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A History of the Border Counties
Chapter X


Nothing could exceed the desolation into which the country at large was plunged by the disaster of Flodden, The Scottish losses were estimated at from 10,000 to 12,000—including thirteen earls, fifteen lords and heads of clans, and, in fact—with the sole exception of Lord Home—almost every leading man in the country. There was scarce a Scottish family of note but lost at least one member. And, amid the general mourning, the Borders in all likelihood had most cause to mourn. The historian of Selkirk says that probably no district suffered more than that county, whose yeomen, as Crown tenants, would form the king’s bodyguard. There are traces of an old lament, of much sweetness and pathos, over the fallen sons of the Forest. But, by a strange freak of inspiration, Flodden waited long for its poet, and it was not till two centuries afterwards that the wail of the district found perfect articulation on the lips of Jane Elliot of Minto.

It was natural that local traditions should gather around this period of sorrow. Thus at Selkirk we find the story that, of eighty inhabitants who had gone forth to the battle, one alone returned. This was the leader, William Brydone, the town-clerk, who brought with him a banner captured in the fray, and was knighted by James V. for his services. Local tradition identifies the banner with that of the Weavers’ Corporation, which is still borne in triumph to the “common riding,” when the burgh bounds are ridden; whilst an ancient sword, supposed to have been Brydone’s, has also been preserved. A second story associates the sculptured figures on the burgh seal with a burgess wife of the period, who, beginning to despair of her husband’s return, wandered forth to look for him, and was found dead, at a spot thence called Ladywood-edge, with her baby at her breast. These tales scarcely stand investigation. The seal is, in fact, that of Kelso Abbey — whose connection with Selkirk has been described—the figures representing the Holy Virgin and Child. Yet, when stript of the overgrowth of fancy, the facts remain, and are supported by documentary evidence, that the inhabitants of Selkirk responded with spirit to the king’s summons to the field, that the bailies carefully superintended the necessary arrangements, and that every capable hand was impressed to assist in the labour of strengthening the defences of the town. A subsequent silence of two months in the burgh records is perhaps more eloquent than words.

Thu tradition found at Hawick resembles the above in one particular, but belongs to the next year. History affords evidence that, though desolated by the great defeat, the country was not morally prostrated; and the Hawick incident, if accepted, would tend to bear this out. Though Surrey’s army had been disbanded after the battle, Dacre, the English warden of the Mid Marches, preyed in successive raids on the wellnigh defenceless Borders. In the month following the victory, he already owns to three raids into Teviotdale —one to Howpasley Tower, one to Caerlanrig, a third to the castle of Ancrum. In November his brother Philip, having entered Scotland at the head of some thousands of mounted men, burnt Ruecastle; whilst Sir Roger Fenwick did the same for Lanton, near Jedburgh. In this incursion the warden himself fared but indifferent well, being pursued “right sore,” at Bowset, on Rule Water, by Douglas, Sheriff of Teviotdale, with about 1200 followers. None the less Liddesdale was wasted, refugees in Dykeraw Tower were smoked into surrender, Southdean was razed and plundered. But hostilities did not end here. Next spring Dacre is able to write of the Waters of Liddel, Ewes, Teviot from Ewes to Branxholm, Borthwick from Craik Cross to the mouth, and Ale from Alemuir to Ashkirk, that they are “ laid waste now, and no corn is sown upon any of these lands.” The country, however, was roused, the beacons were swift to kindle, and it is supposed to have been at this juncture that the Hornshole incident occurred. The story, which lacks confirmation, is simply that a party of the raiders approached the town of Hawick and threatened it Its adult population, under Douglas of Drumlanrig, had been swept off almost to a man in the recent great defeat and slaughter. But the inexperienced youth of the place rose equal to the occasion. Sallying forth from the town, they found the Englishmen at Hornshole, a deep pool two miles farther down Teviot, and having fallen upon and routed them, captured and bore away their pennon. This flag, or at the least a copy of it, is said to have been borne at the annual “common riding” ever since. It bears a saltire or upon an azure field, which has led the most recent investigators of its history to conclude, on heraldic grounds, that the men from whom it was taken were retainers of the Priory of Hexham.

