Where in the morn men hang and draw,
And sit in judgment after.
Here, in feudal times, the Border Warden dealt March law. Close by the
town, in August 1388, gathered the forces for that raid into
Northumberland which culminated on the moonlit field of Otterbourne; and
ten miles out to the south, over the Dunion, lies Carter Ridge, the scene
of the conflict between the opposing wardens in 1575, known in history and
celebrated in song as "The Raid of the Reidswire "one of the
many contests decided by the timely arrival of the burghers of the Jed.
Among old customs which give a glimpse of the temper of the townsfolk
as reflected in the sports of their children, remains to the present day
the somewhat rough pastime of "the callants" or "Candlemas
ba," played once a year through the streets by the "doonies"
and the "uppies" among the schoolboys. Formerly the privilege of
throwing off the first ball was given to the boy who brought the largest
offering to the rector of the grammar school; but some years ago the
School Board abolished the custom. The last "king" was Master
Allan Cunningham has a ballad on the fate of a wandering minstrel of
earlier times, which affords a picture alike of the laughing merriment and
the sharp justice which characterised the life of Jedburgh in days gone
Our Willies away to Jeddart,
To dance on the rood-day;
A sharp sword by his side,
A fiddle to cheer the way.
The joyous tharms o his fiddle
Rob Rool had handled rude,
And Willie left New Mill banks
Red-wat wi Robins blude.
Our Willie s away to Jeddart:
May fleer the saints forbode
That ever sac merry a fellow
Should gang sac black a road!
For Stobs and young Falnash,
They followed him up and down
In the links of Ousenam Water
They found him sleeping soun.
Now may the name of Elliot
Be cursed frae firth to firth!
He has fettered the gude right hand
That keepit the land in mirth;
That keepit the land in mirth,
And charmed maids hearts frae dool;
And sair will they want him, Willie,
When birks are bare at Yule.
The lasses of Ousenam Water
Are rugging and riving their hair,
And a for the sake o Willie
Theyll hear his sangs nae mair.
Nae mair to his merry fiddle
Dance Teviots maidens free:
My curses on their cunning
Wha gard sweet Willie dee!
The hero of this ballad, whom Professor Veitch thinks the same
personage as Burnss Rattlin Roarin Willie, and the subject
of a love song in Herds Ancient Scottish Ballads, was, according
to Cunningham, "a noted ballad-maker and brawler," whose
"sword-hand was dreaded as much as his bow-hand was admired."
His fate was the result of a quarrel with another minstrel, Robin of Rule
Water, on the respective qualities of their playing, in which Robin was
slain. Scott, in The Lay of the Last Minstrel, makes the old harper
refer to Willie as his master.
"He knew each ordinance and clause
Of Black Lord Archibalds battle laws,
In the old Douglas day.
He brooked not, he, that scoffing tongue
Should tax his minstrelsy with wrong,
Or call his song untrue.
For this, when they the goblet plied,
And such rude taunt had chafed his pride,
The bard of Reull he slew.
On Teviots side in fight they stood,
And tuneful hands were stained with blood;
Where still the thorns white branches wave
Memorial oer his rivals grave.
Why should I tell the rigid doom
That dragged my master to his tomb;
How Ousenams maidens tore their hair,
Wept till their eyes were dead and dim,
And wrung their hands for love of him
Who died at Jedwood Air ?"
At no time has the town long been left without a glint of the light of
history, from the day when the Scots King Donald defeated Osbert of
Northumbria and the refugee Picts close by on the banks of the Jed. The
castle was a favourite residence of the Scottish kings in the prosperous
period before the Wars of Independence. Here Malcolm IV., "the
Maiden," as he was called, grandson and successor of the wise David
I., died in 1165. And here occurred the second marriage of Alexander III.,
the last of the Celtic royal line.
