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In October 1593 the Border Reiver clans of the Scottish Border valleys answered the call to arms. They were intent on teaching the English a lesson in ‘might is right’. Such a large-scale raid had never been planned before. For once the Scottish clans put their differences behind them, the relentless feud and blood-feud, and acted in concert for this great foray south of the Border Line. It involved a thousand men from the valleys of the Ewes, Esk, Liddel and Annan. Men with names that had, for generations, struck fear into the hearts of any who dared to contest their lawless ways. Armstrongs of Mangerton and Morton and Elliots of Dinlabyre and Larriston joined forces with many others who smarted for a final reckoning with the clans of Tynedale, the Hunters and Milburns in particular.

Scottish Border Reivers Attack Tynedale

No photo description available.

A thousand strong, with pennants flying from their saddles, a gesture that generally signified war and not normally used by the Reivers in their nightly predatory wanderings, the Scottish Border Reivers descended on Tynedale, Northumberland, the English county that abuts the east of the English Scottish Border. It was a day-time foray, unusual and meant to be noticed, overt and signalling that they wished to be seen and recognised. Their goal was the valley of the Tarset, part of Tynedale, and the lands of Simonburn, now a lovely picturesque village; well-known today through the Northumberland stories of Katherine Cookson. Simonburn is used as a backdrop in televised versions of some of her stories.

Enter a Ruins of Simonburn Castle, Simonburn. Photo by Peter Ryder.caption

Simonburn Castle Tower House (Simonburn)

Simonburn Castle stands on a steep hill formed by the junction of two steams. The remains of a 13th century tower house lie at its core. Although it was repaired in the 18th century, and used for a time as an eyecatcher for Nunwick Park, the upper storeys have now collapsed. The tower was built of small stone blocks. Only the ground floor basement of the tower stands today, which has become filled in with rubble. It is a Grade II Listed Building protected by law and a Scheduled Monument protected by law.

Reference number: N7889
Historical period: Post Medieval (1540 to 1901)
Medieval (1066 to 1540)
Legal status: Listed Building
Scheduled Ancient Monument
Event(s): FIELD OBSERVATION, Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Field Investigation 1965; J R Foster
FIELD SURVEY, Towers and Bastles in Northumberland 1995; P RYDER
PHOTOGRAPHIC SURVEY, Towers and Bastles in Northumberland 1995; P RYDER
FIELD OBSERVATION, Towers and Bastles in Northumberland 1995; P RYDER

Simonburn in the 16th century was a fortified place, its massive pele tower housing a garrison of fifty well-armed soldiers always at call to repel any invader into the holme-lands of the river Tyne, especially the raiders from the Scottish Marches. Alas today it is an overgrown ruin of ever dwindling proportions. It is said that gold was buried within its massive walls and successive generations, especially in the 18th century, have abused both its presence and history in futile attempts to lay the rumour to rest. A sad sight indeed today!

On the occasion of the Great Raid the garrison of the Pele Tower were unaware of the massive Scottish Border Reiver horde who stole into the area from Stonehaugh and moved on to Tarset.

The Raid on Tarsetdale

The Scottish Reivers soon overcame any opposition from the inhabitants of the Gatehouses, fortified bastle houses which stood sentinel to the entrance to the valley of the Tarset. Within a very short time they were engaged with a particularly vicious crew who inhabited the fortified houses of the Redheughe, the Bog Head, the Starr Head, the Water Head, the High Field, the Black Middens and the Kyme. These were the Hunters and Milburns, men renowned for the fighting prowess, their aggression and zealous guardianship of their homelands.


Against the massive numbers from the Scottish valleys they were put to flight but not before they had contested every inch of ground. Both the Hunters and Milburns would recover from the loss of their livelihood and the ruin of their homes. They lived to exact retribution in the Scottish Border valleys. Time brought these English Border Reivers some satisfaction.


The Outcome of the Scottish Reive

The Scottish Reivers, led by William Ellot (Elliot) of Dinlabyre, together with the Laird of Mangerton, (leader of clan Armstrong) and William Armstrong called Kinmott (Kinmont) drove off ‘nine hundred five score and five (1005) head of nolte (cows), 1000 sheep and goats, twenty-four horses and mares, burned an onset and mill and carried away £300 of insight gear (household goods and farming implements).
The rape of Tynedale, including Tarset was complete.
The Scottish Border Reivers, though harassed on their way back to the Scottish valleys, repelled every attack and brought the proceeds of the reive safely home. To safeguard the illegal gains, the product of the reive would be put in the hands of several ‘recettors’, or receivers until the heat of the raid had died down. Often these men, engaged in a lucrative trade but which required nerve and a frame of mind that could hold its own counsel, lived miles from the lairs of the thieves, Indeed it was not unusual for some of these men to be English.


Even though the principals of the Great Raid on Tynedale were taken before the King of Scotland, James V1, and were admonished for their massed attack on the English at a time when he desired to promote a harmonious relationship with his English counterpart, Elizabeth 1, no action was taken against them.
English authority was incensed at the response of the Scottish king. The Forsters, Middle March Wardens for England, were to have a personal interview with the King. He promised much but took no action. James V1 of Scotland, though he often abhorred the unruliness of his southern clans, knew they had a place in the society that prevailed in Scotland. The Reivers were the best light cavalrymen in Europe. They had always been a barrier to English expansion.
The Aim of the Reivers
It seemed as if the Scottish Border Reivers, unusually massive in their numbers, invited reprisal for their raid on Tynedale and desired a large scale confrontation. There is a hint within their action that they knew their ‘day’ was coming to an end. It was no secret that Elizabeth 1 of England, heirless and known as the Virgin queen, had indicated that James V1 of Scotland would succeed her on the English throne and thus unite the two countries. What price a Border in turmoil then? The Border would be a thing of the past in a new United Kingdom.
Were the Reivers of the Scottish valleys, in their Great Raid on Tynedale, endeavouring to promote friction between Elizabeth and James? As they moved south on that fateful day in October 1593, with pennants flying as in time of war, did their raid have a deeper significance than the stealing of beasts and the ruin of the men of Tynedale?

Union Despised by Scottish Border Reivers

Should the plans of the two monarchs come to pass then the Border between the two countries would have no future meaning. Both countries would be ruled by one King. As early as 1593, ten years before James’ accession to the English throne, the Scottish Reivers began to contest the issue of Union. Should James not show control of his unruly Borderers then there was a chance that Elizabeth would think twice about his ability to follow her on the throne of England. His failure might just prolong the lives and times of the Border Reivers.

Posted 5th August 2011 by 

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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