These hostilities, desperate as they were, were nevertheless confined to the Border, and soon afterwards Scotland found herself comprehended in a treaty of peace which was concluded between England and France, and subsequently more than once renewed. But though her external quarrels were by this means composed for some seven or eight years to come, perhaps there was no period in her history when internal faction ran so high. The king was a child, and the country was divided between various claimants who in turn grasped at supremacy. Among these, the first to emerge into prominence was Angus, grandson and successor of old Bell-the-Cat, who had died soon after Flodden. The young earl had in a very short time become husband of the queen-mother, who by this marriage forfeited the regency, which was now conferred upon Albany, son of the rebel brother of James III., and consequently cousin-german of the late king. Of the two parties thus formed, Lord Home, who had escaped with tarnished reputation from the field of Flodden, at first took the side of Albany. Angus had always a little army of Borderers at his disposal, who were well trained to fighting, and who cared for little else, and thus it seemed that the old quarrels of the East and West Marches under March and Douglas were about to be repeated. But Home quarrelled with Albany instead, and history repeated itself by his being enticed with a brother to execution at Edinburgh, as the Douglases had been before him. But though his power on the East Border was great, and the accusations against him were generally of the most paltry description, as a historic figure he compares but meanly with young Douglas. “ Minuit prae-sentia famam ” was the caustic epigram of Albany after their first interview—“ I thought more of him before I had seen him.” He is said to have been of little stature, but fond of display: his public life was that of a mere schemer for his own gain.

The weakness of the Government and the disorder of the country at this period may be gauged by such occurrences as the murder of the warden De la Bastie—slain by Sir David Home of Wedderburn in revenge for the death of his kinsman —and by the famous street-battle known as “ Cleanse the Causeway,” fought in the streets of Edinburgh, in which the followers of Angus worsted the Hamiltons under Arran, another first cousin of the late king. When disorder was so rife, we may be sure that the Middle Marches had their share of it, though the more notable deeds and tragedies of the period were enacted on another stage. Bishop Leslie had vaunted the salutary effects of the late king’s punitive expedition against the reivers of the Jedburgh district, but scarce six years had elapsed ere those effects had worn off, and we find the governor, Albany, compelled to visit Jedburgh to tackle the same difficulties.

Early in 1520 a quarrel broke out between Angus and Andrew Ker of Femihirst as to the holding of courts upon the lands of Jed Forest, which, as hereditary bailie, Ker claimed the right to do. The dispute might have been amicably settled, but there were rents in question, and Sir James Hamilton, a bastard son of Arran’s, determined to come with an armed force to Femihirst’s assistance. Ker of Cessford, who was warden of the Middle Marches, either in the performance of his duty, or else taking the side against his kinsman and namesake, fell upon Hamilton near Kelso, scattered his followers, and slew several of his personal retainers. Hamilton himself escaped to Home Castle. The next day Femihirst held his court in the Tolbooth of Jedburgh as bailie to Angus, whilst Angus held a court of his own three miles out of the town. This affray was known as the Raid of Jedwood Forest, and serves as an example of the immediate and uncalled-for recourse to arms which the character of the times had rendered habitual.

In such a state of matters any war which was not a civil one might almost be regarded as a blessing. In 1522 Henry VIII. provoked an outbreak of hostilities by his attempt to dictate to Scotland the dismissal of the Regent Albany. The reply of the Scots was spirited, and included an accusation against Henry of permitting his wardens and officers on the Borders to aid and favour the rebels, “ broken men,” and bad characters of Scotland, and to ride with them “as far within the land as they durst, robbing, spoiling, and overthrowing the true lieges of the realm.” On this, Henry decreed the banishment from his kingdom of all Scots who could not show letters of denization. They were to have white crosses for identification stitched upon their garments, and were to be conducted to the frontier. At the same time the Earl of Shrewsbury, having been appointed commander-in-chief of an English army, made a sudden incursion upon Kelso, burning one-half of the town and plundering the other, but being eventually repulsed by a force of Borderers, in number greatly inferior to his own. Albany now threatened Carlisle; but though his army was large and well furnished, internal dissensions hampered action, and it was dispersed, having accomplished nothing.

The truce, however, was not renewed. During the following spring and summer, Surrey with Dacre ravaged Teviotdale, burning, among other places, Mowhaugh, Morebattle, Cessford, Primside, and Wideopen. Then, on the Scots attempting reprisals, the English commanders marched with an army upon Jedburgh. Though unfortified, the town defended itself bravely, but 'was captured and burnt, and the monastery destroyed. Dacre then captured Femihirst Castle from Dand Ker. This expedition derives a special interest from the fact that we possess an account of it by the English captain, Surrey, a son of the victor of Flodden, who had himself taken a prominent part in that battle.

