Battle of Ancrum Moor Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A Scottish army under the command of Archibald Douglas routed a much larger English force commanded by Ralph Evers and Brian Layton, in retaliation against Henry VIII’s Rough Wooing of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Summary of Event

The Battle of Ancrum Moor marked the first successful Scottish counterattack against the English king Henry VIII’s “Rough Wooing” of Mary, Queen of Scots. After the death, in 1542, of James V (r. 1513-1542), Scotland was left with the infant Mary as queen and her mother, Mary of Guise, as regent. After the Scots rejected Henry VIII’s proposed marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots to his son Edward (the future Edward VI), the English attempted to force the Scots into agreeing to the marriage by ordering armies to ravage the Scottish Lowlands, launching an invasion across the Firth of Forth in the spring of 1544. Since May, 1544, the majority of Scottish troops were concentrated on the defense of Edinburgh Castle, allowing English armies to cut a swathe of destruction across southern Scotland. Anglo-Scottish Wars (1513-1560)[Anglo Scottish Wars (1513-1560)] Ancrum Moor, Battle of (1545) Douglas, Archibald Evers, Ralph Scott of Buccleuch, Walter Latoun, Brian Henry VIII Mary, Queen of Scots Henry VIII (king of England) Mary Tudor (queen of Scots) James V (king of Scotland) Edward VI (king of England) Evers, Ralph Latoun, Brian Douglas, Archibald Hamilton, James Scott of Buccleuch, Walter Francis I (king of France) Somerset, first duke of

An English army of roughly three thousand soldiers, under the command of Sir Ralph Evers (also known as Ralph Eure) and Sir Brian Latoun (also known as Bryan Layton), advanced toward Jedburgh in early February, 1545. Evers and Latoun, who had acquired notoriety among the Scots for their particular brutality in the enforcement of the Rough Wooing, were carrying spoils from a savage pillaging of Melrose. At Melrose, the English had destroyed Holyrood Abbey and desecrated the graves of the Douglas lords, a family famed for their power in the Anglo-Scottish borderlands. These acts added to the growing list of English atrocities committed throughout the Lowlands.

English scouts detected signs of Scottish forces in the vicinity, as their armies approached Ancrum Moor, north of the village of Ancrum. Evers and Layton grew confident at the sight of some seven hundred “Assured Scots,” Borderers that had allied themselves with England. Their confidence was only increased by intelligence of a small army of Scots, numbering perhaps four hundred men, who were positioned on a hill overlooking the moor.

The Scots were led by the lieutenant general of southern Scotland, Archibald Douglas, the sixth earl of Angus. Douglas had recently rallied troops to his cause through his courageous resistance against English forces that had nevertheless driven off a Scottish army under the command of James Hamilton, the earl of Arran, at Coldingham. Unbeknownst to Evers and Layton, Douglas’s scouts had alerted him to the incoming English, and the Scottish commander was already preparing a trap for an overconfident English army that was both weighed down and exhausted by the booty it was bearing from Melrose.

Anticipating an easy victory, the English decided immediately to deploy their forces in the hope of mounting a surprise nighttime attack. However, Douglas, anticipating the English strategy, retreated to even higher ground, both to tire out the impulsive English and to win time for his own reinforcements. Indeed, Douglas’s forces were soon joined by approximately five hundred foot soldiers under the command of Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, as well as by a cavalry contingent led by Sir Norman Leslie. The Scots now had forces totaling some twelve hundred troops. Even more important, Douglas’s sound intelligence about the numbers and movements of the English troops allowed him ample opportunity to prepare the stage for a decisive engagement.

Douglas positioned cavalry at the height of the hill, feigning retreat to lure the English troops uphill. The Scots also planted cavalry traps, digging pits along the marsh-lined Roman road of Dere Street, which cut across Ancrum Moor. Douglas’s strategy was to trip up the enemy horses that would pursue them in a second feigned retreat. Scottish soldiers, positioned in “hedgehog” units—square-shaped, densely packed formations of spear-wielding foot soldiers and musketeers—would then ambush the surprised English cavalry.

