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clan graham society


The First Graham of Netherby

BY JIM NETHERY
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

Lang Will's eldest son, Richard Graham, was the first Graham of Netherby. Who was this Lang Will (William Graham) and what was his title? John Graham’s book "Conditions of the Border at the Union," printed in 1905, gives us this description of Long Will starting on page 159:

"[In] 1552 the clan numbered 500 warriors, sturdy defenders of the Border, inhabiting thirteen strong towers, eight of which lay between Esk and Leven rivers. The leader to whom their ancient fame as a fighting clan was largely due, was William Graham of Stuble (Lang Will), a man of immense size and muscular strength, combined with a commanding personality. He seems to of (sic) had been one of those masterful spirits like Gilnockie (Johnnie Armstrong), thrown upon the surface in lawless times to control and direct the actions of the most untamable of men - an instrument capable of infinite mischief, but equally capable of great good if wisely enlisted on the side of law and order."

Lord Thomas Scrope of Bolton, the English Warden of the Western March, identified Lang Will as a Graham, laird of Mosskeswra. (D&G Trans., 1959-60, p. 105). Some time prior to May 1463, the lands of Mosskeswra, Nether Dryfe and Medokholm (sic Bedokholm) were granted or confirmed to William the Graham/Lang Will, by Herbert of Johnston. (D&W Trans., 1959-60,p. 89).

The career of William the Graham can be fitfully traced through the records. Between the years of 1476 to 1492 he was in trouble for violently possessing parts of the lands of his superior, the Earl of Morton, in addition to this there was a dispute with Mr. Alexander Murray, minister of the Kirk of Hutton. Lang Will was ingathering and detaining the teinds (tithe) of the church for more than a year (on the theory: "His land-his money!") but the Lords of Council had no hesitation in ruling in favor of Mr. Murray.

Lang Will was banished, lost his lands. He had no goods to be escheated (forfeited), a fugitive at the horn, outlawed and banished from Scotland. Should he be assaulted, imprisoned or even slain there was no redress for him as he was outwith the law. He could not escape to foreign service as many did, without forsaking his young family of six sons, Richard being the oldest. There was one refuge for him close at hand: 20 miles from Hutton Parish, Dumfriesshire, Scotland was the Debateable Land fast filling up with broken men from both sides of the Border. There were already many Grahams on the Border stark moss-trooping Scots" (Border Raiders) living there. Banishment was complete: if the outlaw merely stepped over the frontier into England. (D&W Trans.., 1959-60, p.91, 104-105; C&W Trans., 1911, p.70).

From the Northern Notes and Queries (Vol. I, No. 6, p. 116) we find the Border Grahams of the 16th century both numerous and warlike. In 1528 they were amongst the most troublesome of the Liddisdale Borders. William Graham/Lang Will, had taken up residence in Stuble, Armstrong country. This led to constant strife between the two most notorious riding families in the Western Marches, the Armstrongs and the Grahams. Richard Graham of Esk, eldest son of Lang Will, however married the daughter of the laird of Mangerton, an Armstrong. William Lord Dacre, the English Warden of the Western March, in 1528, made, as he thought, a secret raid to attack Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie's Hollows Tower in Eskdale. Though it was sacked by Lord Dacre, he and his troops fell into a trap and were badly mauled by Johnnie Armstrong’s people. While Lord Dacre was occupied with saving his skin, Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie slipped behind him and burnt the village of Netherby in England and a mill owned by Lord Dacre. Lord Dacre believed Johnnie Armstrong had news of his coming from Richard Graham, Richard being married to an Armstrong. Richard Graham was taken into custody by Lord Dacre on March 23, 1528, and delivered to Carlisle Castle’s high tower with fetters upon his feet. Thus shackled, he was charged with treason and awaited his execution. On Sunday the 29th Richard was allowed to go loose and unshackled up and down the castle by order of the under-sheriff, Sir William Musgrave, to eat in the dining hall and attend church services.

When the opportunity presented itself, as planned Richard leaped out by a privy postern which stood open to the fields where there was a man and a led horse ready for him. Richard galloped to Scotland taking shelter with the Scottish Warden, Lord Maxwell in Scotland. Later he was joined by his father, Lang Will (now of Stuble), his brothers and 30 family members. Richard succeeded in clearing himself of the charge of treason by proving that a member of the Storey family of Netherby and Mote had informed Johnnie Armstrong of Lord Dacre’s raid. The Storeys fearing Lord Dacre’s fury, fled into Northumberland. Their lands were occupied by the sons of Lang Will who promptly divided up the land amongst themselves. The lands of Netherby went to Lang Will’s oldest son, Richard, and the second son, Fergus Graham (note: not Fergus Graham of Plomp) received the lands of Mote. (C&W Trans., vol XXXII, p40, 1912 & GMF Steel Bonnets, p.64). Lord Hereis in his discourse on the Borders states the thieves of the March (Grahams) with English assistance had slain the Lord Carlyle, the lairds of Mouswauld, Kirkmichael, Kirkpatrick-Fleming and Logane and other landed men. He also asserted that the Grahams "gat of their ransoms and spuilzie gottin in Scotland, worth 100,000 merks," (obsolete silver Scottish coin worth 13 shillings and 4 pence, c.1710).