Regarding this marriage a strange legend has been handed down, which
exhibits in tangible shape the national misgiving of that time, and which,
as an omen of disaster, forms a curious parallel to the legend of the
apparition which was seen, in St Michaels Kirk at Linlithgow, by James
IV. and his court before the departure for Flodden.
Alexander III., the last of his house, was widowed and childless, and
the succession to his throne depended upon the fragile life of his
granddaughter, the infant Princess of Norway. The king, accordingly, was
urged to marry again, and, yielding to the solicitations of his nobles, he
at last espoused Joleta, daughter of the Count of Dreux. The nuptials, as
has been said, were celebrated at Jedburgh, and on the evening of the
marriage day the rejoicings culminated in a great masked ball in the
Abbey. In honour of the occasion the nobles and prelates of Scotland put
forth their best efforts. Celtic and Cymric, Saxon and Norman chivalry
all the different elements of the kingdom, as yet unfused into one nation
by the Wars of Independencecontributed to make up the magnificent
spectacle. And in the midst, with his bride, appeared Alexander himself,
the wise statesman and warlike king, who, twenty years earlier, at the
great Battle of Largs, had freed Scotland for ever from the encroachment
of her ancient foes, the Norse. Never had so magnificent an assembly been
seen before in Scotland. The occasion was auspicious, and, perceiving in
the event of the day fair promise that their fears for the consequences of
a disputed succession would presently be set at rest, the Scottish lords,
it may be imagined, unbent to the gaiety of the hour; and courtly smiles
and gallant speeches surrounded the fair young queen from whom so much was
expected. It was when the stately revels were at their height, and the
pageant on the floor of the Abbey was at its gayest, that suddenly, to the
awe of the onlookers, there became visible the apparition of a ghastly
figure. It glided silently amid the throng, seemed to join for some
moments in the dance, and then vanished as silently and swiftly as it had
appeared. This omen, occurring when it did, was regarded as a dark presage
of troubles which were presently to descend upon the kingdom a
foreboding which was all too certainly fulfilled. In the following year,
by the fall of Alexander III. over the cliffs at Kinghorn, Scotland was
plunged into the longest and most devastating of all its wars.
High behind Jedburgh, over the Dunion, on the cliff above the river at
the farm of Lintalee, lie the remains of the impregnable camp held in
Bruces time by "the good Lord James" of Douglas. Barbour
describes it in his famous historic poem.
Now spek we of the Lord of Douglas
That left to kep the marchis was.
He gert set wrychtis that war sleye
And in the halcheof LyntailÚ
He gert thaim mak a fayr maner:
And quhen the howssis biggit wer
He gert purway him rycht weill thar;
For he thowcht to mak ane infar
And to mak gud cher till his men.
From this eyrie again and again Douglas sallied, at every sally dealing
some deadly blow to the enemies of his country, till he had not only
brought all the eastern Border to the king of Scotlands peace, but till
the mere mention of his name had become a terror:
The drede of the Lord of Dowglas,
And his renoune, sa scalitwas
Throw-out the marchis of Ingland,
That all that thar-in war wonnand
Dreci him as the fell dewill of hell;
And yeit haf Ik herd oft-sysstell
That he sa gretly dred wes than
That quhen wiwys walde childre ban
Thai wald, rycht with an angry face,
Betechthaim "to the Blak Douglas."
After an alien occupation, the burghers themselves, Spartan-like,
destroyed Jedburgh Castle in 1409, swearing that their enemies, the
English, should never keep a garrison again in their town. The six
bastille houses built then in the castles stead have also long ago
disappeared, though in 1523 they, along with the Abbey, still held out
when Norfolk and Dacre had stormed and burned the town. The site of the
castle is now marked by the dark walls of the battlemented prison.
Like a gleam of sunshine through the driving storm of Jedburgh story is
the episode of Queen Marys visit here. Whether one read in it the
unreflecting chivalry of the generous Stuart blood, or, as her detractors
fain would do, the flame-gust of a guilty passion, there remains about it
that charm of romance which ever followed the footsteps of the fair,
unfortunate queen. Mary, the story runs, was holding a court of justice in
Jedburgh, when tidings arrived that her warden, Lord Bothwell, had, in the
execution of Border duty, been wounded seriously in the hand. One can
imagine a hundred thoughts as the Queens at the news. The Royal
authority itself had been insulted in the person of its wardenit was
the Royal hand which should vindicate the outrage. Perhaps, alas! the more
tender fear of a womans heart was there. The Stuart race, however, were
ever prompt in action, and, whatever may have been her thoughts, she did
exactly what her father, the gallant Fifth James, would have doneclosed
Court, took horse, and rode to the scene of trouble. Hermitage, where Lord
Bothwell lay, was twenty miles distant, and she rode there and back in the
same afternoon. No wonder that her strength was exhausted. In a thatched
and steep-roofed old house at the town foot, now being fitted up as a
storehouse of Border relics, is still to be seen the room where she lay
ill for some weeks afterwards. They keep yet, in an attic there, the
tattered remains of her chamber arras.
Queen Mary's House
It is a quaint old house, with low stone passages and small deep-set
windows, an escutcheon being still legible above the door; and it is not
difficult to imagine the fair young queen she was only twenty-fourin
the early days of her convalescence, moving about that sunny riverside
garden, with the solicitous chivalry of all her little court about her.
