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Peebles and Selkirk
The Roll of Honour


The typical Borderer was a fighter and adventurer, and out of his deeds of raid and combat grew the Ballad literature of the Border. Most of the great names of the past are therefore associated either with its warfare or its poetry.

Sir Simon Fraser, the friend and probably the kinsman of Wallace, fought at first on the side of the English. But in 1301 he definitely cast in his lot with the Scottish party, and with Comyn in 1303 won the battle of Roslin. In 1304 on Fraser’s own estate at Happrew in Peeblesshire, Wallace and he were defeated by the English. In 1306 he fought with Bruce at Methven, where he saved the king’s life. Shortly afterwards, having been captured, he was executed in the same horrible way as Wallace, his handsome appearance and noble bearing compelling the pity and admiration of the spectators.

Bruce’s supporters, the Good Sir James and William Douglas, the Knight of Liddesdale, have already been mentioned. After Bannockburn Ettrick Forest came into the possession of the Douglases. James the second Earl of Douglas, was the hero of Chevy Chase, and the dead Douglas that won the field. The fourth Earl died at Verneuil, the sixth was murdered in Edinburgh Castle. The eighth was slain at Stirling, arid the ninth defeated in battle at Arkinholm by their implacable foe James II.

Sir Walter Scott of Kirkurd in Peehlesshire was laird of Buccleuch in Ettrick, when he fought against the Black Douglases at Arkinholm; and the Sir Walter Scott, who succeeded his father in 1574, became the first peer of the family, as Lord Scott of Buccleuch. Buccleuch, a typical Borderer and the hero of the ballads, Jamie Telfer and Kinmont Willie, was the man who when asked by Queen Elizabeth how he dared to break into her castle of Carlisle, replied: "Madam, what is there that a man will not dare to do?" Wat o’ Harden, the typical Border Freebooter, is associated with Selkirkshire through his marriage with Mary Scott of Dryhope Tower, "the Flower of Yarrow," as famous for her beauty as Wat was for his courage. He was one of the bold band who recovered Jamie Telfer’s kye and broke the gaol to rescue Kinmont Willie. His principal residences in Selkirkshire were Oakwood Tower and Kirkhope Tower. His were the spurs, now in the possession of his descendant, Lord Murray of Elibank, which adorned the dish when the larder was empty; and it was his son Willie Scott who, caught by Gideon Murray at Elibank on a reiving expedition, afterwards married Gideon’s daughter, Agnes Murray. The story that Willie Scott got his choice of marrying "Muckle mou’d Meg" or being hanged on the gallows tree, was thought to be disproved when their marriage settlement, a document nine feet long, was discovered. But the story and the settlement are not inconsistent; if the hero reluctantly promised marriage to escape a hanging, the promise may not have been fulfilled till the marriage contract was drawn up.

The "Outlaw Murray" of the ballad belonged to what was till recent times the oldest family in Selkirk-shire. The ballad is supposed to refer to John Murray, the eighth laird of Philiphaugh, and the scene is Newark. The Scotts and the Murrays were at feud, and they and other enemies were thought to have prompted the king to make his expedition against the outlaws. The Murrays of Peeblesshire, of the same stock as those of the Forest, come most prominently into notice in the sixteenth century. John Murray, the eighth laird of Blackbarony, knighted in 1592, was known as the first in the district to plant trees and build dry-stone dykes. Hence his name of "John the Dyker." His third son Gideon was father to "Muckle mou’d Meg." Although he could not write his own name, he became Treasurer Depute of Scotland. He had a great liking for architecture and building; and during his tenure of office he had all the royal palaces and castles in Scotland overhauled. Having fallen into disfavour with James, he was sent to prison, where he died of a broken heart. Sir Gideon’s son was first Lord Elibank, and a great-great-grandson,