Addressing King Henry from Berwick, September 27, 1523, he begins by assuring his Majesty that Jedburgh is “ soo suerly brent, that no garnysons ner none other shal bee lodged there, unto the tyme it bee newe buylded,” and then goes on to describe the town as “moche bettir then I went [weened] it had been, for there was twoo tymys moo houses therein then in Berwike, and well buylded, with many honest and faire houses therein, sufficiente to have lodged M horsemen in garnyson, and six good towres therein, which towne and towres be clenely distroyed, brent, and throwen downe.” The writer now indulges in a little quiet appreciation of his own achievement, which he modestly describes as the best of its kind within living memory, and then goes on to tell of a great mischance, which, arising from disregard of his orders, has somewhat marred his success. With Sir William Eure and Sir William Bulmer, his marshals, he had taken excellent thought for the ordering of his camp, which was “soo well envirowned with ordynance, carts, and dikes, that hard it was to entre or issue, but at certain places appointed for that purpos.” In this well-defended camp the most commodious quarters were assigned to the implacable Dacre—the bitterest foe, save Somerset, that the Scottish Borders ever had. But his lordship was not content with them, and insisted on lying without the camp—with the result that, thanks to Surrey, Borderers of to-day may still smile over his discomfiture.

Next day Dacre marched to the assault of Femihirst, which “stode mervelous strongly, within a great woode,” and whose lord was his mortal enemy. With him went two knights, 800 men, one cortoute, and “ dyvers other good peces for the feld.” Entering the wood on foot, in two detachments, the Englishmen met with a spirited resistance from “ hardy men, that went noo foote back for theym,” so that they were obliged to call for reinforcements. Still they failed to bring the ordnance to bear on the castle, until Dacre with some of his horsemen dismounted and came to their assistance, when, after much labour and long skirmishing, they “gat forthe th’ ordynance within the howse and threwe downe the same.” The Scots lost above thirty-two slain; the English, four slain and more than forty wounded. Returning to camp, Dacre still refused to occupy the quarters provided for him. But as he sat at supper with Surrey, at about eight o’clock, a great alarm arose. The horses of his company had broken loose to the number of 1500, and a terrible stampede ensued. In the belief that the Scots were upon them, the English discharged their bows and pieces at the frightened beasts, many hundreds of whom perished, either in the flames of the blazing town or by being dashed to pieces over the scaurs. Dacre’s nerve was evidently overstrained, and he attributed the misfortune to supernatural agency. “ I dare not,” says Surrey, “ write the wondres that my lord Dacre, with all his company, doo saye they sawe that nyght. . . . Unyversally all their company saye playnly, the devill was that nyght among thym vi tymys.” The writer concludes with a high compliment to the Borderers, whom he describes as the “ boldest men and the hotest that ever I sawe any nation.”  And Surrey had seen much service at home and abroad. From Jedburgh Dacre passed to Kelso, there to wreak his vengeance upon all that had been saved from Shrewsbury.

On the very day of the burning of Jedburgh the Regent Albany had returned to Scotland from one of his protracted visits to France, and brought with him a French force of 3000 foot and 500 mounted men-at-arms. With these, in poverty and delicate health, came the renowned George Buchanan, at that time a youth of less than eighteen. He remained with the troops during the subsequent campaign, and his account of their proceedings is therefore that of an eye-witness. A junction with the Scottish army having been effected, the united force marched towards England. But the Scots, content to protect their own country, had no desire to fight the battles of France, and when they came to the wooden bridge over Tweed at Melrose, a majority of them refused to go farther, and some who had already crossed returned. Albany with his Frenchmen then pushed on down the left bank of the river, and bringing up opposite Wark, prepared to besiege the castle. Meantime the cavalry, having forded the river, possessed themselves of all approaches to the castle by which supplies might be introduced, and wasted the surrounding country. Buchanan’s narrative of the siege may stand as a description of the investment of a Border fortress of the first class. He tells us that the castle consisted of a central tower of great strength and height, surrounded by a double enceinte. The outer court, of large extent, was used in time of war by the peasantry as a place of safety for their flocks and crops: the inner one, which was much smaller, being defended by towers and ditches, was also much stronger. The present assailants seized the outer court; but the defenders having fired the barns and stacks which it contained, the flames and smoke drove them out. The next two days were devoted to battering the wall of the inner court with artillery*. When a practicable breach had been effected, the Frenchmen stormed it with great gallantry; but being exposed to missiles of all kinds from the keep, which remained intact, they were repulsed with some loss, and rejoined the army across the river. An English army was now reported to be advancing, and as Albany saw that the Scots were opposed to the war, he abandoned the siege and retired. Soon afterwards he left Scotland, not to return.