Once, at least, amid her later troubles the memory of that time came back,
and in bitterness of heart she is said to have exclaimed, "Would that
I had died at Jedburgh!
There is another garden somewhere about Jedburghthe garden of that
"Esther, a very remarkable woman," who could "recite Popes
Homer from end to end," whom Burns, on his Border tour, was
taken to see. There, as he relates in his diary, he walked apart with that
"sweet Isabella Lindsay," in the pleasure of whose conversation
"chit-chat of the tender kind "the poet discovered that he
was "still nearly as much tinder as ever." There he gave her a
proof print of his likeness, and records that he was thanked with
"something more tender than gratitude." In fact, it was
evidently the scene of a very pretty little love affair.
In Jedburgh to the present day the Queens judges hold assize; and it
was here that the young advocate Walter Scott made his first appearance as
a pleader in a criminal court. It is recorded that he got off his man, a
veteran poacher, and that when, on hearing the verdict, he whispered to
the fellow, "Youre a lucky scoundrel !" he was na´vely
answered, "Im just a your mind, and Ill send ye a maukin
[hare] the morn, man."
Wordsworth once lodged in Jedburghthe house is pointed out; and on
the eve of his raid into England, in November, 1745, in the flush of his
hopes and on the curling foam-crest of his fortunes, the last of the
lineal Stuart race, Prince Charles Edward, stayed a night or two in the
town. The place claims a line as well in the history of science, for it
was the birthplace of Sir David Brewster.
Not the least touching, if perhaps the most recent literary interest of
Jedburgh is its connection with Thomas Davidson, who now, through his Life
by Dr James Brown, occupies a place as the representative of a national
type, the Scottish Probationer. Davidson was born at Oxnam, a few miles to
the south of the town, and his family lived for a time also at Ancrum,
close by; but after his career of brilliant promise at college and as a
probationer, or licentiate of the church, it was to his fathers later
cottage of Bankend, close to Jedburgh, that he came home to die. Most of
his lettersthe letters which lend such distinctive charm to his
biographywere written from this cottage; and here at last occurred the
final episode of his life. Davidsons connection with Alison Dunlopthe
beautiful love-story which forms one of the most touching features in the
Probationers careerwas altogether unknown to his nearest relatives
till he was on his death-bed. At last, however, when it was too late, the
secret was disclosed, and she was sent for. She arrived from Edinburgh on
the day after his death, when the passionate up breaking of her highly
wrought nature was a revelation even to the sorrowing parents. As the old
father himself has since described it, "Sic grief was never
Davidson, with true poetic feeling, had sung the charm, the spell of
the Border hills, and in his lines, And there will I be buried, he
put into words the last instinct of the Borderer :
Tell me not the good and wise
Care not where their dust reposes
That to him in death who lies
Rocky beds are even as roses.
I ye been happy above ground;
I can never be happy under,
Out of gentle Teviots sound;
Part us not, then, far asunder.
Lay me here where I may see
Teviot round his meadows flowing,
And around and over me
Winds and clouds for ever going.
Even down to recent times, Jedburgh has ecclesiastical associations of
no small importance. It was in the Grammar School here that the famous
Samuel Rutherford learned his letters; and Jedburgh was the scene of the
labours of the younger Boston, one of the founders of the Relief Kirk in
But towering grey and venerable above all the roofs of the town,
halfway up the steep main street, rises the ruin of the ancient abbey.
Surrounded by pleasant, old-fashioned houses, with quiet gardens, where
yellow and pink roses are aflower upon the walls, that great carved cross,
mute record of the aspirations of ages long forgotten, raises its
sculptured sides in an inclosure of ancient graves. For three hundred and
fifty years the rising sun has kissed these broken cornices, and the rain
and dew have wept upon that desecrated altar, as if in pity for the
glowing souls whose dreams of sculptured beauty are, with these crumbling
walls, sinking to decay. The vandal has been here, as at Melrose, and has
broken in pieces the beauty he was too rude to understand. But time, with
healing touch, has wrought a fuller beauty and meaning than before into
the place. Of yore, no doubt, a stillness strange and sweet must have
fallen upon the spirit of the warlike burgher of the town as once in a
while he knelt on the quiet pavement, while from afar within rose amid the
shadows the chime of censers and the chant of priests. But no less to-day,
with its added memories of blood and fire, and its silent lesson of the
centuries, does the abbey remain a place for reverent thought. Overhead
rises the blue span of heavens own Norman arch, and for an altar.lamp
in the midst swings the dazzling sun-orb itself, burning at the throne of
The white-stoled Premonstrentian monks of Jedburgh were men of war as
well as of religion, and more than once the great square tower of their
abbey played the part of a fortress. It was, how. ever, finally stormed by
Evers in 1544 and the marks of its burning may yet be seen on the
Below, in the transept of the abbey, lies the sculptured tomb of the
last Marquis of Lothiana bearded Apollo carved in stone; and at its
foot stands a Runic slab which may have lain upon the tomb of the Marquiss
Druid forefathers. For there is reason to believe that the Cars, or Kers,
though their name appears on the Norman Roll of Battle Abbey, may count
back beyond Norman and Saxon invasions, to a Cymric ancestry. From the
tower top of the abbey can be seen, two miles away on the woody edge of
the Jed valley, the castle of Fernihirst,
feudal home of the family, who were staunch allies long ago of the
burghers of the town. Many a signal passed in bygone days between the
feudal castle and the abbey tower, when the significant gleam of helm and
spear was seen in the glades of the forest around.
