Battle of Ancrum Moor: Scots Defeat English Raiders

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Battle of Ancrum Moor: Scots Defeat English Raiders

"Lillard's Stone" on the edge of Ancrum Moore battlefield
Erected in 1743, replacing an earlier monument
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are from Wikipedia)

Today in Military History: February 27, 1545

Today's historical essay is devoted to a battle from a conflict between England and Scotland that acquired the pseudo-erotic name "the Rough Wooing."


English King Henry VII sought to secure an alliance with Scotland by arranging a marriage between the infant Mary, Queen of Scots, to his son the Prince of Wales Edward. He had the support of some Scots nobles who had been taken prisoner at the battle of Solway Moss in 1542. [For more on this fight, please see my – rather short and early – post from November of 2009 at battle of solway moss.] Henry mixed diplomacy with the threat of force, hoping to get his way. However, in December of 1543, the Scottish Parliament, after much internal dissension, decided to reject Henry's overtures and instead renewed the auld alliance with France.

Henry's reaction was to declare war against Scotland. This attempt to cajole Scotland into alliance was another episode in England's long history of antagonism with her northern neighbor. Henry VIII desired a diplomatic marriage that would neutralize the effects of Scotland's own international relations on his borders.

King Henry ordered Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hertford and Warden of the Scottish Marches, to devastate Edinburgh, Leith, and many other Scottish towns. Hertford dutifully laid waste to much of southern Scotland in two expeditions during 1544, burning Edinburgh in May of that year. It is said the fires in Edinburgh raged for four days. These incursions, however, did not break the Scottish resolve.

Portrait of Henry VIII by unknown painter; Oil and tempura on wood, produced c. 1542; Currently at Castle Howard, Yorkshire, UK
Portrait of Henry VIII by unknown painter
Oil and tempura on wood, produced c. 1542
Currently at Castle Howard, Yorkshire, UK

Prelude to the Battle

Early in 1545, Henry ordered an unusual winter raid into Scotland. The English force was led by Sir Ralph Eure (in some histories it is spelled "Evers"), who, in an age of cruelty and disregard for human life, distinguished himself for his brutality and greed. King Henry promised him all the territory he could conquer. Eure pursued his campaign with vigorous enthusiasm. His second in command was Sir Brian Layton, governor of Norham Castle, an important border garrison.

The English thrust northwards, destroying the town of Melrose and its nearby abbey. In an effort to break their enemy's will, the invaders callously vandalized the tombs of the Douglas family which further infuriated the Scots. During the campaign, the invaders were alleged to have set fire to the Brumehous Tower while it was still occupied by an elderly lady and her family and servants. They were all burnt to death, and this story, true or not, bolstered the Scots' resolve with the battle cry of "Remember Broomhouse."

Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus (1489-1557); Attributed to anonymous 16th century artist
Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus (1489-1557)
Attributed to anonymous 16th century artist

The English attacks had forged an unlikely alliance between James Hamilton the Earl of Arran (who was also regent for the infant Mary) and Archibald Douglas the Earl of Angus. 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. Douglas learned that Eure would be granted some of his lands in the Scottish borderlands by King Henry; Douglas declared that he would witness the title deeds with a sharp pen and red ink (meaning a sword and blood).

As soon as word of the English incursion spread, Hamilton and Douglas mustered their forces and sped to the vicinity of Melrose. After burning Melrose, the English raiding force began marching back to the border on a still-serviceable Roman road, loaded down with plunder. They established an encampment near the village of Ancrum. However, near sunset on the evening of February 27, a small force of Scottish horsemen was sighted. The English mobilized their force, sending about half their men in pursuit – both foot and horse. The invaders pursued the fleeing Scots over a plateau, over a marshy landscape with a single narrow causeway. The pursuers crested a ridge called Palace Hill, proceeded down the slope, and met a blood-curdling sight…

English Army

The English army consisted of 3,000 mainly German mercenaries, 1,500 English Borderers and 700-800 Scottish ‘assured men' (Borderers who had sworn allegiance to the English crown). It was a predominantly foot army, unusual for border raids. It included pikemen, archers, and hagbutters (arquebusiers, or early musketeers). The English-allied Scots "assured men" were probably mounted, as were a small contingent of English. Evidence from contemporary chronicles indicated that the English force also possessed several cannon.

