The Armstrongs and the Border, 1585-1603

J.J. Bell describes a powerful force of raiders on the early modern Scottish Borders.

In the sixteenth century, of all the Scottish clans in the Dumfriesshire dales of Liddel, Esk, Ewes, Wauchope and Tarras the most numerous and celebrated were the Armstrongs. Since they lived very largely at the expense of their English neighbours whom they plundered and intimidated, from 1585 onwards they were naturally opposed both to peace with England and to the impending union of the English and Scottish crowns; for peace and a strong government would threaten their chief means of livelihood, and, were such a union of the crowns to take place, the two realms would combine against the Border raiders. Therefore, during the last fifteen years of the century, the Armstrongs’ constant policy was to “shake loose the Border,” that they might continue to exist by despoiling a separate English kingdom. But, notwithstanding their hatred of England, they cannot be regarded as early Scottish nationalists. It was to themselves alone that they owed allegiance; and they openly declared that they had no intention of obeying the commands of the Stuart monarchs, but meant to remain independent of any form of royal authority. Moreover, they plundered their countrymen too, riding with “loose reins” in Ettriek Forest, Tweeddale and Lauderdale and in the King’s park of Stirling, or terrorizing the Edinburgh shopkeepers, and were as eager to steal King James’s horses about Falkland Palace as they were to drive off the Bishop of Carlisle’s cattle during the hours of Divine Service. The disorder that prevailed in the Highlands was tranquillity compared to the Armstrongs’ Lowland licence.

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