The high banks of the Jed on the way to Fernihirst look their richest
when tapestried with the reds and browns and dark greens of their autumn
foliage. Doves, white and grey, wheel about them; and in the redstone
cliffs which here and there show themselves are to be seen several caves
which were used, like those at Ancrum and in Roslin glen, for refuge in
Border warfare. Here in the narrow green meadow between road and river,
its huge branches propped from the ground, stands the famous Capon oak,
last remnant of the ancient Jed forest. The American visitor writes his
name on its gnarled bark to-day; but Alexander III. may have winded
his hunting-horn here before America was dreamed of, as the stag stood at
bay below these branches; and it is just possible that its seedling stem
shot up green leaves in the forest before Herod was Tetrarch of Galilee.
Above, against the sky, on the cliff edge hangs Lintalee with its
memories; and a second glance is not needed to show how well-chosen the
spot was for the purpose of its occupant. Here, under the open sky, after
burning his own castle about English ears, the Good Lord James certainly
had his preference, rather "to hear the lark sing than the mouse
Scenes and associations like these seem to ask for, if they be not
enough to make, a poet; and it is no marvel to know that down the road
here to school in Jedburgh from Southdean Manse, six miles away, used to
trudge, nigh two hundred years ago, James Thomson, the boy who was
afterwards to immortalise the beauties of the valley in his poem of Autumn.
The scenery of the district, indeed, is to be traced constantly in Thomsons
poetry, and once at least he refers to it directly. Describing Scotland,
Her forests huge,
Incult, robust, and tall, by Natures hand
Planted of old; her azure lakes between,
Poured out extensive, and of watry wealth
Full; winding deep and green, her fertile vales,
With many a cool translucent, brimming flood
Washed lovely, from the Tweed, pure parent stream,
Whose pastoral banks first heard my Doric reed,
With sylvan Jed, thy tributary brook,
To where the north-inflated tempest foams.
Grey among the woods on the right bank towers the donjon of Fernihirst,
and probably it would be impossible to find a more typical example of a
Borderers stronghold and its history. Above the iron-studded door in
the deserted courtyard is still to be traced in worn stone the escutcheon
of the places masters. Often has that courtyard rung with the hoofs of
hostile steeds, and the stone door-lintels echoed to the swinging
battle-axe. For they were a stormy race, these Kers, and the castle was
constantly the scene of attack and reprisal. Hither came home the jolly
baron, driving the beeves from Northumberland to be roasted whole in his
huge fireplace, the width of the vaulted kitchen. And hither, when the
captives were groaning in these grim dungeons, and while in the
"halls of grey renown" the revel and rude cheer were at their
height, came thundering at the gate the furious owners of the beeves.
Cracked crowns unnumbered were got here, and the red blood spirted
joyously over many a shirt of mail. High overhead, where the sun strikes
the tower, the blood - red spray of Virginia creeper clinging to the
parapet might well be the stain of the costly torrent which more than once
poured down these walls. Many a life it cost Lord Dacre, when, from the
burning of Jedburgh, he rode out to take the place in September, 1523. On
that occasion, even after the castle was taken, the Borderers managed to
cut loose every horse the victors had, to the number of fifteen hundredwomen
and men alike seizing them and galloping off to the north. Six years
later, the Lord of Fernihirst was one of those imprisoned by way of
precaution when James V. rode out to "lay" the Border. Here, in
1549, DEssÚ, the French general, took dire vengeance on an alien
garrison for their dark deeds among the defenceless women of the
countryside. And Ker of Fernihirst appears a few years afterwards as
one of the most gallant defenders of Queen Mary. Doubtless more than once
was Mary herself entertained within these walls.