His departure paved the way for a peace, though hostilities still smouldered on the Border. By an Act known as the Erection of the King, James, at the age of twelve, was declared competent to govern, and shortly after this the Earl of Angus again became all-powerful in the country. Though estranged from the queen, he had been reconciled to his old rival Arran, and—what was of first importance—had possessed himself of the king’s person. Notwithstanding assurances to the contrary, which might or might not be genuine, there was a strong suspicion abroad that James was detained against his will; but an attempt to liberate him, undertaken at Linlithgow, was a failure. Angus was now warden of the East and Middle Marches, and as he was returning from doing justice on the Border thieves at Jedburgh, accompanied by his royal charge, whom he scarcely allowed out of his sight, he suddenly found himself confronted by Sir Walter Scott of Branxholm, or Buccleuch, the power of whose family on the Borders had been steadily increasing since the fall of the Black Douglases. Scott now appeared upon the hill of Ilaliden, at the head of 1000 men, and descending into the valley, barred the way to Melrose Bridge. The earl sent forward a herald to ask his intentions, and to charge him to retire, to whom Buccleuch replied that “he was come to show himself and his friends to the king his master, as other Bordermen did,” adding presently, that “ he knew the king’s mind as well as Angus did, and would not go away till he saw him.” It has been supposed that he had previously harboured a design to secure the king at his house, the failure of which led him to have recourse to force. Fraser, however, says that he came in response to a secret letter from the king. Seeing how matters stood, Angus placed his charge in safe keeping, and proceeded to give battle. He had only 300 retainers with him, but was soon reinforced by the Homes and the Kers of Femihirst and Cessford, families with whom he had ingratiated himself, and who, having recently left his company, returned upon the sough of battle. For a time the contest was fierce; but being deserted by the outlaws of Liddesdale, who formed part of his force, Buccleuch was compelled to retire. This affray took place at or near Damick, on the 25th of July 1526, and Scott, the great novelist, who knew every acre of that country, tells us that local tradition has preserved several names taken from incidents of the fight— such as the Charge Law, where Buccleuch drew up his men for the onset; Skirmish Hill, where the battle was fought; and Turn-again, a small eminence where the beaten party rallied.

In this encounter Buccleuch was wounded and lost eighty men; whilst in the pursuit which followed it, in the rally just mentioned, Ker of Cessford, being foremost in the chase, was slain by a spear-thrust of Elliot of Stobs, one of Buccleuch’s retainers. His death gave rise to a blood-feud between the Scotts and Kers, which lasted unabated for a century, and in its after-effects even longer. Thus, in revenge for Cessford’s death, twenty-six years later, on the night of October 4, 1552, after an active career, Buccleuch was slain by a party of the Kers and their friends in the High Street of Edinburgh. He appears to have been taken at a disadvantage, “quhen he was halden to” John Home of Cowdenknowes, who thrust his sword through the body, at the same time crying to young Ker of Cessford to “Strike, tretour! ane strake for thy faderis sake.” The deed done, Home cast the body into a booth, saying, “ Lie there, with my malison, for I had rather gang by thy grave nor thy door.” To complete the barbarity of the crime, two of Home’s servants, passing the place some time after, and finding Sir Walter not yet dead, each struck him “ three or four times through the body.” They then stript off and carried away his cloak and bonnet, replying to questions asked them as they went their way, that “ there was ane lad fallen.” Cessford and his accomplices made their escape on horses provided for them by Hoppringle of Torwoodlee. They were, however, declared rebels — from which sentence, and from the retaliation of the Scotts, they suffered much loss. But all these things are, of course, an anticipation.

[Sir Walter Scott prints a bond which had for its object—unrealised, as we have seen—the “stanching” of this feud. This document, dated at Ancrum, March 16, 15-39, sets forth that it is “appointed, agreed, and finally accorded ” betwixt honourable men: that is to say, Walter Ker of Cessford, Andrew Ker of Fairniehirst, Mark Ker of Dolpbinston, George Ker, tutor of Cessford, and Andrew Ker of Primsideloch, for themselves, their dependents and adherents on the one part, and Walter Scot of Branxholm, knight, Robert Scot of Allanhaugh, Robert Scot, tutor of Howpaisly, John Scot of Robertrvn, and Walter Scot of Stirkshaws for themselves and followers on the other: for “staunching all discord and variance betwixt them,” &c., and “for unite, friendship, and concord to be had in time coming ’twixt them, of our Sovereign Lord's special command,” that either of the said parties “remits and forgives to others the rancour, hatred, and malice of their hearts.” In token of which Walter Scot of Branxholm shall “gang, or cause gang, at the will of the party, to the four head pilgrimages of Scotland ” (Scoon, Dundee, Paisley, and Melrose), and “shall say a mass for the souls of umquhile Andrew Ker of Cessford, and them that were slain in his company at the field of Melrose ” —which mass was to be repeated daily at Scot’s expense, “in what place the said Walter Ker and his friends pleases,” for five years to come. On the other part, two of the Kers were to make similar pilgrimages, and have similar masses said, for three years to come, for the soul of James Scot of Eskirk (Asbkirk), and other Scots slain on the same field. Scot of Branxholm was further to marry his son and heir to one of Ker of Cessford’s sisters, “paying therefor a competent portion to the said Walter Ker and his heir.” Six arbiters were to settle all other matters in dispute between the two parties, which arbiters were to deliver their judgment within a year and a day from date. The deed closes with a general engagement of goodwill, forbearance, and support—on which the foul murder described above forms a comment full of irony (Border Minstrelsy, 1st ed., vol. i. p. cxxviii).]

