General lawlessness continued in the chaos of the religious and civil wars of the late 1630s and 40s and during the religious persecution of the later 17th century known as the “Killing Times”. This period was still recalled in oral tradition into the 20th century. In the Cheviot Hills, thieves known as “mosstroopers” remained active after the suppression of the reiving families by James VI, and construction of fortified homes continued by those who were yet to be convinced that peaceful times had arrived.
Although continued hostility was difficult to sustain when one king ruled both nations, King Charles I did his best in his two military adventures to impose the Church of England on the Scots (the so-called “Bishops’ Wars” of 1639-40). Moreover, he divided society in the two countries so successfully that both were torn by civil wars in the 1640s.
Charles’ opponents in the “Bishops’ Wars” were Covenanters – supporters of the revolutionary document known as the National Covenant, which denounced Roman Catholicism and the tendency of Charles’ policies in that direction, while at the same time it asserted the power and rights of the elected parliament. In 1639, Covenanting forces camped on Duns Law which they fortified with earthworks, while Charles’ troops camped on the south bank of the Tweed. His troops crossed the river via a bridge of boats which was guarded by fortifications on the site of Paxton House (Hutton). This first confrontation was relatively bloodless and concluded in the Peace of Berwick, which was so unsatisfactory that in the following year the Covenanters invaded England and forced Charles to concede to their demands.
The Covenanters proved to be natural allies to the Parliamentary side in the English Civil War and although this widened to Scotland in 1644, the lack of royalist support in the Borders meant that most of the fighting took place further north, where the Marquis of Montrose won a dazzling series of victories for the king. Montrose travelled to the Borders in an attempt to raise support for Charles, but met with opposition and was routed at the Battle of Philiphaugh (Selkirk) on 13 September 1645. His son, the future King Charles II, gained support in Scotland, which provoked invasion and conquest by a force under Oliver Cromwell in 1650. Cromwell battered Coldingham Priory with artillery and decisively defeated Leslie’s army at Dunbar. His men were quartered throughout the Borders in the towns and villages where the inhabitants were obliged to provide them with food and shelter.