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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

B for Border Reivers, Border Ballads & Blackmail in "My Scottish Borders"

Welcome to this Look Around 
             "My Scottish Borders".

B is for 

Reiver Statue, Galashiels
The Borders of England and Scotland  have been likened to the Wild West of America in terms of its lawlessness, family feuds, raid and  counter raids, murder and treachery  that marked life for over 300 years in the period up to the early 17th century. 

Reiving, (robbing or raiding),  was an established way of life for many families, seizing, cattle, sheep and other possessions from each other and their English neighbours, with prominent names Armsgtrongs, Turnbulls, Scotts and Elliots. Their metal helmets gave them the nickname "steel bonnets".  

One legend recalled  the "Dish of Spurs" which would be served to a Border chieftain to remind him that the larder was empty and it was time to acquire more plunder.  

Border Reiver

Long after the violence and brutality ended,  the lives and deeds of the Border Reivers were remembered  in song and story,  and most notably romanticized by writer  Sir Walter Scott who collected the folklore into his  "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders", published in 1802.  Among them,  three poems with the first verses here: 

O young Lochinvar is come out of the west,
Through all the wide Border his steed was the best;
And save his good broadsword he weapons had none,
He rode all unarm'd, and he rode all alone.
So faithful in love, and so dauntless in war,
There never was knight like the young Lochinvar.
                                                                                                  [Sir Walter Scott]

         MARCH, march, Ettrick and Teviotdale!
     Why the de’il dinna ye march forward in order?
          March, march, Eskdale and Liddesdale!
           All the Blue Bonnets are over the Border!
[Sir Walter Scott]
Lock the door, Larriston, lion of Liddesdale,
Lock the door, Larriston, Lowther comes on,
The Armstrongs are flying
Their widows are crying,
The Castletown 's burning, and Oliver's gone
 [James Hogg}

Other ballads I will feature further along this A-Z journey, so look out for:
  • The Dowie Dens of Yarrow
  • The Douglas Tragedy
  • Muckle Mou'ed Meg

This word originated in the Scottish Borders. meaning "black rent" that is an illegal payment  whereby ordinary men made  a payment (in cash or kind)  to a powerful Reiver in return for being left alone - in other words protection money.

More fascinating facts on the Scottish Borders:
  • The Border town of BERWICK -UPON-TWEED  is in England, but in the Anglo-Scottish Wars, it changed hands 14 times before Scotland relinquished the fight in 1482.    As a quirk, though,  its football team play in the Scottish League. 
  • Writer JOHN BUCHAN (1875-1940) grew up in Broughton, Peeblesshire where his father was the local minister.  He wrote over 60 books, the best known being "Thirty Nine Steps".  He was also a  noted lawyer, soldier, historian, politician and diplomant, becoming Governor General of Canada, assuming the title of Lord Tweedsmuir in 1935. 
  • ISOBEL BAILLIE (1895-1983) was born in Hawick, Roxburghshire and became an internationally renowned soprano, best known for her interpretation of oratorio, especially Handel's "Messiah".  In 1933 she became the first British artist to perform  at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
  • THOMAS BRISBANE, although born on the west coast,  had many Borders connections, through his wife Anna Maria Macdougall of Maktersoun, near Kelso.  He was a founder member of the Tweedside Physical and Antiquarian Society and built an observatory in the ground of Makerstoun House.  A monument to him in the local churchyard is in the shape of a sundial.  He became Governor of New South Wales 1821-25, reforming the penal code ad establishing a constitution for the Australian colony.  The Brisbane River and the city built on its banks was named after him.  
  • PLACE NAMES THAT APPEAL -  I love names that conjure up an image or that roll off the tongue.    In  my own area of Roxburghshire in the Scottish Borders   there is Bloodhopehead (the mind boggles at what might have happened there!);  Brockhoperig - the ridge by the valley with the badgers,   and Blackcleuch  - with "cleuch" meaning  ravine, gorge, cliff, crag. "Ch" is pronounced as the "ch"  in loch.

    On the other hand would I really want to live in a place called Boghall, Bogfoot  or Bogside?  
Follow the next stage of this A-Z Journey 
through the Scottish Borders

C is for
Common Ridings and Carter Bar 

The Scottish Borders 
The old counties of Berwickshire, Peeblesshire, Roxburghshire & Selkirkshire
Scottish Borders in Scotland.svg

Do take a look at earlier posts in his year's challenge on  on "My Scottish Borders":


  1. Hello, I'm visiting from A-Z [day 2]. I too have some Scottish in my boarders [grandmother]. It's a lovely heritage to be apart of. I look forward to see some more.

  2. I think I might like to live in Bogside instead of Bloodhopehead. The Boarder country reminds me more of the Appalchian mountains than the western USA. Now that I think of it, many of the early settlers came from Scotland!

  3. I also have history near the border of England and Scotland. :) Wonder if our families have crossed paths?! My maiden name is Claypool (Claypoole) and I can only find info to 1500 on that name. It was a Claypoole/Metcalf merger that brought a long line of royalty into my family. :) I <3 the stories I've read. I just wish I could learn more about my Hungarian and German ancestry.

    Jamie Dement (LadyJai)
    My A to Z
    Caring for My Veteran

  4. Fascinating blog. I have English and Scot ancestors. I have yet to study the history and their place in it. Thank you for this.
    Rita A to Z 1896

  5. Thank you all for your comments. Sorry, Jamie, I know no.thing on the Claypole family in the Borders, but you ahve done very well to research back to 1500..


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