Willie o’ Scales

Willie O' Scales

Said Willie o' Scales, at break of day,
"The hunt's up! I must busk and away!
Steed, good wife? and saddle? I trow,
Willie o' Scales is steed enow."

—Scotland's King is a hunting gone:
Willie o' Scales, he runs alone:
Knights and Nobles many a score:
Hounds full twenty tongues and more.

Through the covert the deer he sprang:
Over the heather the music rang.
Dogs and steeds well speeded they:
But Willie o' Scales, he show'd the way.

For speed of foot had Willie no peer.
He outstripp'd the horses, dogs, and deer.
He left the Nobles far behind.
He pass'd the King like a puff of wind.

At the close of day, with a greenwood bough,
Beside the deer he fann'd his brow.
And "There, my liege!" to the Monarch he said,
"Is as gallant a stag as ever lay dead.

"I count him fleet, for a stag of ten!"—
—"And I count thee chief of my Border men.
No gallanter heart, I dare be sworn,
Ever drew the shaft or wound the horn.

"No trustier hand than thine was found
When foes to Scotland hemm'd us round.
Now swifter of foot than our fleetest deer—
We'll try thy hold upon land and gear.

"For his speed in sport, for his might in fray,
Write, 'Gill's  broad lands' to 'Willie, the Rae !'
And for ever a Willie the Rae be here,
When the King comes by to hunt the deer."—

Thus spoke King William, where he stood,
The Lion of Scotland, fierce of mood.
And musing turned, and look'd again
On his Border vassal; and cross'd the plain.

Centuries long have rolled away:
The Monarch is dust, his Nobles clay:
Old lines are changed, are changing still:
But Willie the Rae is lord of Gill.

Notes to "Willie O' Scales."

The long and scattered hamlet of High and Low Scales, is on the west side of Crummock Beck, near Bromfield, and a few miles from Wigton in Cumberland. Skells or scales, from a Saxon or Gothic word signifying a cover, was the name given to those slight temporary huts made of turf or sods which in the mountainous district of this county and Scotland are called Bields. They were erected most commonly for the shelter of shepherds; and during the later periods, in the border wars to protect the persons who were appointed to watch the cattle of the neighbourhood. Few estates in the kingdom have belonged to one family longer than this of The Gill , which was formerly, however, much more extensive, comprising most probably the neighbouring hamlet of Scales. Another somewhat uncommon circumstance belonging to it is, that, to the close of last century, and for anything we know to the contrary, to a much later date, the owner had always lived on and occupied it himself; it had never been in the hands of a farmer.

The Reays of Gill, however variously their name has been spelled and pronounced by different branches of the family, derived it from one on whom it was undoubtedly bestowed as being characteristical and descriptive of himself. The active hunter, the companion and the friend of William the Lion, was called in the commoner Saxon language of his time Ra, or Raa, a Roe, from his unparalleled swiftness. In Scotland and Germany a roe is still pronounced rae, as it was formerly in England.

"When the deer and the rae
Lightly bounding together,
Sport the lang simmer day
On the braes of Balquhither."

The tradition is that the head, or chief, of this family had a grant of the lands of Gill to him, and his heirs for ever, from William the Lion, King of Scotland, whose eventful reign lasted nearly half a century; and who died in 1214. This grant is said to have been made, not only as a reward for his fidelity to his prince, but as a memorial of his extraordinary swiftness of foot in pursuing the deer, outstripping in fleetness most of the horses and dogs. The conditions of the grants were, that he should pay a pepper corn yearly, as an acknowledgment, and that the name of William should, if possible, be perpetuated in the family. "And this is certain," says a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine about the year 1794, "That ever since, till now, a William Reay has been owner of the Gill. There is every reason to believe that the present John Reay is the first instance of a deviation." It is said that even in that instance the deviation was not made without deliberation; William the father having first consulted an eminent lawyer, whether he might safely call his son John. It was replied that mere length of occupancy would quiet the possession and make the title good.

