A friend has just lent me The Steel Bonnets : the Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers by George MacDonald Fraser and having looked at the opening chapter I know I just have to read on, rather than waiting for January when Peggy Ann’s Read Scotland 2014 Challenge starts. It’s a long, detailed book so I shall probably still be reading it in January anyway.
I live on the English side of the Border with Scotland and the history of the area just fascinates me. The Steel Bonnets covers the period from the building of Hadrian’s Wall to 1603, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England. Four hundred or so years ago it was all very different around here and as the history of the Border Reivers is very complicated I’m hoping this book will guide me through it.
The opening paragraph took me by surprise:
At one moment when President Richard Nixon was taking part in his inauguration ceremony, he appeared flanked by Lyndon Johnson and Billy Graham. To anyone familiar with Border history it was one of those historical coincidences which send a little shudder through the mind: in that moment, thousands of miles and centuries away in time away from the Debateable Land, the threads came together again; the descendants of three notable Anglo-Scottish Border tribes – families who lived and fought within a few miles of each other on the West Marches in Queen Elizabeth’s time – were standing side by side, and it took very little effort of the imagination to replace the custom-made suits with leather jacks or backs-and-breasts. Only a political commentator would be tactless enough to pursue the resemblance to Border reivers beyond the physical, but there the similarity is strong.
In the following paragraphs he goes on to describe their physical features, particularly those of Nixon and Johnson, as ‘excellent specimens of two distinct but common Border types.’ I hadn’t expected this at all.
For more Book Beginnings see Gilion’s blog Rose City Reader.