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Border Raids and Reivers

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Border Raids and Reivers
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Author(s): Robert Borland
Date Published: 2010/07
Page Count: 196
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-215-4
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-216-1

Blood and fire on the wild borderland

During the Middle Ages the Kingdoms of England and Scotland were frequently at war and even in times of peace the relationship between the two nations was an uneasy one rife with understandable antipathy. It was inevitable that it would be along the borderline, in the furthest North of England and most southern Scotland, where old enemies faced each other with little to divide them that the peace would be most fragile and often broken. This was a wild country controlled by powerful families on both sides of national lines that bred a hard people equal to its demands. This was the country of the blood feud, the lightning raid and the flame and blade in the night. The Reivers-reckoned to be the finest light cavalry of their day led by daring captains expert in their trade- raided in pursuit of property, cattle, vengeance and were often less than particular who-or what nationality- their victims were particularly if they were unprotected by powerful allies or lacked the security of a stout stone Peel tower. This is an in depth and serious history of these troubled times which lasted until the end of the 16th century and an essential reference source for the subject. Available in soft cover and hard back with dust jacket.

It may be interesting, before proceeding to give an account of some of the more famous raids, to glance briefly at the manner in which the raiders were armed and accoutred for the fray. Froissart has given the following account of the Scottish Borderers, and Scottish soldiers generally, as they appeared towards the close of the fourteenth century. “The Scots,” he says, “are bold, hardy, and much inured to war. When they make their invasions into England, they march from twenty to four-and-twenty leagues without halting, as well by night as by day; for they are all on horseback, except the camp followers, who are on foot. The knights and esquires are mounted on large bay horses, the common people on little Galloways. They bring no carriages with them, on account of the mountains they have to pass in Northumberland; neither do they carry with them any provisions of bread and wine, for the habits of sobriety are such in time of war that they will live a long time on flesh half sodden, without bread, and drink the river water without wine.<br>
They have therefore no occasion for pots or pans, for they dress the flesh of their cattle in the skins after they have taken them off; and being sure to find plenty of them in the country which they invade, they carry none with them. Under the flaps of his saddle each man carries a broad plate of metal, behind the saddle a little bag of oatmeal. When they have eaten too much of the sodden flesh, and their stomach appears weak and empty, they place this plate over the fire, mix with water their oatmeal, and when the plate is heated they put a little of the paste upon it and make a thin cake like a cracknel or biscuit, which they eat to warm their stomachs; it is therefore no wonder they perform a longer day’s march than other soldiers.<br>
In this manner the Scots entered England, destroying and burning everything as they passed. They seized more cattle than they knew what to do with. Their army consisted of four thousand men at arms, knights, and esquires, well mounted, besides twenty thousand men, bold and hardy, armed after the manner of their country, and mounted upon little hackneys that are never tied up or dressed, but are turned immediately after the day’s march to pasture on the heath or in the field.”<br>
It may be said that this description—which, it may be remarked, is as graphic in outline as it is minute in detail—applies rather to the regular army than to those undisciplined marauding bands which infested the Borders, and to which the name “reivers” or “mosstroopers” is usually assigned. This is no doubt true. At the same time, it must not be forgotten that many of the more important raids were undertaken by large bodies of troops, numbering sometimes three or four thousand men. This much at least is certain that the Border reiver was always well mounted, and well armed with lance or spear, which, on occasion, he could use with much dexterity and skill. With a steel cap on his head, a jack slung over his shoulders, a pistol or hagbut at his belt, he was ever ready for the fray, and prepared to give or take the hardest blows. He was naturally fond of fighting. Like Dandie Dinmont’s terriers he never could get enough of it, and must have found life peculiarly irksome when he was compelled to desist from his favourite pastime. He lived in the saddle, and was as unaccustomed to the ordinary occupations of the world as the wild Arab of the desert.<br>
Even to enumerate the raids and forays on the one side or the other, of which some record has been left either in the Histories of the two Kingdoms, or in the archives of the State Paper Office, would be an almost endless task, and moreover would serve no really useful purpose. The details of the “burnings,” “herschips,” and “slaughters,” which were the necessary concomitants of these invasions, are much the same in all cases. It is a dreary tale of theft and oppression, bloodshed and murder. The following incidents may be taken as fairly illustrative examples.<br>
During the reign of Henry VIII. the relations between the two kingdoms were often of a most unsatisfactory and unsettled character. This was due to a variety of causes, partly political and partly religious. The same difficulties cropped up in the subsequent reigns of Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth, and the consequence was that war clouds were ever hanging, dark and threatening, on the horizon. The mutual antagonism between the two countries fostered the raiding tendencies of both kingdoms. The Scots were intent on despoiling their more wealthy neighbours, and the English never missed an opportunity of humiliating and crippling their ancient foes.<br>
Two of the most destructive invasions, or raids, on the part of the English were conducted by the Earl of Hertford and Sir Ralph Eure. The former invaded the country both by sea and land. Edinburgh and Leith suffered severely. The Abbey and Palace of Holyrood were given to the flames. All along the east coast, and southwards as far as Merse and Teviotdale, marked the steps of the retreating and relentless invaders. Henry’s savage instructions were faithfully carried out. When Hertford set out on this expedition he was commanded “to put all to fire and sword, to burn Edinburgh town, and to raze and deface it; when you have sacked it, and gotten what you can out of it, as that it may remain forever a perpetual memory of the vengeance of God lighted upon it, for their falsehood and disloyalty. Do what you can out of hand, and without long tarrying, to beat down and overthrow the Castle, sack Holyrood-house, and as many towns and villages about Edinburgh as ye conveniently can; sack Leith and burn and subvert it, and all the rest, putting man, woman, and child to fire and sword, without exception, where any resistance shall be made against you; and this done, pass over to the Fife land, and extend the extremities and destructions in all towns and villages whereunto you may reach conveniently, and not forgetting amongst all the rest so to spoil and turn upside down the Cardinal’s town of St. Andrews, as the upper stone may be the nether, and not one stick stand by another, sparing no creature alive within the same, specially such as in friendship or blood be allied to the Cardinal.”<br>
This hideous policy on the part of the English King was fruitful mainly of bitter memories. He did not accomplish the object he had in view, but he certainly succeeded in engendering in the Scottish mind a feeling of the most bitter hostility. It produced, however, one good result. It alienated from the English monarch some of those nobles who had for some time been wavering in their allegiance to the Scottish throne, and had been, either secretly or openly, lending their aid to further the machinations of the English government.
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