Nicholas Whitham has left the army for the unexciting life of a land agent in Regency Yorkshire, but his peace is disrupted by the arrival of Miss Camilla Dorne a young lady of doubtful reputation.
The Reluctant Debutante, the second book in the series, tells the story of Giles Fenwick, Earl of Rockcliffe, formerly one of Wellington’s exploring officers and Cordelia Summers, a wealthy merchant’s daughter with an independent attitude.
A Marcher Lord is a tale of love and war among the Border Reivers on the sixteenth century Anglo-Scottish borders, where a Scottish lord encounters a young Englishwoman who may or may not be a spy.
This excerpt from A Marcher Lordis set at Christmas in 1547. It is the time of theBorder Reivers and the wars between England and Scotland, and the Scots are still recovering from the slaughter at Pinkie Cleugh a few months earlier. William Scott, Lord Crawleigh, a Scottish baron loyal to the crown has returned to his border stronghold to hold for the Queen, and is acting as gaoler to a young Englishwoman he found riding over the border in suspicious circumstances, and who has refused to tell him her full name or where she came from…
Christmas came in a flurry of excitement and a steady fall of snow which began two days before the festivities began and by Christmas morning lay in a thick, heavy blanket of white across the hills and moors around Crawleigh, enchanting Jane with it’s sparkling beauty. The children were set to clear pathways and courtyard so that those neighbours brave enough to fight their way through the snow might at least find a clear path for their mount on Crawleigh ground. They came, to Jane’s surprise, a succession of local lairds and landowners, from the surrounding country, to bring greetings to Crawleigh and to join in the feasting and merrymaking of the ‘daft days’ as her host scathingly called the twelve days of the Christmas season. None brought wives or daughters with them this year, although Kat informed Jane that in years gone by whole families would travel to visit their neighbours at this time. The weather and the war led men to leave their women safe in tower and keep. Jane was relieved at this. Women were curious, and she dreaded the wearisome task of fending off their questions. The men did not question, although it became clear to Jane, long accustomed to read men’s faces, that all were speculating. She imagined that their conclusions would reflect poorly on her reputation. Her relationship with her captor was too easy and informal and she realised that they assumed that she was his mistress. Jane did not care. A lifetime in the army’s tail had prevented any possibility of her being easily offended. Her parents had never seen the need to formally wed, although she had never told her uncle that, and their relationship had always seemed good to her – better than many whose union was sanctioned by the church. There was little religion at Crawleigh, as Jane had long discovered, but a priest had been invited and mass was said, although on the whole the people of Crawleigh seemed more enthused by their chosen ‘Abbot of Unreason” which was the local term for the Lord of Misrule. Adam Johnstone had been elected for this role, capering through the season like some manic demon conjuring up wilder and wilder dances and pranks for his delighted minions. The full celebration of Christmas was new to Jane, who had, in her time, spent Christmases in many different places. Last Christmas had been her first at Etterdale, and she had still been deep in her grief for her father, still shocked by the violent temper of her uncle and the sad condition of her aunt and cousin. How would Christmas be this year, she wondered? Was Sir Thomas even home from the wars? And if he was, would he spend the twelve days, as he had last year, dangerously drunk so that his family and servants tiptoed around him. At Crawleigh Castle, Christmas was a shared pleasure. Preparations had been going on for weeks, and on Christmas Eve every child in castle and village was set to cutting boughs and branches to decorate the hall. Jane enjoyed the greenery draped around the hall, the air of holiday, which even in the midst of wartime pervaded the castle. For the twelve days none was turned away from the gates, and there was a steady stream of desperate villagers from the surrounding countryside to whom food and drink were given, and when possible, shelter. Jane remained on hand with her supply of herbal preparations, ready to dose a cough or bind a wound. They asked no questions, these people. Shocked, often near starvation with frostbitten hands and wasted faces, they camped outside the gates, sheltered from the worst of the weather by the crag itself, and Crawleigh ordered firewood to be