In 1603, James V1 of Scotland became king of England when Elizabeth1 of England died without issue. He was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots who was the grand-daughter of James 1V of Scotland and his wife Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry V111, king of England. The blood of the English Tudors then ran through James’ veins; thus he always had the major claim on the English throne.

From early in his reign as king of both realms James decreed that the Border Marches, the lands of England and Scotland which lay on both sides of the Border Line and the haunt of the notorious Border Reivers, would exist no longer, they were to be ‘vanishe and delete’. They were to be known as the Middle Shires of a new United Kingdom. The Border Reivers, both English and Scottish, used and abused by the monarchs of both nations for centuries, were now an embarrassment to a king who sought to stamp his rule over both kingdoms.

Ill or Busy Week

The Border Reivers had lived a life of theft, murder, extortion and blackmail for generations, from the time of the Scottish Wars of Independence, beginning about the dawn of the 14th century. They knew that now a monarch ruled over both nations their days were numbered. They had many scores still to settle as James Stuart made his royal progress to London, the crown of England and untold wealth. Feud and blood-feud were the ‘canker’ of the Border folk. The Reivers would take one last swipe at enemies both in their own country and across the Border in the other.

The Border Marches showing the Border Line between England and Scotland

The Border Reivers believed that the rule of law was held in abeyance between the death of a monarch and installation of a successor. It was the perfect opportunity to bring to a head the differences that might, in some cases, have existed for generations. And all achieved without any comeback.

The time between Elizabeth’s death and James’ investiture in the crown of England was known, in the rich and sarcastic parlance of the Reivers, as Ill Week or Busy Week. The Border, from the Solway in the west to the North Sea in the east was awash with crime, theft and murder as the clans and families made one last attempt to get the better of sworn enemies.

The River Sark where it enters the Solway Firth

On his accession James had said that the crimes committed in  Busy or Ill Week should be disregarded but now, in a move which was typical of the man, he demanded that those who were caught up in the endless raids at that time, were guilty of ‘foul and insolent outrages… in the Borders’ and should submit to his mercy.

James V1 of Scotland and 1 of England would use the crime of Ill Week to his advantage within a short time of ascending the throne of England. The Scottish and English Lords who fawned at his knee would become benefactors of his largesse when he decreed that the lands of the Border Reivers should be confiscated as a result of the turmoil and violence which had followed the days immediately following the death of Elizabeth.

The Graham family of the lands of the river Esk were particularly signalled out for callous retribution.

The River Esk into the Solway Firth
(The Lake District Mountains to the South)

A Border Commission

By 1605 James had set up a Commission on the Borders ostensibly to punish the Border people for their centuries of waywardness. It was made up of five Englishmen and five Scots under the direction of Sir Wilfred Lawson. Their brief was to rid the Border country of the malefactors, the Border Reivers, whose families had created havoc in the area for years. The Commission was granted authority to scour the whole of the Border country, both English and Scottish, for the leading members of the clans and surnames (families) and to deal with them as they saw fit. Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland, the palatinate of Durham on the south and Berwick, Roxburgh, Selkirk, Peebles, Dumfries and Kirkcudbright and Annandale on the north of the Border, were to be the areas to be relentlessly targeted.

Under the auspices of the Duke of Cumberland, a man with an insatiable desire for land and its revenue, the focus of the Commission would take a different turn. Though the latter had the responsibility of clearing the whole Border of its miscreant tribes, an undue emphasis was placed on clearing the lands of the river Esk in the west, a rich and fertile land yielding abundant crops and succulent pasture and the haunt of the family of the English Grahams. It had been for centuries. The avarice of Cumberland would direct the Commission to his own desires and ends.

The Commission set to with a vengeance to punish the Grahams.

What’s in a Reiving Name?

Not everyone with a name identified with the calling was a Border Reiver. Many families with reiving names did their utmost to follow decent lives despite the constant war of attrition that surrounded them. To the men of the Commission and the veritable armies that followed them an Armstrong, an Elliot, a Graham and a Milburn, to name but few, were Border Reivers and dealt with accordingly, irrespective of their backgrounds. The Grahams, many peaceful and law-abiding, were very harshly dealt with. Their history shows that they were the major force on the English Scottish Border, had often provided the men of arms who created a buffer state against the Scots. And all at the invitation of successive English monarchs who wished to hold their northern neighbours in check. Yet following the Union of the Crowns they were hounded from their lands, summarily executed, or transported.

The Reiving Clans are Persecuted

Many of the men of the reiving Clans were rounded up and hanged. Mass hangings became a familiar sight in the Borderlands in the first decade of the 17th century. Most often the punishment was inflicted without trial. Whilst there were many who deserved their fate, others suffered just for their name.

Avaricious eyes, purportedly on the side of law and order, saw the potential of ridding the land of its former tenants, the Border Reivers, and acquiring riches beyond their dreams. Thus began an era of ethnic cleansing. The lands of the river Esk were of particular interest to the Duke of Cumberland and he ensured that the Commission directed their efforts to clearing the Grahams from the area. Their chief of men were hanged or drowned, their homes and crops burned, their dependants, wives and children, left destitute in the wake of unconditional greed ostensibly carried out in the name of the law.

The Reivers and Holland

One of the options to remove the Reivers from the Borders was to send them to the Cautionary Towns of Holland where English garrisons existed at Flushing, Brill, Ramekins and Walcherin. These places were held by the English as insurance against a huge loan made by Elizabeth 1 to aid the Dutch in their war against Catholic Spain.

The Grahams of Netherby and Mote were singled out for this dubious distinction. Taken from imprisonment, many of them in Carlisle, (almost thirty had escaped on the hearing of their fate), they were shipped to Holland never to see wives or children again.

Reivers Transported

Within a few short years of James coming to the throne of England yet another enterprise to rid the Middle Shires of the reiving clans was pronounced.

It was decided to transport the clans and families to Ireland, to the bogs of Roscommon. They were rounded up and taken to the west Cumberland ports and shipped to a life of subsistence and penury. This was a particularly harrowing time in the history of the Armstrongs, the Grahams and others. Yet they were hard, obdurate people and many survived. Within a few generations their descendants had emigrated to all corners of the world.

The Highland Clearances, so well documented and lamented over, were not the first in Scottish history.

A hundred and fifty years before the clansmen of the Highlands were flushed from the homes they had inhabited for centuries and a way of life that had little changed in a millennium, a similar action was taking place in the Borders. And for the same underlying reason: avarice. To clear the lands of the Border tribes especially the valleys and holmes of lower Eskdale, home of the Grahams, provided wealth and eminence for the Lords who would ignore rationality and common-sense justice, eschew any sympathy in the quest of self-aggrandisement.

It was a harrowing time for the Grahams of Esk, signalled out by a Scottish king who had previously been often thwarted by their presence and power, a monarch who harboured an irrational hatred of all of the name.

True to the resilience of the Border Reiver, the Grahams would re-appear in their native lands again. Indeed they are still there today.

Testimony surely to a people who were hard to subdue.

Posted 3rd January 2013 by

Location: Penrith, Cumbria, UK

Labels: border reivers busy week 1603 clan graham elizabeth 1 of england ill week 1603 james V1 of scotland reivers

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Published by Clan Carruthers Society - USA

We are all passionate about where we came from and where we're going. We set this website/blog up so we can all share our family stories along with the history for future generations.

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