Willie of Westburnflat
Willie Armstrong of Westburnflat in Liddesdale, came from generation after generation of reiving stock whose skill and fame had placed his family high in status as professional reivers. It was a reputation of which he was immensely proud and he steadfastly nurtured it by energetically pursuing the calling of his forebears.
But times were hard for honest reivers. Scotland had joined with the auld enemy, England, and King James made war on the riding families. Such was the strength of his forces that they were hounded and harassed from their homes and forced to flee for their very lives to distant parts. Some even settled down, where they could, to the peaceful life of farming.
Not so Willie, who did his best to maintain old ways. He became feared and hated by all those people who resented having their kye ‘lifted,’ and so they sought the aid of the Law to redress their grievances.
Forced to curtail his activities Willie, at length gave way to his inborn urges and so it fell about that a dozen or so cows raided one night from Teviotdale, were traced to Westburnflat.
Later, in the dead of night, when Willie was peacefully asleep, no doubt soothed by the feeling of a deed well done, the men of Teviotdale arrived, and, bursting in, before Willie could gather his scattered wits or realised what was happening, he was overpowered and bound securely hand and foot.
Willie’s trial, along with nine friends, was held at Selkirk. The stolen cattle had not been found in his possession and the evidence against him for this particular theft was in no way conclusive. However, because of the prisoners’ past record, the lack of evidence did not deter the jury from finding all the prisoners guilty.
When sentence of death was pronounced Willie arose in fury, seized the heavy oak chair on which he had been seated and with a mighty blow dashed it to the ground, breaking it into pieces. Selecting one strong leg for himself, he passed the remainder to his condemned comrades, called to them to stand by him and together they would fight their way out of Selkirk.
There is little doubt that they would have succeeded had Willie been properly backed up. But his friends poor "fushionless," spiritless creatures, seized his hands and cried to him to “let us die like Christians."
Maybe it was a way of turning King's Evidence expected to be treated lightly.
They might have been better to have died fighting. They were all duly hanged.
Border People Index