Dissolution of the Border Clans

The Border Families of England and Scotland led a difficult life that began in the 13th century. Their allegiance was difficult to determine and often led to conflicts between themselves, the Highlanders and the English. Border raids were common in the fight to hold land and power so much so that they were often called Border Reivers, a term derived from the word reive, an early English word to rob or plunder, and/or from the Northumbrian and Scots Inglis verb reifen from the Old English reafian.[1]

In 1587, an Act of Scottish Parliament condemned certain border families and clans for their lawlessness. In the Act there is the description of the "Chiftanis and chieffis of all clannis… duelland in the hielands or bordouris". The act goes on to list the various Border Clans and pass the statute:

“For the quieting and keping in obiedince of the disorderit subjectis inhabitantis of the borders hielands and Ilis.”

George MacDonald Fraser in The Steel Bonnets [2], list the following Border Clans at the time:

West March:

  • Scotland: Bell, Irvine, Johnstone, Maxwell, Carlisle, Beattie, Little, Carruthers, Glendenning, Moffat.
  • England: Graham, Hetherington, Musgrave, Storey, Lowther, Curwen, Salkeld, Dacre, Harden, Hodgson, Routledge, Tailor, Noble.

Middle March:

  • Scotland: Burn, Kerr, Young, Pringle, Davison, Gilchrist, Tait of East Teviotdale. Scott, Oliver, Turnbull, Rutherford of West Teviotdale. Armstrong, Croser, Elliot, Nixon, Douglas, Laidlaw, Turner, Henderson of Liddesdale.
  • England: Anderson, Potts, Reed, Hall, Hedley of Redesdale. Charlton, Robson, Dodd, Milburn, Yarrow, Stapleton of Tynedale. Also Fenwick, Ogle, Heron, Witherington, Medford, Collingwood, Carnaby, Shaftoe, Ridley, Stokoe, Stamper, Wilkinson, Hunter, Thomson, Jamieson.

East March:

  • Scotland: Hume, Trotter, Dixon, Bromfield, Craw, Cranston.
  • England: Forster, Selby, Gray, Dunn.

Later, in 1603, when the crowns of Scotland and England were united under James VI of Scotland, James found it expedient to disperse the unruly border clans to England, northern Scotland and to Ireland. Some were even banished directly to the Colonies.

As the centuries passed, Scotland and England moved closer to political unity, which finally occurred with the accession of King James I in 1603. This trend was accompanied by an increasing effort to bring the lawless clans of the borderland under control.

See Also


  • ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reiver
  • ^ MacDonald Fraser, George (1971). The Steel Bonnets. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-272746-3.
  • Swyrich, Archive materials