Carham is a quiet village in the county of Durham. To the west lies the Cheviot Hills, to the east the river Tweed, two natural features that today help define the current border between Scotland and England. Carham itself lies between the two, in an area where the border is not naturally defined and on a natural invasion route between the two countries; almost inevitably therefore the location for a battle.
The territory of Lothian (that is, what is today south east Scotland between the Tweed and the Forth had been part of the northern kingdom of Northumbria from the mid seventh century until that fateful year of 867, when the Danes conquered York and established their own kingdom of Jorvik. By the early ninth century, in northern Northumbria former Bernicia, the dynasty of the Lords of Bamburgh maintained a dignified semi-independence. But cut off from their fellow English they were unable to resist pressure from the north where the kings of the Scots pursued their own territorial ambitions southwards. By 962 the Scots had captured Edinburgh and much of Lothian had fallen under the sway of these new kings of the north; with the loss of Lothian the Lords of Bamburgh were keen to retain the southern half of their domain, the Scots were equally keen to extand their territories southwards.
The Battle of Carham occured in the year 1018.
On one side was Malcolm II king of the Scots, with the support of Eoghain the Bald the king of Strathclyde, talking advantage of the absence of the reigning Cnut who was in Denmark, to press his claims for sovereignty over the Lordship of Bamburgh.
On the other side were the Northumbrians were under the leadership of Eadulf Cudel the reigning Lord of Bamburgh who is said to have levied all Northumbrian men north of the Tees in order to resist the invasion. (And probably hoping that victory might being with it an opportunity to recover Lothian.)
No details regarding the actual battle itself appear to have survived, but despite the death of Eoghain the Bald, the Scots won and the English lost. So devastating was the defeat that It is said the Aldhun, the Bishop of Durham, died heartbroken on hearing the news.
Many say that the Scots gained Lothian as a result of the battle, forgetting that Malcolm II was paying homage to the English king Edgar in 973 for Lothian. (Some even go so far as to speak of the Scots 'recovering' Lothian, which simply displays a weak grasp of history.)
But despite being a victory for the Scots, Malcolm did not achieve his objective, the territory of the Lordship of Bamnburgh remained outside his grasp. Malcolm does not seem to have followed up his victory with any further move southwards; quite why no one knows, perhaps the victory was somewhat pyrrhic and he lacked the military resources to press home his advantage.
Eadulf Cudel died in 1019, probably at the hands of Cnut as punishment for his failure. Cnut eventually launched a punative expedition north in the years 1031-32 that persuaded the Scots to modify their ambitions for a time at least.
The battle was really only part of the process that severed Lothian from its centuries old connection with England and led to the devlopment of a nation called Scotland.
A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain by Ann Williams, Alfred P. Smyth and D. P. Kirby (Seaby 1991)
The Siege of Durham, the Battle of Carham and the Cession of Lothian by ] B. Meehan Scottish Historical Review 55 (1976)
The Battle of Carham, 1018 by A.A.M. Duncan, Scottish Historical Review 55 (1976)