From the 14th to the 16th century, the reivers were the riding and raiding families on both sides of the English/Scottish Border. Then, no man could sleep safely and no cattle could be left unguarded. Centuries of warfare between the two countries had created a lawless society where people just tried to survive. Riders, raiders, guerrilla fighters, gangsters – the border reivers gave the words ‘bereaved’ and ‘blackmail’ to the English language.
They lived by stealing and the enemy was anyone outside one’s own clan. It wasn't just Scotland versus England. These were people who were ‘Scottish when they will and English at their pleasure’. Fighting was instilled from birth. When children were christened, the right hand was left out of the ceremony so they might grow up to ‘strike unhallowed blows on their enemies’.
Did you know?
The Armstrongs were the most feared family on the Scottish border. At one time they could field 3 thousand riders – and are said to have done more damage to England by foray than any two Scottish families combined. Their motto was, I Remain Unvanquished. Shown is above their ancient tartan and badge.
Langholm Castle sits in the fields across from here. It is owned by the Scotts of Buccleuch, but is cared for by the Clan Armstrong Trust. It was probably built by an Armstrong laird and it played a strategic role in keeping order in Eskdale. To their enemies, the reivers were robbers and raiders; to local rulers, they were often invaluable law enforcers. In 1544 Langholm castle was occupied by the English during the ‘Rough Wooing’, when Henry VIII of England tried to force a marriage between his son and Mary Queen of Scots. It was later retaken by the Scots after the firing of just seven shots.
‘On the border was the Armestronges - able men, somewhat unruly,
and very ill tae tame!’
Langholm is the ‘Muckle Toon’ or ‘Big Town’ and it achieved a world-wide reputation in the 19th century for the cloth woven in its mills from locally produced fleeces. Langholm’s big day is the annual Common Riding, held in July. Visitors come from all over the world and some are the descendents of reivers. Armstrongs, Elliots, Irvines, Maxwells, Littles, Johnstones, Beatties, Bells, Nixons, Grahams, Scotts, Maxwells and others ride the marches, or boundaries, of the town with the same spirit as their forebears.
Another great day for Langholm was when the ‘Moon Man’, Neil Armstrong, came to visit in 1972. This international Museum of the Clan Armstrong Trust located here in the 1990s.
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