turned upon Mercia and East Anglia. Soon most of England was ruled by the Danes, and they maintained control of a goodly portion of it (including the whole of Northumbria) until 937AD when a succession of Kings of Wessex (cumulating with King Aethelstan) finally succeeded in driving them all out, then proceeded to unify the Saxon Heptarchy of seven kingdoms into one nation, England. This Saxon dominance didnt last long - King Sweyn of Denmark soon conquered England again in 1013AD, leaving it to his son, Cnut, whose dynasty lasted until 1042. The Northumbrians was the first to acknowledge Sweyn (and then Cnut) as their king - most of them were Danish by ancestry anyway - and Earldom of Northumbria became powerful under his rule.
Saint Edward the Confessor re-established the prominence of the Wessex line by becoming king in 1042. Cnuts rule had bought stability and power to the English nation, and Edward was a masterful ruler. He had been raised in exile in Normandy, and that was were his trouble lay. Northumbria retained the power it had gained under the Danes - the earl Siward became involved in Scottish politics and fought against Macbeth; and the next earl was the brother of a king of England.
When the Normans invaded, they had to make their mark. Northumbria had been too influential, and there were many rebellions against William the Conqueror. The Norman Kings solution was simple. He razed Northumbria to the ground. It is said that he "left no house standing and no man alive that could be found" between the Humber and the Tyne. A famine struck the land, and it took many generations for the land to recover. Northumbria became a place of ghosts and bandits, a dangerous land of people at the brink of starvation. It was formally divided up into the counties of Northumberland, County Durham, Yorkshire, Westmoreland and Lancashire in 1089AD - Cumberland belonged to Scotland, but was added to England in 1092AD. When the Earl de Mowbray, appointed by the king to rule Northumberland, led a revolt against King William II in 1095, the king abolished the earldom, but it was revived in 1136AD and entered the hands of the Scottish king.
The Anarchy (1135-1148AD) was a bad time for Northumberland, when it was the scene of many battles between the forces of King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, who was supported by the Scottish crown. Technically, Northumberland should have returned to English hands, but the Scots remained in possession of it until 1157AD.
Henry II (1154-1207AD) began the rebuilding of Northumberland, which had been in a deplorable condition since the Conquest. He rebuilt in stone the New Castle upon Tyne and the royal castle of Bamburgh. He financed powerful families such as the Pudseys, the Umfravilles and the Ros to build castles in the north. 1174AD brought war with Scotland, as William the Lion invaded Northumberland, demanding that it should be returned to Scottish hands. His war failed, and as a result, Cumberland became a county in 1177AD, setting the border with Scotland. In 1189AD, the bishop of Durham, Hugh Pudsey (who was also the Justicar of England and controlled the mighty Norham Castle) bought the County of Northumberland from King Richard of England for £11,000. As he already held Durham as its prince-bishop, and was connected to the powerful Percy family through his wife, this gave him a substantial amount of financial and political power. He ruled Northumberland like a private kingdom while King Richard was imprisoned in Germany, but was imprisoned himself when the King returned, and Hugh Bardolf became the Sheriff of Northumberland.
King John (1207-1216AD): During Johns reign, the King of Scotland, William the Lion, re-asserted his claim over Northumberland. In 1209 John came north with a large force, and William was compelled to give in. In 1211, the Kings met at Norham and Alexander, Williams son, was sent to the English Court to receive his estates. He later married Johns daughter and in 1214 became king of Scotland. In 1213 John was strongly opposed by the North Country Barons (Barones Northumbrenses), and in 1215 there was a general revolt against John. Eustace de Vesci of Alnwick, Robert de Ros and Peter de Bruis all played an important part in this revolt, which lead to the Great Charter being signed at Runnymede.
John granted many concessions to Newcastle, but Northumberland outside of the city preferred Scottish rule to English rule, and most of the countys barons did homage to Alexander II of Scotland. In 1215AD there was Civil War, and John swept through the county with an army that contained Germans and Moors as well as Englishmen, devastating the lands of the rebels. The castles at Alnwick, Mitford, Morpeth and Wark were burnt. Berwick was sacked and Lothian invaded. The rebels (Vesci, Delaval, Merlay, Umfraville) were deposed, whereas the supporters of the king (Philip of Oldcates, Hugh Balliol) gained accordingly.
Henry III (1215-Present): Henry is still a minor, and the barons of Northumberland have been able to re-establish their authority and confirm the Charter granted by John. Richard of Umfraville and Roger of Merlay have regained their lands and castles. The king of Scotland, married as he is to Henry IIIs sister, promotes better a better relationship between England and Scotland than has existed for many decades.
At the current time, the Kings interests in Northumberland are overseen by the Sheriff Philip of Oldcates. There has been no earl of Northumberland since the disgrace of Hugh Pudsey. The sheriff collects taxes and dues on behalf of the king, and enforces writs of the crown. Unusually, the sheriff of Northumberland does have the authority to judge pleas of the crown as well as being able to judge minor disputes. Twice a year the sheriff tours the hundred courts of the shire, settling disputes and collecting taxes.
