A new book by Northumbrian poet Jon Tait has been published.
King of Thieves celebrates Adam Scott and a many other Reiver characters, and has been published by Carlisle-based Fyrebrand.
Scott was such a notorious leader of sheep and cattle raiders that he earned the nicknames ‘King of Thieves’ and ‘King of the Border’.
The book looks at Scott’s life, and those of other Reivers, and imparts tales about them not previously heard.
Scott was born sometime in the late 15th century, a son of David Scott, in the forest of Ettrick, who had gained possession of the lands at Tushielaw sometime between 1480 and 1490.
He was granted a charter by King James IV to the forest stead and lands of Tushielaw “with the right to build a tower and fortalice” in 1507 for a yearly payment of £24.
His brother William was also a Reiver, who in 1502 was riding and committing “stouthreifs, slaughters, burnings and other crimes”, with Archibald and Ninian Armstrong.
Adam specialised in taking “blackmeal”, protection money, and it appears that he was still demanding money with menaces even while imprisoned in Edinburgh in May 1530, along with fellow villain William Cockburn, the Laird of Henderland.
He also stood accused of murder, theft, receiving stolen goods and “maintaining thieves”, i.e. being head of a crew. Forget the view of Scott being hung from a tree in his backyard that was popularised by Border balladeers; it seems that he was lifted, tried and executed in the capital.
The then 19-year-old King James V of Scotland consolidated his power in 1529/30 with a clampdown on the Border families that also saw the Earl of Bothwell banished and the Lords Maxwell and Hume, and Lairds of Buccleuch, Cessford, Ferniehurst, Polwart and Johnstone, among others, imprisoned.
This was probably in response to the fact that the Border warlord Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, his stepfather, had held the teenager virtually prisoner and exercised power for him for three years until 1528.
Buccleuch (Walter Scott of Branxholm and Buccleuch) had actually tried to free the young King in 1526 during what became the Battle of Melrose.
Adam Scott had been previously jailed in Edinburgh Castle in 1505, but broke out and, perhaps most tellingly, in 1525 he agreed to assist the Earl of Angus in “staunching theft, reiving, slaughter”.
Scott was publicly hung, then beheaded.