The Royal Raid – the King arrives with his hangman

Wilson’s Tales is a record of our region’s history, legends and people, first serialised in the Berwick Advertiser in the 1830s. The Wilson’s Tales Project is re-telling them for a modern audience.

Sunday, 24th March 2019, 1:04 pm
Cockburn's tomb in St Mary's Kirkyard, Picture by Mike Fraser.

PREVIOUSLY: Parys Cockburn, Laird of Henderland, rides out to avenge a reiving raid by Adam Scott from Tushielaw. His wife Marjory awaits his return, as King James vows to crush lawlessness.

Marjory lay listening to the storm. The pauses between lightning and thunder shortened until it seemed directly overhead. A flash and crashing in the woods told her a tree had been struck; she prayed it was the gallows elm where Merlin the Wild had prophesied that “a Cockburn laird shall hangit be”.

Around 2am she heard shouting from Ralph, her old servitor, and ran to hear what brought him out.

“God be thanked that Cockburn’s away,” he whispered. “The King wi’ his nobles are at Peebles on their way to tak’ vengeance on the chiefs o’ the Borders wha have been foremost in foray and thieving. They say he’s brought a hangman to hang the ringleaders.”

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Her thoughts ran to Merlin’s elm. Was it not destroyed?

“Three oaks by its side are blasted,” came the reply. “And yet the elm still stands.”

Marjory despatched him to Tushielaw. He must instruct Cockburn and Adam Scott to flee. The messenger galloped off, with the fear of God and King James at his heels.

Aside from the gate warden, there was just one servant left in the Tower; Marjory sent him to Peebles to spy out the King’s approach. Half frantic, she lay waiting with her children under her arm, like a hen with its little chicks.

The servant returned just before dawn: the King’s party were heading for Henderland. There was no time to escape.

In the grey dawn the King’s party arrived. They entered the base court around the tower and took up stations beside the entrance.

Seated at her casement, Marjory watched the grim pageant unfold: The King demanding to know where Cockburn was. The gate warden professing ignorance. The hangman swinging his cord over a buttress. The warden telling all he knew while pleading for Cockburn’s life.

Marjory looked down on the noose prepared for her husband’s neck. But she could also watch the road from Tushielaw.

NEXT WEEK: Cockburn pleads for his life.

Adapted by Joe Lang, picture by Mike Fraser. Read the full story and historic background in Volume 1 of the Wilson’s Tales Revival Edition, £8.50 from Berwick booksellers or