“I love a ballad in print o’life, for then we are sure they are true”
I would exhort caution in the extreme with regards to the above statment, although I would never suggest that the contrary view is the only attitude ever taken. However, let us consider the fate of Sakelde in “Kinmont Willie”, first published by Walter Scott in his Minstrelsy. Sakelde, in print, and indeed in the hearts of many generations of ballad singers, is ever “fause Sakeld” – the man who captured Kinmont Willie during the Day of Truce, and who subsequently paid for that lack of Border honour with his life. For, as anyone who has heard (or indeed read) the ballad, Dickie of Dryhope runs Sakelde through with his lance, eradicating the black-hearted officer from the tale – and confusing history in the self-same action.
“Kinmont Willie” tantalises with its blend of fact and fiction. Sakelde’s death, however, is one point within the ballad where the facts, as they are known, can be said to be inaccurate.
While Lord Scrope, the March Warden, was humiliated by the rescue of William Armstrong of Kinmont from the apparently impregnable Carlisle Castle in April 1596, much of his subsequent ire was directed not upon the Armstrongs, but upon Walter Scott, “the Bold Buccleuch”, and Ritchie (Richard) Graham. The Graham was the more accessible target, shall we say, and Scrope pursued the misdemeanours (alleged or otherwise) of Ritchie Graham and his clan with stubborn diligence. Their collusion with the Armstrongs, Buccleuch et al may have sown the seeds of the downfall of the Grahams, as it seems to have fired the desire within the officials more than ever to eradicate the Grahams from the West March. Arrest, accusation and counter-accusations and retributions flourished, as seen in this extract from the Calendar of Border Papers from Spetember 1600:
The full Calendar extract may be read here.
Here, then, is an account of the kidnap of Thomas Salkeld’s son, who must have been specifically targeted. The boy’s father was a signatory to another document relating to the dreadful behaviour of the Grahams later on in the same month –
(the full Calendar extract may be read here)
– although we would contest the declaration that the signatories had inserted nothing “on private malice”. Mr Salkeld was sufficiently well and active four years on from the Kinmont Willie incident to be partaking fully in everyday matters of the English West March. Accounts of his demise – at Dickie of Dryhope’s hands at least – can confidently be taken as fictional retribution.