given to them so that they could be warm at night. “What will happen to them?” Jane asked. “Those who can will rebuild. I’ve given them leave to build huts around the castle when the weather breaks. All will dine with us on Christmas and Hogmanay. Some will move on to family when they can. Others will make their way to Hawick and Jedburgh to try to find work. And some will take to outlawry, perhaps join one of the reiver bands – and become part of the problem. I hate the English, Jenny – with one notable exception, of course!” “I hate what they’ve done here,” Jane said soberly. “There are children out there, my lord.” “I know. But they’ll be fed and kept warm for the season, and it’ll make them stronger to start again. When the snow starts to thaw, which won’t be long, they’ll start to move on. Some won’t make it – but many will. We’re a strong breed in these parts.” “I hate this part of war,” Jane said. “I know. But you’ve done your part, Jenny. There are people out there who’ll sleep easier because of your knowledge. Take heart from that. We do what we can.” There was another side to the celebrations too. The guests who arrived would often spend time closeted with Scott of Crawleigh, who remained determinedly sober throughout the merrymaking, and managed to ensure that at least some of his retainers remained fit to ward off the English should they make surprise attack. “They’ve been raiding Liddesdale,” Johnnie Croser informed Crawleigh during one such meeting in his chamber. “Probably to remind the Armstrongs and Elliotts whose money they’re taking just now. But on the whole I think they’ve stayed quiet over the season. God knows what will happen in the New Year. But I think we’ll celebrate Hogmanay in peace at least.” “Not with Johnstone in charge,” Crawleigh said with a resigned grin. “No peace here. And while Liddesdale is under attack it’ll keep the occupants from attacking us. D’you think Somerset knows that when it suits them the Liddesdale men will switch sides again? Halfway through a battle if necessary.” “If he doesn’t know it, Wharton does. Not much that old buzzard doesn’t know about these parts. Which may explain his timely reminders.” “The more dead and burned out Armstrongs the better, whatever his motive. What news from Maxwell?” “None yet.” Croser cocked a bloodshot eye at his neighbour. “Talking of news, what’s this I hear of a pretty hostage gracing your festive board this year?” Crawleigh laughed. “News travels fast, Johnnie. Alan Robson, I imagine?” “He could hardly keep a tale like that to himself, lad,” Croser said reasonably. “D’you know who she is?” “No, other than she’s English and new to the borders. To tell you the truth, Johnnie, I was hoping that one of my guests might recognise her and put a name to her, but none have.” “Is she from these parts?” “God knows. I’m guessing she’s from the borders somewhere, but I’ve no way of knowing how far she’d travelled when I picked her up. If she’d been from just across, surely we’d have heard talk by now!” “And you suspect her of being a spy? Have ye told the Queen Dowager?” “Aye, I’ve written to her and to Arran. But to tell you the truth I doubt there’s any harm in Jenny. What I’d dearly like to know is whom she’s protecting with her silence.” “A father? A brother? Or a lover?” “There’s no father, that I know. A brother? Who knows? But what brother would let his kin take that kind of risk? A lover? Perhaps. But if it was, Johnnie, then he’s left her to take the consequences alone.” Croser eyed his neighbour thoughtfully. “I’m finding a great desire to see the lassie myself, Will. Jenny, you say?” “It was a childhood name, apparently and the only one she’ll give me. And while this war is on there’s no hope of sending word across the border to find her kin. So she’s here with me, at least until I get word from the Queen Dowager.” “And an honoured guest so I’m told? No dungeon cell?” Crawleigh got up. “Come and meet her, Johnnie and then tell me if you could find it in you to lock her in a dungeon cell.” They made their way down to the hall which was packed with Crawleigh’s people. Those who were not needed to guard the stock and to keep a lookout were all within and the dinner hour was not far off. There was laughter coming from a group before the fire, and the sound of a woman singing. Crawleigh led Croser towards the group and paused at the sight of his prisoner, standing demurely before the group, singing. He had not heard her sing before. There were musicians for the celebrations, and there had been dancing. Laughingly she had allowed them to teach her some of the old dances. She had joined in too, with the carols, although many of them were new to her. She had a clear sweet voice, not powerful but true. The ballad she was singing