BORDER ORIGINS

The Border region in the 13th to 17th centuries was the centre of a constant battleground between the English and the Scots.  The people residing here at the time did not see themselves as either English or Scottish; they developed an independence of spirit that set them against the world.

Allegiance in this era was to Kin, not Kingdom. Family loyalties had no border or king, but were united under their clan name. There are up to 77 family names who claim to have been Reivers.

Many of these “riding” clan names are still common today; both in the Border region and beyond. Surnames like Armstrong, like the astronaut Neil Armstrong, or Nixon (as in President Richard Nixon) are historically linked with the Border Reivers.

You might be closer to the Reivers than you realise...

Download Clan Map

ARMSTRONG

Crest Motto

I remain unvanquished

Area

Scottish Middle March

Meaning

Literally what it says “Arm Strong”
Said to have derived from when a servant saved his master’s life
by hoisting him onto his own horse by one uninjured arm during a battle.

Notable Histroy

The Armstrongs were one of the most feared and dangerous
riding clan on the whole frontier. In the 1500s they inflicted more damage
than any other two families combined. 

Neil Armstrong is a direct descendent of the Armstrong Reivers.

You can still today visit Hollows Tower of Canonbie - the only habitable Armstrong
tower still in existence.

BELL

Crest Motto

Love is the token of peace

Area

West March

Meaning

A theory about the name is that it originally signified good looks.

Notable Histroy

Feuded notoriously with the Graham family. 

The tower was destroyed in an English raid of 1547, whereby they were declared
"unruly" by the Scottish Parliament. When the clan later disbanded (and the
position of Chief lapsed) many members were forced to flee to Ireland.

BURN

Crest Motto

Ever Ready

Area

Middle Scottish

Meaning

Possibly geographically related to “bourne” meaning “stream”.
Alternatively if it could, derive from the Old English “beorn” meaning “warrior”.

Notable History

A particularly predatory and vicious family. To have crossed them at the
time was said to provoke a bloody feud. In one instance, they are said
to have killed seventeen Collingwoods in revenge for one of their own.

CHARLTON

Area

Middle English

Meaning

Possibly from “a farm belonging to a ‘churl’ (a person of low birth) or ‘free peasant’.

Notable History

Main seat is Hesleyside Hall near Bellingham. 

Said to ‘eat, drink and be merry’ until the larder was empty, whereby Lady Charlton
would bring out a silver spur on a platter, signalling to the men that it was
time to go riding (raiding). 

 

ELLIOT(T)

Crest Motto  Boldly and rightly
Area

Middle Scottish

Notable History

The extra ‘t’ in Elliott came about when a branch of the Elliotts’ adopted
Christianity, whereby the extra t was to represent the cross.

Robert Elliott, the 13th Chief of the Clan was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.

 

FENWICK

Crest Motto  Always faithful
Area

English Middle March

Meaning

 Originally derived from ‘fenn’ (marsh) and ‘wic’ (dairy farm)

Notable History

A powerful English family, described as ‘gentlemen’. Often to be found among border
officials.

They conducted many feuds, including a bitter one with the Elliots. Responsible for
protecting the lowland regions of Northumberland.

 
 

JOHNSTON(E) or JOHNSON 

Crest Motto  Never unprepared 
Clan Badge Red hawthron
Area

Scottish West Marches 

Meaning

 Son of John, or possibly Johns Tun – a tun being a piece of land.

Notable History 
A deadly feud between the Maxwells and Johnstones lasted nearly a century
 

KERR (also CARR)

Crest Motto  Late but in ernest
Area

Scottish Middle March

Meaning

 Stems from Old Norse kjarr ‘marsh dweller’

Notable History

Kerrs have been associated with left-handedness, with one of their buildings
(Ferniehirst Castle) having been designed with this explicitly in mind as their
stairwells descend in the opposite direction.

One of the leading clans of the Middle March, where they frequently ruled as
Wardens.

 

GRAHAM

Crest Motto  Always faithful
Clan Badge  Laurel
Area

West Marches

Notable History 
Mostly English, but notoriously fickle to be on either side. Their notorious dual
allegiances caused confusion with little respect for authority.

One of the most numerous family in the West Border.

At one point, the Grahams were so infamous that their surnames were banned by law. The
Grahams changed them to “Maharg” (Graham backwards) 

 

MAXWELL

Crest Motto  I flourish again
Area

Scottish West March

Notable History

The strongest family in the Scottish West March, until the Johnstones reduced
their power in the late sixteenth century after a deadly feud.

NIXON

Area

English Middle March

Meaning

 Sons of Nicholas

Notable History

Often described as having many ‘loose men’.

An important part of the Armstrong-Elliot-Nixon protection racket. 

US President Richard Nixon is descendent from the Nixon Border Reivers.

 

ROBSON

Crest Motto  Be just and fear not
Area

 English Middle March

Meaning

 A local origin name - from Scotland

Notable History

One of the leading families of Tynedale, forming a powerful contribution with the
Charltons, Dodds and Milburns.

The Robsons once stole a large flock of sheep from the Graham family, which,
as it turned out were infected with scab, which spread through the rest of the
Robson flock. They were so angry with the infection they returned to the home
of the Grahams’ and killed all seven family members in one go.

 
 

SCOTT

Crest Motto  I love
Meaning

 A local origin name - from Scotland

Notable History

One of the most powerful families in the whole Border, active both as reivers and
officers. One of their notable war cries were to cry out "The Scotts are Out!

 
 
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