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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter XVI


The Raid of Solway Moss.

Hear may ye read full plain and clear,
Without excuse or gloss,
About the battle called whylere,
"The Raid of Solway Moss."

James V., as we have shewn, though ready for war when it should he meet, was also ever ready for love, when the time should serve : he suffered great persecution from the Douglasses for a long time, but triumphed over them in the end; the civil wars, which this family had not a little fomented, had reduced the state to a pitiful condition of anarchy: but when the king succeeded in putting these enemies down, he turned seriously towards a thorough amelioration of his government. He was far from being deficient in parts; but discovered courage, acuteness, presence of mind, and a good ability to fulfil his high and responsible station; yet, at the same time, it must be conceded, that his passions often drove him to commit vast acts of cruelty.

A great part of his reign was troubled with the unchristian disputes in religion—an unmeet subject to breed animosity. Romanism was, perhaps, as tyrannical, bigoted, and intolerant in Scotland as in any country beneath the offended heavens. The king himself favoured the established church of papacy: not so much because in his conscience he believed it to be the purer, but because the Archbishop of St. Andrews, the Pope's representative in his dominions, had formerly rescued him out of the clutches of his foes; and the gratitude, which this act had created towards the individual, became love to the individual; and the love to the individual, by a natural extension, attached itself to the religion, in his dominions, at the head of which the individual stood.

Time and experience have proved, that persecution rather spreads and propagates a new opinion than destroys it: it creates a curiosity to know what the new opinion can be that is so treated,— and this very curiosity favours its growth. Nothing tended to blazon all over Scotland this curiosity to know what Lutherism was, so much as the burning of Patric Hamilton, Abbot of Feme, the first particularly noticeable heretic : and, so far from this rigour effecting the purposed end, it rather served to publish those very opinions which his executioners were trying to stifle.

These ungentle thoughts were turned aside in the year 1537, by the marriage of the king with the daughter of Francis of France, and a happier train called up :—but his bride died a few months after.

The next year James consoled his widowhood by espousing Mary of Guise: and, by so doing, greatly offended Henry VIII. of England, who was also a candidate for that lady's hand. Soon after this, certain other matters befel between the two other monarchs, which it was found impossible to accommodate, wherefore they both prepared to decide their differences by the ultima ratio regum, namely, war:—Regibus hie mos est.

Henry attacked and captured twenty Scotch trading vessels on the high seas, and then threatened to revive the ancient feudal right to the sovereignty of this part of the island, so strongly asserted by Edward I.: he complained that James had usurped his title of Defender of the Faith, to which he had added the word Christian, implying that Henry must be van infidel; but the Pope had, some time before, complimented the Scotch kings with that title. Henry had declared himself sole monarch of Ireland at this juncture, but James strenuously asserted that he had at least a right to one half of it, for all the northern parts were peopled by his subjects or their offspring, and many of the Irish chieftains had actually come over and sworn fealty to him; and such being the posture of affairs, and the spirit of the two kings, nothing was left but to fight.

The kingdom of Scotland was now, owing to divers wise statutes and regulations which the parliament had enacted, in a happier, more formidable, more enlarged, and more efficient condition, than it had ever before been: its armies were numerous, its militia well regulated, and its revenues abundant; so that victory and success were looked for with confidence.

Several hostile encounters took place on the borders and the Merse, in most of which the English were either defeated or obliged to retreat; and albeit some signs of disaffection had manifested themselves in James's soldiers, whereby they could not be induced at all times to draw their swords against the English or enter their country; yet, at last, they consented to invade England by the western marches over the Sark and the Solway Moss.

Ten thousand men were demanded for this purpose ; James sent them forward, purposing himself soon to follow. Great discontent existed amongst the soldiers; for, owing to the king's adherence to the Romish creed, which had by this time become unpopular throughout the kingdom, and owing to divers unwise acts which he had done in the cabinet, whereby he had so entirely estranged the affections of his nobles as to have lost all confidence in their fidelity, he found that it was not without many signs of mutiny that they could be brought to consent to invading England at his commandment.

Disgusted at the turbulent spirit which still continued to dislocate the unanimity of his army, he sent a message when it had approached the Debateable Land, depriving the Lord Maxwell of his commission, and conferring the command ori Oliver Sinclair, a private gentleman, who was his minion.

However bad matters might have been before this transaction, of a truth, it must be said, that they were ten times worse afterwards.

On the 23rd of November, 1542, the Scotch began their march at midnight; and, having passed the Sark and the Esk, all the circumjacent villages were seen in flames by the break of day. Sir Thomas Wharton, the English warden of those marches, hastily raised a few troops, in all not exceeding five hundred men, and drew them up on an advantageous ground.

