From the remote period; when the Roman province was contracted by the ramparts of Severus, until the union of the kingdoms, the borders of Scotland formed the stage, upon which were presented the most memorable conflicts of two gallant nations. The inhabitants, at the commencement of this aera, formed the first wave of the torrent which assaulted, and finally overwhelmed, the barriers of the Roman power in Britain. The subsequent events, in which they were engaged, tended little to diminish their military hardihood, or to reconcile them to a more civilized state of society. We have no occasion to trace the state of the borders during the long and obscure period of Scottish history, which preceded the accession of the Stuart family. To illustrate a few ballads, the earliest of which is hardly coeval with James V. such an enquiry would be equally difficult and vain. If we may trust the Welch bards, in their account of the wars betwixt the Saxons and Danes of Deira and the Cumraig, imagination can hardly form [Sidenote: 570] any idea of conflicts more desperate, than were maintained, on the borders, between the ancient British and their Teutonic invaders. Thus, the Gododin describes the waste and devastation of mutual havoc, in colours so glowing, as strongly to recall the words of Tacitus; “Et ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant1.”
1 In the spirited translation of this poem, by Jones, the following verses are highly descriptive of the exhausted state of the victor army.
At Madoc’s tent the clarion sounds,
With rapid clangour hurried far:
Each echoing dell the note resounds —
But when return the sons of war!
Thou, born of stern necessity,
Dull peace! the desert yields to thee,
And owns thy melancholy sway.
At a later period, the Saxon families, who fled from the exterminating sword of the Conqueror, with many of the Normans themselves, whom discontent and intestine feuds had driven into exile, began to rise into eminence upon the Scottish borders. They brought with them arts, both of peace and of war, unknown in Scotland; and, among their descendants, we soon number the most powerful border chiefs. Such, during the reign of the [Sidenote: 1249] last Alexander, were Patrick, earl of March, and Lord Soulis, renowned in tradition; and such were, also, the powerful Comyns, who early acquired the principal sway upon the Scottish marches. [Sidenote: 1300] In the civil wars betwixt Bruce and Baliol, all those powerful chieftains espoused the unsuccessful party. They were forfeited and exiled; and upon their ruins was founded the formidable house of Douglas. The borders, from sea to sea, were now at the devotion of a succession of mighty chiefs, whose exorbitant power threatened to place a new dynasty upon the Scottish throne. It is not my intention to trace the dazzling career of this race of heroes, whose exploits were alike formidable to the English, and to their sovereign.
The sun of Douglas set in blood. The murders of the sixth earl, and his brother, in the castle of Edinburgh, were followed by that of their successor, poignarded at Stirling by the hand of his prince. His brother, Earl James, appears neither to have possessed the abilities nor the ambition of his ancestors. He drew, indeed, against his prince, the formidable sword of Douglas, but with a timid and hesitating hand. Procrastination ruined his cause; and he was deserted, at Abercorn, by the knight of Cadyow, chief of the Hamiltons, and by his most active adherents, after they had ineffectually exhorted him to commit [Sidenote: 1453] his fate to the issue of a battle. The border chiefs, who longed for independence, shewed little [Sidenote: 1455] inclination to follow the declining fortunes of Douglas. On the contrary, the most powerful clans engaged and defeated him, at Arkinholme, in Annandale, when, after a short residence in England, he again endeavoured to gain a footing in his native country2. The spoils of Douglas were liberally distributed among his conquerors, and royal grants of his forfeited domains effectually interested them in excluding his return. An [Sidenote: 1457] attempt, on the east borders, by “the Percy and the Douglas, both together,” was equally unsuccessful. The earl, grown old in exile, longed once more to see his native country, and vowed, that, [Sidenote: 1483] upon Saint Magdalen’s day, he would deposit his offering on the high altar at Lochmaben. — Accompanied by the banished earl of Albany, with his usual ill fortune, he entered Scotland. — The borderers assembled to oppose him, and he suffered a final defeat at Burnswark, in Dumfries-shire. The aged earl was taken in the fight, by a son of Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, one of his own vassals. A grant of lands had been offered for his person: “Carry me to the king!” said Douglas to Kirkpatrick: “thou art well entitled to profit by my misfortune; for thou wast true to me, while I was true to myself.” The young man wept bitterly, and offered to fly with the earl into England. But Douglas, weary of exile, refused his proffered liberty, and only requested, that Kirkpatrick would not deliver him to the king, till he had secured his own reward3. Kirkpatrick did more: he stipulated for the personal safety of his old master. His generous intercession prevailed; and the last of the Douglasses was permitted to die, in monastic seclusion, in the abbey of Lindores.
2 At the battle of Arkinholme, the Earl of Angus, a near kinsman of Douglas, commanded the royal forces; and the difference of their complexion occasioned the saying, “that the Black Douglas had put down the Red.” The Maxwells, the Johnstones, and the Scotts, composed his army. Archibald, earl of Murray, brother to Douglas, was slain in the action; and Hugh, Earl of Ormond, his second brother, was taken and executed. His captors, Lord Carlisle, and the Baron of Johnstone, were rewarded with a grant of the lands of Pittinane, upon Clyde. —Godscroft, Vol. I. p. 375. —Balfour’s MS. in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh. —Abercrombie’s Achievements, Vol. II. p. 361. folio Ed. — The other chiefs were also distinguished by royal favour. By a charter, upon record, dated 25th February, 1458, the king grants to Walter Scott of Kirkurd, ancestor of the house of Buccleuch, the lands of Abingtown, Phareholm, and Glentonan craig, in Lanarkshire.
“Pro suo fideli servitio nobis impenso et pro quod interfuit in conflictu de Arkenholme in occisione et captione nostrorum rebellium quondam Archibaldi et Hugonis de Douglas olim comitum Moraviae et de Ormond et aliorum rebellium nostrorum in eorum comitiva existen: ibidem captorum et interfectorum.”
Similar grants of land were made to Finnart and Arran, the two branches of the house of Hamilton; to the chiefs of the Battisons; but, above all, to the Earl of Angus who obtained from royal favour a donation of the Lordship of Douglas, and many other lands, now held by Lord Douglas, as his representative. There appears, however, to be some doubt, whether, in this division, the Earl of Angus received more than his natural right. Our historians, indeed, say, that William I. Earl of Douglas, had three sons; 1. James, the 2d Earl, who died in the field of Otterburn; 2. Archibald, the Grim, 3d Earl; and 3. George, in right of his mother, earl of Angus. Whether, however, this Archibald was actually the son of William, seems very doubtful; and Sir David Dalrymple has strenuously maintained the contrary. Now, if Archibald, the Grim, intruded into the earldom of Douglas, without being a son of that family, it follows that the house of Angus, being kept out of their just rights for more than a century, were only restored to them after the battle of Arkinholme. Perhaps, this may help to account for the eager interest taken by the earl of Angus against his kinsman. —Remarks on History of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1773. p. 121.]
3 A grant of the king, dated 2d October, 1484, bestowed upon Kirkpatrick, for this acceptable service, the lands of Kirkmichael.]
After the fall of the house of Douglas, no one chieftain appears to have enjoyed the same extensive supremacy over the Scottish borders. The various barons, who had partaken of the spoil, combined in resisting a succession of uncontrouled domination. The earl of Angus alone seems to have taken rapid steps in the same course of ambition which had been pursued by his kinsmen and rivals, the earls of Douglas. Archibald, sixth earl of Angus, called Bell-the-Cat, was, at once, warden of the east and middle marches, Lord of Liddisdale and Jedwood forest, and possessed of the strong castles of Douglas, Hermitage, and Tantallon. Highly esteemed by the ancient nobility, a faction which he headed shook the throne of the feeble James III., whose person they restrained, and whose minions they led to an ignominious death. The king failed not to shew his sense of these insults, though unable effectually to avenge them. This hastened his fate: and the field of Bannockburn, once the scene of a more glorious conflict, beheld the combined chieftains of the border counties arrayed against their sovereign, under the banners of his own son. The king was supported by almost all the barons of the north; but the tumultuous ranks of the Highlanders were ill able to endure the steady and rapid charge of the men of Annandale and Liddisdale, who bare spears, two ells longer than were used by the rest of their countrymen. The yells, with which they accompanied their onset, caused the heart of James to quail within him. He deserted his host, [Sidenote: 1488] and fled towards Stirling; but, falling from his horse, he was murdered by the pursuers.
James IV., a monarch of a vigorous and energetic character, was well aware of the danger which his ancestors had experienced, from the preponderance of one overgrown family. He is supposed to have smiled internally, when the border and highland champions bled and died in the savage sports of chivalry, by which his nuptials were solemnized. Upon the waxing power of Angus he kept a wary eye; and, embracing the occasion of a casual slaughter, he compelled that earl, and his son, to exchange the lordship of Liddisdale and the castle of Hermitage, for the castle and lordship of Bothwell4. By this policy, he prevented the house of Angus, mighty as it was, from rising to the height, whence the elder branch of their family had been hurled.
4 Spens of Kilspindie, a renowned cavalier, had been present in court, when the Earl of Angus was highly praised for strength and valour. “It may be,” answered Spens, “if all be good that is upcome;” insinuating, that the courage of the earl might not answer the promise of his person. Shortly after, Angus, while hawking near Borthwick, with a single attendant, met Kilspindie. “What reason had ye,” said the earl, “for making question of my manhood? thou art a tall fellow, and so am I; and by St. Bride of Douglas, one of us shall pay for it!”—“Since it may be no better,” answered Kilspindie, “I will defend myself against the best earl in Scotland.” With these words they encountered fiercely, till Angus, with one blow, severed the thigh of his antagonist, who died upon the spot. The earl then addressed the attendant of Kilspindie: “Go thy way: tell my gossip, the king, that here was nothing but fair play. I know my gossip will be offended; but I will get me into Liddisdale, and remain in my castle of the Hermitage till his anger be abated.”—Godscroft, Vol. II. p. 59. The price of the earl’s pardon seems to have been the exchange mentioned in the text. Bothwell is now the residence of Lord Douglas. The sword, with which Archibald, Bell-the-Cat, slew Spens, was, by his descendant, the famous Earl of Morton, presented to Lord Lindsay of the Byres, when, about to engage in single combat with Bothwell, at Carberry-hill —Godscroft, Vol. II. p. 175.]
Nor did James fail in affording his subjects on the marches marks of his royal justice and protection. [Sidenote: 1510] The clan of Turnbull having been guilty of unbounded excesses, the king came suddenly to Jedburgh, by a night march, and executed the most rigid justice upon the astonished offenders. Their submission was made with singular solemnity. Two hundred of the tribe met the king, at the water of Rule, holding in their hands the naked swords, with which they had perpetrated their crimes, and having each around his neck the halter which he had well merited. A few were capitally punished, many imprisoned, and the rest dismissed, after they had given hostages for their future peaceable demeanour. —Holinshed’s Chronicle, Lesly.
The hopes of Scotland, excited by the prudent and spirited conduct of James, were doomed to a sudden and fatal reverse. Why should we recapitulate the painful tale of the defeat and death of a high-spirited prince? Prudence, policy, the prodigies of superstition, and the advice of his most experienced counsellors, were alike unable to subdue in James the blazing zeal of romantic chivalry. The monarch, and the flower of his nobles, [Sidenote: 1513] precipitately rushed to the fatal field of Flodden, whence they were never to return.
The minority of James V. presents a melancholy scene. Scotland, through all its extent, felt the truth of the adage, “that the country is hapless, whose prince is a child.” But the border counties, exposed from their situation to the incursions of the English, deprived of many of their most gallant chiefs, and harassed by the intestine struggles of the survivors, were reduced to a wilderness, inhabited only by the beasts of the field, and by a few more brutal warriors. Lord Home, the chamberlain and favourite of James IV., leagued with the Earl of Angus, who married the widow of his sovereign, held, for a time, the chief sway upon the east border. Albany, the regent of the kingdom, bred in the French court, and more accustomed to wield the pen than the sword, feebly endeavoured to controul a lawless nobility, to whom his manners appeared strange, and his person [Sidenote: 1516] despicable. It was in vain that he inveigled the Lord Home to Edinburgh, where he was tried and executed. This example of justice, or severity, only irritated the kinsmen and followers of the deceased baron: for though, in other respects, not more sanguinary than the rest of a barbarous nation, the borderers never dismissed from their memory a deadly feud, till blood for blood had been exacted, to the uttermost drachm5. Of this, the fate of Anthony d’Arcey, Seigneur de la Bastie, affords a melancholy example. This gallant French cavalier was appointed warden of the east marches by Albany, at his first disgraceful retreat to France. Though De la Bastie was an able statesman, and a true son of chivalry, the choice of the regent was nevertheless unhappy. The new warden was a foreigner, placed in the office of Lord Home, as [Sidenote: 1517] the delegate of the very man, who had brought that baron to the scaffold. A stratagem, contrived by Home of Wedderburn, who burned to avenge the death of his chief, drew De la Bastie towards Langton, in the Merse. Here he found himself surrounded by his enemies. In attempting, by the speed of his horse, to gain the castle of Dunbar, the warden plunged into a morass, where he was overtaken and cruelly butchered. Wedderburn himself cut off his head; and, in savage triumph, knitted it to his saddle-bow by the long flowing hair, which had been admired by the dames of France. —Pitscottie, Edit. 1728, p. 130. Pinkerton’s History of Scotland, Vol. II. p. 169 6.
5 The statute 1594, cap. 231, ascribes the disorders on the border in a great measure to the “counselles, directions, receipt, and partaking, of chieftains principalles of the branches, and househalders of the saides surnames, and clannes, quhilkis bears quarrel, and seeks revenge for the least hurting or slauchter of ony ane of their unhappy race, although it were ardour of justice, or in rescuing and following of trew mens geares stollen or reft.”]
6 This tragedy, or, perhaps, the preceding execution of Lord Home, must have been the subject of the song, the first two lines of which are preserved in the Complaynt of Scotland:
God sen’ the Duc hed byddin in France,
And de la Bauté had never come hame.
P, 100, Edin. 1801.]
The Earl of Arran, head of the house of Hamilton was appointed to succeed De la Bastie in his perilous office. But the Douglasses, the Homes, and the Kerrs, proved too strong for him upon the [Sidenote: 1520] border. He was routed by these clans, at Kelso, and afterwards in a sharp skirmish, fought betwixt his faction and that of Angus, in the high-street of the metropolis7.
7 The particulars of this encounter are interesting. The Hamiltons were the most numerous party, drawn chiefly from the western counties. Their leaders met in the palace of Archbishop Beaton, and resolved to apprehend Angus, who was come to the city to attend the convention of estates. Gawain Douglas, bishop of Dunkeld, a near relation of Angus, in vain endeavoured to mediate betwixt the factions. He appealed to Beaton, and invoked his assistance to prevent bloodshed. “On my conscience,” answered the archbishop, “I cannot help what is to happen.” As he laid his hand upon his breast, at this solemn declaration, the hauberk, concealed by his rocket, was heard to clatter: “Ah! my lord!” retorted Douglas, “your conscience sounds hollow.” He then expostulated with the secular leaders, and Sir Patrick Hamilton, brother to Arran, was convinced by his remonstrances; but Sir James, the natural son of the earl, upbraided his uncle with reluctance to fight. “False bastard!” answered Sir Patrick, “I will fight to day where thou darest not be seen.” With these words they rushed tumultuously towards the high-street, where Angus, with the prior of Coldinghame, and the redoubted Wedderburn, waited their assault, at the head of 400 spearmen, the flower of the east marches, who, having broke down the gate of the Netherbow, had arrived just in time to the earl’s assistance. The advantage of the ground, and the disorder of the Hamiltons, soon gave the day to Angus. Sir Patrick Hamilton, and the master of Montgomery, were slain. Arran, and Sir James Hamilton, escaped with difficulty; and with no less difficulty was the military prelate of Glasgow rescued from the ferocious borderers, by the generous interposition of Gawain Douglas. The skirmish was long remembered in Edinburgh, by the name of “Cleanse the Causeway.”—Pinkerton’s History, Vol. II. p. 181. —Pitscottie Edit. 1728. p. 120. —Life of Gawain Douglas, prefixed to his Virgil.]
The return of the regent was followed by the banishment of Angus, and by a desultory warfare with England, carried on with mutual incursions. Two gallant armies, levied by Albany, were dismissed without any exploit worthy notice, while Surrey, at the head of ten thousand cavalry, burned Jedburgh, and laid waste all Tiviotdale. This general pays a splendid tribute to the gallantry of the border chiefs. He terms them “the boldest [Sidenote: 1523] men, and the hottest, that ever I saw any nation8.”
8 A curious letter from Surrey to the king is printed in the Appendix, No. I.]
Disgraced and detested, Albany bade adieu to Scotland for ever. The queen-mother, and the Earl of Arran, for some time swayed the kingdom. But their power was despised on the borders, where Angus, though banished, had many friends. Scot of Buccleuch even appropriated to himself domains, belonging to the queen, worth 4000 merks yearly; being probably the castle of Newark and her jointure lands in Ettrick forest9. —
9 In a letter to the Duke of Norfolk, October 1524, Queen Margaret says, “Sen that the Lard of Sessford and the Lard of Baclw vas put in the castell of Edinbrouh, the Erl of Lenness hath past hyz vay vythout lycyens, and in despyt; and thynkyth to make the brek that he may, and to solyst other lordis to tak hyz part; for the said lard of Bavkl wvas hyz man, and dyd the gretyst ewelyz that myght be dwn, and twk part playnly vyth theasyz as is well known.”—Cot. MSS. Calig. B.I.]
