The Marches along the Scots/English borders were first formally defined in 1249, with the intention of creating a buffer zone between the perpetually warring kingdoms. In practice, it meant the clans either side of the border were able to raid with impunity, by alternating their allegiances. The modern word ‘blackmail’ derives from the term used on the Borders for protection money exacted from long-suffering farmers. The raiders, or ‘reivers’, ranged as far north as Edinburgh, and south into Lancashire. Wardens of the Marches were appointed to uphold the law, but were often drawn from prominent reiving families, and were complicit in their activities. When one warden, John Carmichael, attempted a crackdown he was murdered for his effrontery. The reivers often featured prominently in frontier battles between the kingdoms, such as Scottish defeats at Flodden (1513) and Solway Moss (1542). The epicentre of lawlessness was the ‘debatable land’, with no effective authority.
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