Battle of Arkinholm - 1455

Image by Andrew Spratt

George, 4th Earl of Angus defeating the Black Douglases
at the Battle of Arkinholm, 1455
Image courtesy of Andrew Spratt

June 1455 Arkinholm (but see below)
Erkinholme on R Esk s Langholm, Dumfries 
Earl of Angus bt Earl Douglas 

The Battle of Arkinholm was fought on May 1, 1455, at Arkinholm near Langholm in Scotland, during the reign of King James II of Scotland.

Although a small action, involving only a few hundred troops, it was the decisive battle in a civil war between the king and the Black Douglases, the most powerful aristocratic family in the country. As the king's supporters won it was a significant step in the struggle to establish a relatively strong centralised monarchy in Scotland during the Late Middle Ages.

The Black Douglases had already suffered some losses before the battle. The king's supporters had taken their castle at Abercorn, and some allies such as the Hamiltons had defected. The head of the family, James Douglas, 9th Earl of Douglas, had gone to England to rally support, but his three younger brothers were at the battle.

There is some uncertainty about the leadership of the royal army. By some accounts it was led by George Douglas, 4th Earl of Angus, head of the Red Douglas family, a senior aristocrat, and third cousin to the Earl of Douglas. However other accounts describe it as a force of local Border families, Johnstones, Maxwells, and Scotts, who had previously been dominated by the Black Douglases but now rebelled against them, led by the Laird John Johnstone of Johnstone in Annandale, who succeeded his father 1455.

Of the three Douglas brothers: Archibald Douglas, Earl of Moray was killed in the battle and his head presented to the king, Hugh Douglas, Earl of Ormonde was captured and executed shortly afterwards, and John Douglas, Lord of Balvenie escaped to England.

 The result was the end of the Black Douglases. After the battle an act of parliament gave Angus the lordship of Douglas with the original possessions of his ancestors in Douglasdale. 

The defeat of the Black Douglases by the Red Douglases at Arkinholm gave rise to the following verse,

"Pompey by Caesar only was undone,
None but a Roman soldier conquered Rome;
A Douglas could not have been brought so low,
Had not a Douglas wrought his overthrow."

The 9th Earl had made a futile attempt to regain his power a number of years after the Battle of Arkinholm, but he was captured and banished to Lindores Abbey where he died in 1488.

Capture of the Earl of Ormonde
The capture of the Earl of Ormonde, Image by Andrew Spratt

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This page was last updated on 08 March 2017

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