The middle ages were at best a brutal time and even though 1510 was technically in the renaissance era things were still rather harsh. Capital punishment was used to punish offenders for what would be in today’s terms a misdemeanor. Torture was a common practice in getting confessions of all sorts of crimes whether the accused was guilty or not. Superstition was rampant and people were burned alive for supposed witchcraft and other misunderstood activities, such as herbal medicine. This was a time of leaches and bleeding as cures to disease. Reiving was a way of life for many families along the border between Scotland and England. It wasn’t thought of as thievery by the reivers but a simple way of surviving the harsh times. If you had something that I needed, or wanted, I would simply raid your home or farm and take it whether it was sheep, grain, cattle or women.

The practice of reiving was frowned on by the aristocracy who tried to stop it for many years. Laws were implemented and ignored.
People were imprisoned, tortured, hung and exiled from their homes. But reiving continued to cause unrest among the population of the border area of the island of Britain.

The Turnbulls were notorious reivers who ignored the edicts of the King. We were indeed a rowdy bunch of folks who did not have much respect for the laws meant to keep the lower class down. Reiving was not only a way of life but also a way to thumb our noses at the authorities that tried to control the clan. Telling a Turnbull not to do something was not the most diplomatic method of solving a problem.

capon oak tree


The 1000-2000 year-old Capon “Hanging” Tree near Jedburgh is one of the few original trees left standing of Jedburgh forest.

Five hundred years ago King James IV of Scotland tried to solve the problem of reiving. The story is that King James IV hung every tenth Turnbull in an attempt to halt the practice of border reiving. james ivIn 1510 the Turnbulls had built a reputation of, to put it mildly, unruliness. Their disrespect for authority along with their habitual raids across the border to England became such a problem to the king that he had two hundred clansmen arrested. They were commanded to stand before the king wearing sheets; they had their swords in their hands and had halters around their necks. Out of these two hundred some were imprisoned while others were hanged. This action by the king caused many clans to flee Scotland, completely, with some of the clans traveling to Europe where they joined mercenary bands. Others traveled farther north to escape the persecution of their lifestyle.

Another version of this story has it that the Turnbulls had earned themselves a reputation of unscrupulousness in their thievery. Their territory neighbored that of Liddesdale and the Turnbulls were every bit as ruthless as the “moss-troopers” of that thieving district. Clan Turnbull became known for defying the sheriff of the borders, raiding and thieving at will. When James IV was made aware of the activities of the Turnbulls he raised an army and marched to the water of Rule in November of 1510. In was then, while the court was sitting at Jedburgh that the king brought his justice down on the clan. Two hundred Turnbulls met the king at Rulewater, again wearing sheets and halters and with their swords bared in their hands. This version too has some executed, others imprisoned, and still others release after giving hostages to insure their behavior in the future. The story goes on to say that there was a time of peace that lasted several years, but by 1530 the Turnbulls had resumed the old habit of reiving.

Whichever version you adhere to, the history of the hangings has been passed down from generation to generation and is still talked about today. Many a Turnbull wife was left a widow and many children left fatherless on that fateful day. This November (2010) marks the 500th anniversary of the loss of Turnbull lives. So, this November take a moment to remember those who died at the hands of James IV on that cold wintry day.