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Border Reivers
Kindly contributed by Linda Bruce Caron

The size of the raid determined how many men would ride. Some of the raids would consist of a large group of men and could last for days. Smaller raids might be a quick moonlight ride, a quick plunder and disappear back to their homes. The larger raids were called 'outragious forradging.' Whether the raid was a full scale invasion for political reasons or a raid against a single farmhouse the principle was the same. A raider plotted his time, route and objective and was ready to fight or trick his way out. It is noted that the Scots were particularly good at talking their way out of danger when outnumbered. The Reiver conducted drills to be prepared for any circumstances. The Reiver’s objective was always to plunder, with destruction if necessary, and to get home with his loot intact and his skin too.

Walter Scott of Buccleuch was a Scottish laird who was especially ruthless in his raids. He was a titled landowner, brave but arrogant, treacherous and a murderer without conscience. He is immortalized as the Bold Buccleuch in border ballads and rescued Kinmont Willie Armstrong from Carlisle Castle. He was raised on the Border so had grown up with the way of life of a Borderer. An example of one of his raids shows that he had 120 horsemen with him when he raided the home of Wille Rowtledge. He took 40 kye (cow) and oxen, 20 horse and mares and also laid an ambush to slay the soldiers and any others who might follow him. They were pursued and cruelly slew a Mr. Rowden, several others, including soldiers, and maimed many others. They drove off 12 more horses and mares. This incident was perfectly executed and combined all the elements which were essential to a successful raid; a carefully chosen target; trusted companions who were well armed and in sufficient numbers, surprise and the sense to anticipate pursuit and a plan to deal with it. He was eventually killed by the Kerrs in the Kerr-Scott feud. His contribution to posterity was Sir Walter Scott, the writer.

Constant incidents kept the border up in arms. In 1508 the "Warden of the Middle Marches, Sir Robert Kerr, was investigating grievances under the terms of the truce between England and Scotland when he was murdered by three Englishmen. These men were Heron, Lilburn and Starhead. Heron came from one of the most turbulent border families. Lilburn was caught, but the others escaped. In 1513 the Warden of the Marches, Hume, raided Northumberland with a force of 6,000 men. On the way home with their plunder, they were confronted by English forces and the ensuing battle did not prove well for the Scots. This was called the Ill Raid and it prompted James IV to step up his strategy to teach the English a lesson. This Ill Raid led to Flodden where James himself was killed.

Although a way of life, reiving was a risky business. There were many obstacles to be surmounted. The towns were secure and well defended, local watches were formed, and the cattle and livestock was brought in at night.

Roads and passes which were known to be escape routes for the reivers were patrolled by wardens' troopers. The native countrymen were actually better at handling spears on horseback than the paid militia and were better prikers (scouts) in a chase because they knew where the mosses and bogs were and how to get around in the countryside. Sometimes the troopers would chain bridges against the Reivers who would then be forced to ford rivers which were also guarded day and night.

Both sides of the border had a network of beacons which gave warning of approaching raiders. Beacons were situated on towers and hillsides. Warnings were given by fire on the tops of castle towers. One beacon signaled raiders approaching, two warned they were approaching fast and four that they rode in great strength.

The Reivers were the most vulnerable when returning home from a foray. They were laden with booty and driving large numbers of cattle and sheep. This seriously slowed them down. They were reluctant to return the way they had come and although there were over 40 passes into the English Middle March, they chose to go 'over the top.'


Hot Trod was the hot pursuit of Reivers and was allowed under the Border laws. It allowed for the ones who had been 'spoyled' to mount a pursuit within six days of the raid and to cross the border, if necessary, to follow the raiders with hound and horn for the recovery of their goods. It was the duty of all neighbors between the ages of 16 and 60 to join the Trod. A piece of burning turf was held aloft on a spear point to let others know what was happening. The posse in pursuit had the right to recruit help from the first town it came to and the first person encountered was to bear witness that a lawful hot trod was being carried out. When told to join the hot trod, if a person refused, he would be considered to be a traitor and to be in cahoots with the enemy. That person who refused would also be forced to become a fugitive. The Hot Trod puts one in mind of the posses of the old American west. Even if a trod was successful, the pursuers could not relax. They knew that there would be reprisals and then reprisals upon reprisals.

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