From the mid-13thcentury to the uniting of the Crowns in 1603, The border territory of Scotland and England was a region of Clan feuds, cross border raids, cattle rustling, blackmail, and extortion. This land of moors, rolling hills, and battle fields for warring armies, produced a people hardened by the elements and culture they lived in. In order to survive, a life of cross border raids was the means by which they, the “Border Reiver”, lived. For the Border Reiver a sharp sword and a fast horse were their most prized possessions.
The borders were loosely controlled by the Scottish and English Crowns. Though cross border raids were not sanctioned by the respective governments, little was done to curtail their activities because it was a means of antagonizing the opposing realm. However, the Border Reiver was overly concerned of what their government thought, their allegiance was family first, border second, their respective King a distant third.
A cross border foray may consist of a few men up to a couple of thousand. A reiver raid did not always put Scot against English or English against Scot. If two Clans under the same government were feuding then one Clan may assist a reiving party from across the border in a raid on their foe.
The Border Reiver was highly skilled in weaponry, traversing hidden trails, and horsemanship. During frequent wars between Scotland and England the border Clans were sought to serve as light cavalry.
The era of the reiver ended with the uniting of the Crowns in 1603. Queen Elizabeth 1st died, 24 March, 1603, without an heir to the throne. King James VI of Scotland was the next closest living relative, thus heir to the throne of England. On the day of Elizabeth’s passing the Crowns were united and James VI became James I over all the lands of England and Scotland. With two nations now becoming one, antagonizing cross border raids were no longer serving a purpose. The free flow of trade and travel were now necessary, therefore the borders had to be tamed. King James I dealt harshly with border Clan families and ultimately brought a level of peace to a land that had not experienced peace for three centuries.
For suggested reading, check out The Steel Bonnets, by George MacDonald Fraser
and The Border Reivers , by Keith Durham & Angus McBride.