was an old French one, a troubadour’s lament, and she sang it well. The noisy group fell silent. Most of them would not know the language, but the sadness in the song told its own tale. Crawleigh had heard it many times at court, sung by professional musicians, but it had never held such poignancy. Spellbound they listened to the end, and paid her the compliment of a brief silence before breaking into spontaneous applause. Jane laughed, blushing and curtseying. Beside her, seated on a low stool, Crawleigh saw Bangtail Stewart, her inevitable shadow. Jane smiled down at him, and Stewart grinned back. “Is this a celebration or a wake, lass?” he teased, and she laughed, and shot him a glance of pure mischief, before breaking into another song. There was a howl of glee as her audience picked up the tune – a bawdy jig which was popular at soldiers’ campfires on both sides of the border. The girl could not have learned it in a respectable hall. The fiddlers lifted their instruments and took up the tune, and Jane’s audience clapped along, and joined in with the chorus enthusiastically. As she finished the last verse they erupted into cheers, but Jane had seen Crawleigh, and she laughed and warded off their pleas for more and went forward to meet him. “I’m sorry, my lord – that was not a proper song for a respectable hearth!” “I’ve seldom heard it sung so sweet, mistress!” Johnnie Croser said, taking Jane’s hand and lifting it to his lips. “John Croser of Martindale at your service.” “Ah, you’ll be Jock’s cousin?” Jane said composedly. She caught his sharp look and laughed. “I’m learning more about my Scottish neighbours from Bangtail.” “Stewart? Och, don’t believe half of what that sumph tells you. Mistress Jenny – whoever you may be – your voice is as lovely as your face.” Jane curtseyed slightly. “Thank you, sir.” She glanced at Crawleigh, and amused, he said: “Master Croser will be staying to dine, Jenny, and will spend the night.” “I’ll speak to Janet.” Jane smiled at Croser. “They’ll be setting the boards for dinner shortly, sir. Will you have some mead?” Crawleigh watched in amusement as she led his guest closer to the fire, finding him a stool and asking him about the journey from Martindale. Beside him, Bangtail Stewart said: “Aye, it’s a rare entertainment to see her managing your household, master. Does it like she’s born to it. But have you thought about how this will be reported back to court?” Crawleigh glanced sharply at him. “Should I care?” he asked, shortly. Stewart sighed. “Nay, lad – not a whit. Only it’s making my life a lot harder with two of you to worry about, and neither of you with the least grain of sense in the world!” Crawleigh grinned. “A little extra exercise for your wits, Bangtail. Get me a drink will you – and not the mead, for God’s sake! Tonight I’m in the mood for a decent French wine!” Bangtail brought the goblet, and handed it to him. They were both watching Jane. Suddenly Crawleigh said: “She sang that song remarkably well, Bangtail.” “Which one.” “The French one.” His childhood friend grinned and lifted his tankard of mead in a silent toast. “You noticed, eh? And the second song is something you might hear in France too – around the campfire.” “Harry of England was campaigning in France for years before he died and went to hell. But one of his officers would not have taken a daughter with him.” “True. But she speaks French like a native. And there are mercenary bands all over France, not necessarily with the English.” “All over Europe. A mercenary’s daughter. It makes some sense, although she’s well bred.” “There’s more than one runaway gentleman sold his sword, my lord. Doesn’t mean he wouldn’t want his daughter well educated.” There was silence between them. Then Crawleigh said: “None of this helps at all. Because she didn’t come from France with that letter. She came from England.” “Aye. So what we need to know is where she went after her parents died.” “And who she met there,” Crawleigh said. “Christ, Bangtail, if I could get my hands on the man who let her ride out alone that day…..” “If we’re lucky,” Bangtail said cheerfully, “we’ll run into him one day.” Crawleigh stood drinking the wine and watching and listening to Jane talking to Croser. Wherever she had come from, she had learned the rare gift of being able to talk to anybody. Croser was charmed, telling her stories, becoming expansive under the influence of the mead. For a while he had forgotten that his pretty hostess was a hostage, a prisoner suspected of spying for England. At times Crawleigh knew that he forgot it too.
The Battle of Solway Moss took place on this day, 24 November, in 1542 on the banks of the River Esk between the English and the Scots and resulted in a humiliating defeat for Scotland.
