Quaerentes in Extremis
Galloway is an area in southwestern Scotland contained by sea to the west and south, the Galloway Hills to the north, and the River Nith to the east. It has always been slightly isolated due to having 150 miles of rugged coastline and a vast range of largely uninhabited hills to the North.
Geography and Economy
Galloway comprises that part of Scotland southwards from the Southern Upland watershed and westward from the River Nith. Traditionally it has been described as stretching from “the braes of Glenapp to the Nith”. Three main river valleys, the Urr, the Dee, and the Cree, all running north-south, provide much of the good arable land, although there is also some arable land on the coast. Generally however the landscape is rugged and much of the soil is shallow. Despite this, the generally south slope and southern coast make for mild and wet climate, and there is a great deal of good pasture for livestock.
Despite its isolation and subsequent economic backwardness, Galloway is known for both its horses and cattle. The annual horse fair, held outside Wigtown, attracts buyers from across Britain, and provides a significant cash income to John de Balliol. Fisheries are active along the coast, and a whaling industry persists around Wigtown, though most of the whaling has shifted northwest to Carrick.
The history of Galloway goes far into the misty past. The Romans named the inhabitants of Galloway the Novantae. According to tradition, before the end of Roman rule in Britain, St. Ninian established a church at Whithorn which remains an important place of pilgrimage for the Scottish kings.
Galloway probably remained a Brythonic dominated region until the late 7th century when it was taken over by the English kingdom of Bernicia. The English took over the more fertile land and religious centers like Whithorn, leaving the native inhabitants the less fertile upland areas. English dominance seems to have been supplanted by Norse and then Norse-Gaelic (Gall-Gaidel) peoples between the 9th and the 11th century, though the processes by which this took place are unclear.
If it had not been for Fergus of Galloway who established the semi-independent principality that exists today, the region would rapidly have been absorbed by Scotland. This did not happen because the Fergussons (or MacFergus), down to Fergus’ great-grandson Alan, constantly shifted their allegiance between Scottish and English kings. Technically vassals of both, they were effectively beyond the rule of either.
The Fergussons’ proficiency with external diplomacy did not extend to relations within their own family, however, and the two sons of Fergus, Uchtred and Gille Brigte, after 13 years of shared lordship, fell to war. This ended when Gille Brigte captured, blinded and castrated Uchtred at the fortress on Brynt Isle. Uchtred died from his wounds and Gille Brigte with his focus on the gaelic tradition ruled the land alone. However, this fratricide cost Gille Brigte the support of both the Kings of England and Scotland. England was especially upset as Uchtred son Lochlann was a hostage with Henry II.
The fighting was continued by their sons (Lochlann Mac Uchtred and Donnchadh Mac Gille Brigte) until in anno domini 1186 Henry II of England brought an army to Carlisle and threatened to invade unless the Fergussons submitted to his judgement. Galloway was split in two, with Lochlann keeping the south and Donnchadh receiving the new Earldom of Carrick in the northwest.
Alan FitzRoland took over after his father Lochlann (or Roland) died around 1198. Alan is now the Lord of Galloway and Constable to the King of Scotland. Alan’s brother Thomas became Mormaer of Athol by marriage, ending the history of fratricide in the family. Thomas and Alan FitzRoland work together to expand their houses’ interest in England, Scotland and Ireland.
Like their kin in the highlands, the Galwegians are organised into several powerful kin-groups, or clans, for instance, the MacLellans, the MacDowalls and MacCanns.
Through repeated invasions of both England and English-speaking Scotland, the Galwegians have earned a fearsome reputation. They are the barbarians par excellence of the northern chroniclers, said, amongst other things, to have ripped babies out of their mother’s wombs.