The Border Reivers Cursing Stone
Border reivers were raiders along the Anglo-Scottish border from the late 13th century to the beginning of the 17th century. These were rugged, tough people who enforced their own brutal code of conduct in what was to be known as the 300 Year War.
There are 77 predominant family names who can claim to have been Reivers, names like Armstrong, Robson, Douglas, Elliot, Dodd, Graham and Bell among them (see full list at the bottom of the page). The conflict wasn’t Scotland against England, it was between the families themselves. The Border families aligned themselves with neither the English or Scottish Crown it was all about kinship – they aligned themselves with those of the same name. These were hard, brutal times, the Border people lived on a permanent battleground, raiding and marauding was the only way to survive.
The Borders were difficult to control, this was a lawless land, the Reivers were notorious. The church held little influence here neither did the monarchs. It was seen as a time of complete moral collapse, so much so that the Archbishop of Glasgow took it upon himself to excommunicate the Border thieves.
Gavin Dunbar the Archbishop of Glasgow, issued a dire warning to Reivers of the Scottish Marches in the form of what is known now as the ‘Monition of Cursing’. This Cursing damned the Reivers to eternal suffering in the fires of Hell unless they returned to Holy Mother Church, put away their unholy lives and conformed to the laws of the Church and the Land.
It is a tirade which runs to 1500 words and was to be read out in all the churches in the Scottish Borders, at least those that still existed! Not that the Reivers would be present to hear the condemnations levelled against them!
The curse was ordered to be read from every pulpit in the diocese and be circulated throughout the length and breadth of the Borders.
The Curse Against the Reivers
Here is a small piece of the epic curse:
‘I curse thair heid (head) and all the haris (hairs) of thair heid; I curse thair face, thair ene (eyes), thair mouth, thair nose, thair tongue, thair teith, thair crag (chin), thair schuderis (shoulders), thair breast, thair hert, thair stomok, thair bak, thair armes, thair leggis, thair handis, thair feit, and everilk (every) part of thair body, frae the top of thair heid to the soill of thair feit, befoir and behind, within and without.’
‘… I curse thaim etand (eating), I curse thaim drinkand (drinking), I curse thaim walkand (walking), I curse thaim sleepand( sleeping)… I curse thair wiffis (wives), thair barnis ( bairns i.e. children) … thair cornys, thair catales, thair woll (wool), thair scheip (sheep), thair horse… thair barnys (barns)… thair plewis (ploughs)…that is necessair for thair sustentatioun(sustenance) and weilfair (welfare).
…And finally, I condemn thaim perpetualie to the deip pit of hell, to remain with Lucifer and all his fallowis, and thair bodeis to the gallowis of the Burrow Mure, first to be hangit, syne revin and ruggit with doggis, swyne and utheris wyld beists… (Ripped apart by beasts on the Boroughmuir, Edinburgh and other places of execution).
The Reivers’ Response
Such a curse from the church may have had some effect in an earlier period, but at this time it was just laughed at, if anything between the year of 1525, and the close of the 16th century the crime accelerated out of any control. A threat of eternal damnation meant little to the Reivers at a time when other men lived in awe of the Church and its promise of a happy afterlife if its dictates were followed. They ignored the Monition of Cursing and followed the old way. To most it was the only life they knew. Future paradise or future damnation? What was the difference? Neither filled a stomach and the present was hell on earth anyway.
It was not until the unification of the Crowns of Scotland and England after the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, that the final solution was enacted. The new King of the unified country; James I of England and VI of Scotland, took up residence in London. He resolved to manage the country as one, and it was no longer acceptable to allow the reivers free reign of the borders with near impunity. The so called ‘pacification of the borders’ was simply resolved by the summary execution or deportation of the offenders en masse. Not many people know about The Clearances of The Borders. By about 1610, the ‘broken men of the borders’ were finally broken themselves. Although occasional feuds and acts of criminality continued to occur, the business was less endemic and the law became more effective in dealing with perpetrators.
Reivers Cursed Before 1525
It was not the first time that a Curse had been put upon the Reivers. In 1498 Richard Fox, Bishop of Durham denounced the Reivers of Tynedale in Northumberland, England and forbade any priest to minister to them.
In 1524 the Tynedale Reivers were cursed yet again; this time by no less than Cardinal Wolsey. At Easter in that year Hector Charlton of the Bower raided Bellingham church, broke into the tabernacle and stole the Communion hosts. He also made away with a firkin of wine. At Tarset Hall Charlton served the Reiver congregation with wine and received the offerings due to the absent minister.
In the year 2000 a stone commemorating the Monition of Cursing was erected in Carlisle, Cumbria near to the formidable pile that is Carlisle castle. The Great Border city is justly proud of its association with the Border Reivers. It seemed a fitting addition to a region which is rightly proud of its heritage from the Roman Occupation to the present day.
But residents in Carlisle claim the stone has brought them disasters from disease to the relegation of the local soccer team.
In 2005 Carlisle was overtaken by floods of an unprecedented level. Houses were swamped to their upper floors as the river Eden burst its banks and engulfed everything in its path. Vast swathes of the city were underwater for days; houses on the flood plain of the river seriously damaged. Many had to leave their homes and find shelter elsewhere for up to and over a year before they could return. It was an extremely harrowing episode in the history of this proud northern place just south of the Border with Scotland.
Also only weeks after the oval-shaped stone was installed, foot and mouth saw one half of Cumbria’s livestock burning on funeral pyres, followed by a succession of factory closures and relegation for Carlisle United.
The curse was taken so seriously that a Council member proposed the removal of the stone.
The city council took advice from local Christian groups, including the Bishop of Carlisle and a blessing was included within the artwork taken from The Bible, Philippians 4 Verse 6 to try and counteract the curse.
Border Family Names