Saturday, November 20, 2010

A long line of Walter Scotts

Xenophon. Published in Geneva, 1613. Click to enlarge.

The book is about the Greek soldier and historian, Xenophon. The man who wrote it was a French Huguenot minister who fled persecution in his homeland and went to Geneva. The man who owned it was a Scottish nobleman who probably read it as a child.

The original full burgundy calf cover bears the armorial crest of the owner, Walter Scott, the 2nd Lord Scott of Buccleuch, a village in the Scottish-English borderlands. The book is in French and was probably used by young Walter in his traditional studies of the classics. It was published in 1613. It is part of the our collection of rare and unusual books.

The younger Scott had a lot to live up to. His father, also Walter, (they came from a long line of Walters) was the 1st Lord Scott of Buccleuch. He had a nickname, Bold Buccleuch (say BUH-clue), and a reputation to match it. Walter, the father, was a famous border reiver.

As far back as the Middle Ages, England and Scotland were frequently at war. Clans that lived in the border region of Scotland often had their livelihoods disrupted. It was a wild frontier existence. To survive, border clans became raiders, and they weren't too particular who they robbed, be they English or Scottish, just as along as they weren't fellow clansmen.

The reivers tradition continued for centuries. The crowns of England and Scotland tolerated them sometimes and exploited them other times. Some reivers ended up fighting as mercenaries for one king or another. To some they were loveable rogues, to others no better than the Mafia of a much later era.

One of the most infamous reivers was William Armstrong of Kinmont, known as Kinmont Willie. On a truce day in 1596, called so English and Scots could negotiate treaties and other deals, Kinmont Willie was taken prisoner, against the terms of the truce. He was held in Carlisle Castle.

The Scots, incensed by the breach, gathered a posse of eighty men and rode to the castle. They were led by Walter Scott of Buccleuch, the first Lord Scott. They surprised the English, rescued Kinmont Willie and rode to safety across the border.

 Sir Walter Scott, the author and a kinsman of the border reiver Scotts, transcribed a local folk ballad called Kinmont Willie and published it in a book of Scottish border songs many decades later.

As for Walter Scott, the owner of this book, it's not really certain when he was born, although it was thought to be sometime before 1606. He married Lady Mary Hay in 1616. He had a military career as commander of the regiment in service to Holland in 1627. He died in London in 1633.

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