« AnteriorContinuar »
Border, they were come to regard the whole system of warfare and depredation as a business of the if own, and independent of the interests of the two kingdoms and the wars between them, in which they no longer took any patriotic share. Under this annihilation of allegiance and national interest, the trade or possession of Blunder acquired, by a kind of tacit convention between the respective borderers, a certain regulation of form and' principle, .i' <-.i] (iiiijr to which they were to avoid as much as possible all 1 >< i: i'n.;: violence, and confine themselves, in their inroads, to the honourable business of marauding. Another feature of the system, and which shews how completely it bad taken place of all national feeling, was, that they made no scruple, on either side, of exercising their vocation upon the goods and chattels of any separate district of their own country.
* The men of Tyncdale and Reedsdale, in particular, appear to have been more frequently tempted by the rich vales of the Bishopric of Durhuin, and other districts which lay to the southward, than by the rude desolation of the Scottish hills.'
And more than even this, the bands of both Borders would combine in plans of rapine against either country, indifferently, on the occasion of any strong irruption of the national ibroe, which offered an advantage for their predatory enterprises; and would at the next turn conjointly accompany for tue same purpose, the opposite national force, if it succeeded in repelliug and retaliating the invasion. It was no uncommon timig tor women to share, and signalize themselves in, the daring exploits of these worthy freemen. And' the Borderers,' says our Author,' me'rited the devoted attachment of their wives, if, as we learn, 'one principal use of the wealth they obtained by plunder, was < to bestow it in ornamenting the persons of their partners.' Every thing in the human shape appears to have btvii kept in willing preparation to kill and slay on all tilting occasions; to avoid it, in any instance, was matter of policy rather than of taste. It was an especial dictate of this policy, to make prisoners rather than victims. These, when they were persons of any account, were worth money, and they were sure to bring it. Nor was it, beyond this consideration of expense, any great calamity to be captured. If the prisoner was taken away, he was treated with civility till ransomed. But tie was often set at large immediately, on giving his word to be a true prisoner, with an engagement to appear at a certain time and place, to treat of his ransom.
4 If they were able to agree, a term was usually assigned for the payment, and security given; if not, the prisoner surrendered himself to the discretion of his captor. But where the interest of both parties pointed so strongly to the necessity of mutual accommodation, it rarely happened that they did not agree upon terras. Thus, even
in the encounters of these rude warriors on either side, the nations maintained the character of honour, courage, and generosity, assigned to them by Froissart. "Englishmen on the one party, and Scotchmen on the other party, are good men of war; for when they meet then is a hard fight without sparing; there is no hoo (i. e. cessation for parley) between them, as long as spears, swords, axes, or daggers, will endure; but they lay on each upon other, and when they be well beaten, and that the one party hath obtained the victory, they then glorify so in their deeds of arms, and are so joyful, that such as be taken they shall be ransomed ere they go out of the field; so that shortly each of them is so content with other, that at their departing courteously, they will say,' God thank you.' But in fighting one with another, there is no play nor spai ing." *
That there should be poetry and legends among such people is not wonderful; but then, for religion! That, too, was sure to have a place among their notions and,observances; and it was in a form not much out of harmony with the feeling which could invoke * God' to • thank' men for their gallantry and exultation among swords, daggers, axes, and dead bodies. 'They 'never,* says our Author,' told their beads, according to Lesley, 'with such devotion as when they were setting out upon a 'marauding party, and expected a good booty as the recompense 'of their devotions.' In several Scottish districts which he names, he says there were no resident ecclesiastics to celebrate the rites of the Church. 'A monk from Melrose, called, from 'the porteous or breviary which he wore in his breast, a book'a-bosom, visited these forlorn regions once a year, and so'lemni/.ed marriages and baptisms.' It was no question for the monk how they came by the means of paying for bis services; nor would he have hesitated to visit thein at shorter intervals, if their spoils and wills had allowed an adequate remuneration. Uncanonical customs, some of which are noticed, could not fail to arise, and to acquire an appearance of sanction, under this infrequency of the regular offices of the Church. Parts of the English Border were better supplied with really authorized, or self-appointed churchmen, many of whom 'attending the free'booters as Friar Tuck is said to have done upon Robin Hood, 'partook in their spoils, and mingled with the rcliques of bar'barism the rites and ceremonies of the Christian Church.' These ' ghostly abettors' of theft and rapine are exposed, with emphatic censure, in a pastoral admonition of Fox, Bishop of Durham, dated about the end of the fifteenth century, and cited by our Author, as descriptive also of the general savage mode of life, which it is charged upon the nobles, and even the 'king's 'officers,' that they likewise patronized and participated. The barbarous customs were found remaining in full prevalence, by the venerable Bernard Gilpin, some, of the remarkable and romantic anecdotes of whose life are here very properly repeated.
Mr. Scott seems to admit, not without some reluctance, 'that 'non-conforming presbyterian preachers were the first who c brought this rude generation to any sense of tho benefits of re'ligion.' To this sentence he subjoins, in a note, as a quotation from a history of ' Scottish Worthies,1 a curious passage in the life of Richard Cameron, who gave name to the sect of Cameronians.
• After he was licensed, they sent him at first-to preach in Annandalc. He said, How could'he go there? He knew not what sort of people they were. But Mr. Welch said, Go your way, Ritchie, and set the fire of hell to their tails. He went, and the first day he preached upon that text, How shall 1 put thee -among the children, 8fC.? In the application he said, Put you among the children! the offspring of robbers and thieves. Many have heard of Annandale thieves.^—Some of them got a merciful cast that day, and told it afterwards, that it was the first field-meeting that ever they attended; and that they went out of curiosity to see how a minister could preach in a tent, and people sit on the ground.'
