Clan Routledge History

The Routledges came from the Scottish/English borders, the name can have two meanings, one is from lowland Scots ‘Rout’ and ‘lug’, which roughly translates to a “loud and clumsy”, so a descriptive name that then evolved into a surname.  Also it could have come from the words ‘rudd leche’ meaning ‘red stream’ so a name given to someone who lived near a red stream. Since the name first appeared it has spread far and wide which is incredible when you hear their history.  They were known as ‘Every Mans Foe’, ‘Every Man’s Prey’ or  ‘All Man’s Prey’.  They don’t have Peel towers and Castles standing like the Armstrong and other powerful families, but they did leave their mark.

The Routledges were a notorious reviving family like the Scotts, Armstrongs, Grahams, Elliotts and Nixons. They lived amongst some of the most ferocious families in the area and largely in debatable lands.

The First Routledges Recorded
The first Scottish Routledge recorded was a Roberti Ruloche in 1358 where he is being granted the lands of Threepwood near Lanark and a place called ‘terris Alite de Quhithead’ near Perth by King David I of Scotland. In 1359 he is once again found being granted these two lands with his surname varying as ‘Roulouche’ and ‘Rollouche’.

Previous to this in the Irish Red Book of Ormond, can be found the earliest agreed Routledge; Ricardo Rothlek dated August 11th 1305 in the Manor of Donkeryn. (agreed on by The National Archives of Irelands’ experts and Rev Woulfe who wrote ‘Irish Names and Surnames’ in 1967. Nothing more is known about these Irish Routledges.

We get more detail when we come to the 15th Century in the Hawick area of The Scottish Borders. There are very tenuous links between Roberti Ruloche and the Hawick Routledges some reported through the Douglas Family who they had many dealings with. It is thought the Routledges had originated from Liddesdale but spread to the north sometime in the late 14th or early 15th Century. The evidence for this comes from interpretation of the larger picture of their early movements and also from how they came to be in England, namely the parish of Bewcastle.

Simon de Routlugh a Burgess of unknown location is the first to make our acquaintance in the Hawick area when he listed as a witness to a charter in 1432. Over 200 years before coats of arms begin to appear on the backs of Routledges grave stones in the English border parish of Bewcastle Simon leaves us behind a seal with his name imprinted. It may be faded, hard to read and the design in the centre of some dispute, but what is not in dispute, is that Simon de Routluge, Burgess of Hawick deemed himself important enough to bare a seal. The design is a simple one, a shield with a crown on the top of it and a leaf pattern encircling it with two crossed objects in the centre of the shield. Whether they are cross spears, swords, spikes or Burgesses staffs is unclear and disputed due to the condition of the wax. But what we do have is the first Routledge artefact, and a Scottish one at that.

As Simons’ surname was on the seal it means that it is easier to trace him as the spelling of his surname does not change for the rest of his life with the exception of the ‘e’ appearing and reappearing on the end of his name.

There is evidence that land was owned in Birkwood called the oxgang, between the water of slittrig and the lands Whitelaw, burnflat and the Smallburn. This we can find among the Scotts of Buccleuch’s family papers dated August 22nd 1433. Also a Margaret Cussing is found being granted permission, by her son Robert Scott and husband Simon de Routluge a burgess of Hawick, to sell her land known as Cussinglands near Branxholme to Walter Scott of Buccleuch, which she received from her father William Cussing.

Routledges on the English Side of the Border and Debatable Lands
Over the border in Bewcastle the Routledges flourished as well.  We can see in St Cuthberts graveyard seven stones displaying the Routledge arms (which consist of chevron, garb, willow sprig and sword) differing by having charges in base, mullet, hollyleaf, escallop, rose, Fluer-de-lys, etc. The Garb obviously puzzled the mason, who has represented it in one case as a bears paw, and in another as a human hand, with thumb and four fingers.


graves2Unlike today the Scottish/English border was truly unstable and undefined. So much of this area is called ‘Debatable Lands’. Both England and Scotland claimed as their land but neither had any jurisdiction over it. Debatable Lands existed right up to 1590 and the Routledges spread into this area. In the end both countries were forced into making a joint declaration to the affect:

‘All Scotsmen and Englishmen from this time forth shall be free to rob, burn, spoil and slay any person or animals or goods belonging to all who inhabit the Debateable Lands’.

As early as 1473 there is a Cuthbert and John Routledge, along with a Robert Elliot and Gerard Nixon, deputies to the constable of Bewcastle, who was no other than Richard the Duke of Gloucester. The four remain deputies till in 1478 Richard arranged for the lands to be let to them. Richard, as we know, later became Richard III in 1483 and the lands continued to be let to the four. This remained so till 1485 when Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth and the the lands and the castle were then handed over to the Musgrave family (another Border Reiver name).

