Border Reiver 1513-1603
Written by Keith Durham
Illustrated by G & S Embleton
This book is number 154 in Osprey’s ‘Warrior’ series.
This book of 64 pages is a colorful portrayal of the “wild men” of the Border region between the English and Scottish Marches that extended from the North Sea to the Solway Firth. This region had been the battleground for over 300 years, encouraged by both monarchs. The author provides all the information necessary to imagine what it would’ve been like to have lived and fought in a late-medieval war zone.
The Contents are: Introduction, Chronology, Crime and Retribution, Appearance and Equipment, On Campaign, Belief and Belonging, Experience of Battle, After the Battle, The Legacy of the Border Reiver, Further Reading and the Index.
In the “Introduction” the author uses excerpts from William Gray’s 1649 “Chorographia’ to give a concise and accurate history of the English Border Marches. He goes on to briefly explain the Anglo-Scottish Borderland from the late 13th century through to the 16th century. Next is the “Chronology” beginning with 1509 through to 1603. The next section is “Life on the Border Marches”; here the author describes the culture of criminality and how if effects not only its inhabitants but also the agriculture.
“Crime and Retribution”, the longest section, follows with two subsections:
- ‘The Great Theeves’
- ‘Men of Esteem’ The March Wardens
Some of The Great Theeves discussed are: the notorious Johnnie Armstrong, a Scottish freebooter known for blackmail; the devious Richie Graham, counterfeiter and great extortionist; the formidable William Armstrong; and the common thug, Geordie Burn.
Through the descriptions of these men you get a real sense of the criminal activity that occurred on a regular basis. ‘Men of Esteem’ – The March Wardens this subsection discusses in detail the need and the role or the Wardens in this land of lawbreakers.
Another section is “Appearance and Equipment”, here the author very briefly discusses the beggarly English ?gear? and the Scottish horseman’s ‘furniture’ in some detail. Included are illustrations of their ‘protective’ gear and weapons.
“On Campaign” is the next longest section describing in colorful detail raids and skirmishes that took place during this time and how the Wardens tried to handle the various situations. This is interestingly accomplished through the additional use of writings of chroniclers, letters and memoirs.
“Belief and Belonging”, this section discusses Borderer’s personal wealth as reflected in their clothing, dwelling and livelihood. It gives a sense of what ‘normal’ living was like for respectable Borderers.
“Experience of Battle”, this section really gives you insight as to how barbaric and savage the Borderers were on the field of battle. The governments acknowledged them as fine light horsemen and very impressive guerrilla soldiers. The next section, “After the Battle” is a brief look at what happened to the Borderers when their violent and unstable lifestyle came to an end when James VI of Scotland took the English throne in 1603. The author briefly discusses how they were integrated into ‘normal’ society.
The last section is “The Legacy of the Border Reiver”. This brief section is surprisingly informative, it gives the identity of some of the descendants of the reiving families (e.g., T.S. Eliot, Alexander Graham Bell, and Neil Armstrong to name a few); there are numerous tourist centers in the region, museums and historic sties; and there is a re-enactment group so visitors can learn more about the life and times of the Border Reiver.
Border Reiver is a fast read and continues to add interesting facts to a fascinating subject. Photographs and illustrations are included throughout the book.