This chief, with Kerr of Cessford, was committed to ward, from which they escaped, to join [Sidenote: 1525] the party of the exiled Angus. Leagued with these, and other border chiefs, Angus effected his return to Scotland, where he shortly after acquired possession of the supreme power, and of the person of the youthful king. “The ancient power of the Douglasses,” says the accurate historian, whom I have so often referred to, “seemed to have revived; and, after a slumber of near a century, again to threaten destruction to the Scottish monarchy.”—Pinkerton, Vol. 11, p. 277.
In fact, the time now returned, when no one durst strive with a Douglas, or with his follower. For, although Angus used the outward pageant of conducting the king around the country, for punishing thieves and traitors, “yet,” says Pitscottie, “none were found greater than were in his own company.” The high spirit of the young king was galled by the ignominious restraint under which he found himself; and, in a progress to the border for repressing the Armstrongs, he probably gave such signs of dissatisfaction, as excited the [Sidenote: 1526] laird of Buccleuch to attempt his rescue.
This powerful baron was the chief of a hardy clan, inhabiting Ettrick forest, Eskdale, Ewsdale, the higher part of Tiviotdale, and a portion of Liddesdale. In this warlike district he easily levied a thousand horse, comprehending a large body of Elliots, Armstrongs, and other broken clans, over whom the laird of Buccleuch exercised an extensive authority; being termed, by Lord Dacre, “chief maintainer of all misguided men on the borders of Scotland.”—Letter to Wolsey, July 18. 1528. The Earl of Angus, with his reluctant ward, had slept at Melrose; and the clans of Home and Kerr, under the Lord Home, and the barons of Cessford, and Fairnihirst, had taken their leave of the king, when, in the gray of the morning, Buccleuch and his band of cavalry were discovered, hanging, like a thunder-cloud, upon the neighbouring hill of Haliden10. A herald was sent to demand his purpose, and to charge him to retire. To the first point he answered, that he came to shew his clan to the king, according to the custom of the borders; to the second, that he knew the king’s mind better than Angus. — When this haughty answer was reported to the earl, “Sir,” said he to the king, “yonder is Buccleuch, with the thieves of Annandale and Liddesdale, to bar your grace’s passage. I vow to God they shall either fight or flee. Your grace shall tarry on this hillock, with my brother George; and I will either clear your road of yonder banditti, or die in the attempt.” The earl, with these words, alighted, and hastened to the charge; while the Earl of Lennox (at whose instigation Buccleuch made the attempt), remained with the king, an inactive spectator. Buccleuch and his followers likewise dismounted, and received the assailants with a dreadful shout, and a shower of lances. The encounter was fierce and obstinate; but the Homes and Kerrs, returning at the noise of battle, bore down and dispersed the left wing of Buccleuch’s little army. The hired banditti fled on all sides; but the chief himself, surrounded by his clan, fought desperately in the retreat. The laird of Cessford, chief of the Roxburgh Kerrs, pursued the chace fiercely; till, at the bottom of a steep path, Elliot of Stobs, a follower of Buccleuch, turned, and slew him with a stroke of his lance. When Cessford fell, the pursuit ceased. But his death, with those of Buccleuch’s friends, who fell in the action, to the number of eighty, occasioned a deadly feud betwixt the names of Scott and Kerr, which cost much blood upon the marches11. — See Pitscottie, Lesly, and Godscroft.
10 Near Darnick. By a corruption from Skirmish field, the spot is still called the Skinnerfield. Two lines of an old ballad on the subject are still preserved:
“There were sick belts and blows,
The Mattous burn ran blood.”
11 Buccleuch contrived to escape forfeiture, a doom pronounced against those nobles, who assisted the Earl of Lennox, in a subsequent attempt to deliver the king, by force of arms. “The laird of Bukcleugh has a respecte, and is not forfeited; and will get his pece, and was in Leithquo, both Sondaye, Mondaye, and Tewisday last, which is grete displeasure to the Carres.”—Letter from Sir C. Dacre to Lord Dacre, 2d December, 1526.]
[Sidenote: 1528] Stratagem at length effected what force had been unable to accomplish; and the king, emancipated from the iron tutelage of Angus, made the first use of his authority, by banishing from the kingdom his late lieutenant, and the whole race of Douglas. This command was not enforced without difficulty; for the power of Angus was strongly rooted in the east border, where he possessed the castle of Tantallon, and the hearts of the Homes and Kerrs. The former, whose strength was proverbial12, defied a royal army; and the latter, at the Pass of Pease, baffled the Earl of Argyle’s attempts to enter the Merse, as lieutenant of his sovereign. On this occasion, the borderers regarded with wonder and contempt the barbarous array, and rude equipage, of their northern countrymen Godscroft has preserved the beginning of a scoffing rhyme, made upon this occasion:
The Earl of Argyle is bound to ride
From the border of Edgebucklin brae13;
And all his habergeons him beside,
Each man upon a sonk of strae.
They made their vow that they would slay —
Godscroft, v. 2. p. 104. Ed. 1743.
12 “To ding down Tantallon, and make a bridge to the Bass,” was an adage expressive of impossibility. The shattered ruins of this celebrated fortress still overhang a tremendous rock on the coast of East Lothian.]
13 Edgebucklin, near Musselburgh.]
The pertinacious opposition of Angus to his doom irritated to the extreme the fiery temper of James, and he swore, in his wrath, that a Douglas should never serve him; an oath which he kept in circumstances under which the spirit of chivalry, which he worshipped14, should have taught him other feelings.
14 I allude to the affecting story of Douglas of Kilspindie, uncle to the Earl of Angus. This gentleman had been placed by Angus about the king’s person, who, when a boy, loved him much, on account of his singular activity of body, and was wont to call him his Graysteil, after a champion of chivalry, in the romance of Sir Eger and Sir Grime. He shared, however, the fate of his chief, and, for many years, served in France. Weary, at length, of exile, the aged warrior, recollecting the king’s personal attachment to him, resolved to throw himself on his clemency. As James returned from hunting in the park at Stirling, he saw a person at a distance, and, turning to his nobles, exclaimed, “Yonder is my Graysteil, Archibald of Kilspindie!” As he approached, Douglas threw himself on his knees, and implored permission to lead an obscure life in his native land. But the name of Douglas was an amulet, which steeled the king’s heart against the influence of compassion and juvenile recollection. He passed the suppliant without an answer, and rode briskly up the steep hill, towards the castle. Kilspindie, though loaded with a hauberk under his cloaths, kept pace with the horse, in vain endeavouring to catch a glance from the implacable monarch. He sat down at the gate, weary and exhausted, and asked for a draught of water. Even this was refused by the royal attendants. The king afterwards blamed their discourtesy; but Kilspindie was obliged to return to France, where he died of a broken heart; the same disease which afterwards brought to the grave his unrelenting sovereign. Even the stern Henry VIII. blamed his nephew’s conduct, quoting the generous saying “A king’s face should give grace.”—Godscroft, Vol. II. P. 107.]
While these transactions, by which the fate of Scotland was influenced, were passing upon the eastern border, the Lord Maxwell seems to have exercised a most uncontrouled domination in Dumfries-shire. Even the power of the Earl of Angus was exerted in vain, against the banditti of Liddesdale, protected and bucklered by this mighty chief. Repeated complaints are made by the English residents, of the devastation occasioned by the depredations of the Elliots, Scotts, and Armstrongs, connived at, and encouraged, by Maxwell, [Sidenote: 1528] Buccleuch, and Fairnihirst. At a convention of border commissioners, it was agreed, that the king of England, in case the excesses of the Liddesdale freebooters were not duly redressed, should be at liberty to issue letters of reprisal to his injured subjects, granting “power to invade the said inhabitants of Liddesdale, to their slaughters, burning, heirships, robbing, reifing, despoiling and destruction, and so to continue the same at his grace’s pleasure,” till the attempts of the inhabitants were fully atoned for. This impolitic expedient, by which the Scottish prince, unable to execute justice on his turbulent subjects, committed to a rival sovereign the power of unlimited chastisement, was a principal cause of the savage state of the borders. For the inhabitants, finding that the sword of revenge was substituted for that of justice, were loosened from their attachment to Scotland, and boldly threatened to carry on their depredations, in spite of the efforts of both kingdoms.
James V., however, was not backward in using more honourable expedients to quell the banditti [Sidenote: 1529] on the borders. The imprisonment of their chiefs, and a noted expedition, in which many of the principal thieves were executed (see introduction to the ballad, called Johnie Armstrong), produced such good effects, that, according to an ancient picturesque history, “thereafter there was great peace and rest a long time, where through the king had great profit; for he had ten thousand sheep going in the Ettrick forest, in keeping by Andrew Bell, who made the king so good count of them, as they had gone in the hounds of Fife.” Pitscottie, p. 153.
A breach with England interrupted the tranquillity [Sidenote: 1532] of the borders. The Earl of Northumberland, a formidable name to Scotland, ravaged the middle marches, and burned Branxholm, the abode of Buccleuch, the hereditary enemy of the English name. Buccleuch, with the barons of Cessford and Fairnihirst, retaliated by a raid into England, [Sidenote: 1533] where they acquired much spoil. On the east march, Fowberry was destroyed by the Scots, and Dunglass castle by D’Arcey, and the banished Angus.
A short peace was quickly followed by another war, which proved fatal to Scotland, and to her king. In the battle of Haddenrig, the English, and the exiled Douglasses, were defeated by the Lords Huntly and Home; but this was a transient gleam of success. Kelso was burned, and the borders [Sidenote: 1542] ravaged, by the Duke of Norfolk; and finally, the rout of Solway moss, in which ten thousand men, the flower of the Scottish army, were dispersed and defeated by a band of five hundred English cavalry, or rather by their own dissentions, broke the proud heart of James; a death, more painful a hundred fold than was met by his father in the field of Flodden.
When the strength of the Scottish army had sunk, without wounds, and without renown, the principal chiefs were led captive into England. — Among these was the Lord Maxwell, who was compelled, by the menaces of Henry, to swear allegiance to the English monarch. There is still in existence the spirited instrument of vindication, by which he renounces his connection with England, and the honours and estates which had been proffered him, as the price of treason to his infant sovereign. From various bonds of manrent, it appears, that all the western marches were swayed [Sidenote: 1543] by this powerful chieftain. With Maxwell, and the other captives, returned to Scotland the banished Earl of Angus, and his brother, Sir George Douglas, after a banishment of fifteen years. This powerful family regained at least a part of their influence upon the borders; and, grateful to the kingdom which had afforded them protection during their exile, became chiefs of the English faction in Scotland, whose object it was to urge a contract of marriage betwixt the young queen and the heir apparent of England. The impetuosity of Henry, the ancient hatred betwixt the nations, and the wavering temper of the governor, Arran, prevented the success of this measure. The wrath of the disappointed monarch discharged itself in a wide-wasting and furious invasion of the east marches, conducted by the Earl of Hertford. Seton, Home, and Buccleuch, hanging on the mountains of Lammermoor, saw, with ineffectual regret, the fertile plains of Merse and Lothian, and the metropolis itself, reduced to a smoking desert. Hertford had scarcely retreated with the main army, when Evers and Latoun laid waste the whole vale of Tiviot, with a ferocity of devastation, hitherto unheard of15. The same “lion mode of wooing,” being pursued during the minority of Edward VI., totally alienated the affections even of those Scots who were most attached to the English interest. The Earl of Angus, in particular, united himself to the governor, and gave the English a sharp defeat at Ancram moor, [Sidenote: 1545] a particular account of which action is subjoined to the ballad, entituled, “The Eve of St. John.” Even the fatal defeat at Pinky, which at once renewed the carnage of Flodden, and the disgrace of Solway, served to prejudice the cause of the victors. The borders saw, with dread and detestation, the ruinous fortress of Roxburgh once more receive an English garrison, and the widow of Lord Home driven from his baronial castle, to [Sidenote: 1547] make room for the “Southern Reivers.” Many of the barons made a reluctant submission to Somerset; but those of the higher part of the marches remained among their mountains, meditating revenge. A similar incursion was made on the west borders by Lord Wharton, who, with five thousand men, ravaged and overran Annandale, Nithsdale, and Galloway, compelling the inhabitants to receive the yoke of England16.
15 In Haynes’ State Papers, from p. 43 to p. 64, is an account of these destructive forays. One list of the places burned and destroyed enumerates —
Monasteries and Freehouses. . . . 7
Castles, towres, and piles. . . . 16
Market townes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Villages. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 243
Mylnes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Spytells and hospitals. . . . . . . . 3
See also official accounts of these expeditions, in Dalyell’s Fragments.]
16 Patten gives us a list of those east border chiefs who did homage to the Duke of Somerset, on the 24th of September, 1547; namely, the lairds of Cessfoorth, Fernyherst, Grenehed, Hunthill, Hundely, Makerstone, Bymerside, Bounjedworth, Ormeston, Mellestains, Warmesay, Synton, Egerston, Merton, Mowe, Rydell, Beamerside. Of gentlemen, he enumerates George Tromboul, Jhon Haliburton, Robert Car, Robert Car of Greyden, Adam Kirton, Andrew Mether, Saunders Purvose of Erleston, Mark Car of Littledean, George Car of Faldenside, Alexander Mackdowal, Charles Rutherford, Thomas Car of the Yere, Jhon Car of Meynthorn (Nenthorn), Walter Holiburton, Richard Hangansyde, Andrew Car, James Douglas of Cavers, James Car of Mersington, George Hoppringle, William Ormeston of Edmerden, John Grymslowe. —Patten, in Dalyell’s Fragments, p. 87.
On the west border, the following barons and clans submitted and gave pledges to Lord Wharton, that they would serve the king of England, with the number of followers annexed to their names.
|Laird of Kirkmighel.. .. ..||222||Mr Maxwell and more.. ..||1000|
|Rose.. .. .. ..||165||Laird of Closeburn.. .. .||403|
|Hempsfield.. .. ..||163||Lag.. .. . . .||202|
|Home Ends.. . . .||162||Cransfield.. ..||27|
|Wamfrey.. .. .. .||102||Mr Ed. Creighton.. . . .||10|
|Dunwoddy.. .. ..||44||Laird of Cowhill.. . . .||91|
|Laird of Newby and Gratney..||122||Maxwells of Brackenside, and vicar of Carlaverick..||310|
|Patrick Murray.. .. .. ..||203||ANNERDALE AND GALWAY.|
|Christie Urwin (Irving) of Coveshawe.||102||Lord Carlisle.||101|
|ANNERDALE AND CLIDSDALE|
|Cuthbert Urwen of Robbgill..||34||Laird of Applegirth.. ..||242|
|Urwens of Sennersack.. .. .||40||LIDDESDALE AND DEBATEABLE LAND.|
|Wat Urwen.. .. .. .. ..||20|
|Jeffrey Urwen.. .. .. ..||93||Armstrongs.. .. .. .. .||300|
|T. Johnston of Crackburn..||64||Elwoods (Elliots).. .. ..||74|
|James Johnston of Coites..||162||Nixons.. .. .. .. .. .||32|
|Johnstons of Graggyland.. .||37||GALLOWAY|
|Johnstons of Driesdell.. ..||46||Laird of Dawbaylie.. .. .||41|
|Johnstons of Malinshaw.. ..||65||Orcherton.. .. .. .. ..||111|
|Gawen Johnston.. .. .. ..||31||Carlisle.. .. .. . . .||206|
|Will Johnston, the laird’s brother||110||Loughenwar.. .. .. .. .||45|
|Tutor of Bumbie.. .. ..||140|
|Robin Johnston of Lochmaben.||67||Abbot of Newabbey.. .. ..||141|
|Town of Dumfries.. . . .||201|
|Lard of Gillersbie.. .. ..||30||Town of Kircubrie.. .. ..||36|
|Bells of Tostints.. .. ..||142||Laird of Drumlire.. .. ..||364|
|Bells of Tindills.. .. ..||222||Caruthers.. .. .. .. ..||71|
|Sir John Lawson.. .. . . .||32||Trumbells.. .. .. .. ..||12|
|Town of Annan.. .. .. ..||33||ESKDALE.|
|Roomes of Tordephe.. . . .||32||Battisons and Thomsons.. .||166|
|Total 7008 men under English assurance.|
Nicolson, from Bell’s MS. Introduction to History of Cumberland, p. 65.]
The arrival of French auxiliaries, and of French gold, rendered vain the splendid successes of the English. One by one, the fortresses which they occupied were recovered by force, or by stratagem; and the vindictive cruelty of the Scottish borderers made dreadful retaliation for the, injuries they had sustained. An idea may be conceived of this horrible warfare, from the memoirs of Beaugé, a French officer, serving in Scotland.
The castle of Fairnihirst, situated about three miles above Jedburgh, had been taken and garrisoned by the English. The commander and his followers are accused of such excesses of lust and cruelty “as would,” says Beaugé, “have made to tremble the most savage moor in Africa.” A band of Frenchmen, with the laird of Fairnihirst, and [Sidenote: 1549] his borderers, assaulted this fortress. The English archers showered their arrows down the steep ascent, leading to the castle, and from the outer wall by which it was surrounded. A vigorous escalade, however, gained the base court, and the sharp fire of the French arquebusiers drove the bowmen into the square keep, or dungeon, of the fortress. Here the English defended themselves, till a breach in the wall was made by mining. Through this hole the commandant creeped forth; and, surrendering himself to De la Mothe-rouge, implored protection from the vengeance of the borderers. But a Scottish marc-hman, eyeing in the captive the ravisher of his wife, approached him ere the French officer could guess his intention, and, at one blow, carried his head four paces from the trunk. Above a hundred Scots rushed to wash their hands in the blood of their oppressor, bandied about the severed head, and expressed their joy in such shouts, as if they had stormed the city of London. The prisoners, who fell into their merciless hands, were put to death, after their eyes had been torn out; the victors contending who should display the greatest address in severing their legs and arms, before inflicting a mortal wound. When their own prisoners were slain, the Scottish, with an unextinguishable thirst for blood, purchased those of the French; parting willingly with their very arms, in exchange for an English captive. “I myself,” says Beaugé, with military sang-froid, “I myself sold them a prisoner for a small horse. They laid him down upon the ground, galloped over him with their lances in rest, and wounded him as they passed. When slain, they cut his body in pieces, and bore the mangled gobbets, in triumph, on the points of their spears. I cannot greatly praise the Scottish for this practice. But the truth is, that the English tyrannized over the borders in a most barbarous manner; and I think it was but fair to repay them, according to the proverb, in their own coin.”— Campagnes de Beaugé.
A peace, in 1551, put an end to this war; the most destructive which, for a length of time, had ravaged Scotland. Some attention was paid by the governor and queen-mother, to the administration of justice on the border; and the chieftains, who had distinguished themselves during the late troubles, received the honour of knighthood17. [Sidenote: 1522] At this time, also, the Debateable Land, a tract of country, situated betwixt the Esk and Sarke, claimed by both kingdoms, was divided by royal commissioners, appointed by the two crowns. — By their award, this land of contention was separated by a line, drawn from east to west, betwixt the rivers. The upper half was adjudged to Scotland, and the more eastern part to England. Yet the Debateable Land continued long after to be the residence of the thieves and banditti, to whom its dubious state had afforded a desirable refuge18.
17 These were the lairds of Buccleuch, Cessford, and Fairnihirst, Littleden, Grenehed, and Coldingknows. Buccleuch, whose gallant exploits we have noticed, did not long enjoy his new honours. He was murdered, in the streets of Edinburgh, by his hereditary enemies, the Kerrs, anno 1552.]
18 The jest of James VI. is well known, who, when a favourite cow had found her way from London, back to her native country of Fife, observed, “that nothing surprised him so much as her passing uninterrupted through the Debateable Land!”]
In 1557, a new war broke out, in which rencounters on the borders were, as usual, numerous, and with varied success. In some of these, the too famous Bothwell is said to have given proofs of his courage, which was at other times very questionable19. About this time the Scottish borderers seem to have acquired some ascendency over their southern neighbours. —Strype, Vol. III. p. 437 — In 1559, peace was again restored.
19 He was lord of Liddesdale, and keeper of the Hermitage castle. But he had little effective power over that country, and was twice defeated by the Armstrongs, its lawless inhabitants. —Border History, p. 584. Yet the unfortunate Mary, in her famous Apology, says, “that in the weiris againis Ingland, he gaif proof of his vailyentnes, courage, and gude conduct;” and praises him especially for subjugating “the rebellious subjectis inhabiting the cuntreis lying ewest the marches of Ingland.”—Keith, p. 388. He appears actually to have defeated Sir Henry Percy, in a skirmish, called the Raid of Haltweilswire.]
The flame of reformation, long stifled in Scotland, now burst forth, with the violence of a volcanic eruption. The siege of Leith was commenced, by the combined forces of the Congregation and of England. The borderers cared little about speculative points of religion; but they shewed themselves much interested in the treasures which passed through their country, for payment of the English forces at Edinburgh. Much alarm was excited, lest the marchers should intercept these weighty protestant arguments; and it was, probably, by voluntarily imparting a share in them to Lord Home, that he became a sudden convert to the new faith20.
20 This nobleman had, shortly before, threatened to spoil the English east march; “but,” says the Duke of Norfolk, “we have provided such sauce for him, that I think he will not deal in such matter; but, if he do fire but one hay-goff, he shall not go to Home again without torch-light, and, peradventure, may find a lanthorn at his own house.”]
Upon the arrival of the ill-fated Mary in her native country, she found the borders in a state of great disorder. The exertions of her natural brother (afterwards the famous regent, Murray) were necessary to restore some degree of tranquillity. He marched to Jedburgh, executed twenty or thirty of the transgressors, burned many houses, and brought a number of prisoners to Edinburgh. The chieftains of the principal clans were also obliged to grant pledges for their future obedience. A noted convention (for the particulars of which, see Border Laws, p. 84.) adopted various regulations, which were attended with great advantage to the marches21.
21 The commissioners on the English side were, the elder Lord Scroope of Bolton, Sir John Foster, Sir Thomas Gargrave, and Dr. Rookby. On the Scottish side appeared, Sir John Maxwell of Terreagles, and Sir John Ballenden.]
The unhappy match, betwixt Henry Darnley and his sovereign, led to new dissentions on the border. The Homes, Kerrs, and other east marchers, hastened to support the queen, against Murray, Chatelherault, and other nobles, whom her marriage had offended. For the same purpose the Johnstones, Jardines, and clans of Annandale entered into bonds of confederacy. But Liddesdale was under the influence of England; in so much, that Randolph, the English minister, proposed to hire a band of strapping Elliots, to find Home business at home, in looking after his corn and cattle. —Keith, p. 265. App. 133.
This storm was hardly overblown, when Bothwell received the commission of lieutenant upon the borders; but, as void of parts as of principle, he could not even recover to the queen’s allegiance his own domains in Liddesdale. —Keith, App. 165. The queen herself advanced to the borders, to remedy this evil, and to hold courts at Jedburgh. Bothwell was already in Liddesdale, where he had been severely wounded, in an attempt to seize John Elliot, of the Parke, a desperate freebooter; and happy had it been for Mary, had the dagger of the moss-trooper struck more home. Bothwell being transported to his castle of Hermitage, the queen, upon hearing the tidings, hastened thither, A dangerous morass, still called the Queen’s Mire22, is pointed out by tradition as the spot where the lovely Mary, and her white palfrey, were in danger of perishing. The distance betwixt Hermitage and Jedburgh, by the way of Hawick, is nearly twenty-four English miles. The queen went and returned the same day. Whether she visited a wounded subject, or a lover in danger, has been warmly disputed in our latter days.
22 The Queen’s Mire is still a pass of danger, exhibiting, in many places, the bones of the horses which have been entangled in it. For what reason the queen chose to enter Liddesdale by the circuitous route of Hawick, does not appear. There are two other passes from Jedburgh to Hermitage castle; the one by the Note of the Gate, the other over the mountain, called Winburgh. Either of these, but especially the latter, is several miles shorter than that by Hawick, and the Queen’s Mire. But, by the circuitous way of Hawick, the queen could traverse the districts of more friendly clans, than by going directly into the disorderly province of Liddesdale.]
To the death of Henry Darnley, it is said, some of the border lords were privy. But the subsequent marriage, betwixt the queen and Bothwell, alienated from her the affections of the chieftains of the marches, most of whom aided the association of the insurgent barons. A few gentlemen of the Merse, however, joined the army which Mary brought to Carberry-hill. But no one was willing to fight for the detested Bothwell, nor did Bothwell himself shew any inclination to put his person in jeopardy. The result to Mary was a rigorous captivity in Lochleven castle; and the name of Bothwell scarcely again pollutes the page of Scottish history.
The distress of a beautiful and afflicted princess softened the hearts of her subjects; and, when she escaped from her severe captivity, the most powerful barons in Scotland crowded around her standard. Among these were many of the west border men, under the lords Maxwell and Herries23. But the defeat at Langside was a death-blow to her interest in Scotland.
23 The followers of these barons are said to have stolen the horses of their friends, while they were engaged in the battle.]
The death of the regent Murray, in 1569, excited the party of Mary to hope and to exertion. It seems, that the design of Bothwelhaugh, who slew him, was well known upon the borders; for, the very day on which the slaughter happened, Buccleuch and Fairnihirst, with their clans, broke into England, and spread devastation along the frontiers, with unusual ferocity. It is probable they well knew that the controuling hand of the regent was that day palsied by death. Buchanan exclaims loudly against this breach of truce with Elizabeth, charging Queen Mary’s party with having “houndit furth proude and uncircumspecte young men, to hery, burne, and slay, and tak prisoneris, in her realme, and use all misordour and crueltie, not only usit in weir, but detestabil to all barbar and wild Tartaris, in slaying of prisoneris, and contrair to all humanitie and justice, keeping na promeis to miserabil catives resavit anis to thair mercy “—Admonitioun to the trew lordis, Striveling, 1571. He numbers, among these insurgents, highlanders as well as borderers, Buccleuch and Fairnihirst, the Johnstons and Armstrongs, the Grants, and the clan Chattan. Besides these powerful clans, Mary numbered among her adherents, the Maxwells, and almost all the west border leaders, excepting Drumlanrig, and Jardine of Applegirth. On the eastern border, the faction of the infant king was more powerful; for, although deserted by Lord Home, the greater part of his clan, under the influence of Wedderburn, remained attached to that party. The laird of Cessford wished them well, and the Earl of Angus naturally followed the steps of his uncle Morton. A sharp and bloody invasion of the middle march, under the command of the Earl of Sussex, avenged with interest the raids of Buccleuch and Fairnihirst. The domains of these chiefs were laid waste, their castles burned and destroyed. The narrow vales of Beaumont and Kale, belonging to Buccleuch, were treated with peculiar severity; and the forrays of Hertford were equalled by that of Sussex. In vain did the chiefs request assistance from the government to defend their fortresses. Through the predominating interest of Elizabeth in the Scottish councils, this was refused to all but Home, whose castle, nevertheless, again received an English garrison; while Buccleuch and Fairnihirst complained bitterly that those, who had instigated their invasion, durst not even come so far as Lauder, to shew countenance to their defence against the English. The bickerings, which followed, distracted the whole kingdom. One celebrated exploit may be selected, as an illustration of the border fashion of war.
The Earl of Lennox, who had succeeded Murray in the regency, held a parliament at Stirling, in 1571. The young king was exhibited to the great council of his nation. He had been tutored to repeat a set speech, composed for the occasion; but, observing that the roof of the building was a little decayed, he interrupted his recitation, and exclaimed, with childish levity, “that there was a hole in the parliament,”— words which, in these days, were held to presage the deadly breach shortly to be made in that body, by the death of him in whose name it was convoked.
Amid the most undisturbed security of confidence, the lords, who composed this parliament, were roused at day-break, by the shouts of their enemies in the heart of the town. God and the Queen! resounded from every quarter, and, in a few minutes, the regent, with the astonished nobles of his party, were prisoners to a band of two hundred border cavalry, led by Scott of Buccleuch, and to the Lord Claud Hamilton, at the head of three hundred infantry. These enterprising chiefs, by a rapid and well concerted manoeuvre, had reached Stirling in a night march from Edinburgh, and, without so much as being bayed at by a watch-dog had seized the principal street of the town. — The fortunate obstinacy of Morton saved his party. Stubborn and undaunted, he defended his house till the assailants set it in flames, and then yielded with reluctance to his kinsman, Buccleuch. But the time, which he had gained, effectually served his cause. The borderers had dispersed to plunder the stables of the nobility; the infantry thronged tumultuously together on the main street, when the Earl of Mar, issuing from the castle, placed one or two small pieces of ordnance in his own half-built house24, which commands the market place. Hardly had the artillery begun to scour the street, when the assailants, surprised in their turn, fled with precipitation. Their alarm was increased by the townsmen thronging to arms. Those, who had been so lately triumphant, were now, in many instances, asking the protection of their own prisoners. In all probability, not a man would have escaped death, or captivity, but for the characteristic rapacity of Buccleuch’s marauders, who, having seized and carried off all the horses in the town, left the victors no means of following the chace. The regent was slain by an officer, named Caulder, in order to prevent his being rescued. Spens of Ormeston, to whom he had surrendered, lost his life in a generous attempt to protect him25. Hardly does our history present another enterprise, so well planned, so happily commenced, and so strangely disconcerted. To the licence of the marchmen the failure was attributed; but the same cause ensured a safe retreat. —Spottiswoode, Godscroft, Robertson, Melville.
24 This building still remains, in the unfinished state which it then presented.]
25 Birrel says, that “the regent was shot by an unhappy fellow, while sitting on horseback behind the laird of Buccleuch.”— The following curious account of the whole transaction is extracted from a journal of principal events, in the years 1570, 1571, 1572, and part of 1573, kept by Richard Bannatyne, amanuensis to John Knox. The fourt of September, they of Edinburgh, horsemen and futmen (and, as was reported, the most part of Clidisdaill, that perteinit to the Hamiltons), come to Striveling, the number of iii or iiii c men, in hors bak, guydit be ane George Bell, their hacbutteris being all horsed, enterit in Striveling, be fyve houris in the morning (whair thair was never one to mak watche), crying this slogane, ‘God and the quene! ane Hamiltoun think on the bishop of St. Androis, all is owres;’ and so a certaine come to everie grit manis ludgene, and apprehendit the Lordis Mortoun and Glencarne; but Mortounis hous they set on fyre, wha randerit him to the laird of Balcleuch. Wormestoun being appointed to the regentes hous, desyred him to cum furth, which he had no will to doe, yet, be perswasione of Garleys and otheris, with him, tho’t it best to come in will, nor to byde the extremitie, becaus they supposed there was no resistance, and swa the regent come furth, and was randered to Wormestoun, under promeis to save his lyfe. Captane Crawfurde, being in the town, gat sum men out of the castell, and uther gentlemen being in the town, come as they my’t best to the geat, chased them out of the town. The regent was schot be ane Captain Cader, wha confessed, that he did it at comande of George Bell, wha was comandit so to doe be the Lord Huntlie and Claud Hamilton. Some sayis, that Wormestoun was schot by the same schot that slew the regent, but alwayis he was slane, notwithstanding the regent cryed to save him, but it culd not be, the furie was so grit of the presewaris, who, following so fast, the lord of Mortone said to Balcleuch, ‘I sall save you as ye savit me,’ and so he was tane. Garleys, and sindrie otheris, war slane at the port, in the persute of thame. Thair war ten or twelve gentlemen slane of the kingis folk, and als mony of theiris, or mea, as was said, and a dosone or xvi tane. Twa especiall servantis of the Lord Argyle’s were slane also. This Cader, that schot the regent, was once turned bak off the toune, and was send again (as is said), be the Lord Huntlie, to cause Wormistoun retire; but, before he come agane, he was dispatched, and had gottin deidis woundis.
The regent being schot (as said is), was brought to the castell, whair he callit for ane phisitione, one for his soule, ane uther for his bodie. But all hope of life was past, for he was schot in his entreallis; and swa, after sumthingis spokin to the lordis, which I know not, he departed, in the feare of God, and made a blessed end; whilk the rest of the lordis, that tho’t thame to his hiert, and lytle reguardit him, shall not mak so blised ane end, unles they mend thair maneris.
This curious manuscript has been lately published, under the inspection of John Graham Dalyell, Esq.]
The wily Earl of Morton, who, after the short intervening regency of Mar, succeeded to the supreme authority, contrived, by force or artifice, to render the party of the king every where superior. Even on the middle borders, he had the address to engage in his cause the powerful, though savage and licentious, clans of Rutherford and Turnbull, as well as the citizens of Jedburgh. He was thus enabled to counterpoise his powerful opponents, Buccleuch and Fairnihirst, in their own country; and, after an unsuccessful attempt to surprise Jedburgh even these warm adherents of Mary relinquished her cause in despair.
While Morton swayed the state, his attachment to Elizabeth, and the humiliation which many of the border chiefs had undergone, contributed to maintain good order on the marches, till James VI. himself assumed the reigns of government. — The intervening skirmish of the Reidswire (see the ballad under that title) was but a sudden explosion of the rivalry and suppressed hatred of the borderers of both kingdoms. In truth, the stern rule of Morton, and of his delegates, men unconnected with the borders by birth, maintained in that country more strict discipline than had ever been there exercised. Perhaps this hastened his fall.
The unpopularity of Morton, acquired partly by the strict administration of justice, and partly by avarice and severity, forced him from the regency. In 1578, he retired, apparently, from state affairs, to his castle of Dalkeith; which the populace, emphatically expressing their awe and dread of his person, termed the Lion’s Den. But Morton could not live in retirement; and, early in the same year, the aged lion again rushed from his cavern. By a mixture of policy and violence, he possessed himself of the fortress of Stirling, and of the person of James. His nephew, Angus, hastened to his assistance. Against him appeared his follower Cessford, with many of the Homes, and the citizens of Edinburgh. Alluding to the restraint of the king’s person, they bore his effigy on their banners, with a rude rhyme, demanding liberty or death. —Birrel’s Diary, ad annum, 1578. The Earl of Morton marched against his foes as far as Falkirk, and a desperate action must have ensued, but for the persuasions of Bowes, the English ambassador. The only blood, then spilt, was in a duel betwixt Tait, a follower of Cessford, and Johnstone, a west border man, attending upon Angus. They fought with lances, and on horseback, according to the fashion of the borders. — The former was unhorsed and slain, the latter desperately wounded. —Godscroft, Vol. II. p. 261. The prudence of the late regent appears to have abandoned him, when he was decoyed into a treaty upon this occasion. It was not long before Morton the veteran warrior, and the crafty statesman, was forced bend his neck to an engine of death26, the use of which he himself had introduced into Scotland.
26 A rude sort of guillotine, called the maiden. The implement is now in possession of the Society of Scottish Antiquaries.]
Released from the thraldom of Morton, the king, with more than youthful levity, threw his supreme power into the hands of Lennox and Arran. The religion of the first, and the infamous character of the second favourite, excited the hatred of the commons, while their exclusive and engrossing power awakened the jealousy of the other nobles. James, doomed to be the sport of contending factions was seized at Stirling by the nobles, confederated in what was termed the Raid of Ruthven. But the conspirators soon suffered their prize to escape, and were rewarded for their enterprize by exile or death.
