Border Reiver, Clan Carruthers

Clan Carruthers: the Battle of Solway Moss.

Solway Moss james and henry
©CCSI 2018

Sadly, after James IV’s death on Flodden field in 1513, Scotland was left under the government of a Regency Council headed by the Dowager Queen Margaret who was sister to Henry VIII. Her power base was eventually lost after a civil war, initiated in part by her Marriage to the 6th Earl of Angus, Archibald Douglas who had designs on the regency. She was displaced by the pro-French faction, under the Duke of Albany, John Stewart.

Eventually the Albany Regency also fell and James V took over the reign of Scotland. This again allowed England to hold sway, through his mother, Margaret leading to hopes of a better Anglo Scottish relationship. In 1534 however, Henry VIII broke the link between Rome and the English church appointing himself as its Supreme Head leading to attacks and plundering on the abbeys and churches. As a Roman Catholic, and listening to the panicked churchmen under the guise of Canon David Beaton, James took umbrage at his uncle’s actions. Henry sent a message to James that they should meet at York, but James didn’t appear and further refused to follow Henry and break from the Catholic Church. These and the death and thus influence of Margaret in 1541, were enough to send English reivers under the guidance of the Robert Bowes to raid the Scottish borders. Bowes was defeated at Haggon Rig near Kelso in 1542 by George Gordon, the Earl of Huntley.


Further raids occurred under Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, who saw Kelso and Roxburgh burnt in retaliation. James V then mustered his forces in retaliation. Hoping to lead the Scottish Army himself, James was excluded from the task through a fever and never managed further than Lochmaben Castle. The command was then given to Lord Robert Maxwell, who had raised the bulk of the army, to include Carruthers of both Mouswald and Holmains great supporters of the Maxwells.  However, it is alleged that James usurped Maxwell in favour of Lord Oliver Sinclair, of the Rosslyn family line, who was to take command as soon as the army crossed the border.

Completely unaware of this decision, Maxwell ordered the army to break camp on the morning of the 24 November 1542, crossed the River Esk at Langholm, entered the Debateable Lands and headed south towards Carlisle. This in turn affected the coherence of the orders on the battlefield itself. However, although accepted by 16th century Scottish chronicle writers and according to George Douglas’s account of events before the battle, where he reported that when James V had left the Scottish army, Oliver Sinclair, a favourite of James V, was appointed commander instead of Lord Maxwell.

Some Scots would not accept Oliver’s authority and refused to fight and the battle was lost. Writing about 80 years after, the author and poet William Drummond of Hawthornden wrote, after a collation of further facts an alternative version of events that the defeat was due to a misunderstanding; Sinclair was tasked only to deliver the message that Maxwell was in command, and when he was raised up to speak, the anxious army thought he had been made leader. During their confusion the English attacked.

208The Battle of Solway Moss

The battle took place at Arthuret in Cumbria, South East of Gretna Green on a floodplain of the River Esk, on the morning of 24th November 1542.

Grid Reference: NY383677 (338388,567766)
OS Landranger map: 75
OS Explorer map: 315

The battle of Solway Moss was over almost as soon as it had begun. The vastly superior numbers of the Scottish forces should have made short work of the English army. But lack of cohesion amid the Scottish leaders, combined with skilful use of troops and topography on the part of the English, led to a humiliating Scottish defeat. Three weeks later on the 14 December 1542, James V died having withdrawn to Falkland Palace, thus leaving the two week old Mary as Queen. This in itself led to further problems, leaving Henry VIII of England the nearest male successor, leading to what was to become the War of the Rough Wooing.

Solway MossThe course of the battle is taken from the Battlefields of Britain site:

Phase 1

Despite only having a small force, as soon as the Scottish army advanced into the Debateable Lands, Wharton moved against them. He deployed his infantry on Hopesike Hill straddling the road south and thus blocking the way to Carlisle. Relative to the flat lands of the surrounding area, the slight rise of Hopesike Hill was a good position especially as it was strengthened by the Hall Burn which was directly in front of his troops.  With the infantry deployed he sent Sir William Musgrave, with 500 mounted lancers, to harry the Scottish forces. Maxwell deployed his forces in three main battles and advanced towards the English.

Phase 2

As the Scottish army deployed for battle, Sinclair informed Maxwell that he was taking command of the army on the orders of King James V. The announcement led to chaos across the Scottish ranks as some of the troops remained loyal to Maxwell whilst others supported Sinclair. Command and control in the Scottish army broke down at the same moment that Musgrave started repeated hit and run tactics with his mounted lancers.

Phase 3

Although Musgrave’s attacks did not inflict many casualties amongst the Scottish ranks, the repeated assaults disordered the left flank and caused them to slew towards the centre. With the army’s leaders embroiled in the power struggle between Maxwell and Sinclair, no instructions were issued to steady the line or to reconfigure against the threat. Instead Musgrave’s repeated charges meant the entire Scottish force shifted pushing those on the far right of the line into a bog defusing their advance and causing significant disorder.

Phase 4

From his viewpoint on Hopesike Hill, Wharton could see the chaos unfolding in the Scottish camp. Hoping to capitalise on the situation, he advanced his infantry to Arthuret Howe, another small hillock overlooking the road. The forward movement of the English forces was interpreted by the Scots as an English Vanguard advancing as a precursor to a larger army. Had the Scottish leadership been united it is probable they could have rallied their troops. However leaderless and confused, cohesion of the Scottish forces started to break as many dropped their weapons and fled back towards the River Esk.

Phase 5

Morale amongst the remaining Scots quickly collapsed and soon their entire army was retreating in a general rout with their artillery and baggage abandoned. They fled back north towards the fording point over the River Esk (in vicinity of modern day Longtown) pursued by Musgrave’s lancers. Scottish casualties during the battle had been minimal, perhaps as few as twenty, but as the retreating troops attempted to cross the river hundreds drowned. A further 1,200 were captured including Maxwell and Sinclair. English losses were quoted by Wharton as being just seven men; it was unlikely to have been significantly more given the English infantry were never engaged.

iu-3Todays Battlefield

The area of Arthuret Howe and Arthuret Hill, where the English forces faced the Scots, remains largely undeveloped agricultural land. However, the character of the landscape has changed considerably with the process of enclosure and the draining of the large alluvial floodplain between the hamlet of Arthuret and the River Esk. The development of the town of Longtown in the eighteenth century at the crossing of the Esk has dramatically altered the northern end of the battlefield, while a modern road and a disused railway also cross the battlefield. There is no monument and the interpretation panel, beside the road close to Arthuret church, is unfortunately of little value, but access is possible by the three roads that cross the battlefield and by public footpaths.

Shield Holmains and Dormont

Clan Carruthers

The outcome of the battle for our clan was poor at the very least, although there may have been many others of our family who died. It is recorded that the heir apparent, John Carruthers, the elder brother to George who became 6th of Holmains was killed at Solway Moss.

This brought William Carruthers, 1st of Dormont to the position of second in line but remaining as a cadet, thus allowing the Dormont Arms, matriculated in 1913, to be differenced from the Holmains Arms with a Gold Border and again with Two Gold chevronelles, rather than Chevrons. These differences in heraldry are indication that they are seen as cadets to the House of Holmains.

The other effect of the battle, that could have so easily changed our clans history, was the survival and capture of James Douglas, 7th of Drumlanrig. His demise on the day would have undoubtedly prevented the gruesome death of Marion, the daughter of the last Chief of Mouswald from the battlements of Colmongon Castle.

Clan Carruthers Society WP footnote grey.

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