Mystery over whereabouts stops Borders battle earning bigger place in history

The probable site of the 1542 Battle of Haddon Rig.
The probable site of the 1542 Battle of Haddon Rig.

A bid to have a site near Kelso included in a list of Scottish battlefields of note has been rejected.

The 1542 Battle of Haddon Rig would appear to offer a potential retrospective boost for national pride, it being a victory for the Scots over the English in between crushing defeats at Flodden in Northumberland almost 40 years earlier and Solway Moss in Cumbria later that same year, followed by another reverse at Pinkie Cleugh in East Lothian in 1547.

However, a report by Historic Environment Scotland weighing up the case for its inclusion in the national inventory of historic battlefields concludes that it fails to meet the relevant criteria.

Among the reasons cited for that snub are that the conflict was more of a skirmish than a pitched battle resulting in few casualties and that it is hard to pinpoint where it took place.

The battle, to stick with its traditional description, was fought in August 1542 about three miles east of Kelso between an English army led by border deputy warden Robert Bowes and a Scottish force commanded by George Gordon, the fourth earl of Huntly.

Uncertainty surrounds the quantities of combatants involved and lives lost, but the English raiding party is believed to have numbered about 3,000 and their Scottish opponents are estimated to have mustered a force more than three times that size.

“The Battle of Haddon Rig does not feature highly in the national consciousness but is of some interest on grounds of association with historical events or figures of national importance,” says the Historic Environment Scotland study. “No artefacts from the battle have been recorded, but there is some potential that future investigations of the relatively undeveloped land south east of Kelso in the area around Haddon Rig may identify archaeological evidence for a chase and skirmish in August 1542.

“Although the high ground known as Haddon Rig remains a likely site for the English camp, the primary sources considered by this assessment provide insufficient detail to enable secure identification of the camp’s location, or of other landscape features associated with the battle, with the exception of some named settlements raided by the English forces.

“The degree of interest on these grounds is unlikely to make a significant contribution to our understanding at a national level.

“Furthermore, while certain named places in the accounts of the battle can still be identified today, these are spread across a substantial area along the River Tweed and the River Teviot.

“There is also uncertainty about the precise location of the English camp, from which Bowes advanced with the main force, and it is unclear exactly where the raiding party rejoined the main English force and where it is likely the main fighting took place.

“Without more certainty about the approximate locations of key elements of the battle, it is currently not possible to define an area of interest for the battlefield with a reasonable degree of certainty.

“As such, the battlefield does not currently meet the criteria for inclusion in the inventory as a battlefield of national importance.

“As Haddon Rig was not so much a pitchedbattle but perhaps more a chase and skirmish with relatively low loss of life, many of the raiding parties fled the battle and some were killed on retreat.

“This might suggest that the likely quantity of remains will be small and potentially widely scattered.

“The potential areas within which physical remains may be identified are numerous and extensive, and also probably hard to locate beyond a general area between Heiton and Hadden, a distance of around 10km, extending even to the English border.”

The bulk of the English force is said to have fled before any fighting took place, leaving only about 20 men to stand their ground.

Between 500 and 1,000 of the Northumbrian raiders were taken prisoner, including Bowes.