In 1585, an affray took place at a border meeting in which Lord Russel, the Earl of Bedford’s eldest son, chanced to be slain. Queen Elizabeth imputed the guilt of this slaughter to Thomas Kerr of Fairnihirst, instigated by Arran. Upon the imperious demand of the English ambassador, both were committed to prison; but the minion, Arran, was soon restored to liberty and favour; while Fairnihirst, the dread of the English borderers and the gallant defender of Queen Mary, died in his confinement, of a broken heart. —Spottiswoode p. 341.
The tyranny of Arran becoming daily more insupportable the exiled lords, joined by Maxwell, Home, Bothwell, and other border chieftains, seized the town of Stirling, which was pillaged by their disorderly followers, invested the castle, which surrendered at discretion, and drove the favourite from the king’s council27.
27 The associated nobles seem to have owed their success chiefly to the border spearmen; for, though they had a band of mercenaries, who used fire arms, yet they were such bad masters of their craft, their captain was heard to observe, “that those, who knew his soldiers as well as he did, would hardly chuse to march before them.”—Godscroft, v. ii. p. 368.]
The king, perceiving the Earl of Bothwell among the armed barons, to whom he surrendered his person addressed him in these prophetic words:— “Francis, Francis, what moved thee to come in arms against thy prince, who never wronged thee? I wish thee a more quiet spirit, else I foresee thy destruction.”—Spottiswoode, p. 343.
In fact, the extraordinary enterprizes of this nobleman disturbed the next ten years of James’s reign. Francis Stuart, son to a bastard of James V., had been invested with the titles and estates belonging to his maternal uncle, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, upon the forfeiture of that infamous man; and consequently became lord of Liddesdale, and of the castle of Hermitage. — This acquisition of power upon the borders, where he could easily levy followers, willing to undertake the most desperate enterprize, joined to the man’s native daring and violent spirit, rendered Bothwell the most turbulent insurgent, that ever disturbed the tranquillity of a kingdom. During the king’s absence in Denmark, Bothwell, swayed by the superstition of his age, had tampered with certain soothsayers and witches, by whose pretended art he hoped to atchieve the death of his monarch. In one of the courts of inquisition, which James delighted to hold upon the professors of the occult sciences, some of his cousin’s proceedings were brought to light, for which he was put in ward in the castle of Edinburgh. Burning with revenge, he broke from his confinement, and lurked for some time upon the borders, where he hoped for the countenance of his son-in-law, Buccleuch. Undeterred by the absence of that chief, who, in obedience to the royal command, had prudently retired to France, Bothwell attempted the desperate enterprize of seizing the person of the king, while residing in his metropolis. At the dead of night, followed by a band of borderers, he occupied the court of the palace of Holyrood, and began to burst open the doors of the royal apartments. The nobility, distrustful of each other, and ignorant of the extent of the conspiracy, only endeavoured to make good the defence of their separate lodgings; but darkness and confusion prevented the assailants from profiting by their disunion. Melville, who was present, gives a lively picture of the scene of disorder, transiently illuminated by the glare of passing torches; while the report of fire arms, the clatter of armour, the din of hammers thundering on the gates, mingled wildly with the war-cry of the borderers, who shouted incessantly, “Justice! Justice! A Bothwell! A Bothwell!” The citizens of Edinburgh at length began to assemble for the defence of their sovereign; and Bothwell was compelled to retreat, which he did without considerable loss. —Melville, p. 356. A similar attempt on the person of James, while residing at Faulkland, also misgave; but the credit which Bothwell obtained on the borders, by these bold and desperate enterprizes, was incredible “All Tiviotdale,” says Spottiswoode, “ran after him;” so that he finally obtained his object; and, at Edinburgh, in 1593, he stood before James, an unexpected apparition, with his naked sword in his hand. “Strike!” said James, with royal dignity —“Strike, and end thy work! I will not survive my dishonour.” But Bothwell with unexpected moderation, only stipulated for remission of his forfeiture, and did not even insist on remaining at court, whence his party was shortly expelled, by the return of the Lord Home, and his other enemies. Incensed at this reverse, Bothwell levied a body of four hundred cavalry, and attacked the king’s guard in broad day, upon the Borough Moor, near Edinburgh. — The ready succour of the citizens saved James from falling once more into the hands of his turbulent subject28. On a subsequent day, Bothwell met the laird of Cessford, riding near Edinburgh, with whom he fought a single combat, which lasted for two hours29. But his credit was now fallen; he retreated to England, whence he was driven by Elizabeth, and then wandered to Spain and Italy, where he subsisted, in indigence and obscurity, on the bread which he earned by apostatizing to the faith of Rome. So fell this agitator of domestic broils, whose name passed into a proverb, denoting a powerful and turbulent demagogue30.
28 Spottiswoode says, the king awaited this charge with firmness; but Birrell avers, that he fled upon the gallop. The same author, instead of the firm deportment of James, when seized by Bothwell, describes “the king’s majestie as flying down the back stair, with his breeches in his hand, in great fear.”—Birrell, apud Dalyell, p. 30. Such is the difference betwixt the narrative of the courtly archbishop, and that of the presbyterian burgess of Edinburgh.]
29 This rencounter took place at Humbie, in East Lothian. Bothwell was attended by a servant, called Gibson, and Cessford by one of the Rutherfords, who was hurt in the cheek. The combatant parted from pure fatigue.]
30 Sir Walter Raleigh, in writing of Essex, then in prison, says, “Let the queen hold Bothwell while she hath him.”—Murdin, Vol. II. p. 812. It appears, from Crichton’s Memoirs, that Bothwell’s grandson, though so nearly related to the royal family, actually rode a private in the Scottish horse guards, in the reign of Charles II. —Edinburgh, 1731, p. 43.]
While these scenes were passing in the metropolis the borders were furiously agitated by civil discord. The families of Cessford and Fairnihirst disputed their right to the wardenry of the middle marches, and to the provostry of Jedburgh; and William Kerr of Ancram, a follower of the latter, was murdered by the young chief of Cessford, at the instigation of his mother. —Spottiswoode, p. 383. But this was trifling, compared to the civil war, waged on the western frontier, between the Johnstones and Maxwells, of which there is a minute account in the introduction to the ballad, entitled, “Maxwell’s Goodnight.” Prefixed to that termed “Kinmont Willie” the reader will find an account of the last warden raids performed upon the border.
My sketch of border history now draws to a close. The accession of James to the English crown converted the extremity into the centre of his kingdom.
The east marches of Scotland were, at this momentous period, in a state of comparative civilization. The rich soil of Berwickshire soon invited the inhabitants to the arts of agriculture. — Even in the days of Lesley, the nobles and barons of the Merse differed in manners from the other borderers, administered justice with regularity, and abstained from plunder and depredation. —De moribus Scotorum, p. 7. But, on the middle and western marches, the inhabitants were unrestrained moss-troopers and cattle drivers, knowing no measure of law, says Camden, but the length of their swords. The sterility of the mountainous country, which they inhabited, offered little encouragement to industry; and, for the long series of centuries, which we have hastily reviewed, the hands of rapine were never there folded in inactivity, nor the sword of violence returned to the scabbard. Various proclamations were in vain issued for interdicting the use of horses and arms upon the west border of England and Scotland31.
31 “Proclamation shall be made, that all inhabiting within Tynedale and Riddesdale, in Northumberland, Bewcastledale, Willgavey, the north part of Gilsland, Esk, and Leven, in Cumberland; east and west Tividale, Liddesdale, Eskdale, Ewsdale, and Annesdale, in Scotland (saving noblemen and gentlemen unsuspected of felony and theft, and not being of broken clans, and their household servants, dwelling within those several places, before recited), shall put away all armour and weapons, as well offensive as defensive, as jacks, spears, lances, swords, daggers, steel-caps, hack-buts, pistols, plate sleeves, and such like; and shall not keep any horse, gelding, or mare, above the value of fifty shillings sterling, or thirty pounds Scots, upon the like paid of imprisonment.”—Proceedings of the Border Commissioners, 1505. —Introduction to History of Cumberland, p. 127.]
The evil was found to require the radical cure of extirpation. Buccleuch collected under his banners the most desperate of the border warriors, of whom he formed a legion, for the service of the states of Holland; who had as much reason to rejoice on their arrival upon the continent, as Britain to congratulate herself upon their departure. It may be presumed, that few of this corps ever returned to their native country. The clan of Graeme, a hardy and ferocious set of freebooters inhabiting chiefly the Debateable Land, by a very summary exertion of authority, was transported to Ireland, and their return prohibited under pain of death. Against other offenders, measures, equally arbitrary, were without hesitation pursued. Numbers of border riders were executed, without even the formality of a trial; and it is even said, that, in mockery of justice, assizes were held upon them after they had suffered. For these acts of tyranny, see Johnston, p. 374, 414, 39, 93. The memory of Dunbar’s legal proceedings at Jedburgh, are preserved in the proverbial phrase, Jeddart Justice, which signifies, trial after execution. By this rigour though sternly and unconscientiously exercised the border marauders were, in the course of years, either reclaimed or exterminated; though nearly a century elapsed ere their manners were altogether assimilated to those of their countrymen32.
32 See the acts 18 Cha. II. 6.3. and 80 Cha. II. ch. 2. against the border moss-troopers; to which we may add the following curious extracts from Mercurius Politicus, a newspaper, published during the usurpation.
“Thursday, November 11, 1662.
“Edinburgh. — The Scotts and moss-troopers have again revived their old custom, of robbing and murdering the English, whether soldiers or other, upon all opportunities, within these three weeks. We have had notice of several robberies and murders, committed by them. Among the rest, a lieutenant, and one other of Col. Overton’s regiment, returning from England, were robbed not far from Dunbarr. A lieutenant, lately master of the customs at Kirkcudbright, was killed about twenty miles from this place; and four foot soldiers of Colonel Overton’s were killed, going to their quarters, by some mossers, who, after they had given them quarter, tied their hands behind them, and then threw them down a steep hill, or rock, as it was related by a Scotchman, who was with them, but escaped.”
Ibidem. —“October 13, 1663. — The Parliament, October 21, past an act, declaring, any person that shall discover any felon, or felons (commonly called, or known, by the name of moss-troopers), residing upon the borders of England and Scotland, shall have a reward of ten pound upon their conviction.”]
In these hasty sketches of border history, I have endeavoured to select, such incidents, as may introduce to the reader the character of the marchmen, more briefly and better than a formal essay upon their manners. If I have been successful in the attempt, he is already acquainted with the mixture of courage and rapacity by which they were distinguished; and has reviewed some of the scenes in which they acted a principal part. It is, therefore only necessary to notice, more minutely, some of their peculiar customs and modes of life.
Their morality was of a singular kind. The ranpine, by which they subsisted, they accounted lawful and honourable. Ever liable to lose their whole substance, by an incursion of the English, on a sudden breach of truce, they cared little to waste their time in cultivating crops, to be reaped by their foes. Their cattle was, therefore, their chief property; and these were nightly exposed to the southern borderers, as rapacious and active as themselves. Hence, robbery assumed the appearance of fair reprisal. The fatal privilege of pursuing the marauders into their own country, for recovery of stolen goods, led to continual skirmishes The warden also, himself frequently the chieftain of a border horde, when redress was not instantly granted by the opposite officer, for depredations sustained by his district, was entitled to retaliate upon England by a warden raid. In such cases, the moss-troopers, who crowded to his standard, found themselves pursuing their craft under legal authority, and became the favourites and followers of the military magistrate, whose duty it was to have checked and suppressed them. See the curious history of Geordie Bourne, App. No. II. Equally unable and unwilling to make nice distinctions, they were not to be convinced, that what was to-day fair booty, was to-morrow a subject of theft. National animosity usually gave an additional stimulus to their rapacity; although it must be owned, that their depredations extended also to the more cultivated parts of their own country33.
33 The armorial bearings, adopted by many of the border tribes, shew how little they were ashamed of their trade of rapine. Like Falstaff, they were “Gentlemen of the night, minions of the moon,” under whose countenance they committed their depredations. — Hence, the emblematic moons and stars, so frequently charged in the arms of border families. Their mottoes, also, bear allusion to their profession. —“Reparabit cornua Phaebe,” i.e. “We’ll have moon-light again,” is that of the family of Harden. “Ye shall want, ere I want,” that of Cranstoun, &c.]
Satchells, who lived when the old border ideas of meum and tuum were still in some force, endeavours to draw a very nice distinction betwixt a freebooter and a thief; and thus sings he of the Armstrongs:
On that border was the Armstrongs, able men;
Somewhat unruly, and very ill to tame.
I would have none think that I call them thieves,
For, if I did, it would be arrant lies.
Near a border frontier, in the time of war,
There’s ne’er a man but he’s a freebooter.
* * *
Because to all men it may appear,
The freebooter he is a volunteer;
In the muster rolls he has no desire to stay;
He lives by purchase, he gets no pay.
* * *
It’s most clear a freebooter doth live in hazard’s train;
A freebooter’s a cavalier that ventures life for gain:
But, since King James the Sixth to England went,
Ther has been no cause of grief;
And he that hath transgress’d since then,
Is no Freebooter, but a Thief.
History of the name of Scott.
The inhabitants of the inland counties did not understand these subtle distinctions. Sir David Lindsay, in the curious drama, published by Mr Pinkerton, introduces, as one of his dramatis personae, Common Thift, a borderer, who is supposed to come to Fife to steal the Earl of Rothes’ best hackney, and Lord Lindsay’s brown jennet. Oppression also (another personage there introduced), seems to be connected with the borders; for, finding himself in danger, he exclaims —
War God that I were sound and haill,
Now liftit into Liddesdail;
The Mers sowld fynd me beiff and caill,
What rack of breid?
War I thair lyftit with my lyfe,
The devill sowld styk me with a knyffe,
An’ ever I cum agane in Fyfe,
Till I were deid. —
Pinkerton’s Scotish Poems, Vol. II p. 180.
Again, when Common Thift is brought to condign punishment, he remembers his border friends in his dying speech:
The widdefow wardanis tuik my geir,
And left me nowthir horse nor meir,
Nor erdly gud that me belangit;
Now, walloway! I mon be hangit.
* * *
Adew! my bruthir Annan thieves,
That holpit me in my mischevis:
Adew! Grossars, Niksonis, and Bells,
Oft have we fairne owthreuch the fells:
Adew! Robsons, Howis, and Pylis,
That in our craft hes mony wilis:
Littlis, Trumbells, and Armestranges;
Adew! all theeves, that me belangis;
Baileowes, Erewynis, and Elwandis,
Speedy of flicht, and slicht of handis:
The Scotts of Eisdale, and the Gramis,
I half na time to tell your namis.
Ib. p. 156.
When Common Thift is executed (which is performed upon the stage), Falset (Falsehood), who is also brought forth for punishment, pronounces over him the following eulogy:
Waes me for thee, gude Common Thift!
Was never man made more honest chift,
His living for to win:
Thair wes not, in all Liddesdail,
That ky mair craftelly could steil,
Whar thou hingis on that pin!
Ib. p. 194.
Sir Richard Maitland, incensed at the boldness and impunity of the thieves of Liddesdale in his time, has attacked them with keen iambicks. His satire, which, I suppose, had very little effect at the time, forms No. III, of the appendix to this introduction.
The borderers had, in fact, little reason to regard the inland Scots as their fellow subjects, or to respect the power of the crown. They were frequently resigned, by express compact, to the bloody retaliation of the English, without experiencing any assistance from their prince, and his more immediate subjects. If they beheld him, it was more frequently in the character of an avenging judge, than of a protecting sovereign. They were, in truth, during the time of peace, a kind of outcasts, against whom the united powers of England and Scotland were often employed. Hence, the men of the borders had little attachment to the monarchs, whom they termed, in derision, the kings of Fife and Lothian; provinces which they were not legally entitled to inhabit34, and which, therefore, they pillaged with as little remorse as if they had belonged to a foreign country. This strange, precarious, and adventurous mode of life, led by the borderers, was not without its pleasures, and seems, in all probability, hardly so disagreeable to us, as the monotony of regulated society must have been to those, who had been long accustomed to a state of rapine. Well has it been remarked, by the eloquent Burke, that the shifting tides of fear and hope, the flight and pursuit, the peril and escape, alternate famine and feast, of the savage and the robber, after a time render all course of slow, steady, progressive, unvaried occupation and the prospect only of a limited mediocrity at the end of long labour, to the last degree tame, languid, and insipid. The interesting nature of their exploits may be conceived from the account of Camden.
34 By act 1587, c. 96, borderers are expelled from the inland counties, unless they can find security for their quiet deportment.]
“What manner of cattle stealers they are, that inhabit these valleys in the marches of both kingdoms, John Lesley, a Scotchman himself, and bishop of Ross, will inform you. They sally out of their own borders, in the night, in troops, through unfrequented bye-ways, and many intricate windings. All the day-time, they refresh themselves and their horses in lurking holes they had pitched upon before, till they arrive in the dark at those places they have a design upon. As soon as they have seized upon the booty, they, in like manner, return home in the night, through blind ways, and fetching many a compass. The more skilful any captain is to pass through those wild deserts, crooked turnings, and deep precipices, in the thickest mists and darkness, his reputation is the greater, and he is looked upon as a man of an excellent head. — And they are so very cunning, that they seldom have their booty taken from them, unless sometimes, when, by the help of blood-hounds following them exactly upon the tract, they may chance to fall into the hands of their adversaries. When being taken, they have so much persuasive eloquence, and so many smooth insinuating words at command, that if they do not move their judges, nay, and even their adversaries (notwithstanding the severity of their natures), to have mercy, yet they incite them to admiration and compassion.”—Camden’s Britannia. The reader is requested to compare this curious account, given by Lesley, with the ballad, called Hobble Noble35.