the Hon. James Murray, was first Governor-General of Canada in 1763. Besieged in 1781 in Minorca, he was offered by the French general a bribe of £100,000 to surrender but contemptuously refused it, and yielded only when his men were dying of starvation. Another Murray, Alexander Murray of Cringletie, served under Wolfe at Quebec, where he behaved with great gallantry. Murray was as modest as he was brave. When Benjamin West was painting the famous picture of the Death of Wolfe, he requested Murray to pose for one of the figures. But Murray’s answer was: "No! No! I was not by, I was leading the left." Murray of Broughton, Prince Charles’s Secretary, was the ablest administrator, among the Jacobites of the Forty-five, and the arch-traitor of their cause.

From the sixth Lord Napier of Thirlestane sprang many renowned admirals and generals. William John, eighth Lord Napier, fought at Trafalgar and at Fort Roquette, captured a French privateer, at Almeria cut out a French vessel within half range of 50 guns, was made prisoner at Gibraltar, and after more active service returned home to Ettrick, where he betook himself to farming, historical and antiquarian pursuits. Francis, ninth Lord Napier, after a distinguished diplomatic career, was appointed Governor of Madras in 1866, and on the assassination of Lord Mayo became acting Governor-General of India. He was also a renowned writer and orator.

More noted for craft than for courage, and blighted with the fate of the dynasty whose name they bore, were the Stewarts of Traquair. Sir John Stewart of Traquair was made a peer by Charles I. in 1628, and took a leading part in the Covenanting "troubles." He refused to risk his life at Philiphaugh; but, commanding a troop of horse in the Civil War (1648), he was captured. Four years afterwards he was released to find that his son had seized his estates. His remaining years were spent in poverty and disgrace. Dying in 1659, he was buried like a pauper, a shoemaker in pity lending his apron for a pall.

George Pringle of Torwoodlee, a scion of the Pringles of Selkirkshire, a well-known Border family, was appointed sheriff of Selkirk by Richard Cromwell in 1659. On the Restoration he was pardoned but heavily fined. He afforded succour to the Covenanters, assisted the Earl of Argyll to escape to Holland (1681) and, being himself charged with complicity in the Rye-house Plot, fled with Patrick Hume. Iri Holland Pringle was one of the council of twelve for the recovery of the rights and liberties of Scotland, and one of the committee of seven who planned Argyll’s invasion. In 1689 he, along with Scott of Harden, represented Selkirkshire in the Scottish Convention which offered the crown to William and Mary. His estates were restored ; but, worn out with his hardships, he died the same year.

With a taste for natural science, Mungo Park (1771—1806), son of a Foulshiels firmer, inherited the Borderer’s love of adventure. Educated at Selkirk Grammar School, he studied medicine, and sailed as surgeon to Sumatra. In 1795 he went to explore the Niger region. This made him famous, and his Travels in the Interior of Africa is still a classic. He settled in Peebles as a medical practitioner, but tired of the life and returned to the Niger, where he was drowned.

Though Michael Scott the Wizard (1175—1235) has only a supposed connexion with Selkirkshire, his name and fame are wedded with its history and literature. As a student of science and magic he had a European reputation:

"When, in Salamanca’s cave,
Him listed his magic wand to wave
The bells would ring in Notre Dame."

He was tutor to the Emperor Frederick II, and court physician and astrologer at Palermo. Returning to Scotland in 1230, he died about five years afterwards, and is buried, says tradition, in Melrose Abbey. His reputed abode was Oakwood Tower; but this Border keep was not built till 300 years after the wizard’s death. Dante has figured him in Purgatory with his head turned round looking backward because in life he had been a diviner.

The writers of the numerous old ballads are all unnamed save Nicol Burne, author of Leader Haughs and Yarrow. He is supposed to have been the foundling whom Mary Scott discovered forgotten amongst the baggage after the return of her husband, Wat o’ Harden, from a raid in Northumberland.

"He nameless as the race from which he sprung
Saved other names and left his own unsung."

