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A History of the Border Counties
Chapter XII


BISHOP LESLIE ON THE MANNERS OF THE BORDERERS—THEIR VIEWS OF RIGHT AND WRONG—BLOOD-FEUDS - GOOD FAITH THEIR RELIGION ; BORN HORSEMEN ; KNOWLEDGE OF THE COUNTRY ; NEGLECT OF AGRICULTURE ; DWELLINGS AND STYLE OF LIVING — RIDING BALLADS : “THE FRAY OF SUPORT;” “JAMIE TELFER O’ THE FAIR DODHEAD;” "DICK O’ THE COW;” “JOCK O’ THE SYDE;” &C.—‘THE RISING IN THE NORTH—DOUBLE BETRAYAL OF NORTHUMBERLAND—AN ENGLISH SPY*S REPORT OF A CONVERSATION AT JEDBURGH—EXPEDITION OF SUSSEX AND HUNSDON — BORDERERS IN THE RAID OF STIRLING — PECULIAR TREATMENT OF A HERALD IN JEDBURGH—REBUILDING OF BRANXHOLM —METHOD OF PROCEDURE ON A “DAY OF TRUCE”—THE RAID OF THE REIDSWIRE — REGENT MORTON’S PALACE OF DROCHIL — RIVALRY BETWEEN THE FAMILIES OF CESSFORD AND FERNIHIRST — PROGRESS OF EVENTS ON THE BORDER—PROCEEDINGS OF FRANCIS STUART, EARL OF BOTHWELL—THE ‘BORDER PAPERS'; BY-NAMES OF BORDERERS—OLD WAT OF HARDEN AND THE “FLOWER OF YARROW” — LEGEND OF “MUCKLE-MOUTHED MEG”—RESCUE OF KINMONT WILLIE—BUCCLEUCH AND ELIZABETH.

That ardent adherent of Queen Mary and Catholicism, John Leslie, Bishop of Ross, devotes a chapter of his history, written probably about 1572-76, to a description of the manners of the Borderers. Perhaps the thing that surprises us most in this interesting passage is the bishop’s reiterated and emphatic assertion that the Borderer will not spill his enemy’s blood if by any means in his power he can avoid doing so. “For fra sheding of blude thay greitlie abhor/’ says he; and again, “They are war with al possible diligens that thay shed nocht thair blude quha ar in thayr contrare.” This is good hearing, and might serve to prove to us, if proof were needed, that in history nothing is easier than to jump to false inferences. At this point, however, consideration for enemies—one may add for neighbours also —may be said to end : life is respected, not so property. For though slaughter and like injuries are “ by the law of God forbidden,” the Borderer is firmly “ persuaded that all the goods of all men in time of necessity are by the law of nature common.” In fact, “ the policy of driving a prey ” is by him considered so lawful, not to say righteous, that never so fervently he says his prayers and tells his beads (for he remains a good Catholic) as when bound on a reiving expedition. Exceptions to the regard for human life, which is habitual with him, arise generally from motives of revenge, and especially from the “ blood-feud,” which, though common throughout the country, flourishes especially on the Borders, where, indeed, no known laws avail to restrain it. Hence are seen deadly feuds, not merely of one against one, or of a few against a few, but of entire races—no matter how little affected by the original injury.

The prime virtue of the Borderer consists in good faith to foe as well as friend, which he carries to the point of a religion. There is no greater dishonour known to him than to have broken faith, and it is a dishonour felt to extend itself to an entire clan, who will often wish that God take him who has brought it upon them “out of this lyfe be ane honest deith.” Their manner of directing opprobrium to such mis-doers is by placing a glove upon a spear-point and riding through the people, assembled at a march meeting “in exprobratione and schame of him quha crakit his cred-dence.” Unlike his more northern fellow-countryman, the Borderer is a horseman born. “A filthie thing thay esteirne it, and a verie abjecte man thay halde him that gangis upon his fute, ony voyage. Quhairthrouch cumis that al ar hors-men.” A fleet horse is his fortune, and beyond that and cleading for himself and wife, he recks not of world’s gear. The nature of the country where he dwells enables him to laugh to scorn the armies of an enemy, for '“if out of thick woods he be chased, to high mountains he repairs; if out of mountains he be driven, to the hanks of rivers and pools he flees.” The treacherous character of the ground also befriends him, abounding as it does in mires which to the skilless present a fair appearance—like that in which we have just seen the beautiful queen become entangled. But over these morasses, to others impassable, the Borderer has the art not only to make his own way, but even to teach his shoeless horse—by “bowing its hocks”—to pass safely.

On predatory incursions the Borderer’s knowledge of the country stands him in good stead—whence on such knowledge he sets the greatest store, for it enables him to be concealed during the day in places where he and his horse may enjoy rest and refreshment; and, having secured his booty, to lead it home by night by paths known only to himself. Seldom, except when sleuth-hounds are employed, does it happen that he is followed up successfully. But even when overtaken and overpowered, he has a resource left in his eloquence, which is such as to move his adversaries, “ however severe,” “ if not to pity, at least to wonder vehemently.”

