Sir John Carmichael (1542-1600) was described by the Bishop of Durham as “the most expert borderer.” He was well liked by many people. MacDonald Fraser records that Carmichael was an honest official who received additional powers from his own government as well as the goodwill of the Wardens of the English West March. The man who followed him into post after his first term as warden, the Lord Maxwell, said of Carmichael that he was more worthy than Maxwell ever was or would be. High praise indeed!
Not that events were always so friendly.
1575: Sir John Carmichael was the Deputy warden during the events recorded as the Raid of Reidswire. Sir John was the Scottish Deputy March Warden at the ‘Day of Truce’. Everyone who came to the day of truce was supposed to be unarmed and they swore that they would not offend ‘by word, deed or countenance’. Of course, these are the “Riding Times” we’re talking about. At the Raid of the Reidswire Carmichael fell out with his English counterpart Sir John Forster, seventy-five years old, and English Middle March Warden. Reaction to the aggressive exchanges of the two Wardens soon spilled over to the men of both sides who attended and all hell let loose resulting in several deaths and even worse, capture of English officers. Reidswire was the last time that the English used the longbow in warfare. And since the English came off the worse in this encounter and Carmichael found himself incarcerated in York while Elizabeth I calmed down.
1582: The Raid of Ruthven. King James Vl, aged just sixteen, was captured by William Ruthven, Earl of Gowrie. He was vehemently anti-Catholic and was concerned that James’ favourite- Esme Stuart was too Catholic as well as too French. Carmichael became involved but was pardoned when James extracted himself from Ruthen’s ‘care’ some ten months later.
1588: Carmichael was one of the ambassadors sent to Denmark to negotiate the marriage between James Vl and Anne of Denmark.
1598: Carmichael was made Warden of the Scottish West March. He was well qualified. In addition to having been a deputy warden he had also been Keeper of Liddesdale on previous occasions.
1600: Carmichael met with the Armstrong clan in an effort to bring an end to their nefarious habits. The Armstrong’s sent one of Kinmont Willie Armstrong’s brothers. Alexander Armstrong was known as Sandeis Ringane. Some of Carmichael’s men set about humiliating Ringan. At some point in proceedings for a jest Ringan’s sword was removed from its scabbard and egg yolks put in. The sword was returned and became stuck. Not surprisingly Sandeis Ringane was furious and swore vengeance. The meeting did not finish on a positive note.
June 14 1600: Gretna Warden Meeting. Carmichael met with Richard Lowther the English Warden. During this time there was a football match… Ringan’s Tom Armstrong, William ‘the Pecket’ Scott and Willie Kang Irvine met. Thomas Armstrong plotted revenge for his father’s humiliation.
June 16 1600: Carmichael was ambushed by a party of Armstrongs including Thomas Armstrong and his father along with a Taylor, a Forrester, a Scott and a Graham at Raesknowes, on the way to Lochmaben. Richard Lowther commented that it was the third warden that had been killed in Scotland.
The Armstrongs then proceeded to raid Stanwix, just across the river and up the hill from Carlisle Castle. As the bishop preached his sermon – the Armstrongs were helping themselves to the available horses. They then moved on to Linstock for some cattle.
1601: Thomas Armstrong, son to Sandies Ringane, was tried for his part in the murder, had his right hand cut off and was then hanged at the Mercat Cross at Edinburgh. His body was left to hang in chains.
‘And Thomas Armstrang, “sone to Sandeis Ringane” was condemned to be “tane to the mercat croce of Edinburgh, and thair his richt hand to be stricken fra his arme; and thaireeftir, to be hanget upoune ane gibbet, quhill he be deid; and thaireefter, to be tane to the Gallows on the Burrowmure, and thair his body to be hangit in irn chains.
1606: Lang Sandy Armstrong of Rowanburn, so-called because he was over six feet tall, evaded capture for his part in Carmichael’s murder until 1606. He was hung together with all eleven of his sons and Willie Kang was indicted. Lang Sandy agreed that he’d taken part in the murder but added that he felt forced to the act of violence.
“To the men that hangit the theves in Canonbie, be the king’s command, 13 shillings.
The following verses are said to have been composed by one of the Armstrongs, probably Thomas, executed for the murder of Sir John Carmichael, of Edrom, Warden of the Middle Marches.
This night is my departing night,
For here nae langer must I stay;
There’s neither friend nor foe o’ mine,
But wishes me away.
What I have done thro’ lack of wit,
I never, never can recall;
I hope ye’re a’ my friends as yet;
Goodnight, and joy be with you all!
For further comment as to the originality of the piece, Sir Walter Scott offers some thoughts in his Border Minstrelsy.