Bewcastle  Castle

Bewcastle Castle


In the early years of the Routledges they are often described as having a prominent seat in the Debateable lands in the north and in Tarras Moss. This is surely no coincidence that not far north of Tarras Moss is Hawick, which does point to the most evidence of an early home to the Routledges. The Moss was not so much a home to Reivers but more of a refuge. It was a dangerous place to enter to those who did not know it, although today you can not see how. Today it is no more than a slightly boggy moor on heather and grass covered high ground, like so much of the area along the borders.


The Reiving Routledges
The border reivers were raiders along the Anglo–Scottish border from the late 13th century to the beginning of the 17th century.  Their ranks consisted of both Scottish and English families.  The Routledges operated in the West March on what was the English side of the border but others dispute this and say they were on the Scottish side of the border.

The Marches were:

ScottishEast March: Humes, Trotters, Bromfields, Dixons, Craws, Crinstons.

Middle March: Carrs, Youngs, Pringles, Burnes, Taits, Davisons, Gilleries, Rudderfords, Dowglasses, Trombles, Scotts, Piles, Robsons, Halls, Olivers, Ladlers, Armstrongs, Elwoods (Elliots), Nixons, Crosers, Turners, Fosters.

West March: Maxwells, Johnsons, Urwins, Grahams, Bells, Carlills, Battison, Littles, Carruders.

EnglishEast March: Fosters, Selbies, Graiesm Strowders, Swiners, Mustains, Johnsons, Vardes, Ourdes, Wallises, Stories, Flukes, Dunnes.

Middle March: Ogeles, Fenickes, Hernes, Withringtons, Medfords, Shafters, Ridlies, Carnabies, Halls, Hedleys, Milburns, Andersons, Potts, Reades, Dunnes, Charletons, Dodds, Milborns, Stapletons, Robsons, Yaroes.

West March: Musgraves, Loders, Curwenes, Sawfelde, Grahams, Routluges, Fosters, Nixons, Armstrongs, Tailors, Stories.

The Borderers are frequently thought of as honourable, despite their criminal activities.

Living on what was essentially a battlefield for centuries the people of the Borders suffered greatly.  People living here bore the brunt of invasions coming north and provided a staging post for armies heading south of the border.   Borderers were robbed and killed by both the English and Scottish armies, crops were burned and property was destroyed. Historians agree that these conditions bred the Reiver. Borderers learned to live by their own rules in order to survive; to take what they needed with disregard for laws and rules and to value kinship over nationalism.

As well as reiving themselves they would have been the victim of raids An old reiver tale describes how Isabell Routledge, a widow who owned a small house and herd of cattle fell victim to an Elliot raid where 30 men ransacked her home taking her 6 cows, 4 oxen and her only horse.  The stories of the reivers were romanticised  and immortalised by the writing of Sir Walter Scott.

There are many records that say the Routledges were reiving.  The earliest one dates back to 1471 with a Walterum Routlege and a David and Archibaldus Armstrong pledging that Johannes de Routlege will appear a Justice court in Selkirk. From this point the evidence of reiving becomes more prolific.

In 1493 it is reported that Symon Routlage and his son Mathew with accomplices rode west through Hawick heading for Buccleuch from their home of Trowis in the parish of Cavers.  Armed and with flames flickering as their horses trotted through the dusk and mud. They would have known that the Laird, Sir David Scott, was away as he so often was at parliament, and the parish of Buccleuch sat effectively empty and unguarded.  There they stole five horses and mares, forty kye and oxen, forty sheep, household plenishing to the value of fourty pounds, two chalders of victual, thirty salt martis, eighty stones of cheese and butter, and two oxen then burnt and plundered the place and Manor of Buccleuch, stripping the Laird and his tenants of  anyhing they could take.  They rode through the valley taking and destroying at will from the residents of the hamlets in the Rankleburn valley.

The Border Reivers

The Border Reivers

A complaint was lodged against the Routledges by Walter Scott, David’s grandson, with William Douglas of Hornyshole in Cavers acting as surety. Walters claim to the Council gave a lengthy list of what the Routledges had taken, yet no record of whether they paid any punishment for their crime exists.

Routleges feud with the Scotts
Around 1494 The Scotts mainly resided around Branxholme, they appear to have left Buccleuch. The raid on the Scotts had a catastrophic effect and led to the Kirk’s abandonment. We can see that The Routledges did target the Scotts and again we see this recorded with a man named “Black John Roucleshe” in 1510 who in “Pitcairn’s trials” is said to have been responsible for the “burning of Branxham”. To burn Branxholme, if it is referring to the Castle, is no mean feat as the current one was allegedly not burnt for the first time till 1532 by the Earl of Northumberland, so the in 1532 it was a either a repair or rebuild after the damage Black John caused.

Black John, unlike Simon and Mathew, was neither from Hawick nor the surrounding area. In fact it was not even his trial found in Pitcairn’s. The trail was that of a John Dagliesh who had been charged with the treasonable in bringing of Black John of the Leven, and for his crime Dagliesh was sentenced to be executed. The Leven is a river which runs through the English border parish of Bewcastle and by the end of the 16th and well through the 17th century was synonymous with the name Routledge. Black John however was not an English man.

