Galloway at this time was a separate kingdom from the rest of Scotland. The Normans had conquered England after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and were gradually extending their influence through Scotland. They were invited in by Edgar, Alexander and David, the sons of Malcolm III, to help quell rebellious Celtic chiefs like those in Galloway. When David I came to the throne in 1124 he had spent many years in England at the Norman court. He himself had been made Earl of Northampton and had been given control of lands in Huntingdon. When he returned to Scotland he brought many Norman nobles with him and gave lands to Norman families, many of whom had been tenants on his English estate. Among the newcomers were the families of Bruce, Balliol, Stewart, Grant, Comyn and Melville - all to become famous names in Scottish history. The Bruces were granted 200,000 acres of land in South West Scotland. Other Normans were more humble folk - tradesmen who took their name from the work they did - Fletcher (arrow maker), Falconer, Forester, Lorimer (bridle maker) and Baxter (baker) for example.
The Normans built castles to control their lands. Their castles had two distinct features, a "motte" and a "bailey". The motte is a mound of forced earth on which the "keep" is built. The keep is the tower where the lord, his family and his servants lived. The keep contained living quarters, a hall for feasts, store rooms and a prison or pit. It was protected by a wooden stockade and a ditch. Below the motte was the second part - the bailey. This was an open area with huts for the soldiers, store rooms, stables and a smithy. In times of danger animals were kept in the bailey for safety. The bailey was protected by another wooden stockade and a deep ditch. Sometimes the ditch was filled with water but was always crossed by a drawbridge. The best example of this type of castle locally is Motte of Urr near Dalbeattie.
Kings also built castles like this throughout most of the country. These royal castles became the headquarters of the sheriffs, the kings' officials, each of whom ruled over a district about the size of a county. There was no fixed capital in the country. The capital was wherever the King was. David I often stayed at Roxburgh and for a time he had his court at Carlisle which, of course, immediately became the capital of Scotland!
David's grandson William the Lion, said to have been the first king to use the rampant lion as his badge, declared war on England in 1173. He describes himself at the time as having the castles of Stirling, Edinburgh, Jedburgh, Berwick, Roxburgh, Lauder, Annan and Lochmaben in his possession. Significantly there is no mention of Dumfries. The inference is that the place was either unfortified or was not yet established as a royal castle.
The next year, 1174, William was taken prisoner at Alnwick by Henry II and all the men of Galloway who had followed his banner in the expedition returned home in a mood of hostility towards the English and Normans who had set themselves down in their province. The early historian Palgrave writes "Uchtred, the son of Fergus, and Gilbert, his brother, when they heard that their lord the King of Scots was taken, at once returned with the Galwegians into their own parts and immediately expelled from Galloway all the baillies and guards whom the King of Scotland had set over them, all the Englishmen and French whom they could lay hold of they slew; and all the strongholds and 'castella' which the King of Scotland had fortified in their land they besieged, captured and destroyed, slaughtering all they found within". Fordun in his annals records the merciless slaughter of English and French, stopping at no cruelty and appeasable by no ransom. It is to this time also we must look for the foundation of the burgh.
Gilbert and Uchred, the lords of Galloway, then fell out with each other and Gilbert had his brother mutilated and killed. In 1175 as a condition of liberation William did homage to Henry II at York - homage to the English Crown for the whole realm of Scotland. Of course one of the first things he did after his release was to wage war on Gilbert. He led an army into Galloway with the permission of Henry. The ferocious Gilbert submitted and was taken prisoner to Henry's court at Feckenham in Worcestershire. There for a promise of £1,000, he made his peace and did homage to the English King. He returned to Galloway free but less independent and nurturing a deadly hatred of William, the King of Scotland. Many attacks are recorded by the chronicler Benedict on the more civilised region which lay to the east of Galloway and Galwegians gave William little peace for the next ten years. William of Newburgh writes "the fortified towns and burghs of Scotland are well known to be inhabited by Englishmen". These Anglo-Normans were the garrison colonists of lands they had taken from the kingdom of Galloway and it is little wonder that the dispossessed warlike Celts tried to get revenge whenever they could. It suited Henry that the King of Scotland should have subjects who were a little too powerful for him as it kept William preoccupied.
It is at this point that the first charters relating to Dumfries were granted. The very first mention of Dumfries in any connection is a charter granted there by Radulf or Ranulf, the son of Dunegal, to the Hospital of St Peter of York. "Ranulf, son of Dunegal grants them of his heritage in Dronfres two bovates free of all custom and service. Witnesses - Gilbert, son of Brun, Gilendonrut, Bretnach, Gilcomgal MacGilblaan, Udard, son of Uttu, Waldev, son of Gilchrist, at Dronfres".
As the witnesses are local Celts they are not public persons and feature in no other records. But the granter of the charter, Ranulf, is a known person who flourished in the middle of the 12th Century and whose name occurs in the documents of King David and King Malcolm IV. The document must therefore have been written about 1150.
