Border Reiver Genealogy

I’ve often seen it suggested that what with the wholesale hanging of reivers in the years following 1605 and the considerable exodus of reiver names to the Ulster Plantation after 1609, that areas like Liddesdale and the Debateable Lands of Canonbie were radically changed in the years that followed. And indeed most of the killing, plundering, blackmail and moonlight riding did stop. But what if we were able to see what families were living there in place of the reivers some twenty years later ?

By 1621, the Earl of Buccleuch had acquired pretty much all of Canonbie and much of Liddesdale. And thanks to the historical rental records of the Buccleuch estates we can see exactly who was tenanting all their farms in Liddesdale and Canonbie as early as 1630. I have transcribed the information as best as I can and the results may surprise you.

Reiver surnames/locations mentioned in official sources 1585-1600

The map above shows reiver surnames and locations in Liddesdale and Canonbie as identified in official sources such as the Calendar of Border Papers between 1585 and 1600. Farmers and villagers across the border in England complained to their Wardens about raids that they had suffered from Scottish families. This is a unique historical resource. In very few parts of the country do we get so many ‘ordinary’ citizens getting named individually in government papers in the 16th century.

surnames of Buccleuch tenants 1630

This map shows the surname distribution of tenants of the Earl of Buccleuch in 1630. Buccleuch was proprietor of almost all Canonbie parish farms and the vast majority of Liddesdale too. I have taken this distribution to be roughly indicative of the general population. Tenants or sub-tenants were the largest occupational group in this community in the 17th century.

17th Century Rental lists

The 1630 surname distribution is based on the Buccleuch rental lists shown linked below.

Liddesdale farm rentals in 1630

Canonbie farm rentals in 1630

In Liddesdale it is pretty much all Armstrongs and  Ellotts with some Crosers , Nixons and Hendersons

In Canonbie it was Armstrongs, Irvings and Bells with a few Grahams, Beatties and Littles for good measure. The distribution of surnames represents very little change from the reiving days before 1600.

What also noticeable is a smattering of the most infamous reiver families live on. There are no less than 3 sons of Kinmont Willie and also Lancie Armstrong of Whithaugh. There’s a Clement and a Quentin Croser – definite echoes of their distinctively named reiver forebears.

For some families at least, tenanting under Buccleuch estate management  brought stability and longevity. My own family were Buccleuch tenants in Canonbie for at least 250 years.