Distressing experiences of warfare, together with success in reiving, have brought this singular and individual being to hold agriculture cheap—and this notwithstanding the fact that Teviotdale at least is “plentiful in com.” With an echo of Homer, which perhaps is not unsought, Leslie further characterises that district as “ abounding in many and bold men of war.” Their living, he tells us, is simple and frugal— flesh, milk, cheese, and “parched barley” constituting their staple fare. They care neither for wine nor beer; and, as in Froissart’s day, use little bread. Their dwellings are for the most part mere huts or cotes, the burning of which they behold without much concern. Of course they have stronger buildings also, but the passage in which these are described is a very puzzling one. The most plausible explanation of it seems to be that the buildings referred to consisted of wooden ramparts, or stockades, strengthened with turf,3 and that the name of “peel ” was by degrees transferred from these to the stone towers which in course of time entirely superseded them. The only recreations mentioned by the bishop as in favour among the Borderers are music and the singing of ballads relating either the deeds of their forebears or their own ingenious achievements in “driving a prey.”  Such, then, is Leslie’s character of our ancestor in the latter half of the sixteenth century, and surely—take him for all in all, and at his best—he is a man in whom his successors may still see plenty to be proud of. At the least he holds by the three great virtues of truth, courage, humanity; and if his sense of what is due to his fellow-man be in certain other respects at fault, much of the blame must in fairness he ascribed not to himself hut to his history and environment.

Of ballads and songs of the class alluded to by Leslie as finding favour among Borderers, a number have come down to us. Of these the wildest, if not the most stirring, is the rant or rallying-song known as “The Fray of Suport,” or Sow-port, on Kershope—a chant quite worthy to be sung by one of those traditional Border-women of whom the historian relates that they would not scruple to take the lives of their own husbands when these returned to them vanquished from the field. According to Scott, this screed of discordant verse would be chanted in a wild recitative, swelling at the burden into a “long varied howl, not unlike to a view-hollo”; and one can scarcely repeat the lines to-day without conjuring up a vision of sturdy Borderers tumbled out of sleep to follow up the baying of the bloodhound and the wisp blazing at the spear-head, and take part in the pursuit of the plunderer.

But perhaps the best specimen of the “riding” ballads that has been preserved is “Jamie Teller o’ the Fair 1 tod-head.” The Dodhead is a lonely tower in the wild country lying south of Ettrick. One night it is beset by the English captain of Bewcastle, who makes a clean sweep of the kye:—

“There’s naething left in the fair Dodhead.
But a greeting wife and l.airnies three,
And sax poor ca’sr stand in the sta’,
A’ routing loud for their minnie.”

Almost beside himself with distress, Jamie Telfer, the plundered owner, sets off to rouse the countryside, and after running ten miles comes to Stobs Hall, on Slitrig. But Gibbie Elliot, the laird of Stobs, is deaf to his entreaties, bidding him “gae seek his succour where he paid blackmail.” Then poor Jamie turns him to the Teviot-side, and at Coultart Cleuch, the house of a kinsman, and Catslack-hill, he meets with better success. Recruiting his party as he goes, he reaches Branxholm Ha’, where his tale rouses the sympathy of “auld Buccleuch,” and at once all is stir and movement for a rescue:—

“Gar warn the water, braid and wide,
Gar warn it sune and hastilie !
They that winna ride for Telfer’s kye,
Let them never look in the face o’ me!

‘Warn Wat o’ Harden, and his sons,
Wi’ them will Borthwick Water ride;
Warn Gaudilands, and Allanhaugh,
And Gilmanscleuch, and Commonside.’ ”

These are all Scotts living on Borthwick and Teviot, near the castle of their chief.

“‘Ride by the gate at Priesthaughswire,
And warn the Currors o’ the Lee;
As ye cum down the Hermitage Slack,
Warn doughty Willie o’ Gorrinberry.’”

Taking the road through Liddesdale, in order to intercept the fugitives at the ford of Kershope or Ritterford, and still rousing the country as they ride, the rescue-party come up with the marauders at the Frostylee burn, near Mosspaul. A brief parley ensues; but Bewcastle is determined not to yield his prey. Then young Willie Scott—probably a natural son of Buccleuch—gives the word to “set on”:—

“Then till’t they gaed wi’ heart and hand,
The blows fell thick as bickering hail,
And mony a horse ran masterless,
And mony a comely cheek was pale.”

Young Willie falls slain, and Harden, “greeting for very rage” at the sight, cries for revenge :—

“But he’s ta’en aff his gude steel cap,
And thrice he’s waved it in the air;
The Dinlay snaw was ne’er mair white
Nor the lyart locks o’ Harden’s hair.

*Revenge! Revenge! ’ auld Wat ’gan cry,
Fye, lads, lay on them cruellie!
We’ll ne’er see Teviot-side again,
Or Willie’s death revenged sail be.

O, mony a horse ran masterless,
The splintered lances flew on hie,
But or they wan the Kershope ford,
The Scotts had gotten the victory.”

The Captain is wounded, and over thirty of his men slain. Then the Scotts see how their victory may be improved, and turn the tables by pushing on to the Captain’s house at Stanegirthside, on the English bank of the Liddell, and driving off his cows.

