Effectiveness of Robert Carey’s Rule

Feb 19th, 2008 | By | Category: Lead-article, Reiver Information

In this chapter Sir Robert Carey’s Middle March Wardenship of 1598-1603 will be examined, in an attempt to assess the effectiveness of his rule. This will be achieved by looking at the main events which occurred during his time as Warden, and then relating Carey’s actions to the laws covered in the previous chapter.

When Carey was offered the Middle March Wardenship of England, he immediately recognised that it was ‘much weakened and spoiled’.1 Having said that, Carey then asked for only 40 horse, even though he was assured that he would be offered at least 100, as Lord Eure had previously been granted.2 This decision of Carey’s may have been shear bravado, though that would not seem to fit his character, and he may simply be playing down his own ability to make any success he had seem that much more of an achievement.

Upon entering his office Carey immediately set out to solve one of the main problems Lord Eure had, that is the loyalty of his officers. To achieve this Carey’s first action was to ‘cleanse my under officers.’,3 whereby he placed Sir Henry Widdrington4 and Sir William Fenwick5as his two Deputies. This immediately shows that Carey knew of the often split loyalties of previous officers of the March, and of the need to employ those who he knew would be loyal to him.

When Carey first arrived he also recognised that the thieves continued in ‘spoiling the country, not caring much for me, nor my authority.’6This lack of respect by the thieves was mirrored in the Commissions findings of 1597, where the system of pledges stated that the thieves enter two or more of their name, in an attempt to force them to co-operate with the Wardens, though this had obviously failed so far.

Carey then immediately recognised another problem of the March, that was the dual, or lack, of nationality that the reivers had. He set out to,

‘cleanse the country of our inbred fears, the thieves within my March, for by them most mischief was done: for the Scotch riders were always guided by some of them in all the spoils they made.’7

Carey was showing his knowledge of the Border between England and Scotland and putting this to good use. Carey seems to have made some headway, and speaks of taking ‘sixteen or seventeen that summer, and the winter following, of notorious offenders, that ended their days by hanging or heading.'((F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p48.))

The first of the main incidents during Carey’s rule as Middle March Warden occurred in August 1598. Carey states in a letter to Burghley that ‘a company of 200 Scots, 80 of them and more, armed with ‘calyvers and horsemens peece’ came into England their purpose unkown.’8Carey sent his two Deputies who ‘set upon the Scots within England’,(( and then followed the ‘foray’ into Scotland, whereupJ. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p551.)) on ‘private men slew their enemies who were in deadly feud with them’,((J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p551.)) resulting in 3 or 4 dead and 16 prisoners.9 It was discovered that the Scotsmen had entered England merely for the hunt and ‘to take such venison as the country [England] afforded’.((J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p551.)) Carey recognised that hunting without permission from across the Borders had come about because of the weakness of Sir John Forster in his later years, and the troubled Wardenship of Lord Eure’s, where such things were considered too small a matter for immediate concern.((F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p55.) Carey realised that this incident would result in some complaint, but insisted that the people who entered knew it was unlawful to do so, and that it was also their ‘custom to bring in 100 men’ to cut and carry away wood’10 to Scotland, which itself was illegal.((This incident is somewhat confusing as Carey’s report to Burghley, in 1598, differs to that contained within his own Memoirs, which placed the incident after Carey dealt with the outlaws of Liddesdale in 1601. It is certainly the same incident that Carey talks of, and it would seem that as with many dates in Carey’s Memoirs the chronology was simply wrong.))

The Scottish had their own view of the incident and on August 13th Carey was writing in complaint to Cecil having heard that King James VI had asked for the delivery of both Carey’s Deputies.((J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, pp.552-553.)) There is also an undated letter by the hand of Cecil’s clerk which was titled within the Calendar of Border Papers (1896) as the ‘Rival Statements on the Redesdale Hunting’, which states five main areas of difference. In brief these included Carey’s report of 200 Scots, of which 80 were armed, while the Scots swear to only 60 unarmed; Sir Robert that they entered on 2nd August, and his officers chased them 2 miles into Scotland, while the Scots version says they had been hunting some two days already and were attacked while having dinner; Carey’s accusation that the Scots brought 100 people to take wood, while the Scots deny this completely; Carey stated only two Scots were slain, while the Scots claim they were also robbed of 50 ‘nags'; and Carey defends his Deputies saying they had no plans to take life, while the Scots say they planned the attack to show no ‘favour’ to any.((J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, pp.556-557.))

It is impossible to say exactly what happened at Redesdale, as the truth was never found out. It did though result in both of Carey’s Deputies been delivered to the Bishop of Durham in November 1598, ‘to remain at her Majesty’s pleasure’, where Carey hoped that their stay there would be short, as the country was in need of them both.((J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p577.))