35 The following tradition is also illustrative of Lesley’s account. Veitch of Dawyk, a man of great strength and bravery who flourished in the 16th century, was upon bad terms with a neighbouring proprietor, Tweedie of Drummelziar. By some accident, a flock of Dawyk’s sheep had strayed over into Drummelziar’s grounds, at the time when Dickie of the Den, a Liddesdale outlaw, was making his rounds in Tweeddale. Seeing this flock of sheep; he drove them off without ceremony. Next morning, Veitch, perceiving his loss, summoned his servants and retainers, laid a blood-hound upon the traces of the robber, by whom they were guided for many miles, till, on the banks of Liddel, he staid upon a very large hay-stack. The pursuers were a good deal surprised at the obstinate pause of the blood-hound, till Dawyk pulled down some of the hay, and discovered a large excavation, containing the robbers and their spoil. He instantly flew upon Dickie, and was about to poniard him, when the marauder, with the address noticed by Lesley, protested that he would never have touched a cloot (hoof) of them, had he not taken them for Drummelziar’s property. This dexterous appeal to Veitch’s passions saved the life of the freebooter.]
The inroads of the marchers, when stimulated only by the desire of plunder, were never marked with cruelty, and seldom even with bloodshed, unless in the case of opposition. They held, that property was common to all who stood in want of it; but they abhorred and avoided the crime of unnecessary homicide. —Lesley, p. 63. This was, perhaps, partly owing to the habits of intimacy betwixt the borderers of both kingdoms, notwithstanding their mutual hostility, and reciprocal depredations. A natural intercourse took place between the English and Scottish marchers, at border meetings, and during the short intervals of peace. They met frequently at parties of the chace and foot-ball; and it required many and strict regulations, on both sides, to prevent them from forming intermarriages, and from cultivating too close a degree of intimacy. —Scottish Acts, 1587, c. 105; Wharton’s Regulations, 6th Edward VI. The custom, also, of paying black-mail, or protection-rent, introduced a connection betwixt the countries; for, a Scottish borderer, taking black-mail from an English inhabitant, was not only himself bound to abstain from injuring such person, but also to maintain his quarrel, and recover his property, if carried off by others. Hence, an union arose betwixt the parties, founded upon mutual interest, which counteracted, in many instances, the effects of national prejudice. The similarity of their manners may be inferred from that of their language. In an old mystery, imprinted at London, 1654, a mendicant borderer is introduced, soliciting alms of a citizen and his wife. To a question of the latter he replies, “Savying your honour, good maistress, I was born in Redesdale, in Northomberlande, and come of a wight riding sirname, call’d the Robsons: gude honeste men, and true, savyng a little shiftynge for theyr livyng; God help them, silly pure men.” The wife answers, “What doest thou here, in this countrie? me thinke thou art a Scot by thy tongue.” Beggar—“Trowe me never mair then, good deam; I had rather be hanged in a withie of a cow-taile, for thei are ever fare and fase.”—Appendix to Johnstone’s Sad Shepherd, 1783. p. 188. From the wife’s observation, as well as from the dialect of the beggar, we may infer, that there was little difference between the Northumbrian and the border Scottish; a circumstance interesting in itself, and decisive of the occasional friendly intercourse among the marchmen. From all those combining circumstances arose the lenity of the borderers in their incursions and the equivocal moderation which they sometimes observed towards each other, in open war36.
36 This practice of the marchmen was observed and reprobated by Patten. “Anoother maner have they (the English borderers) amoong them, of wearyng handkerchers roll’d about their armes, and letters brouder’d (embroidered) upon their cappes: they said themselves, the use thearof was that ech of them might knowe his fellowe, and thearbye the sooner assemble, or in nede to ayd one another, and such lyke respectes; howbeit, thear wear of the army amoong us (sum suspicious men perchaunce), that thought thei used them for collusion, and rather bycaus thei might be knowen to the enemie, as the enemies are knowen to them (for thei have their markes too), and so in conflict either ech to spare oother, or gently eche to take oother. Indede men have been mooved the rather to thinke so, bycaus sum of their crosses (the English red cross) were so narrowe, and so singly set on, that a puff of wynde might blowed them from their breastes, and that thei wear found right often talking with the Skottish prikkers within less than their gad’s (spears) length asunder; and when thei perceived thei had been espied, thei have begun one to run at anoother, but so apparently perlassent (in parley), as the lookers on resembled their chasyng lyke the running at base in an uplondish toun, whear the match is made for a quart of good ale, or like the play in Robin Cookes scole (a fencing school), whear, bycaus the punies may lerne, thei strike fewe strokes but by assent and appointment. I hard sum men say, it did mooch augment their suspicion that wey, bycaus at the battail they sawe these prikkers so badly demean them, more intending the taking of prisoners, than the surety of victorye; for while oother men fought, thei fell to their prey; that as thear wear but fewe of them but brought home his prisoner, so wear thear many that had six or seven.”—Patten’s Account of Somerset’s Expedition, apud Dalyell’s Fragments, p. 76.
It is singular that, about this very period, the same circumstances are severely animadverted upon by the strenuous Scottishman, who wrote the Complaynt of Scotland, as well as by the English author above quoted. “There is nothing that is occasione of your adhering to the opinion of Ingland contrair your natife cuntré, bot the grit familiarite that Inglis men and Scottes hes had on baitht the boirdours, ilk are witht utheris, in merchandeis, in selling and buying hors and nolt, and scheip, outfang and infang, ilk are amang utheris, the whilk familiarite is express contrar the lauis and consuetudis bayth of Ingland and Scotland. In auld tymis it was determit in the artiklis of the pace, be the twa wardanis of the boirdours of Ingland and Scotland, that there suld be na familiarite betwix Scottis men and Inglis men, nor marriage to be contrakit betwix them, nor conventions on holydais at gammis and plays, nor merchandres to be maid amang them, nor Scottis men till enter on Inglis grond, witht out the king of Ingland’s save conduct, nor Inglis men til enter on Scottis grond witht out the King of Scotland’s save conduct, howbeit that ther war sure pace betwix the twa realmes. Bot thir sevyn yeir bygane, thai statutis and artiklis of the pace are adnullit, for ther hes been as grit familiarite, and conventions, and makyng of merchandreis, on the boirdours, this lang tyme betwix Inglis men and Scottis men, baytht in pace and weir, as Scottismen usis amang theme selfis witht in the realme of Scotland: and sic familiarite has bene the cause that the kyng of Ingland gat intelligence witht divers gentlemen of Scotland.”
Complaynt of Scotland, Edin. 1801, p. 164.]
This humanity and moderation was, on certain occasions, entirely laid aside by the borderers. In the case of deadly feud, either against an Englishman, or against any neighbouring tribe, the whole force of the offended clan was bent to avenge the death of any of their number. Their vengeance not only vented itself upon the homicide and his family, but upon all his kindred, on his whole tribe; on every one, in fine, whose death or ruin could affect him with regret. —Lesley, p. 63; Border Laws, passim; Scottish Acts, 1594, c. 231. The reader will find, in the following collection, many allusions to this infernal custom, which always overcame the marcher’s general reluctance to shed human, blood, and rendered him remorselessly savage.
For fidelity to their word, Lesley ascribes high praise to the inhabitants of the Scottish frontier. When an instance happened to the contrary, the injured person, at the first border meeting, rode through the field, displaying a glove (the pledge of faith) upon the point of his lance, and proclaiming the perfidy of the person, who had broken his word. So great was the indignation of the assembly against the perjured criminal, that he was often slain by his own clan, to wipe out the disgrace he had brought on them. In the same spirit of confidence, it was not unusual to behold the victors, after an engagement, dismiss their prisoners upon parole, who never failed either to transmit the stipulated ransom, or to surrender themselves to bondage, if unable to do so. But the virtues of a barbarous people, being founded not upon moral principle, but upon the dreams of superstition, or the capricious dictates of antient custom, can seldom be uniformly relied on. We must not, therefore, be surprised to find these very men, so true to their word in general, using, upon other occasions, various resources of cunning and chicane, against which the border laws were in vain directed.
The immediate rulers of the borders were the chiefs of the different clans, who exercised over their respective septs a dominion, partly patriarchal, and partly feudal. The latter bond of adherence was, however, the more slender; for, in the acts regulating the borders, we find repeated mention of “Clannes having captaines and chieftaines, whom on they depend, oft-times against the willes of their landeslordes.”—Stat. 1587, c. 95, and the Roll thereto annexed. Of course, these laws looked less to the feudal superior, than to the chieftain of the name, for the restraint of the disorderly tribes; and it is repeatedly enacted, that the head of the clan should be first called upon to deliver those of his sept, who should commit any trespass, and that, on his failure to do so, he should be liable to the injured party in full redress. Ibidem, and Stat. 1594, c. 231. By the same statutes, the chieftains and landlords, presiding over border clans, were obliged to find caution, and to grant hostages, that they would subject themselves to the due course of law. Such clans, as had no chieftain of sufficient note to enter bail for their quiet conduct, became broken men, outlawed to both nations.
From these enactments, the power of the border chieftains may be conceived; for it had been hard and useless to have punished them for the trespasses of their tribes, unless they possessed over them unlimited authority. The abode of these petty princes by no means corresponded to the extent of their power. We do not find, on the Scottish borders, the splendid and extensive baronial castles, which graced and defended the opposite frontier. The gothic grandeur of Alnwick, of Raby, and of Naworth, marks the wealthier and more secure state of the English nobles. The Scottish chieftain, however extensive his domains, derived no advantage, save from such parts as he could himself cultivate or occupy. Payment of rent was hardly known on the borders, till after the union37. All that the landlord could gain, from those residing upon his estate, was their personal service in battle, their assistance in labouring the land retained in his natural possession, some petty quit-rents, of a nature resembling the feudal casualties, and perhaps a share in the spoil which they acquired by rapine38. This, with his herds of cattle and of sheep, and with the black mail, which he exacted from his neighbours, constituted the revenue of the chieftain; and, from funds so precarious, he could rarely spare sums to expend in strengthening or decorating his habitation. Another reason is found in the Scottish mode of warfare. It was early discovered, that the English surpassed their neighbours in the arts of assaulting or defending fortified places. The policy of the Scottish, therefore, deterred them from erecting upon the borders buildings of such extent and strength, as, being once taken by the foe, would have been capable of receiving a permanent garrison39. To themselves, the woods and hills of their country were pointed out, by the great Bruce, as their safest bulwarks; and the maxim of the Douglasses, that “it was better to hear the lark sing, than the mouse cheep,” was adopted by every border chief. For these combined reasons, the residence of the chieftain was commonly a large square battlemented40 tower, called a keep, or peel; placed on a precipice, or on the banks of a torrent, and, if the ground would permit, surrounded by a moat. In short, the situation of a border house, surrounded by woods, and rendered almost inaccessible by torrents, by rocks, or by morasses, sufficiently indicated the pursuits and apprehensions of its inhabitant. —“Locus horroris et vastae solitudinis, aptus ad praedam, habilis ad rapinam, habitatoribus suis lapis erat offensiones et petra scandali, utpote qui stipendiis suis minime contenti totum de alieno parum de suo possidebant — totius provinciae spolium.” No wonder, therefore, that James V., on approaching the castle of Lochwood, the antient seat of the Johnstones, is said to have exclaimed, “that he who built it must have been a knave in his heart.” An outer wall, with some slight fortifications, served as a protection for the cattle at night. The walls of these fortresses were of an immense thickness, and they could easily be defended against any small force; more especially, as, the rooms being vaulted, each story formed a separate lodgement, capable of being held out for a considerable time. On such occasions, the usual mode, adopted by the assailants, was to expel the defenders, by setting fire to wet straw in the lower apartments. But the border chieftains seldom chose to abide in person a siege of this nature; and I have not observed a single instance of a distinguished baron made prisoner in his own house41. —Patten’s Expedition, p. 35. The common people resided in paltry huts, about the safety of which they were little anxious, as they contained nothing of value. On the approach of a superior force, they unthatched them, to prevent their being burned, and then abandoned them to the foe. —Stowe’s Chronicle, p. 665. Their only treasures were, a fleet and active horse, with the ornaments which their rapine had procured for the females of their family, of whose gay appearance the borderers were vain.
37 Stowe, in detailing the happy consequences of the union of the crowns, observes, “that the northerne borders became as safe, and peaceable, as any part of the entire kingdome, so as in the fourth yeare of the king’s raigne, as well gentlemen as others, inhabiting the places aforesayde, finding the auncient wast ground to be very good and fruitefull, began to contende in lawe about their bounds, challenging then, that for their hereditarie right, which formerly they disavowed, only to avoyde charge of common defence.”]
38 “As for the humours of the people (i.e. of Tiviotdale), they were both strong and warlike, as being inured to war, and daily incursions, and the most part of the heritors of the country gave out all their lands to their tenants, for military attendance upon rentals, and reserved only some few manses for their own sustenance, which were laboured by their tenants, besides their service. They paid an entry, a herauld, and a small rental-duty; for there were no rents raised here that were considerable, till King James went into England; yea, all along the border.”—Account of Roxburghshire, by Sir William Scott of Harden, and Kerr of Sunlaws, apud Macfarlane’s MSS.]
39 The royal castles of Roxburgh, Hermitage, Lochmaben, &c. form a class of exceptions to this rule, being extensive and well fortified. Perhaps we ought also to except the baronial castle of Home. Yet, in 1455, the following petty garrisons were thought sufficient for the protection of the border; two hundred spearmen, and as many archers, upon the east and middle marches; and one hundred spears, with a like number of bowmen, upon the western marches. But then the same statute provides, “They that are neare hand the bordoure, are ordained to have gud househaldes, and abuilzed men as effeiris: and to be reddie at their principal place, and to pass, with the wardanes, quhen and quhair they sail be charged.”—Acts of James II., cap. 55, Of garisonnes to be laid upon the borderes. — Hence Buchanan has justly described, as an attribute of the Scottish nation,
“Nec fossis, nee muris, patriam sed Marte tueri.”
40 I have observed a difference in architecture betwixt the English and Scottish towers. The latter usually have upon the top a projecting battlement, with interstices, anciently called machicoules, betwixt the parapet and the wall, through which stones or darts might be hurled upon the assailants. This kind of fortification is less common on the south border.]
41 I ought to except the famous Dand Ker, who was made prisoner in his castle of Fairnihirst, after defending it bravely against Lord Dacres, 24th September, 1523.]
Some rude monuments occur upon the borders, the memorial of ancient valour. Such is the cross at Milholm, on the banks of the Liddel, said to have been erected in memory of the chief of the Armstrongs, murdered treacherously by Lord Soulis, while feasting in Hermitage castle. Such also, a rude stone, now broken, and very much defaced, placed upon a mount on the lands of Haughhead, near the junction of the Kale and Teviot. The inscription records the defence made by Hobbie Hall, a man of great strength and courage against an attempt by the powerful family of Ker, to possess themselves of his small estate42.
42 The rude strains of the inscription little correspond with the gallantry of a
— village Hampden, who, with dauntless breast,
The little tyrant of his fields withstood.
It is in these words:
Here Hobbie Hall boldly maintained his right,
‘Gainst reif, plain force, armed wi’ awles might.
Full thirty pleughs, harnes’d in all their gear,
Could not his valiant noble heart make fear:
But wi’ his sword, he cut the foremost’s soam
In two; and drove baith pleughs and pleughmen home.
Soam means the iron links, which fasten a yoke of oxen to the plough.]
The same simplicity marked their dress and arms. Patten observes, that in battle the laird could not be distinguished from the serf: all wearing the same coat armour, called a jack, and the baron being only distinguished by his sleeves of mail, and his head-piece. The borderers, in general, acted as light cavalry; riding horses of a small size, but astonishingly nimble, and trained to move, by short bounds, through the morasses with which Scotland abounds. Their offensive weapons were, a lance of uncommon length; a sword, either two-handed, or of the modern light size; sometimes a species of battle-axe, called a Jedburgh-staff; and, latterly, dags, or pistols. Although so much accustomed to act on horseback, that they held it even mean to appear otherwise, the marchmen occasionally acted as infantry; nor were they inferior to the rest of Scotland in forming that impenetrable phalanx of spears, whereof it is said, by an English historian, that “sooner shall a bare finger pierce through the skin of an angry hedge-hog, than any one encounter the brunt of their pikes.” At the battle of Melrose, for example, Buccleuch’s army fought upon foot. But the habits of the borderers fitted them particularly to distinguish themselves as light cavalry; and hence the name of prickers and hobylers, so frequently applied to them. At the blaze of their beacon fires, they were wont to assemble ten thousand horsemen in the course of a single day. Thus rapid in their warlike preparations, they were alike ready for attack and defence. Each individual carried his own provisions, consisting of a small bag of oatmeal, and trusted to plunder, or the chace, for ekeing out his precarious meal. Beaugé remarks, that nothing surprised the Scottish cavalry so much as to see their French auxiliaries encumbered with baggage-waggons, and attended by commissaries. Before joining battle, it seems to have been the Scottish practice to set fire to the litter of their camp, while, under cover of the smoke, the hobylers, or border cavalry, executed their manoeuvres. — There is a curious account of the battle of Mitton, fought in the year 1319, in a valuable MS. Chronicle of England, in the collection of the Marquis of Douglas, from which this stratagem seems to have decided the engagement. “In meyn time, while the wer thus lastyd, the kynge went agane into Skotlonde, that hitte was wonder for to wette, and bysechyd the towne of Barwick; but the Skottes went over the water of Sold, that was iii myle from the hoste, and prively they stole awaye be nyghte, and come into England, and robbed and destroyed all that they myght, and spared no manner thing til that they come to Yorke. And, whan the Englischemen, that wer left att home, herd this tiding, all tho that myght well travell, so well monkys and priestis, and freres, and chanouns, and seculars, come and met with the Skottes at Mytone of Swale, the xii day of October. Allas, for sorow for the Englischemen! housbondmen, that could nothing in wer, ther were quelled and drenchyd in an arm of the see. And hyr chyftaines, Sir William Milton, ersch-biishop of Yorke, and the abbot of Selby, with her stedes, fled and com into Yorke; and that was her owne folye that they had that mischaunce; for the passyd the water of Swale, and the Skottes set on fiir three stalkes of hey, and the smoke thereof was so huge, that the Englischemen might nott se the Scottes; and whan the Englischemen were gon over the water, tho cam the Skottes, with hir wyng, in maner of a sheld, and come toward the Englischemen in ordour. And the Englischemen fled for unnethe they had any use of armes, for the kyng had hem al almost lost att the sege of Barwick. And the Scotsmen hobylers went betwene the brigge and the Englischemen; and when the gret hoste them met, the Englischemen fled between the hobylers and the gret hoste; and the Englischemen were ther quelled, and he that myght wend over the water were saved, but many were drowned. Alas! for there were slayn many men of religion, and seculars, and pristis, and clerks, and with much sorwe the erschbischope scaped from the Skottes; and, therefore, the Skottes called that battell the White Battell”
For smaller predatory expeditions, the borderers had signals, and places of rendezvous, peculiar to each tribe. If the party set forward before all the members had joined, a mark, cut in the turf, or on the bark of a tree, pointed out to the stragglers the direction which the main body had pursued43.
