Join BookBrowse today and get access to free books, our twice monthly digital magazine, and more.

Reiving: Background information when reading Fair Helen

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Fair Helen

by Andrew Greig

Fair Helen by Andrew Greig X
Fair Helen by Andrew Greig
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2015, 384 pages

    Paperback:
    Nov 2016, 260 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reiving

This article relates to Fair Helen

Print Review

In the 14th century, the land on either side of the border between England and Scotland became known as the "Border Country" or "The Borders." This area, where Fair Helen is set, was frequently used as a thoroughfare by English and Scottish armies, and consequently the residents were constantly impoverished as the militias sought to supply themselves from local crops and livestock. The area also suffered from a lack of law and order; defense of property came only with the help from family and so the bonds of the clans were reinforced. Amidst this lawlessness and poverty a new occupation was born: that of reiver. Almost all the male characters in Fair Helen are reivers.

Reiving refers to the plundering or raiding of livestock, although any personal property was fair game. Generally a party of men, numbering 12 to 50, would ride out at night and steal a laird's cattle or sheep under the supposed ethos that all property was common, and so they were really only taking what was theirs. Most raids took place between Lammas, August 1, and Candlemas, February 2.

Reivers Raid on Gilnockie Tower These raiding parties were planned like military operations and could last for days. The reivers were heavily armed and dressed for war, too, often wearing a steel "bonnet" and leather jackets lined with steel plates or horn. Their weaponry included swords, daggers, axes, a "lang spear" (akin to a lance), and later, pistols. Their small, sturdy ponies, known as "hobblers," could cover large swaths of difficult ground at high speed, making them especially suited for their task. The escape from the scene of the crime was extremely hazardous as the band could only flee at the pace of the slowest animal.

There was also a distinct type of action which could occur at any time of year called the "Hot-Trod," in which revenge was permitted against a clan guilty of reiving as long as the theft had occurred no more than six days prior. This tit-for-tat violence remained common until the early 17th century, when James VI of Scotland added James I of England to his titles. The final straw was a raid by James' Scottish citizens on his newly acquired subjects in Cumbria in the north of England. Adding fuel to the fire was the reivers' statement to the monarchy that with Queen Elizabeth dead, England had no ruler at all until another one was officially crowned, and therefore their actions weren't subject to the law. James issued a proclamation in response to bring order to the region; the term "The Borders" was formally forbidden and the area was renamed "the Middle Shires." In the first year, the crown executed 79 individuals for being rebellious and disorderly, and others were exiled to the far corners of the newly dubbed Great Britain. Residents of the Middle Shires were forbidden to carry weapons or to own a horse worth more than 50 shillings, and those who violated these ordinances were stripped of their land. By the early 1620s, peace was the norm in the region, with reiving being mostly stamped out by the end of the century.

There was no social stigma associated with being a reiver – it was just what one did for a living – and reivers came from every social class; indeed, it was the principal occupation of many Border families. There is some debate as to whether the reivers were bands of daring rogues or more akin to the Sicilian Mafia. Many ballads romanticized their deeds, and Sir Walter Scott further idealized them in his 1802-1803 collection of Border Ballads published as The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, which serves as the inspiration for Fair Helen.

Picture of Reivers raid on Gilnockie Tower by G Cattermole

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to Fair Helen. It originally ran in January 2016 and has been updated for the November 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Sicilian Inheritance
    The Sicilian Inheritance
    by Jo Piazza
    Sara Marsala is going through a rough patch, to say the least. In the process of divorcing from her ...
  • Book Jacket: The Light Eaters
    The Light Eaters
    by Zoë Schlanger
    The human race is completely dependent on plants. Many people, however, give little thought to ...
  • Book Jacket: Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves
    Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves
    by J Drew Lanham
    As a recipient of the MacArthur "Genius" Grant, and a Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master ...
  • Book Jacket: Glorious Exploits
    Glorious Exploits
    by Ferdia Lennon
    Lampo and Gelon are two unemployed potters in their thirties whose lives are spent between their ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Romantic Comedy
by Curtis Sittenfeld
A comedy writer's stance on love shifts when a pop star challenges her assumptions in this witty and touching novel.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    This Strange Eventful History
    by Claire Messud

    An immersive, masterful story of a family born on the wrong side of history.

  • Book Jacket

    Daughters of Shandong
    by Eve J. Chung

    Eve J. Chung's debut novel recounts a family's flight to Taiwan during China's Communist revolution.

Win This Book
Win Only the Brave

Only the Brave by Danielle Steel

A powerful, sweeping historical novel about a courageous woman in World War II Germany.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

F T a T

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.