Border Reivers


The reivers were both English and Scottish and raided both sides of the border impartially, so long as the people they hit had no powerful protectors and no connection to their own kin. Their activities, although usually within a day’s ride of the Border, extended both north and south of their main haunts. English raiders were reported to have hit the outskirts of Edinburgh, and Scottish raids were known as far south as Newcastle. The main raiding season ran through the early winter months, when the nights were longest and the cattle and horses fat from having spent the summer grazing.

The inhabitants had to live in a state of constant alert, and for self-protection, they built fortified tower houses, such as the Bastle houses and Peel towers which are characteristic of the Border area and period. Smailholm Tower, just a few miles north of Kelso and an excellent example, is one of many surviving Peel towers.

When raiding, or riding, as it was termed, the reivers rode light on hardy nags or ponies renowned for the ability to pick their way over the boggy moss lands. The original dress of a shepherd’s plaid was later replaced by light armour such as Brigandines or jacks of Plaite (a type of sleeveless doublet into which small plates of steel were stitched), and a metal helmet such as a burgonet or morion; hence their nickname of the ‘steel bonnets’. They were armed with a lance and small shield, and sometimes also with a longbow, or a light crossbow known as a “latch”, or later on in their history with one or more pistols. They invariably also carried a sword and dirk.