The great military tenure of lands in this district was by HOMAGE FEALTY  and CORNAGE. This last (cornage) drew after it wardshipmarriage, and relief. And the service of this tenure was knight's serviceHomage  was the most honourable service, and the most humble service of reverence, that a free tenant can do to his lord. For when he was to do homage to his lord, he was to appear ungirt, bareheaded, without his sword, and, kneeling on both knees, his hands held out and clasped between his lord's, was to say—"I become your man from this day forward of life, and limb, and earthly honour, and unto you will be true and faithful, and faith unto you will bear for the tenements that I claim to hold of you, saving the faith that I owe to our Sovereign Lord the King." And then the lord so sitting was to kiss him; by which kiss he was bound to be his vassal for ever.

When a free tenant was to do FEALTY  to his lord, he was to hold his right hand upon a book, and say thus—"Know ye this, my lord, that I will be faithful and true to you, and faith to you will bear for the tenements which I claim to hold of you, and that I will lawfully do to you the customs and services which I ought to do at the terms assigned; so help me God and his Saints." But he was not to kneel, nor make such humble reverence as in homage; and fealty might be done before the steward of the court, but homage could only be done to the lord himself.

Cornage , called also HORNGELD , and NOWTEGELD  or (cow-tax) seems early to have been converted into a pecuniary fine, being a stipulated payment in the first instance for the finding of scouts or horners to procure intelligence. It was first paid in cattle. The tenants who held by cornage were bound to be always ready to serve the King and lord of the manor on horseback, or on foot, at their own charge; and when the King's army marched into Scotland, their post was in the vanguard as they advanced, and in the vanguard on their return. Because they best knew the passes and defiles, and the way and manner of the enemy's attacking and retreating. Wardship  and marriage  were included in this tenure. When the tenant died, and the heir male was within the age of twenty one years, the lord was to have the land holden of him until the heir should attain that age; because the heir by intendment of law was not able to do knight's service before his age of twenty-one years. And if such heir was not married at the time of the death of his ancestor, then the lord was to have the wardship and marriage of him. But if the tenant died leaving an heir female, which heir female was of the age of fourteen years or upwards, then the lord was not to have the wardship of the land, nor of the body; because a woman of that age might have a husband to do knight's service. But if such heir female was under the age of fourteen years, and unmarried at the time of the death of her ancestor, the lord was to have the wardship of the land holden of him until the age of such heir female of fourteen years; within which time the lord might tender unto her convenable marriage without disparagement; and if the lord did not tender such marriage within the said age, she might have entered into the lands, and ousted the lord.

Thus the consent of a superior lord was requisite for the marriage of a female vassal; and this power was distorted into the right of disposing of the ward in marriage. When the King or lord was in want of money it was by no means unusual to offer the wards, male or female, with their lands, in a sense to the highest bidder. If the ward refused to fulfil the marriage so made, then a sum was due from the estates equal to what they would have fetched.

Relief  was a certain sum of money, that the heir, on coming of age, paid unto the lord, on taking possession of the inheritance of his ancestor.

Knight's fee  was estimated, not according to the quality but the quantity of the land, about 640 acres; and the relief was after the rate of one fourth part of the yearly value of the fee.

The lord's rent  was called white money, or white rent, from its being paid in silver.

Scutage  or service of the shield, was another compensation in money, instead of personal service against the Scots.

The DRENGAGE  tenure, which prevailed about Brougham and Clifton, was extremely servile. The tenants seem to have been drudges to perform the most laborious and servile offices. Dr. Burn quotes authority to prove that Sir Hugh de Morville in Westmorland changed drengage into free service; and that Gilbert de Brougham gave one half of the village of Brougham to Robert de Veteripont to make the other half free of drengage. One of the de Threlkelds also, who lived at Yanwath Hall, in the time of Edward I., relieved his tenants at Threlkeld of servile burdens at four pence a head. The services were half a draught for one day's ploughing; one day's mowing; one of shearing; one of clipping; one of salving sheep; one carriage load in two years, not to go above ten miles; to dig and load two loads of peat every year—the tenants to have their crowdy (a coarse mess of meal, dripping and hot water) while they worked; the cottagers the same, only they found a horse and harrow instead of the half plough, and a footman's load, not a carriage load.

Many of these have long been lost sight of; and now most of the lands, whether held on customary or arbitrary tenures, merely pay an almost nominal rent, besides certain fines, to the lord of the manor. Nevertheless there is much truth in what Blackstone says: that "copy holders are only villeins improved."

