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The Border Wars and the Debatable Lands. Anglo Scottish Wars and Reiving on the Cumbrian Borders.The Border Wars and the Debatable Lands. Anglo Scottish Wars and Reiving on the Cumbrian Borders.The Border Wars and the Debatable Lands. Anglo Scottish Wars and Reiving on the Cumbrian Borders.The Border Wars and the Debatable Lands. Anglo Scottish Wars and Reiving on the Cumbrian Borders.


Border Wars on the Anglo-Scottish border.

Carlisle Castle.

Welcome to the EDGE Guide to the Border Wars. Strife between England and Scotland, whether the official wars of the kings or the brigandage of private individuals and families, was for 700 years and more the chief influence on the history of Cumbria.

This guide describes that strife so as to put into context the references to 'Scots raiders', 'Jacobite Rebellion' and other such terms used elsewhere on this guide.

The Border between England and Scotland was drawn up in the middle of the 1200's, about two-thirds of the way through a century of unusual peace between the two kingdoms. When that peace ended in the 1290's there would not be another such period until the late 1700's, 500 years later.

The 'official' wars between England and Scotland (described in the history of Carlisle), began in the 1000's with the defeat of the Norse King Dunmail in 945 by the Saxon King Edmund.

From 945 until 1070 Cumbria was ruled by the Kings of Scotland.

Cumbria was recaptured by Gospatric, an Anglo Saxon Earl of Northumberland (the neighbouring county) in that year. In 1072 Cumbria passed to his son Dolfin, who was then driven out of the county in 1092 by William II of England.

William II (known as Rufus, was the second son of William the Conqueror) is responsible for Carlisle Castle. Later his brother, Henry I built a priory where Carlisle Cathedral now stands.

By 1135 England had lapsed into civil war and the Scots marched into Carlisle reoccupying the Castle.

The Scots remained in control of the county until 1157 when Henry II of England restored it once more to English control.

The Scots Kings unsuccessfully pressed their claims on Cumbria until the English King John (1199 on) became so unpopular with the citizens of the county through heavy taxation that King Alexander II of Scotland met with no resistance when he invaded in 1216.

Allexander was eventually paid to quit by Henry III.

Henry III was succeeded by Edward I who began to develop Carlisle as a military stronghold from which to launch attacks on the Scots.

There followed 100 years of intermittant warfare between the two countries, during which time Carlisle in particular suffered terribly.

No settlement in the Borders was safe from attack.

The Border Wars between Scotland and England.
Holme Cultram Abbey, Abbeytown.

Holme Cultram, a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1150 is now a shadow of its former self. The Abbey was sacked by Robert Bruce in 1322.

The county saw no sustained period of peace between 945 and 1560.

By the time Henry VIll died in 1547 the absurdity of wars at national level was becoming so obvious that the rulers on each side set out to clear away the obstacles to a continuing peace.

The Treaty of Edinburgh in 1560 resulted in the withdrawal of all English troops from Scotland, and the return to France of the French troops who had fought on Scotland's side.

These wars had brought 500 years of devastation and destruction along the Border to monasteries, towns, castles, churches and settlements. Both sides were merciless in their treatment of the populations they assailed.

The unreasoning savagery of Wallace and Bruce in northern England was matched in brutality only by the expeditions of the Kings Edward I and Ill, and later the Earl of Surrey and others on behalf of Henry VIII.

"Put all to fyre and sworde," said the Privy Council Order to Henry's army in 1544, "burne Edinborough towne, so rased and defaced when you have sacked and gotten what ye can of it, as there may remayne forever a perpetual memory of the vengeunce of God."

Thus are mythologies born, to be exploited centuries later by the latter-day successors to the kings and politicians and clerics whose religious and dynastic disputations gave them their sordid birth.

However, the private cross-border raiding which had been a feature (and often the cause) of past official wars continued without pause.

The so-called Border Reivers (or Riding Clans or Surnames), alliances of families on either side and sometimes both sides of the Border plundered each other in circumstances of indescribable violence and brutality.

The history of the Border Wars between England and Scotland. Cumbria and the Lake District.
Defensible church at Newton Arlosh.

Words such as 'blackmail' and 'rustling' which have since become common in English usage entered the language for the first time in the Border of the 1500's. Deadly feuds between families persisted in unabated savagery for decades.

This criminality was often condoned by the authorities on either side of the Border.

