Mary Stuart became queen of Scotland at barely a week old when her father King James V died at Linlithgow Palace on 14 December 1542. It is often said that he died of the shame of losing the Battle of Solway Moss. Though in all honesty he’d been under the weather beforehand which why he wasn’t actually present on the battlefield.
The conflict between the Scots and the English came about because James V refused to turn Protestant and Henry permitted the borderers to cross into Scotland on a massive raid. Henry VIII had asked his nephew to meet him for a conference in York but James failed to turn up – which was probably enough to cause his uncle to send in the reivers and the duke of Norfolk. Matters probably weren’t helped when Lord Wharton came up with a plan to kidnap James V. Henry VIII wasn’t terribly keen on the idea but it probably didn’t help international relations.
In November 1542 the Scots crossed the Esk to exact their revenge under the command of Lord Maxwell. James, who didn’t trust his Lord Warden of the West March travelled as far as Lochmaben before being taken ill. He was in Caerlaverock Castle during the battle.
Henry VIII and the northerners in the western march had already received word of the Scots plans for invasion from an informer named Dand Nixon. Sir William Musgrave who was to take a leading part in the battle wrote an account which can be found in Henry VIII’s letters and papers for 1542:
On the 24th inst. a great army of Scotland, numbering 18,000, entered these Marches, and burnt the Graimes’s houses upon Esk and in the Debateable Ground. Master Warden, the writer, and all other gentlemen of these marches made speed towards them with 3,000 men at the most; sending Thos. Dacre, Jac of Musgrave and other Border spears to prick at them, while the rest, putting away their horses, marched up on foot within two arrow shot of the enemies to give battle. At this the noblemen and gentlemen of Scotland lighted off their horses; but the multitude durst not give battle, so they mounted again. Then the writer’s brother Simon Musgrave, Jac Musgrave, and others of his rule, and the Graimes “pricked sore at them, Thomas Dacre with the men of Gillesland, and John Leigh, with the barony of Brough standing in a flieng stadle,” and as the footmen marched forward, the Scots withdrew softly, until Jac Musgrave and others aforenamed, with the writer’s cousin Ayglyoinby, set on them and struck down many, and the rest fled over Esk. Lord Maxwell and other noblemen and courtiers lighted at the waterside and fought valiantly, but were taken prisoners. The horsemen of England took from two to five prisoners each, and also 5 fawcons, 5 demifacons, and many half hakes. It is thought that Lord Flemyng is taken, and the lord of Lowhenveure drowned. Over a thousand of their best men are taken or slain. Never saw goodlier personages. The Graimes and others who follow, will this night take many more; for they are past resisting, and, having left their victual and wallets behind, are like to famish ere they come home. Cannot report what other noblemen and gentlemen are taken, for most of the prisoners are not yet brought in. Trusts Browne will declare these pleasant tidings to the King, and take in good part this first knowledge of them. Of Englishmen only Robt. Briscow, a pensioner, and one Dogeson, a yeoman, are dead as yet. Begs help for his brother Simon, or cousin Ric. Musgrave to have Briscow’s pension. Yesterday Master Warden and the writer, with 2,000 men, went into Scotland and tarried in a bushment within half a mile of Mydleby, while the writer’s men, under Jac Musgrave, burned eight “great dwelling places called unsettes, and all their corn.” Other gentlemen, as Thos. Dacre and John Leigh, were appointed to go, but had not forty men there. All the Graimes were there, but they burned not. Two other “unsettes” were burnt. Sends a bill of articles “exploict in Scotland” by Jac Musgrave, since 20 Oct., with other letters. Credence for bearer, who took two prisoners in the chase.
Lord Wharton representing the English had approximately 3,500 men to the maximum of 18,000 Scottish men. On the down side the Scots were arguing amongst themselves on account of the fact that Oliver Sinclair, the King’s favourite, rocked up and declared that he was in charge – this did not go down terribly well with Maxwell or any of the other scottish lords so when William Musgrave started to harry them there wasn’t much of what you might describe as a unified response. Effectively the Scots fled – many of them taking the opportunity to surrender as soon as possible. Unfortunately for the rest of the fleeing army they encountered the reivers of Liddesdale and were stripped of everything they owned apart from their hose.
Shortly after that James V turned his face to the wall and died leaving his infant daughter to become the Queen of Scots. The only other Scottish queen had been the Fair maid of Norway who died of seasickness before she could arrive in Scotland.
‘Henry VIII: November 1542, 26-30’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 17, 1542, ed. James Gairdner and R H Brodie (London, 1900), pp. 618-643. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol17/pp618-643 [accessed 14 April 2017].