Lands of arbitrary tenure pay, with certain deductions, fines of two years value on the death of lord or tenant, or of both, and on alienation. Some pay dower to the widow; others do not. Some pay a live heriot, which means the best animal in the tenant's possession; others, a dead heriot, that is, the most valuable implement, or piece of furniture. In Catholic times, the Church also, on some manors, claimed as heriot the second best animal the tenant might die possessed of, and on others the best. In some instances a heriot is only payable when a widow remains in possession of the tenement, and in these cases the original object of the impost was to recompense the lord of the manor for the loss of a man's military service during the widow's occupancy. In some joint manors where two, or perhaps three, lords have claims for heriots, very discreditable, and, to a dying tenant's family, very distressing scenes are enacted; for, when it becomes known that the holder of a tenement so burdened is on his death-bed, the stewards of the several manors place watches round the premises, who ascertain what and where the best animal may be, and, as soon as the demise of the tenant is announced, a rush ensues, and an unseemly contest for possession.

In arbitrary lands some lords claim all the timber; others only the oak; others the oak and yew; others oak and white thorn; and so on. In some the tenant is bound to plant two trees of the same kind for every one he fells; but tenants have a right to timber for repairs, rebuilding, or implements, though they must not cut down without license. Many lands are bound to carry their grain to the manorial mill to be ground and multured ; but this custom has fallen into disuse. Most lords retain the minerals and game if they enfranchise the soil, as many have done.

Many lands used to pay boons of various kinds; and some of these services are still enforced. By these were demanded so many men or boys, horses, carts, &c., in peat cutting time, hay time, harvest, wood-cutting and carting, and so on. In Martindale Chace, near Ulswater, where Mr. Hasell has a herd of that now rare species, the Red Deer, the tenants are bound to attend the lord's hunt once a year, which is called on their court roll a Boon Hunt. On this occasion, they each held their district allotted on the boundaries of the Chace, where they are stationed, to prevent the stag flying beyond the liberty. In the east of Cumberland, the tenants were obliged to send horses and sacks to St. Bees, for salt for the lord's use; some had to bring their own provisions when engaged in these services: some were entitled to a cake of a stated size for each man, and a smaller for a boy, on assembling in the morning at a fixed hour, under a certain tree, as was the custom at Irton Hall. Breach of punctuality forfeited this cake, but the work was always exacted. Certain farms in some manors were bound to maintain male animals for the use of all the tenants, subject to various conditions and regulations. Formerly many tenants paid a pound of pepper at the lord's court; others only a pepper-corn; and some lands are still held by this custom.

Many other peculiar customs connected with the tenure of land formerly existed.

Curious individual exemptions from certain burthens are to be met with occasionally. In the parish of Renwick a copyholder is released from payment of the prescription in lieu of tithe, paid by all his neighbours, because one of his ancestors slew "a cock-a-trice." This monster is alleged to have been nothing more than a bat of extraordinary size, which terrified the people in church one evening, so that all fled save the clerk, who valiantly giving battle, succeeded in striking it down with his staff. For this exploit, which is stated to have taken place about 260 years ago, he was rewarded with the exemption mentioned, which is still claimed by his successors.

In the parish of Castle-Sowerby, the ten principal estates were anciently called Red Spears, on account of the singular service by which the tenants held them, viz:—that of riding through the town of Penrith on Whit-Tuesday, brandishing their spears. Those who held by this tenure were of the order of Red Knights, mentioned in our law books; a name derived from the Saxon, who held their lands by serving the lord on horseback. Delient equitare cum domino suo de manerio in manerium, vel cum domini uxore. In times of peace, it is presumed they held the annual service above noted as a challenge to the enemies of their country, or those who might dispute the title of their lord, similar to the parade of the Champion of England at a coronation. The spears were about nine feet in length, and till within the last century, some of them remained in the proprietors' houses, where they were usually deposited; and were sureties to the sheriff for the peaceable behaviour of the rest of the inhabitants.

The ancient owners of the Red Spears estates annually served as jurors at the forest court held near Hesket, on St. Barnabas Day, by which they were exempted from all parish offices.