Kinmont Willie, by John Faed (1820-1902)
Sir Walter Scott's Birthday
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"O HAVE ye na heard o’ the fause Sakelde? O have ye na heard o’ the keen Lord Scroope How they hae taen bauld Kinmont Willie, On Hairibee to hang him up?" ~ Kinmont Willie, Walter Scott's The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, 1802
William Armstrong of Kinmont ," Kinmont Willie" was a border reiver and outlaw active in the Anglo-Scottish Border country in the last decades of the 16th century. The ballad of Kinmont Willie, collected in Sir Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of Border Ballads, tells the story of his unjust capture during a Court session and the subsequent daring raid to break him out of Carlisle Castle.
For August 15th, the birthday of Sir Walter Scott, we pay tribute to the subject of one of his many Border Ballads, the story of Kinmont Willie, preserved by Scott in his work, "The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border," published in 1802.
Sir Walter Scott, (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832) was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright and poet with many contemporary readers in Europe, Australia, and North America.
As a boy, youth and young man, Scott was fascinated by the oral traditions of the Scottish Borders. At the age of 25 he began to write professionally, soon publishing a three-volume set of the collected ballads of his home region, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.
The people of the English Scottish Border lands suffered much as a result of the Scottish Wars of Independence, the confrontation between England and Scotland which lasted for two and a half centuries, from 1296 to 1547. Caught in the middle of the conflict between two of the most aggressive nations in history, the Border folk resorted to theft. To ‘reive’ is to thieve. The Borderer became the Border Reiver.
By the middle of the sixteenth century Border Reiving had reached such a pitch that all authority was at a loss to deal with it.
William Armstrong of Kinmont, known today as Kinmont Willie, was a Scottish Border Reiver. By the 1590’s he was enemy number one to the English. Despite their best efforts they had never been able to capture him.
In March 1596, at the behest of his overlord, Sir Walter Scott of Branxholme and Buccleuch, he attended a Truce Day at the Dayholme of Kershope, a point on the Border between England and Scotland. Kinmont attended the Truce knowing that many from English authority would also attend, but the protocol of the Day of Truce meant that all men who attended were untouchable from dawn of the Day to the sunrise following completion of the trials of those felons who had been brought to justice.
Before sunset on that day, the trials were over, but as Kinmont rode down the Scottish side of the river Liddel, he was seen by a party of Englishmen also making for home. Seeing the great Scottish Border Reiver within their grasp, the English group forded the river and ran Kinmont down.
He was bound to his horse, conveyed to Carlisle castle, and imprisoned.
When Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch heard of the capture he wrote to the English authorities and demanded Kinmont’s release on the grounds that the capture was illegal under Border Law.
When the local authorities refused to release Armstrong, Buccleuch led a party of men on a daring raid into England and broke Armstrong out of the castle with inside help from the English Grahams and Carletons.
The story of this raid on Carlisle Castle is told in the ballad "Kinmont Willie."
Border surnames can also be found throughout the major areas of Scots-Irish settlement in the United States, particularly in the Appalachian region. A descendant of the Borderers, Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, visited the town of Langholm, home of his ancestors, a year after his historic moonwalk.
For more on Kinmont Willie, click the painting of Sir Walter Scott by Sir William Allan (1782-1850).
And for a video of the dance performed by the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society Manchester Branch, 2009, see below.