43 In the parish of Linton, in Roxburghshire, there is a circle of stones, surrounding a smooth plot of turf, called the Tryst, or place of appointment, which tradition avers to have been the rendezvous of the neighbouring warriors. The name of the leader was cut in the turf, and the arrangement of the letters announced to his followers the course which he had taken. See Statistical Account of the Parish of Linton.]
Their warlike convocations were, also, frequently disguised, under pretence of meetings for the purpose of sport. The game of foot-ball, in particular which was anciently, and still continues to be, a favourite border sport, was the means of collecting together large bodies of moss-troopers, previous to any military exploit. When Sir Robert Carey was warden of the east marches, the knowledge that there was a great match of foot-ball at Kelso, to be frequented by the principal Scottish riders, was sufficient to excite his vigilance and his apprehension44. Previous also to the murder of Sir John Carmichael (see Notes on the Raid of the Reidswire,) it appeared at the trial of the perpetrators that they had assisted at a grand foot-ball meeting, where the crime was concerted.
44 See Appendix.]
Upon the religion of the borderers there can very little be said. We have already noticed, that they remained attached to the Roman Catholic faith rather longer than the rest of Scotland. This probably arose from a total indifference upon the subject; for, we no where find in their character the respect for the church, which is a marked feature of that religion. In 1528, Lord Dacre complains heavily to Cardinal Wolsey, that, having taken a notorious freebooter, called Dyk Irwen, the brother and friends of the outlaw had, in retaliation, seized a man of some property, and a relation of Lord Dacre, called Jeffrey Middleton, as he returned from a pilgrimage to St. Ninian’s, in Galloway; and that, notwithstanding the sanctity of his character, as a true pilgrim, and the Scottish monarch’s safe conduct, they continued to detain him in their fastnesses, until he should redeem the said arrant thief, Dyk Irwen. The abbeys, which were planted upon the border, neither seem to have been much respected by the English, nor by the Scottish barons. They were repeatedly burned by the former, in the course of the border wars, and by the latter they seem to have been regarded chiefly as the means of endowing a needy relation, or the subject of occasional plunder. Thus, Andrew Home of Fastcastle, about 1488, attempted to procure a perpetual feu of certain possessions belonging to the abbey of Coldinghame; and being baffled, by the king bestowing that opulent benefice upon the royal chapel at Stirling, the Humes and Hepburns started into rebellion; asserting, that the priory should be conferred upon some younger son of their families, according to ancient custom. After the fatal battle of Flodden, one of the Kerrs testified his contempt for clerical immunities and privileges, by expelling from his house the abbot of Kelso. These bickerings betwixt the clergy and the barons were usually excited by disputes about their temporal interest. It was common for the churchmen to grant lands in feu to the neighbouring gentlemen, who, becoming their vassals, were bound to assist and protect them45. But, as the possessions and revenues of the benefices became thus intermixed with those of the laity, any attempts rigidly to enforce the claims of the church were usually attended by the most scandalous disputes. A petty warfare was carried on for years, betwixt James, abbot of Dryburgh, and the family of Halliburton of Mertoun, or Newmains, who held some lands from that abbey. These possessions were, under various pretexts, seized and laid waste by both parties; and some bloodshed took place in the contest, betwixt the lay vassals and their spiritual superior. The matter was, at length, thought of sufficient importance to be terminated by a reference to his majesty; whose decree arbitral, dated at Stirling, the 8th of May, 1535, proceeds thus: “Whereas we, having been advised and knowing the said gentlemen, the Halliburtons, to be leal and true honest men, long servants unto the saide abbeye, for the saide landis, stout men at armes, and goode borderers against Ingland; and doe therefore decree and ordaine, that they sail be re-possess’d, and bruik and enjoy the landis and steedings they had of the said abbeye, paying the use and wonte: and that they sall be goode servants to the said venerabil father, like as they and their predecessours were to the said venerabil father, and his predecessours, and he a good master to them46.” It is unnecessary to detain the reader with other instances of the discord, which prevailed anciently upon the borders, betwixt the spiritual shepherd and his untractable flock.
45 These vassals resembled, in some degree, the Vidames in France, and the Vogten, or Vizedomen, of the German abbeys; but the system was never carried regularly into effect in Britain, and this circumstance facilitated the dissolution of the religious houses.]
46 This decree was followed by a marriage betwixt the abbot’s daughter, Elizabeth Stewart, and Walter Halliburton, one of the family of Newmains. But even this alliance did not secure peace between the venerable father and his vassals. The offspring of the marriage was an only daughter, named Elizabeth Halliburton. As this young lady was her father’s heir, the Halliburtons resolved that she should marry one of her cousins, to keep her property in the clan. But as this did not suit the views of the abbot, he carried off by force the intended bride, and married her, at Stirling, to Alexander Erskine, a brother of the laird of Balgony, a relation and follower of his own. From this marriage sprung the Erskines of Shielfield. This exploit of the abbot revived the feud betwixt him and the Halliburtons, which only ended with the dissolution of the abbey. —MS. History of Halliburton Family, penes editorem.]
The reformation was late of finding its way into the border wilds; for, while the religious and civil dissentions were at the height in 1568, Drury writes to Cecil — “Our trusty neighbours of Teviotdale are holden occupied only to attend to the pleasure and calling of their own heads, to make some diversion in this matter.” The influence of the reformed preachers, among the borders, seems also to have been but small; for, upon all occasions of dispute with the kirk, James VI. was wont to call in their assistance. Calderwood, p. 129.
We learn from a curious passage in the life of Richard Cameron, a fanatical preacher during the time of what is called “the persecution,” that some of the borderers retained to a late period their indifference about religious matters. After having been licensed at Haughhead, in Teviotdale, he was, according to his biographer, sent first to preach in Annandale. “He said, ‘how can I go there? I know what sort of people they are.’ ‘But,’ Mr. Welch said, ‘go your way, Ritchie, and set the fire of hell to their tails.’ He went; and, the first day, he preached upon that text, Home shall I put thee among the children, &c. In the application he said, ‘Put you among the children! the offspring of thieves and robbers! we have all heard of Annandale thieves.’ Some of them got a merciful cast that day, and told afterwards, that it was the first field meeting they ever attended, and that they went out of mere curiosity, to see a minister preach in a tent, and people sit on the ground.” Life of Richard Cameron47.
47 This man was chaplain in the family of Sir Walter Scott of Harden, who attended the meetings of the indulged presbyterians; but Cameron, considering this conduct as a compromise with the foul fiend Episcopacy, was dismissed from the family. He was slain in a skirmish at Airdsmoss, bequeathing his name to the sect of fanatics, still called Cameronians.]
Cleland, an enthusiastic Cameronian, lieutenant-colonel of the regiment levied after the Revolution from among that wild and fanatical sect, claims to the wandering preachers of his tribe the merit of converting the borderers. He introduces a cavalier, haranguing the Highlanders, and ironically thus guarding them against the fanatic divines:
If their doctrine there get rooting,
Then, farewell theift, the best of booting,
And this ye see is very clear,
Dayly experience makes it appear;
For instance, lately on the borders,
Where there was nought but theft and murders,
Rapine, cheating, and resetting,
Slight of hand, fortunes getting,
Their designation, as ye ken,
Was all along the Tacking Men.
Now, rebels more prevails with words,
Then drawgoons does with guns and swords,
So that their bare preaching now
Makes the rush-bush keep the cow;
Better than Scots or English kings,
Could do by kilting them with strings.
Yea, those that were the greatest rogues,
Follows them over hills and bogues,
Crying for mercy and for preaching,
For they’ll now hear no others teaching.”
Cleland’s Poems, 1697, p. 30.
The poet of the whigs might exaggerate the success of their teachers; yet, it must be owned, that their doctrine of insubordination, joined to their vagrant and lawless habits, was calculated strongly to conciliate their border hearers.
But, though the church, in the border counties, attracted little veneration, no part of Scotland teemed with superstitious fears and observances more than they did. “The Dalesmen48,” says Lesley, “never count their beads with such earnestness as when they set out upon a predatory expedition.” Penances, the composition betwixt guilt and conscience, were also frequent upon the borders. Of this we have a record in many bequests to the church, and in some more lasting monuments; such as the Tower of Repentance in Dumfries-shire, and, according to vulgar tradition, the church of Linton49, in Roxburghshire. In the appendix to this introduction. No. IV., the reader will find a curious league, or treaty of peace, betwixt two hostile clans, by which the heads of each became bound to make the four pilgrimages of Scotland, for the benefit of the souls of those of the opposite clan, who had fallen in the feud. These were superstitions, flowing immediately from the nature of the Catholic religion: but there was, upon the border, no lack of others of a more general nature. Such was the universal belief in spells, of which some traces may yet remain in the wild parts of the country. These were common in the time of the learned Bishop Nicolson, who derives them from the time of the Pagan Danes. “This conceit was the more heightened, by reflecting upon the natural superstition of our borderers at this day, who were much better acquainted with, and do more firmly believe, their old legendary stories, of fairies and witches, than the articles of their creed. And to convince me, yet farther, that they are not utter strangers to the black art of their forefathers, I met with a gentleman in the neighbourhood, who shewed me a book of spells, and magical receipts, taken, two or three days before, in the pocket of one of our moss-troopers; wherein, among many other conjuring feats, was prescribed, a certain remedy for an ague, by applying a few barbarous characters to the body of the party distempered. These, methought, were very near a-kin to Wormius’s Ram Runer, which, he says, differed wholly in figure and shape from the common runae. For, though he tells us, that these Ram Runer were so called, Eo quod molestias, dolores, morbosque hisce infligere inimicis soliti sunt magi; yet his great friend, Arng. Jonas, more to our purpose, says, that —His etiam usi sunt ad benefaciendum, juvandum, medicandum tam animi quam corporis morbis; atque ad ipsos cacodaemones pellendos et fugandos. I shall not trouble you with a draught of this spell, because I have not yet had an opportunity of learning whether it may not be an ordinary one, and to be met with, among others of the same nature, in Paracelsus, or Cornelius Agrippa.”—Letter from Bishop Nicolson to Mr. Walker; vide Camden’s Britannia, Cumberland. Even in the editor’s younger days, he can remember the currency of certain spells, for curing sprains, burns, or dislocations, to which popular credulity ascribed unfailing efficacy50. Charms, however, against spiritual enemies, were yet more common than those intended to cure corporeal complaints. This is not surprising, as a fantastic remedy well suited an imaginary disease.
48 This small church is founded upon a little hill of sand, in which no stone of the size of an egg is said to have been found, although the neighbouring soil is sharp and gravelly. Tradition accounts for this, by informing us, that the foundresses were two sisters, upon whose account much blood had been spilt in that spot; and that the penance, imposed on the fair causers of the slaughter, was an order from the pope to sift the sand of the hill, upon which their church was to be erected. This story may, perhaps, have some foundation; for, in the church-yard was discovered a single grave, containing no fewer than fifty skulls, most of which bore the marks of having been cleft by violence.]
49 An epithet bestowed upon the borderers, from the names of their various districts; as Tiviotdale, Liddesdale, Eskdale, Ewsdale, Annandale, &c. Hence, an old ballad distinguishes the north as the country,
“Where every river gives name to a dale,”
Ex-ale-tation of Ale.]
50 Among these may be reckoned the supposed influence of Irish earth, in curing the poison of adders, or other venomous reptiles. — This virtue is extended by popular credulity to the natives, and even to the animals, of Hibernia. A gentleman, bitten by some reptile, so as to occasion a great swelling, seriously assured the editor, that he ascribed his cure to putting the affected finger into the mouth of an Irish mare!]
There were, upon the borders, many consecrated wells, for resorting to which the people’s credulity is severely censured, by a worthy physician of the seventeenth century; who himself believed in a shower of living herrings having fallen near Dumfries. “Many run superstitiously to other wells, and there obtain, as they imagine, health and advantage; and there they offer bread and cheese, or money, by throwing them into the well.” In another part of the MS. occurs the following passage. “In the bounds of the lands of Eccles, belonging to a lyneage of the name of Maitland, there is a loch called the Dowloch, of old resorted to with much superstition, as medicinal both for men and beasts, and that with such ceremonies, as are shrewdly suspected to have been begun with witchcraft, and increased afterward by magical directions: For, burying of a cloth, or somewhat that did relate to the bodies of men and women, and a shackle, or teather, belonging to cow or horse; and these being cast into the loch, if they did float, it was taken for a good omen of recovery, and a part of the water carried to the patient, though to remote places, without saluting or speaking to any they met by the way; but, if they did sink, the recovery of the party was hopeless. This custom was of late much curbed and restrained; but since the discovery of many medicinal fountains near to the place, the vulgar, holding that it may be as medicinal as these are, at this time begin to re-assume their former practice.”—Account of Presbytery of Penpont, in Macfarlane’s MSS.
The idea, that the spirits of the deceased return to haunt the place, where on earth they have suffered or have rejoiced, is, as Dr. Johnson has observed, common to the popular creed of all nations The just and noble sentiment, implanted in our bosoms by the Deity, teaches us, that we shall not slumber for ever, as the beasts that perish. — Human vanity, or credulity, chequers, with its own inferior and base colours, the noble prospect, which is alike held out to us by philosophy and by religion. We feel, according to the ardent expression of the poet, that we shall not wholly die; but from hence we vainly and weakly argue, that the same scenes, the same passions, shall delight and actuate the disembodied spirit, which affected it while in its tenement of clay. Hence the popular belief, that the soul haunts the spot where the murdered body is interred; that its appearances are directed to bring down vengeance on its murderers; or that, having left its terrestrial form in a distant clime, it glides before its former friends, a pale spectre, to warn them of its decease. Such tales, the foundation of which is an argument from our present feelings to those of the spiritual world, form the broad and universal basis of the popular superstition regarding departed spirits; against which reason has striven in vain, and universal experience has offered a disregarded testimony. These legends are peculiarly acceptable to barbarous tribes; and, on the borders, they were received with most unbounded faith. It is true, that these supernatural adversaries were no longer opposed by the sword and battle-axe, as among the unconverted Scandinavians. Prayers, spells, and exorcisms, particularly in the Greek and Hebrew languages, were the weapons of the borderers, or rather of their priests and cunning men, against their aërial enemy51. The belief in ghosts, which has been well termed the last lingering phantom of superstition, still maintains its ground upon the borders.
51 One of the most noted apparitions is supposed to haunt Spedlin’s castle, near Lochmaben, the ancient baronial residence of the Jardines of Applegirth. It is said, that, in exercise of his territorial jurisdiction, one of the ancient lairds had imprisoned, in the Massy More, or dungeon of the castle, a person named Porteous. Being called suddenly to Edinburgh, the laird discovered, as he entered the West Port, that he had brought along with him the key of the dungeon. Struck with the utmost horror, he sent back his servant to relieve the prisoner; but it was too late. The wretched being was found lying upon the steps descending from the door of the vault, starved to death. In the agonies of hunger, he had gnawed the flesh from one of his arms. That his spectre should haunt the castle was a natural consequence of such a tragedy. Indeed, its visits became so frequent, that a clergyman of eminence was employed to exorcise it. After a contest of twenty-four hours, the man of art prevailed so far as to confine the goblin to the Massy More of the castle, where its shrieks and cries are still heard. A part, at least, of the spell, depends upon the preservation of the ancient black-lettered bible, employed by the exorcist. It was some years ago thought necessary to have this bible re-bound; but, as soon as it was removed from the castle, the spectre commenced his nocturnal orgies, with ten-fold noise; and it is verily believed that he would have burst from his confinement, had not the sacred volume been speedily replaced.
