The Battle of Cruden

By William J. Sell

Cruden Bay is a small village on the North East coast of Scotland just South of Peterhead. The village takes its name from the stream which passes through it. It was in this neighbourhood that, according to John Bellenden, Archdeacon of Moray, 1536, and translator of Hector Boece’s “History of Scotland”, the Battle of Cruden was fought by King Malcolm II and Canute, son of Sweyn, King of Denmark and Norway.

This was Canute the Great who, in that year, 1012, landed on the shores of Cruden at the head of a large army. His mandate from Sweyn was to conquer the Scots once and for all. This order was borne of Sweyn’s vexation at the repeated losses which he had sustained in Scotland. So earnest was he that the command of the large army which he raised was entrusted to his son, Canute, a seventeen year old already experienced in warfare.

His contender, Malcolm 11, marched to meet him with expedition. But, says Dr Abercromby in his “Martial Achievements of the Scots Nation”

The Scot’ King thought not fit, with his new raised forces to hazard a decisive battle”.

Instead Malcolm harassed the invaders by frequent skirmishes and intercepted their food carrying parties in a strategy of attrition, hoping thereby to starve them into returning to their ships. This, Dr Abercromby tells us, did not please Malcolm’s subjects. They wanted a major confrontation with the enemy and were determined to have it even at the expense of mutinying against their King. Consequently, Malcolm was compelled to seek out the enemy.

The battle which followed was the last of many battles between the Danes and the Scots. This contest, according to Alexander Smith, “A New History of Aberdeenshire”,

is said to have extended four miles to the interior and along the south side of the water of Cruden; but the hottest part of the conflict is supposed to have been on the plain skirting the bay, and along the valley, about half a mile in breadth, where the remains of he dead and many kinds of warlike instruments have been found”.

From this account, it seems that the golf course is sited on what was the worst part of the battle field. It was here that most of the nobility and officers on both sides were slain. The victory was to the Scots, but Dr Abercromby says that

it was such as occasioned more grief than joy in the camp”.

That night both parties rested at some distance from one another and in the morning they were presented with the dismal spectacle of the bodies of most of their numbers strewn on the field of battle.

It is little wonder then that their thoughts turned to peace–a peace mediated by Christianity, the religion respected by both nations. Its terms included provisions that the field of battle be consecrated as a burying place for the dead and that the Danes as well as the Scots be decently and honourably interred.

Also under the treaty, the Danes and the Norwegians had to withdraw from Scotland. But Canute lived to fight another day and was still a young man when he became King of England and Scandinavia.

As to Malcolm II, he honoured his part of the treaty and provided a Christian burial for dead of both armies. He also commanded that a chapel be built on the site, which to perpetuate the memory of the treaty he dedicated to St. Olaf, the patron saint both of Norway and Denmark.

We are told by the Rev. David Mackay, B.D., in “Cruden and its Ministers” (published 1912), that this, the first church in the parish of Cruden, was erected in the year 1012 on the sandy plain now occupied by the golf course, and at a point near the sea. Needless to say, it eventually succumbed to the elements and there remains no trace of it.

However, there is more than a trace of the memory of the battle in the place name, Cruden. That is Croju Dane, or Crudane — the death or slaughter of the Danes.