At length, in 1528, after a third fruitless attempt had been made to free him, James, now a spirited lad well advanced in his teens, took the law into his own hands. Disguising himself as a groom, he made his escape from Falkland Palace to Stirling by night, in the company of a single faithful servant. Angus returned from a brief absence to find the bird flown beyond recapture, and disgrace and forfeiture awaiting himself. It is gratifying to note that, in the elation of his new-found liberty, James did not forget those who had sought to befriend him in subjection. After the affair at Melrose, Buccleuch with others of. his family had been convicted of high treason; but the king now went in person to Parliament, and there declared that they had come forward on that occasion by his command, and merely to testify their duty — in token whereof he cited the fact that Buccleuch himself was attired “bot in ane ledderin cote, and ane blak bonet on his head.”1 The family were accordingly restored.

In 1564—that is, after the murder—a similar bond was entered into between Sir William Ker of Cessford and Sir Walter Scott of Branxholm, the latter acting with the consent of his curators. It appointed that Ker should do penance and ask young Scott’s forgiveness in St Giles’s Kirk, Edinburgh, and further arranged for a marriage between the second son of Cessford and a sister of Branxholm. It was subscribed, among others, by the widow of the murdered man. It is noticeable that several of the Kers, including Sir Thomas of Femihirst, refused to be parties to this agreement (Scotts of Buccleuch, vol. i. p. 136 et set/.; Jeffrey, vol. iii. P- 93).

We have seen that in recent years the condition of the Borders had repeatedly claimed attention. So far, however, repressive measures had proved ineffectual. Matters had now reached a climax, and, young as he was, the king resolved to deal with them forthwith. Possibly his spite against Angus gave relish to the task; for the earl was suspected of having for his own purposes countenanced the freebooters, and certainly their conduct in refusing to oppose him at Melrose gives colour to the suspicion. At any rate, we find the king accusing his former tyrant—now a refugee in England—of having cherished and maintained the Border thieves and broken men, so that they had laid waste a great part of the realm, while their wealth and power had by these means risen to such a pitch that they could not easily be destroyed. It is also charged against them that they had done much to undermine the peace with England.

The “Complaynt aganis the Thievis of Liddisdail ” of the contemporary poet and statesman Maitland of Lethington, shows us that at least James had not allowed rancour to betray him into exaggeration. It opens thus :—

“Of Liddisdail the commoun theifis
Sa peartlie steillis now and reifis,
That nane may keip
Horse, nolt, nor scheip,
Nor yett dar sleip,
For thair mischeifis.

It is perhaps pointed at in these lines of the “Complaynt ” :—

“To sic grit stouth quha eir wald trow it,
Bot gif sum great man it allowit.”

—I.e., who ever would believe that robbery could be carried to such a pitch except by connivance of some one in power ? But the case of Angus was probably not singular.

Thay plainly throw the country rydis,
I trow the mekil devil thame gydis !
Quhair they onsett,
Ay in thair gaitt
Thair is na yet
Nor dor thame bydis.
Thay leif rich nocht quhair ever tha ga ;
Thair can na thing be hid thame fra ;
For gif men wald
Thair housis hald,
Than waxe thay bald,
To bume and slay.”

Then follows an enumeration of some of their hunting-grounds :—

“Thay thiefs have neirhand herreit hail,
Ettricke forest and Lawderdaill;
Now are they gane,
In Lawthiane ;
And spairis nane That thay will waill.”

Next the desolation which follows in their path is painted, with touches of bitter humour over the thoroughness of their work. The land is “with stouth sa socht” that the very act of ploughing is discontinued—it has become useless to attempt to earn a livelihood by honest labour. Unless blackmail is paid, they that formerly had “flesche and breide and aill” are now made

“Bair and nakit,
Fane to be slaikit
With watter caill.”

Nor are the marauders above despoiling the poor:—

“Thay leif them nocht on bed nor bakis ;
Baith hen and cok,
With reil and rok,
The Lairdis Jok
All with him takis.”

Among these thieves of Liddesdale there is one who stands out in lonely interest—an interest arising from the fact that poetry has revealed his character and awakened our sympathy with his doom; for we do not forget that, however deserving of punishment, Johnie Armstrong was as a fact “foully done to death.”

It is easy to recognise in him and his fellows the natural products of their age and circumstances—products which at this day it were unjust to censure too severely. In other words, a glance at old Border life will account for the existence of the Border robber. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the Borderer of the fourteenth and two following centuries led in some respects the life of a military vidette— an existence calling for unremitted vigilance, and the constant readiness to provide for his own safety. We have referred in passing to the system of alarm by beacons—‘fagots, that is, which were placed ready for kindling, sometimes upon a hilltop, sometimes in an iron basket on the platform of a tower or castle. Upon the signal of the approach of an enemy, the smaller Border householder would hurriedly quit his primitive and inflammable habitation, and, accompanied by wife and children, drive his cattle to the nearest place of refuge. Here, if the refuge were a peel-tower, as was commonly the case, the creatures, brute and human, would find safety, respectively within the barmkyn or palisaded enclosure, and within the tower itself. But their perils were by no means past. Supposing the raiders powerful and the defence weak, the palisade would probably be fired—just as the enclosure at Wark had been breached—and the tower itself assailed. Entered as it was by a door on the first storey, approached by a ladder which could be drawn up, the tower enjoyed considerable advantage in repelling an assailant. But supposing that assailant to brave the missiles from above and effect a practicable breach in the tower, then he had the inmates at his mercy, for it lay with him to fill the basement with damp smouldering hay, and smoke them into surrender. We have seen an instance of these tactics being practised in one of Dacre’s raids. Cases where it was considered worth while to mine the tower and so contrive its downfall were probably of comparatively rare occurrence.

The above, then, were some of the more ordinary experiences of a Border raid. The reader will scarcely have forgotten the seemingly endless series of these raids, which, in our desire to take nothing for granted, at the risk of wearing out his patience, we have ventured to enumerate. And when these are considered, he will be at no loss to understand how honest labour had come to be at a discount on the Borders, whilst an ideal of manhood had been set up in which independence of spirit and prowess in fighting were the things on which almost alone store was set. It was not, however, until the relentless persecution by Dacre after Flodden that life on the Borders was brought to a state of positive demoralisation. “ Hitherto,” says an accomplished historian, “the Borderers had only introduced the customs of warfare into their life, which in the main held to the recognised code of social duty. Now, under the influence of this brutal treatment, Border life began to slip away from its connection with civilisation. The Borderers ceased to regard themselves as bound by any laws, save that of the family tie, and degenerated into gangs of brigands, whose hand was against every man, and who made little distinction between friend and foe.” These Borderers, in so far as they concern us here, consisted first of all of the Armstrongs, whose headquarters lay westward in the Debatable Land, but who extended into Liddesdale and Wauchopcdale; secondly, of the Elliots, seated in Liddesdale and Teviot-dale, and sometimes occupying the important post of captains of the Hermitage; and afterwards of the Nixons of Dinlabyre and the Crosars of Riccarton, both in Upper Liddesdale, of the Hendersons, Grahams, Wighames, and a few others. The state of matters above described was destined to last until well on in the century, but the king had now determined to deal it a heavy blow.

With this object in view, in the summer of 1529, he visited Jedburgh, Peebles, and Cramalt near St Mary’s Loch ; whilst, in March of the year following, he assigned special protectors to the district. The first-fruits of the new appointments were seen in the apprehension of William Cok-burn of Henderland and Adam Scot of Tushielaw, famous robber - chiefs of Ettrick Forest. They were brought to Edinburgh, convicted of theft and of levying blackmail, and beheaded. The remains of their castles are, or were till recently, plainly visible. The king’s work was, however, but begun. As a preliminary step towards further measures, he now caused to be seized and placed in ward the Lords Maxwell, Bothwell, and Home, together with Buccleuch, Drumlanrig, Mark Ker of Dolphinston, a son of Ker of Femihirst, and other Border potentates — all suspected, as Angus had been before them, of countenancing the lawbreakers. The Border seems next to have been raised en masse for the purpose of a crusade. Tweeddale was consigned to the care of Lord Hay of Neidpath, the Sheriff of Selkirk and gentlemen of the Forest being directed to assist him.

The king and his company then passed from Edinburgh, by Tweeddale and St Mary’s Loch, to Caerlanrig in Teviotdale. Perhaps by way of blind, they combined the pleasures of the chase with their more serious business, and eighteen score of harts, besides smaller game of all kinds, are recorded as the spoils of this famous hunting-ground.

