FRASER, GEORGE MACDONALD – THE STEEL BONNETS – THE STORY OF THE ANGLO-SCOTTISH BORDER REVIERS. 1971 Harper-Collins.
One of he most neglected and blood-soaked periods in British history is that in which the Border Reivers (cattle rustlers and thieves) raided one another’s property, lands and estates around the Scottish-English Borders in a feud that was to last for four hundred years up to the close of the Elizabethan period of English Rule. G M Frazer, best known for the Flashman novels provides an extremely in depth history of the conflict. It was not easy to research as many people involved shared the same names, or were known only by nicknames. The raids could be low key pillaging raids conducted by a few men moving quietly to take a handful of sheep or cos. Others could be armed battles involving hundreds of men. The English were as bad as the Scots, and the raids could go deep into either nation. Raids on England got as far as Preston. Homes and farms would often be burnt. Summary execution was the lot of any Reiver caught, and many reprisal raids were started just because of such actions. It became customary to fill castles and keeps with peat to prevent the enemy gaining easy entry, though this in itself was risky as peat could then be used to burn the castles down. The problem became so out of control at its 16th century peak that special governing police bodies were set up to patrol each side of the Borders. Any Reiver caught risked execution or banishment. The police were often known as trotters for their pursuit of people across peat bogs and sloughs. Unfortunately, many of the governors were corrupt and eager to benefit from the reviving themselves. Eventually, as the Stuart monarchy and the Elizabethan one merged, the attacks on the Reivers became more systematic and the raids became a thing of the past at the start of the 17th century. Fraser’s study is a breathtaking work of amateur history that many more academic researchers have praised quite rightly as one of the best of its kind.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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