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Sir Walter Scott
The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border
Geordie Bourne


II. History of Geordie Bourne

In the following passage, extracted from the Memoirs of Sir Robert Carey, then deputy of his father, Lord Hunsdon, Warden of the East Marches, afterwards Earl of Monmouth, the reader will find a lively illustration of the sketch of Border manners.

"Having thus ended with my brother, I then beganne to thinke of the charge I had taken upon mee, which was the government of the East March in my fatherís absence. I wrote to Sir Robert Kerr (Sir Robert Kerr of Cessford, Warden of the Middle Marches, and ancestor of the house of Roxburghe.) who was my opposite warden, a brave active young man, and desired him that hee would appoint a day when hee and myselfe might privately meet in some part of the Border, to take some good order for the quieting the Borders, till my retourne from London, which journey I was shortly of necessity to take. Hee stayed my man all night, and wrote to mee back that hee was glad to have the happiness to be acquainted with mee, and did not doubt but the country would be better governed by our good agreements. I wrote to him on the Monday, and the Thursday after hee appointed the place and hour of meeting.

"After hee had filled my man with drinke, and put him to bed, hee, and some half a score with him, got to horse, and came into England to a little village. There hee broke up a house, and tooke out a poor fellow, who (hee pretended) had done him some wrong, and before the doore cruelly murthered him, and so came quietly home, and went to bed. The next morning hee delivered my man a letter in answer to mine, and retourned him to mee. It pleased me well at the reading of his kinde letter; but when I heard what a brave hee had put upon me, I quickly resolved what to do, which was, never to have do with him till I was righted for the grete wrong hee had done mee. Upon this resolution, the day I should have mett with him, I tooke post, and with all the haste I could, rode to London, leaving him to attend my coming to him as was appointed. There hee stayed from one till five, but heard no news of mee. Finding by this that I had neglected him, hee retourned home to his house, and so things rested (with grete dislike the one of the other) till I came back, which was with all the speede I could, my business being ended. The first thing I did after my retourne, was to ask justice for the wrong hee had done mee; but I could get none. The Borderers, seeing our disagreement, they thought the time wished for of them was come. The winter being begunne, their was roades made out of Scotland into the East March, and goodes were taken three or four times a weeke. I had no other meanes left to quiet them, but still sent out of the garrison horsemen of Barwicke, to watch in the fittest places for them, and it was their good hap many times to light upon them, with the stolen goods driving before them. They were no sooner brought before mee, but a jury went upon them, and being found guilty, they were presently hanged; a course which hath been seldom used, but I had no way to keep the country quiet but so to do; for when the Scotch theeves found what a sharp course I took with them that were found with the bloody hand, I had in a short time the country more quiet. All this while we were but in jest, as it were, but now beganne the great quarrel between us.

"There was a favourite of his, a greate thiefe, called Geordie Bourne. This gallant, with some of his associates, would, in a bravery, come and take goods in the East March. I had that night some of the garrison abroad. They met with this Geordie and his fellows, driving cattle before them. The garrison set upon them, and with a shott killed Geordie Bourneís unckle, and hee himselfe, bravely resisting until he was sore hurt in the head, was taken. After he was taken, his pride was such, as hee asked, who it was that durst avow that nightes work? but when he heard it was the garrison, hee was then more quiet. But so powerful and so awfull was this Sir Robert Kerr, and his favourites, as there was not a gentleman in all the East March that durst offend them. Presently after he was taken, I had most of the Gentlemen of the March come to mee, and told mee, that nowe I had the ball at my foote, and might bring Sir Robert Kerr to what conditions I pleased; for that this manís life was so neere and deere to him, that I should have all that my heart could desire, for the good and quiet of the country and myselfe, if upon any condition I would give him his life. I heard them and their reasons, notwithstanding, I called a jury the next morning, and hee was found guilty of MARCH TREASON. Then they feared that I would cause him to be executed that afternoone, which made them come flocking to mee, humbly entreating mee, that I would spare his life until the next day, and if Sir Robert Kerr came not himselfe to mee, and made mee not such proffers, as I could not but accept, that then I should do with him what I pleased. And further, they told me plainly, that if I should execute him before I heard from Sir Robert Kerr, they must be forced to quit their houses, and fly the country; for his fury would be such, against me and the March I commanded, as hee would use all of his power and strength to the utter destruction of the East March. They were so earnest with mee, that I gave them my word hee should not dye that day. There was post upon post sent to Sir Robert Kerr, and some of them rode to him themselves, to advertise him in what danger Geordie Bourne was; how hee was condemned, and should have been executed that afternoone, but, by their humble suit, I gave them my word, that hee should not dye that day; and therefore besought him that hee would send to mee, with all the speede he could, to let mee know that hee would be the next day with mee to offer mee good conditions for the safety of his life.

"When all things were quiet, and the watch set at night, after supper, about ten of the clock, I tooke one of my menís liveryes, and put it about mee, and tooke two other of my servants with me in their liveryes,and we three, as the wardenís men, came to the provost marshallís, where Bourne was, and were lett into his chamber. Wee sate down by him, and told him that wee were desirous to see him, because wee heard he was stout and valiant, and true to his friend; and that wee were sorry our master could not be moved to save his life. He voluntarily of himselfe said that hee had lived long enough to do so many villainies as he had done; and withal told us, that he had layne with about forty menís wives, what in England, and what in Scotland; and that he had killed seven Englishmen with his own hands, cruelly murthering them; and that hee had spent his whole life in whoring, drinking, stealing, and taking deep revenge for slight offences. He seemed to be very penitent, and much desired a minister for the comforte of his soule. Wee promised him to lett our master know his desire, who, wee knew, would presently grant it. Wee took our leaves of him, and presently I tooke order, that Mr. Selby, a very worthy honest preacher, should go to him, and not stirre from him until his execution the next morning; for, after I had heard his own confession, I was resolved no conditions should save his life: and so tooke order, that at the gates opening the next morning, hee should be carried to execution, which accordingly was performed. The next morning I had one from Sir Robert Kerr for a parley, who was within two miles staying for me. I sent him word, ĎI would meet him where hee pleased, but I would first know upon what terms and conditions." Before his man was returned, hee had heard, that in the morning, very early, Geordie Bourne had been executed. Many vows he made of cruell revenge, and returned home full of grief and distaine, and from that time forward still plotted revenge. Hee knew the gentlemen of the country were altogether sacklesse, and to make open road upon the March would but show his malice, and lay him open to the punishment due to such offences. But his practice was how to be revenged on me or some of mine.

"It was not long after, that my brother and I had intelligence that there was a great match made at footeball, and the chief ryders were to be there. The place they were to meet at was Kelsy, and that day we heard it was the day for the meeting. Wee presently called a counsaile, and after much dispute, it was concluded, that the likeliest place he was to come to, was to kill the scoutes. And it was the more suspected, for that my brother, before my coming to the office, for the cattaile stolne out of the bounds, and, as it were, from under the walles of Barwicke, being refused justice, (upon his complaint), or at least delaid, sent off the garrison into Liddesdale, and killed there the chief offender, which had done the wrong.

"Upon this conclusion, there was order taken, that both horse and foote should lye in ambush in diverse parts of the boundes, to defend the scoutes, and to give a sound blow to Sir Robert and his company. Before the horse and foote were sett out with directions what to do, it was almost dark night, and the gates ready to be lockt. Wee parted, and as I was by myselfe, coming to my home, God put it into my mind, that it might well be, hee ment destruction to my men that I had sent out to gather tithes for mee at Norham, and their rendezvous was every night to lye and sup at an ale-house in Norham. I presently caused my page to take horse, and to ride as fast as his horse could carry him, and to command my servants (which were in all eight) that presently upon his coming to them, they should all change their lodging, and go straight to the castle, there to lye that night in strawe and hay. Some of them were unwilling thereto, but durst not disobey; so altogether left their ale-house and retired to the castle. They had not well settled themselves to sleep, but they heard in the towne a great alarm; for Sir Robert and his company came straight to the ale-house, broke open the doors, and made inquiry for my servants. They were answered, that by my command they were all in the castle. After they had searched all the house, and found none, they feared they were betrayed, and, with all the speede they could, made haste homewards again. Thus God blessed me from this bloody tragedy.

"There had been commissioners in Barwicke, chosen by the Queen and King of Scottes, for the better quieting of our Borders. By their industry they found a great number of malefactors guilty, both in England and Scotland; and they tooke oder, that the officers of Scotland should deliver such offenders, as were found guilty in their jurisdictions, to the opposite officers in England, to be detained prisoners, till they had made satisfaction of the goodes they had taken out of England. The like order was taken with the Wardens of England, and days prefixed for the delivery of them all. And in case any of the officers, on either side, should omit their duties, in not delivering the prisoners at the dayes and places appointed, that then there should a course be taken by the soveraignes, that what chiefe officer soever should offend herein, hee himself should be delivered and detained, till hee had made good what the commissioners had agreed upon.

"The English officers did punctually, at the day and place, deliver their prisoners, and so did most of the officers of Scotland; only the Lord of Bocleuch and Sir Robert Kerr were faultie. They were complained of, and new dayes for the delivery of their prisoners. Bocleuch ws the first that should deliver; and hee failing, entered himself prisoner into Barwicke, there to remaine till those officers under his charge were delivered to free him. Hee chose for his guardian Sir William Selby, master of the ordnance at Barwicke. When Sir Robert Kerrís day of delivery came, hee failed too, and my Lord Hume, by the kingís command, was to deliver him prisoner into Barwicke upon the like terms, which was performed. Sir Robert Kerr (contrary to all menís expectations) chose mee for his guardian, and home I brought him to my own house, after he was delivered to mee. I lodged him as well as I could and tooke order for his diet, and men to attend on him, and sent him word that (although by his harsh carriage towards mee, ever since I had that charge, he could not expect any favour, yet) hearing so much goodness of him, that hee never broke his worde, if hee would give me his hand and credit to be a true prisoner, hee would have no guard sett upon him, but have gree libery for his friends in Scotland to have ingress and regress to him as often as he pleased. Hee took this very kindly at my handes, accepted my offer, and sent mee thankes.

"Some four days passed; all which time his friends came into him, and hee kept his chamber. Then hee sent to mee, and desired mee, I would come and speake with him, which I did; and after a long discourse, charging and re-charging one another with wrong and injuries, at last, before our parting, wee became good friends, with greate protestations, on his side never to give mee occasion of unkindness again. After our reconciliation, hee kept his chamber no longer, but dined and supt with mee. I tooke him abroad with mee at the least thrice a weeke, a hunting, and every day wee grew better friends. Bocleuch, in a few days after had his pledges delivered, and was set at liberty. But Sir Robert Kerr could not get his, so that I was commanded to carry him to Yorke, and there to deliver him prisoner to the archbishop, which accordingly I did. At our parting, hee professed greate love unto mee for the kind usage I had shown him, and that I would find the effects of it upon his delivery, which hee hoped would be shortly.

"Thus wee parted; and, not long after his pledges were gott, and brought to Yorke, and hee sett at liberty. After his retourne home, I found him as good as his word. Wee met oft at dayes of truce, and I had as good justice as I could desire; and so wee continued very kinde and good friends, all the tyme that I stayed in that March which was not long."


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