Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Armies gather for the Battle of the Solway Moss 1542

The fight on Solway Moss was really little more than a skirmish, but its consequences were immense. Some have argued that this little fight was more important in the long run than the great battle at Flodden.

The conflict grew out of the continental ambitions of England’s King Henry VIII. Keen to play a part in European affairs, Henry did not want a hostile neighbour in his rear. He therefore set out to settle the outstanding differences between himself and his nephew Scotland’s James V. Henry decided on a policy of bullying mixed with charm and tempting offers. He thus encouraged his northern barons to launch a series of raids over the border while at the same time sending James gifts and inviting him to a meeting in York in September 1541. Henry, of course, denied he had anything to do with the raids and claimed the meeting was a chance to sort out the mutual differences.

James agreed to travel to York, not least because he was in a difficult position at home and was desperate to stop the border raids. The Scottish nobles had never taken to King James V, still less to his domineering queen, and truculently refused to pay taxes or obey laws that they did not like. At the last moment James refused to go to York after being told by a Scottish bishop that Henry planned to kidnap him.

Henry was furious. He ordered the English ambassador to Scotland both to ask James awkward questions and to stir up the nobles as much as possible. He also told his own border nobles to increase their raids and in February gave secret instructions to the commanders of his border fortresses to help the raiders in any way possible.

Sir Thomas Wharton, Governor of Carlisle, responded by sending a galloper to Henry informing him that James was at Dumfries with only a small guard. Wharton asked permission to take his troops over the border to kill or kidnap James – rather ironic in light of James’s concerns over the meeting at York. Henry asked his council of nobles for advice. They were shocked and advised the king to avoid a scheme which would not only inevitably lead to war but would also put England in a very bad light on the European diplomatic scene. Wharton, they said, should concentrate on Carlisle, not Dumfries.

In August 1542 a force of English raiders pillaged deep into Teviotdale and acquired a large quantity of plunder. On the way back the English were ambushed by the Earl of Huntly at Haddon Rig. The English fled, but the less nimble horsemen among them were captured and one of these was Robert Bowes, Governor Berwick. No longer could Henry claim the border raids were nothing to do with him. In October another English raid burnt Kelso and Roxburgh, this time the regular English army was involved.

By the start of November James had managed to calm his nobles to the extent that he could raise an army of 18,000 men and march south towards England. He declared that he was to invade down the east coast past Berwick, but then set out on a forced march to the west coast to take the English by surprise.

Unfortunately, James fell sick on the march and took to his bed at Lochmaben. He handed command of the expedition over to Lord Maxwell, Warden of the Western Marches, but kept half the army at Lochmaben to guard against any kidnap plots by the English. Maxwell marched into England, but as soon as he was over the border Lord Oliver Sinclair announced that the Warden’s jurisdiction did not extend beyond Scotland and that he, Sinclair, was now the army’s commander.

The Scottish army came to a halt while the nobles tried to sort out who was in command. Sinclair was the King’s favourite courtier, so some nobles sided with him in the hope of gaining royal favour. Others recognised that Maxwell was the better soldier and backed him as they wanted an experienced commander when invading England.

At this point a force of English horsemen appeared on the scene commanded by none other than Wharton, Governor of Carlisle. Wharton’s plan was to shadow the Scots army, taking every opportunity to ambush patrols or steal supplies. Meanwhile he gave orders for the northern garrisons and nobles to muster their forces at Carlisle ready for a battle. By the 24th November he had followed the Scots to Solway Moss.

This is an extract from England vs Scotland by Rupert Matthews

No comments:

Post a comment