Early Cumbrian Robleys 1500 to 1603


O who will up an' ride wi' me:
Come a’ ye reivers bold!
Then let us off to Cumberland
To herry byre an' fold.
We winna leave a horn or hoof
On a' the English side,
Then come, my bonny reivers,
Come, let us mount an' ride.

The moon that shines o'er Carter Fell,
She'll light us on our way,
We'll ride doun by the Liddel,
An' we'll drive an English prey.
The English wives 'll greet an' mane,
It's lang they'll rue the day,
When we rade doun by Copsiehowm
An' drove their kye away.

We'll cross the sands o' Solway,
An' we'll race the foaming tide,
Then come, my bonny reivers,
Gin ye wi' me wad ride.
We'll chase the lowing cattle,
I' the moonlight saft an' pale,
E'er the cock craws i' the mornin'
We'll be hame t’ Liddesdale.

Th'll maybe be a tuilzie,
Gin we meet the English loons,
An' horses rinnin' riderless,
An' sair an' bluidy wouns.
An' dole an' mickle sorrow,
Wi' mony a Southren maid,
When we ride o'er the Border
An' gang for a bit raid.

Then come, my lads, get out your nags,
An' see ye hae your spears,
Then let us off to Cumberland
To drive the English steers
We wanna leave a horn or hoof
On a' the English side
Then come, my bonny reivers,
Come, let us mount and ride.

From The Border Magazine

In his book "Steel Bonnets" George McDonald Fraser comments


"if there are qualities in the Border people which are less than aimiable they are shaped by the kind of continuous ordeal that has passed most of Britain by. That ordeal reached it's peak in the sixteenth century, when great numbers of the people inhabiting the frontier territory (the old Border marches) lived by despoiling each other, when the great Border tribes, both English and Scottish, feuded continuously among themselves, when robbery and blackmail were everyday professions, when raiding, arson, kidnapping, murder and extortion were an important part of the social system. ----- It was a way of life pursued in peacetime by people who accepted it as normal. It meant that no man who lived between the Scottish Southern Uplands and the Pennines could walk abroad unarmed in safety; no householder in all the marches could go to sleep secure; no beast or cattle could be left unguarded".

This story explores the the times when the Robley Ancestors were farmers on small holdings in the County of Cumberland . Reiving was at it's height along the borders between England and Scotland and it was also a time of adverse weather conditions and very serious outbreaks of the plague. However reiving was not confined to the sixteenth century, it was a fact of life on the borders centuries earlier.

The earliest Robley record that I have been able to trace relates to a William Robley, who in Pickering, North Yorkshire, in 1316 and together with seventy others was excommunicated by the Dean and Chapter of St. Peter's,York for cattle stealing. While North Yorkshire is not generally considered to be a part of the Border Marches subjected to the frequent lawless activities by the reiver bands of outlaws, nevertheless this is an early example of this activity and the only one reported as directly involving a Robley.

Following the battle of Bannockburn (1314) and with the plague present in both England and Scotland, there were considerable incursions by the Scots into northern England as far south as Richmond in north Yorkshire and Furness in Lancashire. Led by Robert the Bruce himself together with Lord Douglas they utterly devastated the land. As a result in these hard and uncertain times, numerous bands of lawless men, bereft of alternate livelhoods, roamed the area. These men were locals and there is no evidence of cross border activity involving the Scots, the men may well have been starving and stole to feed themselves and their families.

The reason for the excommunications is described as 'contumacy and offence' ie, stealing and scornful insolence. When, 40 days after being charged, the band's predictable reaction was 'obdurate' (invincible hardening of the heart), the Dean and Chapter looked to the King for support. Excommunication was the church's favoured punishment for offences against it and its teachings and was commonly used in the north of England against these bands. It involved a declaration of excommunication and there was no associated form of trial or appeal. The offenders themselves did not have to appear.

It seems that 'obdurate' was a normal response by these groups. What support the Church could expect from the King was probably moral only, at that time, as he had only two years previously seen his army badly defeated at Bannockburn. He was probably somewhat reluctant to head north again to clean up local bands of outlaws and particularly when the threat of the Scots under Robert the Bruce seemed ever present.

Stepping forward two hundred and fifty years into Cumberland and some distance to the north of Pickering, we enter a place and time where reiving had become commonplace and was totally out of hand. The authorities were stretched to the limit in often a vain attempt to contain the problem. Excommunication by the church was still a punishment option but by then hanging was the preferred deterrent.

To keep law and order as well as peace along the often ill defined borders between the Kingdoms of Scotland and England the area was divided into six 'Marches', East, West and Middle on both the Scots and English sides and a Warden was appointed to each to enforce the security of his charge. The function of the Wardens was to provide a defense for the local community from the deprivations of the reivers and to raise a 'Posse' through a 'Muster' to carry out a 'Trod' or pursuit of thieves in order to recover stolen goods and stock and bring the perpetrators to justice.

From the outset the position of Warden was to be no sinecure and while some progress can be attributed to the system, in general, the unruly state of affairs persisted with the Wardens themselves becoming implicated with the very people they were supposed to control! A classic example of the risks associated with the position of Warden and the perfidy of the local population was the murder of Sir John Carmichael, in June 1600, by a band of Scottish reivers as he rode from Langholm to Lochmaben to attend a Warden Court.