The vivid and circumstantial portrayal of successive scenes in the above ballad suggested to Veitch that it might be the composition of one who actually had witnessed the events described. But these attributes are merely such as are characteristic of all the Border ballads that have come down to us, every one of which appears to bear the impress of actuality. Speaking further of “Jamie Telfer,” the Professor says more happily: “The whole spirit of the old Border life is there—in its fidelity to clanship, its ready daring, its fierceness of fight and fence, its delight in romantic deeds, and, withal, in its heart of pathos.” He adds the characteristic utterance that “the power and truth of individual manhood were never more thoroughly tested than in the wild grips of a Border raid.”

The ballad of “Dick o’ the Cow” tells how one of the Armstrongs is outwitted by the jester of the English warden, a long-headed “innocent,” who, having had his own three cows stolen, visits Puddingburn House in Liddesdale, and being allowed to occupy an “auld peat-house” there, rides off during the night with two of Armstrong’s horses, having hamstrung the rest to prevent pursuit. So far the laugh is with Dickie; but legend tells of a terrible vengeance which overtook him some years afterwards. “Jock o’ the Syde,” “Archie o’ Ca’field,” and “Kinmont Willie” tell of further feats of prison-breaking. But of the last-named of these more anon. Rough, and at times tedious, these ballads, if judged as a whole, are invariably spirited productions, which would be interesting, if on no other ground, for the traces and hints of extinct Border manners which they afford. Most of the events described by them belong to the historical epoch at which we have now arrived.

Turning from poetry to prose, we find that during the period now under consideration—to wit, the thirty or forty years immediately preceding the Union of the Crowns—the relations between the two countries remained of a specially delicate character. For, at the outset, Scotland was ruled by a sovereign whose title to the English throne was by many considered superior to that of the offspring of Henry VIII.’s union with Anne Boleyn ; whilst even when Elizabeth had her rival under lock and key, her grounds of apprehension were by no means at once set at rest. The division which had followed Mary’s abdication and defeat at Langside was per haps rather less one of political parties than of religious sects. The Duke of Norfolk, who had found opportunity to pay his addresses to the captive queen in her English prison, was at the head of the English Catholic party, which also counted in its ranks the Earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, the representatives of the great northern families of Percy and Nevill. A rising of the latter, hastily entered upon, was as hastily repressed; and though the Scottish regent, Moray, had prepared to take arms against them, the two leaders sought a refuge where the Borderers, under Buccleuch and Fernihirst, still adhered for the most part to the old faith and the queen’s part). Again we have an instance of the bad faith of an Armstrong, for it was by Hector of Harlaw, a member of that family, that Northumberland was betrayed to Moray. But a still more shameful piece of treachery was yet to be practised at the expense of the unfortunate nobleman. Apprehended in 1569, he was confined for two years in the prison lately vacated by Queen Mary at Lochleven. By the end of that time Morton was practically supreme in the country — the degenerate son of a degenerate father, but one to whom on occasion still adhered something of the grandeur of the race whence he was sprung. In the present instance that grandeur was conspicuous by its absence. Unmindful alike of the noble rivalry of their houses, and of favours received in his own person in the past, he stooped to sell his captive for a sum of money to Elizabeth. Northumberland was beheaded at York in September 1572.

Returning, however, to the due order of events, we learn that Westmorland, with others who had been implicated in the rebellion, found a temporary asylum at Femihirst or Branxholm. Some light is thrown on the position of parties on the Border at this time by the narrative of Robert Constable, an English spy. Constable describes how, on gaining admission to Femihirst’s house in Jedburgh, he found assembled there “many guests of divers factions — some outlaws of England, some of Scotland, some neighbours thereabout.” They were drinking ale and playing at cards for “plack” and “hardheads,” and having insinuated himself into their company, the spy proceeds to report the conversation he heard. It seemed to be the general opinion that the regent (who will be remembered as having made his name respected on the Border) would not, for his own honour or that of the country, deliver up the earls, if he had them both, except in exchange for the queen; “ and if he would agree to make that change, the Borderers would start up in his contrary, and reive both the queen and lords from him, for the like shame was never done in Scotland, and that he durst better eat his own lugs than come again to seek Femihirst.” The listener adds that “Hector of Harlaw’s head was wished to have been eaten among us at supper.”

At the very time of the assassination of that champion of Protestantism, the Regent Moray, Buccleuch and Femihirst made an inroad upon the English Border. On this, Elizabeth prepared to retaliate, first, however, issuing a manifesto in which was set forth her grievance—namely, that her rebellious subjects were maintained by outlaws on the Borders, whilst her action in taking the law into her own hands was justified by the alleged inability of the present Scottish Government to control the Borderers.1 Sussex and Hunsdon then crossed the Middle March and directed operations in particular against lands owned by the names of Scott and Ker. Thanks, however, to a timely submission, Cessford escaped unharmed. Proceeding up Teviot, the English generals destroyed the dwellings on either bank of the river for a breadth of a mile or two, including the Moss Tower—situated in a marsh in the neighbourhood of some caves, where the countrv-people had stored their property, which they defended valiantly but vainly. Reaching Jedburgh, the army divided, and whilst one portion destroyed Fernihirst and the houses of Hunthill and Bedrule, the other continued its progress up Teviotside to Hawick. Here the town was committed to the flames—an exception, however, being made for the tower of Douglas of Drumlanrig,2 who adhered to the party of the young king. Upon reaching Branxholm it was found that, by Buccleuch’s orders, the house had been already burnt. Nothing, therefore, remained to be done but to blow up the walls. The castle is described by Hunsdon as “ a very strong house, and well set, and very pleasant gardens and orchards about it.” Finally, the banks of Bowmont and Kale were devastated. In all, it is computed that fifty strong castles and peels, and above three hundred villages, were razed, overthrown, and burnt in this expedition.4 Thus ended the last, and one of the most ruthless, of English incursions upon the Scottish Border.

