Capturing the Flag: How Gypsies in the Scots Army settled at Kirk Yetholm in 1695 #History #Scotland
The Siege of Namur in 1685
In April, 1689, William Bennet, younger, of Grubbet and Henry Erskine, Lord Cardross, both raised troops to defend the Revolution that settled William of Orange as King of Scots. Bennet became captain of a troop of fifty horse and Cardross of a regiment of dragoons consisting of six troops of fifty men. (RPS, M1689/3/28., 1689/3/157.)
Captain Bennet sat in the Scottish Parliament throughout the 1690s. In 1695 he was engaged in William’s service in the Nine Years’ War. According to tradition, Bennet’s life was saved by a gypsy named Young at the key turning point of the war, the siege of Namur, when he led allied troops into the breach in the city walls.
Blackwoods Magazine recorded the tradition in the early 1800s:
‘Tradition affords no intelligence respecting the time when the first Gypsey colony fixed their residence at Kirk Yetholm. […] The tribe of Youngs are next to the Faas [or Falls] in honour and antiquity. They have preserved the following tradition respecting their first settlement in Yetholm :– At a siege of the city of Namur (date unknown [but clearly the siege of 1695) the laird of Kirk-Yethohn, of the ancient family of Bennets of Grubet and Marlfield, in attempting to mount a breach at the head of his company, was struck to the ground, and all his followers killed or put to flight, except a gypsey, the ancestor of the Youngs, who resolutely defended his master till he recovered his feet, and then springing past him upon the rampart, seized a flag, which he put into his leader’s hand.
The besieged were struck with panic— the assailants rushed again to the breach – Namur was taken—and Captain Bennet [i.e., William Bennet, younger, of Grubbet,] had the glory of the capture.
On returning to Scotland, the laird, out of gratitude to his faithful follower, Settled him and his family (who had formerly been wandering tinkers and heckle-makers) in Kirk-Yetholm, and conferred upon them and the Faas a feu of their cottages for the space of nineteen times nineteen years [i.e., 361 years or until 2056]—which they still hold from the Marquis of Tweeddale, the present proprietor of the estate [in the early nineteenth century].’ (Blackwoods Magazine, I, 156.)
Kirk Yetholm lies close to the Border in Yetholm parish, Roxburghshire.
In the village of Kirk Yetholm lies the Gypsy Palace in Tinkers Row/Gypsy Row. The road is now recorded as “Pennine Way”.
See also the Gypsies’ “Field of Blood” at Romanno in 1677.
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