Sir John was Scottish Deputy March Warden at a ‘Day of Truce’ which was held on the Border in the hills near present day Carter Bar in July 1575. The Day of Truce, was a meeting to try the perpetrators of crime, both English and Scottish, and was enshrined in Border Law. March Wardens from each side of the Border presided over the proceedings and were charged with bringing the criminals for trial. Juries were a mix of both Scots and English. The ‘Day’ was a time when many attended from both England and Scotland to witness that fair play presided throughout. All took an oath to honour the truce. They swore that they would not offend ‘by word, deed or countenance’.

Carmichael fell victim to the invective and guile of Sir John Forster, seventy-five years old, and then English Middle March Warden. Reaction to the aggressive exchanges between the two Wardens soon spilled over to the men of both sides and all hell let loose. At the meeting with Carmichael were a few of his young followers. They began to taunt an elderly Armstrong and endeavoured to humiliate him at every opportunity. It would seem that Carmichael did little to curb their youthful pranks and overt hostility to the once powerful warlord. At one stage they removed his sword and filled his scabbard with egg yolks. Having replaced the sword it was now impossible to remove it from the scabbard.

The Armstrong was beside himself with fury and swore that should any of the present company of Carmichaels ever stray on Armstrong land he would have no compunction in pulling his sword and ridding the world of their odious presence. The meeting broke up with acrimony. On his return home Armstrong told his sons of his mistreatment. His eldest son, Thomas Armstrong, said little in the way of comfort to calm the distress and shame of his unfortunate father, but the thought of revenge was forefront in his mind.

The next morning Sir John Carmichael left Langholm to ride for Lochmaben where he was to preside over a Warden Court. The journey, through hilly woodland provided the perfect opportunity to confront him. Next morning a party of Armstrongs including Thomas Armstrong and his father along with a Taylor, a Forrester, a Scott and a Graham lay in wait for Carmichael at a place still known as the Raesknowe. As the Warden passed the ambush party a number of shots rang out and Carmichael fell dead.

Reiver Families along the West Marches.

The ambush party then scattered and sought refuge at the homes of friends, but were relentlessly pursued on the orders of King James. Murder of a man appointed by the King himself was not to be tolerated. Later, in 1601, Thomas Armstrong, son to Sandies Ringane Armstrong, was apprehended, taken to the Mercat Cross at Edinburgh and hanged. Before he was strung up, his right hand was cut off. Subsequently his body was wrapped in chains and the corpse was hung up at Borroughmuir.

There was considerable variation in the degree of severity of Reiver activity between the Marches. While the East March was generally quiet, the Middle and West marches certainly were not! The worst lawless activity was along the Middle Marches with the West March in Scotland a very close second, while the English West March (Cumberland and Westmoreland) suffering more akin to the levels of crime on the Eastern Marches. Across the Border from Cumberland lay the Scottish West March which included the notorious Liddlesdale 'Debateble Lands', rough, inaccessible terrain and the the haunt of the lawless bands. These 'Debateable Lands' were with in easy riding distance of the English West March and consequently could be regarded as a major threat to the people of Cumberland.

However this seemed not to be so. The immediate frontier with Scotland comprised the Cumbrian Eastern Fells and the Bewcastle Waste, which was a notable haunt of outlaws and was constantly traversed by the Liddlesdale raiders and did in fact have more than its fair share of foray and violence but the rich pastures of the Eden Valley and the western plains which should have been a much more tempting target were not so badly affected! While these latter areas were far from immune from the attention of the reivers they took less of a continuous hammering than did Redesdale or Tynedale to the north east of the County.

Bewcastle Castle: English West March.

There could be several reasons for this comparative immunity. The English West March was the most heavily defended of the three English Marches having strongholds at Scaleby, Askerton, Naworth and Bewcastle, but perhaps the most significant barrier was the River Eden and the Solway Firth with it's sands and treacherous tides. Fords and crossing places over the Eden and other major rivers were kept under close observation as a part of a watch system designed to provide a speedy alert and response to Reiver incursions.

Further to the south were the castles of Penrith, Cockermouth and Greystoke, while the hills of the Forest of Inglewood provided a potential refuge for farmers and their stock.

The Robley farm of Scarrowmanwick, near Kirkoswald, takes it's name from an old fortification used in ancient times as a refuge from marauders who attacked from the mountains.

Most important was the strategically placed castle at Carlisle which Reivers tended to give a very wide berth. While the castle's garrison was frequently well below ideal strength ( a victim of Queen Elizabeth's frugal attitude towards many things including defence) it was an most effective police base. In 1585 it was discovered that the city master gunner was a butcher living in Suffolk, in the south of England and no one in the town knew how to fire a canon!

Carlisle Castle.

The obvious prime reiving route between Scotland and Cumberland was therefore via the Bewcastle Waste and in tune with the local agricultural system, peaceful and lawless alike, followed a regular pattern, Autumn to Spring with long nights was the raiding season, Summer for husbandry and tillage in Spring and Summer. The main agricultural activity being sheep and cattle raising with a small amount of tillage to enable self sufficiency.

The Bewcastle Waste: a Reiver's Road to Cumberland.

