Subject: Why Robert Johnstone of Raecleuch?
From: Jeffrey Johnstone <>
Date: 3/2/2021, 1:06 PM

Why Robert Johnstone of Raecleuch?

Several readers have asked me how I happened to choose Robert Johnstone of Raecleuch as the central character in my novel, Dryfe Sands.

Around 1973 I happened to read a very interesting review of George MacDonald Fraser's Steel Bonnets, and rushed out to buy a copy. In Fraser's book I learned about the Battle of Dryfe Sands and that one Robert Johnstone of Raecleuch, aged eleven, was one of the combatants. I found a copy of the 1594 Respite of King James I to Johnstones and others who fought at the Battle of Dryfe Sands in Sir William Fraser's Book of Carlaverock, and it lists Robert Johnstone of Raecleuch by name.

Eventually, after becoming familiar with Sir William Fraser's Annandale Family Book of the Johnstones, C.L. Johnstone's History of the Johnstones, Percy W.L. Adams's History of the Douglas Family of Morton, and William McDowall's History of the Burgh of Dumfries, I started looking at original source materials in such works as the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, the Calendar of Border Papers, and Robert Pitcairn's Ancient Criminal Trials in Scotland.

I came to learn that a surprising amount is known about Robert Johnstone of Raecleuch aside from the fact that he fought at Dryfe Sands an an eleven year-old boy, including.:

  • He was the closest paternal heir to Sir James Johnstone of that Ilk and Dunskellie, Chief of the Johnstones

  • His mother was a Maxwell and he grew up in Nithdale, the area of Maxwell influence

  • His father died wen he was ten

  • He became the Tutor of Johnstone after Lord Maxwell murdered Sir James Johnstone of that Ilk and Dunskellie in 1608

  • Sir James's widow, Sara Maxwell, opposed his appointment as Tutor

  • He had a very challenging time as as Tutor of Johnstone

  • He was involved in lengthy litigation with the Curators of Sir James Johnston's son, after his term as Tutor expired

  • He held a number of public offices, including justice of the peace and a term as Provost of Annan

Robert Johnstone of Raecleuch lived during the last years of Queen Elizabeth I of England, the ascension of King James VI of Scotland to the Crown of the United Kingdom, and the brutal pacification of the Anglo-Scottish Border. Over time I began to think that a novel about the culmination of the Johnstone-Maxwell feud through the eyes of Robert Johnstone of Raecleuch would make an interesting story.

Unfortunately, I could not find any details about Robert's life between 1593 and 1608, so I had to make them up!


NOTE: Many of the references cited above can now be found for free on the Internet at

Jeffrey Johnstone 
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