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Kinmont Willie

Kinmont Willie

"Kinmont Willie"

Kinmont Willie, who’s real name was William Armstrong of Kinmont, was a notorious Border Reiver during the 1580’s and 1590’s. He has been credited with the taking of some 2000 head of Cattle in one raid.

In the spring of 1596, a truce day was held near Kershopefoot.  It was attended by 200 riders from each of the English Marches as well the Scots with Kinmont Willie in attendance. The two sides settled outstanding matters and compensation was paid for those robbed. Upon completion of this meeting Kinmont Willie headed for home. He was attacked en route by a party of English Riders and imprisoned in Carlisle Castle under the care of the English Deputy Warden Salkeld, much to the satisfaction of Lord Scrope, the English warden. Salkeld happened to be the presiding English Officer at the truce meeting earlier that day.

Kinmont Willie's friend and fellow Borderer, Scott of Buccleuch, was enraged at this capture. The "Bauld Buccleuch," as he is sometimes known, was just 30 and a most daring and reckless young Scottish chieftain.  Of course, he was also a renowned Reiver himself and had plenty of grievance with Lord Scrope. Upon hearing of Willie's capture, he is supposed to have exclaimed, "Now Christ's curse upon my head, but avenged of Lord Scrope I'll be."

Buccleuch at first tried all political means to have Willie released until these were all exhausted. He then decided to take matters into his own hands and release Willie by means of a “commando” style raid, he had the Castle studied and found what seemed to be a weakness at the “Postern gate”. He believed that the guards at this post could be overpowered and the gate taken.

Scott and 80 handpicked followers including Harden, Will Elliot, Willie "Red Cloak" Bell, Red Rowan and other assorted members of the Elliot's, Johnson's and Irvine's met at Kinmont Willie's tower, Morton Castle. Willie's sons were among them. With the way guarded by scouts, they rode in the moonlight in total silence, crossing the River Esk, and completing the 10 mile journey to Carlisle. In addition to arms, they carried ropes, ladders and grappling irons. The need for silence meant the party moved slowly, not arriving until dawn. They overpowered the castle guards, broke through the postern gate, opened Willie's cell and rushed him out and to horse. In case of a fight, Scott had left the main part of his cavalcade outside the city gates and had planted the Johnson's and Irvine's in ambush ready to head off any pursuit. But speed and brilliant planning had done their work and the raiding party was back on Scottish soil by sunrise.

The English were left looking inept and Lord Scrope wrote to London, exaggerating the raiding party's size up to 500 men. Queen Elizabeth was furious and wrote to James VI of Scotland demanding that Scott of Buccleuch be handed over. But James, who approved of the raid, managed to reply with diplomatic vagueness.

Lord Scrope raided repeatedly into Scotland in reprisal while Buccleuch and his comrades raided back just as regularly. The situation got so out of control that the Queen demanded of Edinburgh that Buccleuch turn himself in, which he eventually did. He was held in the Tower of London for six months, until his young son was exchanged for him as a hostage. Some years later, when the Bauld Buccleuch traveled to London and into the Queen's presence, she demanded of him how he had dared to break into her Carlisle stronghold. Buccleuch is said to have replied, " What is there a man will not dare?" which seems to have mollified the Queen, because she had a soft spot for such roguish daredevils.

The "Ballad of Kinmont Willie"

O have ye na heard o the fause Sakelde?
O have ye na heard o the keen Lord Scroop?
How they hae taen bauld Kinmont Willie,
On Hairibee to hang him up?

Had Willie had but twenty men,
But twenty men as stout as be,
Fause Sakelde had never the Kinmont taen
eight score in his companie.

They band his legs beneath the steed,
They tied his hands behind his back;
They guarded him, fivesome on each side,
And they brought him ower the Liddel-rack.

They led him thro the Liddel-rack.
And also thro the
Carlisle sands;
They brought him to
Carlisle castell.
To be at my Lord Scroope's commands.

"My hands are tied; but my tongue is free,
And whae will dare this deed avow?
Or answer by the border law?
Or answer to the bauld Buccleuch?"

"Now haud thy tongue, thou rank reiver!
There's never a Scot shall set ye free:
Before ye cross my castle-yate,
I trow ye shall take farewell o me."

"Fear na ye that, my lord," quo Willie:
"By the faith o my body, Lord Scroope," he said,
"I never yet lodged in a hostelrie -
But I paid my lawing before I gaed."

Now word is gane to the bauld Keeper,
In Branksome Ha where that he lay,
That Lord Scroope has taen the Kinmont Willie,
Between the hours of night and day.

He has taen the table wi his hand,
He garrd the red wine spring on hie;
"Now Christ's curse on my head," he said,
"But avenged of Lord Scroope I'll be!

"O is my basnet a widow's curch?
Or my lance a wand of the willow-tree?
Or my arm a lady's lilye hand,
That an English lord should lightly me?

"And have they taen him, Kinmont Willie,
Against the truce of Border tide?
And forgotten that the bauld Bacleuch
Is keeper here on the Scottish side?

"And have they een taen him, Kinmont Willie,
Withouten either dread or fear,
And forgotten that the bauld Bacleuch
Can back a steed, or shake a spear?

