A Background to The Border Reivers
“If Jesus Christ were emongest them they would deceave him, if he woulde here, trust and followe theire wicked councells!”
(Richard Fenwick 1597)
Who were they?
When did reiving occur?
Scotland and England were frequently at war during the late Middle Ages. In 1249 The Laws of the Marches were set up jointly by the English & Scottish governments to better manage the Border, which was a hugely lawless and often dangerous place to live.
By 1297 there were three main administrative areas on each side of the Border, to try to bring about a semblance of order: The East; The Middle; and The West Marches were overseen by March Wardens, as well as a separate keeper for the more troublesome valley of Liddesdale. It's fascinating to look at the surnames of the clans in each of these Marches, as you can still identify with surnames of people who live there today.
The Heart of Hadrian's Wall lies mainly within the English Middle March, which
For the next three centuries, the land North and South of the Anglo-Scottish border was a bad place to live. Bannock Burn in 1314, Flodden in 1513 and other international disputes coloured the landscape and the centuries in more ways than one.
What did the reivers do?
Essentially, reivers went raiding on sturdy ponies or nags who could easily traverse the rough terrain in the Borderlands, with the intent of bringing home cattle and horses, and any other portable goods if they could get their hands on them. A raiding group could consist of anything from a few dozen to three thousand riders, and they would be armed with anything from a lance to a crossbow, pistol, sword or dirk.
Relationships between the Border clans varied from uneasy alliance to open, deadly feud. It took little to start a feud; a chance quarrel or misuse of office was sufficient, and these feuds might continue for years.
How could you stop them?
In essence, you couldn't stop three thousand reivers from escaping with your cattle or horses, but there were measures that taken to try to minimise the damage. Bastle houses and Peel towers were built for accommodation to make it difficult for raiders to enter or burn the dwellings to the ground, If the livestock weren't sheltered in the ground floor space, a protective wall was often built around the dwelling to keep them protected.
Clan surnames in the Marches
The historic riding surnames recorded by George MacDonald Fraser in The Steel Bonnets (1971) are:
Scotland: Hume, Trotter, Dixon, Bromfield, Craw, Cranston.
England: Forster, Selby, Gray, Dunn.
Scotland: Burns, Kerr, Young, Pringle, Davison, Gilchrist, Tait of East Teviotdale. Scott, Oliver, Turnbull, Rutherford of West Teviotdale. Armstrong, Croser, Elliot, Nixon, Douglas, Laidlaw, Routledge, Turner, Henderson of Liddesdale.
England: Anderson, Potts, Reed, Hall, Hedley of Redesdale. Charlton, Robson, Dodd, Dodds, Milburn, Yarrow, Stapleton of Tynedale. Also Fenwick, Ogle, Heron, Witherington, Medford (later Mitford), Collingwood, Carnaby, Shaftoe, Ridley, Stokoe, Stamper, Wilkinson, Hunter, Thomson, Jamieson.
Scotland: Bell, Irvine, Johnstone, Maxwell, Carlisle, Beattie, Little, Carruthers, Glendenning, Routledge, Moffat.
England: Graham, Hetherington, Musgrave, Storey, Lowther, Curwen, Salkeld, Dacre, Harden, Hodgson, Routledge, Tailor, Noble.
When did they die out?
Fuelled by international unrest and ongoing family feuds, a state of lawlessness prevailed until the union of the crowns in the 17th Century. Even in the latter days of Reiving, at the time of the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne in 1603, the brief period after Elizabeth’s death was known as “Busy Week” since the Reivers believed that, with no head of state, no law could be enforced and so raided accordingly.
Following a scorched earth policy pursued by successive national armies, local families were forced to survive by raiding or Reiving cattle and goods from their neighbours. A network of secret trails and pathways developed over the boggy moorlands. The Tarras Moss, Spadeadam Waste and Deadwater Fell became places where herds could be hidden and families could hide out.