Battle of Ancrum Moor (1545)

One of the first major engagements between Scottish and English forces during the War of Rough Wooing, the Battle of Ancrum Moor saw an unlikely alliance of Scots use terrain, timing, and Border tenacity to their advantage, routing a much larger force of English.

In 1543, Henry VIII ordered his army to invade and burn the Scottish lowlands as viciously as possible; it was, in a sense, a blitzkrieg-esque tactic, similar to that used by the German army in its invasion of Poland in 1939. The idea was to decimate as much of the Scottish borderlands as quickly as was possible, in order that Scotland might be so crippled, the infant Mary Queen of Scots would be forced to capitulate, relinquishing her nation’s ‘Auld Alliance’ with France, and marrying instead Henry’s son.

Henry sent the Earl of Hertford (a name which still raises the hackles of Border folk) and Sir Ralph Eure (also spelt ‘Evers’) into Scotland’s lowlands, with orders to burn whatever castles, keeps, towers, and dwellings they came across. As a result, many of the formidable seats of Border reiver families were razed, including (but not limited to) Barnhills Tower and Minto Crags, seats of the Turnbull clan. Such devastation had an unexpected effect – it brought men the likes of Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, Sir Walter Scott ‘Wicked Wat’ of Branxholme and Buccleuch, and James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran together, despite them having waged open war against each other in Border feuds just two decades earlier.

At Ancrum Moor, on 27th February 1545, Angus, Scott, and Arran’s army (comprising about two-and-a-half thousand men from Fife, Angus, and the Borders) made a feint attack on the English encampment at Gersit Law. The English army under Eure (composed of three thousand German and Spanish mercenaries, one-and-a-half thousand English borderers under Sir Brian Layton, and seven hundred Scottish borderers) gave chase. Cresting Palace Hill at Lilliard’s Edge, the English realised their mistake. There the Scots had drawn in formation the majority of their force, reinforced by the return of those who had conducted the feint. The Scots had the advantage of surprise, and of the setting sun, which was behind them, dazzling the English. Furthermore, a westerly wind blew the gunpowder smoke from the Scots’ arquebuses and pistols towards the English, confusing their sight. A charge by Scottish pikemen drove the English back in disarray. The ground was too uneven for the English to rally at the top of Palace Hill, and as they tried again to rally on the eastern slope, the Scottish Borderers with them chose to tear off the red crosses they wore (signifying their allegiance to England) and join instead the Scottish army. The English army broke, and was forced to scatter through a hostile countryside.

The English lost about eight hundred troops (including both Layton and Eure), with about one thousand soldiers taken prisoner. Such a decisive victory won the Borders a temporary reprieve from the harries of the English. Unfortunately, however, the Battle of Ancrum Moor did not upset the balance of power, and had little lasting impact. If anything, it induced Henry VIII to escalate his military action against Scotland, resulting two years later in the catastrophic defeat of Scottish forces at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh.