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Battle of Melrose, 1378 and 1526

 

 

 

 

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Battle of Melrose

 

In 1378 Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie, a nephew of Archibald The 'Grim' Douglas (an illegitimate son of the 'Black' Douglas), took Berwick by surprise with 50 men, and was immediately besieged by the town's governor Thomas De Musgrave. Douglas and Lord Lyndsay of the Byres massed a relief army at Haddington, little more than 500 in number, but marched anyway hoping to collect more men on the way. When Archibald's army approached Berwick his scouts informed him that the English army around the castle numbered around 10,000, with archers, siege engines, heavy horse and ships blockading the river. Douglas then retreated to Melrose, followed by the English army. Just short of Melrose, Musgrave attacked. Fortunately Archibald's army had now been reinforced. During the ensuing Battle of Melrose, Musgrave was unhorsed and forced to yield for ransom. With Musgrave and other leaders captured, the remaining English not already slain fled back to Berwick with news of their defeat.

 

The English complained that "the Earl of March and Douglas, and the latter's cousin Sir Archibald,....are harassing the English Borderers by imprisonment, ransoms, and otherwise."

 


 

 

On the site of the Waverley Castle Hotel close to the Tweed there was the last known Border Clan feud between the Scott's who were fighting for the release of James V and the Ker's of Cessford. The Ker's won the battle and were in pursuit of the Elliot's as they escaped west. At a point overlooking Abbotsford, Elliot turned and speared Ker to death.

In 1526, on the 25th July, Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch attempted to rescue the young King James V (1513 - 1542) from the clutches of the over-powerful Douglas, Earl of Angus while on a journey from Jedburgh to Edinburgh. Battle was joined at Skirmis Hill. Buccleuch was defeated, losing some 80 of his 600 spear men. The Douglas lost some 100 men killed including the Laird of Cessford. This death triggered a murderous feud between the Kers of Cessford and the Scotts of Buccleuch.

 

It is not known how the feud between the two clans arose, but the enmity of the Scotts and Kers had long been smoldering, when in 1526, during a Justice Court held at Jedburgh, the boy King, James V, secretly wrote to Sir Walter Scott, "Wicked Wat of Branxholm," bidding Sir Walter gather the Scotts at Melrose to free him from the power of Douglas, Earl of Angus, who had wed his widowed mother. From Jedburgh the King rode to Melrose, where, shortly after the escort of Kers and Howes had taken their leave, the Scotts under Sir Walter arrived a thousand strong. A fierce battle with Douglas and his men was ended by the unexpected appearance on the field of the returned Kers and Howes; the Laird of Buccleuch and his force being compelled to flee, "followed furiouslie" by the Kers.

At a rock, to this day known by the name of 'Turn Again," Buccleuch's men rallied, and here Ker of Cessford was slain and the chase seems to have ceased. But in consequence of this battle there ensued a deadly feud between the names of Scott and Ker, which raged for many years upon the borders. An attempt at a truce between the families was witnessed, amongst others, by George Douglas of Bonjedward in 1529, but in the year 1535 we find Sir Walter imprisoned for levying war upon the Kers, and in 1552 the Kers carried "the furies of the border var" to the streets of Edinburgh itself, where, in the High Street, old Sir Walter was set upon by a band of Kers and foully murdered.

Many a Scott and many a Ker paid with their lives for the deaths of Ker of Cessford and Scott of Buccleuch before the feud was ended.

 


 Overview
The Battle of Melrose was fought between Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, supported by the Kerrs and Maxwells, and Walter Scott of Buccleuch supported by the Elliots. The Earl of Angus had secured guardianship of the young King James V in what was supposed to be a three monthly arrangement where James would be cared for by each of the four members of the Council of Regency; however, having taken James into his care, Angus refused to hand him on to the Earl of Arran whose turn was next. After over a year with Angus and having grown weary of what amounted to his informal imprisonment, James sent a message to Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, pleading for him to launch an attempt to secure his liberty. After a visit to Jedburgh to participate in a Justice ayre, the king had begun his journey towards Edinburgh, escorted by Angus and his men, when they were intercepted by a large body of reivers led by Scott of Buccleuch at Melrose.

Angus’ troop, predominantly Kerrs, stood its ground and was able to drive off its attackers, inflicting relatively heavy losses.

The Battle
Scott of Buccleuch intercepted Angus and James just west of Melrose, leading perhaps as many as 1000 men down from Hellidon Hill (now known as the Eildon Hills). Angus charged Buccleuch’s men but they held their ground. The result seemed in doubt until Lord Hume arrived with 80 more Kerrs. The reinforcements swung the battle in Angus’ favour and the Scotts and Elliotts began to fall back and run. There was a brief pursuit, and in the course of this Andrew Kerr of Cessford was killed by one of the Elliotts in Buccleuch’s force.

Events & Participants
Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, was one of the most powerful Scottish nobles of the sixteenth century and became step-father to James V by marrying Margaret Tudor, widow of James IV. He imposed himself as the Chancellor of Scotland, filled all positions with Douglas family members and supporters and by 1526 was effectively keeping the young King a prisoner.

 

The Battle of Melrose and the subsequent Battle of Linlithgow Bridge resulted from attempts by anti-Douglas forces to wrest control of the King from Angus.

Walter Scott, Lord of ccleuch (also known as Wicked Wat) was from a powerful Border reiver family. Scott was knighted on the field of the Battle of Flodden by James V’s father, James IV, on 9 September 1513 and appointed Baillie of the lands of Melrose Abbey in 1519, a position that became hereditary thereafter. In 1524, he was imprisoned by Margaret in a dispute over lands she held in Ettrick Forest. He escaped and joined the party of Angus and Lennox, who were allied against Margaret at this point.

InIn May 1526, he was given a letter of pardon under the Privy Seal for an attempt to take Arran prisoner, which he was presumably doing on behalf of Angus and Lennox. He was then contacted by James, who asked him to bring an army to release him from Angus’ control. It is not clear why James thought this was wise, but it may have been a suggestion from Lennox, to whom James was now connected by a secret pact. . After Buccleuch’s attempt to free James failed he was exiled under a penalty of £10,000 for his participation in the incident; however, he was formally pardoned in February 1528 under the Great Seal and then by an Act of Parliament in September of that year.

Buccleuch led raids into England in subsequent years, and fought alongside Angus and Arran in the battles of Ancrum Moor and Pinkie during the Rough Wooing. However, he was eventually killed in the street in Edinburgh in 1552 by a group of Kerrs taking revenge for the death of Andrew Kerr of Cessford at Melrose.

Physical Remains & Potential
There is a reasonable prospect of archaeological remains surviving from the battle. The armour, clothing and weaponry would all result in the deposition of artefacts on the battlefield. As the action was primarily a cavalry battle, there would also have been a concentration of lost horseshoes across the areas of combat; there is also a reasonable likelihood of pieces of horse tack.

However, much of this material will have been made of iron, and it is possible that soil conditions will not have been conducive to the survival of ferrous objects. There are currently no artefacts known from the area of the battlefield that might be associated with the fighting. There is no record of eighteenth or nineteenth century discoveries of bones or weapons in the area.

 

Battle of Melrose 2

Image by Andrew Spratt

 

Any contributions will be gratefully accepted We would welcome a full article on these two battles.

 

 

 

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