Of what now followed, the historian of Liddesdale prints no fewer than four separate accounts, all by sixteenth-century writers,1 which of course differ in detail. The ‘ Diurnal of Occurrents’ of the reign is unfortunately reticent on the subject. It seems, however, that the king summoned the inhabitants of the district to him by means of a proclamation. Among them, apparently trusting to his sovereign’s clemency—if not, indeed, as has been sometimes supposed, to the actual terms of the summons — came Johnie Armstrong of Gilnockie, brother of the Laird of Mangerton, and himself the most notorious of freebooters. With him rode thirty-four horsemen, bravely apparelled. But when the king beheld the pomp of his retinue, it seems to have struck him as a manifestation of insolence. “What wants yon knave that a king should have?” he is said to have exclaimed, and ordered the robber to execution. Armstrong strove hard to strike a bargain for his life—offering, in the first instance, to sustain himself and forty gentlemen ever ready to obey the king’s behest, and never to molest a Scot; and, when this failed, to bring to the king, either quick or dead, and within a certain space of time, any Englishman whom his Majesty might name. Seeing, however, that he was not to gain his suit, he stooped no further, but proudly pronounced these words : “It is folly to seek grace at a graceless face. But, had I known this, I should have lived on the Borders in despite of King Hary and you both, for I know King Hary would down-weigh my best horse with gold to know that I were condemned to die this day.” Certainly, whatever view may be taken of Armstrong’s life, it must be acknowledged that his death and dying speech were not lacking in dignity. He and his companions were then hanged upon growing trees, which, according to the rustic tradition, never afterwards put forth leaves. Their graves are still pointed out in the neighbourhood. At the same time and place, one Sandie Scot, a “ prowd thief,” who had burnt the house and some of the children of a poor widow, was himself burnt at the stake, f inally, one cannot but regret to learn from Leslie that there was not even honour among thieves, for Geordie Armstrong, brother to Johnie, was kept alive “ to tell of the rest ”—which he did, so that in process of time they also were apprehended and punished according to their deserts.

To us the question of most interest about Armstrong is, Did he confine his depredations to the English side of the Border? It has been asserted on the authority of Pitscottie that he did; but this seems open to much doubt. It is true that he had repulsed the great Dacre himself from Hollows Tower, but his real position would seem to have been that of the class — to whom we have already more than once alluded — who were Scots or Englishmen according as it suited their purposes. For such playing fast and loose, his territorial situation on the Debatable Land was admirably adapted; and in this connection the historian of Liddesdale makes one surprising assertion. After quoting a contemporary statement that the Armstrongs had “ avaunted themselves to be the destruction of twoe-and-fifty parisshe churches in Scotteland,” he indicates that this statement was a deliberate and malicious exaggeration, and that the number of Scottish parish churches destroyed by the family did not in fact exceed thirty, all told. In considering this, perhaps it is well to bear in mind that we are now on the eve of the Reformation, when the fat possessions of more or less defenceless Churchmen are beginning to attract longing glances from all quarters. Be these things as they may, it seems certain that, if not actually entrapped to their doom, Armstrong and his companions were put to death without even the form of a trial. In 1897 a monument was erected to his memory, and if this be viewed as an act of posthumous reparation, it is one with which most Borderers will be able cordially to sympathise.

It is almost surprising to reflect that, besides those whose pleasure and whose forte lay in giving and receiving blows, there were living in these disturbed regions at this period spirits of gentler nature, and of sensitive and imaginative mind. It is to these that we owe the Border ballads, of which many, in the form now known to us, have been assigned to about this date. In their own day the authors were probably persons of capital unimportance, perhaps hardly able to hold their own in the society in which they lived; for whilst so many names of fighters have survived, their names have been without exception forgotten. Perhaps the great difference between ourselves and the Borderers of the end of the Middle Ages is one of self-consciousness—no doubt they felt and thought as deeply as we do, but they were not so conscious of their thoughts and feelings. This difference it is which characterises their poetry. And in its artlessness and spontaneity lies the source of its power. Much as we owe to Sir Walter Scott for his share in the recovery and popularisation of the Border ballads, we cannot but feel that, born as he was in the traditions of the eighteenth century, and lacking—as with all his great mental wealth he did— the scholar’s conscience and training, he did not always treat his “ finds ” with due respect. Yet, in their present imperfect form, such ballads of the freebooting life as “Johnie Armstrang” or “The Sang of the Outlaw Murray” put before us, in wonderfully fresh colours, the pride of life and manhood in the free existence of the forest. And yet this is scarcely the feature which strikes us most; for such ballads again as “ Armstrong’s Good - night,” the “ Border Widow’s I,ament,” or “ Johnie of Breadislee,” serve strangely to humanise that savage life for us. It is natural that the humanising touches should spring from the introduction of the woman—the mother, wife, or sweetheart of the hero— and these touches serve also to reveal to us the part in that life played by the woman. It is certainly a significant fact that the strongest point of these poems is their pathos. At times, indeed, it is despair itself which speaks:—