But, known or unknown, the succession of poets has never failed. Robert Crawford (1695—1732) was author of Tweedside and of The Bush aboon Traquair. Hamilton of Bangour (1704—1754) wrote the Braes o’ Yarrow, the measure of which was imitated by Wordsworth in the Yarrow poems. Willie Laidlaw (1780-1845), born at Blackhouse in Selkirkshire, was the author of the pathetic lyric Lucy’s Flittin. Alison Rutherford (Mrs Cockburn), born at Fairnilee in 1712 and educated in Edinburgh, where she soon became renowned for her wit and beauty, was in very truth a nymph of the "Forest" and a "Maid of Athens." She was the authoress of the immortal Flowers of the Forest.

Sir Walter Scott, greatest of the Border minstrels and best of men, was, though born in Edinburgh, closely associated with Selkirkshire, by descent on the father’s side from Wat o’ Harden and on the mother’s from the Rev. John Rutherford of Yarrow, by his official position as sheriff of the county, and by residence at Ashiesteel. The scenery, the people, the life, the history, the traditions of Selkirk and Peebles—all influenced Scott and Scott’s work. "If no country ever owed so much for its fame to one man as Scotland to Sir Walter Scott, no part of it has so earned distinction through his notice as Selkirkshire." The Minstrelsy is full of Selkirk influences, Marmion was written and Waverley was begun at Ashiesteel. Scott’s pictorial power is finely displayed in local scenes as: "Tweedside in November" (Marmion, introduction to canto i); "Yarrow" (introduction to cantos iv and v); "A Snowstorm amongst the Hills" (canto iv); and, one of the best, "St Mary’s Loch in Calm" (introduction to canto ii). His novels are full of allusions to places and persons in the shires, and two of them, St Ronan’s Well and The Black Dwarf, deal especially with the district.

James Hogg, "the Ettrick Shepherd," was born in 1770, and with few and short migrations, lived in Selkirkshire all his life of sixty-five years as a shepherd and as a sheep farmer. He said he preferred a Border fair to a King’s coronation. His first important work was The Mountain Bard. His masterpiece is The Queen’s Wake, but his exquisite song, When the kye comes hame must not be forgotten. Though far below Burns as a poet, "there is a marked individuality in the shepherd’s songs and poems; he was a singer by genuine impulse, and there was an open-air freshness in his note." James Nicol (1769—1819), minister of Traquair, wrote Where Quair rins sweet amang the Flouirs ; and Thomas Smibert (1810—1834), a doctor and a native of Peebles, the Scottish Widow’s Lament. Professor John Wilson, "Christopher North" (1785—1854), was author of 39 out of 70 of the Noctes, and the friend of Wordsworth and of Hogg. Thomas Tod Stoddart (1810—1880) in his fishing songs praises Lyne, Manor, Yarrow, Gala, Tweed. Thomas Pringle (1789—1834) wrote his Autumnal Excursion, inspired by a visit to St Mary’s Loch. Another and finer Bush aboon Traquair was written by Principal Shairp (1819—1885). The Rev. Dr Russell in his Reminiscences and the Rev. Dr Borland in his Anthologies have carried on the literary tradition of Yarrow. John Veitch, a disciple of Scott and Wordsworth, was born in Peebles, 1829, and died there, 1894. He was professor of Logic at St Andrews and at Glasgow. Among his writings associated with his native district are Tweed and other Poems and his History and Poetry of the Scottish Border—the standard book on the subject. James Brown (1852—1904), a Selkirk manufacturer, under the nom de plume of J. B. Selkirk, wrote Selkirk after Flodden and O Yarrow garlanded with rhyme. As a poet and a man of letters, Andrew Lang (1844—1912), is the most distinguished son of Selkirkshire in modern times. Born at Selkirk, where he spent his childhood, he early displayed a bent towards literary pursuits. In range and productiveness he has had no rivals in Great Britain, and has even been seriously regarded as a society of authors. History, poetry, biography, belles—lettres, and comparative religion he treated with learning, liveliness and interest. His love for his native district has been beautifully expressed in Twilight on Tweed and Sunset on Yarrow.