It was at its height throughout the 1500s until it gradually slackened after the Union of the Crowns in 1603. It spawned the mawkish romanticism of some of the Border Ballads and some of the novels and poems of Sir Waiter Scott.

Murderous deeds became national myths, so obscuring the abysmal misery in which the common people on both sides of the Border lived out their lives under the daily threat of robbery, fire and death.

Even after the Union of the Crowns this banditry declined only slowly. James I of England and VI of Scotland pursued some of the worst of the offending families, such as the Grahams and Armstrongs who were then and still are the principal families straddling the Border line in Cumbria. But to little immediate avail.

The romanticised 'Moss Troopers' who infested the Borders continued their rapacity well into the seventeenth century and beyond.

1597 saw the Treaty of Carlisle between England and Scotland, designed to put an end to Border squabbles, in which it was only partially effective. But it also addressed the poverty of the citizens who had suffered so much from the ravages of the raiders and from centuries of warfare and destruction.

Elizabeth died in 1603 and was succeeded by James VI of Scotland (and I of England) the son of Mary Queen of Scots. James had long been familiar with the Border troubles, but as King of Scotland had been as ineffective, though possibly more conscientious than, his cousin Elizabeth in attempting to impose order on the Riding names.

He put the Border under the supervision of a Royal Commission which not surprisingly reported that if it were not for the activities of a relatively few families Carlisle and the lands around it would be more peaceful.

As a result James ordered the exile of a number of Border clans to Ireland and elsewhere. From this time stems the propagation of some of the most typical Border surnames to countries all over the English-speaking world.

The Border Wars bet ween England and Scotland. Bewcastle.
The ruins of Bewcastle.

It was not until the middle of the 1600's that prosperous Cumbrians converted their 'bastle houses' - thick walled and stone roofed homes for both men and beasts defensible against the raiders - into comfortable mansions: and even the common people began in the late 1600s to build cottages of stone instead of wood and heather thatch (easily rebuilt after burning).

The most easily read and useful book on the period is the 'The Steel Bonnets' by George Macdonald Fraser. He has also graphically drawn the then living conditions of the peoples of the Cumbrian Border lands in his short novel 'The Candelmass Road', which describes a vengeful Reiver raid in all its piteous brutality.

Both books are available in many Cumbrian bookshops.

From both sources (books and Tullie House Museum) you will be introduced to the world of Border Surnames.

If your surname is among the following your ancestors were almost certainly nefarious Border raiders:

Armstrong, Nixon, Elliot, Scott, Johnston, Maxwell, Bell, Hall, Charlton, Milburn, Dodd, Robson, Graham, Noble, Irving, Irvine, Routledge, Forster, Rutherford, Croser, Musgrave, Dacre, Carleton, Ridley, Salkeld, Clifford, Kerr, Turnbull.

If your surname is among the following your ancestors were among the victims or followers of the bandits:

Little, Tweddle, Tailor, Taylor, Hetherington, Barnfather, Skelton, Tordiff, Tremble, Hodgson, Henderson, Story, Davison.

In 1642 the English Civil War broke out and Carlisle declared its loyalty to the Crown. Retribution followed.

In 1644, General Lesley with a Scots army siding with the Parliamentarians laid siege to the city. Carlisle held out for eight months against Lesley before surrendering.

Though retaken by the Royalists in 1648, the city was recaptured by Parliament later the same year. By this time Carlisle was devastated, its cathedral, walls and houses in ruins, and the end of the war in 1648 brought a merciful few years for recovery.

In 1707 the Act of Union united England and Scotland as Great Britain, with a common Parliament as well as a common Crown, though their respective systems of law and justice were preserved. The Act was never popular with the majority of Scots.

Eventually this discontent was reflected in Scottish support in 1715 for the Jacobite Rebellion. The object of which was to restore the Scottish dynasty of the Stewarts to the joint throne from which it had been deposed in the person of King James II of England and VII of Scotland during the English 'Glorious Revolution' in 1688.

The leader of the Rebellion was James, known as 'The Old Pretender', son of James II and VII and referred to as James III. The Rebellion faded for lack of support south of the Border.

The citizens of Carlisle for once chose the winning side by imprisoning all of their number suspected of having Jacobite sympathies.

For the history of the Borders and the Border Reivers after the end of the 'official' wars a visit to Tullie House Museum in Carlisle is well worth while.

For more on this subject go to the history of Calisle.