History of the Scottish Borders

The Scottish Borders is exceptionally rich in cultural heritage. From its mysterious hillforts, to its ruined abbeys to the picturesque stately homes and designed landscapes, the Borders feels timeless. A walk in the Cheviots, the Tweed Valley or high up in the Lammermuirs brings you into direct contact with Neolithic and Bronze Age burials, Iron Age farms and forts, medieval churches and castles, Reiver towers, fateful battlefields, woollen mills that supplied an empire and towns and farms that to this day retain their own identities. The Borders has long been a place that connects the nation, and this unique position in time and place has created a place worth getting to know. You can begin your journey here.

The following pages are designed to give a flavour of the Scottish Borders rich and varied history:

Pre History, the Dark Ages, Hunters and Farmers

Roman Invasion

Angles and Scots

Dark Ages to Post Medieval

Development of a Border, Feudalism and War

Union and Thereafter

Christianity and the Borders

Medieval to 20th Century

Industrial Advances and Manufacturing

4400 million years ago The Earth forms and gradually cools, with an atmosphere and oceans over most of its surface. Period
500 to 400 million years ago In the Iapetus Ocean of the Southern Hemisphere the bodies of simple shell fish and other dead marine animals and sink into sediments which are compressed by colliding continents and pushed up to form the Southern Uplands. Ordovician and Silurian eras
400 million years ago Volcanic activity associated with the closing of the Iapetus Ocean creates the rocks of the Pentland Hills, St Abbs Head and the Cheviot Hills Devonian era
370 million years ago Primitive fish, amphibians and plants live in or beside lakes and lagoons, which fill with silt from adjacent barren deserts to form the Old Red Sandstone of the eastern Borders.  These rocks lie unconformably over the weathered surface of earlier hills near Cockburnspath and at Jedburgh.  During this period the Borders lie at a latitude of about 15° South.
355 million years ago Much of the land subsides beneath freshwater lagoons and quiet tropical seas; the Southern Uplands form islands adjacent to the land mass represented by the Scottish Highlands.
350 million years ago Buckling of the earth’s crust causes volcanic activity in the form of vents and dykes which produce the rocks of the Kelso Traps, the Eildon Hills and Rubers Law.
340 million years ago Warm seas filled with coral reefs and marine life deposit muds which become limestones rich in fossils and outcrop around West Linton and near the mouth of the Tweed. Carboniferous era
330 million years ago Around the shores of the Southern Uplands, a broad coastal plain threaded by river estuaries emerges from the sea and becomes covered with equatorial rain forest full of insects and inhabited by lizards.  Invasion by the sea kills off the forest, and the sea eventually withdraws and the cycle begins again.  The peat bogs formed by the forest fossilize into the coal seams of the Central Valley of Scotland (still worked at West Linton) and Northumberland.
65 million years ago Now lying in latitudes of about 48°N, the Borders have been dry land since about 280 million years ago, and subject to erosion and stresses which buckle the earth’s crust and cause fault lines which fill with lava, forming basalt dykes near Hawick.  This is the last phase of rock formation in the Borders. Tertiary era
2 million years ago Onset of arctic conditions covers the Borders with thick glaciers and ice sheets which round off valley sides and rock outcrops, and pulverise and transport rock fragments which are deposited when the ice thaws.  This process is repeated many times as temperature patterns fluctuate. Pleistocene
15,000 years ago Melting ice leaves many moraines, eskers and drumlins exposed in a bleak tundra landscape.
12,000 years ago After a cooler interval, temperatures begin to rise again and mixed forest grows up over all but the highest peaks in the Borders.  Hunter-gatherers occupy the forests and subsist on wild game and plants. Holocene /


9,000 years ago Rise in sea level finally separates Britain from the European continent, halting natural colonisation by terrestrial animals and many plant species.
4,000 BC Woodland clearance for agriculture begins, with introduction of farming methods and domesticated animal breeds, including sheep and goats. Neolithic
2,500 BC Population growth, sustained by agriculture, leads to development of hierarchical chiefdom societies with individual burials and ceremonial monuments as expressions of personal prestige.
2,000 BC Metalworking based on copper, in combination with tin to produce bronze, forms the basis of a new technology and encourages development of trading links. Bronze Age
500 BC Unstable social conditions are represented by hillforts at a time when iron technology is expanding the available range of tools and weapons.  In time conditions stabilize as strong leaders emerge and fortifications go out of use. Iron Age
1st century The first of a series of invasions by Roman troops manages to conquer the Borders for the province of Britannia, and establish occupying garrisons, which are pulled back to Hadrian’s Wall in due course.  This pattern continues into the 3rd century ad. Roman period
2nd –  6th century Heathen Germanic settlers speaking Old English occupy the Tweed lowlands, which becomes part of the kingdom of Northumbria, but the upper Tweed remains part of the Christian British kingdom of Strathclyde, where Old Welsh is spoken. Dark Ages




Events in the Borders The Wider Picture
5th – 7th centuries

Immigration Period.

