A monk from Melrose? St Cuthbert and the Scots in the later middle ages, c. 1371–1560
The Innes Review, 62.1 (2011): 47–69
During the early and central middle ages St Cuthbert of Durham (d. 687) was arguably the most important local saint in northern England and southern Scotland. His cult encompassed a region approximately corresponding to the ancient kingdom of Northumbria. While Scottish devotion to the saint in that period has been well researched, the later medieval cult in Scotland has been surprisingly little studied. Following the outbreak of Anglo-Scottish warfare in 1296 a series of English monarchs, the Durham clergy and local political leaders identified Cuthbert with military victories over the Scots. Several historians have assumed that this association between Cuthbert and English arms led to the decline of his cult in Scotland. This article surveys the various manifestations of devotion to St Cuthbert in late medieval Scotland in order to reappraise the role of the saint and his cult north of the border in the later middle ages.
‘While encamped at Ryton St Cuthbert appeared to David in his sleep bringing the mild request that the Scots should not invade or damage his lands’. In this well known passage from his fifteenth-century chronicle, Walter Bower attributed the disastrous defeat and capture of David II (1329–71) at the battle of Neville’s Cross (1346) to his failure to heed the words of St Cuthbert of Durham. The theme of saintly intercession is a recurrent one in Bower’s work, and, as in this case, the outcome was often swift and deadly. Bower felt that Cuthbert’s reaction to the invasion of his lands was justified and he urged respect for the saint whom he described as ‘a Scot’. During the early and central middleages, Cuthbert was arguably the most popular local saint in northern England and southern Scotland.