The next reference to Dumfries is when William he Lion grants to the bishop of Glasgow certain rights of teinds (land holdings), his writ was granted 'apud Dunfres' (at Dumfries). There are give witnesses to this charter and one of them, Walter Fitz Alan, steward, died in 1177 so the document must relate to before that date probably William's Galloway campaign in 1175-6.
There then follow three charters by William. The first granted at Gretenhou - (Gretna) - "2 ½ carucates of land in the territory of Dumfries and Kulenach (Conheath)". From the careers of the 11 witnesses it is dated between 1180 and 1188.
The second charter by William granted to the church of Glasgow "that toft at Dumfries which is between the old castlestead and the church." Again the witnesses limit the date to between 1180 and 1189.
The third charter granted 'apud Dumfres' (at Dumfries) confirmed to the Abbey of Kelso the church of Dumfries with lands and tithes of all oblations and the chapel of St Thomas in that burgh and this is most important - the very first reference to Dumfries as a burgh. The date of the gift is limited by its witnesses to between the years 1183 and 1188.
Taking the three charters together the years which are common to all three are the years when the last charter could be granted, 1183-1188. To pinpoint a more accurate date for the signing of these charters and hence the date of the first mention of Dumfries as a burgh one must look at the political events of these years. Only one year fits the bill - 1186.
In 1185 Gilbert of Galloway died. There followed a bloody civil war for control of Galloway between Duncan, Gilbert's son, and Roland, son of Gilbert's brother Uchtred. Roland was victorious but of course offended Henry of England because of his unauthorised seizure of his Uncle Gilbert's lands. William the Lion was despatched to make war on Roland but was stopped by Roland blocking the approaches to Galloway by cutting down trees across the roads. This was a familiar technique known as "plashing the ways". Henry marched to Carlisle with a great army. Roland agreed to meet him and in July or August 1186 went to Carlisle and there, by command of William, swore fealty to Henry. Roland seems to have been in William's entourage at Gretna and appears as a witness in the second charter. All the other signatories to the charter are in the narrative of the chronicles of this episode and so one can suggest that the first mention of Dumfries as a Royal Burgh is in July or August 1186. Some doubt has been cast on this theory in recent years and there may be some evidence that one of the witnesses was in Verona at this time.
The actual charter founding the burgh is not known but is likely to have been granted at this time.
What is a burgh? The simple answer is that it is a town which had the right to govern its own affairs. This was an important right when one remembers that this was the age of feudalism when everyone lived on the land of some lord, a baron, an abbot or perhaps the biggest landowner of all - the King. Unless you lived in a burgh everyone had to do their share of work on the lord's land which was ruled by the lord's bailiff or manager. Burghs did not simply grow out of small villages, they were created by being given a charter, written and sealed, listing their rights, privileges and duties. If the charter came from the King it became a 'royal burgh'; if it came from a lord or from the church it became a 'burgh of barony'. The distinction became important in later times because only the royal burghs sent representatives to the Convention of Royal Burghs and to Parliament. Also a royal burgh alone had the right to engage in foreign trade.
For these valuable rights the burgh folk or 'burgesses' paid money. This took the form of rents of about 5p a year depending on the size of house and land. Dumfries paid for its charter of Robert III of 1395 £20 Scots annually. The king could also expect money from tolls paid by travellers entering a burgh and customs paid by merchants. So it is easy to see that the growth of burghs increased the wealth and power of the King. Sometimes folk were encouraged to stay in a new burgh by being offered a 'land' free of rent for a year. In dangerous parts of the country this could be increased. In Dingwall, new burgesses could stay for ten years without paying rent. Dumfries, a royal outpost in the wild kingdom of Galloway, may have been in the same position.
Almost every royal burgh has the same common feature in that they all grew up beside and under the protection of a royal castle. Dumfries was no exception. The castle at Castledykes founded in 1185 and built in stone in the 1260s must have provided the security essential at this period. Certainly there was a rapid growth of the town in the late 12th Century. We hear of a new church on the site which later became St Michael's, a new chapel to St Mary, and a new chapel to St Thomas of Canterbury, killed in 1170, which was at the start of St Andrew's Street. All of these could survive because of the King's Castle.
Dumfries Burgh was instituted to service this castle, perhaps even to provide some of the garrison to keep down the marauding Celt. In the same way Inverness was founded to check the wild, wicked Highlandman. Burgh and castle went together and the purpose was primarily military.
That Dumfries was an outpost in a wild region and not integrated with the Kingdom of Galloway was illustrated by the famous case of the inquest held in the castle of Dumfries over the death of Adam the Miller in 1256.
One Sunday Adam picked a quarrel with a man called Richard and in the cemetery of St Michael's called him "a Galuvet, that is, a thief". The following Thursday they came to blows in the street. Adam, who had been standing in a doorway, drew his knife. Richard drew his sword, and in the encounter that followed Adam was mortally wounded. The equation of Galwegian with thief shows how anti-Celtic the town must have been, its population comprised of Anglo-Norman immigrants on the frontier of a wild race - the Galloway Picts.