When reiving was at it's height during the years prior to the accession to the English throne of James the first and the union of the two Kingdoms, there were two groups of Robley farmers residing in Cumberland, one established in the Barony of Gilsland and a second group in the Barony of Greystoke further to the south and bordering on Westmoreland. They were centered on the village of Berrier in the parish of Greystoke in the fells west of Penrith. The Lords of the Manor for both groups were, initially, the Dacre family and later the Howards, Dukes of Norfolk.

While this story relates to the English West March and in particular the interface of reiving, famine and plague with the the Robley farmers, it must be made clear at the outset that the English riders probably did more damage to Scotland than was suffered by the English. In 1583 Scottish raiders stole and or damaged an estimated value of 6,470 pounds but suffered 33,600 pounds in return, ie.about five times as much damage. The total damage listed by the English West March Warden, Lord Scrope, was 50,000 pounds. In 1596-7 William Bowes gave a 10 year figure of nearly 93,000 pounds. English thieves were seen to be much worse than the Scots.

In general the Reivers were interested in livestock, insight, ie household effects and capturing prisoners for ransom, although they would take anything they could carry or drive away. . Houses and shielings (temporary buildings erected for use while summer grazing the stock.) were burned and destroyed during the attacks but as they were were built of clay, stones or turfs with roofs of thatch or turf they were easily burnt but just as easily replaced. What could not be readily replaced were the lives lost as well as the livestock which was frequently replaced by stealing from some other unfortunate person, not necessarily from over the Border. This of course added further impetus to the whole unfortunate cycle!

There are a number of examples of the activities of the Reivers around Bewcastle which provide a snapshot of what went on:

In return, late in the sixteenth century, the Cumbrian Captain of Bewcastle ventured north to teach the Scots a lesson. Reprisal was on his mind as he sought to counter the many inroads into England of the Border Scots . High in Ettrickdale, a lovely valley on the Scots side, stood the home of Jamie Telfer. Here he lived with his wife and children in a somewhat isolated location. The family had little in the way of possessions. They had only ten cattle and only a meagre smallholding of land which proved hard to manage to provide for almost all their needs. The Captain of Bewcastle and his marauding band came upon the scene and, having gauged the lie of the land and the absence of close neighbours, saw only easy pickings.

The clash was only a scuffle; much as the parents fought to combat the superior English force they were soon overcome. The Bewcastle raiders had soon made off with Jamie’s little herd.

After the English had left, Jamie ran the ten miles to Stobs Castle and sought the help of Gibby Elliot, a man of power in the neighbourhood. Elliot would have none of it because Jamie did not pay him blackmail.( blackmail was rent paid for protection against the more powerful reiving clans of either England or Scotland.) Elliot suggested that Jamie move on to Branxholme as it was to the Laird there that Jamie paid his blackmail. Jamie then ran from Stobs to Branxholme where he received a better reception. Scott, the Laird of Buccleuch and Branxholme called out his neighbours and together they rode to intercept the English, before they should reach the Rutterford, a passage across the river Liddel that led into English ground.

The English, slowed by the pace of the beasts that they were driving, were eventually caught, still on Scottish ground. In the ensuing melee a Scottish reiver named Willie was felled when his head was cut in two by an English sword. Wat Scott of Harden swore revenge. The Captain of Bewcastle was to come off badly when his leg was broken by a massive sword swipe onto his upper thigh. This, it is said in the ballad of Jamie Telfer, rendered him ‘useless’ to a woman for the remainder of his days. The Scots soon retrieved Jamie’s cattle. The Captain must have rued the day he ever started out. Loss of cattle and manhood was a poor return for a raid which had set out with high expectations.

The story of Hobbie Noble of the Crew, one of the English Reivers of somewhat dubious reknown, is an example of Scots and English reiving together. Hobbie would aid the Armstrongs of Liddesdale, yet eventually be betrayed by one of their own. Hobbie was from Bewcastle. Hobbie spent many years raiding in Tynedale (Northumberland) and even parts of his homeland, to the south of his Cumberland fortress. It would seem that allegiance to his countrymen was of little concern to a man bent on raiding wherever the opportunity presented itself. Eventually they disowned him as they tired of the retribution exacted on them by the families he had raided within his own country as well as the people to the north of the border. Hobbie fled to Liddesdale in the Scottish borders where he was well received by the Laird of Mangerton, the head of the Armstrongs. Anyone on run from the law, irrespective of nationality, was welcomed by the Armstrongs of Liddesdale.

Hobbie was true to his Scottish hosts. When Jock Armstrong of the ‘Side’, a leading member of the Scottish clan ( see the ballad on page 1) was captured and thrown into gaol in Newcastle to await a fate which would inevitably see him hanged, Hobbie was a major force in planning and achieving his rescue. He was lauded by the Armstrongs of Mangerton for the part he played in the rescue of Jock.

Sim Armstrong, who was Laird of the Mains, had grown to hate the English Reiver. so whilst the English Warden was bent on wresting Hobbie from the Scottish borderlands and bringing him to account for his crimes in England, Sim and the Warden made a deal. In return for English money, Sim would betray Hobbie into the Warden’s hands. Accordingly, on the pretext that Hobbie knew the English ground better than he did, Sim persuaded Hobbie to lead a raid south of the border into England.