James V of Scotland was the nephew of Henry VIII of England through the marriage of Margaret Tudor, Henry’s sister, to James IV of Scotland. Despite this kinship, James did not enjoy a good relationship with his uncle, especially after Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church. James V was intolerant of heresy and several prominent Protestants were executed during his reign, including Patrick Hamilton, who was burned at the stake as a heretic at St Andrews in 1528. Despite encouragement from England to follow Henry’s example and close the monasteries, James chose to pursue his own course and appeared to have allied himself firmly with the Pope and the French King. This impression was strengthened when in 1541 James failed to arrive for a pre-arranged meeting with Henry at York.
Henry chose to regard this as an insult and sent troops to raid into Scotland. James retaliated by giving Robert, Lord Maxwell who was the Scottish Warden of the West March the job of raising an army.
On 24 November 1542, an army of 15,000–18,000 Scots advanced into England. Lord Maxwell declared he would lead the attack in person but reports suggest that the leadership was contested by Oliver Sinclair, the King’s favourite. Whatever happened, the command structure seems to have failed and the Scots were disorganised and unprepared for the English attack. Led by Lord Wharton with 3,000 men, the English met the Scots near Solway Moss.
After an initial cavalry charge, the Scots moved down towards Arthuret Howes and found themselves penned in south of the Esk, between the river and the Moss, which was a peat bog. After intense fighting, the Scots surrendered along with 10 field guns to the English cavalry. It seems that some of them may have drowned in the river or the marshes.
James, who was not present at the battle, withdrew to Falkland Palace humiliated and ill with fever. The news that his wife had given birth to a daughter instead of a son further crushed his will to live, and he is reported to have stated that the House of Stewart “came with a lass and will go with a lass”. He died at Falkland two weeks later at the age of thirty.
Some historians have estimated that only about 7 Englishmen and 20 Scots were killed, but some 1200 Scottish prisoners were taken including Oliver Sinclair, the Earls of Cassilis, Glencairn and Maxwell. Some of the higher ranking Scottish lords were released, sending hostages into England in their place. Most of them were well treated and efforts were made to bring them over to the English cause.
The battle was not Henry VIII’s last foray into Scotland. With James dead and a baby girl now Queen, Henry sent the Earl of Hertford with an army to try to force a marriage between his son Edward and the infant Queen. The resulting wars, known to history as the wars of the Rough Wooing, were interrupted by the death of Henry in 1547 but continued by the protectorate.
The last pitched battle between Scottish and English armies, the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, took place on 10 September 1547 on the banks of the River Esk near Musselburgh, Scotland. It is considered to be the first modern battle in the British Isles and was a catastrophic defeat for Scotland, where it became known as Black Saturday. Despite this, the Scots refused to surrender their infant Queen and managed to smuggle her away to France where she spent her childhood, eventually marrying the Dauphin.
At the beginning of A Marcher Lord,Will Scott and Sir Thomas Rutherford are preparing to march out to the battle of Pinkie Cleugh. The stakes are high for both sides. The battle of Solway Moss is recent history. Rutherford and Scott both fought at the battle and Scott lost his father. In addition, rumours that some of the families held in England had turned traitor against the Scottish crown have reached Scotland, and nobles loyal to the crown are on their guard.
Into this atmosphere of suspicion and fear comes Jane Marchant, a girl raised in the mercenary bands of Europe with loyalty to neither side. For her story, read A Marcher Lord, the first book in the Borderers Saga, available on Amazon kindle or in paperback.
The second book in the Borderers Saga, The Queen’s Lady, will be published in 2018.
For 300 years the people of the Anglo-Scottish Border region lived in a war zone. Invading armies caused terror, destruction and death and the ongoing conflict forged men who were expert raiders and cattle thieves, owing loyalty to none but their own clan, their own surname. We have come to know them as the Border Reivers.
Since the Middle Ages, England and Scotland were often at war, and the people who suffered most were the ordinary folk of the Anglo-Scottish borders. Their livelihood was torn apart by the wars and even in times of peace, ongoing tension was high and royal authority on either side could not be relied upon to keep their people safe.
The Borderers found their own solution. Families, kindred and surnames sought security through their own means, using strength, cunning and a degree of ruthlessness which was nothing less than piracy on land to improve their lot at the expense of whoever appeared to be their enemy at the time. Over the years feuds and enmities grew to enormous proportions and loyalty to kin and surnames overrode any sense of national loyalty. With any man and his family a potential target for depredations, it became important to know where it was safe to bestow trust.