The Earl of Lennox having now succeeded to the regency, the dissensions between Queen’s-men and King’s-men reached the point of civil war, and Kirkaldy of Grange, leader of the former party, having planned a stroke against the king’s Parliament assembled at Stirling, knew that he could not do better than enlist the services of Buccleuch and Femihirst. Approaching the town in the small hours of the 4th September 1571, the Borderers found it unguarded, and succeeded in taking possession without striking a blow. They might now have carried all before them, had not their plundering instincts led them to disperse in quest of horse-flesh. Whilst they were thus occupied, the townspeople rallied under Mar, who was keeper of the castle, and the position of affairs was quickly reversed. Buccleuch, who had made Morton prisoner, now found himself the prisoner of Morton. But the two were nearly connected, and the captive seems to have been speedily released. Lennox was slain in the fray. The Borderers fled, and as they had secured the horses before doing so, pursuit was impossible.

We have, however, already seen that the Borders were not unanimous—Drumlanrig was a King’s-man; Cessford had submitted to James, or to Elizabeth, which was the same thing. The town of Jedburgh was now to demonstrate in perfectly unequivocal fashion the direction in which its sympathies lay. It happened that a herald had been sent there by Queen Mary’s party to read a proclamation in the market-place. He had proceeded so far as to state that the queen’s Parliament assembled in Edinburgh—in opposition to that in Stirling— had found all proceedings directed against her Majesty null, and that all men should henceforth obey her only, when the provost abruptly cut him short. The unfortunate pursuivant was then ordered to come down from the steps of the town cross, and having been forced to swallow his parchment, was “caused loose doun his points,” when correction was administered with a bridle, as to a schoolboy. To avenge so singularly galling an insult, Buccleuch and Fernihirst marched against the town. But the townspeople, being joined by Cessford, and supported by troops under Ruthven which had been hastily sent to their aid by the Government, succeeded in defeating the assailants. The capture first of Dumbarton and then of Edinburgh Castle, with the execution of Kirkaldy and the suicide of Lethington, dealt the deathblow to Queen Mary’s cause in Scotland, and Buccleuch had soon leisure to return to the rebuilding of his house of Branx-holm. This, however, he did not live to complete, dying at the early age of twenty-five.5 His labours and those of his wife were commemorated by inscribed stones inserted in the building, which also bore the arms of Scott and Douglas.

In the summer of 1575 took place the last of the great Border frays, properly so called. The occasion was one of the periodical march days, held by the wardens on either side for redress of grievances. The form of procedure at these meetings, which had by this time become stereotyped, required the injured parties to send in their bills of complaint beforehand to their own warden, by whom these would be handed on to his colleague across the Border, whose business it then became to arrest the parties accused, or at least to summon them to appear at the next march meeting. The meetings, having been proclaimed in the niarket-towns on either side, were usually largely attended, being, in fact, occasions of commerce and pleasure as well as of business; when pallions (tents) would be set up, and feasting and drinking, sports, dice, and card-playing indulged in on the ground. On the arrival of the wardens, messages were exchanged, formally demanding and conceding that truce be kept till sunrise the next day. Then each warden held aloft his hand in token of good faith, and having proclaimed the truce upon his own side, advanced to meet his colleague, whom he saluted and embraced, and so the business of the day began. It can scarcely have escaped the reader’s notice that these conditions presented elements of risk, whilst the slaying of Ker of Femihirst by the Bastard Heron will be remembered as an instance of the worst apprehensions being realised.

The march meetings were generally held on the Scottish side of the Border. On the present occasion the Reidswire, or pass into Reedsdale from the northern slopes of Carter Fell, had been named as the scene of the conference. The meeting opened amicably, but in course of transacting the ordinary business of hearing cases and redressing wrongs, a cause of dispute chanced to arise between Sir John Forster and Sir John Carmichael, the respective English and Scottish wardens —the latter demanding the cession of a certain English thief named Farnstein, from which the former excused himself on some apparently insufficient ground. A personal element stems to have been imported into the quarrel, and words had waxed high, when the English bystanders, espousing too warmly the cause of their chief, discharged a flight of arrows among the Scotsmen. By this one Scot was slain and several were wounded. Taken thus unprepared, the Scots, who were comparatively few in number and for the most part unarmed, took to flight. But ere they had gone far, being met and reinforced by a party from Jedburgh who were on their way to attend the meeting, they returned to the scene of action and succeeded in driving the English down the southern slopes of Carter. In this encounter were slain Sir George Heron of Chipchase, keeper of Reedsdale and Tyneda’e, a man much esteemed on both sides the Border, and twenty-four of his countrymen. Among the captives were the English w'arden, his son-in-law, Francis Lord Russell, eldest son of the Earl of Bedford, Cuthbert Collingwood, James Ogle, and Henry Fenwick. These were brought before the Regent Morton at Dalkeith, who, feeling the weakness of his case, had the tact to receive them courteously, and to dismiss them to their homes, after having detained them for a few days in order that their resentment might abate. By subsequent well-timed concessions, he also contrived to allay the wrath of Queen Elizabeth. Among Scottish victims of the fray is mentioned the Laird of Mow. The ballad of the “Raid of the Reidswire” has a special interest as a bead-roll of Borderers from both countries, with generally some hint of the attributes of each.