A Mass John Scott, minister of Peebles, is reported to have been the last renowned exorciser, and to have lost his life in a contest with an obstinate spirit. This was owing to the conceited rashness of a young clergyman, who commenced the ceremony of laying the ghost before the arrival of Mass John. It is the nature, it seems, of spirits disembodied, as well as embodied, to increase in strength and presumption, in proportion to the advantages which they may gain over the opponent. The young clergyman losing courage, the horrors of the scene were increased to such a degree, that, as Mass John approached the house in which it passed, he beheld the slates and tiles flying from the roof, as if dispersed by a whirlwind. At his entry, he perceived all the wax-tapers (the most essential instruments of conjuration) extinguished, except one, which already burned blue in the socket. The arrival of the experienced sage changed the scene: he brought the spirit to reason; but, unfortunately, while addressing a word of advice or censure to his rash brother, he permitted the ghost to obtain the last word; a circumstance which, in all colloquies of this nature, is strictly to be guarded against. This fatal oversight occasioned his falling into a lingering disorder, of which he never recovered.
A curious poem, upon the laying of a ghost, forms article No. V. of the Appendix.]
It is unnecessary to mention the superstitious belief in witchcraft, which gave rise to so much cruelty and persecution during the seventeenth century. There were several executions upon the borders for this imaginary crime, which was usually tried, not by the ordinary judges, but by a set of country gentlemen, acting under commission from the privy council52.
52 I have seen, penes Hugh Scott, Esq. of Harden, the record of the trial of a witch, who was burned at Ducove. She was tried in the manner above mentioned.]
Besides these grand articles of superstitious belief, the creed of the borderers admitted the existence of sundry classes of subordinate spirits, to whom were assigned peculiar employments. The chief of these were the Fairies, concerning whom the reader will find a long dissertation, in Volume Second. The Brownie formed a class of beings, distinct in habit and disposition from the freakish and mischievous elves. He was meagre, shaggy, and wild in his appearance. Thus, Cleland, in his satire against the Highlanders, compares them to
“Faunes, or Brownies, if ye will,
Or satyres come from Atlas hill.”
In the day time, he lurked in remote recesses of the old houses which he delighted to haunt; and, in the night, sedulously employed himself in discharging any laborious task which he thought might be acceptable to the family, to whose service he had devoted himself. His name is probably derived from the Portuni, whom Gervase of Tilbury describes thus: “Ecce enim in Anglia daemones quosdam habent, daemones, inquam, nescio dixerim, an secretae et ignotae generationis effigies, quos Galli Neptunos, Angli Portunos nominant. Istis insitum est quod simplicitatem fortunatonum colonorum amplectuntur, et cum nocturnas propter domesticas operas agunt vigilias, subito clausis januis ad ignem califiunt, et ranunculus ex sinu projectas, prunis impositas concedunt, senili vultu, facie corrugata, statura pusilli, dimidium pollicis non habentes. Panniculis consertis induuntur, et si quid gestandum in domo fuerit, aut onerosi opens agendum, ad operandum se jungunt citius humana facilitate expediunt. Id illis insitum est, ut obsequi possint et obesse non possint.”— Otia. Imp. p. 980. In every respect, saving only the feeding upon frogs, which was probably an attribute of the Gallic spirits alone, the above description corresponds with that of the Scottish Brownie. But the latter, although, like Milton’s lubbar fiend, he loves to stretch himself by the fire53, does not drudge from the hope of recompence. On the contrary, so delicate is his attachment, that the offer of reward, but particularly of food, infallibly occasions his disappearance for ever54. We learn from Olaus Magnus, that spirits, somewhat similar in their operations to the Brownie, were supposed to haunt the Swedish mines. The passage, in the translation of 1658, runs thus: “This is collected in briefe, that in northerne kingdomes there are great armies of devils, that have their services, which they perform with the inhabitants of these countries: but they are most frequent in rocks and mines, where they break, cleave, and make them hollow: which also thrust in pitchers and buckets, and carefully fit wheels and screws, whereby they are drawn upwards; and they shew themselves to the labourers, when they list, like phantasms and ghosts.” It seems no improbable conjecture, that the Brownie is a legitimate descendant of the Lar Familiaris of the ancients.
— how the drudging goblin swet,
To earn the cream-bowl, duly set;
When, in one night, ere glimpse of morn,
His shadowy flail had thresh’d the corn,
That ten day-lab’rers could not end;
Then lies him down the lubbar fiend,
And, stretch’d out all the chimney’s length,
Basks at the fire his hairy strength;
And, crop-full, out of doors he flings,
E’er the first cock his matin rings.
When the menials in a Scottish family protracted their vigils around the kitchen fire, Brownie, weary of being excluded from the midnight hearth, sometimes appeared at the door, seemed to watch their departure, and thus admonished them —“Gang a’ to your beds, sirs, and dinna put out the wee grieshoch (embers).”]
54 It is told of a Brownie, who haunted a border family, now extinct, that the lady having fallen unexpectedly in labour, and the servant, who was ordered to ride to Jedburgh for the sage femme, shewing no great alertness in setting out, the familiar spirit slipt on the great-coat of the lingering domestic, rode to the town on the laird’s best horse, and returned with the mid-wife en croupe. Daring the short space of his absence, the Tweed, which they must necessarily ford, rose to a dangerous height. Brownie, who transported his charge with all the rapidity of the ghostly lover of Lenoré, was not to be stopped by this obstacle. He plunged in with the terrified old lady, and landed her in safety where her services were wanted. Having put the horse into the stable (where it was afterwards found in a woeful plight), he proceeded to the room of the servant, whose duty he had discharged; and, finding him just in the act of drawing on his boots, he administered to him a most merciless drubbing with his own horse-whip. Such an important service excited the gratitude of the laird; who, understanding that Brownie had been heard to express a wish to have a green coat, ordered a vestment of that colour to be made, and left in his haunts. Brownie took away the green coat, but never was seen more. We may suppose, that, tired of his domestic drudgery, he went in his new livery to join the fairies. —See Appendix, No. VI.
The last Brownie, known in Ettrick forest, resided in Bodsbeck, a wild and solitary spot, where he exercised his functions undisturbed, till the scrupulous devotion of an old lady induced her to hire him away, as it was termed, by placing in his haunt a porringer of milk and a piece of money. After receiving this hint to depart, he was heard the whole night to howl and cry, “Farewell to bonny Bodsbeck!” which he was compelled to abandon for ever.]
A being, totally distinct from those hitherto mentioned, is the Bogle, or Goblin; a freakish spirit, who delights rather to perplex and frighten mankind; than either to serve, or seriously to hurt, them. This is the Esprit Follet of the French; and Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, though enlisted by Shakespeare among the fairy band of Oberon, properly belongs to this class of phantoms. Shellycoat, a spirit, who resides in the waters, and has given his name to many a rock and stone upon the Scottish coast, belongs also to the class of bogles55. When he appeared, he seemed to be decked with marine productions, and, in particular with shells, whose clattering announced his approach. From this circumstance he derived his name. He may, perhaps, be identified with the goblin of the northern English, which, in the towns and cities, Durham and Newcastle for example had the name of Barquest; but, in the country villages, was more frequently termed Brag. He usually ended his mischievous frolics with a horse-laugh.
55 One of his pranks is thus narrated: Two men, in a very dark night, approaching the banks of the Ettrick, heard a doleful voice from its waves repeatedly exclaim —“Lost! lost!”— They followed the sound, which seemed to be the voice of a drowning person, and, to their infinite astonishment, they found that it ascended the river. Still they continued, during a long and tempestuous night, to follow the cry of the malicious sprite; and arriving, before morning’s dawn, at the very sources of the river, the voice was now heard descending the opposite side of the mountain in which they arise. The fatigued and deluded travellers now relinquished the pursuit; and had no sooner done so, than they heard Shellycoat applauding, in loud bursts of laughter, his successful roguery. The spirit was supposed particularly to haunt the old house of Gorrinberry, situated on the river Hermitage, in Liddesdale.]
Shellycoat must not be confounded with Kelpy, a water spirit also, but of a much more powerful and malignant nature. His attributes have been the subject of a poem in Lowland Scottish, by the learned Dr. Jamieson of Edinburgh, which adorns the third volume of this collection. Of Kelpy, therefore, it is unnecessary to say any thing at present.
Of all these classes of spirits it may be, in general observed, that their attachment was supposed to be local, and not personal. They haunted the rock, the stream, the ruined castle, without regard to the persons or families to whom the property belonged. Hence, they differed entirely from that species of spirits, to whom, in the Highlands, is ascribed the guardianship, or superintendance of a particular clan, or family of distinction; and who, perhaps yet more than the Brownie, resemble the classic household gods. Thus, in an MS. history of Moray, we are informed, that the family of Gurlinbeg is haunted by a spirit, called Garlin Bodacher; that of the baron of Kinchardin, by Lamhdearg56, or Red-hand, a spectre, one of whose hands is as red as blood; that of Tullochgorm, by May Moulach, a female figure, whose left hand and arm were covered with hair, who is also mentioned in Aubrey’s Miscellanies, pp. 211, 212, as a familiar attendant upon the elan Grant. These superstitions were so ingrafted in the popular creed, that the clerical synods and presbyteries were wont to take cognizance of them57.
56 The following notice of Lamhdearg occurs in another account of Strathspey, apud Macfarlane’s MSS.:—“There is much talke of a spirit called Ly-erg, who frequents the Glenmore. He appears with a red hand, in the habit of a souldier, and challenges men to fight with him; as lately as 1669, he fought with three brothers, one after another, who immediately died thereafter.”]
57 There is current, in some parts of Germany, a fanciful superstition concerning the Stille Volke, or silent people. These they suppose to be attached to houses of eminence, and to consist of a number, corresponding to that of the mortal family, each person of which has thus his representative amongst these domestic spirits. When the lady of the family has a child, the queen of the silent people is delivered in the same moment. They endeavour to give warning when danger approaches the family, assist in warding it off, and are sometimes seen to weep and wring their hands, before inevitable calamity.]
Various other superstitions, regarding magicians, spells, prophecies, &c., will claim our attention in the progress of this work. For the present, therefore taking the advice of an old Scottish rhymer, let us
“Leave bogles, brownies, gyre carlinges, and ghaists58.”
58 So generally were these tales of diablerie believed, that one William Lithgow, a bon vivant, who appears to have been a native, or occasional inhabitant, of Melrose, is celebrated by the pot-companion who composed his elegy, because
He was good company at jeists.
And wanton when he came to feists,
He scorn’d the converse of great beasts,
O’er a sheep’s head;
He laugh’d at stones about ghaists;
Blythe Willie’s dead!
Watson’s Scotish Poems, Edin. 1706.]
Flyting of Polwart and Montgomery.
The domestic economy of the borderers next engages our attention. That the revenue of the chieftain should be expended in rude hospitality, was the natural result of his situation. His wealth consisted chiefly in herds of cattle, which were consumed by the kinsmen, vassals, and followers, who aided him to acquire and to protect them59. We learn from Lesley, that the borderers were temperate in the use of intoxicating liquors, and we are therefore left to conjecture how they occupied the time, when winter, or when accident, confined them to their habitations. The little learning, which existed in the middle ages, glimmered a dim and a dying flame in the religious houses; and even in the sixteenth century, when its beams became more widely diffused, they were far from penetrating the recesses of the border mountains. The tales of tradition, the song, with the pipe or harp of the minstrel, were probably the sole resources against ennui, during the short intervals of repose from military adventure.
59 We may form some idea of the stile of life maintained by the border warriors, from the anecdotes, handed down by tradition, concerning Walter Scott of Harden, who flourished towards the middle of the sixteenth century. This ancient laird was a renowned freebooter, and used to ride with a numerous band of followers. The spoil, which they carried off from England, or from their neighbours, was concealed in a deep and impervious glen, on the brink of which the old tower of Harden was situated. From thence the cattle were brought out, one by one, as they were wanted, to supply the rude and plentiful table of the laird. When the last bullock was killed and devoured, it was the lady’s custom to place on the table a dish, which, on being uncovered, was found to contain a pair of clean spurs; a hint to the riders, that they must shift for their next meal. Upon one occasion, when the village herd was driving out the cattle to pasture, the old laird heard him call loudly to drive out Harden’s cow. “Harden’s cow!” echoed the affronted chief —“Is it come to that pass? by my faith they shall sune say Harden’s kye (cows).” Accordingly, he sounded his bugle, mounted his horse, set out with his followers, and returned next day with “a bow of kye, and a bussen’d (brindled) bull.” On his return with this gallant prey, he passed a very large hay-stack. It occurred to the provident laird, that this would be extremely convenient to fodder his new stock of cattle; but as no means of transporting it occurred, he was fain to take leave of it with this apostrophe, now proverbial: “By my soul, had ye but four feet, ye should not stand lang there.” In short, as Froissard says of a similar class of feudal robbers, nothing came amiss to them, that was not too heavy, or too hot. The same mode of house-keeping characterized most border families on both sides. An MS. quoted in History of Cumberland, p. 466, concerning the Graemes of Netherby, and others of that clan, runs thus: “They were all stark moss-troopers and arrant thieves: both to England and Scotland outlawed: yet sometimes connived at, because they gave intelligence forth of Scotland, and would raise 400 horse at any time, upon a raid of the English into Scotland.” A saying is recorded of a mother to her son (which is now become proverbial), “Ride Rouly (Rowland), hough’s i’ the pot;” that is, the last piece of beef was in the pot, and therefore it was high time for him to go and fetch more. To such men might with justice be applied the poet’s description of the Cretan warrior; translated by my friend, Dr. Leyden.
My sword, my spear, my shaggy shield,
With these I till, with these I sow;
With these I reap my harvest field,
The only wealth the Gods bestow.
With these I plant the purple vine,
With these I press the luscious wine.
My sword, my spear, my shaggy shield,
They make me lord of all below;
For he who dreads the lance to wield,
Before my shaggy shield must bow.
His lands, his vineyards, must resign;
And all that cowards have is mine.
Hybrias (ap. Athenaeum).]
This brings us to the more immediate subject of the present publication.
Lesley, who dedicates to the description of border manners a chapter, which we have already often quoted, notices particularly the taste of the marchmen for music and ballad poetry. “Placent admodum sibi sua musica, et rythmicis suis cantionibus, quas de majorum suorum gestis, aut ingeniosis predandi precandive stratagematis ipsi confingunt. “— Leslaeus, in capitulo de moribus eorum, qui Scotiae limites Angliam versus incolunt. The more rude and wild the state of society, the more general and violent is the impulse received from poetry and music. The muse, whose effusions are the amusement of a very small part of a polished nation, records, in the lays of inspiration, the history the laws, the very religion, of savages. — Where the pen and the press are wanting, the low of numbers impresses upon the memory of posterity, the deeds and sentiments of their forefathers. Verse is naturally connected with music; and, among a rude people, the union is seldom broken. By this natural alliance, the lays, “steeped in the stream of harmony,” are more easily retained by the reciter, and produce upon his audience a more impressive effect. Hence, there has hardly been found to exist a nation so brutishly rude, as not to listen with enthusiasm to the songs of their bards, recounting the exploits of their forefathers, recording their laws and moral precepts, or hymning the praises of their deities. But, where the feelings are frequently stretched to the highest pitch, by the vicissitudes of a life of danger and military adventure, this predisposition of a savage people, to admire their own rude poetry and music, is heightened, and its tone becomes peculiarly determined. It is not the peaceful Hindu at his loom, it is not the timid Esquimaux in his canoe, whom we must expect to glow at the war song of Tyrtaeus. The music and the poetry of each country must keep pace with their usual tone of mind, as well as with the state of society.
The morality of their compositions is determined by the same circumstances. Those themes are necessarily chosen by the bard, which regard the favourite exploits of the hearers; and he celebrates only those virtues, which from infancy he has been taught to admire. Hence, as remarked by Lesley, the music and songs of the borders were of a military nature, and celebrated the valour and success of their predatory expeditions. Razing, like Shakespeare’s pirate, the eighth commandment from the decalogue, the minstrels praised their chieftains for the very exploits, against which the laws of the country denounced a capital doom. — An outlawed freebooter was to them a more interesting person, than the King of Scotland exerting his power to punish his depredations; and, when the characters are contrasted, the latter is always represented as a ruthless and sanguinary tyrant. — Spenser’s description of the bards of Ireland applies in some degree, to our ancient border poets. “There is, among the Irish, a certain kinde of people, called bardes, which are to them instead of poets; whose profession is to set forth the praises or dispraises of men, in their poems or rhymes; the which are had in such high regard or esteem amongst them, that none dare displease them, for fear of running into reproach through their offence, and to be made infamous in the mouths of all men; for their verses are taken up with a general applause, and usually sung at all feasts and meetings, by certain other persons, whose proper function that is, who also receive, for the same, great rewardes and reputation amongst them.” Spenser, having bestowed due praise upon the poets, who sung the praises of the good and virtuous, informs us, that the bards, on the contrary, “seldom use to chuse unto themselves the doings of good men for the arguments of their poems; but whomsoever they finde to be most licentious of life, most bold and lawless in his doings, most dangerous and desperate in all parts of disobedience, and rebellious disposition, him they set up and glorify in their rhythmes; him they praise to the people, and to young men make an example to follow.”—Eudoxus—“I marvail what kind of speeches they can find, or what faces they can put on, to praise such bad persons, as live so lawlessly and licentiously upon stealths and spoyles, as most of them do; or how they can think, that any good mind will applaud or approve the same.” In answer to this question, Irenaeus, after remarking the giddy and restless disposition of the ill educated youth of Ireland, which made them prompt to receive evil counsel, adds, that such a person, “if he shall find any to praise him, and to give him any encouragement, as those bards and rhythmers do, for little reward, or a share of a stolen cow60, then waxeth he most insolent, and half-mad, with the love of himself and his own lewd deeds. And as for words to set forth such lewdness, it is not hard for them to give a goodly and painted show thereunto, borrowed even from the praises which are proper to virtue itself. As of a most notorious thief, and wicked outlaw, which had lived all his life-time of spoils and robberies, one of their bardes, in his praise, will say, ‘that he was none of the idle milk-sops that was brought up by the fire-side, but that most of his days he spent in arms and valiant enterprizes; that he never did eat his meat, before he had won it with his sword; that he lay not all night slugging in his cabin under his mantle, but used commonly to keep others waking to defend their lives, and did light his candle at the flames of their houses to lead him in the darkness; that the day was his night, and the night his day; that he loved not to be long wooing of wenches to yield to him; but, where he came, he took by force the spoil of other men’s love, and left but lamentations to their lovers; that his music was not the harp, nor lays of love, but the cries of people, and clashing of armour; and, finally, that he died, not bewailed of many, but made many wail when he died, that dearly bought his death.’ Do not you think, Eudoxus, that many of these praises might be applied to men of best deserts? Yet, are they all yielded to a most notable traitor, and amongst some of the Irish not smally accounted of.”—State of Ireland. The same concurrence of circumstances, so well pointed out by Spenser, as dictating the topics of the Irish bards, tuned the border harps to the praise of an outlawed Armstrong, or Murray.
