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Old 14th Jul 2009, 23:12   #1
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Default Hands across the Border

This is pretty scary for me as I don't know if you lot have any interest in history, but here goes anyway:

The Border Region

Is that part of Britain which straddles the frontier (yes, I said frontier. Even now it's more far more than a mere border) between Scotland and England. In geographical terms it is a hilly upland plateau bisected by river valleys, but that doesn't tell the full story, it also comprises some of the bleakest, most dangerous and yet beautiful terrain in Britain (if not Europe). While it provides good grazing, there isn't much arable land but what there is, is good. There are also mosses (impenetrable boggy areas which can be traversed with local knowledge) and wastes. A waste, in this context is an area of trackless hilly ground which contains absolutely no recognisable landmarks – if you aren't a local, you need a native guide – preferably one who has a compass, a map and the ability to use them.

George MacDonald Fraser once wrote that “The English-Scottish frontier is and was the dividing line between two of the most energetic, aggressive, talented and altogether formidable nations in human history”, could be, but that still doesn't explain the Reivers.

The Marches

The frontier between Scotland and England was divided into six “administrative” (in quotation marks as that is the easiest way to describe it) districts called Marches, three in each country. From the west these were the Scottish West March, Middle March and East March. The English Marches were named in the same way. The inhabitants of these areas were, due to the oft-repeated invasions aimed at expanding the influence of the English monarchy, and the subsequent Scottish retaliatory raids into England, pretty much nomadic herdsmen. This was due to the scorched earth tactics favoured by the Scots and the English habit of living off the land (as long as its somebody else's). Due to these tactics the Borderers had little or no chance to raise crops.

A wee bit history

The frontier was originally put in place by the Romans when they realised they had bitten off more than they could chew (or, more likely, had decided it would be cheaper to build a wall than keep fighting the Caledonians). However, by building the wall they inadvertently invented a technique which has since been used by all western empires (including the USA). Namely, they (in effect) drew a line on a map – only in this case the line was Hadrians Wall. What happened when they erected the wall was that they split tribal groups and families. The wall was built on territory belonging to the Selgovae in the west and the Votadini in the east, but there were Selgovae, Votadini and Brigantes on both sides of the wall. This may, at some level have some bearing on the origins of the Reivers.

Later invasions from the south (and there were more than a few) normally took the eastern route as this was (marginally) flatter terrain and thus was easier to traverse. Naturally, some invasions also used the western route but these were less common, mainly because of the transportation difficulties. Be that as it may, most invaders used the eastern route, but all of the regions which later became the Marches were periodically devastated by both invaders and defenders.

We'll be passing over all the various Roman and Northumbrian invasions, in fact we'll be ignoring anything between the building of Hadrians Wall and the death of Margaret of Norway (the last of the MacMalcolm dynasty). This death, coming as it did, four years after that of her grandfather, Alexander III, left Scotland in a vacuum. At that time, a monarch was a symbol of a nations very existence and the lack of a monarch (preferably a king) meant that everything was up for grabs. The grabber-in-chief here was Longshanks (Edward Plantagent, known to the English as Edward I (ignoring all the previous English kings named Edward) or “the lawgiver” (ignoring the fact he re-defined the Magna Carta (again)). As an aside, this king, while he may be revered in England is not held in the same regard in Wales, Ireland, France or Scotland.

Anyways, by 1292 the MacMalcolm dynasty is history and Scotland is up shit creek sans paddle, there is a competition to decide who the next High Heid Yin is gaunny be (for those who aren't Scots, read “who will be the next king”), for some idiot reason, Longshanks is appointed referee. This plays right into his hands. Himself is after controlling the whole of the British Isles, he has already got his greedy hands on Wales and invented an entirely new form of punishment. A punishment which was intended to ensure that the recipient could not enter the “Kingdom of Heaven” - that punishment was to be Hung, drawn and quartered. This involved the victim (make no mistake, even if the person sentenced to this punishment was guilty, they were still a victim) being drawn naked on a sledge to the place of execution, where he would be hung by the neck, as the phrase went, “until half living”, then they would be taken down from the gallows, their privates (genitalia) would be cut off and burned in front of their face, they would be disembowelled, and their guts added to the fire, their heart would be cut out of their body and burned, then their head would be struck off and their body quartered. - English justice at its best.

Putting that aside for the moment, Longshanks was delighted to have the chance to install his preferred candidate as King of Scots. His choice was John Balliol (son of the founder of Balliol College), later known, to Scots at least as “Toom Tabard” (Empty Coat). In return for his (Longshanks) decision, Balliol was to pledge fealty to Edward for his (Balliols) kingship of Scotland (never mind that Longshanks had no right to demand submission from a foreign king, far less that he was in rebellion against his own feudal superior). When Balliol refused, (in 1295) to support Edwards adventures in France, Eddie had him removed and humiliated. This removal led directly to the Rape of Berwick and the Wars of Scottish Independence. But, Stirling Bridge, Falkirk, Bannockburn and the Chapter of Myton (among others) notwithstanding, we still haven't reached the birth of the Reivers.

The series of continuing invasions and counter-invasions (which lasted for centuries) resulting from the Plantagenet wish for territorial aggrandisement produced a situation wherein the inhabitants of the Border Marches, both Scots and English had to adopt a semi-nomadic lifestyle in order to survive. This had an effect on the diet (usually beef, beef and (sometimes) beef, some salmon and the occasional chunk of mutton), it also had the effect of producing men who were very adept at moving livestock in periods of darkness.....

Fine, but that only takes us up to the end of the 15th century wherein, for most of the time Northern England is paying protection money to the Scots. In theory, this protection can only be extended by their “rightful king”. Nevertheless, assets continue to head north (usually) with the occasional hiatus normally caused by the weather (or maybe another taxman)? Not to worry, the English court doesn't really give a damn about the northern peasants anyway (mind you, the Scottish court don't care about the Southrons either).

