"THE RAID OF THE KERR'S"



In his poem "The Raid of the Kerrs" Ettrick Shepherd summed up the feelings Englishmen had toward this Scottish border clan family.



The Kerrs were aye the deadliest foes that e'er to Englishmen were known, For they were all bred left handed men, and fence [defense] against them there was none. Left handedness was a decided advantage to have if you were fighting up a right curving castle stairwell, as well as fighting a right handed swordsman. Similarly, in his poem "The Reprisal", celebrating the storming of Ferniehurst Castle, Walter Laidlaw wrote So well the Kerrs their left hands ply, the dead and dying round them lie, the castle gained, the battle won, Revenge and slaughter are begun.



The clan chief at the time of the storming of Ferniehurst was Sir John Kerr. After the battle he and his men played handball with the severed heads of their enemies. A game known as "Jedburgh Ba'" and based on this ancient and gory victory is played today, but with leather balls as substitutes for English heads. Bodmer and McKie in The Book of Man (1994), begin their treatise on the human genome project, by speaking extensively about the Kerr's propensity for left handedness. The history of this family is replete with revenge, bloodshed, and family honor. The family claims Norman descent, and John Kerr, the hunter of Swinhope, was the first to bear the family name. He is a contemporary of King William the Lion (1166). Two brothers, John and Ralph Kerr settled near Jedburgh in 1330. These two men founded the great branches of the family. Ralph's line became the Marquesses of Lothian, while John's rose to the Dukedom of Roxburgh. At different times both lines held the title Warden of the Middle March which consisted of the border area between England and Scotland. Although the line of descent is somewhat muddied, it appears my ancestors descend from John. A 1573 listing of the Kerrs shows them the Lairds of Cessforth, Fernyherst (Ferniehurst), Grenehead (also known as Greneheid), Greyden (Graden),Gaitschaw, Fadounsyde, Cavers, Linton, and Ancrum. The Kerrs were fierce enemies of the English and were known by many names such as riding clans, foraying clans, dalesmen, marchmen, borderers and mosstroopers. In a phrase, they were robber barons. The Kerrs became allied to my family when William Apperson married Elizabeth Kerr, great grand daughter of the Laird of Graden.
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