Having read many books on the Border Reivers and the Jacobites, I found no references to this fascinating historical site. As the final resting place of many members of the local community, the churchyard is home to a collection of carved stones that provide valuable insights into the area’s Jacobite and Border Reiver past.
Traces of the original medieval church that served Ettleton until 1604, have all but disappeared but the cemetery itself is an important historical site. The collection of carved stones set into the churchyard wall includes several medieval tomb slabs and a crosshead. These artefacts provide evidence of the area’s rich cultural heritage and offer a glimpse into the lives of the people who lived and died in this region centuries ago.
Visitors to the site will notice how it stands between the enclosed landscape of narrow strips and the upland grazing. The strips represent 18th-century land allocations to the local community, while the upland grazing area still shows traces of medieval fields. This combination of historical elements provides a unique and intriguing glimpse into the region’s past.
The Grave of a Prince
Throughout Scotland, there are many romantic stories about 1745 and Bonnie Prince Charlie. In late November 1745, the tale of a Stewart who deserted the Jacobite cause entered Border folklore. Grace Elliott relays the story in her article from 1965, “A farmer was ploughing in his field one day when he was accosted by a rebel soldier who begged an exchange of clothes and a hiding place since he did not wish to be found by either his own officers or the Redcoat army.
The farmer gave him his coat and also the plough, and went off to hide the soldier’s clothes. Soon after as the fugitive ploughed some Redcoat men on horseback stopped him to ask in which direction the Rebel army had gone, and had he seen, William Stewart pass that way.
To the first question, he replied by pointing in the opposite direction of the real position of the Prince’s Army, the second query he answered in the negative. After both armies had gone, the fugitive continued to hide in the district, and when the Rebellion was quelled and Prince Charles Edward had left these shores forever, William Stewart, who spoke little to any, was still living in Gillfoot in Liddesdale where he died, and was buried in the little churchyard of Ettleton on the hillside. When a stone was erected over his grave with an armorial thereon, it was said that he was a brother of the Prince.”
In 1964, intrigued by the story, researchers found a headstone in Ettleton churchyard that did indeed have an armorial; however, Stewart Society in Edinburgh did not agree with the folkloric aspects of this tale that he was of noble birth. The main confusion being the carving on the stone shows an orb with no cross surmounting it, and the shields don’t represent the Stuart or Stewart heraldry. Who is to say that the masons might not have knowledge of the Stewart’s arms, but instead represented the Jacobite tendencies of William?
And is a Prince, and the Brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie buried in the Scottish Borders?
Just a few hundred yards from Ettleton cemetery is the Milnholm Cross (1865 as Millholm Cross) or the Armstrong Cross, believed to have been erected after the murder of Alexander Armstrong in 1320.
Alexander was the Second Laird of Mangerton and a supporter of Robert the Bruce, who was murdered by Lord William De Soulis at Hermitage Castle. Some say it was jealousy, that Soulis killed Alexander over his love of an Armstrong woman, while other say that Soulis was an anti-Bruce conspirator and took his chance while Armstrong dined at the castle.
Interestingly Reverend John Black of Newcastleton told historians in 1858, ‘This cross is said to have been erected by the friends or dependants of Armstrong of Mangerton who was basely slain while on a friendly visit to Hermitage Castle. While conveying his body from Hermitage Castle to Ettleton Churchyard the bearers halted opposite Mangerton Tower, on the spot where they halted the Cross was erected.”
The cross in total is eight feet, four inches in height and stands mightily next to the roadside. On this relic is an incised sword with a rounded pommel and straight quillons. Other carvings have been worn away by the bitter Border weather and time itself. Some historians believe that the cross has the initial AA (Alexander Armstrong) and MA inscribed just below the crosshead.
Historian Bruce Armstrong offers an alternative idea, he believed the cross was to show that the Armstrongs were people of consequence in the district, especially since the Armstrong main residence was close by.
For visitors interested in Scottish and Clan Armstrong history, Ettleton Cemetery and nearby Milnholm Cross are must-see destinations. Its medieval carved gravestones offer a tangible connection with the area’s past and the surrounding landscape, providing a glimpse into the lives of the people who lived and worked here centuries ago. Ettleton is a powerful reminder of the rich cultural heritage woven into the fabric of the Scottish Borders.