Then the Grahams built eight or nine towers impregnable to the power of the Scottish Warden. The present Netherby Hall was built around one of these ancient towers. Their neighbors were forced to take the Graham daughters in marriage without a tocher (dowry), which did not increase their popularity. In 1542 the Grahams were not more than 20-30 at most, by 1578 they were 16-18 score (320-360) well horsed. (R.P.O., iii,, 78 in D&G Trans., p.105, 1959-60).

When Jim and Mel Nethery of California and I along with our wives, Joyce, Dorothy and Christel visited Netherby Hall, August 2000, we were given a private tour by Mr. B. Robb, the present owner, who is not a Graham. The tour included the spiral steps of the ancient tower leading to one of the upper roofs of Netherby Hall. Bruce Graham, Chairman, Clan Graham Association of Scotland, was kind enough to arrange the tour for the Netherys. With the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603 the Kingdoms of Scotland and England were united under one crown. King James VI of Scotland who became James I of Great Britain set about to end lawlessness and bring peace and security to the Border regions. The Grahams of Esk, Netherby and Mote were then singled out for the most severe punishments. They were banished from their lands, hunted down and hung. Later the surviving young men of military age were shipped to Flushing and Brill in the Low Countries to fight against the Spaniards. Most of them, within a few months, had returned through Newcastle and the Forth where they sought refuge among the Carlisles, Johnstones and other families of the Scottish Marches. They would rather die at home than fight for the King in a foreign land. By 1606 death, banishment and outlawing had greatly reduced the Grahams, a major Western March Border Clan*. A clan that could raise over 500 men armed and horsed at any given time was now reduced to a fragment of its former self. In September 1606, 124 members of the clan under their chief, Walter Graham of Netherby, were transported from Workington, England, to Roscommon, Ireland. The clan was under the penalty of death should they return to Scotland or England. The reason for the persecution was not their lawlessness, though great predators and spoilers to both Scotland and England, it was their land, the most fertile land of the marches. The Earl of Cumberland, a favorite of King James I, desired the land. The Earl knew he could not allow the Grahams to remain in the area but must be transported out of the region, preferably overseas (i.e., Roscommon, Ireland). For the Earl to do otherwise would invite madness. The Border Grahams had a history of being extremely violent, vindictive and were capable of maintaining a bloody feud for years. Thus ends the reign of the first Grahams of Netherby. Starting with Richard Graham, eldest son of Lang Will, in 1528 and ending with Richard’s grandson, Walter of Netherby in 1603. King James I gifted to the Earl of Cumberland (George Clifford) the lands of Netherby which he held from 1603 to 1628. The Earl sold the lands to Sir Richard Graham, the second son of Fergus of Plomp in 1628.

Netherby no longer belongs to the Grahams. Netherby Hall and the grounds are being restored to its former self. The Transported Grahams, we read on page 370 of G. M. Fraser’s "Steel Bonnets," found the land in Roscommon had gone to waste and lacked wood and water. The rents were too high, laborers were few and demanded double wages.

The Grahams could not understand the language. There was a mutual dislike and distrust between the local Irish and the Grahams. The more enterprising of the local Irish suspected that the Grahams might be more than a match for them at fighting and stealing cattle. Worst of all the money subscribed to them towards the cost of settlement never reached them nor would it ever arrive, because Sir Ralph Sidley, a landowner of Roscommon, had pocketed it. In a matter of months the plantation was disintegrating, and within two years only half a dozen families of Grahams remained. Many returned to the Borders and Western Scotland under assumed names. As late as 1614 a proclamation was issued forbidding the Grahams from returning from Ireland or the Low Countries. The policy of banishment worked for a time being; the largest riding clan of the Western Border had been broken. It had been barbarously done, even allowing for the times.


*Clan or Family - The Scottish Parliament passed a statute in 1587: "For the quieting and keping in obiedince of the disorderit subiectis inhabitantis of the bordors hielands and Ilis." Attached to the statute is a Roll of the Clans, which contained both a Border portion and a Highland portion. The Border Roll of Clans names 17 of 77 Border families as clans. Among those named is the Clan Grahams of the Western Marches.

Border clans did practice some Gaelic (Highland) customs, such as tutorship when an heir who was minor succeeded to chiefship, and given manrent (leadership of men in war). Although feudalism existed, tribal locality was much more important, and this distinguished the Borderer from other lowland Scots. In fact the same is true of the English Border. (Web site: http://clanjohnston.org/corf.html)


NOTES

  • 1911: Transactions of the Cumberland & Westmorland/Antiquarian & Archaeological Society Vol. XI- New Series The Barony of Liddel and its Occupants by T.H.B. Graham Communicated at Carlisle, April 14th 1910, p. 70.
  • 1912: Transactions of the Cumberland & Westmorland/Antiquarian & Archaeological Society Vol. XII - New Series, p. 64 Dumfriesshire and Galloway, Natural history and Antiquarian Society, Transactions, 1959-60, Third Series Vol. XXXVII, The Border Grahams, p. 89, 91 & 105.

RECOMMENDED READING

  • The Condition of the Border at the Union by John Graham, 1905
  • The Steel Bonnets by George M. Fraser, 1971
  • The Border Reivers by Godfrey Watson, 1974