Swiss arquebuses, c. 1500, currently in Basle Historical Museum, Switzerland [Image courtesy of]
Swiss arquebuses, c. 1500, currently in Basle Historical Museum, Switzerland
[Image courtesy of]

Scottish Army

The Scottish force is estimated at around 2500 men total. They were primarily pikemen, with other footmen armed with two-handed swords, broadswords, halberds, and lochaber axes. A few were also armed with bows and arquebuses. Perhaps one-quarter of the Scottish army was mounted. Generally, nobles were expected to wear plate armor, while the commoners usually appeared in leather jacks and helmets. There are some histories that state that the Scots wore yellow "war shirts" in their fights with the English.

Display of swords and polearms (Lochaber axe is on right, the others are halberds); Display in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Display of swords and polearms (Lochaber axe is on right, the others are halberds)
Display in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

There are also reports that the Scots also had some cannon, perhaps even a ribauldequin or "organ gun," a multi-barreled cannon which helped overcome the usual Scottish lack of firepower. The Scots had a fairly extensive national artillery train, but they were generally very large pieces, compared to the smaller, lighter guns which the English utilized.

[I am speculating wildly about the composition of these two armies, as most of the sources I have used for this post are not very forthcoming in this regard.]

Battle of Ancrum Moor

The English appear to have been divided into two battles. The vanguard was led by Layton and consisted of around 2,000 spearmen, arquesbusiers, and archers. The second battle was led by Eure and consisted of around 3,000 men. Both battles had spears in the center and one wing of archers, the other of arquesbusiers. The Scots were probably in a long line, with men from neighboring towns and area arrayed together.

As they descended Palace Hill, the English were at first dazzled by the setting sun in their eyes. Then, when their vision cleared, the pursuers realized they were now confronted with the entire Scottish army, bristling with pikes and halberds. After their initial shock, the English archers and gunners fired at their enemy. Unfortunately, there was a strong wind blowing, and when the arquebuses discharged, thick clouds of smoke blew into the entire English force. During this confusion, the entire Scottish force charged the confused invaders.

One contemporary chronicle stated that the English pikemen were at a severe disadvantage in the battle. The pike used by the Scots was at least three feet longer than their opponents' weapons. Within several minutes, the English vanguard was pushed back over Palace Hill's crest. As the invaders retreated in fear and confusion, they ran into the advancing main battle of the English army. Quickly, the Scots slammed into the milling mass. Stabbing pikes, slashing swords, concussive strikes from halberds and Lochaber axes caused hundreds of casualties among the English.

"Battle of Ancrum Moor, Scots Charge" by Andrew Spratt [Image courtesy of]
"Battle of Ancrum Moor, Scots Charge" by Andrew Spratt
[Image courtesy of ]

As the sun began to set, and the battle began to turn against the English, their Scottish "assured men" allies had had enough. They ripped the red crosses proclaiming their allegiance from the sleeves of their jackets, and jointed their Scottish brethren and attacked the English. Soon afterwards, the invading army lost all cohesion and began to flee the field of battle. As they headed for the nearby border, local farmers and townsmen grabbed their weapons and attacked the routing enemy. The English were pursued into the night and the next day, until they crossed the frontier.


English casualties were listed as 800 killed and over 1000 taken prisoner. Some chronicles state that several English artillery pieces were also captured. Both English leaders – Eure and Layton – were killed in the battle.

Scottish casualties were stated to be 2 men, who were accidently killed by their own cannon. It is likely that otherwise their casualties were rather light.

Footnote #1: As a result of the Scottish victory, France sent troops to assist their allies to resist English aggression. However, the war went on hiatus when King Henry of England died in January of 1547.

Footnote #2: One of the legends of the battle was the "Maid Lilliard." Scottish legends claims her lover was killed during the battle, and she picked up his weapon and fought the fleeing invaders until she herself perished. The memorial stone shown at the top of this post marks her supposed burial site. The verse on the stone states:

"Fair maiden Lilliard lies under this stane,
Little was her stature, but great was her fame,
Upon the English loons she laid many thumps,
And when her legs were smitten off she fought upon her stumps."

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Shows that men fight their best in defense of God, home, and country. (Unfortunate typo in the opening sentence should be Henry VIII.)

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