Battle of Solway Moss (1542)

A precursor to the infamous War of Rough Wooing, which ravaged the borderlands for a little under a decade, the Battle of Solway Moss was a humiliating and decisive defeat of a large Scottish army by a disproportionately smaller English force.

Following the strikingly successful Battle of Haddon Rig in Autumn of that same year (at which, near Kelso, a smaller Scottish force had killed over two thousand English soldiers), the defeat at Solway Moss in November 1542 outweighed any previous victory, and was the shadow which hung over King James V as he lay dying at Falkland Palace.

Henry VIII, having broken from the Catholic Church, had demanded that his nephew James do the same. Not only did James decline, however, he also refused to parley with Henry at York, enraging the short-tempered English monarch. Henry, in response, amassed an English force ready to invade Scotland. It was this force which had been defeated quite surprisingly at Haddon Rig, and this which James then ordered his army to march against at the fateful Solway Moss. The actions preceded the War of Rough Wooing by just one year, but may as well be included within that larger prism, for they both held massive implications for those who lived in the disputed Border lands.

Robert, Lord Maxwell, Warden of Scotland’s West March, was ordered by James V to raise him an army; which he did, to the tune of some twenty thousand men. Maxwell then led this force south into England, meeting Lord Wharton’s and Sir William Musgrave’s much inferior force of about three thousand English on the boggy terrain of the Solway Moss, between the rivers of Lyne and Esk, by the mouth of the Solway Firth. Here, the command structure of the Scottish army disintegrated, various commanders refusing, claiming, and refuting the leadership of its forces. Amid the disarray, the Scots were easily turned to rout, even before any significant casualties were tallied. In fact, sources suggest that as few as seven men died on the English side, with as few as twenty Scots casualties. Over a thousand Scots surrendered, however, including the Borders contingent, and several hundred reputedly drowned in the rivers whilst beating a hasty retreat.

The battle was a complete failure, and cause for national embarrassment for King James V, apparently contributing to his early death, at the age of thirty, on 14th December 1542, just a month after the defeat at Solway Moss.