THE REIVERS

Background

Three of our families have roots in the Border area of Scotland and England.  The Boultons, Dicksons and Armstrongs all migrated out of this area, the latter two in the 1700s.  Why? is an obvious question.  Perhaps there is an explanation, because a curious anomaly ended when James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I to the English throne.  Since the XIII century when Edward I and Robert the Bruce laid waste to the area from Berwick-on-Tweed to Carlisle in the West, people living there had led uncertain cruel lives.  Raids, thefts, killing and feuds were common there and neither government was able to impose either safety or peace.  Reiving culminated in the XVI century and died out when king James acceded to the English throne. He was determined to make one country, pacified the frontier with a heavy hand, and brought an end to lawlessness and reiving by 1612.  Many families were transported to Ireland, or left.

Family Careers

In 1596, Sir John Kerr of Spielaw rode to Nicholas Bolton's house in Mindrum, England and identified Bolton working in his fields.  ".Whereupon the poore man in good manner put of his hatt, told him his name was Boulton; presentlie Sir John verie valientlie drewe owt his sword and cutt him three blowes upon the head, and left the rest of his company to cutt him in all peces..".[1]  Sir John was a reiver, or as Fraser notes ".a reaver - robber, raider, marauder, plunderer. The term is obsolete, but lingers on in words like bereave".  Sir John evidently had some score to settle with Bolton and that was how reivers settled things.  The Armstrongs were major exponents of reiving and such men travelled in twos or threes at night, and also in several thousands for days at a time. The local coinage was cattle and horses, and the raiders were expert guerrillas who would scout a target across the border, knew the terrain and would strike quickly and violently.  They had to, to gain time to herd up to several thousand cattle back home through miles of enemy territory.  This was not war, but professional thievery, including arson, extortion, and fighting encounters amongst fully armed, mounted men - or 'lances'.

The Armstrongs lived in south-eastern Scotland, just inland from the top of Solway Firth, the Dicksons emigrated from Dumfries a further thirty miles west on the northern Firth-side.  The Boultons, after whom an English city is named, were an extended family mainly settled in the English Midlands.  Our Boulton family link is near the city of Lincoln, but evidently some Boultons lived in the border area.  This area was divided into three 'Marches' on each side of the border, each in the charge of a 'Warden' - the king's man.  The Wardens tried to keep the peace and King James IV led a force to Dumfries in 1504, where he hanged 'thevis': later 36 Armstrongs were hanged - although drowning and beheading were also popular methods of punishment.  In January 1596, Lord Eure, Warden of the English Middle March, recorded that nearly 200 people had been murdered there (presumably in 1595).[2]

ENDNOTES

1              George MacDonald Fraser, The Steel Bonnets, p. 122.

2             Ibid, p. 125.

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