[MR] Kinamont Willie Armstrong, Walter Scott and the Great Carlisle Raid
Garth Groff and Sally Sanford
mallardlodge1000 at gmail.com
Wed Sep 12 02:52:06 PDT 2018
Noble Friends, Especially Fellow Scots,
Today is the anniversary of nothing in particular in History, so I will wax
poetic a bit and tell you the story of the Great Carlisle Raid, one of the
most daring and scandalous events of the Scottish-English border region.
To begin, the border region had long been in turmoil even before the 1500s.
It was a land where life was difficult and cheap, poverty was endemic, and
invading armies passed through with alarming regularity. During the 16th
century "reiving" years, families on both sides of the border organized
themselves into mounted medieval mafiosi. In their dozens, hundreds, and
occasionally thousands, at night they would mount their ponies and ride
across the border like locusts to steal anything they could get their paws
on. Cattle were their main objective, but if they could break a house they
would take valuables (rare along the border), weapons (plentiful, and the
reivers had a professional interest in them), food stuffs, household goods,
and sometimes captives to ransom. These were not "Robin Hoods" as the
Scottish ballads claim, but ruthless thieves.
One of the worst during the later reiving years was William "Kinamont
Willie" Armstrong (likely 1530-1608). Willie had led raids deep into
England, once at the head of 1,000 men. He was a murder, rapist, and master
thief, and one of the most wanted reivers by the English.
On 17 March 1596, Willie had attended a truce day held at Kershopfoot on
the Scottish side of the border. Truce days were a safety valve between the
Scots and the English. Endictments were exchanged, trials were held, fines
levied when witnesses were bold (or stupid) enough to come forward, and
everybody went home to plan their next raid. Participants on both sides
enjoyed a safe conduct for the day. Willie had finished his business and
was heading home on the Scottish side of the border, believing himself
safe. Thomas Salkeld, Assistant Warden of the English West March (roughly a
deputy sheriff), was out with his men along the English side of the border.
He spotted Willie and rode pell-mell across the Liddle stream into Scotland
to arrest the criminal. This was a clear violation of Border Law, but once
the English had Willie they weren't going to give him up. Willie was turned
over to the West March Warden Sir Thomas Scrope, and the prisoner was
jugged in Carlisle Castle to await hanging.
Enter Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch (pronounced *boo-clue*), Keeper of
Liddesdale and Warden of the Scottish West March (Scrope's counterpart).
Scott was also leader of the powerful Scott family, one of the most
powerful and dangerous reiving clans. As warden, Scott was supposed to put
a stop to this sort of crime, but like many of the Scottish wardens, he
used his powers to protect his own family and their allies, while profiting
mightily by the thefts. Scott and Scrope exchanged a blizzard of letters
over Willie's arrest, but Scrope refused to budge. He was already crowing
to Queen Elizabeth about his triumph.
On the night of 13 April 1596, Scott led a raiding party over the border to
Carlisle in a carefully planned and brilliantly executed commando raid.
Scott had sent spies into Carlisle, learning exactly where Willie was
lodged in the castle outbuildings. Possibly bribes were paid in advance.
Leaving most of his force of Armstrongs, Grahams and Johnstones in reserve,
Scott and a smaller party of his own hand-picked men snuck into Carlisle.
Forcing postern gate at the castle, or perhaps having arranged it to be
unlocked by a substantial bribe, Scott's men removed Willie safely and made
their way back to Scotland unhindered. Some sources say there were no
fatalities on either side, while others say two guards (who probably had
not been "squared") were murdered.
The Carlisle raid nearly caused another war between Scotland and England.
Eventually Scott surrendered himself to the English at Berwick was taken to
London. Surprisingly, he was brought before Queen Elizabeth who demanded
how he had dared to make the raid. Scott's bluff answer was, "What is there
that a man will not dare?" Impressed as she so often was by bold rogues,
the Queen is said to turned to her courtiers and said, "With 10,000 such
men, King James could shake the firmest thrones of Europe."
Scott was released by the English and was elevated by King James to 1st
Lord Scott of Buccleuch. He is immortalized as "The Bold Buccleuch". Scott
died peacefully in 1611. Although the male line was broken several times,
the Scotts of Buccleuch went on to great wealth, and today are among the
largest landholders in Scotland. Sir Walter Scott, the famous author, was a
direct descendant through a cadet line.
Kinamont Willie Armstrong also died of old age, probably in 1608.
When King James VI also became King James I of England, he was finally in a
position to put an end to the reiving. He sent troops into the border
marshes. Many of the worst malefactors where summarily hanged, and some of
families were forced to move to Ulster to settle lands taken from the Irish.
For more about the Border Reivers, may I suggest THE STEEL BONNETS by
George Macdonald Fraser (author of the Flashman novels). It is a great
read, and AFAIK, still available in paperback.
Mungo Napier, Laird of Mallard Lodge 🦆
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