Looking out on a particularly dismal Easter Sunday this year, the occasional driving rain reminds me that some 420 years ago, similar weather was about to play an important part in one of the most audacious acts – and there are many to count – ever undertaken on the Scottish Borders.
But let the scene be set …
On the 17th March 1596, a day of truce was set between the English Middle March, which was under the Wardenship of Thomas Scrope and the Keeper of Liddesdale (Walter Scott of Buccleuch), to try to settle a matter of “redress and delivery” regarding an “offender” wanted by Buccleuch. Neither Scrope nor Buccleuch were present in person, it seems.
The matter had been delayed, according to Scrope because Buccleuch also wanted the “accessarie” handed over, but this was a man who whom Buccleuch “bore malice”, and so the process had been delayed and postponed. On the 17th March, however, the meeting was set, but Buccleuch refused to keep to the terms of truce. Buccleuch had good reason.
That was the day that William Armstrong of Kinmont also known as Will of Kynmonth, was taken and brought into Scrope’s jurisdiction. Scrope was at pains to explain his own men’s actions, knowing that the contentious matter of Border Truce could render the taking of a man, protected under laws of a Truce Day an illegal act. He stated that Armstrong had broken the truce himself, and therefore it was right that he should be punished; that he was an enemy of the Wardenship (something which should not be argued, but he was still under the laws of Truce); that his followers had committed recent raids; that Buccleuch’s jurisdiction and protection did not apply to Kinmont, as he lived outwith the bounds of Liddesdale; and where he was taken was ‘beyond the limits’ of Buccleuch’s ‘charge’ … Scrope knew what had occurred was contentious:
How Kynmont was taken will appear by the copy of the attestation by his takers, which if true, ” it is held that Kynmont did thereby breake th’assurance that daye taken, and for his offences ought to be delivered to the officer against whom he had offended, to be punished according to discreation.” Another reason for detaining him is his notorious enmity to this office, and the many outrages lately done by his followers. He appertains not to Buccleuch, but dwells out of his office, and was also taken beyond the limits of his charge, so Buccleuch makes the matter a mere pretext to defer justice and do “further indignities.”
The above day for redress and delivery was the 17th of this month—which night Kynmont was taken and brought here, where I detain him, thinking it best to do so till good security be given for better behaviour of him and his in time coming, and recompense of damages lately done to the people here.
So wrote Scrope to Burghley, on the 18th March 1596. He could not have dreamt, during his most restless nights (of which we must suspect there were many), what was already being plotted against him.