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Border Reivers - Fate and Destiny


									The Border Reivers were cattle and sheep thieves, murderers, extortionists and
blackmailers. They had little regard for the laws of the realms they lived in; indeed
followed an older course where they obeyed only the law and custom of their own
families and clans.

Allegiance to the clan or surname (family) was paramount, the watchword of the
Reivers. Thus they fiercely clashed with any authority set in place to control them and
caused centuries of death, strife, violent confrontation and mayhem. Such is the
common perception nowadays of the people who lived in the country on each side of
the English Scottish Border Line before the Union of the Crowns in 1603. There is
even a prevalent view that they took to their way of life like 'ducks to water', espoused
it with a lust at one with the violence of their nature and character; that they embraced
it with relish and gusto.

Nothing could be further from the truth yet history has confined the Reivers, their
lives and times, to a small, embarrassing chapter that is to be briefly mentioned and
then passed over and dismissed.

The relentless and violent contest, the never-ending feud and blood-feud as the clans
and surnames (families) squared up to each other, their complete disdain of monarchy
and authority is often viewed as an unsavoury episode in the history of the British.

Where and when did these people, these Border Reivers, live?

 The Border Line between England and Scotland runs today for some 120 miles, from
the Solway and Gretna in the west in a north-easterly direction via the rivers of Esk
and Liddel, across the vast expanse of the Cheviot Hills to the east via the river Tweed
which joins the North Sea at Berwick. This line has existed since 1237 when
agreement was reached between the Scottish king Alexander ll and his English
counterpart Henry lll. The agreement of 1237 was a formal recognition of the Border
Line that had been determined, de facto, long before in the 11th century.

Even on agreement its lines of demarcation were hotly contested by the people who
lived to the north and south of its divide. So much so that by 1248 and 1249 its lines
were re-emphasised by a consortium of both Scottish and English knights who argued
and disagreed before the English, unilaterally, determined its course. In parts it would
take until the middle of the nineteenth century before it was finally agreed.

This Border Line divided the counties of what is now southern Scotland from the
northernmost counties of England. To the north, and thus Scotland, now the Scottish
Border counties, Dumfries and Galloway, Roxburgh, Selkirkshire and Berwickshire
lay close to the Line whilst to the south of it Cumbria and Northumberland, both
English, cling to the divide.
It is often related that the onset of the Scottish Wars of Independence from England in
1296 was the point which cradled the birth of the Reivers. True, the relative peace
which had existed between the two countries for decades came to an end with the
deaths of Alexander lll and his grand-daughter Margaret. The rebellion of John Balliol,
the Scottish king set in place by Edward l of England was to kick-start 250 years of
war between Scotland and England with the Border people caught in the centre of the
confrontation. 1296 was certainly a momentous year in Scottish history.

The Scottish Wars of Independence began with John Balliol's alliance with France and
his devastating forays into northern England. Edward l retaliated with his Sack of
Berwick on Easter Day 1296 and his dominant progress throughout Scotland
following the Battle of Dunbar. Yet this animosity was but one more phase in the
relentless conflict that had existed for centuries between the two countries.

The rush for dominance of one country over the other goes much further back in time,
to a time when the people who would become the Borderers and subsequently Reivers,
had suffered every hardship and deprivation that hostile armies could throw at them.
Both countries, in a previous age, almost three hundred years before 1296, had
attained some nationality under one ruler, and as rival powers, disputed the line of the
frontier which then existed between the nations.

The new kingdom of Scotland laid claim to Northumberland and Durham, English
territory, whilst at the same time dictating that, as part of the kingdom of Strathclyde,
the territory to the west as far south as the river Eden (modern day Carlisle, Cumbria,
England) was Scottish.

Before his death at Alnwick (Northumberland) in 1093, Malcolm lll of Scotland,
known as Malcolm Canmore, crossed the Border into England and devastated the
country on five occasions. This is but one example of the confrontation and strife that
existed for centuries.

In the time of William the Conqueror (1066-1087) even veiled references of
cannibalism are reported in the wastelands of the Border country which he had
devastated to subdue the Northumbrian earls. Before, going back as far as the year
603 and the Battle of Degsastan, before unity of either country existed, the surge for
domination and power became a relentless and inexorable challenge to kings and

 And who sat defenceless in all this anarchy? The people who would become the
Border people! The people of the Border Lands; the people who are virtually
dismissed by history; seen as worthy of little consideration! Their lives were ruled by
death and loss for centuries, their livelihoods winkled out of the devastation of a
war-torn environment. Is it a wonder that they began to fight back and swear
allegiance to only those who they knew and trusted: allegiance to the clan, the family,
the only haven in a devastated land, waste-land, a veritable desert?

If survival meant being at odds with the closest neighbours as well as other clans and
families on the same or opposite side of the Scottish English Border Line then so be it.
The quest for survival surpassed consideration for other people even if they were
living through the same hell.

And lust and gusto for the way of life! Certainly not! By the fifteenth century the
animosity between the clans and families had reached such a pitch that, bereft of any
meaningful or consistent control through monarchy or local authority, there was no
turning back. Feud, in the words of James Vl of Scotland was the 'canker' of the
Borders. Generations of families and clans were at each others throats because of
confrontations that were often lost in time.

All had been initiated through want and starvation caused by an endless war between
two kingdoms whose race for dominance was about land, territory and controlling
power. The basic wants and needs of the people, their traditions and culture, were
meaningless. Generation after generation of the Border people on both sides of the
Border buckled beneath the onslaught of marauding armies whose only goals were
subjugation and supremacy.

From the Scottish Wars of Independence beginning in 1296, down to the Union of the
two crowns of England and Scotland in 1603, might have been a time when the
Border people were finally recognised for their lawless ways but it was much earlier
that they became a race apart, victims of marauding, malicious armies who left them

It is inexcusable to consider them only in the history that we know, that which is

Is it little wonder that their approach to life was moulded by circumstance beyond
their control; that they became a hard and obdurate people whose heirs were inured to
any and every kind of suffering, who trusted only themselves for support? The
Borderers became the Border Reivers for reasons that far surpass any text-book
assessment of their lives. That they are consigned to history as murderers and thieves
is an appraisal based on a purely cursory look at their lives and times.

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