IN the second of our three-part series on great Scottish victories in battles that you may have never heard of, we will be considering the Battle of Sark or Lochmaben Stone, an important win for a small Scottish army over a larger English force. Unlike the Battle of Roslin in 1303 that we looked at last week, there is strong evidence about Sark – we’ll call it that though many historians prefer Lochmaben Stone, after the megalithic monument which lies close to the battlefield.

For in one of the few such events in the late Middle Ages, there is a contemporary written account of the Battle of Sark in 1448, albeit written shortly afterwards. The trouble for much of what we call Scottish history, a Greek word meaning investigation or a written account of knowledge, is that there simply were not enough people of any knowledge writing about what was going on in their times.

In a roundabout way, the proof of that contention comes in an ancient word seannachie, originally seanchaidh, meaning a storyteller or bard. In the Gaelic world of ancient Ireland and Scotland, one type of seannachie was not just responsible for entertaining his – they were invariably men – clan’s chieftain and leadership with stories, but was also very much the keeper of the clan’s unwritten history, passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation without ever being noted down, more’s the pity.

The seannachie’s role as a historian died out centuries ago, but that oral tradition meant that written history had taken a back seat for much of Scotland’s existence.

It is only when we get to the second millennium, and quite far into that millennium, that what we know as forming Scottish history starts to be regularly written down. Nevertheless, even as late as 1448, major episodes were just not recorded as fully as they should have been, and both Edward Longshanks and Oliver Cromwell stole Scottish records that have never been recovered, while still more writings were lost at the Reformation and the destruction of church libraries. Our contemporaneous sources for much of Scottish history, therefore, are often very few and far between.

It is also a fact that episodes like Sark are relatively unknown because, as one of my correspondents pointed out recently, most of us were taught “British” history at school, if we were taught history at all. That means we were taught to think of purely English matters as being part of our Scottish history. Don’t believe me? Take this test: Answer these three questions quickly: Date of Battle of Hastings? Nickname of the crusading King Richard I of England? How many wives did Henry VIII have?

Now answer these three just as quickly: Date of Battle of Flodden? Nickname of King William I of Scotland? How many husbands did Mary Queen of Scots have? Bet you rattled off 1066, Lionheart and six without trying, but did you get 1513, William the Lion and three so easily? No, thought not … and all those questions related to a time when the UK didn’t even exist – we were Scotland then.

What makes my quiz all the more pertinent is that it is happening all over again – history is being rewritten every day and rich and powerful people are allowed to get away with it. Ask Donald Trump. Or even Theresa May who last week told a blatant lie about the SNP being fined for election expenses fiddles – the Tories were, the SNP never have been.

(I invite any member of the SNP to sue Theresa May for malicious falsehood. Maybe then she would apologise.) With such mendacity prevalent among our political leaders, what chance do ordinary people have to know what is right and wrong, what is factual or fake? We have to get our history, all history, even the first draft of it, as correct as we possibly can, and that is a problem when we research ancient Scottish history, as often we must use records and surmise that were compiled long after the events reported.

The main source for the Battle of Sark is the Auchinleck Chronicle, a brief history of the reign of King James II. Only one manuscript of the chronicle survives, within the Asloan Manuscript which is now in the National Library of Scotland. It was written in the middle-to-late 15th or early 16th century, and interestingly was written in Scots rather than Latin.

The chronicle contains as near to a contemporary account of the battle as could possibly be found, and while it is biased in favour of the Scottish victors, secondary English sources confirm the basic details. The first point to note is that this was not a battle between the kingdoms of Scotland and England – the latter was rather preoccupied with the final years of the Hundred Years War with France which, as we shall see next week, had involved a lot of Scots as well.

Instead Sark was really the bloodiest encounter of the Border Wars, the many decades of fighting over the disputed border between Scotland and England involving two of the most powerful families on the island of Great Britain – the noble houses of Douglas and Percy.

Henry Percy, the 2nd Earl of Northumberland, had fled with his father to Scotland in 1405 while still only 11 or 12, and was well received. The first Earl had risen in rebellion against King Henry IV but his titles were restored in 1416. By the 1440s, his son Henry, the 2nd Earl, was effectively the head of the English forces securing the Border with Scotland.