Hobbie led the Armstrongs of the Mains into England, but at the same time Sim Armstrong sent word to the English Keeper of Askerton that Hobbie was back on English ground. At the first light of the following day Hobbie woke to see the English confronting him. At first he was not unduly concerned, but the Armstrongs at his back suddenly voiced their allegiance to the English and Hobbie was betrayed. Hobbie was bound with his own bow-string and thrown in the dark damp cells of Carlisle Castle. He was told he would hang next day unless he would confess to stealing Peter of Winfield’s horse, a crime that had hung over his head for some time. There is some doubt that Hobbie was involved and probably the charge was trumped up by the English. He denied the allegation but was hanged anyway.

Sir Walter Scott's Border Ballads have to a very large degree sought to romanticise the activities of the reivers and to portray then as latter day Robin Hoods, but in fact they were nasty, mean spirited, ruffians, prefering soft marks such as small farmers, widows and those living in isolated places. Visitors described the Borderers as barbarous, crafty, vengeful, crooked, quarrelsome, tough, perverse,active and deceitful. Borderers, both Scots and English were very much alike in character! Raids such as those described took place in the 16th and early 17th Centuries. Over this large area there existed a population who lived outside the laws of England and Scotland and ignored the persistant efforts of Government to impose order.

During this time we know of two family groups of Robleys living in Cumberland. The northern group comprised four families who were most probably closely related and, if not, at least shared shared common interests. They were small holders with livestock and therefore, potentially, tempting soft targets for the reivers. As tenant farmers they had an obligation to respond to musters called by their Lords of the Manor.

There must have been a degree of uncertainty among all tenants, and particularly so far as the Robleys were concerned, as to whom their Lords of the Manor supported, as the Baronies of Gillsland and Greystoke were jointly held by the Dacre family and later the Howard family. Both families supported the 'Old' Catholic religion, however the Dacres had also sworn to support the King Henry VIII in his wars against the Scots and held their estates on this premise. Both families were very much aware of the consequencies of backing the wrong horse, but nevertheless continued to do so!

Naworth Castle: the Dacre family stronghold. Gilsland.

Thomas Dacre was Warden of the West March for Henry VIII, and provided loyal service to the crown until his death in 1525. Unfortunately for the family, in 1560 the then Lord Dacre died, leaving a widow, three daughters and a young son, George. Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, Queen Elizabeth's cousin, then married the widowed Lady Dacre, and arranged to marry his three sons to her three daughters. Young George however was killed in a fall from a vaulting horse and the vast Dacre estates which covered great tracts of the north of England - including 70,000 acres of the Barony of Gilsland, lands in Cumberland including Greystoke and Dacre, 20,000 acres around Morpeth and 30,000 acres in Yorkshire all came under the control of the Howard family.

The children's uncle, Lord Leonard Dacre, claimed the estates and was greatly incensed that his claim to be male heir was filed in the court whose Marshal was Thomas Howard himself. The court therefore found in favour of the Duke. As a result and suffering from a sense of injustice and frustration, Leonard vacillated between the Scots or the English as to whom he would provide his quite substantial military support. Choosing his sides unwisely, he ended his days as a defeated exile in France.

Following the death of his wife, Thomas Howard foolishly became embroiled in a plot to marry Mary Queen of Scots and as a result incurring the wrath of Queen Elizabeth. Thus Thomas Howard, like his father before him, went to the scaffold and was executed in 1572. The eldest Dacre daughter, Elizabeth, married the Duke’s third son, Lord William Howard. It took Lord William until 1602 to raise and pay a ransom of £10,000, in order to secure his wife’s estate, the lands and titles having been seized by an angry Queen Elizabeth I.

The Howards used their mustered tenants in wars against the Scots and also to round up the reivers. In their castle grounds at Naworth, situated about two miles from Brampton in Cumberland, stands the stump of the oak tree where Lord William Howard used to hang Scottish Reivers and wrong doers. It was said he hanged 62 Armstrongs over a period of two years!

George Robley who died in 1577 is buried in Caldbeck which is situated in West Cumberland, south west of Carlisle, between the fertile coastal plain and the Cumbrian Fells and was therefore, although not immune, was likely to be relatively removed from the attentions of the reivers.

The Caldbeck Fells, home of George Robley.

Tenants of the lord of the Manor had obligations to attend musters as in other parts of the County. There are records of these musters being conducted around the 1530s. Despite this relative immunity, in 1592 there is a record of a man named Sowerby, living near Caldbeck, whose house was broken into by 6 thieves and himself most cruelly used. First - "They sett upon his bare buttockes a hote iron, and there they burned him and rubbed him with a hot gridle about his bellie and sondry other partes of his body" to make him give up his money.

George's wife, Margarete (Maslin?), survived him and died in 1587 in Cumwhitton. She was a witness to the inventory of her husband's estate as well as that of John Robley of Hayton who was possibly her brother-in-law. She left a will which named her sister as both beneficiary and executor. There is no mention of a surviving spouse nor children.

John Robley of Hayton, died in 1587. Over a three year period there had been a significant crop failure in Cumberland resulting in a severe famine! John Robley farmed at Heads Nook near Hayton about 4 km east of the River Eden. I believe that he was the brother of George Robley of Calbeck. His farm at Heads Nook lay within easy riding distance of the border and Liddlesdale and therefore very vulnerable to Reiver raids emanating from the Bewcastle Waste direction. Together with his family he would have no natural protection afforded by the River Eden.

