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Date - 13th May, 1568
Combatants -
Mary Queen of Scots .v. Grange
Setting -
The village of Langside

Moray and 45,000 men defeated Mary with only 4,500.
Mary flees to England to seek help from Elizabeth I, who imprisons Mary in
various Keeps, Castles and Towers.

Queen Mary’s reign was in tatters when she escaped from Loch Leven Castle on 2 May 1568.  A week later she had gathered six thousand men willing to fight for her as she headed for the safety of her strong Dumbarton Castle, which Lord Fleming was holding for her. Lord James Stewart, her half-brother, recognized the security Dumbarton Castle would give her and moved his smaller, better-trained army to intercept. The forces confronted each other at Langside, then a village south-west of Glasgow, now a suburb. Few were killed during the forty-five minute confrontation which resulted in Mary’s followers fleeing the area. The Queen fled too, first to Dundrennan, then England.

Langside Battlefield Memorial

There seems to have been no hesitation about the course to be adopted after the escape. The heavy task of bringing the Scots to a sense of their duty was greatly lightened, and France must be anticipated in its fulfillment. Thomas Leighton was sent as messenger or ambassador to Queen Mary, with full and hearty instructions. If Queen Mary would accept of her sister's intervention, and agree to be guided by her, without seeking assistance from any foreign power, " she shall then be assured that we will have the principal regard to her state, so as her subjects may be reduced to acknowledge their duties without shedding of blood or trouble of her realm; and if they will not yield to reason by treaty or persuasion, we will give to her such aid as shall be requisite to compel them." There are some persuasive reasons given why the Queen of Scots should concur in the conclusion, that of all the potentates of Europe her neighbor the Queen of England is the one to whom it must naturally and justly fall to interpose, and bring the troubles of Scotland to a happy end; but no hint is dropped about the claim of homage. The bearer of these instructions did not find the queen to whom he was accredited. Her followers naturally looked around for some stronger position than Hamilton. Dunbar Castle had been acquired by the regent, and the Queen's party attempted to regain it, but failed. Dumbarton, held by the Lord Fleming, was the next recourse. It involved a march close by Glasgow; but as the queen's force was the larger of the two, it was resolved to take this risk. The Hamiltons have been blamed for recommending it with a treacherous purpose. It was a critical moment for the regent, but he decided that the best policy was to fight.

The queen's force was estimated at 6000 men, the other at 4500. But Moray had a great preponderance of military capacity. He was himself a tried soldier in the home wars, and had others such to assist him, as Morton, Semple, Home, and Lindsay; further, he had Kirkcaldy of Grange, a leader of European renown, who had fought both at home and abroad. To him the regent confided duties like those of a modern aide-de-camp, with a wider discretion to act on his own judgment. On the 13th of May the queen's army began to march along the south bank of the Clyde towards Dumbarton. On a height about two miles southward from Glasgow stood, and still stands, the -village of Langside. A sight of this village, on a stroll from Glasgow, shows that in the question of forcing a passage from Hamilton to Dumbarton, the critical struggle must be here. It seems to have been then, as now, a cluster of houses on either side of the main road where it crosses a hill. We may at once judge that the queen was ill supported by military capacity when the post was not seized and held before she began her journey.

When it was seen from Glasgow that, without any preparation, the queen's party was to pass through the village by the highroad, the tactic of the day was instantly chosen. Kirkcaldy, who commanded the horse, sent two hundred troopers, each with a marksman behind him, through the river. There was a race for this critical spot; but the marksmen gained, and were quickly posted among the houses and behind the walls and fences. The queen's troops, commanded by Argyle, formed on a small hill towards the east of the village. They had with them sixteen cannon; but these seem to have played to no effect, since they could do little harm to the marksmen under cover, and could not reach the main force of the regent's party, which had been drawn up westward of the village. It was determined that the vanguard, led by Lord Arbroath, should try to storm the village and force a passage. The heavy-armed men in the front rank were met by a like body from the regent's army, and a scene characteristic of the warfare of the age followed. The tactic that the game of war is gained by rendering the warrior impregnable in an iron case had reached the height of its completeness and absurdity, and was to give place to the reactionary theory that the first object of all the apparatus of war is the destruction of the enemy. Each line of spears finally stuck in the angles and joints of the mail of the opposite rank, and the battle was a mere trial of superior weight and pressure. Thus across the path were two walls of iron, with human beings enclosed in each, striving in vain at motion and effective action. They not only could not assail each other, but was a barrier preventing the residue of each army from joining battle. An eyewitness records the frantic efforts of those behind to assail their enemy with broken weapons, stones, and other hand-missiles, and describes how some of these fell and lay on the crossed spears as on a platform. While those behind bad no better occupation than this, marks of unsteadiness were observed by the regent's force among those on the queen's side, and Grange charging them, they broke and fled. "There were not many horsemen," says the same eyewitness, " til pursue after them, and the regent cried to save and not slay; and Grange was never cruel, so that there were but a few slain and tain." It was said that three hundred were killed on the losing side, while the other only lost one man. The affair lasted but for three-fourths of an hour. In the number engaged, and the nature of the contest, it was of the character of a mere skirmish; but the conditions in which it was fought rendered it a decisive battle. It settled the fate of Scotland, affected the future of England, and bad its influence over all Europe.

The queen, when she saw the fate of the day, galloped off frantically. A second time the exciting events of which she was the center had broken in upon her self-command. She fled from her friends as well as her enemies so heedlessly, leaving all behind, that it is impossible to identify the course she took; and there are doubts about the place where she first found refuge. She is generally said to have ridden, straight to Dundrennan Abbey; but that is upwards of a hundred miles from Langside. The author of the Memoirs of Lord Herries says she was accompanied by himself, his son, Lord Livingston, Lord Fleming, George Douglas, and Willy, the hero of the escape, and that "she rode all night, and did not rest until she came to the Sanquhar. From thence she went to Terregles, the Lord Herries's house, where she rested some few days." She said in her appeal to Queen Elizabeth that she rode sixty miles on the first day of her flight; and allowing for indirect roads, it is easy to suppose the journey from Glasgow to Sanquhar prolonged to that distance, according to modern measurement. The journey onwards to Terregles would add other thirty miles at least. It must have been to this journey that she referred, though the context makes her speak of England, in that letter, full of sorrows, to her uncle the cardinal, in which she says she had suffered hunger, cold, and fear; had fled, she knew not whither, fourscore and twelve miles across the country, without once alighting; bad slept "sur la dure;" had to drink sour milk, and feed on oaten meal; and had been three nights like the owls. She resolved to pass over to England. Whether this was under or against the advice she received, or whether she received any, cannot be determined. Herries, we know, was with her; for he wrote, announcing her intention, to the deputy-captain of Carlisle, desiring to know whether, if the Queen of Scots might seek refuge in England, she could safely go to that fortress. The astounded deputy, explaining that his principal was at Court, answered that this was too high a question for him to determine, but he would send first to Court for instructions; and if the queen came, he would meet her, and protect her until he received further instructions from Court. But before even the deputy's provisional answer could be received she had gone. On the 16th she embarked in an open fishing-boat, with Herries and some eighteen or twenty other "persons" - they are not called attendants - and landed on the same day to Workington, in Cumberland.