Now then did Oliver Sinclair arise in his true puissance: he ordered the royal banner to be unfurled over his head, by way of calling respect and attention to his estate, and then mounting aloft on the shoulders of two tall men, so as to be seen of all eyes, he read aloud his commission.

Presumptuous is the pen that tries to describe the scene that hereupon ensued ; wonderment, rage, and consternation, all burst forth like so many contending whirlwinds: the military beauties of rank and file were immediately obliterated from the host: and the commanders first, and then the soldiers, every one declared, without a dissentaneous voice, that they would liefer all surrender themselves prisoners to their foes, than submit to the commandment of such a general as Sinclair.

Everything in an instant was dissorder, tumult, and confusion: horse and foot, bowmen and halberdiers, hand-gunners and hagbut-men, noblemen and camp scullions, regulars, stragglers, hangers-on and country peasants, all formed one motley and heterogeneous comminglement.

Some philanthropists affirm that, in the ordinary dealings of life with our fellow men, it is ignoble for one to take an undue advantage of another; but in war, which at best is but a satanic game, this amiable principle is not always respected. Certain it is, the English made no hesitation at taking the Scots at a disadvantage on this occasion. They perceived the disordered state of the ten-thousand, and not impossibly divined its cause, since their emissaries had advertised them fully of all circumstances touching King James's impolicy; and a hundred light-horse had already advanced to the charge. These met with but very little resistance, and had scarce any work to try the strength of their arms. The rest of the English now advanced: the confused Scotch, being in no fensible condition, and in no good mind to defend themselves, hastily eschewed the presence of their guests by having regard to what in more modern ages has been designated "leg bail:" and, if it really be, that the term itself did not then exist on men's tongues, this true record at least instructs us, that the practice in men's legs certainly did.

To the deep thinker, and to the natural philosopher, these facts and haps are not without instruction ; for they will induce us into the knowledge of certain remarkable circumstances in the physiology of the human species, amongst the chief of which is this, videlicet,—that valour dwells above the waist-band girded round the body, but that fear has its habitation below. For, whereas he who is possessed of goodly courage, a stout heart, and plenty of that same courage, sticks well to it when he meets his foe, stands upon his legs, and keeps them still, throwing all his strength vigorously into his arms with which he valiantly defends himself: but, on the other hand, he who is stricken with terror when he meets his foe, immediately drops his arms as of no use, and, speedily putting all his vigour into his legs below his girdle, turns about and runs for it.

Such was the vigour of the Scots below their waist-bands, that they fled away over the Debate-able Land and Gratney like the wind, even trampling each other under foot in their expedition ; and such was their perplexity, derangement, and panic, that they drew their claymores from their sides, friends madly piercing friends, and countrymen unwittingly slaying countrymen with their own hands. Their fear was so excessive, and so helpless had they become through its mastery, that the very women and boys of the English camp came up and made prisoners of the soldiers without difficulty.

Such was the Raid of Solway Moss.

When the consummation of this untoward affair was reported to James, he fell into a grievous state of distraction; rage against his commanders, who he thought had betrayed him; some severe stings of his own conscience, which arose upon him at the remembrance of many of his past follies; divers curee edaces, which had long been eating into his constitution; and, finally, this shameful defeat, all together brought such an accumulation of woes upon his head at one fell swoop, that, being unable to endure them any longer, he died on the 14th of December, 1542.

He left his infant daughter Mary, then only a week old, and afterwards Queen Elizabeth's victim at Fothcringay, sole heiress to his dominions: and under these circumstances, Henry VIII. strove to unite both kingdoms together, by proposing a union between her and his son Edward, now five years of age. Albeit, from prudential motives, the Scotch acceded to this proposition, yet, shortly afterwards fresh disputes arose which prevented its ultimate accomplishment; for "the Yrische lordes of Scotland, commonly callit the Redd-shanckes, and by historiographouris, Pictis," would not listen to anything of the sort, when they found themselves strong enough to resist it.

About this time there was one John Elder, whom we have above quoted, somewhat of a scholar and much of a schemer, who busied himself and his pen by writing to Henry, cunningly setting forth and devising certain plans for effecting the wished-for union ; and to the influence of his arguments thus conveyed to the king, are ascribed those secret cabals, those deviseful measures, the existence of many unknown emissaries, who prowled over many parts of Scotland, and insinuated their way into the society of both nobles and gentles, those political plots, those reiterated negotiations, and those off-and-on stipulations, which annoyed the regency in Scotland for a series of years afterwards.

They ended in nothing, and Mary became sole Queen.


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