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Battle of Hornshole (Spring 1514)

At the Battle of Flodden in 1513 – an attempt by King James IV to divert English attention away from their campaign against King Louis XII in France – Scottish forces were decimated. The Scottish army, comprising many Borderers, lost as much as a third of its men to the battle. In the wake of this devastation, border towns like Hawick were left with significantly reduced adult-male populations, and the Borders in general were left extremely vulnerable. Bands of English soldiers – turned loose by the Earl of Surrey following victory at Flodden, and particularly those under the command of the much-feared and hated Baron Dacre – roamed the Scottish lowlands, marauding and plundering (effectively) unchallenged.

In 1514, however, an unlikely group of Hawick youths would upset the balance. That year, a camp of English soldiers raiding the local countryside was bivouacked by the side of Hornshole Pool; their numbers perhaps in the region of forty men. When news of the encampment reached Hawick, just two miles southwest of Hornshole, local magistrates quickly mustered a force of youths (given the fighting men of the town had been largely eradicated at Flodden), readying them to resist the English soldiers. Who these youths were (girls and/or boys), and how many of them there were (perhaps as many as two-hundred, perhaps fewer), we do not know. What we do know is that they rode out, fearlessly, under the cover of night, and beneath the light of the full moon attacked the unsuspecting English – caught asleep and off-guard. The Hawick youths slaughtered the English, taking their banner as trophy of the fight. They returned to their town elated and victorious, carrying aloft the royal blue flag, crossed with slick gold, crying triumphant and proud.

Today, the youths’ victory at Hornshole, in 1514, is remembered by the annual traditions of the Common Riding. The Cornet (an unmarried man, symbolic of those youth orphaned by Flodden) and his followers ride the marches of the town, and during the ‘chases’, re-enact the triumphant return of those Hornshole fighters, riding hard and fast with flag aloft. At the east-end of Hawick High Street, a massive statue (known as ‘Ken the Horse’, or just ‘the Horse’) bears the symbolic likeness of the first flag-bearer astride his mount, with the banner of the English marauders raised high. The statue commemorates the Battle of Hornshole, and plays a central part in Common Riding customs each year.

Whilst few dispute that the battle did happen, there is no actual contemporary evidence of its occurrence, for whilst a crucial part of local history, the slaying of some forty (or fewer) English bandit-soldiers on the banks of the Teviot likely had little bearing on the grander machinations of either nation. Numbers, too, are suspect, for they are first recorded only in 1819 (first mention of the battle itself being made in 1800). Thus, we may infer accurately only that a small group of Hawick youths defeated a smaller group of marauding English, in the lands by Hornshole Pool, in 1514, capturing their banner and returning victorious to town. The rest is conjecture.

The name Hornshole, or Horn’s Hole, may be derived from ‘Heron’s Hole’ referring to the presence of herons in the deep pool of the Teviot at this place. It may also be a shortened form of ‘Hornie’s Hole’, a deep dwelling place for the devil.

‘By Teviotside they took this Colour,
A dear memorial of their valour’

- ‘Auld Sang’ by Arthur Balbirnie c.1800
‘Hawick they left in ruins lying,
Nought was heard but widows crying
Labour of all kinds neglected
Orphans wandering unprotected.

All were sunk in deep dejection,
None to flee to for protection
Till some youths who stayed from Flodden,
Rallied up by Teri Odin.

Armed with sword, with bow and quiver,
Shouting “Vengeance now or never!”
Off they marched in martial order,
Down by Teviots flowery border.

Nigh where Teviot falls sonorous,
Into Hornshole dashing furious,
Lay their foes with spoil encumbered
Quite secure, even sent’nels slumbered.

Hawick destroyed, their slaughtered sires—
Scotlands wrongs, each bosom fired—
On they rushed to be victorious,
Or to fall in battle glorious.

Down they threw their bows and arrows,
Drew their swords like veteran heroes,
Charged the foe with native valour,
Routed them, and took their colour.

Now with spoil and honours laden,
Well revenged for fatal Flodden,
Home they marched this flag displaying—
This the tune before them playing.’

- ‘Teribus ye teri odin’, James Hogg 1819 Not to be confused with James Hogg, ‘the Ettrick Shepherd’