In Scottish romances whether they are set in the Lowlands or especially in the Highlands there is a running theme of conflict between Scotland and England. However, there is one area of Scotland that has a different take on this thematic conflict and that is the Anglo/Scottish Borders. The Borders began at least on the English side as a buffer zone created by King Wm Rufus and later Scotland's King Alexander I followed suit by encouraging more Scots to move into the area so in time it became overpopulated. As resources became scarce a culture of Reiving goods and cattle became the way of survival. Reiving rarely was used as a political means it was a way to survive a harsh environment and the constant Anglo/Scottish warfare that included scorched earth policies. The area became so lawless that in 1252 CE each monarch sent 12 knights to the borders to hammer out a set of unique laws that Borderers would abide by and over next 300 years those laws matured until the mid 1500’s when things had really gotten out of hand.
For the Borderer be he English or Scot, his mistrust of his monarch had proven that his allegiance to his family was first followed by respect for Border laws then maybe God and lastly his monarch depending on what side of the Border he was on at that moment. Reasons for this mistrust abound: Johnnie Armstrong’s murder at the hands of King James V after a passage of safe conduct, or Kinnmont Willie’s capture by the English troops on his way home on the Scottish side of the Border from a Truce Day and later imprisoned in Carlisle castle where he was freed by Borderers from both sides angered by this total disrespect for Border Law. But there is no better example of the unique Border hospitality and respect than the story of Lady Anne Somerset Percy, the Countess of Northumberland.
Thomas Percy and family were Catholics but loyally served the English crown by improving English Border defenses earning him respect throughout the Borders on both sides. For a while Elizabeth Tudor, whose mother Anne Boleyn had a relationship with a Percy, held the Earl in high esteem. However, the same could be said for Queen Elizabeth’s secretary, William Cecil who disliked the power and especially the respect Thomas Percy had earned in the north and set about influencing Elizabeth against Percy by playing on her fears of Catholics who supported her cousin, Queen Mary of Scotland’s legitimate claim of Elizabeth’s throne. Percy had sympathized with the Catholic supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots and her right to rule Scotland but served his queen well. Cecil letting his jealousy have free reign sent a spy north to serve on the Border Commission who made life Lord Percy’s life so untenable he resigned his commission as the Border Warden for the Middle and East marches.
Thomas Percy, earl of Northumberland (pictured)
Cecil needing to discredit Percy informed Elizabeth of Percy’s copper mine where he was making great amounts of money that might be used in a rebellion against her. Elizabeth, fearing Papists behind every door and under every bed, with Cecil’s help seized not the mineral rights of the copper mine but also demanded all previous money earned on ore already sold be confiscated and given to the royal treasury and a fine was imposed on Percy. This was the last straw for many Borderers who saw this as a grave intrusion into the ancient rights of land ownership on the Borders. Soon groups of dissatisfied English Borderers organized a rebellion seeking to have the Duke of Norfolk replace Cecil. Thomas Percy rode to the Earl of Westmorland and Lord Dacre to meet with the group and try to discourage them. The Earl of Westmorland would only listen to his wife and Lord Dacre and the rebellion seemed eminent. Cecil heard of this meeting and claimed Percy led the rebellion against the queen. Meanwhile Lady Anne, ever the quiet but supportive wife tried to discourage her husband from being involved urging him to make peace with Queen Elizabeth when the dissenters were called to court. Percy as well as other northern nobles mistrusted the Queen but upon hearing an English force was heading to Topcliffe where his daughters were, he finally joined forces with the conspirators and never looked back. Soon pressure put on the outspoken leaders of the conspiracy, Lord Darce and Lady Westmorland, forced them to switch sides and join the Queens forces. Though Percy had the support from Catholics and Protestants borderers on both sides of the Anglo/Scottish Border, a letter of support from the Pope forced the Scottish Protestant supporters to withdraw. Things looked bleak for Lord and Lady Percy until the Spanish ambassador guaranteed safe passage to Holland for any of the rebels so so wished it. Percy declined claiming he had done nothing wrong and Anne stood by his side.
