‘The first thing they did was the taking of Hartwessel, and carrying away prisoners and all their goods. I sent to seek justice for so great a wrong. The opposite officer sent me word it was not in his power, for that they were all fugitives, and not answerable to king’s laws. I acquainted the King of Scots with his answer. He signified to me that it was true and that if I could take my own revenge without hurting his honest subjects, he would be glad of it’.
NT; (c) Montacute House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

These are the words of Sir Robert Carey taken from his Memoirs in which he relates the main events of his life between 1577 and 1625; He was the brother of Philadelphia Carey, the wife of Thomas, Lord Scrope, Warden of the English West March from 1593 to 1603. It was Carey who rode for Edinburgh on the death of Elizabeth 1 to inform James V1 that he was now king of both England and Scotland. He was now James VI and 1.

The Memoirs include a description when Carey, as English Middle March Warden, had to deal with the Scottish Armstrongs following a raid on Haltwhistle (Hartwessel).

(I have found various dates for this affair, the year 1601 being mentioned more than once. As Carey was English Middle March Warden until 1603 then this date is probable).

Following the initial raid on Haltwhistle Carey invaded Liddesdale with two hundred horse and reclaimed the goods stolen which were divided and given back to the people they had been stolen from. As the English left Liddesdale with goods (probably cattle, sheep and ‘insight’, the word used for household goods), one of the leaders of the raid, Sim Armstrong of the Calfhill, braver and much rasher than the rest of the raiders who had been hiding within their strongholds at Carey’s coming, chased back but in his rage he was run through with a spear wielded by one of the Ridleys of Haltwhistle. He died from the wound.

The Liddesdale clans then vowed revenge, stating that they would devastate Haltwhistle and the surrounding area. They returned to Haltwhistle to carry through their murderous intentions  and set many houses on fire  and again took away all the goods of the people. As they were running up and down the streets determined to fire the whole town, yet another Ridley, holed up in one of the bastle houses, let loose an arrow on them and killed another Armstrong, one of the sons of Sim of Whitram.


The whole of the population of the English Middle March now lived in fear of further reprisals from the Armstrongs and the other clans of Liddesdale. They were even contemplating leaving their houses and ekeing out a precarious living in the hills before the next winter, the time when reiving, feud and revenge would reach its yearly heights.

Carey deliberated on what to do next and called the gentleman of the country to his presence to seek their advice on what should be done to counteract the very real threat that there would be more raids on the Middle March, and not just Haltwhistle.

To a man they advised Carey that he should petition a further hundred horse from Elizabeth1 and the English Privy Council. These could be added to the forty already in his pay and serve as a military deterrent to the Liddesdale clans during the following autumn and winter. Only then would the poor folk of Haltwhistle and its environs find the courage to remain put and carry on with their normal lives.

Robert Carey had other ideas.He did not relish asking for more horse as this would be a further expense on the country.


He decided that he, with his two deputies and forty horse, would lie in the waste lands as close as possible to the outlaws. He asked for further volunteers but many of the gentry declined saying that he could only live by such means until the autumn. He would then have to return to a normal life. It wa in the autumn and winter months that the thieves did most of their mischief thus a wasted effort to try and catch them off their guard during the summer months when they would lie low, be well guarded and yet better informed of Carey’s movements. They would simply bide their time until Carey had to return to his  other duties and respond to raid and reive by other miscreants from the Scottish West and Middle Marches.

However some of the younger men relished the thought of such an adventure, a great and welcome change from the normality of their everyday lives.


Very soon Carey had near two hundred horse to join him in his purpose.

They met in the waste and built a fort and, within its confines, log cabins to lie in. They stayed from mid June until the end of August.

Once the outlaws were aware of Carey’s intentions they fled their houses hellbent for Tarras Moss, a wild and dangerous land in the sixteenth century, a sanctuary and haven which only those familiar with its stinking bottomless bogs dare enter. Many a man inocent of the dangers of its ground had lost his life, engulfed by the sucking quagmire. I have walked much of this ground, and even today when much of it has been drained, there are still places that cause the walker to hesitate and circumnavigate what appears to be a heaving mess of liquid mud.


The outlaws were confident that Carey and his followers would not attempt to enter the Moss and goaded him with taunts that they would keep him awake the following winter. Carey sent a hundred and fifty men led by a ‘muffled’ man not known by any of the company thirty miles into Scotland. This move was carried out with such stealth and subtefuge  that none of the Scots were aware that it had happened. They were then brought to the north side of Tarras Moss where they split into three divisions, each with the responsibility of watching one of the passages which were the escape routes for the outlaws should the English attack from the south.

The Liddesdale Armstrongs had scouts on the tops of the hills on the English side of the Moss and when, one morning, they saw three hundred horse and a thousand foot of the English approaching, they raised the alarm. The English broke as fast as they could into the Moss causing the outlaws to flee to what they had always perceived as the safe passages into Scotland. There they were ambushed by the three English divisions who were lying in wait.

Most of the outlaws panicked, about turned and fled deeper into the recesses of the Moss where the English dared not follow for fear of getting lost or losing their lives.

However, five of the outlaws were captured, notably two of the sons of Sim of Whitram. They were taken back to Carey at the fort and immediately used as the bargaining power to free all English prisoners from the Scottish Border Reivers of the Middle March. Carey also demanded other terms and conditions before he would release his Scottish prisoners. Under bond the Armstrongs were made to warn Carey of any impending raids from other clans in their Border valleys.

Eventually the prisoners were released.

Carey was a wise and just March Warden. On capturing the five outlaws he could justifiably have hanged them but he had an eye for the future and his ongoing relationships with the Armstrongs of Liddesdale and thus the safety of his own people. The Armstrongs might have been outraged by the killing of Sim of Calfhill and one of the sons of Sim of Whitram but, nevertheless, they recognised that Carey had shown restraint in his dealings with them. For a while then they demonstrated some respect for him and not a little fear.

In Carey’s own words ‘God had put an end to this troublesome business’.

Robert Carey’s Memoirs were originally published in 1759 and again in 1808 and 1905. They are a stirring first hand account of not only life on the Borders in the reiving times but also of his exciting involvement in the Spanish Armada and his relationship with the English Queen, Elizabeth 1.

One of the Border Ballads relates the story of the ‘Fraie of Hautwessel’.

A few years ago I bought a copy of Carey’s Memoirs under the title of ‘The Stirring World of Robert Carey’ which, I think, contains the same text as the 1905 edition of the Memoirs. The spelling is modern English, the language consistent with an educated man of the sixteenth century. For a short perusal of what it is like to read and also the Border Ballad see this website:
For the book see:

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: