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Re: Moss Troopers
Dear Sinclair and Laurel:
Of the notorious Border Reivers it was said: "If Jesus Christ were emongest
them, they would deceave him," but George MacDonald Fraser, in "The Steel
Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers," mentions "Moss
Troopers" only once, and that in the following footnote:
"In the middle of the seventeenth century a new kind of Border malefactor
arose, called the "moss trooper". This term, so commonly misapplied to the
reivers of the sixteenth century, simply signifies a brigand. The earliest
mention I can find of it is 1646, in the Scottish Privy Council records, when
official action against the "mosse trouppers" is discussed, and they were
numerous after the Civil War, particularly in the period 1661-64."
I have heard elsewhere that the term arises from the uncanny ability to just
suddenly appear, as though out of the moss itself. The term "blackmail,"
actually more of a "protection" scam, arose from the border reivers' black
armour, useful for night raids on neighbors on both sides of the River Tweed.
It's interesting that Fraser's "1661-64" time period for the appearance of the
Moss Troopers coincides exactly with one of the more intense periods of the
Scottish Witch Hunts, a period given short shrift in the history books, maybe
because it was so sordid and ignoble. Perhaps that particular period of
brigandry occurred because "the law," and the church, were busy enough fighting
the Devil and his minions!
It's also interesting to note that many members of the Reiver families were
"transported" to Ireland, and elsewhere, where the crown may have found their
presence more fortuitously "useful"--a kind of "Border Clearance" that predated
the more ballyhooed "Highland Clearances" by quite a considerable amount of
time. Ah, the strange hands that history deals.
Here's a great tale that shows the mindset of the Reiver era (even the legal
mind), mentioned in Fraser's book:
John Carey, one of the better-known English "Wardens of the East March," the
land south along the coast from Berwick, had his horse stolen by a man named
"Jock Dalgleish of Wideopen," and sent fifty riders to dispense justice. His
posse rode north across the border to Dalgleish's house, broke open the front
door, and cut Dalgleish to pieces. There had actually been four "rustlers"
(not sure about the origin of that word), but Carey had decided that Dalgleish
was the ringleader, but maybe he only lived closest.
In an explanatory letter about the affair written to Carey's superior in
England (Burghley), Carey writes:
"And my good lord, for your honors better satisfaction, that it was not so
barbarouslie nor butcherlie don as you thinck it to be, it should seeme your
honor hath bene wrongfullie enformed, in sayinge he was cutt in manye peeces,
after his deathe--for if he had bene cutt in many peces, he could not a lived
till the next morninge, which themselves reported he did--which shewes he was
not cutt in VERIE MANY peeces!" [emphasis mine]
Quite a remarkable defense, all things considered. Hey, whatever works!
All Best for Now!
> Moss troopers was a romantic name for Scottish brigands and bandits who
> operated on the Borders after The Treaty of Edinburgh (July 1560). The
> treaty called for the withdrawal of all English troops from Scotland, and
> the elimination the French troops who had fought for Scotland. Private
> cross-border raiding. The Border Reivers were alliances of families on
> either side and sometimes both sides of the Border plundered each other in
> circumstances of indescribable violence and brutality. They invented the
> words 'blackmail' and 'rustling'.
> There foul crimes was often condoned by the authorities on either side of
> the Border. Moss troopers disappeared after the Union of the Crowns in 1603.
> This stupid romanticism of the Border Ballads and some of the novels and
[ Excess quotations omitted. ]
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