Carey complained that the ‘Scots had made not fewer than 20 great spoils in this March’11only a month since his Deputies were delivered. In a letter by Cecil, however, Carey is reminded that,

‘it is contrary to the lawe of the Borders, to followe into Scotland in such a manner to kill and take prysoners for an offence of hunting without warrant, when nothing was stolne nor no man killed’12

On January 31st Carey writes to Cecil stating that he believed it to be Sir Robert Kerr who made King James so vehement in the hope that his own pledges would be released in return for the complaint against Carey’s Deputies to be dropped.13Further accusations occurred on March 2nd when Carey blamed Kerr for helping to plan the escape of pledges from York, as a means to disquiet the Border.((J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p595.)) By April 3rd the two Deputies had been allowed to return back to Alnwick, where they would be kept prisoner. On May 17th Carey wrote to Cecil to inform him that when been tried by assise at a Day of Truce, the Governor of Berwick and ‘Lord Houme’ would hear the case, to avoid any complaints of impartiality.((J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p656.)) Later that month Sir Henry Widdrington and Sir William Fenwick were both released to carry out their duties.

This incident acts as an example to show a number of problems that a Warden had to face while carrying out his duty. It showed that neither the Warden nor his Deputies had control over the people under their command when blood feuds rose to the surface. If neither the Warden, nor his Deputies could control their own company, it would be near impossible for justice to be carried out. The second point is that the incident became a political tool for the Scots, highlighting the position of the Warden as a political figure representing his country.

The third point to be learnt from this incident was the dangerous lack of man-power Carey had at his disposal, which allowed some 20 raids against the Middle March only one month after his Deputies were delivered. Having two extra men to help would hardly have made a difference, but the reason these two were so important was because they were loyal, and because they were versed in the ways of the Border.

In May 1601 Carey was to face the problem of the outlaws of Liddesdale when,((See Appendix A.)) after they had attacked a village,((The name of which isn’t given.)) and took prisoners and goods, Carey complained to his opposite Lord Ochiltree.((Andrew, 3rd Lord Stewart of Ochiltree, who was made Warden in November 1597 after Sir James Johnstone was forced to leave by King James VI for non delivery of pledges.((Andrew, 3rd Lord Stewart of Ochiltree, who was made Warden in November 1597 after Sir James Johnstone was forced to leave by King James VI for non delivery of pledges.)) Carey was informed by Lord Ochiltree that he could do nothing as the thieves were fugitives, and not answerable to him nor King James VI. This seems somewhat curious, when the Commission had passed the law forcing the Wardens to produce lists of fugitives, who they were responsible to catch.((Clause 24, the Commission of 1597.))

This incident then produces an excellent example of a legal Warden Rode, as, upon complaining to the King, Carey is given permission to enter Scotland and take revenge. This is following the law whereby the Warden needed permission from the opposite Monarch to cross the Borders, in a Warden Rode.((Clause 6, the Commission of 1597.)) The rode, led by Carey’s Deputy, Henry Woodrington, was successful and all the goods the outlaws had were taken back. During the rode one of the outlaws was killed at the hands of one of Carey’s company. The man shot was ‘Sim of the Cat Hill’,((Sim of Calfhill as he is more usually known.)) an Armstrong, and reiver of some renown, and it was a Ridley((The Ridley’s were another important border family, and feature on the ‘Fueds Amongst The Rinding Families’table in the Introduction.)) from Haltwhistle that killed him. Unfortunately as the Ridleys and the Armstrongs were at feud, the Armstrongs carried out a revenge attack against the town of Haltwhistle at the beginning of June. While the Armstrongs were burning and pillaging the town, a Ridley, while sheltering within a stone house, shot and killed another Armstrong, who was ‘one of the sons of the chiefest outlaw.’,((F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p50.)) old Sim of Whithaugh. Sim and his sons, according to Carey, could muster not so few as 200 horse,((F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p51.)) who would be willing to ride at his command.

The people living in the high part of the March towards Scotland ‘were put in a mighty fear’,14 and in response to this Carey gathered together the gentlemen of the country, and asked for their help. Carey decided to deal with the outlaws on their own grounds, and set out to establish a small fort near the Border. He gathered about him some 200 horse, on whose approach the chief outlaws fled to ‘a large and great forest (with all their goods) which was called the Tarras.’15 This was a particularly inhospitable place surrounded by bogs and marsh, and was considered by the borderers to be impregnable. Carey was informed by the reivers that he,

‘was like the first puff of a haggis, hottest at the first, and bade me stay there as long as the weather would give me leave; they would stay in the Tarras wood, till I was weary of lying in the waste’16