603:  The battle of Degsastan postpones expansion of the Scotti.


The Scotti extend Irish Dalriada to include the west coast;  The Angli establish the kingdom of Bernicia, which later formed part of Northumbria, as far as the Forth.
8th-13th Centuries

Gradual Consolidation of kingdoms

760: The Battle of Eildon establishes Aethelwold on the Bernician throne.

1018: The battle of Carham confirms Scottish possession of lands as far as the River Tweed

12th Century: Royal castles built at Berwick, Roxburgh, Jedburgh, Selkirk and Peebles.



Expansion of Dalriadan power to incorporate Pictland, Strathclyde and Lothian to the Tweed

Emergence of Scotland and England as political entities, with the national border between the Solway and Tweedmouth

Scottish involvement in English civil wars.


Wars of Independence.


Royal castles change hands as fortunes wax and wane.

1297:  William Wallace pursues the English to Hutton Moor after the battle of Stirling Bridge.

1303:  Wallace defeated by an English raiding party at Happrew but continues a guerrilla war from Ettrick Forest.

1333:  Berwick captured by the English after the battle of Halidon Hill.

1355:  Franco-Scottish force defeated the English in a skirmish on Nisbet Moor.

1357:  Treaty of Berwick.

Struggle for power following the death of Margaret, used to personal advantage by Edward I of England.

John and Edward of Balliol supported by England;  Robert and David of Bruce represent Scottish independence.

Robert I defeats Edward II of England and carries the war into England.

David II captured after the battle of Neville’s Cross and held prisoner in England for eleven years, but still manages to conclude a peace with Edward III, who then makes no further attempt to conquer Scotland.


Later 14th – 15th centuries

Sporadic warfare.


1385:  Melrose Abbey burnt by the English.

1436:  The Scots repel an English force at Piperdean.

1460:  Roxburgh Castle captured from the English and destroyed.

Hostilities with England maintained in an alliance with France.

Border knights fight for France in the Hundred Years War.

1482:  Berwick captured and incorporated into England.

16th century

Further struggles to maintain Scotland’s independence.


1522-3:  The Earl of Surrey raids the Borders and sacks Jedburgh.

1526:  A bid to capture the young king fails at Skirmish Field.

1542:  English beaten at Hadden Rig

1545:  Scots victory at Ancrum Moor;  Hertford’s Raid devastates much of the Borders.

1547-57:  The English and French build forts in Borders.

1558:  The Treaty of Cateau-Cambrèsis concluded in Ladykirk Church .

1575:  Redeswire Fray breaks out at Wardens’ Meeting.

The marriage between James IV and Margaret Tudor is followed by the disaster at Flodden and the death of James (1513).  There follows a power struggle for control of young James V.


The death of James V (1542) leads to Anglo-French rivalry for the hand of the infant Queen Mary and the domination of Scotland.


Sporadic civil war is driven by political and religious motives and linked to foreign intervention.  This culminates in the Reformation (1560).

Growing lawlessness in the Borderlands.

17th and 18th centuries

Bishops’ Wars; Civil War.

Jacobite risings.


1639:  English and Scottish stand-off in Berwickshire.

1645:  The battle of Philiphaugh cuts short Royalist recruiting in the Borders.

1715:  The Jacobite standard is raised in Kelso.

1745-6:  Charles Edward Stuart in the Borders.


1603:  The Union of Crowns removes the circumstances which favour border raiding.

Charles I antagonises large numbers of Scottish and English subjects his policies.

Establishment of permanent standing army.

The Revolution of 1688 deposes James VII, but leads to later Jacobite bids for power from Scotland.

1707:  Act of Union between Scotland and England.

19th and 20th centuries

Imperial expansion and World Wars.

Decline of the Empire.

The King’s Own Scottish Borderers serve in many campaigns overseas.

1903:  Stobs training camp established.

1914-18:  Berwickshire airfields built.

1943:  Charlesfield munitions factory opens.


Head start in agricultural and industrial growth initially provide the basis for a world-wide empire, policed by the Royal Navy and British Army.

Global conflicts involve the whole population, followed by the loss of the empire and a much reduced need for substantial armed forces.