The remainder of this historical Introduction consists of a statement, considerably at large, and containing a variety of curious details and anecdotes, of the measures of government adopted by the two States, for keeping the Borders in some degree of order. The predominant comprehensive institution was, the appointment and residence of' officers of high rank, holding 'special commissions from the crown of either country, and en*• titled wardens, or guardians of the marches,' sometimes two, often three, on each side of the boundary, with sometimes a lord-warden-general to superintend their conduct.
• The duties committed to the charge of the wardens were of a two-fold nature, as they regarded the maintenance of law and good order amongst the inhabitants of their jurisdiction themselves, and at they concerned the exterior relations betwixt them and the opposite frontier.
'The abodes of the Scottish wardens were generally their own castles on the frontiers, such as we have described them to be; and the large trees, which are still to be seen in the neighbourhood of these baronial strong-holds, served for the ready execution of justice or revenge on such malefactors as they chose to doom to death.'
The mention of ' revenge' as a principle operating and so promptly gratified in the administration of these guardians, may suggest how very imperfectly the institution could have an•wered its proper end. In truth, though it did prevent an entire anarchy, it not only often failed in the repression and redress of wrong, but was sometimes directly perverted to the perpetration of it. The Scottish monarchs were not sufficiently powerful in their southern territories, to dare confer the office on any but the proud nobles who were already, in virtue of their own possessions and influence, a kind of repents in the border tracts. This was the case also with the English kings till the time of Henry VIII., when the power of the government became sufficiently established to appoint to the office men independent of the northern nobility, and who, sustained by the immediate authority of the Court, could act in defiance of thorn. It is obvious what mischief must have inevitably resulted from investing with all the weight of a royal and extensive commission, the lords of the Border, who had their own local selfish interests, their ambition, their competitions, their quarrels, and their arrears of revenge, combined with a feudal ascendency in their respective districts. It was infallibly certain that they would, as they often in fact did, avail themselves of their commission, and the military and fiscal force assigned to them for Us execution, to gratify their rapacity or revenge, by acts of flagrant injustice against their personal rivals and enemies.
In the hands of independent, upright, and intelligent men, such as some of the English wardens in the later reigns, the authority of the office was exerted to a highly beneficial effect; but among so many fierce wild animals, existing in sections ill affected to one another, and continually coming in hazardous contact with the rival irregularity and fierceness of the opposite Borderers, the wardens had often, as our Author's account of the rules and expedients of their administration, and his amusing iilterspersion of unlucky incidents, may serve to illustrate, a most difficult exercise for all their resolution and prudence. Sir ltobert Gary, whose Memoirs were published a few years since, was an example of this hard exercise of these qualities, and of its general efficacy.
There is considerable interest, obsolete as the whole matter is, in reading the lively detail of the formalities, chivalrous or grotesque, of the administration of the warden's government. Curious as some of them were in themselves, they were peculiarly liable, from the character of the people, to become quite fantastic in the practice, by accompanying incidents, comical, tragical, or both at once. The very phraseology of an oath of purgation seems to speak the wild peculiarity of the popular character. "You shall swear by heaven above you, hell be"neath you, by your part of paradise, by all that God made in "six days and seven nights, and by God himself, you are whart "out sackless of art, part, way, witting, ridd, kenning, having, "or resetting of any of the goods and cattels named in this "bill, So help you God."
With the mere banditti, the moss-troopers, when they were caught in the fact, the process of justice was very summary and conclusive.
'Th« Border marauders had every motive to exert their faculties
for the purpose of escape; for once seized upon, their doom was sharp and short. The mode of punishment was either by hanging or drowning. The next tree, or the deepest pool of the nearest stream, was indifferently used on these occasions. Many moss-troopers are said to have been drowned in a deep eddy of the Jed near Jedburgh. And in fine, the little ceremony used on these occasions added another feature to the reckless and careless character of the Borderers, who were thus accustomed to part with life with as little form as civilized men change their garments.'
Through the train of so many ages, what a melancholy scene have we on this devoted tract, of almost incessant energy, and movement, and enterprise, all worse than in vain! an extended series of tumult and destruction without an object; a process of nearly unmingled evil working to no manner and no possibility of ultimate good. The principle of the mischief had no self-corrective, and was of interminable operation. Every man of sober mind, at (lie time, must have been pleased at the event which reduced the whole wretched and infamous region under the general laws of one strong comprehensive government. Mr. Scott does not betray any petty nationality of feeling on this subject. That he should exultingly hail the change, was not, perhaps, fairly to be expected. His literary duty is performed, as we have already said, very respectably. It did not properly demand all the elaboration and punctilious correctness of composition deemed obligatory on the formal regular historian. Two or three days of revision would, however, have rectified many inaccuracies of construction whioh are left apparent in a performance which will, nevertheless, please by the spirit and freedom of its style. Some ten or twenty more dates inserted would have materially added to its value.
Little needs be said of the portions of illustrative letterpress attached respectively to the plates. Their historical part consists very much of genealogy and transfers of possession. The utter dryness of these, and of the architectural details very properly introduced, is relieved by curious anecdotes, and passages of picturesque description. We may transcribe two or three short specimens of the more attractive quality.
In the account of Bothwell Castle, Northumberland, there is a striking reference to the condition of captives, in these gloomy fortresses.
'At the foot of the stairs is the door which leads to the prison. Imagination can hardly conceive any place more gloomy and horrible than those dungeons in baronial castles, which were allotted for the incarceration of captives : but here some guiding spirit of benevolence teemed to actuate the architect, for the prison, instead of being excavated from the dark recesses of the earth, was above ground; the cheerful light of heaven was admitted to gladden the sight of the forlorn inhabitant, though gleaming only through the narrow apertures