It was a predatory way to live, not helped by the local inheritance system of gavelkind, by which estates were divided equally between all sons on a man’s death, so that many people owned insufficient land to maintain themselves. Much of the border region is mountainous or open moorland, unsuitable for arable farming but good for grazing. Livestock was easily stolen and driven back to raiders’ territory by mounted reivers who knew the country. The raiders also often stole portable household goods or valuables, and took prisoners for ransom.
The attitudes of the English and Scottish governments towards the border families moved between indulgence and encouragement, as these martial families acted as the first line of defence against invasion across the border, to furious and brutal punishment when their lawlessness became impossible for the authorities to tolerate.
“Reive” is an early English word for “to rob” and is related to the old English verb reave, meaning to plunder or to rob and to the modern English word “ruffian”. The reivers were both English and Scottish and raided both sides of the border impartially, so long as the people they raided had no protection and no connection to their own kin. Their activities, although usually within a day’s ride of the border, might extend both north and south of their main riding areas. English raiders had been known to raid the outskirts of Edinburgh, and Scottish raids had been seen as far south as Yorkshire. The largest of these was The Great Raid of 1322, during the Scottish Wars of Independence, which reached as far south as Chorley. The main riding season ran through the early winter months, when the nights were longest and the cattle and horses fat from summer grazing. The numbers involved in a raid might range from a few dozen to three thousand riders.
When riding, the reivers rode light on hardy nags known as hobbies, renowned for their ability to pick their way over the boggy country. They wore light armour such as jacks of plated steel, a type of sleeveless doublet into which small plates of steel were stitched and metal helmets such as burgonets or morions; hence their nickname of the “steel bonnets”. They were armed with lances and small shields, and sometimes also with longbows, or light crossbows and later on in their history with one or more pistols. They also carried swords and dirks.
During the sixteenth century, areas of the borders were a virtual “no man’s land”. The Wardens of the Marches, both Scottish and English, made periodic attempts to bring some of the major riding families under control although corruption was rife and some of the Wardens were reivers themselves while many of them turned a blind eye to raiding, theft and the system of Black Rent – the origin of the work Blackmail.
The ordinary people of the borders adjusted to the system, suffered, paid, were burned out and sometimes died. It was a time of great brutality and intermittent wars between England and Scotland only added to the confusion and the problem. Feuds between families could last for decades and the original reason for the blood feud was often forgotten in the blood and death which followed. Scott killed Kerr and Maxwells hunted Johnstones, and surnames across the border united against a common enemy with kinship held far higher than national loyalty.
In 1525, the Archbishop of Glasgow took it upon himself to excommunicate the Border thieves. It is doubtful if the riding surnames were very impressed having long since given up on both church and state but the curse was ordered to be read from every pulpit in the diocese and be circulated throughout the length and breadth of the Borders.
I DENOUNCE, PROCLAIMS, AND DECLARES all and sundry the committers of the said of innocents murders, slaughters, burning, inheritances, robbery, thefts, and spoilings, openly upon day light and under silence of night, as well as within temporal lands as church lands; together with their part takers, assisters, suppliers, knowingly and of their persons, the goods snatched and stolen by them, art or part thereof, and their counsellors and defenders, of their evil deeds generally cursed, waking, aggravated, and re-aggravated, with the great cursing.
“I CURSE their head and all the hairs of their head; I CURSE their face, their eyes, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their skull, their shoulder’s, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their legs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the sole of their feet, before and behind, within and without. I CURSE them going, and I CURSE them riding; I CURSE them standing, and I CURSE them sitting; I CURSE them eating, I CURSE them drinking; I CURSE them walking, I CURSE them sleeping; I CURSE them rising, I CURSE them lying; I CURSE them at home, I CURSE them from home; I CURSE them within the house, I CURSE them without the house; I CURSE their wives, their children and their servants (who) participate with them in their deeds.
