The Armstrongs are perhaps the best known of the reiving names. They’re primarily associated with Liddesdale, ‘the bloodiest valley in Britain’; they also had towers at Langholm, Canonbie and in the ‘Debatable Lands’ round the Solway Firth. The most famous is probably Johnnie Armstrong who rode out in his finery to meet his king, 17 year old James V at Caerlanrig on the Teviot; but the king ordered that Johnnie and his men be strung up and hung on trees. A memorial stone is in the graveyard there. His tower was at Gilnockie which now houses the Clan Armstrong Centre. The heidsman’s tower was at Mangerton by Newcastleton but only low walls now survive. Across the valley is the Milnholm Cross (1320) which commemorates the murder of Alexander Armstrong at Hermitage Castle. Learn more about Johnnie, Gilnockie and the Milnholm Cross on our Hermitage Trail.
While Armstrongs controlled the lower part of Liddesdale, the Elliott heartlands were in upper Liddesdale and the Hermitage Water; the two names often combined for raids over the border into Tynedale. Elliotts also had Stobs Castle outside Hawick, later the stronghold of the heidsman, but a difficult spot during the intense feud between Scotts and Elliotts. The chief now lives at Redheugh, just north of Newcastleton. The best-known character is probably ‘Wee Jock Elliott of the Park’ who famously wounded the Earl of Bothwell, keeper of Hermitage Castle; a group of Elliotts then had to be removed from Hermitage before Mary Queen of Scots could visit the wounded earl. The Earl of Minto, locally known as ‘Gibbie Elliot’, was convener of Borders Regional Council in the 1990s.
The Homes (Lords Home from 1473 and Great Chamberlains of Scotland 1488 – 1516) were dominant in the eastern Borders. They were consistently Wardens of the East March and were often charged by the monarch to confront English raids up the east coast. They played a controversial role in the Battle of Flodden, however, as after a successful charge, and believing the battle won, they headed home with the booty. Their base in those days was Home castle near Greenlaw, in the midst of the fertile Berwickshire countryside, twice taken by the English in the 16th century. Now the Lords Home live at The Hirsel by Coldstream (gardens open to the public). George Home, 1st Earl of Dunbar, became James VI’s principal advisor in Scotland and has a wonderful monument in Dunbar Church.
The Kerr lands lie along the English border from Ferniehurst Castle by Jedburgh along to ruined Cessford Castle near Morebattle and beyond. The Kerrs bore the brunt of Henry VIII’s ‘rough wooing’ of the 1540s; small wonder they took to plunder. The heidsman of the Kerrs of Cessford was Warden of the Middle March for much of the 16th century - being the king’s local representative helped in these difficult times (Cessford Kerrs feuded not only with the Scotts but also with their cousins at Ferniehurst). Cessford was abandoned in 1607 and Cessford Kerrs are now Dukes of Roxburghe, living at magnificent Floors Castle. Ferniehurst is the home of the (Kerr) Marquess of Lothian. Mary Queen of Scots House in Jedburgh was originally a fortified house of the these Kerrs, complete with left-handed stair.
The Pringles were one of the smaller riding names. Their land was largely round Galashiels and, rather strangely, they had a long dispute with the distant Elliotts. Perhaps because they were further from the English border, many towers have survived - Smailholm , one of the best standing examples of a pele tower, also the sinister Buckholm Tower and ruined Greenknowe Tower. Just south of Greenknowe is the village of Stichill, with a burial enclosure for the Pringles of Stichill. Elizabeth (Hop)Pringle was prioress of the wealthy nunnery of Coldstream; nuns collected and buried the dead from the Flodden battlefield and gave sanctuary two years later to Margaret Tudor, widow of James IV, a generous gesture which repaid the kindness. Pringle is also of course a brand name for fine Border knitwear.
Say it softly, but the name is probably English, from the Anglo-Saxon word hryther ‘horned cattle’ and their river crossing became Ruther ford. Powerful Rutherfords owned land in Maxton in the 13th century and Sir Richard Rutherford was ambassador to England in 1398. Most prominent in the reiving times was Thomas, the ‘Black Laird of Edgerton’, who led the men of Jedburgh at the ‘Battle of the Red Swire’ when a ‘Truce Day’ on Carter Bar went badly wrong. Rutherfords also held Hunthill Castle near Jedburgh and Fairnilee Castle, near Galashiels where Alison Rutherford wrote ‘The Flowers of the Forest’. General Andrew Rutherford of Chatto and Hunthill was created Earl of Teviot and Lord Rutherford in 1661 and became Governor of Tangier, but the title has now died out.
The Scotts were one of the principal reiving names in the Borders; their territory was the Upper Teviot Valley, Ettrick and Borthwick Water. The best-known character is ‘The Bold Buccleuch’, 1st Lord Scott of Buccleuch and ‘Keeper of Liddesdale’, who led the raid to rescue ‘Kinmont Willie’ Armstrong from Carlisle Castle. Also ‘Wat of Harden’ an infamous freebooter who features in numerous Border ballads; he married Mary Scott, ‘The Flower of Yarrow’ of Dryhope Tower and is the ancestor of Sir Walter Scott of Abbotsford. The young Sir Walter spent many a summer with his grandparents at their house, Sandyknowe, just by Smailholm Tower – an excellent example of a border pele tower. The Scotts are now Dukes of Buccleuch and their house at Bowhill is open for a limited time each summer
The Turnbulls were said to be so unruly that James IV forced 200 of them to appear before him with halters round their necks – then hanged several. Certainly, they had been raiding into England ever since John ‘Out with the Sword’ Turnbull was caught reiving in Coquetdale in 1350. The Turnbull towers were largely on the Rule Water between Denholm and Bonchester Bridge. Most, however, are ruinous or have disappeared. The notable exception is the impressive Fatlips Tower, standing proud on Minto Crags. Bedrule Kirk is worth a visit: Turnbull heritage inside and the remains of Bedrule Castle outside. Down in Hawick, Turnbulls will enjoy the fine statue, outside the Heritage Hub, of John Rule who reportedly saved Robert the Bruce by turning an angry bull that was set to gore him.
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