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Monday 26 June 2023

THE LANGUAGE OF THE BORDER REIVERS - a guest post by Jennifer C Wilson

Today I'm thrilled to welcome back to my blog my dear friend and fellow-author Jennifer C Wilson, whose latest novel The Warriors' Prize has just been released by Ocelot Press. I've already had the pleasure of reading this book, and believe me, it's an absolute delight.

Jen is here to tell us about a fascinating aspect of the story, and how its influences are still evident today.

The Language of the Border Reivers

As creators of phrases go, I think it’s fair to say that the high seas take the win; between pirates and various navies, so many things we say without thinking today originated on the water. However, I’m glad to say that some also came from my neck of the woods – the Anglo-Scotland border region. Of course, given the nature of the border reivers, they aren’t necessarily the most sweet-natured of words… 

Blackmail: ‘Mail’ through the Middle Ages and into the Tudor era was another word for ‘tax’ or ‘rent’, and in the borders, this was often paid in silver coinage (‘white mail’, harmless enough). However, the borders weren’t exactly a cash-rich society, and sometimes, landlords would seek payment by other means, often taking goods or livestock which would be ultimately a higher value than if tenants had paid in coin. This became known as ‘black mail’. Charging extortionate rents to legitimate tenants was one thing; eventually, reiver gangs began essentially threatening local farmers into paying protection money, which also became known as blackmail. 

Being caught red-handed: A pretty literal one here – if you were caught with blood on your hands, either through murder or stealing livestock, you were deemed to have been caught red-handed, and could even be executed on the spot. 

Bereaved: Another obvious one; if the reivers killed one of your family (which happened a lot), then you were said to have been ‘be-reived’. It isn’t a huge step to the modern equivalent, and is a useful reminder that however much the reivers have been romanticised in fiction (including my own, I will admit), they were a ruthless bunch, and practically impossible to govern until King James VI/I joined the thrones of England and Scotland in 1603. 

Hot to trot: All right, so this one isn’t entirely proven, but I like the thinking behind it… The ‘hot trod’ was an immediate attempt at retaliation, giving borderers the opportunity to gather a group of neighbours and head out after reivers, to try and reclaim their stolen property. The symbol of the hot trod was the carrying of a burning sod of peat atop a lance, and it was considered a duty to help if a trod rode your way. If nothing else, helping others might give them cause to come to your aid when the time came. Although not as popular now, ‘hot to trot’ refers to being ready to go, and to spring into action, just as the reivers were when the call came for a hot trod. It’s not a huge leap of the imagination to see how the phrase might have morphed over the centuries. 

It's not just about the words which have stayed with us, though. Given the ‘independent’ nature of the borders and borderers (read ‘unmanageable’); in their heyday, those from the north of Scotland and south of England might have struggled to fully follow discussions between border residents, with Scots English emerging as a combined dialect all of its own. Given that it wasn’t rare for borderers to carry both English and Scottish flags, revealing whichever was the most prudent at any particular time, the fact that they had their own language is no surprise at all. 


The Warriors’ Prize

Stirling Castle, 1498

Visiting court for the first time since her father's death, Lady Avelina Gordon finds herself drawn to the handsome warrior, Sir Lachlan MacNair. But as a woman who has seen too many of her friends lose everything for 'love', she keeps her heart guarded.

Castle Berradane, 1502

Lady Avelina is unceremoniously told to expect her new husband within the month. The man in question: Sir Lachlan.

Lachlan arrives in Berradane carrying his own secret, and a determination to control his heart. As attraction builds between the couple, they find themselves under attack and fearful of a traitor in their midst.

Can the teamwork they've shown in adversity so far pull them through one final test, and will they find the strength to risk their hearts, as well as their lives?

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Jennifer has been stalking dead monarchs since she was a child. It started with Mary, Queen of Scots, then moved onto Richard III. At least now it results in a story!

She won North Tyneside Libraries' Story Tyne short story competition in 2014 (no dead monarchs, but still not a cheerful read), and has been filling notebooks and hard-drives ever since. Her Kindred Spirits series, following the 'lives' of some very interesting ghostly communities, is published by Darkstroke, and her historical romances by Ocelot Press.

Jennifer is currently exploring some new ideas for historical romance, and hoping to visit Kindred Spirit friends old and new, north of the border...

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Huge thanks to Rachel's Random Resources for the opportunity to take part in this blog tour.  Do check out the other posts over the next few days.  Details are on the banner below.