Kinmont Willie



“Kinmont Willie” appeared in the first edition of Minstrelsy of 1802, and appears in all the editions covered by this project. It is the 9th ballad in the 1802 edition.

The version in Scott’s Minstrelsy is the definitive source for this ballad. By his own admission, Scott exercised no little editorial power. The ballads concerned were “Kinmont Willie”, “Jock o’ the Side” and “Archie o’ Ca’field”, and in Scott’s defence, he claims that he did this “to prevent unnecessary and disagreeable repetition”. It should be remembered that Scott was not intending to create an archive of all versions of any ballad still extant in his lifetime, but to present a tradition, which he felt may have been fading.


William Armstrong of Kinmont attended a Warden meeting, as a witness, on the English side of the Border on the 17th March 1596. As usual, the day had been assigned as a Day of Truce, which meant that nobody attending the truce could be arrested on charges unrelated to those brought to the meeting. This ensured that witnesses, officers and other attendees should have been able attend a Warden meeting in relative safety.

This was not the case for William Armstrong. Riding home, with a small contingent of riders, he was pursued into Scotland by the English deputy Warden, Thomas Salkelde and his men. After a ride-about and no doubt some level of struggle, William Armstrong was captured and taken to Carlisle.

The concept of what constituted the time of grace within a truce day became a matter of some debate, both on the Borders and certainly at the English Court. On the Scottish side, Buccleuch was sure that Armstrong had been taken illegally. Scrope, who only foud out about the capture after the event, was in a quandary – Armstrong was a notorious reiver, but was loathe to admit that he had been taken against the Border laws. It fell to Ralph Eure, the English Middle March Warden, to clarify some of the details to Lord Burghley:


In answer to your inquiry–Whether at a day of truce, the peace endures from sunrise that day to sunrise of next day, or only till sunset of the day of truce, and whether a subject of either realm can enter the other to recover goods during the truce? It is usual for both wardens to agree at their meeting for a truce to begin and endure while the business in hand requires. By the words of the treaty in her Majesty's time, they are not by custom to be limited “from sonne to sonne,” except specially agreed between them. Therefore usually when they remain but one day, they take assurance from sunrise of the one day till sunrise of the next, that every man may likely be returned safe to his dwelling as he came to the place of meeting.  Therefore this question between Lord Scrope’s deputies and the laird of Buccleuch’s will be decided according to their assurance. If “general”, it includes both safety of goods and men, and all actions tending to breach of peace. Therefore “me thinkes” it agrees with the law of treaty that in either of their governments, the wardens shall take general assurance “for all the March left att jhome as for the companie then in presens, and if anie offence be committed to the breache thereof of eyther partie, it is commonlie tearmed  to be under assurance, and so held hateful and unlawfull.”  This question of Lord Scrope for Kinmonthe may arise with any other warden, and your lordship may now take occasion to prevent future “harmes”. Lord Scrope by his assurance, is “tyed in honor” to answer for his whole March – Buccleuch for his office only, an unequal assurance. If any, either of the west or east of his office, with whom Buccleuch is in kindness, do ride, his assurance is not broken, yet the warden in whose wardenry such acts are committed is justly moved to revenge. So if your lordship would hold that warden should answer warden only, not an officer, and for the like circuit, or else that the opposite warden should at least grant assurance for the whole March, for the time agreed by the officer.

Eure to Burghley June 19th 1596 (Calendar of Border Papers II: 138)

Buccleuch wrote to Scrope, he appealed to the Scottish court and when it became clear that prevarication was the order of the day, he took matters into his own hands. On April 13th 1596, plans which had been laid in the previous weeks at horse races and in Border keeps, were put into practice.

The rescue of William Armstrong of Kinmont (Kinmont Willie) was one of the the most notorious events of its time: as mentioned above, the capture was not necessarily lawful (although even now it is perhaps understandable that Sakelde’s impetuous capture may have had much to do with Kinmont Willie’s reiving exploits); the rescue was audacious; and the consequences were far reaching. In fact, the political impasse which resulted from Buccleuch’s initial refusal to hand himself over to the English to answer for his rescue raid brought Scotland and England to the edge of war.

