In 1569 the clans of Berwick, Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles pledged themselves to repel and disown the clans of Liddesdale. The regent of Scotland, Moray, suggested that they should unite their efforts to subdue the inhabitants of the valley of Liddesdale, especially the Armstrong’s and Elliot’s thereof.

Liddesdale, often referred to as the ‘Cockpit of the Borders’, was known as one of the most dangerous places to live in Europe. Anyone who entered its confines without prior knowledge of the nefarious inhabitants, did so at their peril.
Whilst all the Border clans and surnames, be they Scottish or English,defied both law and authority and swore allegiance only to their own folk, the Liddesdale Border Reivers, the Armstrong’s and Elliot’s in particular, took lawlessness and depredation to its ultimate level.They raided with complete impunity.
In the sixteenth century they raided England, specifically the inhabitants of Tynedale and Redesdale, with regular monotony and, moreover,with total disregard for the high level of law enforcement which surrounded them.
Not content with leaving many an English family without the means of survival in a harsh landscape, virtually destitute unless they dared to return the ‘favour’ and raided back,very often not a wise option, the Armstrong;s and Elliot;s even attacked the people of their own country,stealing cattle, sheep and ‘insight’ (household goods).
On the Scottish side of the Border the Armstrong’s were often at feud, the deadly canker that permeated the Border lands, with the Turnbulls, the Kerr’s,the Johnston’s and the Irvine’s.
In 1561 fifty-three of the Liddesdale Reivers endeavoured to plunder Hawick fair but were caught and thirty-three were condemned and either hanged or drowned. If such an action was an attempt to subdue their reiving practices, then it failed dismally. It was business as usual for Border Reivers of Liddesdale.

Regent Moray (James Stuart. earl of Moray and Mar, half-brother of Mary, Queen of Scots) suggested the alliance of the neighboring counties in 1569 to counteract Liddesdale’s power and it was readily acceptable. Exhausted by the relentless infighting with their own countrymen, the inhabitants of Berwick, Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles welcomed the action.

They agreed ‘never to intercommune with any of the said thieves, their wives, bairns, or servants, or give them meat, drink, house or harbour,
nor were they to be allowed to resort to markets or trysts, nor permitted to remain or pasture their flocks on any lands outwith Liddesdale, except such as within eight days of the date of bond found responsible sureties, that they would reform.enormities committed by them in time by-past, and keep good rule in time coming.”

All others, not finding such security, were to be pursued to the death with fire and sword, and all kind of hostility, as open and known enemies to God, the King, and the common good. This bond was very numerously signed.

Nothing changed. The Liddesdale clans, as was their wont, ignored what they considered were the empty words of the less powerful  

The Liddesdale Border Reivers carried on in own inimitable way, robbing and reiving on both sides of the Scottish English Border,

It was only with Union of the Crowns when both counties were united under one monarch, James VI and 1 that dire action was taken against the Border clans and surnames of both countries.


The leaders of such families as the Grahams of England and the Armstrong’s of Scotland were summarily executed whenever they were apprehended. Others shipped to Ireland where they lived a life of penury for years in the bogs of Roscommon. Some were sent to the Low countries to garrison the towns of Flushing, Brille and Ramekins in the Dutch war with Spain.


In 1530 it was a boast of Liddesdale that they could put 3000 light cavalry into action whenever they were required to defend their territory. Today Liddesdale is a quiet valley, sparsely populated.

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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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