Ran red with English blood;
Where the Douglas true, and the bold Buccleuch,
‘Gainst keen Lord Evers stood.”
– Scott’s Eve of St. John.
ET love, hasty vengeance,’ quoth an old Scots proverb, which wise saw was amply exemplified by the violent measures of Bluff King Hal of England in furtherance of a matrimonial alliance, upon which he had set his heart, betwixt his young son, afterwards Edward VI., and the infant Mary Queen of Scots. The project, which would have brought about a peaceful union of the sister kingdoms, after long centuries of strife, might have succeeded, had Henry not gone about it in so masterful an fashion. Negotiations were set on foot, but the extravagant and insulting demands put forward by the English monarch roused the jealousy of the Scots, and afforded their Government good grounds to reject the proposal. “Het love” became transformed into “hasty vengeance.” Henry, in high chagrin, declared war. On the May-day of 1544, his fleet of 200 sail, commanded by Lord Lisle, the High Admiral, carrying on board a powerful land-force under the Earl of Hertford, sailed into the Firth of Forth. The troops effected an easy disembarkation. Leith and Edinburgh were seized and burned, and the neighbouring country pillaged, without the Scots offering other than the feeblest resistance. The invaders retired – the army by land, destroying as it went; and this ravage was followed by a series of furious inroads upon the Scottish Border, where the English forayers, led by Sir Ralph Evers (sometime Captain of Berwick), and Sir Brian Latoun, Captain of Norham, spread fearful devastation for about four months. Evers and Latoun then repaired to London, and obtaining an audience of King Henry, represented to him that a permanent conquest of a large tract of the Border was eminently practicable during the distracted state of Scotland. Henry lent a willing ear to their schemes, and granted to Evers all the lands which he should conquer in the Merse, Teviotdale, and Lauderdale – a considerable part of which pertained to Archibald, seventh Earl of Angus, and head of the house of Douglas. Evers was also ennobled, as lord of his prospective conquests; and Latoun likewise was to be rewarded with another portion of lands to be won by the sword.
Thus encouraged, the two confederates collected about 5000 armed men, composed of 1500 English archers, 3000 foreign mercenaries, chiefly German soldiers of fortune, and 600 Scottish Borderers – Armstrongs, Turnbulls, and other “broken clans,” who had taken “assurance” or protection from the English, and who joined the array, wearing the red cross on the breast of their jacks or mailed doublets. With this motley force Evers and Latoun, with Sir Robert Bowes, another Southron march-man, burst across the Border in the month of February 1544-45, and began a career of spoliation far exceeding in savagery that of the previous autumn. Still they met with little opposition. The tower of Broomhouse, held by an aged lady and her family, not being surrendered at the first summons, was stormed and set on fire – the matron and all her children perishing miserably in the conflagration. Melrose was occupied, and the venerable Abbey plundered and ruined. Not even the resting-places of the illustrious dead under the sacred roof were spared. The tombs of the Douglasses were wantonly broken open and their bones cast out. the ravage was continued all around Melrose, reducing the country to a desert.
The ruthless marauders fell upon the little village of Maxton, South of Melrose, and gave it to the flames. Some of the poor inhabitants, who from age and infirmity were unable to flee, lost their lives either by the sword or amid the blaze of their humble dwellings. One of the households consisted of an elderly father and mother and their only child, a daughter named Lilliard, a beautiful young woman. Both parents were bed-rid, and when the enemy swooped like vultures upon the hamlet, Lilliard, in the confusion, failed to get the frail old people removed in time from their cottage, which was speedily enveloped in the devouring flames. The daughter, in her vain efforts to save those near and dear to her, would have shared their fate had she not been rescued by a village swain, her sweetheart, who, forcing his way through the throng of destroyers, and receiving several wounds, brought her off from the scene of death. But not far had he fled with her beyond the immediate reach of the merciless foe when he sank down exhausted by loss of blood, and in a brief space breathed his last, murmuring his joy that he had saved her whom he loved better than his own life. Now was Lilliard bereaved of every one on earth to whom her heart’s best affections were bound. On the sward at her feet lay her dead deliverer, to whom she had been betrothed in the simple fashion of the Border, and yonder her native village was hidden in a dense smoke which was ever and anon streaked with quivering tongues of fire, while the breeze was laden with the crackling of flames and the shouts of the fierce soldiery. Lilliard was alone in the world, overwhelmed by the irreparable calamity of her life.
