The Gypsies
The Early History
Gypsies in Scotland
Gypsies in the Borders
The Yetholm Gypsies
Gypsy Families
The Faa Family
Jean Gordon

The Early History

The Gypsies are a close-knit communal people who have a shared background, but are scattered throughout the world. Their origins have been the subject of controversy throughout the centuries, but in modern times, we have discovered, from research into their language, that the gypsies originated in Northern India, from whence they spread throughout Europe and the Middle East. No one knows when the first gypsies left India or, indeed, why.

They seem to have arrived in the Middle East about 1000 AD, some going on into North Africa and others on into Europe. They were an intelligent people, used to living on their wits, who found it easy to impress the uneducated locals by giving themselves unwarranted titles and assuming the importance to go with them. Hence they arrived in Europe as Lords, Dukes, Counts and Earls of Little Egypt, demanding and receiving help and support from those in authority. Claiming that they had been ejected from their homeland, 'Little Egypt', by the wicked Saracens, or that they were on a pilgrimage, gained them succour from no less than the Pope himself, who demanded that they be given safe passage in the countries over which he had sway. So they were able to travel in relative safety, and could expect food and lodging from religious houses, as the rich of the time felt that it would assist their standing in the eyes of the church if they supported pilgrims. Having been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land was the ultimate status symbol, but supporting those who had been on one, or were taking part in one was the next best thing. So with their quick wits and silver tongues they were soon under the protection of Kings throughout Europe.

We know for sure that a group of four hundred arrived in Germany, at Luneberg, in 1417. Their leaders, the 'Dukes' Andrew and Michael, along with sundry 'Counts' gave, by their dress, the impression of wealth and respectability. While they were well dressed, their followers were anything but. The 'nobles' stayed in the local hostelry, whilst the others camped or dossed wherever they could find shelter. As pilgrims, they were protected by a letter from the Emperor Sigismund. Sigismund, Roman emperor and King of Hungary and Bohemia, and son of the Emperor Charles 1V, was renowned as the great leader who had taken the combined armies of Christendom on a Crusade against the Turks in 1396. One of the most far-sighted statesman of his day, he tried to bring about the expulsion of the Turks from Europe by uniting all of Christendom against them.

Later, having persuaded Pope Martin V that they were on a seven year pilgrimage, they received a letter of protection allowing them free and unhindered access to all Christian countries. They lived off the generosity of the locals, and when insufficient was forthcoming, helped themselves. The ladies soon gained a reputation as fortune-tellers, but as many of their 'clients' were relieved of their purses at the same time, they also gained the not unfounded reputation of being thieves and pickpockets. Many were arrested and some executed.

Similar groups arrived in most of the countries of Central and Western Europe throughout the 1400's. They are recorded in Italy, France, Germany and Hungary. They roamed far and wide, living the nomadic life, with the men carrying on their trades as horse dealers, musicians amd workers of metal, while the women continued to tell fortunes and to relieve the unwary of their property. Despite their supposed religious nature, they were feared by many, and this built up into movements by governments against them.

Countries issued edicts against them, the first being Spain in about 1490, but this just drove them underground. Spain tried, over the next three hundred years, to prohibit their dress, language and customs and so force assimilation and an end to their wanderings. Country after country passed laws to reject and expel them, sometimes to colonies overseas. In 1539, France issued a nationwide expulsion order, England having attempted the same in 1530, under threat of imprisonment, but when that failed, the penalty became death in 1554. In parts of Central Europe they were forced into bondage, and in Romania made to live as chattel slaves - a situation which did not change until they gained their freedom in 1856. In many cases, their answer was to move elsewhere until such times as a law was made expelling them from there also, but, as all unsettled tribes who live among settled communities are open to becoming convenient scapegoats, the increased complaints, genuine or not, by the local populace surely led to official and legal persecution wherever they went.

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The Gypsies

Esther Faa Blythe

Charles Faa Blythe Coronation

At St James Fair 1907

At St James Fair 1907

Kirk Yetholm Green c1920

Kirk Yetholm - Muggers Row c1920

Looking up the hill to Staerough

Kirk Yetholm Gypsy Palace c1945

King & Queen and Palace

Gypsy Palace present day