How to Research your
Foster Family
in England / Scotland


The Border Reivers

(shamelessly stolen from several pages visited by an unknown "Foster" while researching this project)

For over 350 years up to the end of the 16th century what are now Northumberland, Cambria, The Scottish Borders, Dumfries, and Galloway rang to the clash of steel and thunder of hooves. As George MacDonald Fraser explained in his book, "The Steel Bonnets", "The great border tribes of both Scotland and England feuded continuously among themselves. Robbery and blackmail were everyday professions; raiding, arson, kidnapping, murder, and extortion were an accepted part of the social system.

While the monarchs of England and Scotland ruled the comparatively secure hearts of their kingdoms, the narrow hill land between was dominated by the lance and the sword. The tribal leaders from their towers, the broken men, and outlaws of the mosses, the ordinary peasants of the valleys, in their own phrase, 'shook loose the Border'. They continued to shake it as long as it was political reality, practicing systematic robbery and destruction on each other. History has christened them the Border Reivers.

In the story of Britain, the Border Reiver is a unique figure. He was not part of a separate minority group in his area; he came from every social class. He was an agricultural laborer, or a small-holder, or a gentleman farmer, or even a peer of the realm, a professional cattle rustler, a fighting man and a guerrilla soldier of great resource to whom the arts of theft, raid, tracking, and ambush were second nature. He was also a gangster organized on highly professional lines, who had perfected the protection racket three centuries before Chicago was built. He gave blackmail to the English language."

Throughout the Reliving years, travel was dangerous business. Strangers met with suspicion, fear and hostility. The traveler had to move cautiously by day, always sought shelter before nightfall and rarely found a welcome.

The Border Lands, territorial patch of the Border Reiver, straddle the once disputed boundary and Debatable Land between "two of the most energetic, aggressive, talented and all together formidable nations in history", England and Scotland. They stretch in one broad sweep from the Solway Firth in the west to the Northumbrian and Berwickshire coast in the east and comprise the Cheviot Hills and parts of the Southern Uplands and the Pennines. To the west, they are the Solway Coast and the Eden Valley, to the east, the Merse. They are riven by the waters of the Nith, the Annan, the Esk, the Teviot, the Tweed, and by Redesdale, Coquetdale, Tynedale and, of course Liddesdale, scene of so many of the bloodiest events of the Reliving years.

The Border lands are home to the descendants of the notorious Reivers and their marauding families: the Armstrongs, the Grahams, the Irvines, the Kerrs, the Scotts, the Elliots, the Maxwells, the Johnstones, the Musgraves, the Bells, the Fosters, the Charltons, the Nixons and the Robsons to name just some of the more feuding elements of Border society in the 16th century. The area is liberally dotted with castles, stately homes, the ruins of historic abbeys, fortified farmhouses (bastles), the scattered remains of pele towers and the atmospheric remnants of abandoned hamlets or howfs, hidden up remote side valleys. The many towns and settlements that were raided, the fortified churches and the defensive walls and dykes dating back to Elizabeth I and her forbears. The fields of battle and the Reiver graveyards all bear testament to the turbulent history that marked these lands and those times. The brutal activities of the warring families and the indiscriminate plundering and merciless cruelty that drove fear deep into the very souls of ordinary Border folk.

Other vestiges of that virtually ungovernable region, of that lawless state that was allowed to flourish, more or less unchecked, for the best part of 350 years, reside within the ancient seats of power, the Warden families such as the Buccleuchs, Dacres, Humes and Scropes, the frontier garrisons, the places of truce. And on the Reiver side, there are the secret places of sanctuary, the lairs they fled to in the heat of pursuit, the 'hot trod'; mosses and wastes where pursuing posses could find themselves at a distinct disadvantage; hidden valleys where one thousand head of cattle could be spirited away.  This is a glimpse of the life of our heritage, The Border People.

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