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11 August 2016

Gretna Battlefield becomes 40th site on the National Inventory

Site of little-known Scottish victory at Battle of Sark formally recognised

‘Scots taunt the Engish forces into deep water at the River Sark. Conjectural reconstruction by Andrew Spratt, 1984.’ Copyright @ Andrew Spratt
‘Scots taunt the Engish forces into deep water at the River Sark. Conjectural reconstruction by Andrew Spratt, 1984.’ Copyright @ Andrew Spratt

A battlefield to the southwest of Gretna in Dumfries and Galloway has become the 40th site to be added to the Inventory of Historic Battlefields.

The Battle of Sark, fought in 1448, was the first decisive victory for a Scottish force over the English since the Battle of Otterburn, 60 years earlier, and the final pitched battle between the two countries in the period of the Hundred Years War.

Philip Robertson, Historic Environment Scotland’s Deputy Head of Designations for battlefields, said: “The Inventory raises awareness about important battlefield sites which add to our understanding of Scotland’s archaeology and history. Following an application from a member of the public, we carried out further research into the Battle of Sark, and found that it met the criteria to be added to the inventory. The battle was fought during a fascinating and tumultuous period of Scottish history, and we hope that by adding it to the inventory we will raise awareness of the battlefield site, stimulate further research around it, and develop its potential as an educational resource and site for visitors.”

The background to the battle was a brief period of relative peace between England and Scotland, abruptly brought to an end in late 1448 by the decision of Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland to invade Scotland with a force reported to be around 6,000 men. He did so with the blessing of the English king Henry V. His plan was to ransack the lands of the Douglas family. He made camp in the area adjacent to modern Gretna and dispatched scouting and raiding parties to the surrounding area.

Near the end of October, Northumberland’s army was met by a Scottish force of 4,000 men led by Hugh Douglas, Earl of Ormonde. Although the English army were warned of Ormonde’s advance and able to deploy for battle in time to meet the Scots, the battle soon became a rout after the English archers were neutralised and the main Scottish army was able to advance on Northumberland’s forces, who were now cornered by three watercourses – the Esk, the Sark, and the Kirtle Water. Hemmed in on three sides, the English soldiers were unable to easily retreat and many were reported to have been drowned in the Esk.

Although the victory was a decisive one for the Scots, the battle did little to alter the landscape of internal conflict in the Kingdoms on both sides of the Borders, other than to greatly increase the prominence of the already powerful Douglas family in Scottish politics. The Earl of Northumberland was able to escape the conflict.

The Inventory of Historic Battlefields was created in 2011 and is a major resource for enhancing the understanding and appreciation of battlefields, as well as promoting education and stimulating further research on the topic. It helps with the protection and management of battlefields.

The Inventory is maintained by Historic Environment Scotland. Anybody can apply for a battlefield to be designated. Information on how to do this can be found on our Inventory of Historic Battlefields webpage.

For more information on designations, including battlefields, visit our Heritage Portal.

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