I Worry their corn, their cattle, their wool, their sheep, their horse, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their live goods (animals). I Worry their houses, their rooms, their kitchens, their stables, their barns, their byres, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their ploughs, their harrows, and the possessions and houses that are necessary for their sustentation and welfare. All the bad wishes and curses that ever got worldly creature since the beginning of the world to this hour might light upon them. The malediction of God, that lighted upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that struck them from the high heaven to the deep hell, might light upon them. The re and the sword that stopped Adam from the gates of Paradise might stop them from the glory of Heaven, until they forbear and make amends. The bad wishes that lighted on cursed Cain, when he slew his brother just Abel guiltless, might light on them for the innocent slaughter that they commit daily. The malediction that lighted upon all the world, man and beast, and all that ever took life, when all were drowned by the flood of Noah, except Noah and his ark, might light upon them and drown them, man and beast, and make this realm free of them for their wicked sins. The thunder and lightning that set down as rain upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, with all the lands about, and burnt them for their vile sins, might rain upon them, and burn them for open sins. The bad wishes and confusion that lighted on the Gigantis for their oppression and pride, building the tour of Babylon, might confound them and all their works, for their open disregard and oppression. All the plagues that fell upon Pharaoh and his people of Egypt, their lands, corn and cattle, might fall upon them, their leases (of land), rooms and buildings, corn and animals. The river of Tweed and other rivers where they ride might drown them, as the Red Sea drowned King Pharaoh and his people of Egypt, pursuing Gods people of Israel. The earth might open, split and cleave and swallow them alive to hell, as it swallowed cursed Dathan and Abiron, that disobeyed Moses and command of God. The wild re that burnt Thore and his fellows to the number of two hundredth and fty, and others 14,000 and 700 at anys, usurping against Moses and Aaron, servants of God, might suddenly burn and consume them daily disobeyed and commands of God and holy church.
The malediction that lights suddenly upon fair Absolom, riding contrary to his father, King David, servant of God, through the wood, when the branches of a tree knocked him off his horse and hanged him by the hair, might light upon them, untrue Scots men, and hang them suchlike that all the world may see.
The malediction that lighted upon Olifernus, lieutenant to Nebuchadnezzar’s, making war and hardships upon true Christian men; the malediction that lighted upon Judas, Pilot, Herod and the Jews that cruci ed Our Lord, and all the plagues and troubles that lightedon the city of Jerusalem therefore, and upon Simon Magus for his treachery, bloody Nero, cursed Ditius Magcensius, Olibrius, Julianus, Apostita and the rest of the cruel tyrants that slew and murdered Christ’s holy servants, might light upon them for their cruel tyranny and martyrdom of Christian people. And allthe vengeance that ever was taken since the world began for open sins, and all the plagues and pestilence that ever fell on man or beast, might fall on them for their open evil, slaughter of guiltless and shedding of innocent blood. I SEVER and PARTS them from the kirk of God, and deliver them alive to the devil of hell, as the Apostil Saint Paul delivered Corinth. I exclude the places they come in for divine service, ministration of the sacraments of holy church, except the sacrament of baptising only; and forbid all churchmen to take confession or absolve them of their sins, which they be rst absolved of this cursing.
I FORBID all Christian man or woman to have any company with them, eating, drinking, speaking, praying, lying, standing, or in any other deed doing, under the pain of deadly sin.
I DISCHARGE all bonds, acts, contracts, oaths and obligations made to them by any persons, other of law, kindness or duty, so long as they sustain this cursing; so that no man be bound to them, and that they be bound to all men. I Take from them and cry down all the good deeds that ever they did or shall do, which they rise from this cursing. I DECLARE them excluded of all matins, masses, evensongs, mourning or other prayers, on book or bead; of all pilgrimages and poorhouse deeds done or to be done in holy church or by Christian people, enduring this cursing.
“And, nally, I CONDEMN them perpetually to the deep pit of hell, to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows of the Burrow Muir, rst to be hanged, then torn apart with dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world. And their life gone from your sight, as might their souls go from the sight of God, and their good fame from the world, which they forbear their open sins aforesaid and rise from this terrible cursing, and make satisfaction and penance”.
The Archbishop seems to have lost patience with the Reivers and one imagines he was not the only one to do so.
