The Douglases and Border Warfare from 1356-1651

Andrew Spratt

14th October 2009


Bob McKendrick, Vice President, welcomed 85 members of the Old Gala Club to the meeting held on October 14 in St. Paul’s Church Hall. The speaker was Andrew Spratt, Custodian at Dirleton Castle, who spoke on “The Douglases and Border Warfare from 1356-1651”.

Andrew began by showing examples of medieval artefacts including a whip, swords, jousting lance and a loin chain similar to the one worn by James IV to remind him oft he death of his father. He also gave us the origins of sayings, which are still in use and date back to that period.

In a humorous and informative illustrated talk Andrew detailed the many disputes between the Kings, the Douglases and other prominent Scottish families as well as the powerful families from the North of England.

A collection of slides illustrated the confusion during battles and highlighted the main combatants showing their dress and weapons. The show was punctuated by the speaker giving vivid descriptions of warfare in this period.

An interesting aspect of the show was Andrew’s modern pictures of Border castles as they are now and his graphic reconstructions of how they would have appeared hundreds of years ago. Most of these structures were built using the sea, elevated land and ditches as defenses. Tantallon is a good example of this type of fortification as are Dunbar, Fast, Berwick, Dunstanburgh, Threave on its is­land, Loch Maben, Dirleton, Neidpath, Hailes and Crichton.

The reconstruction of the Castle of Roxburgh showed what an important fortification it was, the

Douglases being in residence when James II was killed by an exploding gun named The Lion. The Douglas armies attacked Northern English castles I including Etal, Ford, Norham and Wark where the Order of the Garter originated. At Norham the fa­mous cannon Mons Meg was used in the assault.

History records that James IV “dallied” with I Lady Heron at Ford prior to the Battle of Flodden.


Tantallon and the Douglas families featured in many of the major incidents and the speaker paint­ed a vivid picture of life in turbulent times, full of violence and treachery.


After questions Norman Houldsworth gave a vote of thanks.