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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

550-1100 Anglo-Saxon (Pre-Scots)


550-1100 Anglo-Saxon (Pre-Scots)

Timelines of the Scots Language

By Dr Dauvit Horsbroch

The following list is intended as a quick reference guide to developments in the Scots language, including reference to cultural and political developments.

547 Ida son of Eoppa captures the fort at Bamburgh from the Britons and becomes king of Bernicia. His followers the Lindiswaras (people of Lindsay) speak englisc, that is, ‘Angle-ish’. They and other speakers call themselves Angelcynn (‘Angle kind’) because their ancestors came from Angeln or Schleswig-Holstein on the Danish frontier. From this we call them the Angles. The speech and dialects of the Angles, and the Saxons further south, are known collectively in modern times as Anglo-Saxon.

638 The Britons at the fortress of Edinburgh are besieged by the forces of Oswald king of Bernicia (633-670) and Edinburgh soon after passes into Angle hands. Place-name studies confirm strong presence of Anglo-Saxon language in Berwickshire, East Lothian, Peeblesshire and Roxburgh from this period.

685 Greatest expansion of Angle kings in Scotland reaches county of Angus. Ecgfrith king of Bernica and Deira (670-685) is killed at the battle of Nechtansmere by King Brude of Pictland and Angle influence over Angus and Fife is lost.

716 Marks the beginning of over a century of political instability as kings were killed, murdered or deposed in succession by various relatives or usurpers.

731 Completion of the Ecclesiastical History by Bede (c.673-735), a monk at Jarrow monastery. Bede is the first to use the term Northymbra lond (Northumbria) as a name for the two kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira together and thereafter the region is known as the kingdom of Northumbria. He calls the people Northymbre (Northumbrians) or ‘people north of the Humber’ and describes how their speech differs from people further south. The lands of the Northymbre stretch from the Forth estuary to the Humber estuary.

c.750 Earliest Anglo-Saxon text attested in Scotland is the Dream of the Rood dealing with the subject of the crucifixion of Christ. It is carved in runes on the Ruthwell Cross in Dumfriesshire.

793 The sack of the monastery of Lindisfarne heralds the beginning of Viking attacks on Northumbria and the destruction of manuscripts.

c.853 Rognvaldur of Moer established as first Norse jarl of Orkney and Shetland and the Old Norse language begins to replace Pictish.

867 Rival kings Osbert and Aelle are both killed fighting against the Danish invasion of Northumbria and the kingdom fragments.

867-883 The kingdom of Northumbria is conquered by the Danes. Egbert II (873-876) is the last puppet king of Northumbria.

883-900 The northern part of the kingdom of Northumbria – beyond the Tweed – falls under the political influence of the kings of the emerging Scottish kingdom of Alba, called Skot-land by englisc speakers. The ruler of the region, centred on the fortress of Bamburgh, became the heah-gerefa (‘high reeve’) equated with the Scottish mórmaer or great steward.

c.900 Notes written on the Lindisfarne Gospels provide more evidence for the form of Anglo-Saxon spoken in northern England and south east Scotland. During this period northern Anglo-Saxon is increasingly influenced by Danish.

914 Ealdred the heah-gerefa of Bamburgh becomes an ally of Constantine II of Scotland and his successors fall under Scottish political control.

954-962 Indulf king of Scots takes over the fortress of Edinburgh. This follows on from the collapse of the Viking kingdom of York in 954. King Indulf bore a Germanic name and may have been related to the dynasty of Bamburgh.

1018 Battle of Carham-on-Tweed in which Malcolm II (1005-1034) king of Alba defeats the earl of Northumberland and confirms Scottish rule over Lothian and the Borders. The Skot Watir (Firth of Forth) is perceived as the linguistic boundary between Gaelic and Anglo-Saxon speakers.

1030s The territories south of Lothian and the Borders are called Engla land (England) for the first time confirming the political division between speakers of englisc in England and speakers of englisc in Scotland.

1058-1093 Reign of Malcolm III of Scotland who leads several invasions south of the Tweed in an attempt to annex the earldom of Northumberland. In this period Cumbraland was disputed between the kings of Scots and kings of England and only the southern fringes appear in the Domesday Book of 1086.

1072-1092 Sometime within this period, Cospatrick earl of Northumberland granted a writ in favour of Thorfynnn mac Thore relating to lands in Allerdale in Cumbraland. The writ is, uniquely, written in the northern form of englisc and so provides important evidence for the language then spoken both in northern England and in south east Scotland. It survives as a 13th century transumpt or exact copy.

1080-1092 The French-speaking Normans, who had conquered England, build a new castle on the Tyne river and later expel Dolfin of Carlisle (probably a relative of Earl Cospatrick), establishing the Anglo-Scottish frontier along a line from Carlisle to Newcastle.

1094 Duncan II is briefly king of Scots and introduces the Norman Latin charter to Scotland. Subjects of the king of Scots are addressed in charters according to their linguistic identities as Scottis (Gaelic speakers or Irish), Francis (French speakers or Normans), Anglicis (englisc speakers or English), etc.

An audio version of this article in Scots is available below.

Many thanks to J Derrick McClure for his advice on some of the older languages.