History has dubbed the clans who lived on the Anglo-Scot border as, "Border Reivers," and the homelands they controlled "The Debatable Lands." Dating from Norman times, the border clans made their own laws and dispensed their own justice for nearly four hundred years.

The Debatable Lands stretched along both sides of the border from Solway Firth in the west up to Northumbria, and the Berwickshire coast in the east, included Cheviot Hills, Southern Uplands and Pennines; westward to the Solway Coast and Eden Valley; eastward to the Merse, including rivers Nith, Annan, Esk, Teviot, Tweed, Redesdale, Coquetdale, Tynedale and Liddesdale.

The Kings of Britain and Scotland ruled the hearts of their kingdoms, but the borders were controlled by the Reiver Clans. Loyalty went to the Chief of the clan and to the clan/sept structure. To bring the borders under control, Kings of Scotland and Britain first had to destroy the clan structure. That was later accomplished after the union of the crowns.

The larger clans maintained "peel" towers from which watchmen could see approaching enemies from miles away. It has been stated that a chief could assemble an army on short notice. "Peel / Peel" towers dating from Norman times were used by later tenants as fortified residences. Many were central edifices around which new castles were built.

The first border families to yield to British rule were families who switched loyalties to the king and became Warden of the East or Warden of the West March, or became commanders of frontier garrisons. Famous border families like Buccleuch, Dacre, Homes and Scropes all took an oath of loyalty to the British Crown.

Some wardens played both sides of the street, accepted bribes from border chiefs to look the other way, by refusing to prosecute as long as raids were conducted elsewhere. Some wardens even participated in reiver raids. Those wardens kept the secrets about sanctuaries, the "hot trods" along which they fled, and vulnerable points where pursuing posses could be ambushed.

Among ninety minor clans that lived within the clan/sept structure, was the Routledge clan. They lived about three miles south of the border, north of the Musgrave Clan and in the middle of three Armstrong Clans at a place called Routledge Bern. History says that the Rutledge family name was derived from two Norman words, Rudd and Letch, roughly translating to Red Water.

This year a cousin living in London visited old Reiver lands and took some photographs of places where our ancestors once lived. And just as the verbal story said, the streams issuing from Routledge Bern are clearly tinted red. It may have something to do with the color of the local soil or clay around there.

Out of fear of losing their own lands, the Wardens began to enforce the King's law. Dacre, Warden of the West March, received reports that Clan Armstrong had rustled cattle in England and hid them in Scotland. It was Dace's duty to recover the cattle.

Dacre with a force of 500 soldiers set out with signed orders to destroy the Armstrong's, but instead stumbled upon the Routledge Clan. The Routledges were warned in time to escape with most of their livestock through the winding backwoods trails and across the border to safety in Scotland.

The sanctuary to which they escaped in Scotland was a boggy lowlands area known as Terras Bern. Terras Bern was controlled by the Armstrong Clans.

After the union of the crowns, the reiver families were not safe on either side of the border. The Wardens rousted the border families from their homelands. No longer safe, the families either swore allegiance to the king, or left the borders.

Routledge families immigrated as far as we know to Ireland, England, Wales, and later to New Zealand, Australia, Barbados, Canada, America or elsewhere. Some apparently stayed in Scotland and became loyal subjects of the king.

St. Cuthbert's Bewcastle Chapel Cemetery is the last resting place for many reiver families, Grahams, Musgraves, Armstrongs, Nixsons. And in one corner of the churchyard are Routledge graves dating back to the 1700s.

Visit more Rutledge/Routledge/Ratledge/Ratluge/Ruttledge Homepages and other Border Reiver sites

Sean's Ruttledge Home Page

Border Reivers Home Home Page

Official Border Reiver Home Page

John's Rutledge Family Association Page

by Don Kelly, updated 02/19/2002