An assessment of Carey’s Rule

May 1st, 2008 | By | Category: Reiver Information
Sir Robert Carey

Robert Carey, 1st Earl of Monmouth (c. 1560 – 12 April 1639) was an English nobleman and courtier.

In assessing the extent of the powers of Sir Robert Carey and his effectiveness as Warden of the Middle March, this work has taken a number of factors into account. The Introduction has focussed on looking at the history of the Border to give an idea of the general problems Carey faced, and why and how they came about. Carey as a person was the focus of Chapter 1, in order to assess his own character and ability to carry out the duty of Warden. The next Chapter examined the Border Laws to provide a general understanding of the powers a Warden had, and as an indication of the problems within the Marches. The laws produced by the Commission of 1597 were also looked at in an attempt to again show the powers of the Warden, and to give an idea of the problems that were prevalent only a year before Carey took office. The final Chapter looked at Carey’s time as Middle March Warden and gave examples to show both Carey’s Wardenship, and how the laws and people effected it. Now all these factors will be examined together in summing up the power of Carey as Middle March Warden, and the effectiveness of his rule.

Carey himself was a very capable Warden, not only did the assessment of his character show this, but also his actions. Carey seems to have been of strong character who both knew his job and how to go about it. On entering the March Carey quickly realised that the reivers would only be contained by a firm hand, where hanging and strict rule were the only measures they would respond to. This is not because Carey enjoyed capturing outlaws in order to execute them, merely that he recognised the only thing that would work was for the reivers to see justice done.

Carey’s character did sometimes cause trouble for himself, an example of which can be found after the Tarras Moss incident of 1601. In acquiring the bonds from the Liddesdale men Carey obviously felt quite impressed with himself,1 and thought he deserved recognition. On writing to Cecil on July 8th about the gentlemen that had accompanied him to the ‘wastes’, Carey states that ‘They deserve thanks, unless greater affairs cause this place not to be thought of? Pardon me if I offend, but I think myself too slightly regarded.’2 Unfortunately for Carey, thanks had been sent, only it had been delayed in the post, and his mumbled apology can almost be heard as he wrote to Cecil complaining of the ‘slackness of the posts’, and that he hoped his honour would ‘forgive and forget’.3 Carey’s letter about being ‘too slightly regarded’ could be taken to be somewhat arrogant, and to an extent it was a reflection on Carey’s, possibly deserved, opinion of himself. It is also a sad reflection of the way the Wardens and the Border were looked at, where relations with the opposite kingdom were almost more important than the actions of the Wardens. Carey’s arrogance, if that is what it was, could also be seen as another good characteristic for the Border, as if anything, the most notorious of the reivers such as Sir Robert Kerr, were often arrogant in the extreme.

The extent of the powers Carey ruled by were fairly comprehensive for dealing with the reivers of the Border, and if they were in place within the centre of a united country they would probably have been entirely successful. No-where in England or Scotland was there a government appointed post with such powers as the Wardens of the Marches had. When looking at them the Wardens were basically running large stretches of land, all under their control, with central government watching from afar. As shown in Chapter 2 the Border Laws were a comprehensive set of rules, which when instigated, could keep the country in a state of Marshal Law. The laws which gave the Warden his powers were not without their problems, especially when, as in the case of the Border Council, they are never implemented. This is curious as the Border Council must have been put forward due to the apparent failure of the Days of Truce, and there is no mention of why they never appeared.

Carey had the power to meet with the opposite Wardens once a month in the Day of Truce, to administer justice. Here Carey could present all the Bills against the opposite Warden to be filed, and he in return received the complaints against his March. On receipt of the opposites Bills, Carey was then responsible to get the defendant to turn up to the next Day of Truce. The defendants charge would then be heard in one of four ways4 whereby justice was done.

