Raid of the Redeswire (1575)

For over twenty years, since the catastrophic defeat of Scotland’s forces at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, no major conflict between Scotland and England had arisen. That’s not to say, of course, that all was peace in the borderlands. Far from it. Arguably, the 16th century was the zenith of the Border reivers, the destruction of the War of Rough Wooing revitalising the necessity for lawlessness among Border families, who turned to raiding in order to survive. Yet, no pitched battle had taken place, and on a national level relations between England and Scotland were at least more diplomatic, than military.

On one fated day of truce, atop the Reid Swire (essentially synonymous with the hill we now know as the Carter Bar), however, peace would be broken once more. On 7th July 1575, a ‘Truce Day’, Sir John Carmichael, Lord Warden of the (Scottish) Marches, and George Douglas of Bonjedworth met at the border with representatives from England, namely: English Warden of the Middle Marches, Sir John Forster, and Sir George Heron, Keeper of Redesdale. The idea behind ‘Truce Days’ was that wardens of the marches could meet to discuss matters between their various regions, without fear of attack. On that particular day, the issue was regarding the theft of Scottish property by an Englishman, who Carmichael believed was in Forster’s custody. Forster, however, stated that the man had taken “leg-bail” (i.e. he had escaped custody), and the issue became a heated argument. After a time – insults thrown back and forth – the English attacked, killing two of the Scotsmen present, and wounding several others.

The Scots under Carmichael and Douglas were forced to flee, however in doing so they met up with a party from Jedburgh who were late to the meeting. This chance reinforcement encouraged the Scots to stand and make battle with the English, and soon they had the English lines broken, turning them to a rout. All told, some twenty-five Englishmen lost their lives, including Sir George Heron of Redesdale and his brother. Others were taken prisoner, and later presented to James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, who was the regent for King James VI.

Doubtlessly, Carmichael and the Jed Valley contingent were proud of their victory, in what would come to be known as the last major Anglo-Scottish battle ever fought; however, for regent Douglas, the incident was something of a national embarrassment. Desperate to avoid war, the regent wrote to Queen Elizabeth I. The Queen, outraged (but also wishing to avoid an escalation of aggression), directed her President of the Council of the North, Henry Hastings, to speak with Morton. Together, the two men were able to come to an amicable agreement, which included the trial of Carmichael. Carmichael was later released, however, after the English court found the Raid of the Redeswire the fault of their Warden of the Middle Marches, Sir John Forster, who had been the first to engage in an unprovoked attack.