Henry Clifford, Earl of Cumberland wrote to Cromwell on 22 January from Skipton (pictured left)– a fair way from the Scottish border it would have to be said- announcing that the outlaws who lived in the Debateable Land between England and Scotland in Liddesdale, had been burned out like so many rats from their nests. Maxwell, the Lord Warden of the Scottish West March – there being six wardens in total, three on the Scottish side and three on the English side for the administrative West, Middle and East marches- had done the burning. He was now complaining that Clifford, as his corresponding opposite number, had not done his share of outlaw removal. Clifford now wanted to know Cromwell’s view on the matter. This was in itself fairly routine as was the request to be excused attending Parliament on account of wardenry business.
The rest of the content of the letter speaks of more uncertain political currents. Clifford mentions two Scottish rebels that King James V wanted returned to Scotland who were at that time in Lord Dacre’s castle at Rockcliff or “Rouclyf” as he spells it. He goes on to add that it’s not just the English who have given shelter to James’ enemies but that Lord Maxwell has been seen riding openly with English rebels even at a truce day when the two wardens would meet to dispense justice. Maxwell, quite reasonably, has tried to negotiate an exchange of ‘rebels’ but notes that Maxwell has claimed that the English rebels “were in the woods.”
He explains that King James V was going to go to Dumfries that spring and this being the case nothing was likely to happen until the king had spoken on the matter. James had attempted to bring some order to his border barony in 1530 when he summoned them all to Edinburgh for a verbal dressing down and a swift execution of one William Cockburn of Henderland as a lesson to them all (Macdonald Fraser, 257). It didn’t have any noteable effect on the borderers so James was forced to execute Johnny Armstrong of Gilknockie which resulted in immortality in the form of a border ballad for fair Johnny Armstrong who dressed rather better than his monarch if the balladeer was telling the truth on the matter.
So who were these assorted rebels of 1536? And what did Lord Dacre have to do with it? A quick look in the Border History of England and Scotland reveals that King Henry had bestowed the order of the Garter upon his nephew the previous year and that James was intent on finding a wife having contemplated marrying his mistress Margaret Erskine (he’d got so far as divorcing her from her husband but then changed his mind perhaps realising that it would all be very complicated) but there was nothing on the subject of rebels hopscotching their way merrily across the border. Having said that Ridpath manages to cover the Pilgrimage of Grace in a paragraph so clearly 1536 wasn’t a year that interested him particularly. MacDonald Fraser isn’t much more helpful on the subject either.
There is a strong suspicion that Clifford may have been attempting to drop Dacre in the mire with Cromwell. Macdonald Fraser notes a feud that ran between Clifford and Dacre throughout the 1530s though he doesn’t specify whether its Dacre of Gilsland or Dacre of the South, pictured left, – Thomas Fiennes (double click to open an older post on the topic of Fiennes). Fiennes owned Rockcliff and he was twenty in 1536. He took part in Ann Boleyn’s trial, rode to put down the Pilgrimage of Grace and was at hand to assist with the baptism of young Prince Edward. By the end of 1541 he would be dead – executed for murder as a result of a poaching expedition gone wrong and a miscarriage of justice. But it wasn’t Fiennes that had the feud with Clifford. It was Lord Dacre of Gilsland.
Dacre of Gilsland had got himself into trouble with Henry VIII for his support of Cardinal Wolsey whose northern lands he administered. He’d also been involved in several cross border skirmishes and there are several accounts of encounters between Dacre and Maxwell as wardens, allies and opponents down the years. Somewhere along the line in 1534 he found himself being accused of treason. Although he was acquitted he was relieved of his post as Warden of the English West March. The new holder of the post was the earl of Cumberland. There then followed a series of running skirmishes between the two gentlemen in question that can only be described in terms of theft, arson and general thuggery.
And that brings us to the Scottish West March Warden – Robert Maxwell. He was the Fifth Lord Maxwell and it should be added had benefitted from the death of Johnny Armstrong when he acquired the Gilknockie lands. In 1536 he would take a trip to Penrith with several fellow Scots and burn it – perhaps he became confused about the size of the Debeateable Lands or perhaps he was helping himself to English cattle at the time! He also found himself on the council governing Scotland whilst James V went off in search of a French bride. He was absent for nine months and completely missed the Pilgrimage of Grace. Maxwell regretted his master’s absence during England’s troubles. He was heard to say that had James been home rather than gallivanting around Europe that Carlisle would have fallen into Scottish hands.
As for the rebels – I’ve added them to my little list of queries. I’ve got a few ideas but I can’t find any specific reference to them. Suffice it to say that both Henry VIII and James V had their fair share of “rebels” for assorted political and religious reasons. By the end of 1536 there were going to be a whole lot more of them.
Macdonald Fraser, George. (1995) The Steel Bonnets. London: Harper Collins
Ridpath, George. (1979) Border History. Edinburgh:The Mercat Press