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History of Scotland – Border Reivers – Sir Walter Scott of Branxholme and Buccleuch

Article by Tom Moss

16th Century Scottish Knight Masterminded Rescue of Scottish Reiver.Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch attacked English castle and rescued notorious Scottish Reiver, Kinmont Willie Armstrong, when peace existed between England and Scotland.

Walter Scott was born in 1565 to Sir Walter Scott of Branxholme and Buccleuch and Lady Margaret, daughter of David Douglas, seventh earl of Angus. He was nine when his father died and he became leader of one of the most powerful Scottish Border clans under the tutelage of yet another Walter Scott – Scott of Goldielands.

In 1590 he was knighted by James Vl of Scotland and appointed Keeper of Liddesdale. He was honoured yet again in 1606 after the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland. In that year he was made the first Lord Buccleuch.

Buccleuch’s Early Years.

In 1577 Scott’s mother re-married to the infamous Francis Stewart, 5th Earl of Bothwell. Bothwell harboured a great hatred of James Vl even though they were related. His escapades in many an endeavour to capture the Scottish king would have a profound influence on the young Laird of Buccleuch and eventually lead to his being stripped of the Keepership of Liddesdale and exiled to France for three years.

Pardon for Buccleuch.

Scott of Buccleuch was granted a pardon by James Vl under the Great Seal, re-instated as Keeper of Liddesdale in 1594 and granted a substantial portion of his step-father’s lands including the Lordship of Liddesdale and the castle of Hermitage. His step-father, Bothwell, following his irrational and reckless attempts to bring down the Scottish king had been exiled and had fled to England.

The Capture of Kinmont Willie Armstrong.

In March 1596, William Armstrong of Kinmont had been captured by the English following a Day of Truce. This was the day, by custom to be held once a month between the Scottish and English Wardens when justice would be meted out to those Border Reivers who had transgressed the Border Law. Everyone who attended the Truce to witness that the trials were fair and that the punishment was just was guaranteed safe conduct until the sunrise following completion of the trials. This was deemed necessary because many who were in attendance, both English and Scottish, were at feud with each other.

As Kinmont Willie was captured before the time of safe conduct had expired, before sunset on the same day as the Truce, his capture was seen as illegal by the Scots who were up in arms over the affair.

The Rescue of Kinmont Willie.

Walter Scott of Buccleuch was both incensed and infuriated by the capture of Kinmont and, after all attempts at diplomacy to free the great Scottish reiver had failed, he resolved to rescue him. Kinmont was held in England, in Carlisle castle, at a time when the two countries of England and Scotland were at peace. Thus it was a dangerous enterprise where success or failure would mean but little difference to the English queen, Elizabeth l. Whatever the outcome, she would not take kindly to the Scots invading one of her prominent English Border fortresses when attempts to foster a stronger bond between the two nations was being nurtured.

With a small raiding party, mainly Armstrongs, and inside help within Carlisle castle from two of the premier English surnames (families) whose relationships with the English West March Warden Thomas Lord Scrope had foundered, Walter Scott succeeded in his endeavour and Kinmont Willie was soon on Scottish soil once more. The English surnames involved were the Grahams, without any doubt the premier English family of Border Reivers in the English West and the Carletons. The Grahams resented Scrope’s efforts to curtail their disreputable activities; one of the Carletons had been Constable of the castle until summarily dismissed by Scrope.

The Aftermath of Buccleuch’s Audacity.

It was soon known that Buccleuch had led the Border Reivers of the Scottish Border Valleys into England to rescue Kinmont and when Elizabeth 1 of England became aware she was furious. She demanded that Buccleuch should be handed over to the English awaiting her decision on his punishment. He had, after all, attacked one of her great Border fortresses at a time when relative peace existed between the nations of England and Scotland.

A short time after the rescue of Kinmont Willie, Thomas Lord Scrope raided the Scottish Border. He led two thousand men into Liddesdale and burned twenty-four houses, stole their farming gear and rounded up the men whom he bound together in twos and led them like dogs back to Carlisle and imprisonment. The women and children were stripped and left exposed to the weather. It is said ten infants perished as a result.

To avenge this atrocity, Sir Walter Scott and Sir Robert Kerr of Cessford, raided the English Border and spoiled the country with fire, took thirty-six prisoners, who Buccleuch afterwards put to death.

Buccleuch was subsequently damned by the English. His hostility against the English Border incited a hatred that threatened to consume any good that might still exist between England and Scotland.

He denied the charges, saying that those put to the sword had been taken ‘red-handed’ or in ‘the deede doinge’ – pursued into England and dealt with after stealing in Scottish ground. Thus his actions were in accordance with the Law of the Border.

Sixty Englishmen had raided Liddesdale, driven off cattle and killed two men, he explained. He, with others, had pursued the thieves. They soon realised that the product of the theft had been shared out, and some of the beasts were held by a party who refused to give them up. In the melee which followed some of the thieves were slain. Other stolen cattle were spread over Tynedale, and yet again the people were not for returning them. Buccleuch promised that no action would be taken against them should they give up the beasts but his words and promise were met with aggressive refusal. He then resorted to force and fired the doors of the houses and cattle sheds.

Buccleuch’s never-ending raids into the English Border only served to increase Elizabeth’s wrath and she even considered a plan to assassinate the great Border chieftain. She insisted that Buccleuch should be delivered into her hands and threatened to stop the annuity which James V1 of Scotland received in respect of lands belonging to him in England. James was essentially a poor king and the loss of his English revenue would have been devastating to his monarchy. ‘The majority of his counsellors were of the opinion that it would be less dishonour to the king and his kingdom were he to be driven from his throne, than to be thus forced to disgrace himself for money. He could not deliver up Buccleuch, since it would be reported that he had done so by force and for gain’. ( Scotts of Buccleuch, vol.1 p.195). The position was very embarrassing to James. He was between the rock and the hard place. He was reluctant to give up Buccleuch who had done nothing unbecoming a loyal Scotsman but he needed Elizabeth’s patronage which came with a veiled promise that he would succeed her on the English throne on her death. He wavered and it seemed the dispute must end in war.

Buccleuch was eventually given over to the English and housed in Berwick but not before the relationship between the monarchs of England and Scotland had been severely tested. Buccleuch was eventually freed.

Buccleuch Meets Elizabeth.

Walter Scott of Buccleuch was to meet Elizabeth some years later when he was on his way to the Low Countries. She asked him how he dared to attack the castle of Carlisle in time of peace between the two countries.

His response was typical of the great warlord that he was:-‘What, Madam, is there that a brave man may not dare?’Elizabeth is reputed to have turned to her courtiers and said:-‘Give our cousin of Scotland (James V1) ten thousand such men and he will shake any throne in Europe’

Walter Scott of Branxholme and Buccleuch, knight, lord and Border Reiver, was without doubt the most charismatic figure to emerge in the 16th century Scottish English Border lands.

He died in 1611 and was buried in the family aisle in St. Mary’s church in Hawick, a lovely Scottish Border town.

Hello to everyone, I’m Tom Moss, a technologist by profession, but a lover of English Scottish Border history.The history is rich and compelling; join me in my pursuit to understand the lives and times of the Border Reivers.

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