We know little about him other than he was buried in the churchyard at Hayton. From the inventory of his goods and chattels, witnessed by Margarete Robley, we know he was a farmer. He is most likely the John Robley, senior, who together with his son, John Robleye junior, were mustered on 9th February 1581 for military service on the Borders as 'Lances' ie. light horsemen supplying their own horses, body armour and weapons.

In war or peace the riders favourite weapon was the lance and some of these were in the Scots fashion, up to 13 feet long although most were shorter and used, couched for thrusting as well as for throwing. So, mounted on their 'hobblers' they were armed with a steel cap, jack, (a padded leather jacket), lance, cutting sword, dagger and a hand gun and were ready to be pointed at the enemy whoever he may be. Also included in the 1581 muster was one Thomas Noble who was the son of the sister to one of the John Robleys. As tenants, both Robleys and Nobles were subject to the regulations of the Barony of Gilsland and therefore had an obligation to serve as light horsemen in the event of a Muster being called.

Border Reivers on their Hobblers.

A separate requirement and equally important was for all tenants to be prepared for border service and secondly to be a part of the Border Watch System designed to counter the activities of local thieves and Reivers as well as invading Scots. In the case of the Robleys closest to the border this must have been no sinecure.

The regulations were very explicit as to what was required of the tenants. These stipulated good horses, efficient armour and weapons for the bailiffs, and a rigid supervision of those of lower rank. The tenants' nags were ordered to be :- "able at anye tyme to beare a manne twentie or four-and-twentie houres without a baite, or at the leaste is able sufficientlye to beare a manne twentie miles within Scotlande and backe againe withoute a baite." Every tenant, moreover, had to provide himself with "a jacke, steale-cape,sworde, bowe, or speare, such weapons as shall be thought meatest for him to weare by the seyght of the baylife where he dwelleth or by the land-serjeante."

The 1581 muster raised a force of 72 drawn from the villages of Hayton and Fenton only, both in the Parish of Wetheral. This was regarded as a good number and of good quality being made up of the same men described by Lord Hunsdon after the Battle of Gelt Bridge as;"They gave the proudest charge upon my shot that I ever saw!"

The Hayton tenant farmers were seasoned warriors. On 15 February 1570, eleven years prior to the 1581 muster, Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, who was at Berwick, had received the Queen's orders to apprehend the rebel, Leonard Dacre. The battle which decided Dacre's future took place on 20 February 1570. At dawn Lord Hunsdon and Sir John Forster the English West March Warden, came to Naworth Castle, but found it so strongly defended that they marched to Carlisle, in order to join the force under Lord Scrope. Dacre followed them for four miles, to the banks of the Gelt River. His infantry charged Hunsdon's forces, at what is now called the Battle of Gelt Bridge. The Dacre tenantry rose splendidly to the occasion on behalf of Dacre their ancestral lord. However, their attack was repulsed, and Hunsdon, although out numbered by a factor of two, charged Dacre's foot with his cavalry, killing between three and four hundred of the rebels, and taking between two and three hundred prisoners.

On the day, the Robleys and the men of Hayton fought on the side of the rebels being faithful to their perceived Lord of the Manor and against the servants of Queen Elizabeth. Eleven years later they again mustered in support of their Lord of the Manor but this time it was the Queen herself that they were mustered to support. It would seem that loyalties were flexible and locally based rather than national.

Two years later a muster called by Lord Scrope, Warden of the English West March, on 25th April 1583 was attended by 40 men only.

However things were to deteriorate even further over the next 15 years. On the 5th of September 1598, Land Sergeant, John Musgrave, called a muster at nearby Brampton and very few answered. Where there should have been nearly 500 men, but only 14 answered the muster. On this occasion the men of Hayton were not called because of the infection (the plague) and the fact that there had been a severe famine in the district over the past three years!

Ice core samples taken from a glacier in Switzerland confirmed a series of exceptionaly bad summers and cold winters in the 1590s leading to widespread crop failures. Although no records were found of the Nobles or Robleys being infected by the plague, their village was certainly sufficiently affected to preclude them from this muster.

The Robleys would also have been required to be a part of the watch system designed to give early warning, if possible, and afterwards a speedy reaction to any incursion by marauding reivers or the Scots army. The rules as to the watch required that every tenant:-

"should keep his night watch as he should be appointed by the bailiff, the tenant breaking his watch forfeiting two shillings . The tenants had to go to their watch before ten o'clock, and not to return to a house till after cock-crow; they were also required to call twice to all their neighbours within their watches, once about midnight, and "ones after the cockes have crowen."

Detailed instructions were drawn up for the guidance of the men during their watches:-

"The watchers of a windy night shall watch well of beacons, because in a wind the fray cannot be heard, and therefore it is ordered that of a windy night (if a fray rise) beacons shall be burnt in every lordship by the watchers. One watcher shall keep the beacon burning and the other make speed to the next warner, to warn all the lordships, and so to set forwards. And if the watchers through their own default do not see the beacons burn, or do not burn their own beacons, as appointed,they shall each forfeit two shillings. If the warners have sufficient warning by the watchers, and do not warn all within their warning with great speed, if any fault be proved of the warner he shall forfeit 18d."

