The Royal Raid – the warlord sets out for a revenge assault

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, 17th March 2019, 1:50 pm
Cockburn's tomb in St Mary's Kirkyard, Picture by Mike Fraser.

The old estate of Henderland lies alongside the Meggett, a stream running into St Mary’s Loch. It was once the seat of the Cockburns: you can still see the ruins of their castle. In the 16th century, the area was covered in forest, with some of the largest stags in Scotland.

Parys Cockburn, the last laird of Henderland, had the inborn valour of a Borders chief. As was usual among Borderers in the 16th century, he applied it to pillage, petty larceny and strife with neighbours. But there was something different about him.

For all his lawlessness, he had a deep sense of fairness. He would fight almost to the death to take one cow, then give it away to the poor.

And no other warlord had a wife like Marjory Cockburn. Refined, civilised and beautiful, she loved Parys and their children as completely as she hated Border reiving.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

She hoped he might abandon raiding for family life. And he seemed to warm to domestic pleasures. But then he would surrender to the heart-stirring stimulus of a raid.

She knew the signs. She’d spot his men stealthily restringing bows, or sharpening stone in the bailey. This was one of those times.

Adam Scott, of Tushielaw, provoked it with an assault on Henderland, wounding several of Cockburn’s men and carrying off 20 cattle. Parys would not resist the challenge, even though she urged him to.

There was double danger, she warned. Tushielaw was strong and ruthless. Moreover, she had heard that the young King James V was intent on suppressing lawlessness.

Pointing out the great elm tree planted by Cockburn’s grandfather, she reminded him of the prophesy of Merlin the Wild: “On Cockburn’s elm, on Henderland lee, A Cockburn laird shall hangit be.”

Cockburn laughed. What, ride out raiding when he might be playing with the children? The very idea! But soon after midnight he was gone.

She woke to the crash of the portcullis falling. A flash of lightning gave her a glimpse of Cockburn on the road to Tushielaw. The thunderclap echoed across the mountains like artillery fire, and the rain came down in torrents.

NEXT WEEK: The King brings his hangman.

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