“I took his body on my back,
And whiles I gaed, and whiles I sate;
I digg’d a grave, and laid him in,
And happ’d him with the sod sae green.
But think na ye my heart was sair
When I laid the moul’ on his yellow hair?
O think na ye my heart was wae,
When I turn’d about away to gae? ”

And it is noteworthy that this old Border life, so rife with tragedy—so brutalising, as one might have been tempted to believe—has produced the poetry which beyond all other poetry, and beyond all hope of rivalry, has shown to the fullest the sharp sense of life and death, and of the cruelty of eternal separation. And what has been said of the ballads of old freebooting life may be extended to those which deal with other old ^agedies of the Border, such as “The Douglas Tragedy,” the “ Dowie Dens of Yarrow,” and many more.

The remaining twelve years of King James V.'s reign were not very eventful on the Borders. Raids into England were resumed in 1532—reciprocal hostilities of that character being continued for about a year, at the end of which a peace was concluded. One of the effects of the Reformation in England had been to make Henry desire to conciliate James. For a time he had work cut out for himself elsewhere, and was ready on the one hand to make very lavish promises, and on the other to employ somewhat unscrupulous methods, to induce his nephew to embrace the reformed doctrines. Then James’s successive matrimonial alliances with France gave him ground for uneasiness, and though their relations continued peaceable, Henry did not think it prudent to neglect to repair his Border fortresses. In 1541 a meeting of the two kings was arranged to take place at York, but James failed to keep tryst, and successive inroads of the Scottish Borderers occurring about the same time left Henry highly incensed. The state of feeling in the two countries at this time is well illustrated by the fact that a meeting of commissioners, assembled on the Border to dispose of a question of trifling importance, was dissolved without a settlement.

Perhaps the greatest blot on the fame of James V. is his inhuman treatment of Angus’s sister, Lady Glamis, whom he caused to be burnt on an accusation of witchcraft. In 1541 Angus, accompanied by his brother, Sir George Douglas, and Sir Robert Bowes, captain of Norham Castle, crossed the Border at the head of 3000 men, with intent to advance upon Jedburgh. He was, however, intercepted at Hadden Rig by George Gordon, Earl of Huntly, to whose care the king had intrusted the Borders. A fiercely contested fight ensued, ending—through the timely arrival of Home with auxiliaries —in a victory for Huntly, who made Bowes and many others prisoners. Godscroft tells that the king was so pleased by this victory that he presented the lands of Hirsel to Sir Andrew Ker of Littledean, who had been the first to bring him news of it. But Henry had already raised the northern counties against Scotland, and after some attempts at pacification, Norfolk—who is already known to us as Surrey—called “The Scourge of the Scots,” led an army up the banks of the Tweed, and in eight days burnt the towns and hamlets of Ednam, Newton, Stichill, Nenthorn, the Spital of Smail-holm, the two Muirdeans, and the two Broxlaws, Floors with the Fair Croft, Roxburgh, Kelso with its abbey, Long Sprous-ton, Redden, and Haddenston.

It was now high time to retaliate, and James had assembled his army and set out for Kelso, when he was met at Fala Moor by news of Norfolk’s withdrawal, which had been occasioned by the failure of provisions. He wished to carry the war into the enemy’s country, but here unexpected difficulties arose. We have seen, in the steps which preceded the expedition against Armstrong, an example applied to the Border of that severe dealing with the nobles in which he imitated the policy of his ancestor, the first James. That severity was to bear fruit, for the nobles now refused to accompany him into England. From this point his sad story is well known: How an expedition was, nevertheless, sent to cross the Western March; how James unwisely insisted on appointing his minion, Oliver Sinclair, to the leadership ; the consequent demoralisation of the force, and its rout by Dacre at Solway Moss, and James’s death from shame and resentment at Falkland three weeks later. He left as sole heir the most famous and the most unfortunate of all his race—a baby-girl scarce a week old. His natural son James—of whom we shall hear again—had before this been provided for out of the monasteries of Melrose and Kelso; and it may be noted in passing that the Border wars had evidently told severely on these foundations, for in his application to Rome regarding them, James describes David I.’s great establishments as “ small monasteries,” adding that the nearness of their situation to England exposed them in a peculiar degree to the infection of the reformed or heretical doctrines. This and the general depression of the Borders, which had been in progress since Flodden, may serve to account for the insignificant part which they were destined to bear in the approaching religious wars.

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