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1515 The first Cornet – think Hawick, think Helmand Province

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 [2710] 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
Thomas Scott
Philip Lidderdale
William Scott
William Storie
Alexander Paslay
John Rowcastill
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.


About Neil Wallace

Born in the Haig Maternity, lived in Dovemount Place, and started school there at Trinity. To Burnfoot Primary then the High School. Moved away from the town to Cardiff, then Edinburgh, and now an exile in Suffolk.


4 thoughts on “1515 The first Cornet – think Hawick, think Helmand Province

  1. It sounded a bit like you were saying that the Hornshole incident *wasn’t* heroic! But I think by the end you agreed that it was, so you’re redeemed!
    The point of course is that the male population had been decimated at Flodden. English raiding parties had laid waste much of Teviotdale and surrounding areas in the months at the end of 1513, and again in the middle of 1514. Hawick itself was probably spared on this occasion just because the English force consisted of small bands picking off the easy targets with little resistance.
    Until those youths who stayed from Flodden heard about the encampment near Hornshole, and restored Hawick’s pride once more.


    Posted by Douglas Scott | September 11, 2011, 18:31
    • Again with apologies for being so slow to respond.

      Writing something like this blog is great for forcing me to commit myself to some sort of position on things – last year I tried my hand at Twitter, which I found pretty stimulating in terms of trying to say something meaningful in 140 characters every day [I strayed into twittering about Arctic ice which gave me a theme for the year!]
      and I had never really thought – and never ever written – about the Common Riding.

      The riding of the marches element I can understand well enough [I live in Suffolk, with the Domesday parish boundaries still as they were, and all the mediaeval churches, and remnants of Rogationtide processions reinforcing the boundaries etc]
      But I have never really got into the whole Border reiver / Steel Bonnets stuff – I find Walter Scott absolutely unreadable – so I was trying to figure some sort of scale for the Hornshole incident. Clearly it was real, because it has lasted so long, but I remain chary of Walter Scott – and Victory and Heroism don’t seem quite right in the context of the “something” that happened a year after Flodden. and it is the silences in the story which are interesting – Selkirk does have a Flodden story, and it “fits” – there is something there to remember. Hawick is much more off the beaten track – the main road was really across by Copshaw and Hermitage to the Jed Valley I suppose, Hawick was in a dead end valley – and any detail of Hornshole are totally missing – there is no folklore except early-late Victorian songs. Nobody died, nobody got hurt, a flag was captured – life went on. [and I have now read George Macdonald Fraser’s Steel Bonnets and been struck by the distinction between Scots and English fighting at Flodden, and the Borderers plundering the tents and baggage of the English after the battle. And his assertion that the Borders suffered more from the english raids than they would have if the english had carried out a full scale invasion of Scotland]

      Luckily I don’t know how I would react if I had to live in a world where gangs of armed men roamed around intent on causing mayhem. On an individual level, craven cowardice and lots of running away would probably be my strong suit – and the fact that I probably wouldn’t have had anything much that the gangs would consider worth stealing. I’m not sure that I would have much notion of living in a nation, with any national pride attached. I would though, probably have a sense of hierarchy and where I fitted in that, and a sense of community. Hopefully I would have responded to that, and have picked up my pointy stick and set off for Hornshole with a crowd of callants [how young? WW2 20, Vietnam 22, WW1 plenty of tales of 15 year olds lying about their age to enlist – so a callant would be an 11-12 year old?]

      But a bit of a rabble – scared, excited, poorly armed, not very strong – so unlikely to do serious damage, but scary enough to get the Hexham boys onto their horses and away down the road. It did mean a lot to the town, because it was remembered, so it wasn’t something that happened a lot. Maybe the usual thing was to hide your stuff, hide yourself and keep out of the way while your town was burned – and this was one time that the worm turned. And that kept the spark alive while the Borders were pacified, and Reformed, and through the Covenanting times until the Union with England, when lo! the spirit of resistance to England could speak its name again, and be Walter Scottifed.

      But realistically – I still don’t think I understand what Hornshole meant for Hawick

      Posted by Neil Wallace | December 27, 2011, 21:36
  2. Here’s a little more on your blog entry about the name of the first Cornet. Sorry this will be a bit on the long side!

    Firstly, although Selkirk does have much better records than Hawick (i.e. *any*) in the 16th century, I think it’s less than clear that their first standard bearer was called Fletcher. There’s a conflicting story that it was the Town Clerk called Brydon who bore the Selkirk flag.

    In Hawick there was a tradition (no idea how old this is) that the first Cornet was a Tinlin. My guess is that this is a romantic Victorian connection with Sir Walter Scott’s Watt Tinlin (who was largely fictional of course). There’s no mention of this early enough to give it any credence.

