Battle of Ancrum Moor -  February  27th 1545.

Ancrum Moor Today


The Battle of Ancrum Moor was fought as part of Henry VIII’s campaign, known as the ‘Rough Wooing’, in 1545. The decisive Scottish victory would put a temporary end to English depredations in the Scottish border and lowlands. This particular battle began on 17th February and was concluded on the 27th of February.



In the period following the Battle of Flodden (1513), an uneasy truce had existed between Scotland and England, but in 1542 the tensions once more erupted into open conflict. Following its Reformation in 1534, England had stood independent and isolated from Catholic Europe. In response, Pope Paul III had sought an alliance between Scotland, France and the Holy Roman Empire against England. The situation was complicated by religious differences in Scotland, some Protestants being more sympathetic to the Protestant English crown, while Catholic support was clearly for alliance with France.


This caused Henry VIII (pictured on the left( to pour huge sums of money into projects for England’s coastal and border fortification. Henry also considered an invasion of France, but his northern border would then be vulnerable to Scottish invasion in support of their ally. In reply, James raised an army of some 18,000 troops in the west and headed for Carlisle, being defeated in November at Solway Moss by a much smaller local English force.


To locate the battle site, from Jedburgh, take the A68 north. In about 4 miles, just past the Lilliards Edge Caravan Park, is the battle site, astride the road. The general location of the battle is not in dispute, having been generally agreed to have been fought about 1.5 miles north of the village of Ancrum. The battlefield and the monument are accessible via the footpath along Dere Street, Roman Road (part of St Cuthbert’s Way).


Henry_VIII_wiki James_V_of_Scotland_wiki

King Henry had the support of some Scottish nobles, who had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Solway Moss  and these he sent to King James V of Scotland (pictured on the right) to negotiate with his mixed diplomacy of the threat of force. But in December 1542, the Scottish Parliament, after much internal dissension, decided to reject Henry's negotiating overtures and instead renew the alliance with France. Henry therefore encouraged his barons in the north to raid into Scotland, to further undermine the Scottish king, James V. In October 1543 Henry, furious at being so, frustrated, sent an army, led by the Earl of Hertford, to invade Scotland. Declaring war, Henry ordered his northern commanders to lay waste to much of southern Scotland and, in May of 1544, a strong force landed on the Firth of Forth and quickly occupied and laid waste to Leith and then devastated Edinburgh. It is said the fires of Edinburgh raged for four days.


After the death of James V, with Queen Mary, his infant daughter, was just one year old. Scotland was then ruled by a regent, the Earl of Arran. This simply exacerbated the internal divisions. With Scotland thus weakened, Henry VIII, with his reign drawing to a close, then aimed to unify the two kingdoms, and secure his northern borders, by seeking the marriage of Queen Mary to his own son, Prince Edward. Henry VIII desired a diplomatic marriage that would neutralise the effects of Scotland's own international relations on his borders


It was common practice for the wealthy to extend their holdings by marriage. Thus large tracts of estate were acquired by a family adding to their wealth, and power. After this initial success, and with the Scots shocked and demoralized, the English forces, (20,000), pushed on deeper into southern Scotland. Quarrelling amongst themselves, the Scots were unable to put up but little more than feeble resistance, and the English forces ravished the defenceless countryside, later that year, with the utmost brutality, slaughtering and destroying everything in their path, burning both Kelso, then Roxburgh, to the ground. The destruction is detailed in the so called Bloody Ledger, leaving much of the border lands effectively under English control.  This attempt to cajole Scotland into alliance was another episode in England's long history of antagonism with her northern neighbour. .


The attacks had then forged an unlikely alliance between, James Hamilton, the Earl of Arran, Scottish Regent for the infant Mary, and Archibald Douglas, the Earl of Angus. Arran was next in line to the Scottish throne after Mary, and was instrumental in negotiating the betrothal of her to Francis, the French Dauphin.

These two Scottish nobles had long been bitter rivals for many years, and had even fought a pitched battle in the streets of Edinburgh in 1520. However, Angus's estates had suffered during the recent English raids and his Douglas family tombs, at Melrose Abbey, had been both callously destroyed vandalised by the English, which now further infuriated the Scots. In response, the Earl of Angus, the Scots lieutenant of the Border, began assembling a Scottish force to resist the relentless tide of the English advance. Now there was no shortage of volunteers now that they had a leader to follow.

