Border Features

          The Debateable Land            


About 7 miles north of Canonbie a track leads  to a large standing stone which was the northern boundary of the Debatable land.

Map ref: 79 431 839

The Debatable Land extended from Tarras Moss in the north to the Esk estuary in the south. It was about three and a half miles wide. 

The history of this small but important territory is one of petty warfare and constant dispute.  

When the Border between Scotland and England was established, three areas along the border remained in dispute It was about the year 1450 when we first hear this district described as the Debatable Land, which, because of its size and position, 
obscured the other disputed regions.

When the differences involving the other disputed areas were settled,  this problem remained unresolved until 1551 when agreement was eventually reached.  

As both countries were suspicious of any involvement of the other, the Debatable Land became a haven for all the 'broken men', drop outs and miscreants in the area. 
It was a sanctuary for thieves and, as would be expected, a source of great distress for those trying to establish the rule of law. 

Both countries claimed this land but neither had any jurisdiction over it. Both England and Scotland, however, made a joint declaration outlining their involvement, and declared that everyone should refrain from conflict and conduct themselves in an orderly manner. 

Elements of the Elliots, Crosiers, Nixons, Turnbulls, etc, 
and, of course, the Armstrongs, the clans that had spread into  the Debatable Land,  hadn't much time for declarations, and went about their business in their usual fashion. 

Frequent attempts were made to dislodge them by official forces, but most attempts failed and the few successes were temporary. They simply melted into the nearby wastes, and returned to resume their lawless activities when the immediate danger to them was over.

Such was the trouble caused by the Debatable Land that both Scotland and England were forced into making a joint declaration that 'all Scotsmen and Englishmen from this time forth shall be free to rob, burn, spoil and slay any person or animals or goods belonging to all who inhabit the Debatable Lands.'

 It was a free for all, an open invitation to take any desired action against those who had settled there and had used it as a base from which to launch their pillaging. 

That didn't work, either.

Eventually, It wasn’t until agreement was reached to share out the land, that each country assumed responsibility for enforcing the law in their portion. 

However, it took a long time for both governments to achieve some sort of order and maintain even a uneasy peace.

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