Robbery, Blackmail, Arson, kidnapping, Extortion and Murder all these things were a way of life in the Borders during the 1500s.The Border between England and Scotland was in a state of turmoil during the reign of Elizebeth I. The first seperating of these two lands was made by Hadrian's 73 mile wall, a wall that made its mark on the land and also on the peaple that it divided.After the romans had left Britain, and the wall was plundered for its stone for building houses, the peaple of both sides of the great boundary wall never forgot its purpose as a barrier between the two Countries.There always remained a stigma between the Englishman and the Scotsman and this would last throughout the ages long after Hadrian put down his marker for the end of the Roman Empire.
Living along the Border during the 16th century was often a fight for survival.The Families that lived along both sides of the wall were often close knit , they were Clans that stuck together and often had fueds with rival families from both sides of the Border.During a time of lawlessness, hard times, and wars the peaple of the Border had to Steal burn and fight to stay alive. We know these peaple as the Border Reivers of who we are there descendants.The Reivers put the name, Blackmail into our vocabulary.Sat on there small horses, riding out below a full moon wearing there Steel Bonnets, the Reiver gives the image of a brave warrior to which romantic poems were wrote over the centuries after there demise.In reality these men of the 16th century were going out on a dark night to steal from there neighbours, or even kidnap for a high ransom.The names of these notorius Families, the names that are continually mentioned in the records from the time are as follows-
Armstrong - Scottish but of Cumbrian origin.
Bell - English and Scottish
Burn - Scottish
Charlton - English
Croser - Mainly Scottish
Elliot - Scottish
Fenwick - English
Forster - Largely English
Graham - Mostly English but ready to be on either side.
Hall - English and Scottish
Hetherington - English
Hume - Scottish
Irvine - Scottish
Johnstone - Scottish
Kerr - Scottish
Maxwell - Scottish
Musgrave - English
Nixon - Scottish and English
Robson - English
Scott - Scottish
Storey - English
As mortal enemies since time began, Scotsmen and Englishmen were often intermarried. "our lawless peaple, that will be Scottishe when they will, and English at their pleasure" this is a statement that was made by Thomas Musgrave, Captain of Bewcastle at that time.Scots who became settled on the English side were regarded as a dangerous fifth column, by the English Wardens.These Wardens were enrolled to keep the peace on the border.Each side of the border had seperate "marches" these were divided from East to West with a middle March down the centre.The job of a Warden in these lawless days was something of a waste of time, with little help from the main government based in london on the English side, and the rough wild terrain in Scottland restricting the Scottish government to help assist the Scottish Wardens.To be a Warden of a March you had to be a mixture of, Soldier, Judge, Lawyer, fighting-man, diplomat, politician, rough rider, detective, administrator, and intelligence agent. in general the task of the Warden was to guard and govern his March, making him the most accomplished troubleshooter in the history of man.The "Warden" was quite often a reiver himself who on occasion would take advantage of his high status and ride out and raid the other side of the border.The Wardens of the english West March lived in Carlisle Castle, one of these Wardens was Lord Scrope, who in 1596 illegally imprisoned Kinmont Willie Armstrong in that famous episode, that will be explained later.
The Wardens on each side of the border were often involved in feuds with rival families, and coupled with these dangers to there life, they lived with the risk of Assasination.It took a lot of Courage to be a Warden in a state where the common view was - "the best kind of Lawman is a dead one". Another word that the Reivers put into our vocabulary was, red hand, this term is used when you are caught "redhanded" as they so often were by a Warden.
Every month there would be a meeting between both wardens of opposite Marches to discuss the complaints made by citizens of both England, and Scotland.These Truce meetings were more often than not cancelled, some Wardens cancelled on a regular basis for any excuses that came to mind, as they often didnt get on with there opposing Warden.One of the places marked out for truce meetings was Rockliffe on the English side situated at the estuary of the River Eden.The scene of a truce day would resemble a stand off on a western film, like a group of cowboys nervously approaching there enemy.The Wardens with there men had good reason to feel nervous on there approach to the meeting as these meeting had been known to break out into open battle.It was during one of these days of truce that the most famous story of the reivers enravels, the story of Kinmont Willie....
William Armstrong of Kinmont was one of the most notorius of reivers on the Border.He had a tower at Morton rigg which was right on the border not far north of Carlisle.Willie raided on an enormous scale he would raid by day, and night, so confident in his ability to steal from, and burn his victims homes.The first of his raids recorded was against the milburns in August 1583, eight seperate villages were attacked, several houses burned, 800 cattle stolen, £200 worth of goods stolen, six men killed, and thirty prisoners carried off.Kinmont Willie raided with a band of 300 men, making him a very formidable force indeed.It was in the spring of 1596 that a day of truce was being held near Kershopefoot, on the Scottish side, between the English west March Warden and the deputy keeper of Liddesdale.This meeting was well attended with upto 200 riders present on the English side alone.In attendance was Kinmont Willie, which it is quite likley that the reason of the meeting may have centered around the actions of this notorius raider.On this day, 17th march 1596 the truce was reported to have gone without incident.It was whilst the riders were making there way home in opposite directions along the Liddell Water that the trouble started.
