Border Reiver, Clan Carruthers

CLAN CARRUTHERS: The Border Reiver Exhibition. Pt 2.

This is Part II, a continuation from part I previously published and the following information is taken, in part, from a visit to the exhibition at Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, which can be found at Castle Street, Carlisle CA3 8TP, and sits in front of Carlisle Castle from which the tunnel, with the cursing stone is situated.

The Cursing Stone

Copyright GC/CCSI 2022

The curse was first invoked by the Archbishop of Glasgow, Gavin Dunbar, in 1525 against cross border families, known as the “reivers”, who lived by stealing cattle, rape and pillage and is known as the ‘Monition of Cursing’.

Priests in all of the parishes of the border lands were required to read out the curse. Carruthers, along with the other Reiver families were included in his communication. Their names are engraved on the passageway on the underpass floor between Carlisle Castle and the Tullie Hose Museum, so that they may be trod upon for eternity.

As the curse was never lifted, the city council consulted local Christian groups, including the Bishop of Carlisle, who were in agreement with the “Cursing Stone” being placed there and a blessing was included within the artwork taken from The Bible, Philippians 4 Verse 6 (Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.)

It is also of interest that since its installation in 2001, many alleged unusual occurances have happened which have made some locals concerned.

These include, according to a BBC report: Livestock herds around the city on the border with Scotland were wiped out by foot-and-mouth disease, there has been a devastating flood, factories have closed, a boy was murdered in a local bakery and Carlisle United soccer team dropped a league. However, who is to say that these sad occurences would have happened with or without the stones construction.

1587 Act of Parliament and beyond

In 1587 an Act of Parliament was passed for the suppression of untruly clans. Of the 33 Highland and 17 Border clans listed, Carruthers were one of them. However this Act was more of a political warning to the heidmen and chiefs to bring their families into line, and an indication of the trauma to the borders that was to come.

In 1603 the Queen of England, Elizabeth I died, leaving a political void exacerbated by the lawlessness in the border region between the two countries. King James VI of Scotland became James I of England and as such wanted the border marches brought to heel and replaced with peaceful middle shires.

The touchpaper was lit however, when hearing of the death of Elizabeth a large pack of Reivers containing Armstrongs, Grahams, Elliots and a smattering of others, raided into England as far as Penrith stealing 4000 cattle.

It became clear that things had to change and from 1603 to 1610, the border reivers were hunted and executed or exiled from their lands. The Office of March Wardens on both sides of the border (Lord Warden of the Marches), which had been in existence since the 13th century to keep peace and was previously split into West, Middle and East, was finally abolished by James in 1603.

The March Wardens

The lawlessness of the borders forced the Scottish and English Crowns to agree a common system of law and order. This occurred in 1249 and those chosen had to be skilled in the art of soldiering, diplomacy, legal advice and also needed access to local intelligence. They were supported in their role by local lairds and various other subordinates such as Land and Water Serjeants who acted as the local bobbies, as well as clerks, watchers by the fords and an entourage or list of supporters he could call upon if he needed to initiate a Hot Trod.

Carruthers played their part, not only as Guardians of the old Kirk Ford at Hoddom and Foresters to Annandale but also, in 1429 Symon Carruthers is recorded as Commissioner of the West March. In 1472 another Simon Carruthers, second son of Archibald 7th of Mouswald was, according to the Records of the Carruthers Family recorded as Warden. Simon was killed at the battle of Kirtle (Battle of Lochmaben Fair) in 1484 and his younger brother George 6th of Holmains and 2nd Baron, became chief of Carruthers.

March Wardens who held the appointment in Scotland were usually from wealthy landowners ie in the East March the Humes, in the Middle March the Scotts and in our March in the West it was normally split between the Douglas family, the Maxwells and the Johnsons. It was the role of the latter two families as Warden which in part led to the great feud between both clans that lasted in excess of 100 years. However, saying this, as Reivers came from all classes and backgrounds these nobles were also Reivers in their own right, whose life was often dictated to by family politics, alliances and as alluded to previously, blood feuds. This was seen in the fact that Reivers, to include the Warden would one minute be on the wrong side of the law and on the other, riding in a Hot Trod after other Reivers.