Continuing with his campaign, in the early weeks of 1545 two of Henry’s commanders again crossed the border into Scotland with an army of around 5,000 men, including a large contingent of 3000, mainly German and Spanish mercenaries, 1500 English Borderers and 700-800 ‘assured’ Scottish borderers (reivers from Teviotdale and Liddesdale - who would change sides according to who was in the ascendancy).  

On the 27th February 1545, the English army were encamped on Ancrum Moor, heavy with plunder from Melrose town and abbey (pictured here), then returning, on their way back south towards Jedburgh, full of confidence, a result of their series of successful encounters. Having seen a small Scottish cavalry troop, moving back from Peniel Heugh Hill, to the northwest, the English army turned back to pursue them.


The Battle


What they did not know was that the Scots comprised of a force of around 2,500 men, including Fife lances and Border Reivers, accompanied by cannon under Scott of Buccleuch, whose lands had also suffered devastation.


Strengthened by these reinforcements, the Scots took up their position at Ancrum Moor on 27th January 1545. Hugely outnumbered 2 : 1,  Arran  manoeuvred around, but would not engage the invaders,  the Scots then lured the English cavalry into their trap.The Scottish forces were standing on Peniel Heugh and then withdrew, to deploy out of view on the lower ground to the north west, between this and Lilliard’s Edge, feigning retreat.


This caused the cavalry of the English vanguard to pursue, well in advance of the English foot, a mistake which would prove decisive. As the cavalry crossed the top of Palace Hill and chased down the far side, they were blinded by the setting sun, and the westerly wind which blew gunpowder smoke from their arquebuses and pistols towards the English.


Finding that the whole Scottish army had been hidden on the far side of the hill, the Scots then had the advantage of surprise. The ground was too uneven for the English to rally at the top of Palace Hill, and so were duly attacked by the full Scottish force, in battle formation. The main body of English infantry were men at arms in the centre, flanked by archers on one side and harquebusier   on the other. As they tried again to rally on the eastern slope, the 700 Scottish Borderers, Liddesdale opportunists as ever, then chose to desert, tearing  off the red crosses which signified their adherence to England and reverted to their former allegiance ie.  the Scots. The battle, all but over, the English army broke and was forced to scatter through a hostile countryside.



The majority of the contemporary accounts suggest that English losses were between 1,500 and 2,000 killed. Later English reports, as troops, particularly titled knights were ransomed, suggest that less had been killed than had been first reported: perhaps between 500 and 800 dead, with around 1,000 prisoners.


The Scots suffered relatively few casualties


In terms of battle archaeology, Ancrum may be a significant action because it involved the use of both the harquebus (an early form of musket) and the bow, one of the earliest battles in the Britain to have seen the use of significant numbers of these weapons, though in no way comparable in scale and significance to their use at Pinkie.


Aftermath and Consequences

It had been a significant defeat for the English, involving the death of their two senior commanders in the Marches, but did not change the balance of power in the region and had no lasting impact, either militarily or politically. The immediate result was that Teviotdale came back under Scottish control, and the English border regions were readied for a major Scottish incursion in the wake of Ancrum.


News of the victory also induced Francis 1 of France (picured here) to dispatch 3500  troops to aid the Scots attack England, but this only led to some minor incursions, because the Regent was unwilling to risk a major invasion, fearing provoking the English King into further attacks. The only significant outcome of Ancrum was to force Henry VIII to escalate his military action against Scotland, which would ultimately culminate in the catastrophic defeat of Scottish forces, after his death, at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547. However, Ancrum does indicate that Henry was to be frustrated in his ambitions, because even the massive defeat at Pinkie had no lasting effect, and Scotland would remain an independent kingdom.

The war came to an end shortly afterwards, on King Henry’s death, only to break out again with perhaps even more violence when Hertford, now Protector Somerset, ruling on behalf of Edward VI, sought to impose his own political and religious settlement on Scotland.