In an Act of the Scottish Parliament of 1587 there is the description of the “Chiftanis and chieffis of all clannis… duelland in the hielands or bordouris” – thus using the word clan and chief to describe both Highland and Lowland families. The act goes on to list the various Border clans.
The Border families can be referred to as clans, which is the English form of the Gaelic “clann.” Border families are also known as the Riding Clans or Riding Names.
The Reivers were the product of the constant English-Scottish wars that would often reduce the Border area to a wasteland. The continuing threat of renewed conflict offered little incentive to arable farming. Why bother planting crops if they may be burned before they could be harvested?
The reiving (raiding or plundering) of livestock was however a totally different matter, and so it became the principal business of the Border families.
The Reiver came from every social class from labourer to peer of the realm. He was a skilled horseman and fine guerrilla soldier, practised in the wicked arts of arson, kidnapping and extortion. There was no social stigma attached to reiving, it was simply an accepted way of life.
Would you like to receive the Gilnockie Tower Reiver Centre newsletter ‘Have You Heard?
The Armstrongs were the principal clan that dominated the 16th century west Marches.
The Liddesdale valley was home to the Armstrongs by the late 15th century. They moved into the Esk valley as the clan numbers increased, occupying the Debateable Land, the Anglo-Scottish borderland area that was disputed by both Scotland and England.
One of the smaller clans the Little family occupied parts of Ewesdale, Westerkirk, and Wauchopedale.
A monument to a tower belonging to the Little Clan can be found in the hedge adjacent to the Ewes Public Hall entrance.
The Elliots were another great reiving family who resided in upper Liddesdale, their home established near the joining of the Liddel and Hermitage Waters at Redheugh.
Originally known as Elias, they owned over 40 towers in the Liddesdale valley.
Jean Elliot (1727 to 1805) wrote the very touching words to ‘The Flo’ers o’ the Forest’.
The Scott Clan held senior positions in government, and were perhaps the most influential clan in the 16th century Scottish Border area.
Their kinfolks were energetic and ferocious reivers.
The Scotts feuded as well as socialised with their close neighbours.