The brothers William and Robert Chambers, the publishers, are the most eminent men of letters of modern times belonging to Peeblesshire. They were born at Peebles, William in 1800, Robert in 1802. In 1832 William started Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal. In 1859 he founded the Chambers Institute in Peebles. He was Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and carried out at his own cost the restoration of St Giles’ Cathedral. He died in 1883. His History of Peeblesshire is the standard book on the subject. Robert’s Vestiges of Creation was an anticipation of Darwin’s Origin of Species. His numerous other volumes include History of the Rebellions in Scotland, Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen, The Life and Works of Robert Burns. Henry Calderwood (1830—1899), minister in Edinburgh and professor of Moral Philosophy, wrote Philosophy of the Infinite and Mind and Brain. James Nicol, professor of Natural Philosophy in the University of Aberdeen, was the first discoverer of graptolites in the greywacke of the district. James Wilson, editor of the Border Advertiser, contributed to the elucidation of Professor Lapworth’s theory regarding the Silurian formation of the Southern Uplands.

In law and politics there are also eminent names. Andrew Pringle (Lord Alemoor), the son of John Pringle of the Haining, a senator of the College of Justice, was successively Sheriff of Selkirk, Solicitor-General for Scotland and a judge of the Court of Session. Sir James Montgomery’s name is honourably associated with land reform in the eighteenth century. The second son of William Montgomery of Macbie Hill, he was successively Sheriff of Peeblesshire, Solicitor-General, Lord Advocate, and Baron of the Exchequer of Scotland. In 1745 he purchased the estate of Stanhope and became an "Improver." Later he bought the Whim from the Duke of Argyll, and found as much wine in the cellar as paid for the estate. He was the author of the Entail Act, so advantageous to agricultural progress in Scotland. Montgomery also took an active part in the Parliamentary abolition of serfdom in Scotland. Macqueen of Braxfield was of a different type. A ferocious partisan in politics, he acted as a sort of Judge Jeffreys for the reactionary government of the period, circa 1793, in its efforts to repress the movement for political reform. Forbes Mackenzie of Portmore was M.P. for the county in 1830, and was responsible for the Forbes Mackenzie Act, the first important measure of licensing reform, which would have been unnecessary had every Scottish hostess followed the precepts and practice of "Meg Dods" of the Cleikum Inn at Peebles, who—according to Scott in St Ronan’s Well—discouraged late hours and deep potations.

Some of the most distinguished names in the history of the Scottish Church for the past 400 years are associated with the two shires. John Welsh (1568-1622), the famous preacher, in his youth consorted with the thieves of Liddesdale. He was minister of Selkirk, of Kirkcudbright and of Ayr. After imprisonment, he was banished and went to France, where he became minister to the Huguenots at St Jean d’Angley. Another famous preacher was Thomas Boston, appointed to Ettrick in 1707. Notable books of his are the Fourfild State, The Crook in the Lot, and his autobiography. Professor Lawson was born at Boghouse, Peeblesshire, and for fifty years had charge of the Secession Church at Selkirk. One of his students, John Lee, joining the Church of Scotland, was appointed minister of Peebles, then professor of Church History at St Andrews, and finally Principal of Edinburgh University. Professor John Ker (1816—1886), born at the Bield, Tweedsmuir, became one of the most brilliant preachers of the United Presbyterian Church.

Some of those who did much to promote the woollen industry in the district were Dickson of Peebles, the first manufacturer to make shepherd-tartan trousers, the origin of checked Tweeds; Murray of Galashiels, who brought Australian wool into vogue; Mercer, "the enterprising pioneer of the local industry" in the use of machinery; and George Roberts, who introduced a set of carding engines, an American invention.


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