The Routledges suffered greatly after helping a Graham to escape from Carlisle castle. Christopher Dacre, deputy warden of the west march at the time, had been left so humiliated by the jail break in 1528 that he rode with 500 men north to ‘dislodge’ the Routledges of the Debatable lands.

Carlise Castle

Carlise Castle

The Curse of the Routledges

As well as having 500 men coming after The Routledges they had even enraged the bishop of Glasgow (well them and a few other families) to rant on for four pages cursing them.

read the full curse here >

So they were cursed and chased from their homeland. At first they fled to Tarras Moss which was a safe refuge, but was no place to call home. So this forced the Routledges to flee further or trickle back into the Debateable lands. The Routledges broke at this point into three main groups. The first group venture back into the Debateable Lands and eventually into Liddlesdale and Bewcastle. The Second group fled the border into Scotland and were said to have taken clans names. This meant that they probably joined larger families and dropped their Routledge name taking those of the clans they merged into with out a trace. And the third fled to Ireland and at this point changed their name slightly. Whether it was intended or a clash of languages and accents we may never know but the point was that the Irish Routledges became Rutledge or Ruttledge. This is where they gained the term ‘every mans prey’.

But as we know the Routledges did not just disappear and some even carried on reiving.

In 1603 James VI of Scotland became James I of England.

James immediately set about unifying the two countries.

The Marches and the posts of wardens were abolished. The term ‘the Borders’ was forbidden. The region was to be known as the Middle Shires.

Strong measures were pursued to enforce the law and there was, after centuries of disorder, a will to see that the law was enforced. Wanted men were hunted down and executed. All Borderers were forbidden to carry weapons and they could only own horses of a value up to 50 schillings.

Deprived of their basic reiving requirements reiving activities gradually died away.

Reiving families were dispossessed of their lands. Their homes were destroyed and the people scattered or deported.

Some clans who had been active reivers hastily abandoned their reiver connections and sought and found favour with the king and joined in the subjugation of the old reiving families, often with great enthusiasm. Many were rewarded with gifts of land, and they prospered, acquiring the lands of their former friends and allies. Their descendants are now securely entrenched with their titles and vast holdings.

Thus many proud and fearless families were broken up and scattered beyond their homeland. They were the Grahams, the Armstrongs, the Elliots, the Routledges, Nixons and many others.

Only a few remained, adopting a peaceful way of life. Others moved into England, Ireland America, and elsewhere, where their descendents live and prosper to this day.

John Lesley, the Bishop of Ross, wrote of the Border Reivers:

In time of war they were readily reduced to extreme poverty by the almost daily inroads of the enemy whence it happens they seek their substances by robberies or plunder and rapine (for they are particularly averse to the shedding of blood) nor do they much concern themselves whether it be from Scots or English that they rob. They have a persuasion that all property is common by law of nature.

The reiving families were not religious people but it was said that they never said their prayers more fervently than before a raid.

In 1537 a mass raid took place where 200 Fosters, Routledges and Armstrongs rode into Tyndale in broad daylight and took “12 score oxen and kine, and 12 horses and mares, and slew three men, viz two of the Yarrows and one of the Robsons”

The reviving only came to an end with the Union of Scotland and England.   In 1603 James VI of Scotland became James I of England, James immediately set about unifying the two countries.  The Marches and the posts of wardens were abolished. The term ‘Borders’ was forbidden and the area was renamed ‘The Middle Shires’.  Then strong measures were put in place to ensure law and order, wanted men were tracked down and executed.  New laws came in which meant people of the borders couldn’t carry weapons and couldn’t one a horse work more than 50 schillings.  Reliving families had their lands removed forcibly from them and they were scattered and deported (a lot to America, England and Ireland).

Many distanced themselves from their reviving past and sought favour with the new King and joined in with the hunt and dispersal of old reviving families.  They were rewarded with gifts of lands.  These people often thrived passing vast estates and titles to their children. After all this devastation The Routledges became one of the largest families in the area.

After what was known as ‘The Rough Wooing’ , a period of 8 years  life in the borders was mostly peaceful.  Records seem to dry up completely with only the odd one or two Routledges for the rest of the century.

The Routledges who left for America found them selves in a strange land with limitless opportunities. They built up their number and even tried to run for president. They left their mark on the landscape and on the bottom of a declaration. They even survived the Alamo and climbed Everest.

But what of the English Routledges. Well they survived civil war and interbreeding, diseases and death. And as a legacy they had Routledges at Trafalgar and exploring Easter Island. They became famous actresses and premiership footballers, they fought bravely in both World Wars, and lived to modern day.

So to say The Routledges are ‘Every Man’s Prey’ is unfounded as history has showed us.