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The Battle of Haddon Rig

Earl of Huntly's victory over the English during the Anglo-Scottish Wars of the 1540s

The battle of Haddon Rig, fought on 24 August 1542, came as a consequence of European politics. Recently faced with the threat of war to replace the schismatic English King Henry VIII by the great Catholic powers of Europe, Henry had worked assiduously on the diplomatic front to ferment disunion between France and the Empire.

Eventual fruition of this enabled Henry to recommence planning for forthcoming military adventure in France. King of Scots James V, the church in Scotland, nobles and commons at this time remained steadfast in maintaining the Auld Alliance of mutual support between France and Scotland and refused demands from Henry to break with this, and to religious reformation. He backed his threats with facile claims of feudal overlordship over Scotland and demanded James come to England to meet him.

Correctly fearing the well-tried and tested English tactic of holding foreign monarchs hostage the Scots wisely refused to let King James attend. Outraged, whether real or feigned Henry commanded a display of overwhelming might on the Scots in order to cow them into submission. The first attack was a large raid into Teviotdale by the English East March Warden Robert Bowes with a sizeable force comprising at least 3000 English Borderers, men of Norham Castle’s garrison plus the (then) exiled traitorous William Douglas 6th Earl of Angus complete with a body of his Douglas adherents. Bowes established a camp at Haddon and sent parties out into the locality to rape, kill, pillage, plunder and burn. Unknown to them, the Scots were ready and most importantly they knew the ground well.

The main force had been raised in expectation of English attack by order of King James and was led by George Gordon the Earl of Huntly while a vanguard, 2000 strong was led by the redoubtable veteran Sir Walter Lindsay on whom James had advised Huntly to defer to on all matters of tactical detail. Lindsay’s vanguard cut off and destroyed Bowes pillaging parties before falling on the befuddled main English encampment which made but feeble defence. This was followed up by Huntly and his men who pursued and slew the fleeing English, capturing only those accounted worth ransoming. Even English reports could not obfuscate the manner and magnitude of English debacle, William Eure reporting to London; “Scots prickers (light cavalry) with shoutings and crying overthrew them… George Bowes nephew to Sir Robert, and the captain of Norham who were there (and who also presumably fled) say that Riddisdale with Sir Cuthbert Ratcliffe’s company were the first to fly, and my Lord Angus lighted like a nobleman, with the said Sir Robert and got away with a great debate of himself, the rest of his company did not”.

The destruction of Bowes English forces: garrison troops, Borderers and chancy “allies” was a salutary reminder that while strong cohesive central control existed in Scotland the English could not operate with impunity in Scotland. In the terrible years that followed King James V death and chaos of Regencies for the infant Mary Queen of Scots the character of conflict between England and Scotland would change: English promotion of Protestantism complete with pensions to acquiescence from Scots nobility badly eroded central authority in Scotland, and from this era on England relied less and less on its own manpower and increasingly on professional but ruinously expensive mercenaries to undertake the fighting on their behalf.

Little known as overshadowed by a similar debacle at Solway Moss on which British histories focus (as it was an English victory) Haddon Rig stands as a salutary example of what the Scots could achieve before the deterioration during the extended period of the original “Battle for Britain”. This comprised the War of the Rough Wooing, the Lords of the Congregation with English financial and armed intervention leading to the Reformation, English sponsored armed revolt against Mary Queen of Scots and finally the Marian Civil War, again with English armed intervention leading to complete removal of French influence and the creation of Protestant pro-English satellite status for Scotland up to and beyond the union of the Crowns under King James VI in 1603.

Euan Lindsay
Euan Lindsay
Euan is a former soldier, a retired architect, amateur historian and re-enactor with decades of experience.

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