Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Lord Dacre, Flodden and the Borders

Lockdown has delayed the launch of our first audio trail (Hermitage), but it's been a useful window to move forward with the others. The focus now is on Flodden (launching in a few weeks time). Writing this, I keep coming up against Lord Dacre - specifically Thomas Dacre 2nd Baron of Gillsland (1467 - 1525) -  a perpetual thorn in the side of the Scots.

Firstly, a few years before Flodden, Dacre, as English Lord Warden of the Marches, Dacre met Sir Robert Kerr of Cessford Castle, Scottish Warden of the Middle March. It was a ‘Truce Day’ –  a day for the peaceful settlement of grievances. However, there was an argument, then a scuffle which ended up with Sir Robert being killed by three Englishmen: Lilburn, Starhead and the memorably named Heron the Bastard of Ford. The Scots managed to grab Lilburn, Starhead was tracked to a house in York, murdered, and the head brought back to Cessford; The ‘Bastard Heron’ escaped. Dacre's role in all this is unclear.

At Flodden, Dacre commanded the English Border Horse. Initially held in reserve, they then played a major role arriving in strength when Edmund Howard, son of the English commander Lord Surrey, was surrounded and so nearly captured by Lord Home's Borderers.

The Battle of Flodden 1513

Next morning, Dacre is the man who identified the stripped body of the Scottish king, James IV (with whom he had played cards!) and took it off the field. 

Two months after Flodden, Dacre was raiding in Teviotdale. He reports to his king...

On Thursday past I assembled your subjects in Northumberland to the number of a thousand horsemen and rode in at Gallespeth, and so to the Water of Kale, two miles within Scotland and there set forth two forays; my brother Philip Dacre with three hundred, who burnt and destroyed the the town of Ruecastle with all the corn in the same and there-about, and took two towers in it and burnt both roof and floors; and Sir Roger Fenwick with three hundred men burnt the town of Lanton, and destroyed all the corn therein.

He was at it again in 1514. But after raiding up the Ale Water some of his men were ambushed by the callants of Hawick at Hornshole and lost their flag - now the symbol of Hawick and its Common Riding.

Finally, Dacre was back in 1523. "In the morning of the day which was yesterday, we set forward and we went to Kelso where we not only burned and destroyed the whole town that would burn by any labour but also cast down the Gatehouse of the Abbey." 
Yes. We have him to blame.

So who was this swashbuckling destroyer?
Arms of Thomas, 2nd Lord Dacre

Born at Gillsland on Hadrian's Wall, son of a West March Warden and Governor of Carlisle, he was very much a Borderer. 

Aged 18 he was at the Battle of Bosworth Field, fighting for the House of York against the victorious House of Lancaster. But he quickly made his peace with the new King Henry VII, who later made him a Knight of the Bath.

Later that year (still 18!) he became Deputy Lord Warden of the Marches, then five years later in 1490, Warden of the West March .

Aged 21 he fell in love with  Elizabeth Greystoke, 17 year old ward of the powerful Lord Clifford. He abducted her by night from Brougham Castle in Westmorland. Somehow he got away with it, married her and they had eight children.

He seems to have been quite a friend of James IV, whose wedding he attended. When James visited Dumfries in 1504 he played cards against Dacre, who reportedly took him for £2 6s 8d!

From 1509 to 1525 he was Henry VIII's Lord Warden of the Marches, responsible for the entire border. And so it was that whilst he held this position, created to ensure peace along the Border, he was leading these various raids into Teviotdale.

He was clearly a warrior; he also knew how to have others do his dirty work for him. George MacDonald Fraser in 'Steel Bonnets' puts it like this...

"As a stirrer-up of mischief on the Scottish side of the frontier, intriguing among factions, enlisting Scots outlaws to harry their countrymen and promoting his monarch's policy of confusion and harm, he had few equals.

Dacre was in the saddle to the end, dying when he fell from his horse in 1525. He is buried in the family vault at Lanercost Priory. His son William succeeded him as Warden of the West March. 

Lanercost Priory near Brampton