Whilst the Southrons thus devastated the Border, the Regent of Scotland, the Earl of Arran, seemed panic-stricken and utterly helpless. Naturally deficient in courage and capacity to cope with such an emergency, he felt no shame in maintaining his unmasterly and disgraceful inactivity. But the Earl of Angus – the Red Douglas, as he was called from the colour of his hair – was a man of another mould. The conquest of his Border lands, and the infamous desecration of the tombs of the Douglasses in Melrose Abbey, roused his Scottish wrath. “What!” exclaimed he, “has King Henry granted Evers and Latoun those fair lands of mine, which they are overrunning with fire and sword? By St. Bryde! I will write their seizins (infeftments) on their own skins with steel pens and in blood-red ink!” And he was as good as his word. He inspired the pusillanimous Regent with some sense of his duty, and leading a handful of retainers – 300 horsemen – forced him to hasten to the Border for the purpose of watching the enemy, and assuming the offensive as soon as succours could be had. By the time Angus and the Regent approached Melrose, their following was increased to about 500 men. The English, however, were now retiring towards Jedburgh, having left their baggage at Melrose under a guard; but on hearing of the advance of the Scots, Evers stopped his march, and under cloud of night directed a sudden attack upon them at Coldingham, by which they were driven back to the hills with much loss. Nevertheless, Angus was not dispirited by this stroke of ill-fortune. He hung upon the hills, observing the enemy’s motions, and ready to try conclusions as soon as he should find himself in sufficient strength. The English employed themselves in completing the plunder of Melrose, gleaning whatever remnants of spoil they could pick up and carry away: which done, they resumed their march to Jedburgh.
At this juncture reinforcements reached the Scots, who, following the enemy, and still keeping the hills, had, by making a cautious circuit, at safe distance, posted themselves directly in the way to Jedburgh. Seeing this movement, which threatened to bar their route, the English halted, and pitched their camp on a bare moorland near the village of Ancrum. The Scots occupied the nearest height to the westward, and were soon strong enough to seek a battle. The first help that came was brought by Norman Lesley, the Master of Rothes, who was at the head of 1200 Fife-men; and next appeared Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, with a few of his retainers, the main body of whom, he announced, would be up within an hour. As already said, the eminence which the Scots occupied overlooked Ancrum Moor from the westward; and at its base on the west side stretched a broad tract of level ground, somewhat marshy, called Paniel-haugh, which was again bounded by another and a higher hill, its green summit being within full view from the English camp.
The spring day was declining, but the sun shone in an unclouded sky, shedding a bright radiance over Ancrum Moor, where the Southrons, having set their camp, seemed preparing to fight. The Scottish leaders now held a council of war. On the advice of Buccleuch, it was resolved that their forced, mostly horsemen, should hurriedly retire from their present position, and descending to Paniel-haugh, form battalions on foot, whilst they sent all the horses with the grooms, over the hill behind, to deceive the enemy with the appearance of a retreat, and induce them to follow in hot pursuit. The ruse was successfully effected. Beholding the hasty flight from the brow of the hill, and then the cavalry galloping over the next height, the Southrons fell into the snare, and gave instant chase. Their van was led by Sir Brian Latoun and Sir Robert Bowes, and their main body by Lord Evers. Accordingly, the van, chiefly composed of cavalry, with hagbutiers and archers on the flanks, hurried forward to the deserted hill, and ascended it at breathless speed and in great disorder, followed in the like haste and confusion by the main battle – all anticipating a repetition of the recent success at Coldingham. The sun, low in the west, shone straight in the faces of the armed crowds that surmounted the heights, bewildering their sight, so that at first they failed to perceive the Scots, who were drawn up beneath on Paniel-haugh, in a position among the marshes which was easy to defend and dangerous to attack. The Southrons, however, had no alternative but to hazard attack; for their second division was pressing on the other. Down the declivity, sounding their trumpets, came Latoun’s troops, like a torrent of lava from an eruptive volcano. At the same moment a heron, which had hitherto kept concealed among the bog-weeds, took wing, and, mounting up between the hostile bodies, bore away through the sunny air. “Oh, that my white goshawk were here!” exclaimed the Red Douglas, gazing after the bird, “that we might all yoke at once!”
The English van rushed down impetuously upon the phalanx of the Scots, but encountered an irreparable check from the bristling hedge of long spears (about six ells in length, being an ell longer than those of the enemy), upon which they drove in the vain hope of beating it down. The Scots poured a deadly discharge of firearms into the thickest of the tumultuous mass. A straggling volley was returned from hagbut and bow, but almost harmlessly. What with the dazzling glare of the sunset and the gunpowder smoke which the west wind blew upon them, and what with the steady manner in which they were repulsed, the Southrons were thrown into still greater confusion, and fell back upon their main body and broke it up. Lord Evers and his brother officers did everything in the power of experienced leaders to rally their men; but the fortune of the fight was speedily decided. The Scots advanced in their close order, and charged with fury, scattering their foes like chaff; and now the assured Borderers, who had not yet engaged, having halted together and allowed their allies to pass on to discomfiture, tore off their red crosses and threw them away, and raising a tremendous shout of “Broomhouse! Broomhouse! Think on Broomhouse!” dashed upon the unprotected flank and rear of the English, completing by their irresistible onslaught the bloody disaster of the field. Lord Evers and his officers, though aghast at treachery so flagrant, still strove to turn the tide; but the battle was now a massacre, avenging the infamous barbarities of the invasion.
