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Approaches to Conflict on the Anglo-Scottish Borders in the late Fourteenth Century
By Alastair Macdonald
Ships, Guns and Bibles in the North Sea and Baltic States, c.1350-c.1700, edited by Allan I. Macinnes, Thomas Riis and Frederik Pederson (Tuckwell Press, 2000)
Introduction: In the summer of 1380, a flagrant breach of the Anglo-Scottish truce then in force took place. The great Scottish magnate William, Earl of Douglas, invaded the West March of England. The expedition was of size enough to penetrate as far as Penrith, some 30 miles into England, and that town was ravaged during its annual fair. Rich prizes in booty and prisoners were taken and Douglas’s force returned to Scotland unmolested. Damage caused in north-western England was extensive: the royal demesne around Carlisle was wasted; rents in Inglewood Forest nearby were reduced by three-quarters; and the barony of Liddel, on the Border, was found to be worth nothing, as were lands at Alstonby in northern Cumberland ‘totally destroyed by the Scots’. The Douglas invasion of 1380 amounted to an impressive military achievement. A further Scottish raid on Northumberland, meanwhile, was launched in tandem with the Douglas offensive in the west. This eastern offensive, led by George Dunbar, Earl of March, culminated on 25 June 1380, at Horse Rigg close to the Border in Northumberland. There the Earl of March defeated an English force led by Ralph, Baron Greystoke, an important member of the northern English nobility. The English force, perhaps 200 strong, had been heading towards the castle of Roxburgh where its leader was to take up duty as the garrison commander. (Areas of southern Scotland, including the castle of Roxburgh were in English hands at this time, a legacy of earlier Anglo-Scottish war) Rather than reaching his destination, Greystoke’s fate was to be conveyed to Dunbar, the main seat of the Earl of March, and be feasted on his own plate with the provisions he had intended to carry to Roxburgh. As well as Greystoke, other prominent figures were captured by March’s force, including William Aton, Robert Hilton and John Creswell. Greystoke later claimed that 120 men were captured alongside him at the battle of Horse Rigg.
In 1380, then, the Scots had launched a seemingly well-planned double offensive culminating in victory at the battle at Horse Rigg. This was an extensive and sophisticated Scottish military effort; and it took place on sea as well as on land. Damage inflicted on Fame Island in Northumberland seems to indicate Scottish naval activity in 1380. This activity may have been diversionary in intent while the earl of March operated on the Border and his colleague-in-arms Douglas plundered unopposed in the west. There was also an important international dimension to this Scottish offensive. The timing of the onslaught was precise, and took account of developments beyond the strictly Anglo-Scottish sphere. The Scots waited until the Earl of Buckingham had bee dispatched to France to lead the English military effort for 1380. Co-operation may also have occurred with French and Castilian attacks on Ireland. The Scots had very strong links with the French crown around this time and at least one earl of Douglas was in personal correspondence with a king of Castile. French and Castilian vessels were captured at Kinsale in 1380, the same year in which Richard II’s lieutenant in Ireland, the English Earl of March, mentioned his services in combating the Scots, and a decree was made against Scots or other enemies being admitted to religious houses in Ireland. Even further afield, tenements in Beaumaris, North Wales, were found to have been wasted by the Scots in 1381. So this Scottish offensive of 1380 was devastating in the English borders, but also entailed a continental dimension and probably, an intervention in the Irish Sea world to the west. Not surprisingly, despite the official existence of an Anglo-Scottish truce, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland and the greatest magnate of the English far north, wanted to launch a retaliatory raid into Scotland. He was, however, prevented from launching an invasion by royal writ. Travelling to Westminster to find out why, Northumberland was informed that John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, was to be dispatched north to hold March–Day negotiations with the Scots. Gaunt’s force for this meeting was over 3,000 strong, and it cost the English exchequer more than £5,000. Its result was to reaffirm the truce with Scotland that had been so heavily breached in the course of the year.