If subservient to Elizabeth, Morton was as a ruler wellnigh pitiless, and his leaden regime has left in the Border counties an ideally appropriate memorial. In 1578, when avarice and unscrupulous ambition had made him hateful throughout the kingdom, he resigned the regency, and withdrawing into the country, designed for himself, in the words of an old local writer, “ a noble recess and retirement from worldly business.” Choosing his site—for the “ pleasure of the place and the salubrity of the air ”—upon the brow of a knoll commanding views of the valleys of Lyne, Tarth, and Tweed, he raised the gloomy pile of Drochil. The building—intended less for a castle of defence than for a palace—was planned upon a scale of singular magnificence. But the betrayer of Northumberland did not live to realise his dream. He soon repented him of having resigned the sovereign power, but that step had already produced irreparable results. Having incurred the jealousy of Stewart, Earl of Arran, the infamous favourite of the young king, he was brought to trial upon the pretext of his participation in the murder of Darnley, and was condemned. Once removed beyond the reach of worldly considerations, the stern dignity of his character seems to have shone out. On the night after receiving his sentence he slept soundly, observing when he awoke that till then he had lain sleepless, thinking how he might defend himself, but that now his mind was relieved. He likewise freely forgave his accuser, declaring that howsoever men had carried themselves towards him, he felt assured that God had dealt justly by him, and that he suffered nothing which he had not merited. He was executed, June 1581. About the mode of his execution there was a singular irony, for he was the first victim of a new species of guillotine, called the Maiden, which he had himself introduced into Scotland to behead the Laird of Penicuik, who notwithstanding died peacefully in his bed. The identical instrument is still preserved in the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh. With Morton’s death disappeared, in a manner not yet satisfactorily accounted for, the vast treasures which were the fraits of his oppression and corruption as a ruler. In life he had the reputation of trafficking with wizards, and desiring to pry into futurity. His castle of Drochil still remains an example of what is perhaps the most melancholy spectacle in creation—a structure which has passed direct and without intermediate stage from incompleteness to decay. Over the front of the south entrance appear in raised letters the initials J.E.O.M.—for James, Earl of Morton—with the “ fetter lock ” of a warden of the marches.

So long as a Scottish king was a minor it might safely be predicted that there would be a struggle of parties for the custody of his person. Accordingly the “ Raid of Ruthven ” now transferred young James VI. from the influence of the favourites Stuart of Ochiltree, Earl of Arran, and Esme D’Aubigny, Duke of Lennox, to the keeping of Angus, Mar, and Gowrie. But anon, in the summer of 1583, the king’s escape at St Andrews drove Gowrie to the block and his associates across the Border; whilst the Catholic faction once more came into power, with Arran as lieutenant-general of the marches. Lennox had died—heart-broken, as is said, by the eclipse of his fortune. But the death of Francis Russell, whom we have already seen made prisoner at the Reidswire, in a subsequent and similar fray on the Mid Marches, in 1585, paved the way for Arran’s fall, which was consummated by a second seizure by Angus of the king’s person at Stirling.

Buccleuch was still a minor, and Cessford and Femihirst alternated in the wardenry of the march. Their rivalry for this appointment, and, as we have seen, for the superiority of Jedburgh, had ere this caused bloodshed: it was now to prove fatal to William Kerr of Ancrum, a man of 'deserved credit in the councils of the Borders. The circumstances were these. Femihirst having died in ward—to which he had been committed for his share of responsibility for the death of Russell—Ancrum had exerted himself, during the minority of the heir, to uphold the interest of the family. In so doing he had offended the “ Lady Cessford.” She, being a woman of haughty spirit, then worked upon her son’s feelings until she had induced him to take Kerr’s life. The murder, like that of Branxholm, was committed by night in the streets of Edinburgh. Cessford fled, but was soon pardoned, “upon satisfaction made to the gentleman’s children.”

Meantime the King of Scots had become bound to Elizabeth, not only by the money allowance which she paid him— somewhat irregularly—and which his poverty made an important consideration, but also by the prospect of succeeding to her crown, and hence it came about that his practical expression of resentment at the execution of his mother was confined to permitting incursions on the marches. None the less, the situation of affairs between the two countries was for a time very critical, for the sailing of the Armada was imminent, and both France and Spain were negotiating to win James to their interest. In these circumstances Huntingdon was appointed lieutenant-general of the English marches, with power to raise 10,000 men; whilst there was even a surprising proposal on foot to strengthen the defences of the English Border by restoring the Roman Wall. The crisis was, however, tided over, and James having set forth to fetch home his Danish bride, the Laird of Mangerton presently received no more formidable commission than to hunt venison for three days in Liddesdale, to assist in furnishing the wedding-feast.

