Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ridley: A Good Northern Name

"Ridley: A good northern name,"Mr. Henderson warmly said as my family showed him our English Heritage card we had bought to see the numerous historical sights across England on our way to Scotland. Mr. Henderson, the man who worked at the visitor checkpoint continued, "sheep stealers, bandits, and raiders--the lot; Reivers." "Poets, presidents, prime ministers and the first man on the moon," he added. "I'm one too; a Henderson," he stated, as he proceeded to shake each one of our hands with a wide grin and hearty laugh. "Pleased to meet you and welcome to Housesteads Roman Fort-- Hadrian's Wall!"

It was fitting that, we of Border Reiver descent, met along Hadrian’s Wall in the heart of the Borderlands. A place steeped in a rich and exciting history. The Wall once marked the extent of the Roman Empire and was erected to keep the warring Picts at bay. Later it was a no-man’s land of sorts between the competing Kingdoms of Scotland and England.

One can thank the Border Reivers for the English words 'blackmail' and 'bereaved'. The Reivers were a people who inhabited the areas now known as Northumberland and Cumbria in England and the Scottish borderlands. Living in a politically volatile geographical location between the warring nations of Scotland and England, warring armies who took what they could get to provision their regiments often passed through the borderlands. A poor location for farming, especially when provisions could be taken in a moments notice by invading armies, the Reivers took to ranching. This enabled them to more readily relocate and hide their source of livelihood when a gluttonous army approached. An industrious people, always looking to maximize the worth of their land, Reivers more famously took to 'reiving'. 'Reive' is an early English word for 'to rob'. This lawlessness enabled Reivers to subsidize their incomes and make up for what could be lost to the next march of plundering troops. Unfortunately, it also led to a decline in tourism. The Reivers continued this style of life from the late 13th to 17th century, sometimes receiving the favor of the seemingly ever at war nations while at other times their draconian anger. The families and clans that made up the Border Reivers became renowned for their strong family ties and individualistic nature; Reivers acted in the name of their kin, not for their distant and abstract nation.

The Border Reivers legacy of ‘reiving’ came to an end in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England and united the warring kingdoms thereby stabilizing the borderlands. Sir Walter Scott immortalized the bloody times of the Border Reiver history in his “Border Ballads”.

The spirit of the Border Reivers as an individualistic, canny, and resilient people has lived on.

Today, I, a descendant of the Reivers, will explore the city of Edinburgh in Scotland 400 years after inhabitants may have known the threat of an agile Border Reiver horsemen. It is within this storied city, complete with a castle and the remains of a fortified city wall, that I will study for a time at the University of Edinburgh. 

Maybe they should have left the old city wall standing?

At the front gate and guard house to Ridley Hall

A Different Perspective of Hardian's Wall

A Feat of Engineering

Family and Clan Names in the Borderlands

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