In modern times the story of the Border Reivers has been brilliantly told in histories by George MacDonald Fraser in The Steel Bonnetsand by Alistair Moffat in The Reivers. In fiction, Dorothy Dunnett covered the difficulties of establishing law and order on the borders in the literary brilliance of the Lymond Chronicles and more recently P F Chisholm, alias Patricia Finney has told the fictional story of the real life Warden Sir Robert Carey in an excellent series of novels which have recently been reissued in omnibus editions, the first of which is Guns in the North.
My own contribution to the story of the Border Reivers is A Marcher Lord, set during the Wars of the Rough Wooing when Edward VI’s government under the Lord Protector Somerset tried to capture the baby Mary Queen of Scots in order to marry her to their young King. The novel tells the story of a Scottish border lord, loyal to the Crown and a young Englishwoman new to the borders with no fixed loyalties but a wealth of experience of the mercenary bands of Europe.
The Anglo-Scottish borders are one of my favourite parts of the world. I love the countryside, the history and the people. Many of my books are set in the Peninsular War of the early nineteenth century but I enjoyed my research into sixteenth century Scotland and I intend to return soon to find out what Will and Jenny did next…
I started to write A Marcher Lord sitting at a very rickety wooden desk in a rather nice little hotel in the border town of Jedburgh. I’m not sure if the ‘Spread Eagle Hotel’ is still open, I have a vague memory on a more recent visit that it seemed to be closed but that might have just been temporary. It was an old place right in the centre and the floor in my room sloped so badly that it made me feel slightly off-kilter but the bed was comfortable and the food was amazing.
I was on one of my periodic trips to escape from my family. Having been brave enough to have two children in my late thirties, I found as they grew up that a few days away from them all once a year stopped me turning into Mummy from the hilarious Peter and Jane Facebook posts. Normal women wanting to escape from family life, talk their partner into agreeing to a cheap break to Tenerife with the girls. Never having been even faintly normal, my idea of joy was to go to the Scottish borders on my own and tramp through mud and cowpats to explore reiver country which I had recently been reading about both in P F Chisholm’s totally brilliant Sir Robert Carey books and in the non-fiction account ‘The Steel Bonnets’ by the wonderful George Macdonald Fraser. P. F. Chisholm, for anybody who doesn’t know is one of the pen names of Patricia Finney, and these books are still popping out every now and then although not nearly often enough for me.
I’d been writing on and off since I was very young and my laptop was cluttered with half finished novels. I’d finished several and made attempts to find publishers or agents and I’d had a couple of very positive responses from the Romantic Novelist Association’s New Writers Scheme. But my problem was that I absolutely adored researching and writing historical romances but the effort of trying to get one actually published was completely beyond me.
I would like to tell tales of how heartbroken I was at endless rejections, but I honestly wasn’t, I’ve always been able to shrug stuff like that off very easily. I write what I write. I know it’s fairly well written, you can’t come out of an old style grammar school without being able to put together a piece of writing that’s easy to read with correct spelling and grammar, but not everybody likes history or romance and if your favourite kind of book is a gruesome psychological thriller with a hero with darkness in his soul you’re probably not going to jump up and down at the publication of a Regency romance. Although having said that, I am the woman who reads both Georgette Heyer and Val McDermid. But as I said, I’m not normal.
There weren’t actually endless rejections, because I didn’t make as much effort as I could have done. I found that I got very impatient with the whole process and when finally, after months of hearing nothing, I would send a polite chasing e-mail asking if they’d read the damned thing, I invariably got a very fast ‘not our sort of thing’ response which I rather suspected meant either ‘lost it and can’t be bothered to look for it’ or ‘oops, didn’t see this one, haven’t read it but it doesn’t matter because we’re never going to take a chance on a new author writing straightforward historical romance.’
Self-publishing used to be very expensive and I never considered it until the advent of kindle. Even then I resisted the idea for a long time. It used to be called vanity publishing, and there was definitely a stigma about it. I’m not sure if there still is, but I finally realised that since I love to write and put a lot of time and energy into making the books I write as good as I can, I’d rather like people to read them and enjoy them and come back for more. Perhaps if I’d persisted, I would have found a publisher. As it is, I now have eight books out there and people are reading them and seem to be enjoying them.