Carey then showed his genius, and sent 150 horsemen 30 miles into Scotland, to circle round the back of the Tarras. They split up to guard the three exists from the wood and in June 1601 at about ‘four o’clock in the morning’ 17 Carey attacked from the south with 1000 infantry men who he must have called from the English and possibly Scottish Border garrisons. This attack was successful and Carey’s officers captured ‘3 of the chiefest men’ without ‘blood or hurt’.18 The next day the rest of the thieves came from deep within the woods and bogs where they had escaped to, and ‘wholly submitted themselves to any conditions I [Carey] should impose’19 In a letter to Cecil dated the 15th July 1601, Carey says that the Armstrongs of Liddesdale agreed to four main points which were; to quit claim to all deadly feud; to free all prisoners; repay all those in Carey’s charge who had lost to them; and 14 of them are bound to enter to Carey in 15 days warning.20 Carey ends by saying, ‘and so upon these conditions I set them at liberty, and was never after troubled with these kind of people.’21

This incident of Carey’s Wardenship has been covered in such depth as it gives a number of good examples. Firstly it shows the ability of Carey as a Warden, his strength of character and his sheer will to carry out his duty for the good of the March. This incident supports the assessment of Carey’s ability as analysed in Chapter 1, and gives some good examples of the laws of the Border in action. The effectiveness of a Warden Rode was shown, as well as the problems a Rode could produce in the form of the continuation of the Ridley and Armstrong feud. It can be seen to show the limitations of the clause of the Commission of 1597 whereby all feuds resulting from legal execution were to be renounced.22 Such feuds, resulting from the legal execution of a reiver, would effect the Warden and his Deputies, but would not cover those killed by the Wardens men in such circumstances as a Warden Rode. This would appear to be a flaw within the Border Laws, one which would allow a continuation, and even an expansion of the feuds inherent to the region.

Carey’s Wardenship also showed that the Commissions work of 1597 had merely addressed the problem of the Borders. Informing the Wardens to meet at Days of Truce was one thing, but carrying this out was not as easily done, and again there were political reasons for this. On September 22nd Carey wrote to Cecil informing him that he had not met with Sir Robert Kerr in two previously set meetings, due to the Scots demanding he enter Scotland first. Carey refused as this would be a sign showing that ‘England dyd oue that duty and obedyence to Scotland to come over into Scotland to them at all metings upon the Borders’.23 Eventually Carey met with Sir Robert Kerr some miles from any of their men within England, showing that their was certainly a lack of trust between the two Wardens. Kerr also informed Carey at the end of the meeting that he was hard pressed to do justice as his authority rested with the loyalty of his men, and that while some of the ‘chiefest’ of them were held as pledges at York, he could not control many of the Borderers. Such talk though would seem to be nothing more than a simple attempt at getting his own pledges released from York.

By October 4th 1600 Carey in a letter to Cecil was writing about the ‘great justice’24 he was getting from Sir Robert Kerr, and that the opposite March was quiet. This would seem somewhat strange, especially having read of Sir Robert Kerrs earlier exploits, though one theory can be put forward. By 1600 it was becoming increasingly likely that King James VI of Scotland was to become King James I of England, as successor to Queen Elizabeth. Sir Robert Kerr was often connected to violent acts of reiving, but he was a man of above intelligence and when the succession became more likely, he seems to have made himself outwardly as useful and loyal as possible, in the hope to be rewarded later.25 This is an important point and could also help explain the success of the bonds Carey placed on the Armstrongs of Liddesdale, who themselves may have been aware of the change.

Things though hadn’t changed too much, and a Day of Truce between Carey and Johnstone had to be broken up as the ‘Laird of Newton’ warned of a Scottish foray of 100 horse against his town.26 The improved co-operation was certainly a change for the better, as the delivery of Bills had always been one of the biggest headaches of any Warden, for example Sir Robert Kerrs attempts at gaining the release of his pledges.

Carey’s Wardenship effectively came to an end in 1602 when he returned to court to find that the Queen had taken ill. Overall Carey had dealt with feuding families, the loss of his Deputies for about six months, and the outlaws of Liddesdale, as well as carrying out Days of Truce and chasing up the delivery of Bills filed.

  1. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p46. []
  2. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), pp.46-47. []
  3. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p47. []
  4. Sir Henry Widdrington came from a notable Northumberland family of which Carey’s wife’s first husband had been a part of. []
  5. Sir William Fenwick, a member of another notable family of the North, with much experience in border affairs. []
  6. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p48. []
  7. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p48. []
  8. J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p551. []
  9. Carey’s letter to Burghley states ‘4 or 5 Scots slain’, his letter to Cecil, 2 or 3, and his Memoirs none. []
  10. J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p551. []
  11. J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p581. []
  12. J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p584. []
  13. J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p586. []
  14. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p51. []
  15. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p53. []
  16. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p53. []
  17. J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p763. []
  18. J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p763. []
  19. J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p763. []
  20. J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p764. []
  21. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p54. []
  22. Clause 8, the Commission of 1597. []
  23. J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p563. []
  24. J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p692. []
  25. If this was the reason it was certainly successful as Sir Robert Kerr the reiver became the Earl of Roxburgh. []
  26. J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p795. []
Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave Comment