The next five years of the reign are specially notable for the disturbances created by a being who may serve for the type of those turbulent and desperate characters which the old Borders had the faculty of breeding—men who seemed to fear neither God nor man, and in considering whose history we can but deplore that a high spirit and demonic energy were not directed towards better ends. Francis Stuart, Earl of Bothwell, was the son of a bastard of King James V.—the offspring of that king’s connection with Janet Hepburn, the sister of Queen Mary’s third husband. Stuart had been invested in the castle of Hermitage and the lands of Liddesdale, and having married the widow of the late Laird of Buccleuch—herself a daughter of the seventh Earl of Angus —had become rich in possessions and connections in the Border country. Relations between himself and his royal kinsman seem at first to have been extremely friendly; but presently the earl conceived the mad idea of seizing the king’s person and governing the kingdom in his name. With this view he consulted with certain professors of the occult sciences; but his proceedings having taken air, he was by the royal order placed in ward. He now threw restraint to the winds, and rallying some of the more turbulent of the Borderers, among whom he was extremely popular, on the night of December 27, 1591, he effected a secret entrance into the Palace of Holyrood. Sir James Melville, who was present on the occasion, has left a spirited account of what followed. The cry of “Justice, Justice! A Bodowell, a Bodowell!” broke suddenly the stillness of the night, and but for a brief delay on the part of James Douglas of Spot, the intruders might have carried all before them. He, however, paused to liberate some of his servants confined in the palace, and the few moments thus gained gave the king’s friends time to barricade the royal apartment. The conspirators thundered on the door, shots were fired, and at last the defences were carried. But in the meantime the king had been smuggled into an upper chamber, and relief being now brought up by way of a secret passage through the Abbey Kirk, the assailants made off—not, however, until blood had been spilt and life lost. The alleged ground of this outrage was the undue influence exercised over the king by the Chancellor Maitland, brother to Lethington.

The next few years of Francis Stuart’s life were spent in the avowed character of rebel and firebrand. It is, however, impossible here to do more than glance at his wild deeds. Having entered Lochmaben in woman’s apparel, he made himself master of that fortress; whilst at Falkland, in the summer following his first excess, he repeated his attempt upon the king, but again without success. James made an expedition to the Borders expressly to punish him, but Bothwell found refuges at Netherby and Edenhall in Cumberland, and seems also to have enjoyed the secret countenance of Elizabeth, who perhaps thought that she might some day find him useful. The next of his meteoric apparitions was in the king’s bed-chamber at Holyrood, where, with a drawn sword in his hand, he extorted from James’s terror a pardon for past crimes. But in spite of this concession, and of Both-well’s acquittal in his trial for proceeding against the king by witchcraft, James’s hostility against him did not cease. Indeed the pages of Birrel’s Diary of this period  teem with records of proclamations and other more stringent measures directed against the earl, his countess, and his friends. These measures seem at last to have borne fruit, for after a further period of roving and rebellion on the Borders, Bothwell withdrew to the Continent, dying at Naples in 1612. In his latter years he had been reduced to support himself by the exhibition of feats of arms, necromancy, and fortune-telling.3 His character seems to have combined with much of the adventurer something of the madman, and not a little of the charlatan or mountebank. No reader of ‘ Old Mortality ’ will have forgotten his connection with one of the finest of all Scott’s soldiers of fortune—a type, by the way, which the great novelist especially delighted to paint. On the fall of Bothwell the castle of Hermitage and the office of keeper of Liddesdale were given to his stepson, Buccleuch.

The “ March Bills,” recently given to the world in the Calendar of Border Papers—drawn up, as they are, with business-like method and at great length—throw considerable light on the condition of the Middle March at this period; but affording as they do material for a separate study, it is impossible in a compendious sketch of Border history such as the present to deal with these as they deserve. Suffice it, then, here to say that the forays of the Scottish riders were now directed chiefly against the West and Middle Marches— Elliots and Armstrongs being the principal offenders. These are described as “always riding”; but other clans of Teviotdale, such as the Rutherfords, Turnbulls, Burnes, Davidsons, and Douglases, also took their share in such exploits. It may be added that the March Bills exhibit all the .old picturesqueness of nomenclature—of which the following examples may be quoted: Hob the Tailor, Short Thome, “ little Peck,” Dande Oliver “ the Lover,” Hob of the bog, Jenete’s Watte, Giles Douglas (“Gile the gose”), Jock Young “the basterd,” Thome of the Town-head, Raiphe Burn (“shorte necke”), “ Mistres ” Karr (evidently a man), Dand Young of Clifton, son to the “ crooked plege,” Dande Dowglas (“ Dande of the brea”), Eddie Elliot, son to Davye the “Carlinge,” Arche Croser (“Quintin’s Arche”), Will.Croser (“ill-willed Will”), “gretelegs,” Jock “half-lug,” Nebless Clemy, “Bang-taile,” Hob “bullie,” “Red neb,” and “Red Cloak.” Such bynames were of course in the first instance adopted to obviate the confusion otherwise inevitably arising from the clan * system.

