Battle of Linlithgow Bridge:Opening Moves

The header picture is a detail from the Roy maps of the mid-eighteenth century of the area surrounding Linlithgow Bridge. The Roy map digital collection can be found at the National Library of Scotland. This battle scenario is based largely on Johnathan Cooper’s excellent book referenced in the previous post.

When James IV of Scotland was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, he left behind his young pregnant wife (Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII of England) and his eighteen month old son (now James V of Scotland). For a time Queen Margaret was the regent but in the rugged world of Scottish politics she soon lost this power. She married Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, in hopes of regaining some of that power.

By 1526, the dowager queen is estranged from her husband (and actively seeking a divorce). Angus is holding King James (now fourteen) a near prisoner in Edinburgh while his mother is in Stirling raising an army to regain her son. By early September, John Stewart, Earl of Lennox, has answered the call and leaves Stirling at the head of 10,000 plus men to rescue the king in Edinburgh. What we have is an epic child custody battle played out in the courts of Mars.

On September 4th, 1526, Lennox is at the crossing of the River Avon and is met by his uncle, James Hamilton, Earl of Arran and about 2000 of his retainers. The line of the Avon is a strong defensive position and Arran needs to hold on until Angus can come up with his 2000 retainers and, in due course, the King himself nominally leading about 3000 additional militia from Edinburgh and Leith.

The king wants to be rescued by Lennox but has limited agency in the matter. Unless he can immediately reach Lennox, his arrival will cause the battle to end as neither side will draw sword against their sovereign. James does all he can to slow his unwilling advance.

<All the following photos may be enlarged by clicking>

The battlefield looking south down the Avon valley. The Earl of Arran is already in position with about 2000 men and is blocking the crossings of the Avon.

The Earl of Lennox after testing the defenses at the bridge made the decision to use a ford about a mile upstream to bring his main force onto Arran’s left flank. He had limited time to do so, however, as reinforcements were coming up in support of Arran. Lennox’s pike blocks had to approach under effective fire and then make a hard slog through soft ground to a difficult uphill assault. Arran held on, now supported by the Earl of Angus, and defeated Lennox, captured and killed him.

In the game I allowed Arran to spread his forces on the east side of the river as he sees fit. Likewise, Lennox can bring his forces on anywhere on the western board edge (and at any time). The arrival of Angus is randomized as is the later arrival of the king. As the king wants to be rescued by Lennox, certain special rules are in play.

Arran’s main body (left foreground) is placed high on Pace Hill to act where necessary and cover the roads from Edinburgh.
One of Arran’s guns is placed on higher ground above the Avon bridge to cover the western approaches. A small blocking force, mainly bows and hackbutts, is behind barricades at the bridge.
Arran also placed a second force on the highest ground above the nunnery ford along with his other gun. A small scouting horse unit waits to carry news to Arran.

Lennox quickly sees that the bridge is well defended and acting as an effective chokepoint, cancelling his great advantage in numbers. He will lead his main body (nearly 5000 men) across the ford and while his horse and highlanders deal with Arran’s skirmishers, will form up his pikes to attack the enemy’s main position from the south.

To take full advantage of his numbers, Lennox will place all of his guns opposite the bridge and detail the Earl of Glencairn to use his full force of 3000 men to put maximum pressure on Arran’s defensive position. The Earl of Cassilis is placed in reserve and will use his 2000 men to exploit the best crossing. Likely he will come up in echelon to support Lennox.

At the end of turn two, Lennox is moving much more slowly than he anticipated. Both his highland skirmishes and “pricker” horse are too leisurely in their advance and slowing down his main body. Because the ford is under close observation by Arran’s scouting horse, his pike block is obliged to maneuver into extended column to cross the ford.
Glencairn (top) prepares to assault the bridge. His guns are not yet set up but his skirmishes are already under effective enemy fire.
A long southern view of the valley at the end of turn two.

Update: many thanks to Westie who let me know that I had suddenly substituted the Earl of Essex for the Earl of Lennox! (Obviously the “X” confused me). I think I have made all the changes back to the correct earl .

6 thoughts on “Battle of Linlithgow Bridge:Opening Moves

    • Thanks, Terry. More than one contemporary description uses the term, “bright” to describe the saffron color and I went all in! As you know I tend toward muted colors but not this time.


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