Throughout it all Lady Anne Somerset stood by her husband as an English army of 1000 men pursued them through the Borders. Knowing the Borders as they did Percy and the Earl of Westmorland headed for the debatable land where by Border Law no one could pursue them or remove them from the land. Along the way they stopped at fellow rebel Lord Leonard Darce’s castle so the Lady Percy could rest but were refused hospitality, even though Percy reminded him of his knightly duty to aid and comfort the Lady Anne. Yet along the way the simple Borderers in villages and farms on both sides gave them food and respect without betraying them to their pursuers. They finally found a safe place with the Armstrong family in the Scotland debatable land who Percy had previously shown clemency toward..Darce Castle in Cumberland
Meanwhile Cecil demanded the Scottish Regent capture and return Percy to England. The Regent Moray knew if he did this it would bring an uprising by Scottish Borderers in protest, as Border law forbid the taking of anyone from the Debatable land by force. Moray had a plan to safe face with the English and Scos a like and used a disgruntled Armstrong to betray Percy by telling him a party of the English was near and they needed to move to safer ground. However, by then Anne was in grave health from her ill treatment and couldn't be moved. Though Percy insisted he would remain by Anne’s side, she pleaded with him to go without her, to remain be safe for their daughters.. Outside of the debatable lands a Scottish army of the Regent captured Percy and Westmorland and took them to Edinburgh, as prisoners until a plan could be worked out that didn’t incite the Scottish people against the crown. Common Scottish folks loyalty lay with Lord Percy because he had respect for their Queen Mary, who was captive of the English queen.
When Cecil’s diplomatic means of getting Percy back failed, he sent an English army to the Scottish borders with the ultimatum Percy or Border warfare. Lord Moray, the regent responded by saying that if the English released the Queen Mary of Scotland they would release Percy to the English. The English forces entered Scotland but were trounced by the Scots and soldiers led by Lord Westmorland, while Percy remained in the Scottish prison. The embarrassed English then sent a much larger army where they attacked and burned 500 small villages and 50 keeps but no one on the Scottish side gave up any of the fugitives to the English forces and the quickly left.
Lady Percy now with the help of the Kerrs, Scotts and Humes came out of hiding hoping to help her husband and family escape to Holland. By then Lord Percy had been moved to a Loch Leven castle where he was under the care of Wm Douglas. Percy now too wealthy a prize for the Scottish monarchy to let go without compensation told Lady Percy if she could raise 10, 000 crowns they would release her husband to her care. Unable to get help from her English family and friends for fear of them receiving Elizabeth’s wrath, she had to go to the Continent to raise the funds. Meanwhile Douglas made a similar deal with the English. Lady Percy and party were delayed from leaving from Aberdeen as planned because Anne was in the painful process of giving birth to her youngest daughter, Mary who would never meet her father. When Anne finally arrived in Antwerp many supporters (Catholic and Protestant) of her husband’s cause had already donated 4.000 crowns and the remaining 6,000 crowns were donated by the Phillip, King of Spain. Douglas, Percy’s jailer not wanting to lose his valuable prisoner demanded Anne bring the money to him directly before Percy would be released. Unable or not trusting Douglas, Anne appealed to the Earl of Morton, head of the Douglas family for a more fair method but Morton was probably in league with the English and accepted their counter offer of the same amount which allowed him and not Wm Douglas to control the money.
On the Continent the Lady Percy hearing of her Lord’s death slipped into a silent world of grief, but soon awoke and attacked Queen Elizabeth and Cecil with a vengeance. She wrote a pamphlet (Discours des troubles du Comte du Northumberland) that was distributed all over the Continent in both Protestant and Catholic countries, telling of the wrongs Elizabeth and her minion Cecil perpetrated against their loyal subject Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland. This fueled the fires of Catholic hatred toward a most unwomanly queen, Elizabeth. Accusations of greed and power were evident in the Lady Percy’s writings but her opponents made much of Elizabeth’s fear of Catholics. Meanwhile Cecil alarmed at what this would do to the Elizabeth’s subjects wrote his own pamphlet refuting the charges, but the cunning Lady Percy reproduced her pamphlet side by side with Cecil’s making her accusations all the more stronger, angering Elizabeth to epic proportions similar to her father’s wrath.