Border Reivers- Hobbie Noble of the Crew in Bewcastle

On the English Scottish Border in the reiving times, nominally from the 13th to the 17th centuries, when the Border Reivers disputed all authority, national identity was often dismissed. Joint raids by the forces of Scots and English, all animosity to each other put aside for a while, resulted in a lucrative pay-off for the clans and families involved in the grand theft of cattle and sheep. The Border country was beset with the intrigues of the Reivers; local law enforcement on both sides of the Border at a loss, reticent to lay the blame for crime at anyone door, careful of reprisal or lasting feud.

The story of Hobbie Noble of the Crew, one of the English Border Reivers of somewhat dubious reknown, is one such example of Scots and English coming together. He would aid the Armstrongs of Liddesdale, a Scottish Border clan, in their hour of need, yet eventually be betrayed by one of their own.

The Pathetic Remains of Crew Castle. Now nothing more than a Sheep Pen.


Hobbie Flees to the Scottish Borders.

Hobbie was from Bewcastle in what was known in his time as the Waste of north Cumberland; his home was Crew Castle. Little of what would once have been a formidable tower remains today; the earthworks, however, easily recognised, bear testimony to a place of formidable strength: the home of a family of prominence and importance in the region. The Waste is still there to this day. It is a harsh and unforgiving country yet delights in little pockets of sylvan beauty which are a delight to the eyes.

Hobbie spent many years raiding in Tynedale (Northumberland) and even parts of his homeland, to the south of his Cumberland fortress. It would seem that allegiance to his countrymen was of little concern to a man bent on raiding wherever the opportunity presented itself. The product of theft, the ‘reive’, meant more to Hobbie than allegiance to his own countrymen, his own people.

Eventually they disowned him as they tired of the retribution exacted on them by the surnames (families) he had raided within his own country and the clans to the north of the Border. Their lives were dominated by the relentless raids from Tynedale, other parts of Cumberland, and southern Scotland which, with regular monotony, raided the homesteads of the folk of Bewcastledale.

He was much prized by the English West March Warden, the law in Cumberland. Doubtless there were many crimes laid at his door in which he had taken no part.

Hobbie fled to Liddesdale in the Scottish Borders were he was well received by the Laird of Mangerton, head of the Armstrongs. Anyone on run from the law, irrespective of nationality, was welcomed by the Armstrongs of Liddesdale.

Hobbie is True to his Scottish Hosts.

When Jock Armstrong of the ‘Side’, a stalwart and leading member of the Scottish clan was captured and thrown into gaol in Newcastle to await a fate which would inevitably see him dangle at the end of a rope, Hobbie was a major force in planning and achieving his rescue. He was lauded by the Armstrongs of Mangerton for the sterling part he played in the rescue of Jock but there were other Armstrongs, within Scottish Liddesdale, who resented the popularity of the Englishman.

Mangerton Tower. Once home to the Chief of the Armstrongs of Liddesdale.

The remains of Mangerton Tower, Liddesdale

The remains of Mangerton Tower, Liddesdale

Hobbie is asked to lead a raid into England by the Armstrongs of the Mains

Sim Armstrong was Laird of the Mains, today a peaceful farm in Liddesdale, but in the days of the Border Reivers, the most dangerous valley in the whole of Europe. Sim had grown to hate the great English Reiver whilst the English Warden was bent on wresting Hobbie from the Scottish Border lands and bringing him to account for his crimes in England. Sim and the Warden made a deal whereby, in return for English gold, Sim would betray Hobbie into the Warden’s hands. Accordingly, on the pretext that Hobbie knew the English ground better than he did, Sim persuaded Hobbie to lead a raid south of the Border into England. The cattle and sheep were fat and ripe for the picking.

Hobbie is betrayed by Sim of the Mains

Hobbie led the Armstrongs of the Mains into England but at the same time Sim Armstrong sent word to the English Keeper of Askerton that Hobbie was back on English ground. Hobbie and the Armstrongs had rested overnight before their final assault on their target. At the first light of the following day Hobbie woke to see the English confronting him. He was not unduly concerned because he knew the ground right well. His fertile mind instantly recognised the path in which he and the Armstrongs could evade any confrontation. But it was not to be. The Armstrongs at his back suddenly voiced their allegiance to the English and Hobbie was betrayed for gold.

Askerton Castle.

Defence against the Border Reivers of Liddesdale

Defence against the Border Reivers of Liddesdale

Hobbie is bound and taken to Carlisle

Hobbie was bound with his own bow-string and led ignominiously to Carlisle and thrown in the dark damp cells of Carlisle castle. He was told he would hang next day unless he would confess to stealing Peter of Winfield’s horse, a crime that had hung over his head for some time. There is some doubt that Hobbie was involved, that the charge was trumped up by the English to see an end to the great English Border Reiver. He denied the allegation and prepared himself for death. Next morning he was hanged. There was a lot of sympathy in the watching crowd for the man who had risked life and limb to rescue Jock of the ‘Side’ from the Black Tower of Newcastle.

Sir Walter Scott, avid lover of Scottish English Border history and eminent writer of the early nineteenth century gathered the story of Hobbie Noble and committed it to verse in his ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’.

Here are two particularly poignant verses from the ballad:

‘And fare thee weel , sweet Liddesdale, (weel = well)

Baith the hie land and the law;

Keep ye weel frae the traitor Mains,

For gould and gear he’ll sell ye a’ (goud = gold, a’ = all)

‘Yet wad I rather be ca’d Hobbie Noble, ( wad = would, ca’d = called)

In Carlisle , where he suffers for his fau’t, (fau’t = fault)

Than I’d be ca’d the traitor Mains,

That eats and drinks of the meal and maut’. ( maut = malt)

English Gold was no benefit to Sim of the Mains

When the Laird of Mangerton, head of the Armstrongs, heard of Hobbie’s fate and Sim’s involvement, he was furious. Normally, as Hobbie was executed by the English, his retribution would have been aimed against the English families who dared to steal in his domain, Liddesdale or its surrounds. For once he directed his wrath against his own. He planned a great reprisal against the Armstrongs of Mains even though they were a sect of the clan. Sim fled to England but within two months, thanks to intelligence furnished to the English by Mangerton, Sim of the Mains also dangled at the end of a rope on Harrabee Hill, the killing ground of Carlisle. No tears were wept by a crowd who were pleased that he had got his come-uppance for the betrayal of Hobbie Noble of the Crew.

Noblestown today. Home of the Nobles following the Union of the Crown and the Pacification of the Borders.

Noblestown, Bewcastle


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