"O were there war between the lands,
As well I wot that there is none,
I would slight
Carlisle castell high,
Tho it were builded of marble stone.

"I would set that castell in a low,
And sloken it with English blood;
There's nevir a man in
Should ken where
Carlisle castell stood.

"But since nae war's between the lands,
And there is peace, and peace should be;
I'll neither harm English lad or lass,
And yet the Kinmont freed shall be!"

He has calld him forty marchmen bauld,
I trow they were of his ain name,
Except Sir Gilbert Elliot, calld
The Laird of Stobs, I mean the same.

He has calld him forty marchmen bauld,
Were kinsmen to the bauld Buccleuch,
With spur on heel, and splent on spauld,
And gleuves of green, and feathers blue.

There were five and five before them a',
Wi hunting-horns and bugles bright;
And five and five came wi Buccleuch,
Like Warden's men, arrayed for fight.

And five and five, like a mason-gang,
That carried the ladders lang and hie;
And five and five, like broken men;
And so they reached the Woodhouselee.

And as we crossd the Bateable Land,
When to the English side we held,
The first o men that we met wi,
Whae sould it be but fause Sakelde!

"Where be ye gaun, ye hunters keen?"
Quo fause Sakelde; "come tell to me!"
"We go to hunt an English stag,
Has trespassed on the Scots countrie."

"Where be ye gaun, ye marshal-men?"
Quo fause Sakelde; "come tell me true!"
"We go to catch a rank reiver,
Has broken faith wi the bauld Buccleuch."

"Where are ye gaun, ye mason-lads,
Wi a' your ladders lang and hie?"
"We gang to herry a corbie's nest,
That wons not far frae Woodhouselee."

"Where be ye gaun, ye broken men?"
Quo fause Sakelde; "come tell to me?"
Now Dickie of Dryhope led that band,
And the nevir a word o lear had he.

"Why trespass ye on the English side?
Row-footed outlaws, stand!" quo he;
The neer a word had Dickie to say,
Sae he thrust the lance thro his fause bodie.

Then on we held for Carlisle toun,
And at Staneshaw-bank the
Eden we crossd;
The water was great and meikle of spait,
But the nevir a horse nor man we lost.

And when we reachd the Staneshaw-bank,
The wind was rising loud and hie;
And there the laird garrd leave our steeds,
For fear that they should stamp and nie.

And when we left the Staneshaw-bank,
The wind began full loud to blaw;
But 'twas wind and weet, and fire and sleet,
When we came beneath the castell-wa.

We crept on knees, and held our breath,
Till we placed the ladders against the wa;
And sae ready was Buccleuch himsell
To mount she first, before us a'.

He has taen the watchman by the throat,
He flung him down upon the lead:
"Had there not been peace between our lands,
Upon the other side thou hadst gaed.

"Now sound out, trumpets!" quo Buccleuch;
"Let's waken Lord Scroope right merrilie!"
Then loud the warden's trumpet blew
"O whae dare meddle wi me?"

Then speedilie to wark we gaed,
And raised the slogan ane and a',
And cut a hole through a sheet of lead,
And so we wan to the castel-ha.

They thought King James and a' his men
Had won the house wi bow and speir;
It was but twenty Scots and ten
That put a thousand in sic a stear!

Wi coulters, and wi fore-hammers,
We garrd the bars bang merrilie,
Until we came to the inner prison,
Where Willie o Kinmont he did lie.

And when we came to the lower prison,
Where Willie o Kinmont he did lie,
"O sleep ye, wake ye, Kinmont Willie,
Upon the morn that thou's to die?"

"O I sleep saft, and I wake aft,
It's lang since sleeping was fley'd frae me;
Gie my service back to my wyfe and bairns
And a' gude fellows that speer for me."

Then Red Rowan has hente him up,
The starkest man in Teviotdale:
"Abide, abide now, Red Rowan,
Till of my Lord Scroope I take farewell.

"Farewell, farewell, my gude Lord Scroope!
My gude Lord Scroope, farewell!" he cried;
"I'll pay you for my lodging-maill,
When first we meet on the border-side."

Then shoulder high, with shout and cry,
We bore him down the ladder lang;
At every stride Red Rowan made,
I wot the Kinmont's airms playd clang!

"O mony a time," quo Kinmont Willie.
"I have ridden horse baith wild and wood;
But a rougher beast than Red Rowan,
I ween my legs have neer bestrode.

"And mony a time," quo Kinmont Willie,
"I've pricked a horse out oure the furs;
But since the day I backed a steed
I nevir wore sic cumbrous spurs!"

We scarce had won the Staneshaw-bank,
When a' the
Carlisle bells were rung,
And a thousand men, in horse and foot,
Cam wi the keen Lord Scroope along.

Buccleuch has turned to Eden Water,
Even where it flowd frae bank to brim,
And he has plunged in wi a' his band,
And safely swam them thro the stream.

He turned him on the other side,
And at Lord Scroope his glove flung he:
"If ye like na my visit in merry
In fair
Scotland come visit me!"

All sore astonished stood Lord Scroope,
He stood as still as rock of stane;
He scarcely dared to trew his eyes,
When thro the water they had gane.

"He is either himsell a devil frae hell,
Or else his mother a witch maun be;
I wad na have ridden that wan water
For a' the gowd in Christentie."

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