Using schiltron formations, groups of soldiers packed tightly together with spears pointed forward, the Scots absorbed the first charge of the English troops, who were not only exhausted by their unsuccessful nocturnal advance but also now had to deal with the sun shining in their faces and the bitterly cold winds whipping downhill. In a fierce counterattack, the Scots advanced into the main body of the English army, inflicting heavy losses on the surprised English forces. Douglas’s tactics of trapping the English cavalry worked as planned, leading to critical English casualties. Moreover, by drawing many English troops into areas of the moor where Scottish troops were positioned to engage them, Douglas prevented the English from adequately forming their battle lines, leaving the English foot soldiers with no way to defend themselves.

As the Scottish advantage became clear, the Assured Scots allied to the English switched sides, joining the Scots in what would become an almost total rout of the English. There were very few Scottish casualties, while perhaps as many as one thousand English soldiers were killed, with hundreds more taken prisoner. The bodies of Evers and Layton were mutilated by the victorious Scots as revenge for the atrocities their armies had committed throughout the Scottish Lowlands. The Scots had finally retaliated for years of English incursions, driving the remainder of the English forces east, toward the main body of English troops, near Berwick.

A gravestone with a poem commemorating the courageous actions of the Fair Maiden Lilliard, who is purported to have taken her slain lover’s sword and hacked away at the English even after the loss of her legs, stands at the site of the Scots’ triumph at Ancrum Moor. However, scholars insist that the stone is probably of eighteenth century construction and that the legend of such an avenging woman itself significantly predates the sixteenth century.

Significance

The Battle of Ancrum Moor had its most significant effect in rallying the spirits of a Scotland that had been demoralized by years of brutal English military incursions. The Scottish Lowlands had experienced unspeakable pillage and slaughter throughout a period that stretched beyond the Rough Wooing to include the humiliating defeat at Solway Moss Solway Moss, Battle of (1542) in 1542. Emboldened by their success against the latest wave of invasion, the Scots now pressed on with plans to renew their alliance with the French against the English, in the hopes of counterinvading England.

Archibald Douglas was rewarded handsomely by King Francis I of France (r. 1515-1547), receiving four thousand crowns and the Order of Saint Michel. Douglas, who had been distrusted by the Scots for his role in Henry VIII’s initial negotiations concerning the marriage of Mary, shored up his reputation as a key military player. Douglas was now well positioned to play a leading role in a Scottish offensive against the hated English war machine.

The Scots’ sense of triumph, however, was short-lived. Edward Seymour, the earl of Hertford, who was the commander of Henry VIII’s invading forces in Scotland, began soon after Ancrum Moor to mobilize troops for retaliatory strikes against the newly emboldened Scots. After a series of punitive raids in 1545, Hertford, now the duke of Somerset and Lord Protector in the new regime of Edward VI (r. 1547-1553), launched a full-scale invasion of Scotland. In September, 1547, Scottish resistance crumbled with the death of some ten thousand Scots under the command of the earl of Arran at the Battle of Pinkie, Pinkie, Battle of (1547) near Edinburgh.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Banks, F. R. Scottish Border Country. London: B. T. Batsford, 1951. A historical and geographical survey of the Anglo-Scottish borderlands. Offers numerous plates and maps, as well as detailed treatment of key military engagements.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fissel, Mark Charles. English Warfare, 1511-1642. New York: Routledge, 2001. A survey of English military history, featuring numerous maps and illustrative plates. Includes detailed discussion of military tactics employed by the Scots.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Merriman, Marcus. The Rough Wooings: Mary Queen of Scots, 1542-1551. East Linton, East Lothian, Scotland: Tuckwell, 2000. A detailed discussion of Henry VIII’s brutal policy of forcing Scotland to accept his plans for Mary, Queen of Scots. Argues that there are two distinct periods of English aggression.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Phillips, Gervase. The Anglo-Scots Wars, 1513-1550: A Military History. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell Press, 1999. A survey of the armed conflicts opened up by the English victory at Flodden, focusing on technical matters of warfare. Features plates and maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sadler, John. Scottish Battles. Edinburgh: Canongate, 1996. A survey of key battles throughout Scottish history, featuring numerous tables and maps. The chapter on Ancrum Moor offers detailed discussion of military tactics employed by both armies.

Aug. 22, 1513-July 6, 1560: Anglo-Scottish Wars

Dec. 18, 1534: Act of Supremacy

1544-1628: Anglo-French Wars

Jan. 28, 1547-July 6, 1553: Reign of Edward VI

May, 1559-Aug., 1561: Scottish Reformation

July 29, 1567: James VI Becomes King of Scotland

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