Many of the Wardens in Scotland were local men, heidsmen and chiefs of various wealthy families in their area. This role simply made them more powerful and a nuisance to both Scottish and English Crowns. In England however, Wardens were not local men; the exception was the Northumbrian, John Foster whose connections and political alliances ran dark and deep, colouring his reputation as one who could not be trusted throughout his 30-year Wardenship

During times of peace the Wardens role included the recovery of stolen goods. These raids, recognised under the law, were known as the Hot Trod. They were announced and identified by the sound of a hunting horn and the symbol of a blazing turf. These raids against the Reivers were extremely dangerous for those on them and in fact it was during such a raid, riding with the Warden into the Debatable Lands, that in 1548, Sir Simon Carruthers 10th of Mouswald and 5th Baron, was killed in an ambush leading to the extinction of the Mouswald line and the House of Carruthers of Holmains taking over the chiefship of the Family. If the Hot Trod was unsuccessful, the landowners and tenant farmers could claim compensation from the Warden’s Clerk. However, any murdering reivers caught faced execution, and many did.

On a monthly basis a ‘Day of Truce’ was held between the English and Scottish Wardens, to discuss and try to resolve unsettled cases. In the case of the West March, this would be in such places as at the Lochmaben Stone, situated near the town of Gretna, in a field adjacent to the Solway Firth.

Interestingly, it was on Truce Day that the infamous Kinmount Willie (Armstrong) was arrested illegally in 1596 by the English and imprisoned in Carlisle Castle. The ensuing rescue from there by the then Scottish Warden of the West March, Walter Scott of Buccleuch, has become a thing of legend as has Kinmont Willie.

River Esk at Arthuret, near the location of the Battle of Solway Moss (Wikipedia)

Border horsemen, of which Holmains could raise in excess of 200 or so were required to have a good nag of middle stature, a steel cap, a jacket of leather, a bow and sheaf of arrows, a sword and dagger and a lang spear. Footmen needed a steel cap, a lance or pike, a sword and dagger and bow and arrows. Progressively with the introduction of pistols, muskets/arquebus and crossbows, some who could afford them carried them. NB no kilts or tartan were ever worn by Borderers.

As such, not only were the Wardens there to keep the peace, in times of war their duties changed to the protection of the March they controlled, which was not always a great success. An example of this being when the English Warden of the West March, Sir Thomas Wharton (1442-1549) ed his force of 3,000 prickers (light cavalry made up of English reivers) North. The Scottish West March Warden at the time. Robert, 5th Lord Maxwell raised an army of 15000-18000 men to meet the English Army at the Battle of Solway Moss. There was confusion on the Scottish side on who was in charge and ego and mixed messages ensued leading to a rout and disaster and victory for the smaller English force. It was during this battle that the eldest son and heir to Holmains, John Carruthers, son of John 5th of Holmains who was to become chief in 1548, was killed in 1542.

After the dissolution of the March Wardens in 1603

Changes occurred rapidly and the force of the crown was unleashed and troops were brought to bear in the border country. Many of the Pele towers, which were there for defence and housed many a reiver family, were destroyed and families moved on. But it wasn’t until 1606 that a special commission consisting of both Scottsh and English officials and given absolute power, was set up by the Crown. This led to the construction of new gaols being built in all the border burghs. But were they needed, as any reivers caught were executed first, then tried and was to become known as ‘Jeddart Justice’. This was taken from the name of the Border town of Jedburgh where this form of justice was carried out, but it spread and was utilised it seems, further afield in all three Scottish Marches.

To make things worse, reiver family lands were confiscated and given to those who were willing to help the commission. Interestingly this included former reivers and Wardens such as Walter Scott of Beccleuch (1565-1611), who received a commendation for his service on 1608.

It is fair to state at this time that our own chief, John Carruthers 7th of Holmains, along with many other border Lairds remained under detention. Our Chief was moved to St Andrews in Fife and ordered to remain detained their by George Earl of Dunbar to whom the charge of the borders was committed. It was not until 1608 that he was removed to Edinburgh along with Thomas Kirkpatrick, younger of Closeburn, where he stayed for the duration.

It seems that the perpetrators of the huge cattle rustling escapade of 1603, became some of the main targets. The Grahams, Armstrongs and Elliots were hunted down and executed or exiled to Ireland, but they were not alone, Other Reivers found themselves being forced to fight in military service in the then Low Countries, now Belgium and the Netherlands, some never to return having died in the field.

Today however, the Borders of Scotland, still remain full of reiver names such as Carruthers, Elliot, Scott, Little, Bell, Irving, Kirkpartick and Armstrong to name but a few, who all remain proud of their history and traditions of which they both celebrate and jealously guard.

Part III to follow.

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