Map of the Marches showing March boundaries, the Border, Hadrian's Wall
and several Battle sites.
History of the Border in Reiver times
Northumberland and Cumberland formed the English Border along with
Dumfries, Roxburghshire and Berwickshire on the Scottish side.
England and Scotland had different legal systems, on the border it was
necessary to have some form of international law. A 'buffer' area around
the border is created. The Border area is divided into six 'Marches' (see
map above). The English East, West and Middle March oppose the
Scottish March of the same name on the other side. Six English and six
Scottish knights meet up to draw up the Border Laws
(see Border Law). These Marches are subject to Border Laws
and claims can be heard on either side.
King Edward I
problems really started between England and Scotland when Edward I (also
known as 'Hammer of the Scots') finds a political excuse to invade Scotland. Scotland then formed an
alliance with England's traditional enemy France, called the 'Auld
Alliance' which lasted until 1560. For most of the middle ages
England was in dispute or open war with France and Scotland. The Border
people who inhabited these areas, became used to armies marching through
their land, looting and burning on the way.
Raiding on both sides of the Border became common. Even when the rest of
England might be in a period of peace and calm, the Borders were a wild
and dangerous place. The Border people had learned to live rough, move at
a moment's notice and obtain food and possessions by fair means or foul. A
man's loyalty was not to King and country, but to his Clan or family
surname. The Border Reivers had begun...
1318: The border disputes have got sufficiently bad that a Warden is
appointed to govern each March. The Warden, who had total power was
supported by deputies, keepers, land sergeants and bailiffs. The Warden is
responsible for upholding the Border Laws, capturing criminals, collecting
fines and holding courts. On the Scottish side the Wardens were chosen
from the most prominent family or Clan in that March. In the East March it
was a Hume, the Kerr's in the Middle and Maxwell's in the West (see map
of clans below).
King Henry VIII
1513: After the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Flodden, King Henry
VIII tries to restore peace to the Borders. However the Border Reivers
have reached their 'heyday' and people are reluctant to give up their way
of life by plunder and pillage. In the end, Henry gives up on peace and encourages trouble
against the Scots in the border area.
King James I
1603: On the death of Queen Elizabeth there was no English heir.
King James VI of Scotland also became King James I of England. King James
was determined to bring peace to his 'United Kingdom'. The Marches were
abolished and the Wardens also. Even stricter penalties were implemented
on those caught reiving, and many were hung. Whole families were exiled to
Ireland. Even so, it took many years to finally bring peace to the area.
Peace on the Border
1681: By now virtually all Border fighting has stopped and peace has come
to the area.
1707: Act of Union between England and Scotland.
(For a comprehensive history of Northumbria, from pre-Roman to the present
day, please see History of the North-East website)
The Border Reivers
Reiver is an old English word for a raider or looter. It was said of
the Reivers that they were Dalesmen by summer and Highlanders by winter.
The reivers preferred the winter for their illegal activities due to the
long nights and cattle were better for moving in the winter.
Reiver crimes included; cattle rustling, theft and looting, arson,
blackmail, murder and prison breaking. Reiving was unique in that it was
not restricted to a minority group, they came from all classes and lived
by the same 'code'. Even Wardens were at times implicated in personal
feuds or raids.
Here is a list of some of the main Reiver family surnames:
Map of Clan (or family) names and their
approximate locations in the Border area.
Reiver Clothes and Weaponry
The typical Reiver wore a jacket which was padded and sewn with metal
plates or rings. He wore a steel bonnet, or bowl shaped helmet. They rode
a horse, but it was a sturdier breed, more stocky than today's horses,
good in the rough and boggy terrain. They carried bows and arrows (the men
of Redesdale were said to be good archers) and later on a dag (heavy hand
gun). Their main weapon, which they were very skilled with, was a lance
used for thrusting and throwing.
English Middle March
The Cheviot Hills form a natural border with Scotland across the Middle
Marches. In the English Middle March three valleys lead into the hills and
across into Scotland. In the West there is Tynedale, in the middle
Redesdale, and to the East Coquetdale. In particular Redesdale, has Dere
Street (now part of the A68), the old Roman road from Corbridge into
Scotland. In the middle ages this would have been used by armies on both
sides of the border to access the other country. It is in Redesdale that
the Potts family came from, where it was said in 1551,
"the Halls be the greatest and most of reputation...next to them the
Reeds, Potts, Hedleys,".