It was when Willie was riding home along the River, that the band of Englishmen, 200 strong began to give chase.This should not of happened as the law stated that on a day of truce every man is excempt from being arrested or harmed.Willie had no chance against these fine riders from the English side, the fastest horsemen in Europe.After a three to four mile chase Willie was rode down, and captured over the Liddell Water, He was then dragged off to Carlisle Castle.Willies Captor the English Deputy Salkeld had him lodged in the Castle, Lord Scrope the Warden of the English west March was away at his Country home at this time , unaware of the unlawful deed that had been committed by his fellow men.This was just the start of the great diplomatic strife that was to ensue from such a controversial event, it turned out to be the most celebrated event in the history of the Anglo-Scottish frontier.The first correspondence sent to England over the matter was from young scott of Buccleugh, keeper of liddesdale.At thirty years of age Buccleugh was a relativly young man to be in office on the Borders, nevertheless, he was held in high regard by his fellow officers.Buccleugh was a couragous hard fighter he got a lot of respect from his enemies aswell as his band of men in Liddesdale.
Buccleugh set out to seek justice from the English, he wrote letters to Salkeld, the deputy officer of the meeting, and he also wrote to Scrope, the warden at Carlisle Castle.After receiving no satisfaction from either parties,and with Scrope having to give lame reasons for the holding of Willie at Carlisle Castle, Buccleugh decided to take another route of action.With Lord Scrope sticking to his guns even after being quizzed by his masters in London, as they were critical of the capture of Willie on a day of truce, Buccleugh thought there was no other way than to break Willie out of the Castle at Carlisle.This would be no mean feat as Carlisle Castle stood as one of the most well Guarded forts on the Border, it stood guard on its heighty bluff keeping the Border City safe through many Scottish invasions.From the days when" Longshanks,"King Edward I was hammering the Scots the castle stood firm, so how could one chieftain of Liddesdale ever think that he could break a prisoner from the mighty castle? At this time in 1596 the castle was far from an "old Hen Coop," as it was described after the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, when the Duke of Cumberland left the Carlisle walls in ruins after he saved Carlisle from the grip of Bonnie Prince Charles.Buccleugh, although young in age at thirty years old was a cunning and wise Officer.Having only spent 2 years in office at Hermitage Castle he had made many friends and earned great respect from his fellow officers, and enemies alike.Buccleugh knew exactly what he was taking on with the task of trying to break kinmont out of the Castle.After a number of weeks that Willie was taken Prisoner Buccleugh was seen talking to the Carleton brothers, Thomas and Lancelot, these were two English west march officers, they were accompanied by Walter Scott (Aud Wat) of Harden, over a couple of weeks these men plotted with other groups that were ascotiated with the Kinmont tribe.It is thought that Buccleugh mustered up a band of 500 men, or maybe less, as this statement came from Scrope after the event, when he was in front of the council in London.Buccleugh knew that even with a thousand men this hard task could go fataly wrong.In order to free Kinmont Willie the Scottish riders needed a dark wet and wild cumbrian night, in order to go undetected on there approach to the Castle.On the dark wild wet night chosen by Buccleugh the riders set off from Hermitage Castle to free there fellow reiver, they rode through the debatable lands and down onto stanwix bank, on the north side of the Eden.The Eden flowed bank high with brown flood water, making its crossing a dangerous task.Once they had got onto the English side,( maybe further downsream from the Castle) the band of men slowly approached the west curtain wall of the castle.In the pouring rain and strong winds, Buccleugh's men approached the Postern gate, set into the mighty thick wall.It is at this point where it is unknown as to what excactly happened, did they use a ladder, or undermine the wall, or break down the large wooden door? It is far more likely that it was opened from the inside, as Buccleugh's whole operation may well have been an inside job.The reports made by Scrope in the days after the break out, state that Buccleugh's men undermined the gate and attacked the guards, before taking there prisoner.How did Buccleughs men know excactly where Willie was imprisoned? it was later reveiled that there was a spy in the Castle working for Buccleugh.Kinmont Willie certainly wasnt locked up in the old keep he is thought to have been detained in an out building on the western side of the Castle not far from the postern gate where they entered on that dark wild night.Once Willie was freed it came as a great embarassment to Lord Scrope.But the capture of Kinmont Willie Armstrong did make the old reiver slow down with his raiding forays into cumbria, and after a few more years he was to die in his bed an old man.