Whilst the Southrons were in total rout, Sir Brian Latoun fell in the melee, and was trampled under foot of friend and foe. Lord Evers, hemmed in, and with only a scanty band of his soldiers about him, fought with the last energies of despair. His steed was killed by several spear-thrusts; he mounted another, and it, too, sank under him; and he struggled on foot in the frightful press, hopeless of extrication, and looking but for a death of honour. And his fate came. He was stoutly assailed by a young Scot, who wore a white plume in his basinet or steel-cap, from beneath which escaped flowing yellow locks, seeming like hanks of gold in the last gleam of the sunset. Evers, wounded and weary, could but ill defend himself against the fury of his adversary, who at length struck him dead at his feet. All was over with Evers and his host; and a pitiless slaughter ensued in the pursuit. “The neighbouring peasantry, who, from terror of the English, had not engaged in the battle, rose upon the flying enemy,” says Tytler, the historian, “and such was the deep desire of vengeance, produced by the late ravages, that even the women took part in the pursuit, and calling out to their husbands and relations to ‘remember Broomhouse,’ encouraged them in the work of retribution.”
Of the English army 800 men were slain and 1000 made prisoners, including many knights and others of distinction. Strange to tell, among the captives was a worthy Alderman of London, named Thomas Reid, who had been punished by being sent to serve as a soldier because he had refused to bear his share of a “benevolence,” or forced contribution of money, which King Henry demanded from the citizens of his capital. The loss of the Scots was trivial, tradition asserting that only two fell; but the fatality, we should think, must have been greater than that.
The bodies of Evers and Latoun were found on the field amid the heaps of slain. Beside Evers lay the valiant Scot with the white plume, cold and stiff, and mangled with many wounds. At the first glance, in the gathering gloaming, the youth was unrecognised; but, on closer view, what was the astonishment of the beholders when they discovered that the warrior was a fair and handsome woman – was the maiden Lilliard, who had been bereft of father, mother, and lover at the ravage of the hamlet of Maxton! How she came armed to mingle in the battle was soon ascertained from some of the peasantry, who had seen her go forth on her Amazonian mission. In the agony of her sorrow and despair she had vowed to seek vengeance at her own hand, though she should perish in the attempt. She had borrowed armour and weapons, and hastened to the array of the Red Douglas, and had borne her part in the fight, yielding up her heroic spirit, whilst the shouts of victory rang in her ears.
Where should her compatriots inter the brave-hearted maiden but where she fell, on the field of her fame? It was so done – and with a melancholy pride, the “joy of grief,” that Scotland could boast of such a heroine. A gravestone was speedily placed to mark where she lay, with the spring flowers blooming above her; and this was the simply-worded inscription, fully commemorative of her valour:-
“Fair Maiden Lilliard lies under this stane,
Little was her stature, but great was her fame;
Upon the English loons she laid mony thumps,
And when her legs were cutted off,
She fought upon her stumps.”
From this grave and its memorial the scene of battle was called by the peasantry “Lilliard’s Edge.” The notes to Sir Walter Scott’s fine ballad of the “Eve of St. John” state that at the time he wrote “the old people point out her monument, now broken and defaced,” and that “the inscription is said to have been legible within this century.”
After the bold Earl of Angus had seen seizins of his Border lands written with pens of steel and in blood-red ink upon the skins of the two English captains, he cherished no resentment against their memories, but generously gave them honourable burial within Melrose Abbey, which they had ruthlessly sacked. “About the year 1812,” says the anonymous author of The History of the Scottish Wars, “when the floor of the old Abbey was clearing out, the author happening to be in Melrose, saw a stone coffin, inscribed ‘Dns. Ivers’ – that is, ‘Dominus Ivers,’ Lord Evers. It was one entire stone, fitted to the head, neck, and body. The skeleton was entire, but soon mouldered into dust. The coffin of Sir Brian Latoun was only flagstones.”
It remains only to be told how enraged King Henry was when he learned how his adventurous march-men had lost the day at Lilliard’s Edge. His wrath burned hottest against the Red Douglas, who had been his brother-in-law by marrying his sister, Queen Margaret, the widowed consort of James IV. of Scotland; but the union had proved unhappy, and been dissolved by divorce, and Margaret herself lay buried in the Carthusian Monastery at Perth. Angus, on hearing of King Hal’s threats, scoffed at them. “What!” he said, “is our royal brother-in-law offended that I am a good Scotsman, because I have revenged the defacing of the tombs of my ancestors in Melrose Abbey upon Ralph Evers? They were better men than he, and I ought to have done no less. And will he take my life for that? Little knows King Henry the skirts of Cairntable” – a mountain near Douglas Castle – “I can keep myself there from all his English host.”