The Border Reivers

The Armstrongs were one of the main Reiving clans of the Borders and dominated the West Marches during the 16th century.  They are mentioned as early as 13th Century and are thought to have originated from Cumbria though one theory suggests that the family originates from an Anglo-Viking earl of Northumberland called Siward Beorn.

During the Reiver period, they occupied the much of the Debateable Lands – the disputed territory between England and Scotland covering Eskdale, Liddesdale and Annandale areas - and fought often with families in England. 

Legend states that the name originates from a servant of a Scottish King who saved his master’s life during battle.  He lifted the king onto his horse by the thigh using only one arm. The clan then became known as Armstrong and were given land in Liddesdale for saving the King’s life.

The Armstrongs were a proud clan that lived both sides of the England Scotland border and dominated in the Reiver power hierarchy during the early 16th century and were therefore feared but respected by many.

But after Johnny Armstrong and his followers were hung on the orders of James V, the Armstrongs found themselves in an invidious position. They faced their usual enemies of the south but now their own government in the north were against them.  They then became outlaws and earned their reputation as ruthless raiders.  All their land was claimed by the king who distributed it to those who were in his favour.  As a result the Armstrongs dispersed, losing their land, homes and for some, their lives.

Other clans with high aspirations to extend their own power base turned on their former friends and allies and became part of the demise of the Armstrongs.

Famous Armstrongs during the Reiver period included Kinmont Willie and Jock O’the Side, made famous in the border ballads and local folklore. Archie Armstrong was the jester of James VI of Scotland (who became James I of England) until he was dismissed for upsetting Archbishop Laud. He was buried in Arthuret churchyard in an unmarked grave.

Today, there are people all over the world with the name Armstrong. The first man on the moon was an Armstrong descended from the Reivers of that name.