For us the type of the old reiving Borderer is certainly “ Auld Wat of Harden,” though it is probable that he owes that distinction largely to the fortunate chance that neither in his own day nor in ours has he lacked a pious poet. The estate of Harden was acquired in 1501 by Robert, second son of Walter Scott of Sinton, from whom Old Wat was fourth in direct descent. The situation of the old house, 1 Scotts of Buccleuch, vol. i., Introduction, p. lxviL or tower, on the brink of a “deep and impervious glen,” in which a large herd of cattle might be safely bestowed, gave it great advantage as a centre of mosstrooping operations. Round the personalty of Wat himself—whom we have already seen figure in the exploit of Jamie Telfer — many traditions have grown up, some of which will not, however, stand investigation. Thus it has long been believed that by the contract of marriage between Harden and Marion, called the “Flower of' Yarrow,”—the beautiful daughter of Scott of Dryhope, near St Mary’s,—Dryhope bound himself to find Harden in horse-meat and man’s meat at his tower for a year and a day, whilst Harden on his part undertook to give his father-in-law the “profits of the first Michaelmas moon ” — a significant allusion to old Border manners. Unfortunately for the credit of these picturesque fictions, the original agreement is preserved in the charter-room of Mertoun, the seat of Old Wat’s descendant, the present Baron Polwarth, and having been examined, proves to be of a matter-of-fact and commonplace character, quite innocent of romantic suggestion.

The beautiful “Flower of Yarrow” seems to have adapted herself to the circumstances of her rough life at Harden, for it is recorded of her that when the larder was empty she would recall the male portion of the family to a sense of what was expected of them by placing on the table at dinner-time a dish containing spurs. As if to bear this tradition out, there is preserved among the heirlooms of the house a pair of antique brass spurs of elaborate workmanship. With these is an ancient horn, into the surface of which many initials have from time to time been cut or burnt, said to be the identical bugle of Old Wat. By another tradition, the authorship of many of the old Border ballads is ascribed to a minstrel Scotts of Buccleuch, vol. i,, Introduction, p. Ixx, said to have been carried off in a raid in childhood, and reared by the Flower of Yarrow.

In illustration of Harden’s own propensities, his illustrious descendant Sir Walter Scott has related the two following anecdotes: “Upon one occasion, when the village herd was driving out the cattle to pasture, the old laird heard him call loudly to ‘ drive out Harden’s cow.’ ‘ Harden’s cow? ’ echoed the affronted chief; ‘is it come to that pass ? by my faith they shall sune say Harden’s kyc.' Accordingly he sounded his bugle, mounted his horse, set out with his followers, and returned next day with ‘a bow (or herd) of kye and a bassen’d (brindled) bull.’ On his return with this gallant prey, he passed a very large hay-stack. It occurred to the provident laird that this would be extremely convenient to fodder his new stock of cattle; but as no means of transporting it occurred, he was fain to take leave of it with this apostrophe, now proverbial, * By my soul, had ye but four feet, ye should not stand lang there.’ ” A similar proverbial saying is that of a Border mother to her son, “ Ride, Rouly— hough’s i’ the pot! ” indicating that the last piece of beef was in the pot, and therefore it was high time for the young man to fetch more.

Transcending in romance the story of the Flower of Yarrow’s marriage-contract is that of the marriage of Harden’s son and heir. As told by Sir Walter Scott, it bears that young Harden, being made prisoner in a skirmish by Sir Gideon Murray of Elibank, afterwards Treasurer-Depute of Scotland, was on the point of being executed by hanging from a branch of Elibank’s “ doom - tree,” when the Lady Elibank interposed with a suggestion of milder treatment. Her plan for the disposal of the captive was that he should be forced to espouse, without “ tocher,” the youngest of three daughters of the house—a damsel rejoicing in the graphic nickname of “ Muck'.e-mouthed Meg.” So ill-favoured, indeed, was his destired bride, that it was not without much hesitation that Scott made his choice between her and the doom-tree. But life is sweet, and having chosen the lady, it is satisfactory to know that he had no cause to repent of his bargain, for Margaret Murray made him an excellent wife, suiting him even in the detail of having a singularly happy hand in pickling the beef which he stole.

Thus Sir Walter Scott; but the dry documents of the Mertoun charter-room again reveal a different tale. From these it appears that, far from the marriage being hasty or compulsory, the preliminary arrangements on either side were even unusually careful and protracted, occupying many months in consideration, and being finally embodied in a closely-wrtten legal instrument measuring no less than seven feet in length! Nor was this all, for instead of coming to him tocherless, the bride—whose name was not Margaret, but Agnes—brought her husband a dowry of 7000 merks. Thus the whole fabric of fiction falls to the ground. It is worth noting that in subscribing the above marriage-contract, Wat of Harden signs “with my hand at the pen, led by the notaris underwritten at my command, becaus I can not wryt.” The legend, as we must now consider it, of “ Muckle - mouthed Meg” has furnished a congenial subject for the whimsical pencil of Kirkpatrick Sharpe, whose drawings to illustrate it may be seen at Abbotsford House.

