Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Border Reivers - British history you may not be aware of

The territory along the English-Scottish border is rugged and ill-suited for farming. Many of its residents supplemented their meager income by conducting raids across the border to steal livestock and other goods. These men were known as the Border Reivers.

They would typically conduct their raids between the months of November and February, when nights were long, yet the livestock still strong from summer grazing. The reivers were expert horsemen and proficient with the lance, sword, longbow, and crossbow.  Most wore armor composed of small metal plates sewn into cloth, known as jack. They also wore metal helmets.

The borders of both nations were divided into three marches. Each had a march warden, who was charged with keeping order in his territory. Once a month they would hold a truce day, in which the march warden would meet with his counterpart to redress wrongs. Merchants and entertainers would show up. There would also be heavy drinking and inevitable ruckuses.

A man who had been "spoiled" by a reiver had six days to legally mount a counter raid.  This was known as the hot trod. The party would identify itself with a piece of burning peat stuck to the end of a spear. Every neighboring man between sixteen and sixty was obligated to join. The hot trod also had the right to assistance from the first village they came to.  Anyone who refused to help could be prosecuted as if he were a reiver himself.

The border people usually took their livestock inside the villages at night. Men who were wealthy enough built strong stone houses known as bastles. They drove their livestock into the first floor, while living on the second floor. Local officials also built a system of towers, surrounded by stone walls. Each one had a brazier filled with roots and peat, which the garrison would use to light signal fires when they spotted reivers.

Sometime around 1650, authorities managed to bring order to the border. Also, local people became tired of the reivers, and they became outcasts even among their own people.  Over time the reivers faded and are now just a colorful piece of British history.


  1. Very interesting, Chuck! The practice of reiving is a poplar theme in many historical novels. Barb Bettis

  2. It's a good setting all right. I'm considering writing a novel about it.