The Monarchs (of Scotland and England) helped to develop the concept of a Borderland, as each attempted to set up an area to act as a bulwark against intrusions from the other. It was also in their interests to foment discontent in the border region of each other's country. It was not, however, in their own interests to have lawlessness inside their own kingdoms. In 1249, in an attempt to produce a semblance of order in this extraordinary Borderland region, the governments of the two countries came to an agreement whereby special laws would be developed, on both sides of the Border. These laws, known as the Leges Marchiarum, the Laws of the Marches, would be peculiar to the Border and would not be enforced in other parts of the country. To enable the administration of these laws the Borderland was to be split into six regions, known as Marches, three on each side of the Border.
The Marches were arranged along geographical lines - an English West, Middle and East March and its corresponding equivalent on the Scottish side, with its own West, Middle and East Marches. The Marches were not of the same size, the East Marches of both countries being smaller than the others.
Like the East Marches, the West Marches were better farmland than the Middle Marches and, given that they lay astride the main route taken by invading armies as they entered each other's country, they were better defended in terms of large, powerful castles such as Carlisle in the English West March, Caerlaverock and Lochmaben in the Scottish West March and Berwick in the English East March.
The Middle Marches were dominated by the wild, hilly country of the Cheviot and North Pennine Hills. This land gave the Reiver free rein to ride, through its passes and mosses and over its fells, on raids against targets on either side of the border and so the Middle Marches tended to see the worst of the lawlessness.
The Scottish East March consisted of Berwick (until, after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing this was subsumed into England in 1482) and the fertile area known as "The Merse" i.e. the Eastern portion of Berwickshire. The Scottish Middle March was made up of the county of Roxburghshire and the remaining part of Berwickshire. Kelso, Hawick and Jedburgh (Jeddart) being the principal towns. The Scottish West March extended from the "Debateable Land" (see below) as far west as the River Cree in Galloway, taking in the Stewartries of Kirkcudbrightshire and Annandale plus the valley of Nithsdale encompassing the town of Dumfries with its Sheriffdom.
The English East March, like its equivalent March over the Border, was the smallest, consisting of the north-eastern part of Northumberland. It was governed from Berwick, which was pivotal in the defence of this the eastward corridor between Scotland and England used by invading armies. In reiving terms, however, it was more raided against than raiding, so to speak (again like its Scottish equivalent). The Middle March encompassed the areas of Coquetdale, Redesdale and Tynedale and so contained some of the worst elements on the English side of the Border. It was administered from Alnwick castle with garrisons kept at Chipchase and Harbottle. The English West March consisted of the counties of Cumberland and Westmorland with their good agricultural land in the low-lying areas bordering the Solway. Edging on to the Debateable Land and Liddesdale they presented a prime target yet the Middle March tended to suffer more from the raids of the Western reivers. One reason for this was the presence of Carlisle, England's bastion in the west, mirroring that of Berwick in the east. Again, because of its strategic position as an inter-national invasion route, it was more strongly defended, with its great castle at Carlisle, as the hub of the area and with garrisons at Bewcastle and Rockcliffe.
The Border Marches
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