Monday, 10 October 2011

Hot Trod, anyone?

A Hot trod is a lawful pursuit of reivers and maybe it’s time to talk about them since they figure in two of my books. Trods were peculiar to the borderlands between Scotland and England. The whole area, known as the Marches, was divided into administrative blocks, with three on each side of the border; an East, Middle and West March. Each March had a Warden, who maintained law and order within that area. The East Marches were the smallest of the six and glared at each other across the Tweed from Carham to Berwick. Pleasant farmed land, with the Tweed easily forded. Armies of both nations marched endlessly across the the Eastern Marches, looting as they went.

The Middle Marches fronted each other across the Cheviots, and the crime rate of the two regions was legend. The wide, desolate hills were criss-crossed by reivers’ trails and one of the Wardens declared it an “unchristened country.”

The West Marches contained the Debateable Land, disputed over by both nations, and pursued reivers disappeared into it whenever danger threatened to get too close.  The people of Carlisle lived within easy riding distance of the Liddesdale hordes, but seemed to suffer less than the English Middle March because it was well defended, with a string of castles and fortresses that included Naworth, mentioned on this blog a week or two back. Also the broad Eden, like the treacherous Solway tide, was a genuine barrier.

Once raided by reivers, a man could complain to the Warden and gain justice that way. He could wait and plan a retaliatory raid, which most did because they often got their goods back with interest. Or he could decide on a pursuit. This was strictly legal, even if the trail took them across the border. Scott named it “the fatal privilege” because it enshrined the right to recover one’s property (usually hoofed and alive) by force, and to deal (usually nastily) with the thieves themselves. It had to take place within six days of the raid. If followed immediately, it was a hot trod; if followed later, a cold trod.

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