Debatable Lands

The term 'debatable lands' is first recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary in relation to disputed areas of the Anglo-Scottish border. The border between England and Scotland was substantially agreed in 1237, but disputes over some stretches continued at least until 1552. Used in the plural 'debatable lands' refer to any parts of the border held to be doubtful; in the singular it usually refers to the area in the west between the Rivers Esk and Sark, where the border agreed in 1552 is marked on modern maps as 'The Scots Dyke'. The term has been used in recent years in various geographical and metaphorical senses by writers and singers, and we look forward to further uses from conference participants.

The most prominent Border clans in the Debatable Land were the Armstrongs on the Scots side and the Grahams on the English. The painting by William James Blacklock reproduced on the Home Page shows Hollows Tower, a mid-sixteenth century stronghold of the Armstrongs in the Debatable Land. Blacklock's title, 'Gilnockie Tower', is an allusion to the ballad of 'Johnie Armstrong', whose flamboyant reiver hero is 'Laird of Gilnockie'. The remains of the historical Gilnockie, plundered to make a bridge over the Esk, are nearby.

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[Map c. 1590 showing 'debatable land'] [Modern images from the 'debatable lands']