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Roxburghshire, Scotland

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This county is part of the Scotland Project.

Roxburgh is a quiet, historic village with a population of less than 500, giving its name to a municipal district in the Scottish Borders council area of Scotland. It is located a couple of miles South West of Kelso, nestled between the rivers Tweed and Teviot, amid lush farmland surrounded by hills. It is (or was) a Royal burgh, and is still a Dukedom, with the 10th Duke sat at nearby Floors Castle (1718).

To understand the importance of Roxburghshire, one must look at the geography and over three thousand years of bloody Scottish history. It sits between two Roman walls, the Antonine to the North, and Hadrian's to the South. Since then it has changed hands many times, and been accounted part of several kingdoms, most lately Scotland, England and finally the United Kingdom.

Under the Eildon Hills lies the site of Trimontium, an outpost of the Roman Empire from around the 1st century AD. It is suggested this fort was built and rebuilt several times in this troublesome period of Roman history.

Around 634, Saint Cuthbert was born in an area said to be close to a newly built monastery near Melrose, in what was the Kingdom of Northumbria. Cuthbert was appointed Prior at Melrose, and then at Lindisfarne, was promoted to Bishop, before retiring to become a hermit. Now the Patron Saint of Northern England, Cuthbert spent large portions of his life establishing the new religion of Christianity to the largely Pagan native population. He would return to Melrose many times, both in life and in death. St Cuthbert's Way is a scenic walking route stretching from Melrose to Holy Island, based on the life and travels of the Saint.

The monastery was raided, and possibly destroyed around the 9th Century by Kenneth I of Scotland, in a time of great conflict with the Danes.

The Sherrifdom or Shire of Roxburgh dates from the 12th century, when King David I of Scotland settled there and sought to improve the fortunes of the area, granting a charter for one of the first royal burghs in Scotland. Indeed it appears that he ignored the existing village in the Parish of Roxburgh, and built up New Roxburgh closer to the castle, perched as it was atop an outcrop defended by the converging Tweed and Teviot waters, within sight of Kelso. Such was his success, Roxburgh was considered as important politically, economically, and religiously as Edinburgh.

During this time David gifted lands to Cistercian monks, who built Melrose Abbey, Augustinian monks, who built Jedburgh Abbey, Tironensian monks, who built Kelso Abbey, and assisted the Premonstratensian monks in founding Dryburgh Abbey.

By 1174 Roxburgh Castle was ceded to the English along with the sovereignty of Scotland in payment for a disastrous invasion by William the Lion.

Fortunately for Scotland, she was sold back to William by a desperate Richard, Ceur de Lion, much in need of coin for his adventures in the Holy Land.

1313 saw Roxburgh Castle having to be retaken from English hands in The Siege of Roxburgh during the first War of Scottish Independence.

Edward II destroyed much of Melrose Abbey in 1322, and it was put to flame again in 1385 by Richard II.

After his death in 1329, the heart of Robert the Bruce was laid to rest in Melrose Abbey. One of the last requests of a dying king.

Between 1380 and 1400, various forms of truce, some for as little as 1 year, were agreed between the two nations, by sending documents to the abbeys at Melrose and Kelso.

Roxburgh Castle was later destroyed in 1460, during the Anglo-Scottish wars by the Scots, to deny it to the English, although the death of James II when one of his own cannon exploded may have influenced this decision. His infant son was hastened to Kelso Abbey to be crowned the next King of Scotland, James III.

The 1520's saw Henry VIII determined to meddle in Scottish affairs, sending troops to lay waste to Southern Scotland. During such time Kelso Abbey was heavily damaged.

1543 began "The Rough Wooing", a forceable attempt by Henry VIII to arrange the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots and his son Edward. Melrose Abbey was once again a casualty of war, a wound from which it never fully recovered. The abbeys at Dryburgh, Jedburgh and Kelso were similarly affected in the conflict.

1566 saw Mary Stuart holding court in a house near Jedburgh Abbey.

A vengeful Queen Elizabeth put most of the county to the torch in 1570, to try once and for all to put an end to the Border Reivers.

The Reformation, late in the 16th century saw vast tracts of land taken from the religious orders by the crown, and then parceled out as favour. Francis, Earl of Bothwell, Admiral of Scotland was given much of the area around Kelso. One cannot escape unscathed from high treason, however, and the lands were once again confiscated by the crown. Sir Robert Kerr of Cessford was the beneficiary, and an Act of Parliament conferred the estates unto him in 1607. The legal precedent this created sat uncomfortably with some, however, and in 1747, with due financial compensation to Robert's descendant the Duke of Roxburge, the legal standing of Kelso was changed once more.

1639 saw Kelso once again become a stageing area, this time as the Covenanters prepared to defend their religious freedoms from a now unified British crown worn by Charles I. The rebellion of 1715 also used Kelso as a mustering point for the various forces, and again in 1745.

Although born in Edinburgh (1771), Sir Walter Scott was sent to Sandyknowe Farm in Roxburghshire to live with his grandparents after contracting polio in infancy, and repeatedly returns to the area during his formative and school years. In 1811 he starts the project that would be known as Abbotsford House, near Melrose. He would spend most of the rest of his life there, and finally dies there in September 1832. His body was interred beside his wife in nearby Dryburgh Abbey.

The County of Roxburgh was the first Scottish county to receive a grant of arms. This was made by Lord Lyon King of Arms on 9 July 1798. The coat of arms seems to have been granted for the use of the volunteer and militia units then being organised under the authority of the county's lord lieutenant. When the county council was formed in 1890, the arms passed to them.

The shield depicted a unicorn, a national symbol of Scotland. At the top of the shield was a hunting horn between two helmets: probably a reference to the border reivers, one of whom featured in the arms of the royal burgh of Jedburgh. The crest above the shield was an armoured arm brandishing a scimitar. The Latin motto was "Ne Cede Malis Sed Contra Audentior Ito" or Yield not to misfortunes (evil things) but go on more boldly against them, a quotation from Virgil's Aeneid 6, 95.

On 6 May 1975 the coat of arms was regranted to Roxburgh District Council, without the crest. When the district council was abolished in 1996, the arms reverted to The Crown.

Eminent Borderers

1707 - Sir John Pringle, physician to royalty, and respected author.

Research/Resource Links

GenUKI Roxburghshire resources

A Topographical and Historical Account of the Town of Kelso, and of the Town and Castle of Roxburgh - archive.org

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Categories: Scottish Counties