The 15th century was pretty much defined by the 100 years War, which meant that, for the most part, Anglo-Scottish armed disputes took place in France (or Burgundy). This doesn't mean that the Borders were quiet – just quieter.

The Riding Times

The years between 1500CE and 1605CE were the heyday of the Reivers. This is the period which produced the majority of the Border Ballads. Unfortunately it was also the period which produced the majority of the (recorded) deaths and despoilings.

The Riding Times were punctuated by semi-regular set-piece battles. These battles, even if nominally between Scotland and England, commonly had Borderers, sometimes from the same families on opposing sides in the same battle.

There will be no in-depth discussion of these battles or the tactics used in them. I'll just be giving the battle, the year and the result:-

Flodden, 1513, Home win for England
Solway Moss, 1542, Away win for England
Haddon Rigg, 1542, Home win for Scotland
Ancrum Moor, 1545, Home win for Scotland
Pinkie Cleugh, 1547, Away win for England

There were also a couple of purely Scottish battles between the supporters of Queen Mary and those who thought to control the young King James VI (Carberry Hill in 1567 and Langside in 156. The last battle of the Riding Times was Dryfe Sands which I'll mention later.

{Side note: While I was researching this, I found this gem on Wiki “England and Scotland were frequently at war during the late Middle Ages.” Seems that Wiki likes understatement}

The Riding Families

This is a partial list of the main “Riding Names” on both sides. Some of them appear in both Scotland and England, where this is so, their primary loyalty was not to the country in which they presently lived (except when it was – temporarily of course), even if they had been born there, but to their name and kinship group. Alternate spellings given in brackets.

Scotland: Armstrong (Armstrang), Burn, Croser (Crozier, Crosar), Elliot (there are innumerable ways to spell this one, commonest are probably: Eliot, Elliot, Eliott), Hume (Home), Irvine, Johnstone, Kerr (Ker, Carr), Maxwell, Scott. And many others.

England: Charlton (Carleton), Fenwick, Hetherington, Musgrave, Robson, Storey. And many others.

Both: Bell, Graham (Graeme), Hall, Nixon (Nixoun), And many others – I've only listed the most famous (notorious?) of the Riding Families – there are a helluva lot more.

The various (and many) feuds and alliances between the Riding Families could support a good many doctoral theses, but its highly unlikely that any one person will manage to identify all the pertinent influences. So, in spite of my big mouth, I'm not even going to try – I'm just going to outline a few of the better known ones and wait for the howls of disbelief....

The Kers of Ferniehurst and the Kerrs of Cessford, though sharing a Surname, were at feud with each other. The Kerrs – all of them – were at feud with the Scotts (all of them) in a dispute which had been started by an Elliot (or possibly an Eliot or an Eliott or whatever). Unusually, all Scottish this time.

The Grahams, some of whom were Scottish and of whom weren't, were at feud in 1582 with Irvines, Bells and Maxwells. However, a year later, they were allied with the Irvines against the Musgraves. The Armstrongs joined in against the Musgraves, while still in feud with the Robsons and the Taylors (who were allied with the Elliots against the Forsters who were allied with the Humes).

Looking at the supposed national allegiances in this dispute is quite educational:- Grahams (mainly English), allied with Irvines (Scottish) whom they had been killing the year before against the Musgraves (English) with the help of the Armstrongs (mainly Scottish) who were, at the same time conducting vendettas against the Robsons (mainly English), Taylors (English), Bells (English) and Johnstones (Scottish). Confused yet? Good, it gets better....That was just the obvious part of it – I haven't mentioned the marriage and family ties which existed within these feuding families. I'll just say that Musgraves, Armstrongs and Johnstones tended to marry each other, but all the surnames were at it.

The feud between the Maxwells (Scottish) and Johnstones (Scottish) was probably the virulent and bloodthirsty tribal war in British history. This feud culminated in the Battle of Dryfe Sands in 1593. In this battle approximately 2000 Maxwells (and allies) fought about 400 Johnstones. The Johnstones won the battle, while the Maxwells lost around 700. the battle is notable for being where Robert Johnstone of Raecleugh “bloodied his lance” - he had attained the advanced age of 11 at the time...

Unfortunately for the Johnstones, the Maxwells had the Kings warrant.

MacDonalds and Campbells? - Forget it.

Hatfields and McCoys? - Rank fucking amateurs.
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Old 15th Jul 2009, 1:20   #2
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Default Re: Hands across the Border

Very instructive.
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Old 15th Jul 2009, 9:40   #3
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I've got halfway down but I'm out of time so I'll finish it when I get back home. Can I ask what inspired the overview, a particular study requirement, personal interest, etc.?
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Old 15th Jul 2009, 9:43   #4
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Default Re: Hands across the Border

That's what I was wondering, too. Nou beat me to the question.

We considered moving to the borders for our most recent move (which was 2001 so not that recent). We were slightly put off by needing a car to get anywhere. Other parts of Scotland have excellent public transport so it does seem at odds that the borders areas seems to have none.
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Old 15th Jul 2009, 10:18   #5
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Default Re: Hands across the Border

Nice bit of research, Chookie. I've been tempted to read the George Macdonald Fraser The Steel Bonnets for a long time. One of my favourite YA duo of novels is set in the time and locale of the Border Reivers - The Sterkarm Handshake/The Sterkarm Kiss by Susan Price.
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Old 15th Jul 2009, 21:22   #6
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Default Re: Hands across the Border

Originally Posted by Noumenon View Post
Can I ask what inspired the overview, a particular study requirement, personal interest, etc.?
Personal interest mainly. I have the misfortune to be a history nut..........
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