The name Scott is first definitely recorded in the Borders in 1116 when a member of the clan was living at Kirkurd in Peeblesshire. It is probable that his forebears originally came from Galloway, the first known base of the Scott clan. At the end of the thirteenth century Richard le Scot, holding land near Lanark and in Selkirkshire, signed the Ragman Roll along with other land-owners. The family continued to hold land in both areas until about 1440 when Sir Walter Scott, who had already been granted Eckford Mains (for capturing the reiver Gilbert of Rutherford) and who had acquired part of Branxholm, near Hawick, exchanged his Lanarkshire property for the rest of Branxholm with a laird who preferred to be further away from England. With the extra land went added military strength, and Scott then began raiding the English Borders.
His son and successor, Sir David Scott of Buccleuch, was the first of the family to sit in the Scots Parliament (1481 and 1487); he outlived his son and was succeeded by his grandson, who only lived on to 1504. The next Laird of Buccleuch, "Wicked Wat", was imprisoned twice in Edinburgh and fought at Flodden, Ancrum Moor and Pinkie, but survived all these battles only to die in Edinburgh High Street, slain by the Kers of Cessford in 1552. He again was succeeded by his grandson, Sir Walter Scott, whose son (also Sir Walter Scott) was the "Bold Buccleuch", the last of the great Border reivers. Buccleuch led the rescue of Kinmont Willie from Carlisle Castle in 1598; he was later held by the English following on two more raids, and was brought before Elizabeth Tudor. In reply to her question "how he dared to undertake an enterprise so desperate and presumptuous" he said "What is there that a man dare not do?" This increased her respect for the Scottish nation and may have confirmed her in her resolve to name James VI as her successor. Buccleuch was created a peer as Lord Scott of Buccleuch in 1606, and died five years later. His son was promoted to Earl of Buccleuch in 1619, served in Holland and died in London on his way home in 1633.
The second Earl was succeeded by two daughters as Countesses in their own right: the elder, Mary, was married to her kinsman Walter Scott of Highchesters when she was eleven and he was only fourteen, he being created a peer for life only, with the title of Earl of Tarras, to make him of equal rank with his wife. Two years later, she died without producing a child. Her sister Anne succeeded as the next Countess in her own right, and married the Duke of Monmouth, son of Charles II by Lucy Walters, who had taken the surname of Scott shortly before. She was then promoted to Duchess of Buccleuch in her own right, an important step because it enabled the Buccleuch dukedom to survive when Monmouth himself was attainted and beheaded for rebellion in 1685. Mary’s husband Walter Scott later married Helen Hepburne of Humbie, and continued the line of Scott of Harden. Historically they are descended from another grandson of Richard le Scot, though of course there has been considerable intermarriage between the Scotts of Buccleuch and all the leading Border families. One of the best-known members of this branch was "Auld Wat of Harden", thus known because he lived to be eighty, who accompanied his kinsman Buccleuch in the rescue of Kinmont Willie. Sir William Scott of Harden, his son, is remembered for his forced marriage to "Muckle Mou’ Meg" (in reality Agnes, not Margaret), daughter of the Laird of Elibank. This young lady was difficult to marry off, due to her unprepossessing appearance; she was offered to William as an alternative to the gallows, after he had been caught raiding her father’s sheep. He accepted, after some hesitation. Mainly (it is said), because she was kind to him while he awaited execution in her father’s dungeon or "pit". Sir Walter Scott was of the fifth generation in descent from them; in addition to contributing some of Scotland’s finest literature, he was responsible for maintaining our national consciousness at a time when it could easily have gone under, and for saving our distinctive banknotes from extinction.
The present head of the Scotts of Harden is Lord Polwarth, who succeeded his grandfather in 1944. He is Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Roxburgh, Ettrick and Lauderdale and a member of the Royal Company of Archers, served in World War II as a Captain in the Lothians and Border Yeomanry, qualified as a Chartered Accountant and was for some years Governor of the Bank of Scotland as well as Chairman (and later President) of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry. He was a Minister of State at the Scottish Office in 1972-74 and Chairman of the Scottish National Orchestra Society in 1975-79, and became Chancellor of Aberdeen University in 1966.
The family which bears the country’s name, and which contributed one of its greatest writers, also included one and possibly two remarkable medieval philosopher-scientists, Michael Scot (1175-1234) and Duns Scotus (1265-1308). Michael Scot was a noted mathematician and reputed magician; he learnt Arabic and perhaps also Hebrew in Spain, and translated some of Aristotle’s works into Latin. thus making them accessible to Western Europe as a whole.
Duns Scotus has left his name, and that of the small town whence he came, to all the "dunces" in the world; but this is because he was too subtle for most students and even professors to understand, so that another school of thought prevailed. Any serious explanation of his philosophy and writings would be far beyond the scope of this booklet.
The original homes of nearly all the great Border families have long since been obliterated, or have fallen into total disrepair. Caerlaverock is a ruin; Hume Tower is a hollow shell; nothing remains of Buccleuch except part of a doorway. But a descendant of the Maxwells lives at Traquair, Scotland’s oldest inhabited house, where he brews Scotland’s strongest beer. Hume Tower has been replaced by The Hirsel; looking at what remains of it one wonders how so powerful a family could have operated from such a small fortress. Buccleuch was replaced by Branxholm, razed by Sussex in or about 1674, then rebuilt and later added to or restored; it is still inhabited, but the Duke of Buccleuch now lives at Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire and at Bowhill near Selkirk (which narrowly escaped the fate of many old Border houses when a supersonic warplane, piloted by a South American trainee, crashed and burst into flames in the grounds). The present house of Harden, built in the early 17th century, to replace Auld Wat’s peel tower, and incorporating part of it, is still the home of the head of the Scotts of Harden, Lord Polwarth.