The watches were to be kept from 1st October each year until the 16th March ie.during the riding season and paid particular attention to fords across the Eden and across smaller rivers in the area.

While these requirements must have occupied a significant part of the Robley farmer's time they were operable mainly during the time when the livestock would have been in their winter quarters and farming activity at a low level. Even allowing for the farmer's traditional dislike of being subject to regulation the importance of a well organised defensive and early warning system must have been well understood and accepted as an important part of everyday life. Keeping the watch would have been a highly unpleasant task particularly during the cold winter nights of northern Cumberland!

John Robley and his wife had three sons, Thomas, William and John, the latter two died in 1632 and 1638 respectively. They are recorded as living on the outskirts of Carlisle at Durran Hill, Botcherby.

Thomas Robley died in Cumwhitton in 1578 and from the inventory of his goods and chattels we know that he was also involved in in farming as a tenant, not as a landowner. He left livestock to a John Robley (not specified as a particular relative) and his executor was his sister's son Thomas Noble. A John Robley, (probably also of the Hayton family), witnessed his will. From this we can assume that Thomas was a bachelor or a widower, as there is no mention of a spouse and that he was brother to one of the John Robleys of Heads Nook,Hayton. A John Robley, his beneficiary and witness to his will, may have been his nephew.

Cumwhitton lies on the Eastern side of the River Eden and the farm where Thomas worked had no natural protection from the marauding Elliots and their followers. However in a survey of the Barony of Gillsland, completed in 1603 and commissioned by Lord Howard, there are three Robley brothers identified, the eldest, Thomas (Tho Robble), who is shown as farming about 14 acres at the Faugh, Hayton, in company with Thomas Noble, also of Hayton, who seems likely to have been his brother-in-law. The Nobles were a well established family in that part of Cumberland. His widow, Elinor Robley, of Heads Nook died in 1616 and made provision for the upbringing of her daughter, Agnis Robley, by Agnis Pattinson, a widow, also of Heads Nook. Agnis Pattinson was possibly a relative and may have been Elinor's sister.

Finally in this group there is Christopher Robley of Wath Green Farm, Cotehill, together with his wife, Elizabeth, again in the parish of Wetheral who died in 1595 leaving both a will and an inventory. In his will he helpfully specifies his relationship to his beneficiaries and for the first time there is a definite indication that here was a man of some substance ie. he had sufficient rights to the land he farmed to enable him to leave it to his son ie. the land tenure was probably 'copyhold'.

This was an obsolete form of land tenure in England from feudal times when the Lord of the manor gave a portion of his land to his labourers in return for personal services by the tenant. It was based on immemorial custom and evidenced and transmissible by entry in the court rolls of a Manor. The relevant entry or a copy of it was equivalent to a title deed. The tenure was gradually modified in the 19th. Century and was, in 1922, finally converted into full freehold.

Cotehill lies close to the City of Carlisle with it's Garrison and Castle and today is a part of that City's suburbia consequently it could be seen as relatively protected from the ravages of the Reivers who usually steered well clear of the Castle. There are records of incursions by reivers by stealth but none by direct assault. However there is the classic case of the rescue of the reiver, Kinmount Willie Armstrong, from the castle in 1596 by a group of his followers but this was achieved by stealth rather than by a frontal armed attack. Cotehill also lies west of the River Eden and consequently also had natural protection from incursions from the east.

Christopher and Elizabeth, his wife, had two children, Christopher and John, both born at Wath Green. Son, Christopher, went on to marry Mabell who died in Cumwhitton in 1616. They had four children, Thomas, Robert, Margerett and Agnis. It is from this Christopher Robley that many modern day Robleys, including myself, are descended.

There is no record of these Robleys being touched by the outbreak of plague in 1597 and 1598 which spread from around Penrith and took 1196 lives in the Carlisle area alone. It broke out in Carlisle Oct 3, 1597. However, being on the Borders with Scotland, no written notice of deaths was taken, except those in the city and places quite adjacent which would most likely have included Cotehill.

The interregnum between the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603 and the accession of King James the first was a particularly active time for the reivers who believed, quite incorrectly, that the rule of law no longer applied. It is hard to believe that this group of Robleys could have survived in this part of Cumberland untouched and unscathed by the reivers but I can find no record of their having been directly affected but they definitely lived in harms way! Records show that in 1600 Scottish marauders spoiled, robbed and burned throughout Cumberland. On September 15 of that year, the Scottish Graemes robbed at Newby, Holm Ends, Hayton, Wetheral and Corby, attacking and attempting to displace the Gilsland tenants.

The second group of Robleys lived and farmed in the south of Cumberland, in the parish of Greystoke and the village of Berrier. The latter is a straggling village, eight miles west of Penrith.

Berrier: home of the Greystoke Robleys.

Greystoke, the castle and village, lies to the west of the Grizedale Fells and to the south of Skelton, Hutton and The Forest of Inglewood. The river Petrill divides the Parish north to south eventually joining the Eden near to Carlisle. The lords of the Manor to 1525 were the Dacre family, to be followed by the Howards until their falling out with Queen Elizabeth the first and then from 1601 when the fines imposed by the Crown were paid.