Meanwhile in Scotland, the teenaged King James II was dealing with the powerful aristocratic families such as the Black Douglases – direct descendants of Robert the Bruce’s great friend and ally Sir James Douglas – with not much success. By 1448, with James II still in his minority, the Douglas family were also Wardens of the Marches and were effectively in command of the southern half of Scotland. They had also given themselves the power to wage war on England if necessary, and on both sides of the Border there were now magnates who felt it was their duty to attack the aristocracy on the other side. That could only spell trouble, and it came in October, 1448.

Henry Percy had a chequered career. He had lost the Battle of Piperdean to William Douglas, 2nd Earl of Angus, in 1436, though he bravely relieved the siege of Roxburgh Castle, then in English hands, shortly afterwards. By 1448, he was Warden of the Eastern March, and though there are different accounts of whether he was retaliating for an earlier incursion into his territory by the Douglases or not, there is no doubt that Percy marched into Scotland in October of that year.

As Earl of Northumberland he could call on large resources of his own, but he also added troops from along the English border, and may have had 6000 men in all, as stated in the Auchinleck Chronicle.

William Douglas, the 8th Earl, was ostensibly in command of the family’s forces, but it was his bother Hugh Douglas, the Earl of Ormonde, who took charge and decided to confront Northumberland who had made camp just west of Gretna and was raiding in all directions.

Ormonde gathered forces from Ayrshire and Clydesdale, among them troops under the Sheriff of Ayr, Sir John Wallace of Craigie, some of whose lands were where Ayr Racecourse now stands – it is often known as the Craigie course. The battle was brief and very bloody. On October 23, Ormonde marched his men to confront the English force which was drawn up in three divisions on the plain near the River Esk. Sir John of Pennington and Sir John Harrington commanded the flanks, with Henry Percy commanding the centre. The terrain was chosen to suit the English archers who, as ever, poured their arrows on to the Scots, but with one swift lightning infantry charge across the plain by Wallace and the right division of the Scottish army, Northumberland’s bowmen were neutralised and hand-to-hand fighting began.

Wallace and his men were able to crush the left division of the English force and then turned to smite the centre. Simultaneously Ormonde’s men smashed into the English force and the whole line of Northumberland’s men began to retreat.

Perhaps it was the loss of their standard, perhaps it was the brutal charges of the Scots, but English resolve crumpled and as often happened in battles in those times, the retreating force disintegrated and was slaughtered.

Scottish knowledge of the terrain, as at Bannockburn, proved crucial. The timing of the battle was decided by Ormonde and the Scots knew that the River Esk was tidal. It was into that quickly rising tidal river at its confluence with Kirtle Water that so many English soldiers rushed to save themselves, many of them drowning.

The Scots showed no mercy as their spears and halberds exacted a heavy toll, but they also took many captives who were later ransomed, including Pennington, Harrington and the son of the Earl of Northumberland, also Henry Percy.

Exact figures, as always with such clashes, are vague, with one account saying just 26 Scots were killed for the loss of half the English army, ie 3000 men.

The true casualties were more likely to have been around 2000 dead, with a quarter of them drowned, against 500 Scots killed and wounded, of whom the best-known was Sir John Wallace of Craigie who succumbed to his battle wounds three months later.

Sark was important because it was the first time a Scottish force had beaten an English army on a plain battlefield since Otterburn 60 years previously when the Scots had again been commanded by a Douglas, James, the 2nd Earl.

Sark ensured there would be no further invasions by any English army until they took Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1482, as they got rather preoccupied with the Wars of the Roses during which Henry Percy, the 2nd Earl of Northumberland, was killed at the First Battle of St Albans.

The Sark victory was also a huge boost for the Douglas cause and directly led to the civil war between the Douglas clan and those loyal to the young King James. It ended with the defeat of the Douglases at the Battle of Arkinholm in 1455 – but that’s another story for this column.

The Earl of Ormonde was executed after Arkinholm, and the glory he had won at Sark was entirely lost, which is perhaps another reason why it is not remembered in the annals of Scottish history.

Let’s leave the last word on Sark to Robert Burns, no less, who commemorated Wallace of Craigie’s death in his poem The Vision.

And brandish round the deep-dyed steel, In sturdy blows; While, back-recoiling, seem’d to reel Their Suthron foes.

His Country’s Saviour, mark him well!

Bold Richardton’s heroic swell,; The chief, on Sark who glorious fell, In high command.