Keith Durham's "Border Reiver 1513-1603" tells the story of the troubled lands on both sides of the border between England and Scotland and the warlike societies who found it more expedient to make a living by blackmail, plunder and raiding than by what passed for normal economic activity in other parts of both countries at the time.
The Borderlands had been fought over and crossed and recrossed by invading armies at frequent intervals in the two centuries preceding the Battle of Flodden Field on 9 September 1513, and had in effect become a buffer zone between England and Scotland. The battle was a complete disaster for the Scots, who under James IV had invaded northern England in support of the French, who had in turn been invaded by Henry VIII. The Scots lost up to 10,000 dead out of an army of some 25,000: including the king and a whole generation of the Scottish nobility. The battle marks the starting point for the author's depiction of an anarchic century in the Borderlands which only came to an end after the union of the crowns of Scotland and England under James VI/I in 1603.
The picture Keith Durham paints is of utterly dysfunctional societies on both sides of the border, in which the only mitigating factors were the rich veins of ballad and folklore which arose, and the tradition of superb horsemanship: both now important parts of the character of the areas. Trying to maintain both the rule of law and military order (while often also trying to further their own interests) were the March Wardens, appointed to govern the eastern, central and western sections either side of the border on behalf of their respective monarchs. Much of the story revolves around the interactions between the March Wardens and the most important reiver families, and the interactions between each March Warden and their opposite number on the other side of the border.
The book is copiously illustrated with photographs from the author's collection, of important localities and of re-enactors wearing clothing and equipment of the era. There is also a series of excellent colour illustrations, many full page, by Gerry and Sam Embleton. The illustrations mesh well with the text and the end result is a book which, though far from a traditional account of opposing armies or a military campaign, gives an excellent insight into a time and place this reviewer concludes is far better to read about than it would have been to live in.