The Battle of Solway Moss

A few miles north east of the Solway, just by the Esk is the area of Arthuret Howe, where in 1542 the English forces faced the Scots, in a battle that ended in a huge and tragic loss of life. When Henry VIII of England broke from the Roman Catholic Church, his nephew, James V of Scotland, refused to do the same. Furious, Henry VIII sent troops against Scotland and in retaliation, James responded by assigning Lord Maxwell, the Scottish Warden of West March, the task of raising an army.

On 24 November 1542, an army of 15,000–18,000 Scots advanced into England and was met near Solway Moss by Lord Wharton and his 3,000 men. The battle was uncoordinated and ended in catastrophe. On sighting the tiny English force atop the hill in front of them, the Scots hesitated fearing a ruse. The English cavalry seized their chance and charged; the Scottish ranks broke and attempted to retreat. Trapped at the ford on the south bank of the River Esk, some Scots made a rearguard stand before finally surrendering. Many drowned attempting to cross the ford and those that survived hid in the boggy heathland that gives the battle its name, Solway Moss. Losses as a direct consequence of the battle were relatively few, however several hundred Scots were believed drowned and around 1,200 taken prisoner. Humiliated by the defeat, King James died a few weeks later aged just 30, leaving behind a six-day-old daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots.

The site remains largely undeveloped agricultural land. However, the character of the landscape has changed considerably with the process of enclosure and the draining of the large floodplain between the hamlet of Arthuret and the River Esk.

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