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Who Were the Border Reivers?

The starting point for Wyldwood came with the pandemic. Everyone suddenly had time at home they normally wouldn't have, and I decided to use mine to load several family trees that had been passed on to me into

I had grown up thinking that the majority of my ancestors were German. And while there were a lot of Germans in my tree, I was also delighted to find that I had a lot of Irish ancestors as well. Having always felt very connected to Celtic art, music, and mythology, I began diving into my Irish history. And as my search continued, I found that I had a large amount of ancestors from Scotland as well.

Full confession: I realized I knew NOTHING about Scottish history. Zero. Zilch. And as I went backwards in my tree, I ran into three massive clans: Scott, Stuart, and MacDonald. As I started looking into them, and other clans that had married into them as well, such as the Kerrs and Bruces, I ran across a name: Sir William "Boltfoot" Scott, 1st Laird of Harden, 1529-1563.

"Boltfoot"? Where'd the nickname come from? And why did his male relatives all seem to have nicknames as well? One of these interestingly-named gentleman listed a profession: Border Reiver.

Okay, I thought, what the heck is a Border Reiver? Well, to sum up (As Alex does in Wyldwood,) a Border Reiver is a sort of "pirate on land". With the English-Scottish border often in turmoil with armies marching through and destroying everything in their wake, it became hard to earn a living farming or herding in the Scottish borders. So families on both sides, Scottish and English, did what they needed to do to survive; they stole everything that wasn't nailed down to provide for their families. They weren't political about it, either; they'd steal from England and Scotland equally. Cattle, sheep, and horses were herded off into the night, and the larger families started building fortresses and gaining power and hoo, boy did they squabble among themselves. Huge feuds broke out as various clans gained power. The existence of the Reivers drove England absolutely bonkers, and the Crown tried to both ally with and imprison them, depending on the day and mood.

A map of some of the most powerful Reiver clans for your consideration:

On this map you'll see names you'll recognize if you're reading The Spiral Pathways series. There's the Armstrongs, (Rhona Armstrong and Toran Armstrong from Circle of Three) the Kerrs (Old Man Kerr from both books and Donovan Kerr from Circle of Three), and you can see the Selbys (Oliver Selby from Wyldwood) up there on the east coast. The Burn or Burns Clan was a frequent associate of the Kerrs. I've got a few Kerrs in my family tree as well.

And of course, you can see the Scotts have spread themselves all over the place, smack in the middle of things. The character of Alexander Scott draws his name, as many of the characters do, from my family tree. I have two Alexander Scotts, although they were alive well before Alex's time; Alexander Scott (1500-1539) of Balwearie and Sir Alexander Scott, 2nd Laird of Fingask, 1497-1547, who died at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh (a battle known as "Black Saturday" in Scottish History). Both of my real-life Alexanders were from the Balweary /Fife branch of the Clan a bit further north, which births a major character in Circle of Three, although I have a massive amount of relatives from Buccleuch as well.

I started thinking: what if I took a Border Reiver and instead of putting him in the 1500s, moved him up to the 1700s and had him reive supplies and prisoners after the Jacobite Rebellion? And POOF! Alex was born. He's been making me type ferociously ever since, the rascal.

Several of the Scott Reivers made themselves rather famous, and this is touched on in the first two book of the series and will become a major point in Book Three. For more on the Reivers. check out this video by Bruce Fummey on Youtube. He does a whole series on Scottish History and is an absolute delight to watch and listen to. He'll be popping up on this blog a lot (check out his other videos!)

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