Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Raid of the Redeswire, Carter Bar (NT698068)

High in the Cheviots, where the A68 crosses the Anglo-Scottish border, lies the landmark spot known as Carter Bar. At this lonely venue those of the touristy persuasion stop their cars and take photographs of each other near the border stone as the flags of Scotland and Northumberland, respectively, whip furiously in the gale.

Carter Bar is known for one famous historical incident: the Raid of the Redeswire. Otherwise known as the Redeswire Fray, or simply the Battle of Carter Bar, the brief encounter took place on 7th July 1575 and is recognised as the last major clash between the kingdoms of England and Scotland. The truth is, though, that it was little more than a skirmish. It all came about following a routine meeting of border officials, after which things got a little bit out of hand and a modest amount of blood was spilt (well, by battlefield standards of the day).

The day’s events began when the English Warden of the Middle March, Sir John Forster, together with Sir George Heron (Keeper of Redesdale), and a few other nobles met their Scottish counterparts, Sir John Carmichael (deputy Keeper of Liddesdale and the representative of the Scottish Warden) and George Douglas (among others). There wasn’t really any ‘raid’ as such, as the get-together was a pre-arranged affair on a day of truce, during which the opposing sides would iron out any differences peaceably – it being the responsibility of the respective wardens to avert any angry exchanges. Both parties brought with them a small body of armed men for back-up – mainly pikemen and gunmen on the Scots side and bowmen on the English side. Englishman Sir John Forster had a reputation for double-dealing and there were live rivalries across both sides, so there was a certain amount of tension in the air.

During a dispute about an English freebooter called Farnstein insults were traded between hothead Forster and the Scot Carmichael. The English bowmen got twitchy and let a few arrows fly, then all hell broke loose. The Scots were outnumbered but during the short fracas got the better of things – helped, it is rumoured, by the timely arrival of reinforcements from Jedburgh. Casualties on both sides were modest (George Heron and his brother were killed), but the victorious Scots took home with them several ‘prisoners of war’ – including the cad Forster – though they were all subsequently released without harm.

Within a few years, of course, the Crowns of the two kingdoms were united and all such incidents were cast into history. Well, until Wembley 1977, that is.

Note: Ten years later, in July 1585, there was actually another truce day ‘fray’ which took place at Windy Gyle, a border spot several miles NE of Carter Bar (NT855152). As far as I can tell, only the one fatality was suffered as a result of an unruly Scottish charge: that of Englishman Lord Francis Russell – though there was a rumour at the time that his demise was a ‘put up job’ to incriminate the opposition. Either way, it must be assumed that a single death did not qualify this as a ‘proper’ battle between the two nations! A cairn bearing his name lies near the blustery spot in question.

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