When Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon, he instantly gained celebrity status and became welcome almost everywhere on earth. Much to his surprise — and alarm — he had to overcome a 400-year-old law before he could be welcomed in his ancestral home in Scotland.
In 1972 Armstrong visited the town of Langholm, Scotland, which is the seat of Clan Armstrong. Locals were eager to welcome the hero, and they were delighted when he declared the town to be his home.
One person who wanted to extend a welcome to Armstrong was the justice of the peace, but there was one little problem. According to a 400-year-old law that was still officially on the books, he was required to hang any Armstrong found in the town.
The astronaut, who was known for his nerves of steel under the most difficult of circumstances, was momentarily caught off guard. The justice of the peace read from the law, which was borne out of James VI’s attempts to decrease violence along the border. James (known in Scotland as James VI and in England as James I) was the first Scot to sit on England’s throne, and he knew the reputation of the Clan Armstrong.
Clan Armstrong was one of many clans that lived and farmed along the edge of Scotland during the centuries of war with England. According to research on Clan Armstrong reported on Highland Titles, “few were as indomitable or just plain scary as Clan Armstrong.” A monument to the clan’s ferocity, the Milnholm Cross, was erected around A.D. 1300, and it still stands, overlooking the valley of Liddesdale. James VI knew that one of the best ways to insure peace was the eradication of the infamous border-raiding clan.
Fortunately, the justice of the peace showed no indication that he intended to carry out the 400-year-old commandment. Instead, he was offered the chance to become the town’s first and only Freeman (the rough equivilant of being given the keys to the city). Armstrong accepted the honor, and with a nod to the obstacles he had to overcome — in space and in national law — said, “The most difficult place to be recognized is one’s home town. I consider this, now, my home town. My pleasure is not only that this is the land of … Armstrong, rather that my pleasure is knowing that this is my hometown and in the genuine feeling that I have among the hills, these people”
Read more fun facts about Scotland.
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