In a muster in 1587, the Leath Ward, of which Greystoke parish was a part, supplied a total of 1590 men. These forces were used to keep the peace on the Border. The Robleys as tenants of the manor of Greystoke would have been subject to the muster particularly as John, Mychaell , Robert and Cuthbert Robley were all qualified on the basis of age. This did not automatically mean they were drafted for actual service as there was a weeding out process based on suitability. It did mean however that they would have been eligable for keeping the watch.

The nearby market town of Penrith was originally constructed around a network of defensive gates, through which the population would herd their livestock into the safety of the centre in the event of raids by the Scottish border. There is a great red sandstone beacon high on a barren hill near the town, where warning fires were lighted when the Scots were sighted.

As well as the obligation of the Lord of the Manor of Greystoke, in person, to serve the Crown in the event of military action against the Scots, the tenants of the manor, of whom there were some hundreds, had to pay a fine of 20 pence on the death of either the lord or the tenant and 30 pence in the event of alianation. They also had an obligation to pay foster rents, foster corn, greenhue, peat silver and boons for mowing and leading peats. These were, in effect, taxes both in the form of payment , mainly in kind, as well as obligations for annual services to be rendered by the tenant to the lord of the manor. Tenants were also subject to heriots ie payment of a fee in silver when a mortgagee of real estate was admitted to the court roll. ( Heriot - Death duty, usually "best beast" or other chattel, paid to lord. This was the lord's claim to the best beast owned by a deceased serf. In lieu of it, land was sometimes subjected to a money-payment, the heriotable fine. Generally, if a tenant dies in battle the heriot is forgiven.)

West of Penrith and still within riding distance for the reivers lived the Robleys of Berrier. They were small holders and possibly even smaller than the Robleys to the north. The earliest Robley record here is of the christening of John, son of Cuthbert Robley, on the 15th. April 1561 ie. The third year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First and shortly after the inheritance of the Barony by the Duke of Norfolk.

The children of the unknown Robley were 1. Cuthbert Robley born in Greystoke and died in Penrith in May 1571. 2. William Robley, who died in Berrier in January 1594. He married Janet and the couple had three children. William's eldest son , also William, is described as 'bastard son' who died in March 1994 two months after the death of his father. William's second son, John Robley, was buried in Greystoke in December 1590 and is described as " an aged pore man" ie. he was buried at the expense of the parish and his third son was named Mychaell. 3.The third son of the unidentified Robley was John and his death date is not known. Nothing further is known of the only daughter, Anne Robley.

It is through Cuthbert Robley that the line of these Robleys continues. Cuthbert married and had eight children, four boys and four girls, although his wife's name is not recorded.

Cuthbert's eldest daughter, Agnes Robley was born in 1547 in Penrith and married twice, in Penrith in July 1568 to John Hodgson and in Greystoke in November 1577 to Will Robertson who was born in Grysdell in 1555. There is no record of any issue.

Cuthbert's son, Robert, and daughter, Jayne, were both born in Berrier in 1552. Robert died in September 1597, also in Berrier. Robert's occupation was a tailor and he married Agnes Rumney in Greystoke in 1573. She was born in Greystoke in 1552 and died also in Greystoke in December 1623. Both were described as 'Pore' (poor) being buried at the expense of the Parish.

They had six children, three boys and six girls between 1575 and 1590. Their daughter, Syssel, died in Greystoke in 1598.

Their youngest of their children, Robert Robley, married Grace Atkinson in 1612 and there is a record of a daughter being christened in 1618 at Great Blencowe in the parish of Dacre. She died in nearby Penrith in December 1696.

Daughter, Allesse (Alice) was born in Berryer in 1556 and died in Penrith in 1589 aged 33 years. She had an illegitimate child, Thomas, with John Mallinson in 1574 but married John Bankes in Greystoke four years later in 1578.

Cuthbert's son Mychaell was born in Berryer in 1558. He married twice, his first wife, Elsapeth Jackson, died in 1585 aged 27. He married Elizabeth, his second wife, a year later. He had five children with his first wife and seven with the second.

Mychaell's last child, number twelve, Christopher, was born in Berryer in December 1601 and married Elizabeth Will in May 1638. They moved to Bampton in Westmoreland where they had a small holding. He died in 1683 and his wife, Elizabeth, a year later in 1684 leaving just sufficient to cover their debts.

Mychaell's son, John Robley, was the exception to the rule that these Robleys were generally poor. His will shows that he died a rich man by the standards of the times. He was born in Greystoke in April 1561 and died in Berrier 1596. In his will left a fortune of 1000 pounds divided amongst his nephews and nieces the children of Ellesse, Agnes and probably Mabell. 100 pounds was left to the illegitimate son of Ellesse to Mallinson. It is possible therefore that wife Isabell Murray whom he married in February 1582, brought money to the marriage and then predeceased him having had no children. This wealth seems all the more out of character considering that both John and Robert Robley, his uncles, had poor persons burials paid for by the parish as had the second widow of his brother Mychaell! It is also possible that, following the Scots custom the eldest surviving son inherited everything!

