When a man was killed his whole family
became involved in a feud with the family who had done the killing. Reprisals were not
just against the killer's immediate family but against anyone with the same surname. These
feuds could last for generations. Some of the feuds, such as between the Maxells and the
Johnstones, could amount to pitched battles while others were settled in single combat.
Families could be engaged in several feuds with several other families and a chart showing
these feuds as in 'The Steel Bonnets' draws arrows going every which way. The authorities
were reluctant to get involved in feuds because it was their thinking that they could
stand back and watch troublesome families kill each other and rid the authorities of
problems with these families. One of the reasons the Borders was in such chaos was that
many were afraid to kill raiders and invoke a vendetta. Their thinking was that it was
better to lose a few cattle than to incur the wrath of a powerful reiving family and be
involved in a feud. Mostly feuds were English against English and Scot against Scot. Some
feuds did cross the border but it was feared that any such might lead to a full scale war
between the two countries.
Some feuds could be settled by permission of
the authorities. Carleton and Musgrave were to be allowed to fight after a generation of
feuding between the families. In the Collingwood - Burn feud, each was to be allowed six
to a side for a fight to the finish. King James intervened to stop the fight. It was just
as well, since Collingwood was on his way to the fight with 1200 followers. Regardless,
the stopping of the fight seems to be because they had not received permission from the
respective Wardens before the fight.
The feud between families could last many
years. The Herons and the Kerrs were still at feud 60 years after the murder of Kerr at a
truce day (as told above) The Maxwells and Irvines carried on a feud for 30 years. The
principals in the feud had been long dead but the families continued their animosity.
The feud between the Maxwells and Johnstones
was one of the bitterest feuds, with both families vying for dominance in the Scottish
Western Border. During a battle called Dryfe Sands near Lockerbie the Maxwells and
Johnstones clashed. It seemed an unfair battle because Maxwell had 2000 men and Johnstone
only 400. However, the Johnstones knew they were fighting for their existence and cut the
disordered Maxwell forces to pieces. The downward back-handed sword thrust by a horseman
to the head of an enemy on foot is known as the Lockerbie lick.
The magnitude of feuding and the complicated
way the feuding was interwoven among border families can be shown by this small list. The
Bells, Carlislies and Irvines were on one side and the Grahams on the other; a year later
the Bell-Graham feud was still going on, the Grahams were also feuding with the Maxwells
and had joined the Irvines to fight the Musgraves; the Armstrongs joined in against the
Musgraves and at the same time were feuding against the Robsons and Taylors; the Elliots
were at feud with the Fenwicks and the Forsters with Jedforest; the Turbulls were at feud
with the Debatable Land Armstrongs but not the Armstrongs of Liddesdale. They in turn were
at feud with the Elliots of Ewesdale but not with the Liddesdale Elliots. The Scott family
had feuds among the branches of the same family. It seems that an outsider could not keep
track without a score card. It is a wonder that the families could keep track.
Meal for food was levied from Lowlanders in
exchange for a promise not to steal livestock or harvests. Rob Roy MacGregor became
somewhat of Scotland's Robin Hood. A group was formed to prevent Highlanders stealing from
Lowlanders. The 'Highland Constables' was formed, of which Rob Roy was a member. Wages
were paid to the constables by the Lowland farmers. When they were not losing cattle, some
of the Lowlanders stopped paying. Rob Roy pointed out that the reason they were not losing
anything was because they were paying and if they didn't pay, usually in black meal, they
might regret it. This in all likelihood is the origin of the term "blackmail."
As likely the word ‘bereaved’ was coined in this time of history on the Border.
Without the protection of the law, the
ordinary people had no recourse but to pay the blackmail. Blackmail in reality meant black
rent or a double rent. Rent was paid to the landowner and rent was paid to the
blackmailer. Since it was paid in kind, in oats, barley or meal, it was called black meal.
For payment of the black meal, the payer was supposed to be left alone and was to be
protected against other reivers and if thefts occurred, his protector was supposed to
retrieve his goods. Sometimes goods changed hands so much that one would think the thieves
were in cahoots - which many were. If a person was too poor to pay the double rent, he
could expect to have his cattle and goods stolen. A Scottish Act of 1567 made paying
blackmail punishable by death. What choice would that be - pay and die or don’t pay
and die. This Act was modified later to fines and imprisonment. The blackmailer was to be
punished at the Warden’s discretion. It wasn’t until 1601 that blackmail was
made a capital offense in England.
During raids prisoners were taken and were
traded or bargained for or ransomed. Some important officials might be taken prisoner many
times and ransomed. Kidnapping was a little different. This occurred not during battle but
as a means to getting something that the kidnapper wanted. Jock Graham of the Peartree was
a trader of stolen goods, a reiver and a horse thief. He was caught and was awaiting trial
in Carlisle when his brother, Wattie, and a couple of friends broke Jock out with an
ambush party to cover their retreat. They stayed out the way of the law for a couple of
years but then Wattie’s penchant for good horses led to his capture and he was tried
and was to be hanged. It was Jock’s turn to rescue his brother. He kidnapped a six
year old child, the son of the sheriff. Jock threatened to do the same to the child as was
done to his brother. Whether he would have, no one knows, because Wattie was released.
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