Tuesday, 8 January 2013



Richie Graham of Brackenhill was a prominent member of the Graham surname (family) of the sixteenth century. The Grahams were the most infamous of the English Border Reivers; feared by all. They had inhabited the lands of the river Esk, Leven (today's river Line) and the Mote since the beginning of the 16th century. They were a powerful family whose descendants still inhabit the Border country of England and Scotland. In the 16th century had little respect for the authority which sought to bring peace to a troubled land in troubled times and prospered from the mayhem and turmoil which had beset the Border country of England and Scotland for centuries.
(From my Gyrocopter Flight in October 2011)

The tower of Brackenhill still stands today. Built in 1586 in the Scottish vernacular style, unusual in England, it has been extensively refurbished and is now in daily use. Even in its slow decay, prior to its restoration, its obvious signs of affluence and opulence tell of a builder who had the means and the money to build a home which reflected his high position in the Border country of sixteenth century England.

Yet its owner, Richie of Brackenhill, alias Richie of Langton and Richie of Langtoon, was a man on the make. He greatly prospered from the Reiving times that plagued the lands of the English Scottish Border: from the money that could be made from extortion, blackmail, counterfeit and murder.

Murder in the Border Lands.

In 1584 George Graham, alias Parcivall's Geordie, was murdered by Richard Graham of Brackenhill at Levenbriggs. Richie Graham struck Geordie Graham between the shoulder blades with a lance. With that and other wounds inflicted by Richie’s accomplice, Simon Graham, alias Symme of Medope. Geordie Graham died three weeks later in Carlisle. So much for the bonds of family! It was a crime which pithily demonstrates that some of the Border Reivers were at feud even with their own! Richie was indicted for this murder, and three others, but he was still around in 1596 when he took part in the rescue of Kinmont Willie Armstrong from Carlisle castle. The castle was English, Richie was English and Kinmont Willie was the most notorious of the Scottish Reivers of the sixteenth century. National allegiance meant nothing to Richie Graham.
In 1588  Lord Dacre branded him ‘a murderer, thief and outlaw’ but he went unpunished.

A Reiver Counterfeit Coiner

Graham was a notorious horse-thief, once stealing eighty horses from the Provost of Falkland in Fife. There was, however, a more lucrative haul from his foray north of the river Forth. He also came away with £5000 worth of gold and silver. This booty, along with similar hauls throughout his life, he used to enhance his lifestyle and his riches. In the top floor of his tower of Brackenhill he employed a 'koyner' who transformed the gold and silver into coin of the realm and untold wealth for the unscrupulous Graham.

Reiver Blackmail

Richie Graham blackmailed the  English peasant farmers of Gilsland and the lands of the lower Esk, a river of great beauty which dominates the south-western part of the Border country. He promised them protection from the reivers of the Scottish Border valleys in return for goods or money. The local folk lived in awe of the notorious English reiver but would not always have the means to pay. They were often reminded of their commitment to Richie by a list of their names pinned to the door of Arthuret church in present day Longtown, a lovely little market town on the English side of the Border. Many of the folk who attended the religious services at Arthuret , having this stark reminder of the state of their position in this world, would have their minds on other issues than the saving of their souls as they listened to the never-ending sermons directed at their well-being.

Border Reiver Conspiracy and Treason

In April 1596, Richie Graham took part in the rescue of Kinmont Willie Armstrong, the most infamous of the Scottish Border reivers, from Carlisle castle. Kinmont had been taken illegally by the English at a Day of Truce but it wasn’t for that reason that Richie Graham became involved. Although English he welcomed the outcry from the Scots, seeing it as a means of bringing down English authority in the English West March. The English West March Warden, Thomas Lord Scrope was a pain in the side of the Graham family, not so much for his ability to prevent their lives of crime but because he often had wind of their contemplated raids with a result that they had to be aborted.

Involvement with the Scottish clans was a case of treason in the eyes of the English, yet Richie Graham conspired with them before the rescue raid and even entered Carlisle castle to contest any defence from his own countrymen.

Border Reiver Held to Account

Following the successful rescue of Kinmont there were those who were wont to divest the names of the conspirators including that of Richie Graham. Two of these were brought before Thomas Lord Scrope to give evidence about the plot to free Kinmont. They were threatened by Richie Graham. He sent word to Andrew Graham saying that unless he denied what he had previously said in evidence, 'hee nor anye of his shoulde be left alive'. His threat had the outcome he desired!

Richie was hauled before the Privy Council in London on charges going back to the murder of 1584 and his conspiracy and treason over the Kinmont affair. The outcome? He was not punished.

In 1600 some of the crimes of the Grahams, in which Richie was identified as a principal, were listed. They included the attempt to murder John Musgrave in Brampton, in burning the house to force Hutcheon Hetherington to come out and face them and when he did in cutting him to pieces, threatening and assaulting the followers of the law of Hue and Cry that eventually none dare raise it, and the murder of anyone who gave evidence against offenders of the law.

Why? The Grahams as a surname were seen as a potent force in the northern region of Elizabeth l's realm. They were seen by her government as a buffer against the Scots at a time when hostility between the two countries simmered just below the surface of an uneasy peace. Elizabeth and her Privy Council abhorred the crimes committed by the Grahams but ‘looked through their fingers’ at their wantonness. The Grahams were a necessary evil in the north of the country, far from the seat of English power in London, a perfect foil to Scottish domination.

Nothing is known of Richie of Brackenhill after 1600. It is presumed he died in his bed some years later, but who knows. Was he eventually a victim of the great clearances of the Border families following Elizabeth’s death in 1603? Then the king of Scotland, James V1, a man with the blood of the English Tudors coursing through his veins, took on a duel role. He ascended the throne of England. 

He had much to contest with the unruly surname of Graham. The leaders of the family, if apprehended, were summarily executed, the young and strong conscripted into the British army and sent to the cautionary towns of Holland where the Dutch were engaged in a war with Catholic Spain. The old and infirm and the very young were transported to the bogs of Roscommon in Ireland where they eked out a precarious living.

The 'cleansing' of the Grahams from the valleys of Esk, Line and Liddel is a shameful episode of British history that is still to be told.

Richie Graham of Brackenhill, we can assume, escaped the atrocities perpetrated in the name of James V1 and 1 as he pandered to the avarice of the English lords who 'inherited' the rich and fertile lands which had been the domain of the Grahams for a century and more.