60 The reward of the Welch bards, and perhaps of those upon the border, was very similar. It was enacted by Howel Dha, that if the king’s bard played before a body of warriors, upon a predatory excursion, be should receive, in recompence, the best cow which the party carried off. —Leges Walliae, I. 1. cap. 19.]
For similar reasons, flowing from the state of society, the reader must not expect to find, in the border ballads, refined sentiment, and, far less, elegant expression; although the stile of such compositions has, in modern hands, been found highly susceptible of both. But passages might be pointed out, in which the rude minstrel has melted in natural pathos, or risen into rude energy. Even where these graces are totally wanting, the interest of the stories themselves, and the curious picture of manners, which they frequently present, authorise them to claim some respect from the public. But it is not the editor’s present intention to enter upon a history of border poetry; a subject of great difficulty, and which the extent of his information does not as yet permit him to engage in. He will, therefore, now lay before the reader the plan of the present publication; pointing out the authorities from which his materials are derived and slightly noticing the nature of the different classes into which he has arranged them.
The MINSTRELSY of the SCOTTISH BORDER contains Three Classes of Poems:
I. HISTORICAL BALLADS. II. ROMANTIC. III. IMITATIONS OF THESE COMPOSITIONS BY MODERN AUTHORS.
The Historical Ballad relates events, which we either know actually to have taken place, or which, at least, making due allowance for the exaggerations of poetical tradition, we may readily conceive to have had some foundation in history. For reasons already mentioned, such ballads were early current upon the border. Barbour informs us, that he thinks it unnecessary to rehearse the account of a victory, gained in Eskdale over the English, because
— Whasa liks, thai may her
Young women, when thai will play,
Syng it among thaim ilk day. —
The Bruce, Book XVI.
Godscroft also, in his History of the House of Douglas, written in the reign of James VI., alludes more than once to the ballads current upon the border, in which the exploits of those heroes were celebrated. Such is the passage, relating to the death of William Douglas, Lord of Liddesdale, slain by the Earl of Douglas, his kinsman, his godson, and his chief61. Similar strains of lamentation were poured by the border poets over the tomb of the Hero of Otterbourne; and over the unfortunate youths, who were dragged to an ignominious death, from the very table at which they partook of the hospitality of their sovereign. The only stanza, preserved of this last ballad, is uncommonly animated —
Edinburgh castle, towne and toure,
God grant thou sink for sinne!
And that even for the black dinoure,
Erl Douglas gat therein.
Who will not regret, with the editor, that compositions of such interest and antiquity should be now irrecoverable? But it is the nature of popular poetry, as of popular applause, perpetually to shift with the objects of the time; and it is the frail chance of recovering some old manuscript, which can alone gratify our curiosity regarding the earlier efforts of the border muse. Some of her later strains, composed during the sixteenth century, have survived even to the present day; but the recollection of them has, of late years, become like that of “a tale which was told.” In the sixteenth century, these northern tales appear to have been popular even in London; for the learned Mr. Ritson has obligingly pointed out to me the following passages, respecting the noted ballad of Dick o’ the Cow (p. 157); “Dick o’ the Cow, that mad demi-lance northern borderer, who plaid his prizes with the lord Jockey so bravely.”— Nashe’s Have with you to Saffren–Walden, or Gabriell Harvey’s Hunt is up. — 1596, 4to. Epistle Dedicatorie, sig. A. 2. 6. And in a list of books, printed for, and sold by, P. Brocksby (1688), occurs “Dick-a-the-Cow, containing north country songs62.” Could this collection have been found, it would probably have thrown much light on the present publication: but the editor has been obliged to draw his materials chiefly from oral tradition.
61 “The Lord of Liddisdale being at his pastime, hunting in Ettrick forest, is beset by William, Earl of Douglas, and such as he had ordained for the purpose, and there asailed, wounded, and slain, beside Galsewood, in the year 1353, upon a jealousy that the earl had conceived of him with his lady, as the report goeth; for so sayeth the old song,
“The countess of Douglas out of her bower she came,
And loudly there that she did call —
It is for the Lord of Liddisdale,
That I let all these tears down fall.”
“The song also declareth, how she did write her love-letters to Liddisdale, to dissuade him from that hunting. It tells likewise the manner of the taking of his men, and his own killing at Galsewood; and how he was carried the first night to Linden kirk, a mile from Selkirk, and was buried in the abbey of Melrose.”—Godscroft, Vol. I. p. 144, Ed. 1743.
Some fragments of this ballad are still current, and will be found in the ensuing work.]
62 The Selkirkshire ballad of Tamlane seems also to have been well known in England. Among the popular heroes of romance, enumerated in the introduction to the history of “Tom Thumbe,” (London, 1621, bl. letter), occurs “Tom a Lin, the devil’s supposed bastard.” There is a parody upon the same ballad in the “Pinder of Wakefield” (London, 1621).]
Something may be still found in the border cottages resembling the scene described by Pennycuik.
On a winter’s night, my grannam spinning,
To mak a web of good Scots linnen;
Her stool being placed next to the chimley,
(For she was auld, and saw right dimly,)
My lucky dad, an honest whig,
Was telling tales of Bothwell-brigg;
He could not miss to mind the attempt,
For he was sitting pu’ing hemp;
My aunt, whom’ nane dare say has no grace,
Was reading on the Pilgrim’s Progress;
The meikle tasker, Davie Dallas,
Was telling blads of William Wallace;
My mither bade her second son say,
What he’d by heart of Davie Lindsay;
Our herd, whom all folks hate that knows him,
Was busy hunting in his bosom;
* * *
The bairns, and oyes, were all within doors;}
The youngest of us chewing cinders,}
And all the auld anes telling wonders.}
Pennycuik’s Poems, p. 7.
The causes of the preservation of these songs have either entirely ceased, or are gradually decaying Whether they were originally the composition of minstrels, professing the joint arts of poetry and music; or whether they were the occasional effusions of some self-taught bard; is a question into which I do not here mean to enquire. But it is certain, that, till a very late period, the pipers, of whom there was one attached to each border town of note, and whose office was often hereditary, were the great depositaries of oral, and particularly of poetical, tradition. About spring time, and after harvest, it was the custom of these musicians to make a progress through a particular district of the country. The music and the tale repaid their lodging, and they were usually gratified with a donation of seed corn63. This order of minstrels is alluded to in the comic song of Maggy Lauder, who thus addresses a piper —
“Live ye upo’ the border?”
By means of these men, much traditional poetry was preserved, which must otherwise have perished. Other itinerants, not professed musicians, found their welcome to their night’s quarters readily insured by their knowledge in legendary lore. John Graeme, of Sowport, in Cumberland, commonly called The Long Quaker64, a person of this latter description, was very lately alive; and several of the songs, now published, have been taken down from his recitation. The shepherds also, and aged persons, in the recesses of the border mountains, frequently remember and repeat the warlike songs of their fathers. This is more especially the case in what are called the South Highlands, where, in many instances, the same families have occupied the same possessions for centuries.
63 These town pipers, an institution of great antiquity upon the borders, were certainly the last remains of the minstrel race. Robin Hastie, town-piper of Jedburgh, perhaps the last of the order, died nine or ten years ago: his family was supposed to have held the office for about three centuries. Old age had rendered Robin a wretched performer; but he knew several old songs and tunes, which have probably died along with him. The town-pipers received a livery and salary from the community to which they belonged; and, in some burghs, they had a small allotment of land, called the Piper’s Croft. For further particulars regarding them, see Introduction to Complaynt of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1801, p. 142.]
64 This person, perhaps the last of our professed ballad reciters, died since the publication of the first edition of this work. He was by profession an itinerant cleaner of clocks and watches; but, a stentorian voice, and tenacious memory, qualified him eminently for remembering accurately, and reciting with energy, the border gathering songs and tales of war. His memory was latterly much impaired; yet, the number of verses which he could pour forth, and the animation of his tone and gestures, formed a most extraordinary contrast to his extreme feebleness of person, and dotage of mind.]
It is chiefly from this latter source that the editor has drawn his materials, most of which were collected, many years ago, during his early youth. But he has been enabled, in many instances, to supply and correct the deficiencies of his own copies, from a collection of border songs, frequently referred to in the work, under the title of Glenriddell’s MS. This was compiled, from various sources, by the late Mr. Riddell, of Glenriddel, a sedulous border antiquary, and, since his death, has become the property of Mr. Jollie, bookseller at Carlisle; to whose liberality the editor owes the use of it, while preparing this work for the press. No liberties have been taken, either with the recited or written copies of these ballads, farther than that, where they disagreed, which is by no means unusual, the editor, in justice to the author, has uniformly preserved what seemed to him the best, or most poetical, reading of the passage. Such discrepancies must very frequently occur, wherever poetry is preserved by oral tradition; for the reciter, making it a uniform principle to proceed at all hazards, is very often, when his memory fails him, apt to substitute large portions from some other tale, altogether distinct from that which he has commenced. Besides, the prejudices of clans and of districts have occasioned variations in the mode of telling the same story. Some arrangement was also occasionally necessary, to recover the rhyme, which was often, by the ignorance of the reciters, transposed, or thrown into the middle of the line. With these freedoms, which were essentially necessary to remove obvious corruptions, and fit the ballads for the press, the editor presents them to the public, under the complete assurance, that they carry with them the most indisputable marks of their authenticity.
The same observations apply to the Second Class, here termed ROMANTIC BALLADS; intended to comprehend such legends as are current upon the border, relating to fictitious and marvellous adventures Such were the tales, with which the friends of Spenser strove to beguile his indisposition:
“Some told of ladies, and their paramours;
Some of brave knights, and their renowned squires;
Some of the fairies, and their strange attires,
And some of giants, hard to be believed.”
These, carrying with them a general, and not merely a local, interest, are much more extensively known among the peasantry of Scotland than the border-raid ballads, the fame of which is in general confined to the mountains where they were originally composed. Hence, it has been easy to collect these tales of romance, to a number much greater than the editor has chosen to insert in this publication65. With this class are now intermingled some lyric pieces, and some ballads, which, though narrating real events, have no direct reference to border history or manners. To the politeness and liberality of Mr. Herd, of Edinburgh, the editor of the first classical collection of Scottish songs and ballads (Edinburgh, 1774, 2 vols.), the editor is indebted for the use of his MSS., containing songs and ballads, published and unpublished, to the number of ninety and upwards. To this collection frequent references are made, in the course of the following pages. Two books of ballads, in MS., have also been communicated to me, by my learned and respected friend, Alexander Fraser Tytler, Esq66. I take the liberty of transcribing Mr. Tytler’s memorandum respecting the manner in which they came into his hands. “My father67 got the following songs from an old friend, Mr. Thomas Gordon, professor of philosophy, King’s College, Aberdeen. The following extract of a letter of the professor to me, explains how he came by them:—“An aunt of my children, Mrs Farquhar, now dead, who was married to the proprietor of a small estate, near the sources of the Dee, in Braemar, a good old woman, who spent the best part of her life among flocks and herds, resided in her latter days in the town of Aberdeen. She was possest of a most tenacious memory, which retained all the songs she had heard from nurses and country-women in that sequestered part of the country. Being maternally fond of my children, when young, she had them much about her, and delighted them with her songs, and tales of chivalry. My youngest daughter, Mrs Brown, at Falkland, is blest with a memory as good as her aunt, and has almost the whole of her songs by heart. In conversation I mentioned them to your father, at whose request, my grandson, Mr Scott, wrote down a parcel of them, as his aunt sung them. Being then but a mere novice in music, he added, in the copy, such musical notes, as, he supposed, might give your father some notion of the airs, or rather lilts, to which they were sung.”
65 Mr. Jamieson of Macclesfield, a gentleman of literary and poetical accomplishment, has for some years been employed in a compilation of Scottish ballad poetry, which is now in the press, and will probably be soon given to the public. I have, therefore, as far as the nature of my work permitted, sedulously avoided anticipating any of his materials; as I am very certain he himself will do our common cause the most ample justice.]
66 Now a senator of the College of Justice, by the title of Lord Woodhouselee.]
67 William Tytler, Esq. the ingenious defender of Queen Mary, and author of a Dissertation upon Scotish Music, which does honour to his memory.]
From this curious and valuable collection, the editor has procured very material assistance. At the same time, it contains many beautiful legendary poems, of which he could not avail himself, as they seemed to be the exclusive property of the bards of Angus and Aberdeenshire. But the copies of such, as were known on the borders, have furnished him with various readings, and with supplementary stanzas, which he has frequent opportunities to acknowledge. The MSS. are cited under the name of Mrs. Brown of Falkland, the ingenious lady, to whose taste and memory the world is indebted for the preservation of the tales which they contain. The other authorities, which occur during the work, are particularly referred to. Much information has been communicated to the editor, from various quarters, since the work was first published of which he has availed himself, to correct and enlarge the present edition.
In publishing both classes of ancient ballads, the editor has excluded those which are to be found in the common collections of this nature, unless in one or two instances, where he conceived it possible to give some novelty, by historical or critical illustration.
It would have been easy for the editor to have given these songs an appearance of more indisputable antiquity, by adopting the rude orthography of the period, to which he is inclined to refer them. But this (unless when MSS. of antiquity can be referred to) seemed too arbitrary an exertion of the privileges of a publisher, and must, besides, have unnecessarily increased the difficulties of many readers. On the other hand, the utmost care has been taken, never to reject a word or phrase, used by a reciter, however uncouth or antiquated. Such barbarisms, which stamp upon the tales their age and their nation, should be respected by an editor, as the hardy emblem of his country was venerated by the Poet of Scotland:
The rough bur-thistle spreading wide
Amang the bearded bear,
I turn’d the weeder-clips aside,
And spared the symbol dear.
The meaning of such obsolete words is usually given at the bottom of the page. For explanation of the more common peculiarities of the Scottish dialect, the English reader is referred to the excellent glossary annexed to the last edition of Burns’ works.
The Third Class of Ballads are announced to the public, as MODERN IMITATIONS of the Ancient Style of composition, in that department of poetry; and they are founded upon such traditions as we may suppose in the elder times would have employed the harps of the minstrels. This kind of poetry has been supposed capable of uniting the vigorous numbers and wild fiction, which occasionally charm us in the ancient ballad, with a greater equality of versification, and elegance of sentiment, than we can expect to find in the works of a rude age. But, upon my ideas of the nature and difficulty of such imitations, I ought in prudence to be silent; lest I resemble the dwarf, who brought with him a standard to measure his own stature. I may, however, hint at the difference, not always attended to, betwixt legendary poems and real imitations of the old ballad; the reader will find specimens of both in the modern part of this collection. The legendary poem, called Glenfinlas, and the ballad, entituled the Eve of St. John, were designed as examples of the difference betwixt these two kinds of composition.
It would have the appearance of personal vanity, were the editor to detail the assistance and encouragement which he has received, during his undertaking, from some of the first literary characters of our age. The names of Stuart, Mackenzie, Ellis, Currie, and Ritson, with many others, are talismans too powerful to be used, for bespeaking the world’s favour to a collection of old songs; even although a veteran bard has remarked, “that both the great poet of Italian rhyme, Petrarch, and our Chaucer, and other of the upper house of the muses, have thought their canzons honoured in the title of a ballad.” To my ingenious friend, Dr. John Leyden, my readers will at once perceive that I lie under extensive obligations, for the poetical pieces, with which he has permitted me to decorate my compilation; but I am yet farther indebted to him for his uniform assistance, in collecting and arranging materials for the work.
In the notes, and occasional dissertations, it has been my object to throw together, perhaps without sufficient attention to method, a variety of remarks, regarding popular superstitions, and legendary history, which, if not now collected, must soon have been totally forgotten. By such efforts, feeble as they are, I may contribute somewhat to the history of my native country; the peculiar features of whose manners and character are daily melting and dissolving into those of her sister and ally. And, trivial as may appear such an offering, to the manes of a kingdom, once proud and independent, I hang it upon her altar with a mixture of feelings, which I shall not attempt to describe.
“— Hail, land of spearmen! seed of those who scorn’d
To stoop the proud crest to Imperial Rome!
Hail! dearest half of Albion, sea-wall’d!
Hail! state unconquer’d by the fire of war,
Red war, that twenty ages round thee blaz’d!
To thee, for whom my purest raptures flow,
Kneeling with filial homage, I devote
My life, my strength, my first and latest song.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00