Thinking about who was the first Cornet – we know the names back to 1703 and James Scott, the first named Cornet , but nothing before that.
Which isn’t very satisfying – I want a name!
My Granny’s cousin Cornet was of Lanark stock – and Lanark‘s Lanimers is very [very!] like the Hawick Common Riding. They have a Lord Cornet as standard bearer, horsemen riding the marches , a Safe Oot, Safe In ceremony, and horse racing on the Moor. And it has been going on a long time – since they were iven Royal Burgh status back in the 1100s. The list of named Cornets goes back further than ours – though only to 1670 and John Aitkein. It isn’t a complete list – there are only 13 names between John Aitkein and James Tod in 1703, but it is better than we have.
And don’t mention Selkirk – they have the name of the first standard bearer, Fletcher from 1513.
They have a tremendous post-Flodden story with one man – town clerk Fletcher – struggling back to the town as the only survivor of the Selkirk men who fought at Flodden with a captured English flag, which he then casts three times [here in a 1930's newsreel] before lowering it to the ground to show that the Scots had been defeated.
And if Fletcher doesn’t qualify as a Cornet responsible for riding the marches, then they have names from as early as 1540 for men responsible for riding the marches. In 1540 James Kein and James Scott were elected as baillies to ride the boundaries of the town lands.
Unfortunately, Hawick doesn’t have a Lanark tradition going back as far as 1140, or a heroic story of Fletcher bringing an English flag back from Flodden. The kind of 1514 story I grew up with was a fairly naff kind of half hearted affair – some young lads from Hawick sneak up on a small bunch of English soldiers sleeping off the booze at a nowhere-special place called Hornshole and steal their flag during the night and ……………er , well that’s it, basically.
No stories of any great fight, nobody killed, nobody hurt, no big deal, no Rambo style heroics, no Fletcher type wounded hero – life went on, the English raids went on, skirmishes went on, and tradition went on.
Think Hawick, mediaeval Scotland then : think Helmand Province, mediaeval Afghanistan now.
No strong central government; local warlords living by blackmail, extortion, and corruption, and always willing to change sides if the price was/is right; a long tradition of lawlessness going back to invasion and partial pacification – Hadrians Wall / Antonine’s Wall with the Romans, North West Frontier and us.
And in both, an utter disregard for the little people: it was and is, the soldiers who count.
The arrival of a squad of soldiers would be a problem in Hornshole/Helmand.
They feel they are winning a major fight, and have might on their side, and they are unpredictable – they might just be showing the flag, but they do tend to kick doors down, take your young men away, trash your house, trash your life. So what if the little people were kicked about a bit, or lost a few of their cattle – that was the price they paid for living in a buffer zone in a border region.
Maybe Hawick itself was safe – maybe there was some sort of agreement that you laid waste the countryside but left the towns intact, or maybe the Tower provided some sort of protection, or maybe the local Douglas family had bought off the English.
It would be possible but dangerous for the English to disturb the Douglas stronghold in Hawick – but who knows what revenge he would exact? and with James IV dead and many of the Scottish state players dead, the English probably made the decision that Douglas might occasionally be a local nuisance for the northern counties, but he had no grand strategy with regard to England. He was more of a problem for the Scots than for the English. An untouched, strong Douglas meant that Scotland had to cope with the reivers – if the English weakened Douglas, then central Scotland could forget the borders problem, and focus on rebuilding the state, to the extent that they might pose a threat to England.
But soldiers at Hornshole were dangerous. So a small scale ambush would push back the problem for a while. And small scale night ambushes are confused sorts of affairs that don’t produce any coherent story – then or now.
So no names! Except that there are names. The men who signed the Town Charter in 1537, were the householders and tenants of the burgh, and so they would be the Hornshole group, the surviving middle aged men – pushing 40 or beyond – who were the “youths who stayed from Flodden”
We can knock out some of the names, not everybody would have been at Hornshole 24 years before.
For starters, three priests are listed including Sir John Scot who was the Vicar of Hawick, and probably would be unlikely to have participated [though when Hawick was raided in 1548, Sir John Scot was one of the priests killed]
Then there are the big tenants David Routledge for the Branxholme area , Robert Scot of Howpasley, and Robert Scot of Alanhaugh ] who might have been old enough, and of sufficient status, to have been at Flodden.
So let’s assume that they weren’t at Hornshole – or Simon Chepman, the son of the Walter Chepman, the first printer in Scotland, and Edinburgh based.
Or the named women – Margaret and Janet Liddersdale [nowadays Liddle?] , Bessie Wylie.
Which leaves 61 names to pick out our Cornet.
There were probably about 360 men of the right age in Hawick at the time – so 61/360 = we have the names of about 15% of the group who would have gone to Hornshole.
So for any name we pick there is a 15%, or 1 in 6, chance they were at Hornshole in 1514.
[Statisticians need to avert their eyes here – my statistical reasoning is pretty ropey! But here goes.
Estimates of size are really difficult – in 1755 Hawick had 2718 inhabitants plus Wilton, at say, 1300 = 4000.
The population of Scotland as a whole is estimated at 1,265,380 for 1755, and in 1600 only 800,000, so an assumption would be that Hawick would also be a third smaller in 1600, at about 2,500 – something of the size of Duns  nowadays, though the Callants Club website estimates that Hawick had 110 houses – so about 5-600 people – Denholm size.
I’ll stick at 2500 people – which translates very roughly into 1200 men.
With an age structure where 50% would be under the age of 25, and say 70% under 40, then there would be about 360 men of roughly the right age [40 upwards in 1537] to have been at Hornshole [15 upwards in 1514]
And with a spread of ages in the 15-25 age group, there could be 10 Cornets in that group, so any name we pick has a 10/61 = 1 in 6 chance of having been a Cornet. If we pick 6 names, we will in all likelihood be naming at least one man who, when young, was in the Hornshole raid; and one man who, when young, was a Cornet – maybe even the first Cornet.]
Without any further dodgy dossiers, the First Cornet elected to ride the marches in 1515 -
Assumption 1 : would be in this group of names randomly taken from the spreadsheet of names
Assumption 2: and using a pin to pick two names -
Thomas Scott was the 1515 Cornet; and John Rowcastill was the Hornshole veteran,
Which would leave William Scott, William Storie, Alexander Paslay and Philip Lidderdale as four men who either didn’t go to Hornshole that night [all the young men wouldn't have gone to Hornshole if Hawick was Duns sized] or who were too young at the time [5 then, 30 in 1537]
Mystery solved – we now have the name of the first cornet [maybe!]
Next – where did he live?
The Charter lists the amount of land which the men owned or rented in terms of their street frontage, north or south of the High Street. The Charter records grants of 125 roods, used here as a measure of house plot frontage of 20 feet, so 64 plots on each side of the High Street at 20 feet a plot gives a street frontage of 1280 feet or 400 yards. Measuring Woods map of 1824 from the East Port to the West Port gives a length of 400 yards [approx]
So piling dodgy inferences on dodgy figures, I can [and will] sort out where anybody in Hawick lived in 1537 – including the first Hawick Cornet who was [probably] Thomas Scott.