The larger towns (Corbridge, Berwick Hexham and Newcastle) have a constable in charge of the kings garrison. The town of Corbridge in the Tyne Gap serves as a seat for the Kings Officials. As the county that borders on an often hostile Scotland, Northumberland has a large number of castles, mostly built by Henry II.
The Baronial families who hold the most power are:
|Umfraville||Richard||Prudhoe, Elsdon, Harbottle, Redesdale|
|Ros||William||Berwick, Wark-upon-Tweed, Haltwistle|
|Delaval||Gilbert||Seaton Delaval, Callerton|
|Balliol||Hugh||Bywell, Barnard Castle|
Other powerful families are the Muschamps, Bertrams and the Percys. Alexander II, King of Scotland owns Tynedale through his sister Margaret, and claims (unsuccessfully) the earldoms of Cumberland and Northumberland. Ecclestiastically, the Bishop of Durham (Richard de Marsh) has jurisdiction over most of Northumberland. Heirs to Merlin has a biography of him on p73. However, Hexham is a bishopric in its own right within the bishopric of Durham. This spans the town of Hexham and a few villages around it. The Bishop of Hexham is also the Archbishop of York, Walter de Grey (see Heirs to Merlin p73).
Like all of the north-eastern quarter of Britain, the effects of the Danish occupation three hundred years ago is still apparent. Northumbrians are tall, in general taller than southerners, and fair shades of hair are quite common, unlike the darker Cumbrians to the west. They are well known for their intransigence the north-east has been more problematic to English kings than any other region of the country. There is a huge gulf between the peasantry and the nobility, as this is one of the poorest parts of the country; still reeling from the devastation caused by William the Conqueror. For seventy years after the Harrying of the North, Northumberland was considered a dangerous wasteland filled with wolves and bandits. With their livelihoods destroyed, banditry was the only recourse left to many Northumbrians. A further rift between social classes is language. The nobility speak Norman French, the clerics Latin, but few of the peasants speak Anglo-Saxon that is familiar to southerners. There are two major towns in the county, and in Newcastle to the far south they speak mainly Anglo-Saxon, and in Berwick to the far north they speak mainly Scottish. In the 60 or so intervening miles, a dialect of Anglo-Saxon is spoken that borrows much from Danish and Gaelic. The Northumbrian tongue gets thicker from the Tyne northwards until it becomes the Saxon-Gaelic hybrid called Scottish. Over towards Gilsland, the dialect fades into Cumbrian, yet another distinct dialect of Anglo-Saxon.
The Northumbrians are also noted for their piety. St Cuthbert watches over them, and according to legend he has intervened to save the Northumbrians on many occasions in the past. The rural churches still borrow heavily from the Celtic Church (see Lion of the North), which was the variety of Christianity that was introduced here.
Horsingas: The magi who were to found the covenant of Horsingas were living scattered throughout the north of England at the time of the Norman Conquest. The Harrying of the North (see History, above) forced them together, bound by hatred for the Norman invaders. After supporting the raids of the Scottish king in 1070, and using their magic against the Conquerors army in 1072; they formally requested recognition at a meeting of the Loch Leglean Tribunal in 1073. Today, the covenant still consists of magi of Saxon descent, and still fights against the Normans. They resemble a group of bandits more than a covenant of magi; ignoring the strictures of the Order about interfering with mundanes by conducting raids and planning a Saxon resurgence in England. They are only protected from the Code by virtue of having the only quaesitor of the Loch Leglean Tribunal as a member. See Lion of the North for more details. Located as they are in the Cheviot hills, about 8 miles north of Hadrians Wall, they are surprisingly close to the covenant of Burnham, which attends the Stonehenge Tribunal. For the moment, the two covenants have ignored each other or so it seems. Rumours fly, as they do. Both covenants after all seem to be involved with the nobles of the land. Could they possibly be working together? This seems highly unlikely, as Burnham seems to be protected by the Norman Plantagenets.
Burnham: founded in 1141, in the middle of the Civil War. They obtained royal immunity and a charter from King Stephen right after the latter was released from imprisonment. The following year Stephens fortunes took a turn for the better, and he started to win. No quorate tribunal was achieved to level charges against Burnham covenant. This grant, confirmed by later kings, allows them to maintain their castle with no obvious return to the Crown. Although their is much speculation as to the relationship between Burnham and the Kings of England, no formal charges have ever been brought at tribunal. Burnham does not welcome visitors of any sort, and its covenfolk do not talk to outsiders. They have only recently started to send representatives to the Stonehenge Tribunal, since Trutina of House Guernicus joined in 1195. Their intense secrecy has bred suspicion: everyone has their own theories as to what Burnham are up to. (See Heirs to Merlin for more details). An interesting rumour is that they have started to visit the Mithraic temples along Hadrians Wall.
Castrum Antiquum: This covenant was founded in 852 in the ruins of a fort on Hadrians Wall. Its most famous inhabitant was Agricola of Tytalus, who developed many agriculture-related spells; increasing the yield of crops, controlling the weather, and, some say, growing precious metals and gemstones from the earth. Unfortunately, all his research was lost when the covenant mysteriously disappeared in 1030-1031. The reason for this disappearance was never discovered. It is reported that the magi of Castrum Antiquum made many visits to the various Mithraic temples along the wall. (See Heirs to Merlin).