Cuthbert's daughter, Mabell, was born in Berrier and married Richard Williamson with whom she had three children. Presumably after Richard died she then had an affair with Thomas Bristow and they had a child, Katheringe, in November 1598. She then married Bristow and a second child, Christopher was born. In 1602 she married a third time to Thomas Dalton in Penrith in August 1602 presumably after the death of Thomas.

So what became of this second group of Robleys after the late 1500s when Robleys all but disappeared from the Greystoke and Penrith records? I believe that at least four died in the devastating plague of 1597/98 which has been likened to a form of Ebola Virus. The nearby market town of Penrith was reported to have suffered badly with an estimated half of the total population dying.

Penrith Plague Stone: the base of an ancient cross, the hole in the centre was used to deposit money for purchases thus avoiding contact with possible infection.

The only burial records at the time were of those lucky enough to be buried in St. Andrews Churchyard , the remainder occupied mass graves around the town with no records kept of these burials. A memorial in the church of St. Andrews records 2,266 deaths in Penrith and a further 2,500 in Kendal. Actual deaths in the town of Penrith itself were 696 so the remainder of 1570 were from an unspecified peripheral rural area along the Eden Valley and included the parish of Greystoke. There are four Robley deaths during the currency of the plague and these may well be attributed to that cause.

Robert Robley, Greystoke, son of Cuthbert Robley, September 1597.

Jayne Robley, Berryer, daughter of Cuthbert Robley, 1598.

Jane Robley, Berryer, daughter of Mychaell Robley, 1598.

Syssel Robley, child of Robert Robley, 1598.

Some people may have relocated to avoid the outbreak, however there were rudimentary quarantine measures put in place and escape to other ,disease free, areas would not have been easy for the farming community. It would have been inevitable that some at least of the Robleys were victims of the plague and just as likely that a few at least may have made their clandestine escape.

Where the surviving Robleys may have moved to is open to speculation. There is evidence that some had moved to the Great Blencowe area in the Parish of Dacre, but this was prior to the outbreak. Only Margarett, the daughter of Robert Robley was christened there in 1575.

Cuthbert and his son, Cuthbert, as well as his two daughters, Annes (Agnes) and Mabell moved to Penrith and their death and marriages respectively are recorded in the Registers of St.Andrews Church, again prior to the outbreak.

William Wallis, who was vicar of Penrith for about 26 years moved to Thursbie near Carlisle in April 1601. He notes the beginning of the calamity:

"1597 22nd. day of September, Andrew Hodgson, a foreigner, was buried" which is followed by this remark, " here begonne the plague ( God punisment Penrith) all those that are noted with the letre P. dyed of the infection; and those noted with F. were buried on the Fell."

Some centuries previous to this Penrith had suffered another visitation of the same nature. When the Scots under the Earl of Douglas, in 1380, made an inroad into Cumberland, they surprised this place at the time of a fair, and returned with immense booty; but suffered severely in consequence, for they introduced into their country the plague contracted in this town which swept away one third of the inhabitants of Scotland.

All those early Cumbrian Robleys lived and farmed in very troubled and lawless times, but as a family they survived reiving, famine and plague. In general they were subsistance farmers and therefore vulnerable to anything unpleasant that happened in their area including adverse weather conditions resulting in crop failure.

Some relief came to the Borders following the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, with the union of the two thrones of England and Scotland. Subsequent official retribution against the reiving families was swift following the accession of the Scottish King, James VI to the English throne. In this process, the borders experienced a sweeping social revolution. Its agents saw it as a process of pacification. Its subjects, thought of themselves not as villains but victims. This ordering process was as violent or worse than the world that it destroyed. The pacification of this bloody region required the disruption of a culture that had been a millennium in the making. Gallows were erected on hills throughout the English border counties, and put busily to work. Thrifty Scots saved the expense of using a rope by drowning their reivers instead of hanging them, sometimes ten or twenty at a time. Entire families were outlawed en masse, and some were destroyed by punitive expeditions.

Some families who had been active Reivers hastily abandoned their Reiver connections and sought and found favour with the king. They joined in the subjugation of the old reiving families, often with great enthusiasm. Many were rewarded with gifts of land, and they prospered, acquiring the lands of their former friends and allies. There was no honour among thieves!

When, later, the King decided that enough was enough, large numbers of Reivers and their supporters were rounded up and transported to Ireland. The King concentrated his attention to the main reiving families and in particular, although far from exclusively, the Grahams.

In 1606 the King's proclamation touching the transportation of certain criminals, sets forth:-

"That the offenders are all within our mercy and do all confess themselves to be no meet persons to live in those countries, and therefore have humbly besought us that they may be removed to some other parts where, with our gracious favour, they hope to live, to become new men, and to deserve our mercy, a thing more agreable to our nature, than the taking of so much human blood, as would be shed if we should leave them to the just censure of the law."

A tax was assessed on Cumberland and Westmoreland to pay for for their transportation, amounting to four hundred and eight pounds nineteen shillings and nine pence. They were shipped from the port of Workington in West Cumberland to Ireland.

There is no record of Robleys having been caught up in the purge, neither executed nor transported and we must therefore assume they were innocent bystanders. At the end of this traumatic period in our history the Robleys had survived and it is this quality of the borderers to endure that has seen future generations of Robleys as successful pioneers in both Australia and the American Continent.

John Robley. December 2014.