Literature / The Steel Bonnets

When Scott says they abhorred and avoided the crime of unnecessary homicide, one can only comment that they seem to have found homicide necessary with appalling frequency.

A classic work by the author George MacDonald Fraser on the Anglo-Scottish border region. Deals with the culture that came to be because the constant warfare made normal life impossible. Describes the various clans and their histories and the relation between them, the customs of the border, and the final ending of the system brought on when England and Scotland were united under one crown.

Tropes include:

  • Always Gets His Man: A few of the Wardens of the Marches were this, including Robert Carrey. Others not so much.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Rent and/or taxes was in the local dialect called mail. Thus collecting protection money was called Blackmail.
  • Barbarian Tribe: Pretty much, yeah. Though to be fair both kingdoms went to a lot of work to make sure nobody had time to be civilized on the Border.
  • Bandit Clan: The Reivers are one of the defining examples of this trope.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Robert Carrey.
  • Brave Scot: Well yeah, when it suited their interest to be brave. Of course an awful lot of them very much preferred Rape, Pillage, and Burn to gallantry and heroism. More profitable, don't you know.
  • The Clan: Lots of them
  • The Cavalier Years: Much of this history takes place then.
  • Curse: The "Greit Cursing" pronounced on the Borders by the archbishop of Glasgow is entirely in local dialect, and is four pages long. Read it here.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Blood feuds lasted generations
  • Da Chief: The Wardens of the Marches. Three on each side plus one for Liddesdale which was pretty much the nastiest area.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The author of the book.
  • Ensign Newbie: Robert Carrey.
  • Feuding Families: Constantly.
  • Forever War: England vs Scotland, though that conflict was pretty much over by the time most of this book covers, and the two kingdoms were mostly busy cleaning up the mess they had made. Also the constant fighting between Clans, which was to a large degree the mess aforesaid two kingdoms had made.
  • Had To Be Sharp: Whatever else you can say about the people here they were surely sharp. And so were the things they carried.
  • Oop North: And yes, it was pretty grim.
  • Posse: By law, after a raid, the victim clan had the right of "trod" to pursue the raiders for a week after they struck. If they set off within a couple of hours, it was a "hot trod", if they set off within a week, it was a "cold trod". There were well understood differences between a trod and a reprisal raid.
  • Proud Warrior Race: Or "a martial race of men."
  • Plunder: The whole point of being a Reiver.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: It was practically the national pastime along the Borders.
  • Run for the Border: Regularly done after a raid. Some clans had members on both sides of the border which made it more difficult still for the law.
  • The Rustler: Pretty much every clan it seems.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Subverted and Lampshaded in the peculiar custom of leaving one hand unbaptized, so that the owner of the hand could kill and thus take part in blood feud.
  • Vigilante Execution: When a posse captures a raider in the process of a crime("red-handed") they were by law allowed to lynch him themselves.
  • War Is Hell
  • We ARE Struggling Together: You Should Know This Already
  • Wretched Hive: The Border was under the complete control of feuding crime families; what else was it going to be?