    You mention Douglas, the Baron of Hawick, who was Douglas of Drumlanrig. In fact this Douglas was not particularly powerful, and hence probably not such a big player in inter-Border politics. Although he would have the backing of more important Douglases of the time. In fact Sir James Douglas of Drumlanrig (who granted the town its 1537 charter) inherited the Barony of Hawick in 1514, only a short time after the Hornshole incident – and at that time he was still a minor, with dispensation from the King. (As an interesting sideline to speculate on, you can imagine the Hawick folk brandishing the newly acquired flag at the ceremony at the Mote where the new Baron gained sasine of the lands). His age at that time has led some to suggest he was the one to carry the flag back from Horsnhole! But there’s no reason to imagine it was other than one of the more ordinary Hawick folk.

    The surnames on the 1537 charter are certainly a good place to start in guessing the names of youths who might have been at Hornshole. These names are (in alphabetical order): Alison, Angus, Benkis, Blair, Brown, Chalmers, Chapman, Connel, Cessford, Deans, Douglas, Fair, Farnelaw, Fawlaw, Gladstone, Henderson, Hepburn, Howburn, Lidderdale, Martin, Morley, Morton, Paisley, Paterson, Plendergaist, Ruecastle, Routledge, Scott, Short, Stewart, Storie, Turnbull, Waugh, White, Wilson, Wylie and Young. These were the main landowners in the Burgh, and probably a large fraction of the Burgesses at that time. It’s not unreasonable to imagine that the Cornet of 1514 came from one of these families.

    Of those names you mention:
    there’s no need to suppose that Simon Chapman is directly related to Walter Chapman, the Edinburgh printer.
    “Liddersdale” is a separate name from Liddel/Liddle, and probably even different from Liddesdale. But it’s probably the same name sometimes written as “Lutherdale”.
    there are lots of Scotts mentioned – so does that make it most likely it was a Scott?

    I’m not sure about the estimate of the Hawick population in 1514. In any case, it’s pretty likely that the main ones involved would have been the sons of Burgesses (and hence probably Burgesses themselves later), who were wealthy enough to have a horse and a big enough stake in the town to make it worth defending. So even if the population was a lot bigger (in terms of labourers, servants, farm workers, etc.) than the 60 or so land-owners, nevertheless it seems likely the flag-bearer came from this merchant, tradesman and farmer class.

    The population of Wilton isn’t relevant. It was much smaller than that of Hawick. And at that time was a totally separate settlement. The first Cornet from Wilton would take more than 300 years!

    I’m afraid the statistical estimate doesn’t entirely work. If you have a 1-in-6 chance of throwing a 6 on a dice, then you don’t have an even chance of getting one if you throw 6 times!

    Other ideas to muse on:

    would the first Cornet have continued to carry the flag every year while he was able, and only then would the town have picked a new Cornet annually? or would they right away have instituted the annual selection?

    it was traditional (presumably for a long time) to select Cornets alternatively from the east and west ends of the Town (i.e. from one or other side of the Slitrig). The 1705 Cornet was from the West Port, and so we can assume that the first known Cornet of 1703 was also from the west end. If this went all the way back unbroken, then the first Cornet would be from the east end, since 1514 is an even number. Unfortunately this idea doesn’t apply to the later 18th century, where there are clearly men from the west end on even numbered years. This would have happened because of disputes etc. So we probably can’t infer that the first Cornet was an east ender!

    it’s unfortunate that we don’t have a more complete collection of Cornet’s names. But perhaps a few more will turn up one day. I don’t believe anyone has been through the Town Clerk’s books in detail since James Wilson wrote his “Annals of Hawick” (and its sequel) based on these records. And certainly the entirety of these books could be transcribed one day, perhaps yielding up one or two more names. But even that only goes back as far as 1638. Before which there is nothing!

    Posted by Douglas Scott | September 11, 2011, 21:20
    • Douglas

      I can’t disagree with anything you say – looking for names in the past is pretty much a waste of time. eg one would have thought that Selkirk could have got its act together with a single name – to have two seems pretty sloppy, and a bit suspicious!

      Much of this post is fag-packet calculation and rule-of-thumb estimation – but the callants didn’t have a cast of thousands.

      I am happy with the thoughts that Hawick [ok – ignore Wilton] was somewhere about the size of Duns,

      and that if the names on the 1537 charter each had a burgess plot of about 2o feet-ish [thinking of Haddington, or the Lawnmarket, or Linlithgow frontages] they would fit quite nicely along the High Street and round St Marys,

      and that they were the ones with something to defend, and they were the right age-ish to have been callants in 1514

      So highly probable [well maybe not highly probable to an astro-physicist!!] that there is a chance of a randomly selected name being “right”

      Excel chose 6 names, and then a single name – and Thomas Scott seems a very happy choice to me for being the 1515 “Cornet”, with John Ruecastle as another old Hawick name and as likely as anybody else on the Charter list to have been at Hornshole [and if not him, then his father!]

      But you are right – there is only a faint suggestion that this in any way resembles historical truth or scientic population modelling.


      Posted by Neil Wallace | December 27, 2011, 21:58

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