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Excommunication Curse of the Reivers by the Bishop of Glasgow 1525

The excommunication of the Border Reivers made by the Bishop of Glasgow in 1525

The Border Reivers inhabited the regions of the border between Scotland and England. They suffered from regular incursions by the army of one country laying waste to the border land of the other country. Their response was to respect neither sovereign law nor moral authority. The Reivers’ settlements would suffer from attacks and would then send out a raiding party to recover their goods and inflict a punishment.

The family clan became the protector of the local population and even if they were not related by blood or marriage they would work together in defence and in a raid. Thus there was cohesion through conflict and a Reiver’s loyalty was primarily to the family clan – the “Godfather”. This lack of loyalty to any country or king meant that during a war, the Reivers would change sides in a battle and kidnap their officers. The officers were then held for ransom – pay or we kill the victim. The situation was worse in peace times when the undivided attention of the Reivers was given to thieving, extortion and ransom.

The clergy was not safe from the lawless, amoral activities. Hutchie Graham kept his book of black mail (his protection racket) at Arthuret Church. The vicar of Bewcastle was supposed to have gone on at least one raid. The Bishop of Durham warned his ministers against melting down the silver and taking concubines! The post of Bishop was for sale with a supposed illiterate boasting he had the post.

Vicars were the target of kidnap and ransom so much that some towers were combined with the church building and became known as vicar towers.  It was so unsafe for Priests to travel in some areas that they kept their bible hidden under their cloaks and became known as “book a bosom priests”.  Marriages were delayed until the infrequent visit of a priest and a special relationship of “handfasting” developed where a couple lived as husband and wife until the priest visited.

It is little wonder that the Church felt the need to exercise its power. The frustrated Archbishop of Glasgow ordered the excommunication of the Reivers to be narrated from every market cross and other public meeting place in the land. It is a curse of the most graphic detail. This is part of his narration.

Partial translation and interpretation of The Bishop’s Curse

Good folks, here at my Archbishopric of Glasgow letters under this round seal direct me or any other chaplain, made and mentioned, with great regret, how heavy he bears the piteous, lamentable, and sad complaint that pass over our realm and comes to my ears, ….

We hear how that men, wiffis and bairs, redeamed by the precious blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and living in his laws, are innocently part murdered, part slain, burned, hurt, spoiled and ripped, openly by daylight and under silence of the night, and their farms and lands laid waste, and their self banished therefor, … as well as others be common traitors, reivers, theives, dwelling in the south part of this realm, such as Tevidale (Teviotdale) Esdale, Liddisdale, Ewisdale, Nedisdale (Nithsdale), and Annanderdaill; which people have been in various ways pursued and punished by the tempered sword and our sovereign lord’s authority and does not fear the same.

And therefor my Lord Archbishop of Glasgow has thought it expedient to strike them with the terrible word of the holy church, which you must not stand against and resist; and has charged me or any other chaplains, to denounce, declair and proclaim them openly and general cured, at this market cross, and all other public places.

I curse their head and all the hairs of that head;
I curse their face, their eye, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their chin, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their belly, their arms, their legs, their hands, their feet, and every such like part of their body frae the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without.

I curse them going and I curse them riding
I curse them standing and I curse them sitting
I curse them eating and I curse them drinking
I curse them walking and I curse them sleeping
I curse them rising I curse them lying
I curse them within the hoose, I curse them withoot the hoose.

I curse their wiffis, their bairns, and the servants that participated with them in their deeds.
I worry their cattle, their sheep, their horse, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their livestock.
I curse their halls, their rooms, their kitchens, their barns, their cowsheds, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their ploughs, their harrows, their goods and houses that are necessary for their sustenance and welfare.
All malevolence and curses that ever affected worldly creatures since the beginning of the world to this hour must light upon them.

The malediction of God, that lighted upon Lucifer and all his followers, that strike them from the high heaven to the deep hell, must lie upon them.

“I curse thair heid and all the haris of thair heid;
I curse thair face, thair ene, thair mouth, thair neise, thair toung, thair teith,
thair crag, thair schulderis, thair breist, thair hert, thair stomok, thair bak, thair wame,
thair armes, thair leggis, thair handis, thair feit,
and everilk part of thair body, frae top of thair heid to the soill of thair feit,
befoir and behind, within and without.
I curse thaim gangand, and I curse thaim rydand;
I curse thaim standand, and I curse thaim sittand;
I curse thaim etand, I curse thaim drinkand;
I curse thaim walkand, I curse thaim sleepand;
I curse thaim rysand, I curse thaim lyand;
I curse thaim at hame, I curse thaim fra hame;
I curse thaim within the house, I curse thaim without the house;
I curse thair wiffis, thair barnis, and thair servandis
participand with thaim in thair deides.
I wary thair cornys, thair catales, thair woll, thair scheip, thair horse, thair swyne,
thair geise, thair hennys, and all thair quyk gude.
I wary thair hallis, thair chalmeris, thair kechingis, thair stanillis,
thair barnys, thair biris, thair bernyardis, thair cailyardis, thair plewis, thair harrowis,
and the gudis and housis that is necessair for thair sustentatioun and weilfair.
All the malesouns and waresouns that ever gat warldlie creatur
sen the begynnyng of the warlde to this hour mot licht apon thaim.
The maledictioun of God, that lichtit apon Lucifer and all his fallowis,
that strak thaim frae the hie hevin to the deip hell, mot licht apon thaim……

……And all the vengeance that evir was takin sen the warlde began for oppin synnys,
and all the plagis and pestilence that ever fell on man or beist,
mot fall on thaim for thair oppin reiff, saiklesse slauchter and schedding of innocent blude.
I dissever and pairtis thaim fra the kirk og God, and deliveris thaim quyk to the devill of hell,
as the Apostill Sanct Paull deliverit Corinthion.
I interdite the places thay cum in fra divine service, ministracioun of the sacramentis of halykirk,
except the sacrament of baptissing allanerlie;
and forbiddis all kirkmen to schriffe or absolve thaim of thaire synnys,
quhill they be absolyeit of this cursing……

……And, finally, I condemn thaim perpetualie to the deip pit of hell,
to remain with Lucifer and all his fallowis,
and thair bodeis to the gallowis of the Burrow Mure,
first to be hangit, syne revin and ruggit
with doggis, swyne, and utheris beists, abhominable to all the warld.
And thair candillis gangis frae your sicht,
as mot their saulis gang fra the visage of God,
and thair gude faim fra the warld,
quhill thai forbear thair oppin synnys forsaidis
and ryse frae this terribill cursing, and mak satisfaction and pennance.”

Gavin Dunbar, Archbishop of Glasgow c1525
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