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The Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers Paperback – May, 2001

4.5 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A splendid book, both scholarly and readable, accurate and alive...This is a book which any historian can envy." -- Hugh Trevor-Roper

From the Publisher

From the late 13th century to the middle of the 16th, war and peace were not very different for the people of the borderlands between England and Scotland, where feud and terror, raid and reprisal, blackmail and blood oaths were the everyday stuff of life. Wielding the narrative genius of a great storyteller, Fraser chronicles Border history, vividly depicting the "guerrilla" lives and strenuous times of the merciless "Reivers" who made lawlessness the "custom of the country." This fascinating work of history is irresistibly compelling-- and thrilling too.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 404 pages
  • Publisher: Akadine Press; First Akadine Press Edition edition (May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585790257
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585790258
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,241,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Until England and Scotland were united under a single king in March 1603, the border between them was, unsurprisingly, a natural place for strife and disorder. The two countries had been at war intermittently for centuries, and many armies had passed back and forth across the border counties. Fraser's history covers the last hundred years of the border, from 1503 to 1603, a period during which the decayed (and astonishingly corrupt) administration could never cope with the local gangs -- known as "reivers" -- who terrorized the district with cattle theft, murder, and arson.

The book is very well-organized. Fraser starts with a few pages on the long historical background, then takes about half the book to cover the reivers by topic: chapters on arms and armour; on reiving technique; on the key families and their alliances; on cross-border relations; on the administrative structure. Fraser gives a lot of details, and plenty of quotes from the original sources (with the original spellings!).

This painstaking coverage sets up the second half of the book perfectly: one hundred and forty pages that cover the history of the border chronologically through the sixteenth century. With the details in hand, the second half is easy to follow and put in context; the writing is also clear and entertaining.

The last section of the book details the uncompromising way in which King James I destroyed the reivers in a few short years after 1603. It is a startlingly bloodthirsty story: Fraser includes quotes from blanket pardons that King James issued to some of his enforcers, which essentially say "whatever murders you did, I'm sure it was in a good cause, and you're absolved".
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Format: Paperback
I was born in Carlisle, England. The second big town of the border area other than Berwick. My father is from Longtown, Cumbria which is right next to the debateable land and I have the last name of Crozier. This book was like reading about my own history and explained a whole lot of things about my home town and the people I grew up with. Just in my neighborhood, there were Armstrongs, Taylors, Littles, Nixons, Grahams and many other Reiver names.
This is a very scholarly book and exceptionally well written. The author must have done an incredible amount of research to put this together. I read it twice, the second time noting how many references to Croziers(Crosers) there were. My father's family name is in there 26 times. Along with the Armstrongs, Nixons and Eliots, we were considered the worst of the worst of the reivers. Maybe not something to be proud of, but interesting. According to my mother(God rest her soul)her paternal grandfather was the illegitmate son of the Duke of Buccleugh(you'll hear a lot about the Scotts of Buccleugh, many of whom had the same name of Walter, including the famous one), so I have Reiver blood from there too. Fascinating book especially if you have a surname that might go back to that part of the world and those times.
What I have written here is just a taste of the whole book. A little heavy going at times, but so good that I have read it twice already and now use it as a research tool.
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Format: Paperback
MacDonald Fraser brings to the history of the Anglo-Scots border reivers all the exuberance and attention to detail that made his name in the Flashman novels. Readers looking for more gloriously politically-incorrect adventures from the Victorian age won't find them here, but this book does repay the extra effort needed from the reader. The Steel Bonnets is the most entertaining yet informative serious works of history I have read.
The story of the Anglo-Scots border is a complex and a bloody one. MacDonald Fraser manages to understand, without condoning, the hard men who fought and died, rode and raided across the border between the kingdoms of England and Scotland. He untangles the knotted threads of their family ties and feuds and reveals their part in the wider relations between England and Scotland prior to the union of the Crowns in 1603. He dives into the dusty depths of the written records and brings them back to us red in tooth and claw.
At a time when the border between England and Scotland looks as though it may become an international, rather than a domestic border once more, this book should be of relevence to all with an interest in and love of these two nations.
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Format: Paperback
This book is the definitive history of the riding families -- the Border Reviers. It is a long scholarly look into the nature of these complex and determined families that does not pass judgment or apply modern values in the assessment of their history and deeds. This is not for the casusal reader. It uses a fair amount of old English spellings and can be an effort to decifer at times. However Fraser MacDonald combines this along with his natural story telling ability to make you feel as if you are on a foray across the border and it keeps you coming back for more. If you are a student of Border history or are lucky enough to have one of the riding names, make the effort to read this book. It has no equal in its treatment of the subject.
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