The Debatable Land by Graham Robb

For those with an interest in British history, the border country of Scotland and EnglandDebatable Land is always a fascinating area to study.

The Debatable Land comprises the southwesternmost section of the Borders.  When the two countries were independent of each other, this area developed a long reputation for inaccessibility and lawlessness.  The reiver culture, in which rival families on both sides raided and stole from each other, defined much of the border region.

The Debatable Land functioned almost as a country unto itself.  Officials from either side were often clueless about governing the area.  The reivers themselves varied.  Certain high-handed individuals plundered their neighbors ruthlessly; others allied with whomever was the flavor of the month in power.  To call oneself English or Scottish was a state of flux.

This book is a study of the geography and the unique environment that gave rise to the culture of the borders.  The main focus of the book is the five hundred year stretch of time prior to the unification of Scotland and England, when the culture of the reivers was most active.  The author also expounds on Arthurian legend, Celtic and Roman influences in the area, and how the Scottish referendum of 2014 affected the border region.

The Debatable Land is fascinating in detail, but can be a bit of a slog in places.  However, for those who love historical minutiae and maps, and don’t mind digesting it slowly, the book is a worthwhile read.

If you’re interested in other books about the Borders of Scotland and England, try The Marches : A Borderland Journey between England and Scotland and/or Battle Valleys : A Portrait of the Border.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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