The night of April 13, 1596, was signalised by a bold feat of prison-breaking, which may be regarded as the last of the great Border exploits. The circumstances leading to it were as follows : William Armstrong of Kinmont, a noted Scottish freebooter, had been present at a march day held at the Day-holm of Kershope by the deputies of Buccleuch, Keeper of Liddesdale, and Lord Scrope, the English warden of the Western March. As he was riding peaceably homeward, along the north bank of Liddell, he was chased by some Englishmen, and being captured, was carried off to prison at Carlisle. Whatever may have been Kinmont’s previous misdeeds, this was a plain infringement of the “day of truce.” But Buccleuch’s appeal for his release was met by excuses.1 The keeper therefore determined to take the law into his own hands and attempt the rescue of his countryman. Doubtless he was not the less inclined to do this that there were already many grounds of offence between himself and the English warden, both of whom were fiery spirits in the full vigour of their age. On a dark and stormy night very suitable for his purpose, Buccleuch assembled his followers, to the number of several hundreds, at Kinmont’s tower of Morton, situated in the Debatable Land, about ten miles from Carlisle. A list of those present at this rendezvous has been preserved, and includes, besides of course Old Wat of Harden, who was sure to be to the fore on such an occasion, among many Armstrongs, the Laird of Mangerton, the young Laird of Whithaugh and his son, and the four sons of the imprisoned Kinmont. The conspirators then approached Carlisle under cover of the darkness and dismounted.

Will Eliot, goodman of Gorrombye, John Eliott, called of the Copshawe, three of the Calfhills (Armstrongs), Jocke, Bighames, and one Ally, a bastard; Sandy Armstrong, son to Ilebbye, Willie Bell, “red-cioake,” fore this, however, steps had been taken to facilitate the projected act of deforcement by securing the complicity of the formidable clan of the Grosmes, by one of whom2 a party of eighty of Buccleuch’s men were now guided to the outer wall of the castle

Being furnished with “ gavlocks ” or levers, crowbars, pinks, axes, and scaling-ladders, they speedily and silently undermined the postern-door, thus effecting an entrance into the base-court. According to the evidence of an informer, Buccleuch was the fifth man to enter—as he did so encouraging his company with the words, “ Stand to it, for I have vowed to God and my prince that I would fetch out of England Kinmont dead or quick, and will maintain that action when it is done with fire and sword against all resisters.” Meantime the watch were either sleeping or had gotten them to shelter from the storm. It is more than likely, too, that some of them had been tampered with.* At any rate, the rescue-party were able to reach Kinmont’s prison and set him free without encountering serious resistance. Of the three men who alone seem so far to have attempted to oppose them, two were left for dead and the third wounded.and two of his brethren, Walter Bell of Godesby; three brethren of Tweda, Armstrongs ; young John of the Hollows and one of his brethren; Christie of Barneglish and Roby of the Langholm ; the Chingles; Willie Kange and his brethren, with their_“complices” (Border Papers, vol. ii. p. 122).

As the prisoner was on parole, he was probably the less securely guarded. Having now effected their object, rescued and rescuers had issued forth of the postern when an alarm was given by the watch of the inner ward. But it was then too late to stop them.

Such is the unvarnished tale, from English sources, of the rescue of Kinmont Willie. The spirited ballad which completes the story is too well known to require quotation. A comparison of the prose with the poetic version of the incident reveals a number of small discrepancies. The varied disguises, for instance, assumed by the rescuers — “ five and five like a mason - gang,” to carry the ladders, and so on; their meeting with Salkeld, the unjust deputy-warden, Kinmont’s good-night to Scrope, and probably the manacles with which he is so liberally loaded, are all additions of the balladist. But these things are in the nature of perfectly legitimate poetic ornament, and on the whole, after comparing the flights of the Scottish poet with the statement of the English official, one remains impressed not by the licence but by the closeness to fact in essentials of the former. That nothing should be said of the aid rendered by the Gnemes is easily intelligible.

The deforcement of Carlisle Castle was an insult not to be brooked by Elizabeth, who straightway demanded the surrender of Buccleuch. This James refused, protesting that the original injury lay in the capture of Kinmont during time of truce. A heated controversy ensued, with raids on either side — Cavers in Roxburghshire being laid waste and burnt by the English, whilst on the part of Scotland Buccleuch made an incursion into Northumberland and hanged thirty-six of the Tyndale freebooters. In 1597 all seemed ripe for war; but happily a compromise was effected, Buccleuch voluntarily surrendering himself to the English warden, and being released after a brief detention— when his son, a boy of ten, took his place. Probably some two years later, having expressed a wish to kiss hands, Buccleuch was admitted to Elizabeth’s presence. A family tradition says that on this occasion the queen, alluding to the Kinmont incident, asked him, in her well-known way, “how he dared to commit so presumptuous an offence.” “Dare, madam,” was the memorable reply; “ what is there that a man dares not do? ” Elizabeth appreciated the spirit of the words, and turning to a lord-in-waiting, observed that “with ten thousand such men, our brother in Scotland might shake the firmest throne in Europe! ” After this Buccleuch’s fine energies seem to have been directed into better - regulated channels, and we hear no more of wild justice administered by him on the Border.


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