The Red Hall '“ a wedding is dramatically interrupted
Wilson's Tales of the Borders is almost 500 stories celebrating our region's history, legends and people. Serialised in the Berwick Advertiser from the 1830s, it became a best-selling series. The Wilson's Tales Project is re-telling these stories for modern readers.
Somewhat over 500 years ago, Berwick-upon-Tweed was the wealthiest, most flourishing city in Britain. Its commerce was the most extensive, its merchants the most enterprising. London strove to be its rival, but had not a tenth of its natural advantages. Berwick reigned supreme.
It owed this prosperity to King Alexander III of Scotland, for Berwick was then under Scottish rule.
Alexander brought wealthy Flemish merchants for whom he erected the immense Red Hall. Situated where the Woolmarket now stands, this served as dwelling houses, factories and a fortress. He granted a charter to the merchants on condition that they would defend the Red Hall to the death against every enemy, particularly the English.
Wool was their main business, but they also traded in silks and foreign goods. They continued in peace and prosperity until the spring of 1296.
In that year, Edward I of England was determined to invade Scotland. Given Berwick’s wealth, location and importance, it was expected to be the first target. The Scottish King, John Balliol, sent the chief men of Fife and their retainers to its assistance.
As Easter arrived, there was still no news. Business went on. Among the merchants was William the Fleming. His daughter was the rich and beautiful Isabella, an only child whose loveliness was a popular theme for minstrels.
Many eligible gentlemen had sought Isabella’s hand, but she preferred the humble Francis Scott, a clerk in the Red Hall. Her father also put true love ahead of mercenary considerations. Francis possessed industry and perseverance, qualifications as precious as rubies. The young man’s love for William’s daughter was plain and he had no hesitation in giving his blessing. They were to be married.
Francis and Isabella knelt before the altar. The priest began. William gazed fondly at his child and her bridegroom.
Then a sudden peal rang from the Bell Tower. Cries of “The English! To arms!” were heard. In an instant, the ceremony was abandoned.
NEXT WEEK: Berwick under siege, from land and sea.
Adapted by Joe Lang, illustrated by Morag Eaton. Buy Wilson’s Tales Revival Editions, £8.50, at local booksellers or www.wilsonstales.co.uk and illustrations at Foldyard, www.foldyard.co.uk