By Jon Tait
Hutcheon Graham of Gards
The Bishop of Carlisle was watching from the ramparts of Carlisle castle when
Hutcheon Graham and his crew of border reivers started riding out to plunder the
Cumbrian countryside following the death of Queen Elizabeth 1 in March 1603.
Hutcheon and his fellow horsemen – around 140 of his ‘kinsmen and friends, English
and Scottish’ – believed that the Laws of the land didn’t apply from when a monarch
died until a new one was appointed. Well, that was their story anyway, and they were
sticking with it. The reivers had always taken advantage in the chaos after a Royal had passed away and the powerful Kerrs and Scotts habitually took land and sheep from Royal grounds in the wake of a death.
Whether they believed it or not, the Bishop had warned Hutcheon beforehand not to
raid in what became known as the ‘Ill week’ or ‘Busy week.’ Soldiers from Berwick
were sent across to calm things down as the gang set up base in the village of Cargo- a place that paid Hutcheon Graham protection money in the form of ‘four pecks of
malt yearly for blackmail, these pecks being of Carlisle measure, 20 gallons to the
bushel’ from each husbandman – and hit the locality hard.
They raided Grinsdale, attacked a group of soldiers then robbed the places of Bow
and Orton, where they burned a house and took prisoners for ransoming. Hutcheon
and young Graham of Netherby were the captains of the raids and took an eighth
share of the loot that they’d lifted.
Hutcheon was eventually given a promise of remission by the new King, James VI/I,
but he hadn’t bothered to compensate those that he’d stolen from during the raiding as he was supposed to. His fellow raider Fergus Graham had his execution stayed in 1606 for his part in those ill-week raids after he paid up. Hutcheon’s remission was largely due to his assistance in helping the authorities in capturing Sandy’s Rinian Armstrong, who was one of those accused of murdering the Scottish West March warden Sir John Carmichael in 1600; so no honour among thieves, then.
Graham refused to go and serve as a soldier in the Low Countries (Netherlands) as 72 others of his surname had done, then encouraged another 19 to go on the run with him across the border into Scotland, being named as the ringleader and a real pain for the authorities on the Commission that had to deal with the border villains.
The old Bishop was still grumbling about Hutcheon in 1607 even after he’d
eventually been sent away on a boat to Ireland. His wife was back, but ‘had showed
neither herself nor her pass’ to the churchman. Even worse, Hutcheon, along with
John Graham of the Lake and George Graham of Mill Hill, had been granted licence
to return to Cumbria to collect debts and ‘other necessary occasions’ for two months
by the Lord Deputy of Ireland. The Bishop said that the area had been quiet but a
number of felonies had been done by English and Scottish fugitives who lurked in the
Although they knew where the criminals were hiding out, the Bishop and Sir Wilfred
Lawson, one of the Commissioners, were annoyed because they’d told the authorities where they were but nothing had been done. He felt that ‘great danger would ensue.’ Hutcheon was back on the border.
Bio: Jon Tait is a UK-based journalist and the author of the historic true crime book ‘Dick the Devil’s Bairns : Breaking the Border Mafia’ about the notorious Anglo-Scottish border reivers. His book can be found HERE. If you live in England it can be found HERE. If you live in Canada it can bought HERE. If you are in Australia you find it HERE.
The Yard: Crime Blog will be posting several more Historical True Crime articles by Jon, in the very near future. Read Meet The Medieval Mafia #1 HERE. And the Medieval Mafia # 2 HERE. Part 3 can be found HERE.