I began A Marcher Lord after my first visit to Smailholm Tower which is somewhere between Kelso and Melrose. I arrived there, driving my poor car through a farmyard, very late in an autumn afternoon and the tower itself was closed. I climbed up to the base of the tower to take some photographs and the atmosphere of the place just drew me in. Standing there looking out over the hills, with the trees the most glorious shades of autumn colours, I felt as though I could have drifted back in time. There was no sign of the twenty first century. In my mind I was already populating the land around me with smallholdings and cattle and sheep and a tough border lord who is wrapped up in the complicated politics of the Scottish court as well as trying to keep his lands and his people safe from the English invaders and marauding reivers. Not much time for romance there, I’d have thought…
Out of that lovely afternoon was born Will Scott, Lord Crawleigh, a man of honour in a time when honour was often for sale; Jane Marchant with her courage and free spirit, and A Marcher Lord, a love story set against the backdrop of a brutal war.
I love this book, I loved researching and writing it and I’m planning on writing a sequel next year. Despite their very complicated circumstances, Will and Jenny are possibly my most straightforward hero and heroine and I like that about them. A Marcher Lord is now available in paperback as well as on Kindle.
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Today saw the publication of A Marcher Lord, the first book in a series set on the turbulent Anglo-Scottish borders during Tudor times. I’m looking forward to writing the sequel to this as I grew very attached to the two main characters and I love both the Tudor period and the border country where the novel is set.
Sixteenth century border country was a wild and lawless place. Over the years, wars between England and Scotland changed the lives of those living on both sides of the borders. They were subject to regular invasions by both armies who would take provisions, often without payment, and would often kill and steal and burn out farms and villages. Crops were destroyed, homes burned out and people killed or forced to flee.
The worst affected areas were Liddesdale, Redesdale and Tynedale as these were the main routes across the border. With their crops and livestock constantly stolen or destroyed the families gave up trying to live a normal life and took to reiving.
The dictionary defines reiving as ‘to go on a plundering raid’ and it’s accurate. Local families took to raiding for cattle, sheep and anything else they could transport and it became an established way of life on the Borderers, practiced by both sides and all classes. A nobleman was just as likely to be a reiver as a commoner and the border officials, including the Wardens of the various Marches were often corrupt or indifferent. To be a reiver on the borders was not seen as a crime, merely a way of life.
Reiving was not a matter of Scots against English. The borderers first loyalty was to their family or ‘surname’ and not only did the Scots raid the English and the English raid the Scots but the families would raid each other, often leading to blood feuds which could last for generations.
Basically, this was the wild west of the time where almost anything could happen and law and order was fighting a losing battle. Despite Sir Walter Scott’s attempts to romanticise the period in his ballads, the reality was brutal and bloody and must have caused sheer misery on the borders for many years.
My fascination with this period came from reading the novels of Dorothy Dunnett and then PF Chisholm, aka Patricia Finney who has written a marvellous series of novels based around the historical figure of Sir Robert Carey. I managed to find a copy of Carey’s original memoirs and I was fascinated by them and also encouraged by them. As a writer of historical fiction you often wonder if what you are writing is too unbelievable, but honestly, you couldn’t make Carey up.
If you want a non-fiction account of the reivers and their activities, George MacDonald Fraser who wrote the hilarious Flashman novels, wrote a brilliantly entertaining account called ‘The Steel Bonnets’ which is highly recommended and very easy to read.
While I was writing a Marcher Lord I spent several very happy trips driving and walking around Border country. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to; wild, often wet and unpredictable. Even today it is very easy to imagine the scenes of reiver times and finding locations for the book was very simple.
In A Marcher Lord, Crawleigh Castle is based on an amalgamation of border fortresses. I love Hermitage Castle, guardian of Liddesdale and although Crawleigh has four towers which is more reminiscent of a traditional castle, the sense of brooding menace which Jenny attributes to the castle at first sight is based on the Hermitage. The countryside surrounding the castle is based on that around Smailholm Tower and visitors to the tower there will be able to climb up and look down towards where the mill once stood and visualise Jenny’s view from the castle.
I hope my readers enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it. I am currently knee deep in Napoleonic Portugal but when I have time I intend to come back to Will and Jenny and find out what role they had to play in the dramatic years to come.
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