The ballad deals only with the capture and the rescue. Various accounts exist regarding the event. These include:

Sir Walter Scott of Satchells’ A True History of Several Honourable Families of the Right Honourable  Name of Scot has an account in rhyme, which may prove an interesting comparison to the ballad verses

John Colville’s The Historie and Life of of King James the Sext contains an account, which emphasises the importance of the Day of Truce, on which Kinmont was taken and which made his capture an act of dubious legality.

The Calendar of Border Papers, which contain the numerous letters and missives surrounding the capture and rescue of Kinmont Willie.

Scrope wrote to Burghley on the 18th March, noting that he was detaining Kinmont Willie after the reiver’s capture. There is nothing more on the subject until April 14th, when Scrope writes to the Privy Council to inform them of Buccleuch’s raid on Carlisle Castle and the rescue. Scrope's letters are many and desperate, but one includes a list of the suspects who rode to rescue Kinmont Willie. In addition, Scrope received an anonymous letter   regarding the incident on the 14th April, which provided him with more details. The writer noted that Scrope’s discharge of Thomas Carleton from his office aided the rescue and went on to indict Richie Graham of Brackenhill in the plot, to state that Richie of Brackenhill and “Ebe’s Sandey” were the first men to break through into the castle and “come about Kinmont”. The writer noted, too, that Hutcheon, Andrew and Willy of the Rose Trees were involved (all Grahams), and that Kinmont Willie’s wife was the sister of this Andrew. All in all, the writer presents something which is very much a family affair, in terms of blood ties and kinship. He stated that Buccleuch had 24 Armstrongs and Elliots on the raid.

Scrope’s own investigations discovered that his former officer Thomas Carleton was indeed involved in the plot: a letter of May 2nd noted that Thomas, his brother Lancelot (Launcelatt in the latter) and Richie of Brakenhill “with others”  plotted just how to break into the castle, and Thomas “did undertake to make the watchmenn of the saide casteil shewre”. By June, Scrope knew that his anonymous source was Richie’s Will – a Graham.

The Riders

From exant letters, the rescuers included:

  • Scotts

The Laird of Buccleuch
Walter Scot of Goldelandes
Walter Scot of Hardinge
Walter Scot of Branxholme
[            ] Scot named Todrigges

  • Elliots

Will Ellott goodman of Gorrombye
John Ellot called of the Copshawe

  • Armstrongs

The Laird of Mangerton
The young Laird of Whithaugh and his son (the anonymous source states that there were 8 men with Mangerton and Whithaugh)
Three of the Calfhills, Jocke, Bighmes and one Ally,  a bastard (Armstrongs)
Sandy Armestronge, son to Hebbye
Kinmontes Jocke, Francie, Geordy and Sandye, who were Kinmont's sons (plus 4 of Kinmont’s  men, according to the anonynous source)
“Three brethren of Tweda”, Armstrongs
Young John of the Hollace and one of his brethren (Kirsty, or Christopher, according to the anonymous source, who wrote to Scrope)
Christie of Barngliesh and Roby of the Langholm
The Chingles

  • Bells

Willie Bell “redcloake and two of his brethren (Willie his brother and Robbe Bell, according to the anonymous source)
Walter Bell of Godesby

  • Irvines

Willie “Kang” and his brethren with their “complices” ( There were 4 Kangs, alongside Willie, according to the anonymous source – the Kangs were a branch of the Irvines)

There is no doubt that Buccleuch and the other rescuers had worked swiftly to plot and effect a rescue, which included involving men who had been in the employ of Scrope and who were now actively against Scrope, and which probably also involved men literally on the inside of the castle.

In the political morass which erupted after the rescue, Buccleuch eventually surrendered himself and was held under the custody of William Selby in Berwick Castle, and was subsequently taken to London. He was released when his son was exchanged as a hostage.

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