Reivers - Clans of the English Scottish Border

Reivers – Clans of the English Scottish Border

When Margaret, the Maid of Norway and grand-daughter of Alexander III died in 1291, Scotland was left without a direct heir to its throne. There were many claimants, thirteen in fact, including the families of Bruce and Balliol. Edward I of England was invited by the Scots to preside over the deliberations of whom should be chosen to be the next king of Scotland. He rightly chose John Balliol but his choice came at a price. Edward maintained that, as king of England, he was rightful overlord of his northern neighbour. His stance would have an effect which would last for centuries.

Bannockburn and its Aftermath

England and Scotland were at war after 1296 when John Balliol was relieved of his kingship. The Scots would have notable victories at Stirling Bridge under the command of William Wallace and against Edward I’s successor at Bannockburn in 1314. The army of Edward II was completely routed and Scotland maintained its freedom. Bannockburn would leave the country of Northern England, south of the English\Scottish Borderline undefended for years. The Scots would take complete advantage of the absence of English resistance in their forays into Cumbria and Northumbria. The people there would become destitute.

The Border People Fight Back

Throughout the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries there were many occasions when both Scottish and English armies raided both north and south of the English\Scottish Borderline as both countries endeavoured to achieve the upperhand. At every incursion it was the Border people who suffered as crops and beasts were stolen to feed an army. Houses and farm steadings were burnt to the ground. The people were left with no means of livelihood. They were, however, not to be subdued. They embarked on a way of life which would test severely the relationships of the two countries of England and Scotland. They began to ‘reive’. To reive is to thieve. They became pastmasters at the raid and foray into the lands of the country opposite to steal cattle, sheep, anything which would not impede their rapid return to their own country.

Reiving Reaches its ZenithBy the sixteenth century Border Reiving had become such a way of life of the people who inhabited both sides of the English\Scottish Borderline that they saw no gain in returning to their former habits of husbandry of the land. They enjoyed the fruits of their raids into the opposite realm, even against neighbours on the same side of the Borderline. That their incursions had resulted in feud and blood-feud, blackmail, even death was of little concern. The governments of both countries had actively sponsered their nefarious activities when they saw fit. The reiving clans acted as a perfect buffer between two countries who were still at odds and often welcomed the trouble and confrontation among the Border clans which drew focus away from their inherent differences.

The End of the Border Reivers

In 1603 Elizabeth I of England died without an heir. She had been married to her country she said and had no wish to marry throughout her long reign. Her successor was James VI of Scotland, son of Mary, Queen of Scots who, in turn had the royal blood of Henry VII of England in her veins. James set out to pacify the Border Clans and succeeded following a policy of hunting out and hanging or drowning the leaders of the Reivers who had previously caused such havoc in the Border country. He even transported the Reivers to Ireland or sent them to do military service in the Low Countries. The Border counties ceased to exist within his reign. For the future they would be known as the Middle Shires of a newly created Great Britain, the coming together of England and Scotland with its neighbours Wales and Ireland.