Actions and Detail Panel
MLFHS Anglo-Scots Branch Meeting.
Sat 20 May 2017, 14:00 – 16:00 BST
The Reivers: Survival, Terror and Politics in the Borders 1296-1610
“If Jesus Christ were amongst them, they would deceive him”
Richard Fenwick 1597
Reiver (n). The old English word for robber or thief. This is a term which would have probably disappeared from our language if it wasn’t for one thing, it has become the generic name for the powerful families who inhabited and terrorised the Anglo-Scottish border region in the Middle Ages. The term rightly implies lawlessness and for their own advantage they engaged in all forms of criminality including livestock rustling, kidnapping for ransom, violent reprisal, extortion and protection racketeering. They gave us the terms “blackmail” and “bereaved”. They subverted the Governments and national policy on both sides. Quarrelling families often perpetuated their differences in murderous feuds.
But skulduggery, theft and killing wasn’t the whole story, they were considered men of honour (albeit to their own code of morality) and good to their word. They protected their kin from not only their rivals but also rampaging English and Scottish armies and raiding forces. They were the writers of some fabulously atmospheric and moving poetry in what is collectively known as the Border Ballads.
The Reivers were a fascinating, highly political, multifaceted group of people struggling to survive under the most difficult circumstances imaginable in the medieval period. So, how had this all come about, why were they allowed to carry on for as long as they did and what was their story?