Carey also had the power to follow a reiver on the Hot Trod, whereby if he caught up with the thieves he could probably save everybody some time and kill the culprit red-handed. As a Warden Carey also had the blanket-offence known as March Treason, which could be used against a particular reiver who had caused more trouble than his worth. Unfortunately life was never this easy for Carey, nor for any other Warden, and if he tried to set up a Day of Truce, the opposite would be found using stalling tactics. When Bills were presented the defendant often didn’t feel it worth while turning up, possibly due to the fact that he didn’t feel like paying back what he quite skilfully stole. Justice was never easily carried out, and finding avowers or 12 jury members to sit in an assise was often a challenge. Even following in a Hot Trod was never a simple matter, with the reivers setting ambushes, or turning to fight, it was a very risky adventure. Been able to hang people by March Treason was all well and good, but was of little use if the reivers were holed up within the Debatable Land or Liddesdale.

Sir Robert Carey did have extensive powers as Warden of the Middle March, but having such powers and been able to put them into effect are two entirely different matters. As the Border Commission of 1597 showed, it had been recognised that the Wardens of some Marches, for example that of the Scottish Middle March under Sir Robert Kerr, were not always forthcoming in their quest for justice. This was the reason for the clauses concerning the restrictions on the Wardens themselves, where it had been recognised that pledges were needed from each of the surnames if the Wardens were to get any of the Bills filed and delivered. In all, the powers of Sir Robert Carey were enough, but the cross Border co-operation that they relied so heavily on was rarely seen, especially within the first few years of Carey’s Wardenship.

The problem with assessing the effectiveness of anything is how to measure it, and when considering Carey’s rule as Warden, it must be looked at within the context it was set. When Carey first entered it was only one year since the last Commission had met, and attempts were underway to carry out its findings. All of the Marches of England and Scotland were in a bad state of repair, with the reivers wreaking havoc throughout the Borders. It was within these conditions of blood feud, constant raiding, and a certain lack of effort on some officials part, that Carey’s effectiveness should be measured.

Given these conditions it would have to be concluded that Sir Robert Carey was an effective Warden when his rule is examined in its context. As mentioned in Chapter 2 the official duties of the Wardens of the Marches were to guard the frontier against Scottish inroads; to meet with their opposite Warden to administer justice for the area, in their endeavour to suppress crime; pursue fugitives; muster the March for defence; and generally to keep good rule throughout the March.

Carey certainly carried out his duty to guard against Scottish inroads and to muster the March for defence,5 especially when the Tarras Moss incident is considered, when he guards the English frontier against Scotland by meeting the Scottish reivers on their own grounds. This event really did show Carey’s ability to the full, whereby he used his experience at directing a small force to hit at the heart of the enemy. Carey also tried to guard the frontier earlier in 1598, which has been covered in Chapter 2, in the form of the Redesdale hunting incident. This incident showed the intervention of politics within a Border affair, which was one of the main restraints on the power of the Warden. It is difficult to say how well Carey managed this as no-one is entirely certain how it occurred, though it did show that Carey had been making some progress within his March, as he began protesting for the return of his Deputies after some 20 raids.

Carey also appears to have attempted to meet the opposite Wardens to administer justice, but again this was not always possible, which was not something within Carey’s powers to change. It is though interesting to note the change within the frequency of the Border meetings on the approach of the ever increasing likely-hood of James VI’s succession. Carey does then appear to have generally kept good rule within the context of the conditions he faced. The extent of the powers that Carey held would appear to have been sufficient to allow him to rule the Middle March of England effectively, though, while writing his Memoirs as the Earl of Monmouth,6 he would likely have recalled how much easier his rule would have been without characters such as Sir Robert Kerr7 and the Armstrongs of Liddesdale.

  1. It should be noted that by March 17th 1602 the Liddesdale men were in bond to the West and Middle Marches, but were now found to be active within the East March. []
  2. J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p764. []
  3. J. Bain, ed., (1896), CBP, Vol. II, p764. []
  4. See Chapter 2. []
  5. Sir Robert Carey would seem to have favoured an aggressive defence. []
  6. Sir Robert Carey became the Earl of Monmouth on February 7th 1626. []
  7. Sir Robert Kerr became the Earl of Roxburgh, showing that his help in clearing the Borders once he realised the tides were soon to turn, paid off. []
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