Marmion and The Most Dangerous Place in England

A Night of the 16th Century

During the second siege the famous incident of Marmion is supposed to have taken place. Here is the story as told by Leland :- "About this time there was a great feast in Lincolnshire, to which came many gentlemen and ladies. Among them one lady brought a helmet for a man to wear, with a very rich crest of gold, to William Marmion, knight, with a letter of commandment of her lady that he should go into the most dangerous place in England and there to let the helmet be seen and known as famous. So he went to Norham, whither, within four days of coming, came Philip Moubray, guardian of flerwike, having in his band 140 men of arms. The very flower of men of the Scottish marches. Thomas Gray, captain of Norham, seeing this, brought his garison before the barriers of the castle, behind whom came William, richly arrayed, as all glittering in gold, and wearing the helmet, his lady's present. Then said Thomas Gray to Marmion 'Sir Knight, you came here to fame your helmet. Mount up on your horse and ride like a valiant man to your foes even here at hand, and I forsake God if I rescue not your body, dead or alive, or I myself will die for it'. Whereupon he took his cursore, and rode among the throng of enemies, who struck him and pulled him at last out of his saddle to the ground. Then Thomas Gray with the whole garrison let loose amongst the Scots, and so wounded them and their horses, that they were overthrown, and Marmion, sorely beaten, was horsed again, and with Gray pursued the Scots in a chase. There were taken fifty horses as prize and the women of Norham brought them to the foot men to follow the chase."

The incident is used in Bishop Percy's ballad of "The Hermit of Warkworth" and also in Sir Walter Scott's "Marmion". The opening lines of this poem give a graphic description of Norham Castle at sunset.

"Day set on Norham's castled steep,
And Tweed's fair river, broad and deep,
And Cheviot's mountains lone;

The battled towers. the Donjon Keep,
The loopholes grates, where captives weep,
The flanking walls that round it sweep,
In yellow lustre shone.

The warriors on the turrets high,
Moving athwart the evening sky,
Seem'd forms of giant height:

Their armour, as it caught the rays,
Flash'd back again the western blaze,
In lines of dazzling light".

A recent poem by Margaret Purvis of Norham follows:-

Norham Castle

The most dangerous place in England
Was Norham in days of old
When the castle guarded the Border
Gainst foes who were strong and bold.

The Tweed was a barrier broad and deep
No bridge then spanned the stream
But horses and men could cross by the ford
Were they not by the garrison seen

The mighty castle is ruined now
But go when the moon is bright
If you stand 'neath the wall you'll hear the call
Of the sentinel watching the night

You'll see ghostly horses and armed men
There by the Marmion gate
Hear the drawbridge clang and the mighty bang
Of a musket fired too late.

And stay you there till the sun comes up
And ponder on what you've seen
Through them peace came to the Border
Twas not just a passing dream.

Then walk down the hill to the village below
With its old market Cross and it's green
See the children peacefully playing there
Because of what you've seen.